You bet he’s sorry

Beijing is undeniably a tough place to live. But you’d better think twice before complaining about it:

A Chinese blogger whose essay criticising life in Beijing went viral on social media last week – before it was deleted and slammed by state media – has apologised for his “imprecise writing”.

The essay “Beijing has 20 million people pretending to have a life”, written by a Beijing-based blogger under the pseudonym of Zhang Wumao, sparked heated debate over the quality of life in China’s big cities after he posted it on his WeChat social media account on July 23.

The article grumbled about a series of difficulties living in Beijing, including choking smog, sky-high property prices, the city being “overrun” by outsiders and the lack of human warmth.

“Beijingers have increasingly felt the congestion, smog and high property prices, which mean they cannot move at home and cannot breathe outdoors,” Zhang wrote.

He argued the city was only livable for old residents of Beijing who could lead a leisurely life because they have “five apartments” in the city.

…..And the smackdown:

It drew more than five million views on WeChat, but later attempts to click through to the essay were answered with a message saying the content had violated regulations released by the Cyberspace Administration of China.

Zhang apologised for the essay during an interview with the Economic Observer newspaper on Friday.

Zhang was quoted as saying that he did not think too much when writing the piece and some of his figures such as “20 million Beijingers” and the elderly’s “five apartments” were imprecise.

He said he “has no discontent about Beijing” and appreciated everything the city has given him.

The apology came after various state media outlets published commentaries defending Beijing.

People’s Daily published an commentary, arguing the author was simply stirring up emotion.

Repent, heretic!

Apparently the censors have decided that any type of criticism of the prevailing order – including even things like the quality of life in major cities – in other words, any type of speech that might induce a flicker of negative emotions, and reinforce a narrative of social and economic disgruntlement… has to go.

Of course, the point is not to change people’s minds about the terrible smog and soul-killing traffic in Beijing. These are universally recognized features of the city, and it’s highly unlikely that censoring social media diatribes about these unpleasant facts of life will make people stop thinking about them, or grumbling about them in private.

The real point is to set an example for people who were thinking about aiming their criticism at more, shall we say, sensitive topics. If this is what we do to people who complain about smog…

It’s the broken windows theory of censorship.