When even an article about the happy return of all Chinese travellers from Egypt, well in time for a harmonious spring festival at home, gets zero comments, some six hours after the article itself was posted online, things can’t be normal at Huanqiu Shibao. The paper usually exercises a more liberal online censoring policy than other news websites, but when it comes to current events in Egypt, it seems to be a different story.
An article published on January 30, titled “Democracy needs a Competition of Innovation” (民主需要一场创新竞赛) – translation here – still got 21 comments, but they all came in on before noon of the following day,and are either neutral about or supportive of the article, which argues that while democracy was a very acceptable principle to humankind, ways had to be sought to implement it in ways which didn’t require the upheaval and and misery of revolutions.
“This makes sense” (有道理), four comments say, and most others strike similarly approving tunes. Another comment points out that a stable social environment and meeting material needs of the people was the greatest democracy humankind could hope for (给人民一个安静祥和的社会环境让老百姓过上一个丰衣足食的好日子是人类期盼的最大民主). One comment however paints a more hopeful picture about Egypt:
“If the Middle East and the Arab world turn truly democratic, there won’t be a hiding place for terrorist elements anymore.” (中东、阿拉伯世界如果实现真正的 民 主，恐 怖 主 义 无藏身之地- January 30, 13:30.)
A not-so-cheerful (but authentically Huanqiu-readership-style) reply, with the traditional outspokenness:
“I’m afraid they are all terrorists.” (
恐 怖 主 义 无藏身之地[correction, Febr 3: 恐怕全是恐怖分子。] - January 31, 08:23.)
For now, the events in Egypt seem to highlight the limits ob Huanqiu commenting world. What is also somewhat striking is that no comment even reaches the level of innovation that chief state councillor Wen Jiabao aimed at when talking to people in charge of American Chinese-language media and Hong Kong and Macau media in New York, in September last year:
If economic reform doesn’t get the protection that comes from reforming the political system, it won’t be fully successful, and even the achievements made so far could still be lost again. In the reforms of our political system, what needs to be addressed most importantly? I believe the most important thing is to guarantee the the liberties and rights of the people given to them by the constitution and the law. That is to say, to mobilize the masses of the peoples’ initiative and creative spirits, in a relaxed [宽松 (kuān sōng), sometimes also translated as "liberal" - JR] political environment, enabling people to develop an independent spirit and creative thought, to let the people obtain freedom and comprehensive development – the main connotation of democracy and freedom.
The rather small number of comments on Sunday’s editorial,on the other hand, also seems to suggest that Huanqiu Shibao made no or only little use of Fifty-Cent partisans. The readership in general is nationalistic, but also very sensitive about tries to fool them.