After China’s stock markets crumpled, prompting a global sell-off, the Chinese-language People’s Daily, mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, had other things on its mind.
There was no mention of the market mayhem on the newspaper’s front page on Tuesday, which featured a report about economic development in Tibet. Indeed, there was not a single reference to the stock markets throughout the entire 24 pages of the paper, which dwelt instead on the forthcoming 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II.
The silence continued on Wednesday, when the paper again did not report on the stock market upheavals, although it did have articles about People’s Bank of China decisions and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s (李克強) restatement of confidence in the broader economy, despite the effects of what he called global “market volatility.”
It was a telling sign that, while US Republican aspirants to the White House have upbraided Beijing over the stock market turmoil, China’s leaders were sticking to their habit of staying above the public fray when policies turn sour.
“My hunch would be that they’re really not about to stomach another wave of more open reporting by the Chinese media,” said David Bandurski, the Web site editor for the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project who has written extensively on China’s controls on news.
“This is an explosive economic story for China,” he said.
Bandurski noted that in April, the People’s Daily was among the party-run news outlets encouraging investors to buy stocks on the assumption that prices would keep rising, despite occasional hiccups.
“I think people’s memories are long enough that they can remember how this began,” he said. “They were pushing the Kool-Aid,” he said.
The home page of Xinhua news agency was highlighting a report about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) visit to Tibet in 1998, when he was a provincial official in eastern China. On Monday, the 7pm news broadcast on China Central Television, the country’s main TV network, also skipped mention of the plummet in stock prices.
China Digital Times, a Web site which collates leaked, confidential propaganda and censorship directives to Chinese journalists, reported that journalists were told in June to keep coverage of the stock markets strictly in line with official rules intended to deter pessimism or panic.
“Do not conduct in-depth analysis and do not speculate on or assess the direction of the market,” the instructions said, according to Berkeley, California-based China Digital Times.
“Do not exaggerate panic or sadness. Do not use emotionally charged words such as ‘slump,’ ‘spike’ or ‘collapse,’” the instructions said.
Other newspapers and Web sites in China reported on the market turmoil, although often presenting China as an unlikely bystander in a wider global downturn.
Some parts of the Chinese media that are less firmly yoked to echoing the party leadership’s positions voiced rival views of what the government should do about the stock market slump. Some said the government should do more. Others said it was time to quit intervening.
Securities Daily, a leading financial newspaper, seized the opportunity to urge the government to do more to prop up stock prices.
“The slump in the stock markets is destroying what remains of investor confidence, and this problem is profoundly serious,” the newspaper said in a front-page commentary. It called for stronger government measures to shore up stock prices.
China’s economic fundamentals remain sound, it said, but “the stock markets’ reactions to these fundamentals have become extremely chilly and pessimistic sentiment has continued to spread,” it said.
The commentary called for continued government intervention in the markets to counter what it called “irrational” and “malicious” sell-offs.
“Currently, some in the market have assumed that the government’s stabilization funds would curtail market operations, but this is a misunderstanding,” the newspaper said.
“Stability maintenance efforts must continue to be strengthened, but their mode of implementation can be improved,” the newspaper said.
On the other hand, the Economic Information Daily, a newspaper issued by Xinhua, said that the Chinese government should retreat from trying to shore up the stock markets. Instead, the paper said, policymakers must focus on improving economic conditions, such as making it easier for businesses to attract loans and investment.
“The turbulence in global stock markets has largely arisen from volatile sentiment, and not because major problems have hit the economy,” it said in a front-page commentary.
“The domestic policy focus should be on steadily retreating from stock market bailout policies,” it said.
“Government bailouts are meant to avert financial risks, not to prop up stock prices. Although A-shares have suffered another substantial fall, we still need to stick to steadily phasing out bailout measures,” the newspaper said.
Even as frazzled Chinese investors endured another day of market tumult on Tuesday, there was some light relief. Chinese news Web sites featured images of a massive sculpture in the coastal city of Xiamen that depicted a bull astride a bear.
The sculpture was intended to symbolize bullish, upbeat market forces subduing bearish pessimism, according to the news reports. However, on the Internet some Chinese commentators said the sculpture appeared to show something more intimate going on between the two beasts.
The businessman and art collector who commissioned the sculpture, Cai Mingchao (蔡銘超), said he hoped it would ease some of the stresses of weary investors.
“Actually, this is for stock investors to let off steam,” Cai said, according to the Xiamen Daily.
“If everyone is more upbeat, then maybe the stock market will be, too,” he said.
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