We have seen in the last year a shocking return of the Chinese government to the practice of public confessions that were regular displays during the Cultural Revolution. Environmentalists, dissidents, and reporters have been frog-marched in front of television audiences to confess their evil ways and praise the authoritarian government for teaching them the correct path of obedience. The latest is Chen Yongzhou, 27, who committed the sin of writing about fraud committed by Zoomlion, a Chinese heavy machinery manufacturer. In a pathetic nine-minute confession, Yongshou apologizes to Zoomlion for his lies and deceit in covering the alleged fraud. The public demonstration led many to question the official account of the bribing of a reporter.
The Chinese propaganda office had earlier barred media from reporting on the story.
Chen wrote for New Express and was arrested after being lured to a police station. His newspaper fought for him with two front-page articles and included the revelation that police from Zoomlion’s home city, Changsha, travelled 440 miles to arrest him in another province.
The story reveals the depth of the Red Aristocracy that now rules China in the name of Communism. The father of Zoomlion’s chief executive, Zhan Chunxin, is the former head of the supreme court in Hunan province and his father-in-law was once the province’s deputy party secretary.
Chen’s confession was as implausible as it was chilling for many journalists. He proclaimed: “I am willing to confess and repent my crimes, and I would like to apologise to Zoomlion, its shareholders, the media groups whose credibility suffered [because of me] and my family. I did this mainly because I hankered after money and fame. I’ve been used. I have realised my wrongdoing.”
He confessed that he did not write or read the article, a highly implausible statement for a rare article taking on a major company. In addition, the All China Journalists Federation, agreed with the government that Chen had made a “serious violation” of journalistic ethics and damaged the credibility of the media. His own newspaper also publicly apologized and said that it failed to investigate before supporting Chen.
The entire story leaves many wondering why the government would blackout stories and then engage in such a public shaming of a reporter if he did in fact take money to publish false stories about the company. Fraud is rampant in China. What is less common is investigatory reporting.
In the United States and other countries, these type of allegations are handled in civil litigation. The involvement of the Chinese government in such stories as a criminal matter only reinforces the disbelief for many as to the motivation and means used in securing the confession.