It's a train wreck the world can't stop watching.
Shady memes and shady media: the aftermath of an eye-roll
The questions one reporter, Zhang Huijun, asked at a meeting of China's political elite were so bad that a fellow journalist, Liang Xiangyi, became a social media hero when she rolled her eyes in disdain.
Internet sleuths and political analysts have zoomed in on the questioner, raising uncomfortable questions that have pierced the usual pageantry associated with the annual legislative meetings in Beijing.
On Friday, nearly a thousand people signed a petition on a White House website demanding an investigation into the US media company that Zhang said she worked for.
The petition accuses the company, American Multimedia Television, of being an arm of the Chinese Communist Party that works to “convey the Chinese government's lies and anti-American views.”
The petition calls on the US government to investigate the “Chinese propagandist agency” and shut it down, if it’s found to violate a law that requires foreign agents to disclose their political affiliation.
According to its website, AMTV is an “American local television” station that covers “all media throughout the world.”
It says it partnered with Chinese government-run television station CCTV from 2006 to 2008. On its “About” page, the company ambiguously affiliates itself with a list of Hollywood stars, including Nicole Kidman and Brad Pitt.
Inkstone could not verify these claims, and emailed questions sent on Friday were not answered.
Scripted questions are a time-honored matter of course at the annual political gathering in Beijing, as the Chinese government imposes limits on the press.
Qiao Mu, a former journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said that Chinese officials let the "so-called foreign media" ask questions to project a facade of accountability.
"They come up with their own ‘foreign media’ to lie to the world," he said, "to promote their policies."
Online, discussion of the episode was quickly scrubbed by Chinese censors.
Outside China's online world, rumors circulated on Twitter that the reporter who rolled her eyes in response to the question had been fired.
Yicai, the business news portal that employed Liang, declined to comment.
Alibaba Group, which owns Inkstone, has a minority stake in Yicai.
In the (inevitable) aftermath of the eye-roll sensation, memes, cartoons and even online merch featuring the red-blue pair of journalists have blossomed.
Those memes did not spare three well-known Chinese billionaires.
In the first part of this video, Liang is superimposed next to Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba, sizing him up and rolling her eyes as he discussed money.
Ma says that he has "never touched money" since he founded Alibaba in 1999, saying, "I'm not interested in money."
In the same video, Wang Jianlin, founder of Dalian Wanda Group, advised that people set a "small goal" in life. For example, he said, "earn 100 million yuan ($15 million)."
And the third and last man in the video, Liu Qiangdong, founder of JD.com, said he married his famously attractive wife "not because she's beautiful," claiming that he "could not tell whether she was pretty or not."
Here's the question Zhang Hujin asked:
“I am Zhang Huijun, the executive director of AMTV USA. My question is:
Improving the state-owned assets-management system and strengthening state-asset supervision by focusing on capital management is something that everyone is concerned about. As the chairman of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, what are the new policies to be introduced in this area in 2018?
This year marks the 40th anniversary of 'reform and opening-up' – our country will open up further. For the 'one belt one road' initiative by Secretary General Xi, state-owned enterprises will increase their investment in countries along the 'one belt, one road'. How are the overseas assets of state-owned enterprises effectively regulated to stem the outflow of capital of state-owned assets? What kind of mechanisms have been launched and how effective are the measures? Could you give us an introduction?”