In Ai Weiwei coverage, a couple of unexpected notes

We reported Thursday that Chinese media reports on Ai Weiwei have reflected his ambiguous status in Chinese law. After several days in which Ai was considered missing, the Foreign Ministry acknowledged police were investigating him for “economic crimes” although it stopped short of saying he was detained. Coverage within China remains very limited, although there have been a couple of surprising, ambivalent notes about his fate. 

We pointed Thursday to a Global Times editorial published the previous day. The paper was the lone news outlet to refer to the disappearance of this prominent artist and social critic, though it talked vaguely of his being taken away, not detained. Even that phrase was missing from the English translation. Bizarrely, a Xinhua state news agency article on the case was pulled from the website an hour after publication.

The Times published a second editorial today. As was the case Wednesday, the English and Chinese versions differed. The English version struck the usual tone for most of the article, denigrating Western media outlets and foreign diplomats for criticizing the supposed detention. This is a struggle. The writer concedes–in the lede!–that authorities did not announce the police investigation until Thursday, but still chides Western media for saying Ai was “missing” or had “disappeared” in previous reports. 

Still, those who stick with the article’s tortuous logic will find an unexpected conclusion: If Ai is acquitted, (he has not yet been charged), “authorities should learn to be more cautious and find sufficient evidence before detaining public figures next time.” Zing!

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese version omits that hint of dissatisfaction. But ambivalence is present even there. The concluding Chinese paragraph reads: “The Ai Weiwei case is a big deal for him personally, and since we feel for him, we hope it won’t be long before he can get through this critical period. But from the point of view of society as a whole, we think it can’t be that big of an issue. However the Ai case concludes, China can keep moving forward, and society will soon forget this incident ever happened.”