Eight-legged news reports

An article in the Lijiang Weekly News (丽江新闻周报) recently caught my attention: party secretary of the municipal party committee Wang Junzheng 王君正 has stressed the need to avoid the “eight legged news report” style of journalistic writing.

“Eight legged news reports” 新闻八股文 are a play on the eight-legged essays 八股文, a style of essay employed in the imperial examinations during the Ming and Qing that has become synonymous with pedantry and lack of innovation.

According to the paper, which cites ‘the internet’ as its source (good old amorphous internet), the ‘eight legged news reports’ are seen by Chinese internet users as adhering to the following eight rules (hasty translation mine):


there are no meetings that are not grand


there are no closing ceremonies that are not successful


there are no speeches that are not important


there is no applause that is not warm


there is nothing that the leaders do not pay attention to


there are no (official) visits that are not amiable


there is no atmosphere that is not friendly


there are no achievements that are not glorious

To anyone who reads the Chinese papers, or watches the international joke that is 新闻联播, or indeed those of us who make a meager living translating such reports, these rules are painfully familiar: I’d laugh, if only I could stop crying.

The secretary singled out new reports on party meetings as especially formulaic. He suggested that reports concentrate on the important outcomes of the meetings, not trivial details, such as when it took place, in which hotel, or which dignitaries/party members attended the meeting.

Right – and here’s me thinking that the news reports are so formulaic because the meetings themselves are formulaic: there are rarely any real outcomes, so reporters resort to tired conventions and useless details to make up the word count. It’s going to take more than one party secretary of a relatively insignificant provincial city to change the way the Chinese press works, methinks.

3 responses to “Eight-legged news reports”

  1. Syz says:

    If the party secretary is about to start handing down edicts, the next stage of evolution will be the eight acceptable ways to criticize such meetings.

  2. The eight acceptable ways to criticise may sound like the first few rules of Fight Club.

    1. do not criticise the meetings.
    2. do NOT criticise the meetings.
    3. …

    I forget the exact event, but I recall seeing some article on something Grandpa Wen did which was almost identical to the article for the same event the year before. That’s more than just formulaic.

  3. Sima says:

    Thanks for sharing that. I’d read the expression 八股文 sometime over the last few days and had been meaning to look it up.

    Good on the fella. Maybe he’s read Politics and the English Language. Er…is there some variation on Godwin’s Law which applies to invoking Orwell in a blog comment?

    Anyway, “there are no closing ceremonies that are not successful”, for me, is the one phrase which explains why I didn’t find newspapers very helpful in my Chinese studies.

    The other expression that really rankles is “relevant authorities”. Anyone else bothered by that or is it just me?

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