SUN WUKONG 'Paper tiger' tales
shred credibility By Wu Zhong,
HONG KONG - The South China
tiger, Panthera tigris amoyensis, has not
been seen in the wild since 1980. But recently the
extremely endangered, if not already extinct,
species has drawn wide attention from the public
and media in China.
The attention comes
not because the big cat has been seen, but because
of repeated scandals which have arisen from
efforts to "prove" the tigers' existence in the
wild with forged photographs or video tapes.
The first of such scandals came in
October, 2007, when Zhou Zhenglong, a farmer and
amateur photographer in Zhengping county in the
northwestern Chinese province of Shaanxi,
had risked his life to shoot 30-plus digital
photographs of a South China tiger in the wild.
(A tiger grabs China by the
tail by Kent Ewing,
Asia Times Online, December 8, 2007)
Senior officials with the Shaanxi
Provincial Forestry Bureau immediately threw their
weight behind the authenticity of Zhou's
snapshots. They rushed to hold a press conference
to announce the "re-discovery" of the big cat
under their jurisdiction.
photographs were soon questioned. Netizens doubted
the pictures and claimed they were fake. Even the
tiger in the pictures was suspected of having been
copycatted from cardboard paintings. The furor
became so intense that the term "paper tiger" -
originally from chairman Mao Zedong's well-known
quotation that US imperialists and all
reactionaries are nothing but paper tigers - has
been given a new meaning: forgery.
by the public and wildlife experts, the national
Forestry Ministry formed an investigation team on
October 24, but their report has remained
But in early February, the
Shaanxi provincial government reprimanded the
forestry bureau for violating official regulations
by holding the press conference to support Zhou's
"discovery" without further evidence.
February 4, the Shaanxi Forestry Bureau issued a
public letter saying sorry for publicizing the
photos, though it refrained from commenting about
their authenticity. "We didn't have a spot
investigation before we held the press
conference," the letter said. "We curtly released
the discovery of the South China tiger without
substantial proof, which reflects our blundering
manner and lax discipline."
Once the farce
of the "paper tiger" in Shaanxi subsided another
scandal involving a fake South China tiger was
exposed. And this time, the one who did the
forgery was a journalist.
On March 19, the
state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that Wu Hua,
a reporter with the Pingjiang county TV station in
Hunan province, had announced that he had
"unintentionally videotaped" a suspected South
China tiger in Shiniuzai in Pingjiang.
Some local officials immediately jumped to
support the claims. The next day, led by Wu, some
officials from Hunan provincial and Yueyang
municipal forestry authorities paid an inspection
tour to the site where the tiger was allegedly
videotaped. They concluded that "what Wu Hua has
snapped is factual". Pingjiang county is under the
jurisdiction of Yueyang municipality.
just four days later, on March 24, the provincial
forestry bureau, after a further investigation,
announced that the big cat Wu filmed was in fact a
Siberian tiger "borrowed" from a circus from Anhui
province, which happened to be on a performance
tour in Hunan.
Wu was subsequently blamed
for making the forgery to enhance his own fame.
It's true that anyone who proves the
existence of a South China tiger in the wild will
become famous overnight. And the fame could also
bring fortune to the rediscoverer. Had Zhou's
photos or Wu's videos proved true, they would have
had much potential commercial value. Clearly, it
was fame and money that lured than into making the
It was for the same
reasons, it could be said, that local officials
immediately threw their weight behind the
Since the South China Tiger is
such a popular and endangered species, if one is
proven to exist in a specific place, the place
will no doubt immediately be declared a national
protected area with special funds allocated by the
state annually. Normally, places inhabited by wild
animals are poor, remote mountainous areas, and
special funds could mean a lot for the local
economies. After all, protection of the giant
panda has boosted many relevant local economies.
What seems puzzling, however, is how such
scandals could ever come one after another in such
a short period. A possible explanation may be that
the lack of punishment on those involved in the
forgery in Shaanxi's case virtually encouraged Wu
to take his chance.
In Shaanxi's case,
because Zhou Zhenglong is a farmer and not subject
to any administrative discipline, authorities may
not be able to do anything to him for the
counterfeit; it could hardly be considered a
criminal offense. Without the underwriting of
Shaanxi forestry officials, Zhou's picture would
have been left to debate. So, at least these
officials should have been held accountable.
Since Wu is a journalist, what he has done
violates the moral code of journalism and he must
be dealt with seriously. If he is left unpunished,
it would deliver the message that authorities
tolerate fake news stories. Authorities must also
launch a through investigation into whether local
officials were involved in Wu's forgery.
According to Yueyang media, the local
government has invested tens of millions of yuan
in recent years to turn Shiniuzai into a scenic
site, in hope of attracting tourists. However, the
business operation has not been so good and the
local authorities have even asked the Anhui circus
for a performance tour to boost local tourism.
Logically, Shiniuzai would have benefited a lot
from Wu's forged discovery had it not been
With the repeated fake news, the
South China tiger has already become the
proverbial wolf in the children's story The Boy
Who Cried Wolf. And if Wu and those local
officials who are proved to be involved get away
easily, it is likely that more wolf cries
involving South China tigers or some other
endangered animal will be exposed soon.