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Professor who criticized WSJ headline critical of China mum on Beijing booting U.S. reporters

Said headline triggered ‘miserable memory’

A professor at Old Dominion University saw fit to criticize a Wall Street Journal headline regarding China and the coronavirus, but after the communist regime in Beijing expelled three of the Journal’s reporters the week after, he has no comment.

Harry Zhang, an associate professor of community and environmental health at Old Dominion University in Virginia, took issue with the headline of an op-ed in the Journal earlier this month that read “China is the real sick man of Asia.

“I was horrified to read the headline ‘China Is the Sick Man of Asia’ on Walter Russell Mead’s column (Global View, Feb. 4),” stated Zhang’s letter to the editor published by the Journal. “At this critical moment for millions of Chinese who are suffering from the coronavirus, this headline triggers the extremely miserable memory for the Chinese since 1840 when the First Opium War broke out. I respect the First Amendment but in a civilized society we should not tolerate this discriminatory opinion while humanity is under siege.”

Zhang’s letter came three days after the column was published, and two weeks later, the Chinese government expelled three news reporters of the Journal stationed in the communist country, citing the headline. The news reporters had nothing to do with the headline or op-ed.

In a Feb. 19 staff editorial by the Journal, the newspaper noted that the column was never published in China and the outlet had received numerous complaints via email that employed “remarkably similar language.”

… Mr. Mead’s column and headline were never published in China. That’s because the Journal is banned there. Our website has been shut down since 2014. Our reporters can cover China for the rest of the world but not for Chinese readers.

That didn’t stop the Chinese government from starting a public campaign against the headline. A Foreign Ministry spokesman denounced the column, and several Chinese propaganda organs spread the same theme. “Racism worse enemy than epidemic,” read a headline in Xinhua lumping Mr. Mead’s article with one from Der Spiegel.

Our email inbox was soon flooded with complaints about the headline, all containing remarkably similar language and demanding an apology. A campaign was orchestrated to get Mr. Mead barred from Twitter. If you think this was spontaneous outrage, you don’t understand how China’s government works to influence public opinion at home and abroad. Beijing knows how to exploit America’s identity politics to charge “racism” in service of its censorship.

Following the news of the expulsion, The College Fix attempted several times to contact Professor Zhang via email and by phone, to ask him his thoughts on the expulsion of the Journal’s reporters. He did not respond to any of the requests.

At least one professor has expressed caution against calls for the Journal to apologize for the headline, including requests from many editors and reporters stationed in the newspaper’s China and Hong Kong bureaus. Professor Susan Shirk, chair of the 21st Century China Center at UC San Diego, told The New York Times it makes sense for editors to refrain from such a move.

“The Chinese government has been coercive in its demands for apologies from all sorts of international groups on issues that are essentially domestic political issues,” said Shirk, a deputy secretary of state under former President Bill Clinton. “This has the effect of interfering in freedom of expression in our own countries.”

MORE: ‘Coronavirus party’ at SUNY Albany leads to campus outrage, demands for apology

IMAGE: Poco a poco / WMC

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