Liu Xiaobo’s Empty Chair?

December 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

Here’s a picture that appeared on the front page of Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily (Nanfang dushibao) on Sunday, December 12, under the headline, “Asian Paralympic Games to Begin Tonight .”


What do you see?  Three chairs and five cranes, right?  Online activists saw three chairs as well, but three “empty chairs,” “empty chair” being a term now banned by Chinese internet censors for its apparent reference to Liu Xiaobo, this year’s Nobel Prize winner who, imprisoned in China, was represented at the Oslo ceremony by an empty chair.

Now here’s a picture of that empty chair:


What do you see?   Looks a lot like flying cranes.

An editor at Southern Metropolis Daily, one of China’s most popular–and outspoken–news outlets, explained that red-crowned cranes were to be part of the opening Paralympic ceremonies that evening, hence the picture.  Those reading anything more into it, he insisted, were “overinterpreting.” (The irony here is that the red-crowned crane is an endangered species.  A sly reference to Liu and human rights advocates?)

So, are Chinese online activists letting their imaginations run a little wild, as the paper’s editor suggests?  Or is the paper sending a coded message of support for Nobel winner Liu, as a bevy of bloggers insist (see China Digital Times for English translations of comments by Chinese bloggers)?

You decide.


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§ One Response to Liu Xiaobo’s Empty Chair?

  • Steve W. says:

    Very subtle reaction. has developed a reputation of being a leading liberal voice in the debate of human rights and political reform in China for the last 20 years. Being away geographically from major politically centers like Beijing and Shanghai tends to help. Its coverage on some previous corruption investigations and civil disputes regarding environmental issues was frown upon by many figures but due to its small circulation, leaders in Beijing do not see it as big of a threat.

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