Any party cadre, advertising man or spin doctor will tell you that the most successful - read insidious - propaganda is inevitably built on at least a grain of truth.
The truth at the bottom of the Liu Xiang story, however, offered no such foundation. As the South China Morning Post reported recently, Liu was seriously injured even before arriving in London. We now know he had little chance of being fit enough to even warm up properly, much less win the race.
So instead of some basic honesty about his unlikely participation in a simple sporting event - let's face it, we're not talking about world war three here - the central government gagged CCTV. A house of cards was built on the manipulation of a single athlete and internal CCTV gymnastics - four scripts were reportedly produced for the event and it now seems the widely doubted tears of presenter Yang Jian , who knew of Liu's injury in advance, were in fact those of a crocodile.
Now that the truth has swept away the stack of fallen cards, one glaring question remains: why? Why would the government even bother to attempt to manipulate a live sporting event in a foreign country? We live in an instant, wired age and not 1970. What, then, is the point of building false national expectation knowing almost certainly it will be dashed yet again? The Nanjing-based Oriental Guardian wrote movingly of an audience left to wait "foolishly for a miracle to happen".
Propaganda on this scale is not the stuff of miracles. But it does seem that it is so entrenched, and has evolved to such an extent given China's development and integration, that propaganda chiefs are now at risk of grand and even dangerous delusions. But that still gives us no explanation. The question of why bother still looms starkly. Could it be they do it simply because they can?
Alex Lo is on leave