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New Yorker Writer Is Surprised by Byline in Chinese Newspaper: His Own

China is filled with too many corrupted leaders. Photo: Media File
Readers of Peter Hessler, the author of “River Town” and other well-received books about China, may have been surprised to see his byline this week in China Daily, a state-run newspaper.

“I think I have a better understanding of how essentially stable the Chinese system is,” read the article under Mr. Hessler’s name, which appeared on Monday on China Daily’s website. The article, which had the headline “U.S. Observer: Comparing Egypt With China,” featured observations about the two countries’ political systems. Mr. Hessler, who lived in China for years, moved to Egypt in 2011 and now reports from there for The New Yorker.

Noting the chaos that Egypt has experienced since the Arab Spring, the article said that China would be better equipped to handle major social change. “Because the state is strong, and power is quite deeply entrenched,” the article said, “whenever significant changes do come, I think they are more likely to succeed, because the Chinese have a significant political foundation, and they have the experience of living in a functional state.”

The article received substantial attention online, raising eyebrows among Hessler readers surprised that he would write a piece for a state newspaper praising the Chinese system’s stability.

On Tuesday, Mr. Hessler clarified the matter: He hadn’t.

Mr. Hessler wrote on Facebook that he had been approached not to write an opinion piece, but to discuss a variety of subjects with a Chinese colleague, Li Xueshun, for a special year-end edition of China Daily.

“I want to emphasize that this article does not in any way represent a comprehensive picture of my views on China and Egypt, and I never would have agreed to such a story,” Mr. Hessler wrote. “And I want readers to understand that the terms under which I was approached — that this was a year-end interview with my friend and colleague Li Xueshun, on a range of topics — are completely different from being approached for an article specifically about Egypt and China.”

Mr. Hessler also clarified that he told the reporter he believed China’s campaign against corruption would fail because it would not bring systemic change.

The article, he said, “omitted crucial parts, including the most important point: that I believe it’s harder to make a political change in China, where the system is deeper rooted than in Egypt, and thus the flaws are also more deeply rooted. I said that this is the reason why the current anticorruption campaign will be a failure, because China is not addressing its systemic flaws.”

Mr. Hessler asked that China Daily remove the article from its website and issue a retraction. But as of Wednesday morning, while the English-language version of the article had been deleted, the newspaper still had not issued a retraction. A Chinese version was still available on various news portals, including Sina.

The office of China Daily’s website did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Wednesday, and an editor in the newspaper’s print department said the article had been published only online.

Journalists and commentators have complained in the past that their remarks or writings had been substantially changed in Chinese state-run news media for what appeared to be political reasons. In 2013, for instance, Rowan Callick, an editor at The Australian, was quoted as saying that people in Tibet were living “a wonderful life.” Mr. Callick later said that the quote did not represent his views but was “pitch-perfect from Beijing’s perspective.”

In his Facebook statement, Mr. Hessler said that the incident was not representative of his experience with Chinese journalists. He offered to participate in a question-and-answer session with China Daily, provided that the newspaper disavow the earlier article and allow him to approve the final edits.