A Chinese newspaper claims two young girls committed suicide in hopes of traveling back in time like the characters on popular TV shows. Is this a real case of death-by-TV, or is it government propaganda?
The English-language site People's Daily Online has the story, which apparently originated at the paper China Daily. Fifth-grader Xiao Hua (not her real name) apparently "realized she lost the remote control for a rolling door at her house." So she decided to commit suicide. Her friend Xiao Mei (also a pseudonym) decided to die with her, "because they were the best friends." She, however, had bigger concerns than a remote control: "She planned to travel back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to make a film of an emperor; and she wanted to visit outer space." The two wrote suicide notes and then drowned themselves in a pool.
This sounds like a cautionary tale about parenting — if your kid thinks killing herself is a good response to losing the remote control, you might not be sending the right message about the value of everyday objects. But Sun Yunxiao, deputy director of China Youth and Children Research Center, has a different moral in mind:
Schoolchildren are rich in curiosity but poor in judgment, so this kind of tragedy happens in every era. I have heard of children jumping from high buildings after watching an actor flying in a magic show. This kind of imitative behavior is in the nature of young children, but it's very dangerous. So we should give some sort of warning for children on TV programs.
I'm actually not sure that killing yourself so you can travel back in time and film an emperor (where do you get the camera?) is a tragedy that "happens in every era." It sounds like this suicide was only tangentially related to time travel. But time-travel TV is a big issue in China right now. Shows with time-travel plots (like the one above, Palace Lockheart) have been popular in recent years, and last spring, the government cracked down on them, issuing guidelines stating that time-travel storylines "lack positive thoughts and meaning." The guidelines also said that time-travel shows "casually make up myths, have monstrous and weird plots, use absurd tactics, and even promote feudalism, superstition, fatalism and reincarnation."
What exactly the government has against time travel remains somewhat vague, but a number of people seem to be taking the girls' deaths as an opportunity to emphasize its dangers. China Daily also has comedian Huang Hong's reaction:
[A] time travel show should not excessively dramatize historical events. Young audiences, especially child viewers, could be disturbed by the absurdity and exaggeration in the time travel series.
Huang is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a governmental advisory body. China Daily is a state-owned paper, described by the Committee to Protect Journalists as "straitlaced." People's Daily Online is the website of People's Daily, which until recently described itself as "the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China" — it now offers a more circumspect description: "one of the world's top ten newspapers." It's distinctly possible that Huang and China Daily were under pressure from the government to paint the girls' suicide as a direct result of the evil influence of time travel. The question remains: why?