xi's moments
Home | Americas

Controversy simmers over 'sick man' headline

By HENG WEILI in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-26 00:16


The repercussions are continuing over a headline in The Wall Street Journal that outraged Chinese around the world.

Two other prominent American newspapers, The Washington Post and The New York Times, have recently published stories detailing how more than 50 members of the WSJ China news staff criticized the headline that ran atop a Feb 3 opinion article by Bard College Professor Walter Russell Mead that called China "the sick man of Asia".

The "sick man" connotation, deeply resented by Chinese because it calls to mind an era in the late 1800s and early 1900s when foreign powers exploited China, was even more reviled because it came amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In the 1972 martial arts classic movie Fist of Fury, Bruce Lee dispensed with more than a dozen rivals before destroying a sign with the phrase "sick man of East Asia".

Jonathan Cheng, WSJ Beijing bureau chief, wrote to the newspaper's executives to change the headline and apologize, the Post reported.

"We ... ask you to consider correcting the headline and apologizing to our readers, sources, colleagues and anyone else who was offended by it," said the email sent Feb 20 on behalf of 53 members of the Journal's China staff to William Lewis, WSJ publisher and CEO of Dow Jones & Co, and Robert Thomson, the chief executive of News Corp, which owns the Journal.

"This is not about editorial independence or the sanctity of the divide between news and opinion. It is not about the content of Dr Mead's article. It is about the mistaken choice of a headline that was deeply offensive to many people, not just in China," Cheng's email said.

"We find the argument that no offense was intended to be unconvincing: Someone should have known that it would cause widespread offense. If they didn't know that, they made a bad mistake, and should correct it and apologize."

Most American newspapers adhere to a principle of "separation of church and state" in which the news and opinion staffs operate separately and maintain their independence from each other.

Mead in his own defense wrote on Twitter on Feb 8: "Argue with the writer about the article content, with the editors about the headlines."

Geng Shuang, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, was asked on Feb 20 if the government considered the fact that the column was produced by the paper's opinion desk and not the news side.

"We are not interested in the structural divide within the WSJ. There is only one media agency by this name, and it must take full responsibility for its own behavior," Geng said.

At a regular media briefing on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian echoed that response: "We are not interested in the division of labor within The Wall Street Journal."

A petition calling for the WSJ to apologize for the headline was started on Feb 6 on the White House website. The petition so far has collected 115,571 signatures, exceeding the requirement of 100,000 needed for a White House response by March 7.

"We take offense to the article 'China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia' written by Walter Russell Mead and published on WSJ on Feb 3, 2020," the petition states. "Regardless of the author's view on China's problems, the title alone stokes racism against the Chinese people. That such a racially discriminatory title was allowed on WSJ indicates arrogance and poor judgment in WSJ's editing choices.

"Such reckless comments against innocent Chinese citizens will only encourage racism and incur repercussions against Chinese or other Asian ethnicities. Our demands include a proper apology from WSJ to the Chinese community and either a retraction of the article or a rectification of the title. Racism cannot be tolerated."

Global Edition
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349