Midway through a news briefing Tuesday, the blue-clad reporter had enough. A fellow journalist in a red jacket beside her was asking how Beijing would keep tabs on overseas investment under President Xi Jinping’s Belt-and-Road infrastructure program.
Her query meandered. “The transformation of the role of state-assets supervision, centered on capital management, is currently a subject of widespread concern,” she said, then kept talking.
The clock ticked.
Disdain appeared to creep across the face of the woman in blue as she listened to the roughly-45-second softball.
When the woman in red finally got around to her main question, the woman in blue had raised a fist to her chin and furrowed her eyebrows. She cast sideways glances at the speaker and around her. Then, with a toss of the head, she executed an eye-roll to make Miley Cyrus proud.
For viewers, it was a rare flash of unscripted emotion amid stage-managed tedium. “It was like she was expressing frustration on behalf of the rest of us” over the scripted nature of the event, says Zhang Lifan, a Beiijng-based independent historian who has written critically about the government.
A meme was born, setting phones vibrating around China.
.. The eye-roller, Liang Xiangyi, a television reporter for Shanghai-based Yicai Media Group, emerged as a kind of folk hero for those tired of the turgid pageantry.
.. A Tuesday column on Chinese online-media firm Sina Corp.’s technology news portal attempted to explain why people roll their eyes: “Human eyes feature more white areas than those of other primates, therefore we have a special ability to communicate through eyeball rotation.”
.. Ms. Liang “was like an innocent child who blurted out that the emperor has no clothes,” Mr. Qin says, adding that the incident allowed “ordinary people with no opportunity to participate in politics to express their scorn and discontent in a roundabout way.”
.. “It means that what we crave in these sham, everything’s-great events is something real.”