After allowing unusually open criticism, on Friday, Chinese authorities ordered that the country's media outlets only report positive stories or information about last month's high-speed rail crash.
The sudden order from the Communist Party's publicity department, handed down late Friday, forced newspaper editors to frantically tear up pages of their Saturday editions, replacing investigative articles and commentaries about the accident that killed 40 people in eastern China with cartoons or unrelated features. Major Internet portals removed links to news reports or videos related to the crash near Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province, in which 192 people were also hurt.
The government's decision to muzzle the media followed a remarkable outpouring of online criticism of the government over the July 23 accident. For many in China, the train wreck has crystallized concerns about whether the government is sacrificing people's lives and safety in pursuit of breakneck development and is cloaking its failures in secrecy or propaganda.
Reuters reports that today's newspapers looked markedly difference. Preceding the government mandate, even The People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, was critical, writing that the country did not need a "blood-smeared GDP."
Today, it was entirely different:
An editorial in The China Daily said while it was necessary to "plug any loopholes" in the development of high-speed rail, "over-interpretation that questions the quality of all technology made in China... is going too far".
"While the accident might have been caused by loopholes in the management system or a problem with the signaling system, unforgivable as these are, they are growing pains that will be rectified," it said.
The Financial Times reports that Beijing News scrapped nine pages of special coverage marking the seventh day after the crash, so Saturday's page one was filled with a massive weather report with the headline, "The rain lasts for seven days."
Some wondered whether the "seven" was a veiled reference to the crash. Chinese consider the seventh day of mourning the most important day.
If you want a little more analysis listen to On the Media's talk with Jeremy Goldkorn, who explained how with social media, it's become harder and harder for the Chinese government to control its messaging.