Author of hit ‘faking a life in Beijing’ article apologizes, sorta

Society & Culture

A summary of the top news in Chinese society and culture for July 28, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

As we noted yesterday, the caustic essay “In Beijing, 20 million people are faking a life,” which became a controversial and viral sensation in China in the last few days, also provoked an unusual reprimand from several state media organizations, including the People’s Daily and Xinhua. Now the essay’s author, Zhang Wumao 张五毛, has apologized for not being discreet enough when writing the essay, and begged media “not to magnify my mistake into a matter of principle” in an interview (in Chinese) with The Economic Observer.

“This is an article with many problems. In fact, I didn’t intend to express anything. I was just being contrarian and trying to amuse readers,” Zhang said. “I didn’t realize that I was wrongly contrarian and trying to amuse wrongly. I don’t want to cause more troubles and make anyone upset about it.”

When asked for the exact meaning of “faking lives,” Zhang replied, “It means lives in Beijing are hugely different from traditional lives in small cities. People tend to think negatively when they see the word ‘fake,’ but their interpretation is against my intention.” As for the controversial claim that rich old Beijingers all have “five apartments under their butts,” Zhang admitted that he made the claim merely based on the fact that one of his Beijing friends owns five apartments, and he should have been more careful with his writing.

On the social media platform Weibo, most internet users found Zhang’s apology unnecessary and came to his defense. “Why you have to apologize? If the article was full of lies, it wouldn’t have resonated with so many people,” one commenter wrote (in Chinese). “Is it because the author ruined some people’s dreams by telling the truth?”

On the other hand, despite his apology, Zhang did not actually say the picture he painted of Beijing is wrong. He writes:

Many media people have analyzed the problems in this essay, but none of them have really understood what is wrong with it. I think the first problem is that number in the headline (20 million people) is not accurate. Secondly, there is no central argument, and thirdly, the structure is messed up and illogical.

—Jiayun Feng