Millions of People's Daily copies recalled after Xi Jinping’s name gets omitted

The error has paralyzed propaganda apparatus with fear about the potential fallout, sources say.
By Huang Xiaoshan and Cheng Wen of RFA Cantonese
2023.04.03
Millions of People's Daily copies recalled after Xi Jinping’s name gets omitted A sentence in a commentary in People’s Daily failed to mention Chinese leader Xi Jinping by name.
Credit: Sputnik/AFP file photo

China recalled millions of copies of the mass circulation People’s Daily because Xi Jinping’s name was omitted from a commentary about the need for national unity, sources told Radio Free Asia.

The page 5 commentary, titled “Unity and struggle are the only way for the Chinese people to forge a historical undertaking,” recounted China’s achievements under Xi. 

But in one sentence, after the word “comrade” – typical in communist countries – it didn’t include Xi’s name, according to photos of the article viewed by RFA.

So the text read: “The central government with comrade at the core assesses the situation.” The online edition reads correctly: “The central government with comrade Xi Jinping at the core assesses the situation.” 

Despite authorities’ stern orders to keep the recall confidential, an internal notice about the editing error was leaked hours after being issued. The notice ordered a halt to further deliveries of the March 30 edition to newspaper stalls and to immediately recall an estimated 3 million copies already sent out. 

The error has caused the entire official propaganda apparatus to be paralyzed with fear about the potential fallout, according to a former night shift editor at an official Chinese press outlet who insisted on not being identified for his own safety.

The article was written by an author using the pseudonym “Ren Ping.” It wasn’t immediately clear who that was.

Whether or not the author involved would be punished depends on the mood of Xi Jinping himself, the editor said.

Political incident

The final draft of any article by Chinese official media is supposed to undergo five to six rounds of editing before being published, but no one seems to have caught the error.

In China, official media reports follow strict rules regarding the names, titles and positions of officials. 

Reporting about state leaders is considered a political task, and any mistake reporting their names or positions is considered a political incident. Under former Chairman Mao Zedong, such errors even led to charges of counter-revolutionary crimes and heavy penalties.

When RFA contacted China’s Propaganda Department, one official said: “Sorry, I really don’t know. I don’t know much about the situation. How about you ask People’s Daily if you want to find out?” 

2 PeopleDaily.jpg
There is speculation that Tuo Zhen, the chief editor and president of People's Daily, may be purged due to the error. Credit: People's Daily

RFA attempted to contact People's Daily’s chief editor, review department and two separate informant hotlines by phone. None of these calls were answered.

Many reporters inside China speculate that Tuo Zhen, the current chief editor and president of People's Daily, may be purged due to the incident. 

Tuo was promoted to deputy head of China’s Propaganda Department following a purge of editorial staff at the liberal newspaper Southern Weekly’s in China’s Guangdong province due to a dispute over his censoring an article released by the paper in 2013.

There have been exceptions. People's Daily once misspelled former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s name, but Wen ordered the editor not to be punished.

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