A picture posted online by the government of Ningguo, a small city in Anhui province, showed the deputy mayor and his colleagues towering above the city’s oldest resident while paying their respects to her at a festival earlier this month.
One-hundred-and-three-year-old Cheng Yanchun, looking smaller than a Hobbit, is squeezed into the bottom right hand corner of the image; next to her, a botched fade-out effect makes it look a little like the oversized local leaders have risen from the dead.
The picture has since been removed from the government’s website, but continues to float about on social media.
“After this incident occurred, the picture was reproduced on all the major web portals and this had a negative impact on our city,” said Ningguo’s government in one of several statements posted on its website Wednesday (in Chinese).
“For this reason, we have decided to publicly admonish the Civil Affairs Bureau and the person responsible, Xu Feiyu. We hope all departments will learn a lesson from this incident and be even more rigorous in checking the information they publish.”
Officials said they really did visit Ms. Cheng, but acknowledged that the picture was altered using Photoshop, a program that is used to manipulate images.
It isn’t the first time government personnel have been exposed after inept attempts to doctor an image. Two years ago, officials in Huili County in the southwestern province of Sichuan went to inspect a newly built road – but in photographs of the trip they appear to be floating high above the asphalt.
This latest Photoshop snafu adds fuel to a smoldering cynicism about minor officials and their cack-handed publicity. It also comes in the midst of a “mass line” campaign launched new Chinese president Xi Jinping that aims to improve the Communist Party’s image among the people.
In an interview with state-run CCTV that aired Thursday morning, the culprit came clean. Mr. Xu, the director of the city’s Aging Office, was apparently motivated by nothing more than a desire to get everyone into the same photo.
“I thought this photo by itself didn’t really represent the occasion,” he said. “So I put the two pictures together. At the time I didn’t think there would be such a big reaction.”
Remembering that earlier screw-up, some netizens felt more inclined to forgive Mr. Xu and his colleagues in Ningguo.