What does this Chinese poster mean? Propaganda falls flat, withdrawn

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 1:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 4:48pm

Embarrassed judicial officials in an Inner Mongolia city have taken down a confusing propaganda poster after it was widely ridiculed by internet users, according to whom the poster seemed to hint that inmates in the city's prisons would very likely suffer sexual abuses. 

The deputy propaganda chief in the city of Manzhouli on Saturday confirmed that the city’s government had withdrawn a public awareness campaign poster uring locals not to break laws. 

The poster starts out: “Manzhouli People's Court reminds city residents to abide by laws, or…” Under those words, two flowers appear side by side: a blooming chrysanthemum with the caption “before prison” and a wilted sunflower labelled “after prison”. In the corner, the emblem of Manzhouli People’s Court is seen.

The simple propaganda poster apparently baffled many online, and led others to draw their own conclusions about its meaning. 

Based on their online reactions, an overwhelming majority of commenters appeared to have interpreted the poster as a warning sign for potential criminals: break the law and you will face homosexual sexual abuse in prison. They reached that conclusion because in China's popular internet culture, the word "chrysanthemum" is often used as a veiled reference for "anus," with a heavy sexual connotation. 

This conclusion has since lured tens of thousands of internet users and bloggers to chime in on the hot topic, with a majority of them in disbelief but convinced that sexual abuse was indeed the government's true message. 

“If this is not called threatening and intimidation [from the government], then I don’t know what is,” one microblogger commented on Sina Weibo.

Another criticised the poster, saying: “Where is the dignity and stateliness of Manzhouli People’s Court?”

The wide ridicule soon drew officials’ attention. On Saturday, Si Chuanshuang, Manzhouli's deputy propaganda chief, responded to a popular Weibo post featuring a photo of the billboard. 

“The court [poster's] original intention was to warn people away from prison because [imprisonment] takes away one’s best years of his life, like a fading flower,” he wrote in the comment.

“Because of widespread pranks, the billboard has to be withdrawn. [I] hope all relevant sides can co-operate and delete these posts,” he said, adding that although the poster was taken down, he still hoped the public would take the original moral to heart.