CCTV Fire Fallout: Twelve Detained; Chinese React Online

By Rui Bingyou, Liu Peng
Published: 2009-02-12

As Beijing police announced a spate of detentions in the wake of Monday night's devastating fire at the new China Central Television (CCTV) complex, Chinese continued to dissect the event online with a sardonic tilt.

An office director at CCTV and 11 others have been detained by the Beijing police for questioning, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Xu Wei, director of the office managing the new CCTV headquarters' construction, was detained for being suspected of "creating a disturbance with a dangerous object", the municipal public security bureau announced on Thursday morning, according to Xinhua.

Xu is a native of Beijing and began working at CCTV in 1983. The other detainees include three other CCTV employees and eight people CCTV hired to set off fireworks.

The fire consumed the boot-shaped north tower of the new China Central Television's (CCTV) headquarters complex, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, and killed one and injured seven people.

The incident has drawn the attention of China's highest investigative and prosecutorial body, the State Supreme People's Procuratorate (SSPP), according to Procuratorial Daily, an official newspaper it published. The local branch offices of the agency had also begun investigating, the report said.

Meanwhile, in the court of public opinion, the fire set off a deluge of online discussion and multimedia sharing, including eyewitness reports, video, pictures, and comments.

On Monday night, Chinese photographed and videotaped the fire with cameras and cell phones, then circulated them on blogs and forums including major portals such as Sina, Sohu, and Youku in China.

On Thursday, a Google China search of the Fanfou website, a Chinese micro-blogging platform, for the terms "CCTV" and "fire" returned over 183 results.

But instead of a watershed of public sympathy, many Chinese seemed to delight in the fire with negative or satirical commentary.

One Fanfou poster, Caii,commented that the CCTV had gone to such great lengths to cover the Australian forest fires that it forgot the fire in its own backyard. In an on-line forum attached to Yangcheng Evening Newspaper, some netizens created comic strips portraying alien invaders obliterating the building with lasers.

On the night of the fire, Han Han, a popular Chinese youth writer, had suggested in his Sina blog that CCTV give a clear explanation and not avoid covering the incident. That post has since vanished, which online commentators attributed to deleteion by Sina administrators after a directive from China's central press watchdog agency. The post was still visible in Google's cache of the page as of 4:00 pm on February 12. Google cache links cannot be directly accessed in China.

At least one enterprising e-business had already jumped into the fray as well, selling a t-shirt with a design based on the CCTV fire, which netizens were praising.