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China: Tiger! Tiger?

Categories: East Asia, China, Economics & Business, Environment, Ideas, Photography, Travel

News Background

On 12, Oct, a breaking news caught people's sights: A villager Zhou Zhenglong (周正龙) in Shaanxi [1] province managed to shoot over 30 pictures of a wild South China tiger [2], a kind of endangered animal that can be called the national treasure. South China tigers haven’t been seen in wild since 1980s, and this picture strongly proved their existence. Zhou Zhenglong, who proclaimed that he risked his life to shoot the pictures, was soon called a hero.

However, the great finding soon fell under numerous questions. This boiling controversy started from netizens’ doubts that pictures, or even the tiger itself, were faked, reaching its climax when both sides of this debate (fake or not)bet their heads. It evolved from a scientific issue to a “bloody farce of gambling of heads”, so called.

The pictures were shot on 3, Oct. After experts’ identification, 10 days later Shaanxi Provincial Ministry of Forestry publicized them and soon received favorable attentions. Nevertheless 3 days later on Tianya [3](天涯)Community a netizen Party Control Guns(党指挥枪) stated [4] that they were faked. He argued that in different pictures shot at different time from different angles the stripes and profile of the tiger remained the same.

Another netizen First Impression(第一印象) overlapped 3 photos and found the tiger’s postures, shades on its fur and stripes overlapped as well, which means that the tiger ossified when being shot. Netizens gave a more authentic explanation: it is a tiger drawn on a paperboard, or grafted into the picture by Photoshop.

Having heard the doubts, Zhou Zhenglong was upset and furious, claming that he could guarantee the pictures’ authenticity with his head.

Then, on 19th, Oct, a botanist Fu Dezhi(傅德志) from China Academy of Sciences [5](中国科学院)retorted [6]Zhou on a net forum. He argued that the leaf around was notably disproportional with the tiger, calculating that the leaf had to be as large as a basin to reach the effect on the photo. Furthermore, he suggested not only the tiger was faked, but the scene as well . Finally, he pledged with his head.

Zhou immediately rebuked that he would put himself as well as his son into jail if he had fooled the public

The incident soon gained a national-wide concern. People called it Scientist PK Farmer. Most netizens doubted Zhou; some made further analysis on the pictures from the points of photography, zoology and graphic processing. But Zhou Zhenglong was not alone. The provincial Ministry of Forestry sided firmly with Zhou. Wang Yunshan(王云山), an officer there asserted the pictures were true though they had a little bit distortion because the pictures had been magnified. He also revealed the ministry had applied to the national ministry for building a new reserve and was going to attract tourists by the name of tigers.

The local government has circled an area that forbids any out-comers in, claiming it for tiger protection. But on websites, people interpreted this as covering up the fact. On 20th, Oct, a reporter who tried to explore the scene where Zhou encountered the tiger was detained [7]. The village officer extorted for 10000 yuan, though he finally left without paying the fine.

24th, Oct, Zhou and officers from provincial government left for Beijing to report to the national ministry. Soon the national ministry declared they would found a team for special investigation. The real story behind this mystery was yet unknown.

Roundup of voices form blogsphere

1. When a gory gambling replaces science.

Many netizens criticized the both sides’ savage pledges that have gone beyond scientific discussion.

Dan Shibing (单士兵)stated [8]:


Exploring the truth requires the awe to science. However, when the scientific researcher “pledged with his head” and a citizen took “putting himself with his son into jail” as a wager, they treated the contention in a violent way, so apathetic to life. It’s an insult to the reason of science, profaning the dignity of civilization.

Another netizen in Tom.com [9]mocked [10]:


The two points of view are distinct. They swore with their heads so that one of two will have to hand in his head. Let’s wait for a joke.

Cai Fanghua(蔡方华) on Beijing Youth [11] argued [12]for a more rational solution:


It (the local government that insists on the pictures’ veracity) has a lot more to do. For example, it can ask some independent agencies such as WWF [13]and domestic or foreign experts to identify the pictures. Whether true or not should not be decided by a few officials. It needs to follow strict scientific process. Otherwise, public won’t be content, let alone the international society.

Blogger Chen Tan (陈潭)suggests [14] more practical measures of animal protecting:


To protect South China tigers is to protect human ourselves. Don’t let the meaningless contention be a focus. ……Can we guarantee the tigers’ future with heads? Of course not. It’s time to face out fragile notion of animal protecting; that’s more important than any argument.

2. loss of trust

Deng Haijian(邓海建) moaned [15] for the loss of trust:


A science issue came to be a stunt. Whose tragedy is it? We need more introspection. Why are public so inclined to questioning scientific findings? Why do the scientific departments and authority have so little credit among people? Why do we put more effort on empty debate than on searching for factual demonstration?

3.The economic connotation beyond

Chen Qingzhi (陈庆之) in BlogChina analyzed [16] the economics and political factor:


This is a tiger with Chinese typicality. It involved officials’ chances for promotion and other economic benefit. Some people will get promoted because the finding is a big contribution. Certain government departments will get a large amount of specific fund from the nation to protect the wildlife so that some people have chance to snatch food from tigers. (He alludes someone might take chance to defalcate)

Finally, Liu Maohua(刘茂华)preferred [17] there is no tiger.


I don’t hope there are tigers. Poachers and illicit sellers will swarm to there. However fierce the tigers are they will extinct again. And those “good men” will pretend to protect tigers but actually seek profit for themselves. They will build a large resort and develop tour projects, incarcerating lively tigers into lifeless cages.

The day that people find wild tigers is the day of tigers’ doom.