Monday, December 3, 2007

From Tiger To The Moon: The Credibility Crisis

Today's news from the Reuters has a blaring headline: "China Says Moon Pictures Not Faked From NASA". At the same time, the official China Daily had just declared that "South China Tiger Photos Are Fake". Two stories, neither may be of great significance in the long run, but both pointing to a phenomenon that can no longer be ignored in China: the great trust crisis.

The tiger photos came first in the early October. A farmer and hunter in the remote Shaanxi claimed to have seen a live "South China Tiger" in the wild and took a series pictures to prove it. This type of tigers has been declared extinct in the wild for decades. The farmer's stories and pictures were initially backed by local forestry authorities and given great fanfare in the Chinese media. However, the authenticity of the photos was immediately questioned by many on the internet. Much analysis shows that the pictures are more likely to be a product of photoshop-ing.

Then came the launch of Chang'e 1 in late October, the very first lunar probe from China. By any means, it is a big milestone in the China's surging space program. In deed, the official media in China hailed it as a great victory for the nation.

It took weeks for Chang'e 1 to reach its lunar orbit, during which there was a curious silence in the media on this subject. Rumors circulated on the internet that Chang'e 1 was in trouble, and may have been lost. It was not until a month later, on Nov 26, a picture of the moon surface taken by Chang'e was released to the public, first unveiled by no other than the Premier Wen Jiabao.

Taken the cue from the experience in the tiger pictures, the Chinese internet is once again abuzz on the possibility that this picture from Chang'e could be a doctored version of NASA's old picture, available on the internet. It has become the talk of the day, so much so that it was necessary for the high officials in China's space program to issue an official denial.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that such blatant forgery could be practiced in a high-profile program as Chang'e. But the problem now is, you can just never be sure. In China, people are suspicious on anything, no matter how sacred it could be.

It is a crisis in trustworthiness.

For the record, Fang Zhouzi was marginally involved in the debunking of the tiger pictures. He wrote a couple of articles commenting on the tiger's appearance and habitat. He also pointed out that, even if the tiger were real, it would be pointless to protect since the forest area involved was too small to support even a single tiger.

So far, he has not participated in the Chang'e picture debate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is just China-bashing. If some people can fake the reason for attacking Iraq, than anything can happen.