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WSJ Reporters Urge Paper to Apologize for Headline Deemed Racist by China

A doctor puts on protective goggles before entering the isolation ward at a hospital following the outbreak of a new coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, January 30, 2020. (China Daily via Reuters)

Dozens of reporters at the Wall Street Journal have signed a letter protesting the paper’s refusal to apologize for a headline the Chinese government deemed racist, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.

The headline, “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” was chosen for an opinion column by Bard College professor Walter Russell Mead comparing China’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus and the shaky financial foundations of the country’s economy. The phrase “sick man of Asia” was used in the late 1800s to describe China, which had at the time lost a series of wars and feared colonial rule by western nations.

“We. . . ask you to consider correcting the headline and apologizing to our readers, sources, colleagues and anyone else who was offended by it,” read the letter signed by reporters at the paper’s China bureau and sent on Thursday to the Journal’s publisher.”[This] is not about the content of Dr. Mead’s article. It is about the mistaken choice of a headline that was deeply offensive to many people, not just in China.”

Publisher William Lewis on Wednesday expressed “regret” for any harm the headline had caused but did not issue a formal apology.

On February 19, China ordered three Journal reporters to leave the country within five days, one of the largest single expulsions of reporters since the Mao era.

“The Chinese government has been coercive in its demands for apologies from all sorts of international groups on issues that are essentially domestic political issues,” Susan L. Shirk, chair of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego, said in comments to the New York Times. “This has the effect of interfering in freedom of expression in our own countries.”

Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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