A Correspondent’s Guide to Making Fake News in China

(By Zhang Chaoqun)

Being a news assistant who helps with pitching stories, conducting researches, conducting/arranging interviews, and translating any necessary Chinese materials but never gets to write a story or have a proper byline (not even a research byline), I dare not say I have mastered the dark art of making fake new. But I have the luck of working with one of the greatest masters of the dark art for two years and watching him fabricating, twisting and distorting stories on many occasions.

My boss Oscar Garschagen is a correspondent for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad’s in Shanghai. In many ways, Mr Garschangen would be considered an old China hand – he has been reporting China for 10 years, attends Chinese class on a regular basis and speaks enough Chinese to carry out daily conversations.

And yet after two years of working together, I’ve found that a much more suitable job for him would probably be novelist or playwright – Mr Garschagen has a very impressive imagination which enables him to make up quotes, names, places whenever and wherever his stories need them.

Here I have 7 examples of his unmatchable mastery of faking news, which in my humble opinion would be very helpful for any aspiring young people who hope to make fame in faking their reportage of the Middle Kingdom:

  1. In late 2015, Mr Garschagen wanted to write a report about the phenomenon of elderly suicides in China, so he asked me to gather domestic press coverage of it. I found two reports about elders who ran away from home and committed suicide after being diagnosed with serious diseases: one was about Wang Bingzhang from Huian, Fujian, and the other about Xia Jumao from Yangzhou, Jiangsu.
    In the story published in November 2015, Mr Garschagen stitched the two stories into one: Wang Bingzhang (from Fujian) was found dead in Yangtze area (where elder Xia Jumao died, and Wang died in Fujian). The note left by Xia Jumao was attributed to Wang Bingzhang in the report.
    As usual, these stories from the domestic press are presented as his own reporting.
  2. In June, 2016, as the South China Sea Arbitration Case became a global trending story, Mr Garschagen went to a small fishing town Tanmen, Hainan, with the hope of talking to Wang Shumao, deputy company commander of the maritime militia in Tanmen town. Mr Wang declined the interview request point blank.But why should a rejection get in the way of a good story?In the published story , Mr Garschagen said he waited for three days and finally “interviewed” Mr. Wang with the help from the provincial publicity department.Of course, the interview did not happen at all.Mr Garschagen then made up a name “Feng Ruibo” for a captain who only gave us his surname in the interview. Captain Feng told a vivid story about his experience of “fulfilling patriotic duty” in Mr Garschagen’s report: he often carries cement, steel and timber to the Xisha Islands and Nansha Islands when he goes to the fishing grounds in the South China Sea.Mr Garschagen also dined with Captain Feng, who came driving a BMW, in a restaurant called Bafang Haiwei. The captain’s fishing boat, according to Mr Garschagen, has the marking “Qionghai Dongfang 200011”.Again, the poor captain did not tell those stories about his contributions to China’s island reclamation, nor did he have a BMW or a fishing boat with that particular marking.
  3. In December, 2015, Mr Garschagen decided to pick up a National Public Radio(NPR) report about Lvliang city’s economic woe.
    We went to Shanxi and during our two-day reporting trip, we visited three places: Lvliang Airport, Datuhe coal mine and Zhongfen Liquor City.However, the main chunk of his story focused on the Chuandong Cement Factory, which the NPR journalist had visited but we had not.There were also mentions of a domestic appliance store with sliding business which we had not visited during the trip (hint: it’s featured in the NPR story too).
  4. In May, 2017, Mr Garschagen went to Horgos in the restive Xinjiang Province before the Belt and Road Forum. Horgos is an important port in China’s ambitious global charm offensive, but we only have time to visit the China-Kazakhstan International Border Cooperation Center.
    Mr Garschagen was stopped and questioned by immigration officers before even entering the center, which made him very upset. Maybe he was too upset that he could not see all the visibly non-Han-Chinese people who were also at the centre. In the published story , Mr Garschagen said “free travel has certainly become impossible for non-Han-Chinese”.
    That said, Mr Garschagen did see something which might not be there in the first place. He mentioned in the same report there were snipers “on the roof of a 5-star hotel under construction in Horgos.” I was with Mr Garschagen the whole time but I could not recall seeing (or hearing him mention) such scene.
  5. In December, 2016, we covered a criminal case in which a Dutch citizen was involved. Mr Garschagen asked me to call Wang Fu, the Dutch citizen’s lawyer from Shengyun Law Firm in Beijing. The only quote attributed to Mr Wang in his story was “ it’s obviously not a fair trial.
    However, neither in my 8-minute phone call nor my translated transcript of the call has this quote.
  6. In July, 2017, Mr Garschagen covered a domestic violence case and “predicted” the result of the case before the court hearing finished. In the story published in mid-July , Mr Garschagen said the case had been settled and the domestic violence victim and her family would pay 9000 Euros to the family of her ex-husband.
    The court hearing has not reached a ruling as of late August.
  7. In January 2017, as Chinese government announced a nationwide crackdown on golf courses, Mr Garschagen was contemplating doing a story about the sport and the ongoing anti-corruption campaign. We visited the Sheshan Golf Club in Shanghai but was refused entry for not being a member.
    However, lacking access to the club did not prevent Mr Garschagen from describing an “interview” with a caddie named Wang Yu who told him that Xi Jinping, the then party secretary of Shanghai, used to be a regular there.
    Indeed, Mr Garschagen wrote in his story, “ in China, it is a public secret that President and Party leader Xi Jinping is not an amateur golfer.

I’ve fired my boss today and I’m proud of this decision.

 

Editing by LL/RL/FZ