China on Thursday moved to eliminate all trace of a sexist commentary article in its state-run media saying that Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen has a more emotional style and more radical political views because she is single.
The article, which prompted international outrage, was quickly deleted by its original publisher, state-run news site Xinhuanet.
Now, China's propaganda czars have ordered that it be deleted from all websites on the country's tightly controlled Internet, because its wording was "inappropriate," according to a leaked directive posted by the China Digital Times (CDT).
"To All Media: Please delete the Xinhua Online article 'Scrutinizing Tsai Ing-wen'," the directive, translated by CDT, said.
"Its wording is inappropriate, and its appearance on media sites is having a bad influence on public opinion," the order, dated May 25, said.
It said all reports relating to Taiwan "must go through responsible media personnel before they are published."
'Emotional, personal and extreme'
The article quoted a People's Liberation Army (PLA) analyst and Chinese government adviser on Taiwan relations, Wang Weixing, as saying that Tsai's politics are affected by her status as a "single woman."
"In her political style and her political strategy, she has a tendency to be emotional, personal and extreme," the article said.
'In terms of political tricks, she considers strategy less, tactical details more, and short-term goals are paramount, while long-term goals are less taken into account," Wang wrote.
Outraged Taiwanese politicians and netizens hit out at the article on Thursday.
"It's such a ridiculous remark and discrimination against single people. Everyone has the right to choose his or her lifestyle by having partners or staying single and that should be respected," DPP lawmaker Yeh Yi-chin told Agence France-Presse, while fellow legislator Wang Yu-min said the attack on Tsai was "extremely improper."
"It's gender discrimination and we strongly oppose such remarks," Wang Yu-min, whose nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) party lost resoundingly to Tsai's Democratic Progressive Progressive Party (DPP) in January polls that netted the island its first woman president.
Online comments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait also slammed the article as sexist and inappropriate.
"This is so North Korean," wrote user @ganzhichunqiu, while @changjiangliaowang commented that Wang Weixing "must be weak in the head ... such personal attacks have lowered the bar even for our state media and propaganda departments. It's embarrassing. The state is keeping a bunch of pigs [officials]."
Others hit out at the lack of family values among the ruling Chinese Communist Party political elite.
"Oh, and the second-generation red elite knows about love, do they?" commented user @qinjinyikeqiaola, while @liweiLions_Pride quipped sarcastically: "China's leaders have so many spouses, and they treat the country as they would their own family, and its people as their sons and daughters."
Laughing stock fears
Others feared the public relations effects of the article. "Such a moronic article ... will make us a laughing stock overseas," one user added.
In Taiwan, one Facebook user commented on Taiwan Liberty Times newspaper page: "A chauvinist pig who hurts damages gender equality. Why doesn't he have a go at those married male politicians who have extramarital affairs?"
Another commented on the Apple Daily website: "So it's a crime to be single? These comments just show how twisted China is," while another user said simply: "China is so barbaric."
China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying declined to comment on the article, which was deleted soon after publication, on Thursday.
"I have no comment to make on that," she told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has warned Tsai she may be making trouble for herself if she fails to endorse a 1992 agreement between Taiwan and Beijing officials agreeing that there is only one China, but allowing each side to interpret that how they choose.
Tsai, 59, is an academic-turned-politician who taught international trade law for 16 years, and who has served both as trade negotiator and mainland affairs adviser to successive Taiwan governments.
She mentioned the 1992 talks in her inauguration speech last Friday, but stopped short of endorsing the consensus.
The KMT, which represented the island at the 1992 talks, regarded itself as the legitimate rulers of a post-1911 Republic of China that had been "temporarily" relocated to Taiwan after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong's communists in 1949.
But Tsai was voted into power on a DPP platform that at the very least affirms the island's separate identity from mainland China.
Tsai won a landslide victory in January over her KMT predecessor Ma Ying-jeou, who had come under increasing fire over plans for ever-closer economic and trade ties with China.
Tsai, who took around 56 percent of the vote, also saw her mandate bolstered further by an unprecedented DPP victory in elections to the island's parliament, the Legislative Yuan.
Repeated polls have shown that many of Taiwan's 23 million residents identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and that there is broad political support for de facto self-rule, if not formal independence.
Taiwan was governed separately from mainland China throughout the Japanese occupation (1895-1945) and since 1949, and has never been part of communist China.
Beijing has said it is willing to deal with any party in Taiwan, as long as they recognize both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one China and don't allow the island to move towards independence.
Reported by Xi Wang for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.