Skip to content

Fraudulent South-China Tiger Photo Hurts Government Credibility

On October 12, three days before the 17th Party Congress, the Forestry
Bureau of Shaanxi Province published the breaking news of a precious
wild species, the extinct South China tiger was discovered; and. a
photo of the tiger was released. A local peasant provided the picture,
which triggered a series of questions on the authenticity of the
picture and the news. On February 4, 2008, the aforementioned Bureau
released a statement, apologizing for its negligence in the handling of
the news and the picture, which was believed by many to be the picture
of the tiger taken from a calendar. The following is the translation of
a report from the Voice of America (VOA). [1]

On October 12, three days before the 17th Party Congress, the Forestry Bureau of Shaanxi Province published the breaking news of a precious wild species, the extinct South China tiger was discovered; and. a photo of the tiger was released. A local peasant provided the picture, which triggered a series of questions on the authenticity of the picture and the news. On February 4, 2008, the aforementioned Bureau released a statement, apologizing for its negligence in the handling of the news and the picture, which was believed by many to be the picture of the tiger taken from a calendar. The following is the translation of a report from the Voice of America (VOA). [1]

Today we are comparatively introducing the debate, regarding the report that the South China tiger was found in Shaanxi Province in Northwest China. The people are searching for the truth through the Internet and calling for the honesty of their government.

It has been one month since the publicity of the photos of the extinct-for-more-than- 20-year-South-China tiger. Debating on the validity of the news, two large troupes: “Hunt the Tiger” and “Save the Tiger,” have emerged. “Hunt the Tiger” troupe mainly consists of the force from the grass-root civilians, while “Save the Tiger” troupe members are composed of the powerful government and its official media.

Hunt the Tiger troupe’s principal forces are the Internet media and the Internet forums with the assistance from the famed South China Daily for its hit-home tactics and the other reformist media. Along with the media from the foreign countries and the non-governmental organizations that are independent from the Chinese government. After the appearance of the tiger’s photos, they are not satisfied with the official information. They have been continuingly raising suspicions, asking for the officials to provide further details, and making unremitting efforts to search for the truth.

“Save the Tiger,” the opposite troupe is represented by the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee (CCPCC,) the local government of Shaanxi province and its central and local propaganda media. In the beginning, the government insisted on that the 71 photos of the tiger taken by the peasant, Zhou Zhenglong, were all authentic. However, in the overwhelming public opinions and the questions rose from the foreign media, and they have begun to recede and started to leave room in their public comments. For example, in the Chinese Central Television (CCTV) interview program. There is a widely quoted comment, “It is not important whether the tiger is authentic or fake, the essential issue is to protect the endangered wild animals.”
A Global Concern and Discussion RE the Debate on South China Tiger

Foreign media have been paying close attention to the debate on South China tiger. The Science, a U.S. authoritative journal, recently reported: “A few weeks ago, the tiger researchers celebrated the news that an extinct-for-more-than-20-year-South-China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) has been spotted and photographed by an elderly peasant in the wilds of Shaanxi Province. But the worldwide netizens, especially in China, have concluded that the tiger is a “paper tiger” after scrutinized the only two officially released available pictures.” [2]

“On October 12 2007, in Xian at a press conference, Zhou Zhenglong, a former hunter, told the rapt audience of his discovery of the tiger. Moreover, the inconceivable story was: he managed to shoot 71 photos as he crawled within 20 meters from the beast—not till the camera was accidentally bumped and the flash went off.–the tiger roared once and ran away.

“The skeptics cited that the factors such as the tiger’s tame-looking expression and the unreal coat color as well as the fact that the two photos portray exactly the same tiger but with different positioned foliage. It’s more likely that someone planted a cardboard tiger in the bushes. Fu Dezhi, a botanist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, added that the plants are not on the scale in relation to the tiger. Zhou was paid 20,000 Yuan (US$2,666) for the photos. He said, “I bet my life on it that the photographs are authentic.”

“The Shaanxi Forestry Bureau is pushing ahead with plans for a thorough survey and a tiger reserve. ‘It’s the tremendous exciting news if it could be substantiated,’ said the tiger expert, Gary Koehler of Washington State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. ‘They needed to look for the hair particles or animal droppings first for genetic verification.’” [2]

The comparative news also include an editor’s comments from the Save the Tiger Fund, headquartered in Washington, D.C.: [Ed: As mentioned in the first appearance of this report, if verified this would indeed be a surprise to conservation biologists who haven’t seen the South China tiger for 20 years – what this article describes is the huge financial incentive for a peasant farmer to fake the photos, a wildlife photographer myself I would love to know how he got that close to a tiger without a costly 500mm zoom lens without being attacked]. [3]

In Shaanxi province after the new pictures of the South China tiger was announced at the press conference, “Hunt the Tiger, and Save the Tiger” troupes have debated heatedly on the authenticity of the photos for more than one month,. Both troupes provided evidence for themselves without convincing each other. Until on “November 16, 2007,” a day the Chinese Internet bloggers called, “An Historical Event Day” on Internet history. A blogger left a message on a Photographing Technique forum on a website. The blogger mentioned: “In his house, there’s a calendar picture on the wall, in which the tiger is extremely similar to the tiger photos publicized by the Shaanxi Forestry Department.” From then on, bloggers in other parts in China also reported calendar pictures of the tiger.
A reporter from The South China Daily made further investigations and found out the publishing company of the calendar picture is inYiwu City, Zhejiang Province. Besides, he located the sample of the calendar picture of the tiger on the homepage of a publishing company. It is known that many people in China like to have tigers printed on calendars that emit powerful energy from the tiger. The picture of tiger might be the one used to fake the photos by the Shaanxi peasant, which was published in 2002.

The kind of news that copying a calendar picture and took the cardboard tiger as a wild South China tiger, and the peasant was awarded 20,000 Yuan from the Shaanxi Government should not be a big deal in China nowadays. At least, it is just a piece of interesting social news. However, it has now evolved into a piece of disgraceful political news.

The strictly controlled political media have chosen to ignore this piece of news, called by Chinese bloggers an “Ostrich Policy.” But some Teflon media that are good at hitting home runs, like the South China Daily, have keenly captured the enormous social implications behind this news that an ordinary peasant suspected of fabricating fraudulent news.

Media Adhere to Justice and Challenged the False News with Bravery

In the editorial of The Southern Metropolis Daily on November 17, 2007, titled “It’s a Shame to Hide and Distort the Truth,” which stated, “The emergence of a series of new evidence has brought us closer to the final confirmation on the forgery of the tiger picture; only the last nail is left under the hammer to get the project done. Up till now, a lot of misgivings in the dispute of the tiger picture have been dispelled, and all others that continuously cooked up evidence and insisted the tiger picture was true might fall into a shameful condition.”

“During the entire tiger-picture incident, there is a huge gap between the official side and civilians’ side in terms of the attitude towards the truth. It can be said that the former is so eager to dominant the right to explain the truth that it completely ignored the power of the united Internet users who took part in finding the evidence, which also was ignored the historically-proven rule that truth would finally come out, regardless of the fact that a handful of people tried to manipulate it. Similar patterns exist in other fields and in the social incidents as well.”

“If the tiger picture is proven fraudulent, it implied there might be questions and blames. The despicable shall be left in shame; otherwise, the preciousness of the truth will be neglected sooner or later. When trying to find the truth of the nature, there should be a premise; in other words, the truth of society as well as people’s attitude towards truth must first be rectified. The act of manipulating the truth at will; not only prevents us from searching for the miracles of nature, but also degrade the moral values in our society.”
In an article on The Guangming Daily’s website, it stated: “If the Zhou tiger has been tested by experts and confirmed that it was taken from a calendar picture, Zhou Zhenglong shall be suspected of being involved in fraud. The local judicial organ should not only recover his 20,000 Yuan award but also prosecute him and bring him to justice. In addition, the local government officials and the related experts should be questioned one by one because they are involved in malfeasance and jobbery. If there is a profit chain behind the ‘Zhou-Tiger’ incident, the problem will become more serious: For what purpose the shoddy farce was directed? Who will pay the bill for all kinds of resources used and the different costs paid? The related government departments, however, have not taken any actions, and ignored the will of the people by saying the testing of the picture is beyond their duties. The existence of South China tiger is undoubtedly important, but the public opinions and the query from the people about the tiger picture are no less important than the existence of South China Tiger itself. Under such circumstances, paying no attention to the public opinions is neglecting public opinions, which will harm the feelings of the public.”

According to Chinese media, when challenged by the New-Year-Tiger picture, the Bureau of Forestry in Shaanxi Province said it would not make another statement regarding the validity of the South China Tiger. It was reported that an information source inside the Bureau of Forestry claimed that the leaders of the Bureau already came to a final conclusion that the “Zhou Tiger” was a real, wildlife tiger on November 9, 2007. According to Wang Wanyun, Director of Wildlife Protection Department in the Bureau, the leaders of the Bureau would not make more comments on this matter, as they would not change their conclusion made on November 9, 2007. The Xinhua News Agency reported that Mr. Yuan Chunqing, Governor of Shaanxi Province made the following statement while he was visiting Hong Kong: “We may not be able to have a conclusion for the Tiger incident immediately. It is necessary to investigate this matter. It was not wrong for the government to award Zhou. Searching for South China Tiger is more important than finding out whether the picture is true or fake.” (The Xinhua News Website, November 17, 2007)

The “No more comments” policy persisted by the Bureau of Forestry in Shaanxi Province, as well as the statement by the Governor: “Searching for South China Tiger is more important than finding out whether the picture is true or fake,” greatly infuriated the Internet readers in China.

The following quote is what conveyed in a review report from the Guangming Daily’s website: “What a sharp contrast it is between their active involvements before and their passiveness today!” compared the blatancy of the staff from the Bureau of Forestry when the Tiger picture was publicized with their current reluctance to make any comments when the truth is about to surface.
Chinese Cyber Users See History in the Making
An Internet user posted his opinion:  “It does not matter whether the picture is genuine or fake!  The existence of the extinct South-China tiger is unimportant!  What does matter is the government has not yet made any explanation to this group fraud!  Shaanxi government has not been the least apologetic, and the Central Government has been totally silent!”

Another Internet blogger pointed out: “Since the authenticity of the photos were so unimportant:  Why on earth at that time, for the doubtful photos, the Forestry Department of Shaanxi spent two days appraising the photos; a press conference was held; a reward of 20,000 Yuan was awarded to the photographer; the CCTV broadcast the news during prime time; and the photographer Zhou reported to the National Forestry Bureau; reporters nationwide interviewed Zhou; the officials as well as the photographer bet on their lives; Mr. Guan Ke, Director of Propaganda Center, the Forestry Department of Shaanxi, addressed Zhou as “a national hero;” Shaanxi television interviewed Zhou’s entire family on TV.

All these were just for the doubtful photos! The Department was willing to waste so much time for the questionable photos. It really did not matter whether the photos were genuine. I thoroughly realized that there’s no lower limit to some persons’ shamelessness and stupidity!”

From the Guangming Daily columnist’s observation: “On the surface, it was Zhou who provided the photo for 20,000 Yuan. In addition, Shaanxi forestry department’s declared that the photos were real and called the press conference, announcing that the South China tiger was found in Zhengping, Shaanxi Province. Once these were confirmed as fraud, our feelings are inevitably hurt. While a peasant’s words may be disregarded, can we also place much credit in those high-level officials of the Government?

A blogger hoped that following the truth of the South-China tiger photos, other fabricated news and history would be rectified. This blogger commented that a calendar picture of the tiger revealed the falsity of the South-China-tiger photos and exposed the shamelessness of the Government officials. The truth of other historical events will also come to light as research deciphers more files not just the fake tiger.”

Another blogger pointed out the incident is related to current political system. “Once a farce had ended, there will be others as long as dictatorship rules the country.”
Blogger, Peter Yang published an article, analyzing the roles of the local and central government in this South-Tiger incident. He argued that local officials distorted the central government’s good intentions. The article said that, “General Secretary Hu already very explicitly proposed a change in governmental functions, emphasizing on a harmonious society rather than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and focus on social justice than the uncontrolled economic growth. As a western province, Shaanxi’s desire for development is good. However, with the development of information technology, it is inappropriate to seek conservation funds with a fake photo. As the situation gets worse, more high-level officials will be punished. The actions of Shaanxi officials are totally against the people’s will. Not only does it undermine the entire society’s good faith, justice and harmony, it is completely against General Secretary Hu’s policy.”

However, other Chinese bloggers considered the above viewpoint too naive. One raised the question of whether one can find a simple truth under the current system. “We need not worry about South-China tiger. We should pay attention to things that concern us the most; that is: Can the current system still function?”

This blogger added: “We must know the truth.  Have morality and integrity gone extinct among our officials?  Have surveillance organizations of the country gone extinct? Have media conscience gone extinct? Have the strength and spirit among Chinese intellectuals gone extinct?”

This blogger pointed out a very important phenomenon. In the era of the Internet, the days when the government had absolute control of the media were gone. Chinese today are lucky, because they can finally obtain the truth. This blogger proudly said that we have proved that we do not need the bureaucrats or the non-conscientious media or the experts with weak- character. We ourselves, the people, can find out the truth.”
This is the power of the Internet. The role of the Internet is highly appraised. He added that with the Internet, we can lay out the truth for those leaders and then aloofly explain it to them. “Cyber friends” are no longer fictitious. They are outstanding achievers from all walks of life. They are the invincible force that safeguards our social justice.”

Another cyber friend was also amazed at the power of the Internet. He said, “The fake news, starting as the trivial news ends up a big scandal. The Internet is magical.

Another posted that the fake-tiger incident shows that it is no longer possible for this worse-than-fascist criminal organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to rule the country with lies.
The tiger incident is not about the photographer Zhou Zhenglong.  The Southern Metropolis Daily published an editorial that this incident shows that the era when people blindly believe what the Government says is over. The time when even if the people do not believe the Government, they do not dare, are not able to, and have no way to speak out, question or validate those claims is over. The time of a silenced society is over.

The Boxun News Website published an article that the triumph of the paper tiger incident is that the people can question the Government’s conclusion on some matters.  Even though the independent thinking is growing and maturing; however, it may not be applied to many other major events. These include, “the June 4,” the formation of the Democratic Party and the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.  Nevertheless the author believed that as more people became courageous to stand up and tell the truth, all the lies will be exposed and the truth will surface.

[1] VOA news, Nov 23, 2007
[2]. Science, Vol. 318. no. 5852, p. 893, November 9, 2007
[3]. Save the tiger fund website, October 18, 2007