The U.S. Embassy in Beijing hosted an online Q&A session in the hopes of teaching Chinese citizens about American culture and “delving into some of the most popular questions about America.” The Q&A session was hosted on a popular Chinese site dedicated to Q&A sessions named Zhihu.com. The Chinese government quickly shut down the the Q&A session, removed all traces of the event from the Chinese internet and declared the session a “glaring example of Western propaganda.”
The online Q&A session was an aggregation of 40 questions on topics ranging from California’s surf culture on the West coast to the best way to score cheap broadway tickets on the nation’s thriving East coast and everything inbetween. The webpage was viewed over one million times by over 27,000 unique users before it was shut down and scrubbed from the internet. The questions were submitted by online users who were encouraged to ask anything about the U.S. and it’s culture.
The introduction from the now-deleted Q&A session read as follows:
“Even if someone has never been to the United States, it’s hard to say they haven’t been subject to a subtle influence from the other side of the Pacific. America’s rich and diverse cultural atmosphere and the unique qualities of its cities are highly attractive to people from all walks of life.”
The questions were answered by a total of eight people. The “answer panel” was made up of four officers at the embassy in Beijing, two American professors and two Chinese nationals living in the US. When the webpage was deleted the Chinese government went as far as also deleting the profiles of the officers and professors from Zhihu.com to prevent further inquiries.
Benjamin Weber, spokesman for the US Embassy in Beijing, told the Wall Street Journal that he is “disappointed” with Chinese authorities and claims that the U.S. embassy was invited to host the Q&A session on the site by employees of Zhihu.com. He released the following statement:
“The embassy was invited by Zhihu.com to participate in a program about the United States. The questions were submitted from Zhihu, and we understand they were based on the interests expressed by Zhihu’s users. Our participation was in keeping with the embassy’s role in representing the people of the United States to the people of China through our public diplomacy, and we look forward to opportunities to engage in genuine dialogues about issues and ideas of interest to the Chinese and American people.”
Despite this response Chinese officials maintain their opinion that the Q&A session was thinly veiled propaganda from the United States aimed at corrupting impressionable chinese youth.
Do you think the Q&A session was deserving of being shut down?