China’s Space “Conspiracy”
Conspiracy theorists can revel in the fact that cover ups do exist. Maybe not to the extent to which some people believe, but to some extent at least. This is the case with the Chinese government who sent an astronaut into space in 2003, and brought him back to Earth without any problems, or so it seemed. In this case, I think that the Chinese government wanted to project a specific public image, instead of intentionally distorting or falsifying facts.
Yes, China really did send a man into space in 2003. The astronaut, Yang Liwei, orbited the world 14 times before the capsule (known as Shenzhou 5 or the Divine Capsule) returned to Earth. It is a truly remarkable, historical, and admirable feat for any country to successfully launch spacecraft, and even more so with a human passenger. How events were publicized was something less than admirable though.
According to a recent NY Times article, a top official at Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, gave a speech to a group of journalism students in May in which he admitted that the Chinese media staged the capsule opening.
The official, Xia Lin, described how a design flaw had exposed the astronaut to excessive G-force pressure during re-entry, splitting his lip and drenching his face in blood. Startled but undaunted by Mr. Yang’s appearance, the workers quickly mopped up the blood, strapped him back in his seat and shut the door. Then, with the cameras rolling, the cabin door swung open again, revealing an unblemished moment of triumph for all the world to see.
The content of Mr. Xia’s speech, transcribed and posted online by someone who attended the May 15 lecture at Tianjin Foreign Studies University, has become something of a sensation in recent days, providing the Chinese a rare insight into how their news is stage-managed for mass consumption.
Truth has a way of rising to the surface over time, such as this case. And it sometimes amazes me at the extent to which people try to change things to their own liking. There are cases where information is withheld for a time from the general public to curb mass panic, extreme civil unrest, and the like. However, the trade-off for intentionally reporting inaccurate facts is the erosion of self-integrity and trust among peers and followers.
Because the Chinese state media has practiced and documented (plus unintentionally leaked) how they mislead their citizens regularly (and train new journalists to continue this unethical behavior), there is a real lack of trust in the accuracy of their information. While it remains unlikely that Chinese state media will change their routine in the near future, there is always hope they will do an about-face to become a world leader in reporting accurate information.
To be fair, Mr. Yang has published an autobiography, scheduled for release in 2010, which provides a fairly detailed account of his space mission, including many (not all) of the negative details.