• Fri
  • Sep 19, 2014
  • Updated: 10:52am
Mr. Shangkong
PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 May, 2013, 10:12am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 May, 2013, 1:56pm

Xi makes The Economist cover again, but Beijing's censors are unimpressed

Beijing may have taken umbrage at the headline of The Economist’s May 4 issue, which reads: “Let’s party like it’s 1793”.

For the second time in just over six months, China’s president, Xi Jinping, is gracing the cover of The Economist, although Beijing appears unimpressed and unamused.

Xi is dressed in the imperial robe of Qianlong, one of the most influential and successful emperors in Chinese history, and Beijing’s response was as swift as it was predictable. All related online pictures and links to the latest issue of the British newspaper have been heavily censored, just hours after the publication of the Xi cover.

Beijing may have taken umbrage at the headline of The Economist’s May 4 issue, which reads: “Let’s party like it’s 1793”. It may also possibly disapprove of the London-based publication’s decision to portray Xi in Qianlong Emperor’s imperial robe on the cover.

Why 1793?

This is a key date in modern Chinese history, and The Economist is quick to explain to those unversed in the history of the Middle Kingdom: “In 1793 a British envoy, Lord Macartney, arrived at the court of the Chinese emperor, hoping to open an embassy. He brought with him a selection of gifts from his newly industrialising nation.”

“The Qianlong emperor, whose country then accounted for about a third of global GDP, swatted him away,” The Economist recounts, noting that the emperor welcomed Britain’s “sincere humility and obedience” but China did not have “the slightest need for your country’s manufactures”.

Despite the emperor’s dismissive tone 220 years ago, the British were not so easily deterred and Lord Macartney’s visit ultimately signaled the end of the Qing dynasty, and helped to change the course of China -- and possibly the world.

Now, when President Xi describes his vision for the future of China as a “Chinese dream” of which all Chinese should be proud, The Economist may feel Xi has something similar in mind to Qianlong Emperor’s.

“Mr. Xi’s emphasis on national greatness has made party leaders heirs to the dynasts of the 18th century, when Qing emperors demanded that Western envoys kowtow (Macartney refused),” The Economist said.

Despite heavy online censorship -- particularly on China’s most popular Twitter-like real-time microblog service, Sina Weibo -- some Chinese online users were still able to glimpse The Economist’s new cover about Xi before Internet censors swooped to delete all relevant photos.

As a result, they were swiftly redistributed online hundreds or even thousands of times for about half an hour on Friday morning. Reactions from Chinese netizens were mostly upbeat.

“I like this picture. I like Xi Jinping. As a Chinese, I am proud to have a leader like him,” commented one Weibo user.

Other netizens commented that China has Xi as Russia has Vladimir Putin, whom some Western media portray as an empire builder and wannabe Tsar.

The Economist Group has an official Weibo account, but did not post its new cover story there, and the account appeared to be operating normally on Friday.

Beijing has deleted several foreign media Weibo accounts. For example, the New York Times’ Chinese Weibo account was expunged after the US newspaper published articles about former Premier Wen Jiabao's family wealth, angering the Chinese government, which said they were “false and negative”.

The Economist, just like all other foreign newspapers and magazines, cannot be sold publicly in the street in mainland China. While it may be available at some top-end hotels and embassies and consulates, those who wish to subscribe to the weekly newspaper must apply for permission to a state agency. Officials there sometimes tear out pages that contain politically "sensitive" content before allowing it to reach subscribers. 

The last time Xi graced The Economist’s cover was October 27 last year, when he was set to be officially named as the new leader. Its headline was “The man who must change China” and Xi was dressed in black suit, and was portrayed sitting in an armchair with fault lines around him.

A lot has changed since Lord Macartney’s fateful visit more than 200 years ago. China has overtaken Japan to become the world’s No.2 economy, just behind the United States. Whether China’s economic surge can continue, probably hinges on how Xi improves or reforms the Communist Party, which has ruled the “New China” since 1949.


George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Like the Mr. Shangkong column? Visit facebook.com/mrshangkong


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This article is now closed to comments

yes you are right! china's problems are due to the western media! spot on.
These confucius minded censor cops are nothing but pests. Most of the intellectuals will be able to read this. Economist is correct, these confucius minded censor cops still lives in the 1700s. They should all go ESAD!!!
Carioca no Coracao
shows you how IGNORANT the Economist is. Xi is an ethnic Han (aka Mandarin), NOT Manchu. the emperor's gown shown is a Manchu gown. Xi should be in a Han or Tang gown. the Fu Manchu stereotype is common in anglo american media. problem is they OWN the narrative. china needs to counter this.
The top leadership of China, has, in my opinion, done an amazing job of anticipating the direction that China must go. The leadership must address all the contradictions that rapid growth brings with it, rebalancing the country's economy, so that all sectors of China, and its people, can share in the new found wealth that this growth is providing. This involves balancing the interests of its country side with those of it cities, the interests of the disadvantaged with the advantaged, and China's past with its future. China can never be divided, as it was in the past. It can never be made vulnerable to invasion, as it was in the past. It must be expected that it will project its "soft power" in the future, which contrasts markedly from the power of the United States, which has been projected in the recent past with terms like "shock and awe". China's leadership, in my opinion, has become one of the most sophisticated in the World in negotiating this tight balancing act, while still keeping its focus on the future needs, and desires of the Chinese people. The United States and China would do well to view each other with respect, and allow each other room, and civility. Nature has provided them with the opportunity of lasting partnership as they face each other across the great Pacific Ocean.
"...China's leadership...has become one of the most sophisticated in the World in negotiating this tight balancing act, while still keeping its focus on the future needs, and desires of the Chinese people."
My friend, you've got the gist of the complexity in governance. There are actually two parties within one CCP, each of which is very diverse. For sure there is struggle for dominance of ideas via rational dialogues within each de facto party.
While ideological battle lines in China's politics are not infrequent, you don't see media polarization that promotes ideological government gridlocks during crises in the West, let alone the relentless ideological hatred expressed by self-hate Hong Kong bananas (readers below).
All this talk about China lacking democracy and human rights are just vituperations from hate and envy, the green eye monster.
"This involves balancing the interests of its country side with those of it cities... and China's past with its future."
Right on! You seem to have the feel of dynamic economic models, Ramsey and others, which columnists in this publication sorely lack.
Perhaps we should talk some more about linear and dynamic programming in goal setting for China.
Is this the best SCMP can do for a website splash? ripping off the economist?
To all those commenting below. Get a sense of humour - not to mention perspective - you sad, sad paranoid, myopic freaks.
Ok, so its not just the "Western Imperialists" who subjected China to 150 years of humiliation? According to your logic, when its convenient, its OK to seperate out China's minorities as "not Chinese," which would mean and along with the manchus and the Mongolians, China has been subjected to thousands of yesars of humiliation. Is this not correct? But then when we discuss territorial claims, the current han dominated CCP government is willing to base its claims on past dynasties when foreigners ruled China. Are Manchus. mongolians, Uighars not Chinese?


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