SHANGHAI — It was the eye roll seen across China.
As the annual meeting of the country’s legislature stretched into its second week, the event’s canned political pageantry and obsequious (and often scripted) media questions seemingly proved too much for one journalist on Tuesday.
With a fellow reporter’s fawning question to a Chinese official pushing past the 30-second mark, Liang Xiangyi, of the financial news site Yicai, began scoffing to herself. Then she turned to scrutinize the questioner in disbelief.
As Ms. Liang rolled her eyes with a look of such concentrated disgust, it seemed only natural that her entire head should follow her eyes backward as she looked away in revulsion.
Captured by China’s national news broadcaster, CCTV, the moment spread quickly across Chinese social media.
It was a rare puncturing of the artifice surrounding the widely watched, intentionally dull National People’s Congress. The carefully choreographed event, at which top leaders make speeches and delegates rubber-stamp new policy, lends a veneer of democracy to China’s autocratic system of governance. This year, it has drawn heightened attention for a constitutional amendment that abolished term limits for President Xi Jinping.
On Chinese social media, GIFs and other online riffs inspired by Ms. Liang’s epic eye roll quickly proliferated, and by evening they were being deleted by government censors. Ms. Liang’s name became the most-censored term on Weibo, the microblogging platform. On Taobao, the freewheeling online marketplace, vendors began selling T-shirts and cellphone cases bearing her image.
In one video, three men did a deadpan recreation of the incident. On Ms. Liang’s Weibo account — which quickly soared to 100,000 followers and kept climbing — supporters flooded her with jokes and comments of support.
“You are the only thing I remember since the beginning of the National People’s Congress,” one commenter wrote. Another saluted “an eye-rolling representing all people who don’t dare to do so.”
On the messaging app WeChat, people jokingly separated Ms. Liang and the questioner into two parties based on the color of their clothing. Many said they supported the blue party, in reference to Ms. Liang. The questioner, Zhang Huijun, wore red — the color of China and the Chinese Communist Party.
Before posing her question to the government official, Xiao Yaqing, Ms. Zhang had introduced herself as the operating director of American Multimedia Television U.S.A., a Los Angeles-based broadcaster that has had partnerships with Chinese state-run television in the past, according to its website. Its president, Jason Quin, also lists himself on LinkedIn as the president of a Los Angeles Confucius Institute, organizations supported by Beijing that promote Chinese culture and propaganda overseas.
News outlets with such ties to the Chinese government are often chosen to ask questions of China’s rarely available political leaders at the National People’s Congress, while more mainstream local and foreign outlets are seldom called on. Neither Ms. Zhang’s employer nor Ms. Liang’s responded to a request for comment on the incident Tuesday.
For the record, Ms. Zhang’s question was as follows:
“The transformation of the responsibility of supervision for state assets is a topic of universal concern. Therefore, as the director of the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council, what new moves will you make in 2018? This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Reform and Opening-up Policy, and our country is going to further extend its openness to foreign countries. With General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi proposing the One Belt One Road Initiative, state-owned enterprises have increased investment to countries along the route of One Belt One Road, so how can the overseas assets of state-owned enterprises be effectively supervised to prevent loss of assets? What mechanisms have we introduced so far, and what’s the result of our supervision? Please summarize for us, thank you.”