China’s internet lights up after reporter rolls eyes at fawning question

Censors quick to muzzle online delight at journalist’s gesture of disdain

A TV journalist who rolled her eyes and scoffed in response to a fawning question by a fellow reporter at China’s rubber-stamp annual parliament has caused a major stir online.

Liang Xiangyi, a correspondent for the Shanghai-based Yicai Financial News Network, looked Zhang Huijun up and down as she asked a tedious, 44-second question about the Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Ms Liang rolled her eyes and turned her head away at the obsequious question. Within seconds of the reaction, the internet exploded with GIFs, quotes, even parodies.

The scripted nature of the question mirrored the stage-managed character of the annual parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which is a ceremonial event where thousands of handpicked party faithful give unanimous approval to government doctrine.

Press conferences at the NPC are held to give a sheen of democracy to decisions decided long in advance by the Communist Party elite, but they are closely stage-managed and the rolling of the eyes struck a chord online, at least until the Great Firewall of China kicked into action. Within minutes Ms Liang's name was banned from online search results.


Light relief

It came as a moment of light relief at the congress, where nearly 3,000 delegates on Sunday unanimously approved a constitutional amendment to abolish presidential term limits, clearing the way for Xi Jinping to rule China indefinitely.

Questioner Zhang Huijun described herself as an American journalist working for American Multimedia Television USA, although she made several references to China as "our country" as she spoke. The question was addressed to Xiao Yaqing, who heads up the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), and was about capital flight.

Ms Zhang’s question was wordy, full of patriotic sentiment and lasted 45 seconds, an eternity in live broadcasting, especially at the NPC, where access to delegates is extremely limited and every question counts.

One online commentator, who used the name Cecillia, wrote on the WeChat social media platform: “These days, you roll your eyes in your heart or behind people’s back. If you roll your eyes in front of a camera, you can seriously lose your job. Please be discreet and don’t show your disdain in public.”

Not everyone was swayed. Another WeChat commentator, Qiaobing, said Ms Jiang’s behaviour was inappropriate for the NPC. “It shows a lack of education. I got the feeling that she did it on purpose. She’s a drama queen.”

There has been strong speculation since that Ms Liang has lost her accreditation for the National People’s Congress, or possibly even lost her job.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing