March 8 was International Women's Day, but for Wang Xiaofeng it might as well have been April Fool's Day.
On that day, the senior writer for Beijing-based Sanlian Life Weekly shut down his popular blog, as did Yuan Lei, an entertainment reporter for Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend.
The duo had planned the practical joke some two weeks earlier.
On that day, both blogs displayed this message: "Because of unavoidable reasons known to all, this blog is now temporarily closed."
That evening, a Reuters report said: "Two of China's most adventurous web logs closed on Wednesday under government orders, the latest in a wave of shutdowns as Chinese censors tighten controls in cyberspace."
The report was used by at least 200 international media organizations.
"We tried the prank to test how foreign media would react. And this is exactly what we anticipated," explained Wang Xiaofeng in an interview with China Daily.
Wang's blog, named "Massage Milk," is among the most popular in China. His acerbic writings on culture and entertainment have won him a best Chinese-language blog award from Deutsche Welle as well as a legion of loyal fans. Yuan's blog, named "Milk Pig," is mostly short comments on the nation's entertainment scene.
A source close to Reuters' Beijing office, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told China Daily that they failed to reach Wang for confirmation and did not check with the relevant government agency.
Wang Xiaofeng had been annoyed that he was constantly misquoted by foreign media.
"Every time they interviewed me, they tried to steer the questions towards political topics, in which I have no interest. Even if I made no mention of anything political, the articles would come out as if I were an activist," he said.
"Most of the foreign reporters are not readers of my blog, and the few snippets they read in translation are usually out of context so they appear to be political," he added.
Once he told a Western reporter that out of the millions of blogs in China, maybe only five are purely political. "Why can't you look beyond that?" he asked.
The source close to Reuters insisted that some of Wang's postings as well as his amateur feature film, which Reuters also reported on, are political observations. "He would have made straightforward criticism if he had the choice."
Wang disagreed. What he writes and how he writes it are his natural way of expression, he said.
The most common words used by Reuters and other international media to describe Wang's and Yuan's blogs are "outspoken" and "adventurous." Asked how accurate these terms are, Wang said: "Nonsense."
A quick poll by China Daily of Chinese readers familiar with their blogs came up with these adjectives: "sarcastic," "humorous," and "funny." None of them associated the blogs with "outspoken" or "adventurous."
Wang's act was criticized by some commentators for being "politically naive." One blogger accused him of "worsening an already bad situation."
Wang responded that some Chinese intellectuals tend to see everything in a strongly political light. "It's sad that they can see only black and white."
A person close to Wang said that what he writes and does, including the gag, are typical of him as a "quan ru" (cynic) even though Wang himself hates the label.
There were also suggestions that Wang and Yuan staged the hoax to test how influential they were. Wang denied this was one of their motivations.
"We intended to keep our blogs down for 4-5 days. But the rush of biased judgment came swifter than I expected," Wang said.
Both blogs were up and running a day later.
Source: China Daily