Mockery of the new office building of People's Daily has gone viral these days on Sina Weibo. In fact, since 2009 when the final design plan was released, there have been jokes that the building looks like an electric iron, an aircraft carrier, the Death Star, and even a chamber pot.
But all these jeers appear very genteel compared to the latest photo hotly circulating on Weibo. In the picture, one flank of the building looks like an erect penis, and what makes it more embarrassing is that the new landmark is seated right behind the new CCTV tower which has been lambasted for resembling female genitalia.
For netizens who vigorously reposted the photo and made fun of the "brain-damaged" design, it is an incredible mystery why phallic references could be blatantly implanted in this architecture.
However, it's also a fact that the pornographic interpretations are barely visible in real life.
The west gate of the People's Daily compound is on my daily route to work. The gate was closed in 2011 when the new office building's construction began. For the past couple of years, the rise of this irregularly shaped leviathan was increasingly noticeable. Finger-pointing is not uncommon, but sexual interpretations are a stretch.
The prominent building can be easily identified looking from nearby parks or residential buildings, but one needs to walk up to it and spend quite some time if he wants to find out the specific angle in the picture to see the top part, which, framed with construction racks, seems to hide sexual suggestions.
Probably we can always find something bizarre in novelties.
Zhou Qi, the leading designer of the new People's Daily building who won the bid in 2009, has calmly responded to netizens' jokes, saying that it's natural that untraditional architecture meets random judgments and he does not mind at all.
But netizens' jokes have more to do with the State background of the buildings, rather than the designs themselves. Both People's Daily and CCTV are State media outlets. In Chinese eyes, they are no different from government departments. The complex public attitudes toward the government are echoed in online banter.
People vent discontent through embarrassing the government. They hope they could boost change in this way. But paradoxically, they may harbor stereotypes of the State media's image and any change may incur criticism.
Zhou was actually quite surprised that his scheme would be ultimately adopted, since it was a very bold concept. In Zhou's eyes, there are too many square and insipid "boxes," and his building will be something different.
But this also means a challenge to people's traditional views of the Party newspaper. Even if young netizens may applaud the paper's surprisingly sharp opinions online, deep in heart they still think another square box fits the People's Daily compound more.
Nonetheless, the weight of interpretations heaped on these buildings is lightening. In January 2009 when the new CCTV high-rise was finished, China was witnessing a peak of nationalism.
An online poll by the Global Times website suggested that 47 percent of respondents were "very angry" and thought there were "pornographic incentives."
The new CCTV building was even condemned as a deliberate attempt by the foreign designer to humiliate the Chinese. There was a fierce debate online whether the new landmark symbolized China's rise or China's shame.
Today people rarely go that far. Few are claiming that Zhou's design is an illicit political move against the authorities, or that the building once again "humiliates" the Chinese. It's more a joke than an opportunity to express real rage, especially compared to 2009.
The author is an opinion editor with the Global Times. firstname.lastname@example.org