Liang Xiangyi of Yicai Media, a financial news service, hit headlines Tuesday, March 13, when she was seen rolling her eyes during a press conference at the annual meeting of China's National People's Congress.
Reporters from media outlets based overseas but with ties back to China's state media apparatus are often called on at government events so that Beijing can appear to cede the floor to "foreign" journalists - who will nonetheless toe the party line.
Apparently desperate to stop the incident upsetting their intensely choreographed spectacle, authorities warned Chinese journalists to close their eyes to the eye roll. On Taobao, the freewheeling online marketplace, vendors began selling T-shirts and cellphone cases bearing her image. This year, it has drawn heightened attention for a constitutional amendment that abolished term limits for President Xi Jinping. The journalist dressed in red, identified as Zhang Huijun from American Multimedia Television (AMTV), asked a long-winding question, laced with praise for government's initiatives.
Yicai, the financial news organization she works for, has reportedly removed Liang from their coverage team of the National People's Congress, and it's a good bet Chinese journalists are being told by their supervisors that from now on, they'd best be keeping any negative reactions - to the Congress and the annual theater surrounding it - to themselves.
The question was addressed to Xiao Yaqing, who heads up the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), and was about capital flight.
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But in an autocracy, the empire usually strikes back: By the end of the day, Liang Xiangyi's name had been censored on China's largest search engines, the video deleted from Chinese websites and millions of Chinese netizens were suddenly anxious about what would become of their newfound hero.
"2018 is the 40th anniversary of reform and opening-up", Zhang rambled at one point before declaring: "China will open wider to the outside world".
Liang's performance was caught on camera, broadcast on television and immediately took social media by storm sparking comment and memes.
But the eye-roll resulted in her media accreditation to cover the NPC was revoked, reports South China Morning Post, quoting a colleague.
"What mechanisms have we introduced so far, and what are the results? Without exception, websites must not hype the episode", according to the US-based China Digital Times, which posted the leaked directive. Liang asks, before signing off with a confident and concise: "Thank you!"