Detention of CCTV 'superstar' anchor Rui Chenggang polarises opinion across China’s social media

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 6:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 9:40am

The arrest of leading CCTV anchor Rui Chenggang was perhaps the single most discussed event across China’s social media networks over the weekend.

Rui, 36, was taken away by prosecutors from a China Central Television studio in Beijing for investigation last Friday. The sudden nature of Rui’s detention was highlighted by the presence of a second microphone left unused on set as Rui’s co-host anchored the programme Economic News without him.

Authorities have not announced why Rui was detained, but many have speculated it was due to his connection with the channel’s director-general who was arrested in May for suspicions of accepting bribes.

Also led away by authorities were Rui’s supervisor and a fellow producer, but their detention failed to solicit nearly as much attention online as Rui – arguably China’s most prominent business news reporter.

A fluent English-speaker, Rui is known for his frequent appearances at international economic conferences and conducting interviews with numerous business and political leaders worldwide.

He was also reportedly the youngest Yale World Fellow to date, the author of two books and generally accepted as a role model for China’s younger generation.

But his past comments and conduct have also sparked controversy.

In 2007 Rui on his blog urged coffee chain Starbucks to move one of its stores out from the Forbidden Palace world heritage site, describing its establishment there as “not globalisation, but an erosion of Chinese culture”.

His appeal helped to rally a flurry of public outcry and eventually pressured the heritage’s administration and the coffee chain to close the branch. However, some critics said his calls were exaggerated and designed to incite nationalism.

Most recently, on the sidelines of the Davos Economic Forum, host Rui asked Gary Locke, then US ambassador to China, whether he sat in economy class when flying to the conference, in what was seen as a reminder to the US that the country owed billions to China in fiscal loans.

These two notable incidents prompted many in China to label Rui a "patriot", but after his detention state media moved quickly to separate Rui's alleged misconduct from his “patriotic” standing.

“Rui Chenggang is not a spokesman of patriots … his faults and punishments have nothing to do with patriotism,” said the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper People’s Daily on its official Weibo microblog.

The Global Times also ran an editorial saying “those who attacked ‘patriotism’ using Rui’ detention are either fools or arrogant”.

Rui’s abilities as a broadcaster have long been subject to divided reviews. Some see his typical handling of interviews as confident and straight-to-the-point while others found his style arrogant and rude.

TV producer Li Jiajia recalled Rui rudely snapping at a young Taiwanese guest during a roundtable broadcast when he tried to ask a question regarding Taiwanese politics. And social commentator Yao Bo says Rui "lacked manners".

In a particular case in 2010, when US president Barack Obama offered to answer a question from South Koran reporters at a press conference of the G20 summit, Rui, eager to ask his own question, abruptly raised his hand and said: “I think I get to represent the whole of Asia”.

But growing up as an elite student and developing a successful career at a relatively young age, Rui is also regarded as a iconic figure by many Chinese students and aspiring young professionals. 

A profile on Rui by the Southern People’s Weekly in 2012 also depicted how the journalist was hailed as a "superstar" when he showed up in his hometown for a book-signing.

“A successful, good-looking, international young man, there is no reason he should not be the subject of adulation,” the magazine wrote.

Even until very recently, Rui has enjoyed considerable support online. At a forum on internet search engine, supporters of Rui called on the public to have confidence in him and not believe “online rumours” criticising him.

“If you support him, show confidence in him. Do not fall for these rumours about him,” one blogger wrote.

One of the most widely read posts published on Monday appealed to forum members to collect Rui’s past published articles and photos, fearing one day they might be censored from the internet.