Category Archives: media

“China State Media at Odds Over Myanmar Censorship Move”

If there’s anything I like more than seeing the propaganda machine trip itself up, I can’t think of it right now (via WSJ):

News on Monday that Myanmar had decided to end press censorship has prompted different takes from Chinese media outlets, as well as doubts from the online community that China will its own tight restrictions anytime soon.

The website of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspaper, covered the news in a fairly evenhanded way on Monday, going so far as to quote a local journalist in Rangoon saying, “this is a great day for all Myanmar journalists.”

The People’s Daily post marked the latest instance over the past two weeks in which the paper – which is often criticized online – met with public praise. It won accolades last week with a commentary that offered public support to the mother of a rape victim who was sent to a labor camp after pushing tougher punishment for the men who allegedly attacked her daughter.

The Global Times, a nationalist-leaning tabloid published by the People’s Daily, was less supportive. In an editorial on Tuesday, it said China should never follow Myanmar’s model.

“China’s reform process has been baptized and tested thousands of times, while Myanmar’s reform is just about to bud,” read the editorial. “We would be naïve and childish if we doubt ourselves because we, a well-grown tree, look different from a flower bud.”

“China has been on the track of liberalizing the press for a long time, and will go further in the future,” it read. “We should proceed based on the national situation, instead of being panicked and making backwards countries like Myanmar and Vietnam our totem.”

Many online wondered whether China, with its tight media controls, would follow. “It seems that only North Korea and us are left now,” one Weibo user observed. “When will this great day come to China’s journalists?” asked another.

Others sounded more skeptical. “May I ask, does Myanmar delete Weibo posts?” wrote Pan Shiyi, a prominent real-estate developer, on his verified Sina Weibo’s account, referring to China’s censors deleting unfavorable online posts — a practice that has become increasingly frequent as use of social media grows in the country.

Also, good quotes from Bill Bishop in another article:

Bishop says Beijing’s current policy of blocking any online material it deems objectionable does seem unsustainable, partly because it is increasingly unpopular with the Chinese public.

“If you are a participant on Chinese social media, you know censorship is going on, and it is regularly mocked and criticized quite vociferously.” says Bishop, who points out that the Chinese Internet was buzzing with conversation on the Burma issue.

“People on Weibo [social media site] were making unfavorable comparisons between China, Burma, and North Korea, and joking that North Korea would open up their media before China. I think that’s a bit extreme, but it just shows that people do know what’s going on and I think that kind of knowledge becomes very corrosive,” said Bishop.

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Filed under censorship, media, Myanmar

“On the Trail of Confiscated Copies of TIME in China”

Any fans of ridiculous bureaucracy battles should read this piece from the TIME magazine blog:

The note arrived in a nearly empty box sent to TIME’s Beijing Bureau. All copies of TIME Magazine’s May 14, 2012 issue with a cover entitled The People’s Republic of Scandal had been “safeguarded by customs.” Apparently, some customs officer had been entrusted with counting each confiscated copy ; there were, the receipt noted, 62 seized magazines. At the bottom of the customs document, there were five categories (with boxes to be ticked next to them) that described the possible fate of the seized magazines: 1. To be returned to sender 2. To be taxed 3. To be inspected 4. To be declared 5. To be dealt with. Our 62 magazines fell into the last category. They were being “dealt with.”

By whom had they been “dealt with?” And given that the customs receipt said we could contact the capital customs’ office within three months to retrieve the magazines, perhaps we could even get them back?

From that point ensued a surreal— and utterly common— exercise in Chinese bureaucratic futility. My colleague Jessie Jiang began working the phones. She first called the number on the receipt for the Beijing customs office. After many failed attempts to get someone to address TIME’s concerns, a customs official explained to Jessie that the magazines had probably been confiscated because of the “sensitive” nature of the issue. “As you know, China is very strict when it comes to ideology,” the customs officer told Jessie.

Beijing customs said they had no authority to allow the release of the magazines without a letter from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Press and Publication. But several representatives of that bureau said there were no employees there who dealt with such matters—and that they had never written a letter reversing a confiscation decision before. One of the officials told Jessie: “This is China. We don’t allow foreign magazines to be distributed.” (Which, given the number of foreign publications available at upmarket newsstands in Beijing, is obviously untrue.)

The exciting conclusion is on their blog- check it out.

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“China Soft-Power Watch: the Yang Rui ‘Foreign Bitch’ Factor”

It’s hard to even explain how ridiculous this story is to someone who hasn’t spent hours in China watching Dialogue, perhaps the closest thing to a functional news discussion show the entire country has. It’s in English, which means the government cares less about it, and foreign guests are (relatively) free to challenge the government line on the issues of the day. Yang Rui is the host, a cultured-sounding guy who looks quite reasonable compared to the average CCTV on-air employee. After this rant, however, it’s hard to imagine him getting many self-respecting foreign guests in the future:

The Public Security Bureau wants to clean out the foreign trash: To arrest foreign thugs and protect innocent girls, they need to concentrate on the disaster zones in [student district] Wudaokou and [drinking district] Sanlitun. Cut off the foreign snake heads. People who can’t find jobs in the U.S. and Europe come to China to grab our money, engage in human trafficking and spread deceitful lies to encourage emigration. Foreign spies seek out Chinese girls to mask their espionage and pretend to be tourists while compiling maps and GPS data for Japan, Korea and the West. We kicked out that foreign bitch and closed Al-Jazeera’s Beijing bureau. We should shut up those who demonize China and send them packing.

The ‘foreign bitch’ in this case is Melissa Chan, whose expulsion from China is one of the saddest stories for Chinese journalism in recent memory. Maybe Yang is just mad that a foreigner of Chinese ancestry and appearance has contributed far more to Chinese journalism than he ever will? James Fallows on the incident:

Many foreigners who have been on the show know the experience I had during my few appearances, early in my time in China. When you’re on the set before the show begins, there is a lot of light and non-dogmatic chat with the hosts and the other guest(s). But once the show begins, the tone often shifts, with an opening question from the host on the lines of: “To our guest James Fallows, I must ask: do you not agree that the United States is being unfair and unreasonable in the demands it is making of the Chinese government? Especially considering its many failures at home and its relative decline in standing in the world?” Then once the show is over, it’s light, easy, non-agitprop chat again.

The first time this happened to me, I was startled. But as soon as I thought about it I realized: this is the tightrope you walk inside a state-controlled news network. To the show’s credit, it allows the foreigners to reply in kind and and to challenge the terms of the question. And often it broadcasts the show live, with limited real-time control on what a guest might say. (On the other hand, since it’s in English, the audience inside China is limited.) I was on the show three or four times, usually during US-China meetings or controversies. I found the whole experience educational, as part of my ongoing “this is China” immersion, but eventually I decided this was not a sensible venue for me. I know that many foreigners in China have considered doing anthropological studies, or satiric novels, about the kind of “foreign experts” that CCTV is most comfortable having as frequent return visitors on the show.

On his Sina Weibo account, Dialogue host Yang Rui let loose with an anti-foreigner rant so extreme that on first reading I was sure it had to be a parody. Only it wasn’t. It’s as if you heard a Stephen Colbert “in character” riff on his show — and then suddenly realized he wasn’t kidding. To put it further in context, it’s as if a well-known figure whose trademark was urbane earnestness — again let’s say Ted Koppel, or Charlie Rose — let rip with a David Duke-style diatribe and evidently meant it.

Again, I thought at first this was an urbane Chinese cosmopolite, mocking nativist Chinese attitudes, Colbert-style. That it was serious is … worth reflection.

This is the man whose face China is using to present itself to the world… a virulent anti-foreigner racist? Cool! This whole thing is a soft-power train wreck.


Filed under media, soft power

More Melissa Chan Fallout

Two more reactions to her expulsion from China, first from Rectified.Name:

Some might see it as a badge of honor to be the first foreign journalist in 15 years to be kicked out of China – and I suppose on some level, like Dan Schorr being included on Nixon’s Enemies List – it is. But for those journalists who remain, and the world at large who depend upon them to make sense of the rapid changes in China today, the decision is a chilling reminder that the government knows its attempts at managing China’s international image are flailing badly. Since 2008, when new regulations were announced – if not always followed – allowing greater freedom for international organizations to report from China, the government and its representatives have been barely tolerant of coverage they deemed damaging to their own national self-interest and self-image. In several cases, especially those involving the thugocracy which passes for ‘local administration’ in many areas of China today, that tolerance has crumbled into threats and acts of violence and intimidation against foreign journalists and their employees.

One question nobody seems able to answer though is: Why Melissa?

Certainly the timing wasn’t great. The government has had to deal with a number of embarrassing incidents in the past few weeks. Never a good time to apply for a visa. Melissa was also one of the most active correspondents in the foreign press corps. Never content to report “Dateline: Jianguomen,” she spent a large amount of her time in the field, often tweeting about another narrow escape from the forces of Public Insecurity or of being rousted from hotels in the middle of nowhere as she bravely covered stories few others would. It is also one thing to cover a story with a notebook and pen, quite another to do so with cameras, lights, and sound equipment. Officials hate reporters with notebooks, but the sight of a camera in the hands of a professional journalist will generally cause even the sternest cadre into a sudden involuntary fecal event.

I remember an anecdote Melissa once told a group of my students. She said that when she first arrived, the Ministry folks were all smiles, figuring that any network which plays Osama bin Laden’s mix tapes must be alright. Six months later the same ministry folks complained to her that she was just as bad as CNN and the BBC. She replied, “Thank you?”

And from Chovanec:

Melissa is a friend of mine, who has interviewed me for several of her reports, most notably her pathbreaking report on the “ghost city” of Ordos, and her follow-up two years later. Although I know she’s disappointed to leave, I told her that being expelled was sort of like China’s version of the Pulitzer Prize — tangible recognition that the work she was doing was important and powerful enough to strike a very high-level nerve.

If you only have time to watch one video, check out Melissa’s recent report (in March 2012) on China’s secret “black jails.” It will give you an idea of the kind of courageous reporting she has been doing, and I suspect it was one of the things that got her kicked out of the country. I also suspect that her story, in January, interviewing farmers who knew Xi Jinping as a sent-down youth during the Cultural Revolution, was one more thing that helped wear out her welcome. While there was nothing really negative about it — in fact, it was quite complimentary — it trespassed over strict (and rather paranoid) rules barring anyone from discussing any aspect of the biography or personality of China’s next leader.

Just a guess, but somehow I’m pretty sure that kicking Chan out won’t help the tone of China coverage. Hopefully we’ll see a few other journalists going for China Pulitzers of their own in the days and years to come.

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Filed under censorship, journalism, media

“Chinese netizens celebrate “Tweet Deletion Festival”

From Shanghaiist, the Chinese reaction to World Press Freedom Day:

Yesterday I sent out a few tweets on Tencent Weibo, and this morning when I woke up, I found I could not log into my account anymore. It just so happens that today is World Press Freedom Day. Time to celebrate.
-Murong Xuecun

It’s World Press Freedom Day, but in just one morning, I’ve already received five tweet deletion notices on Sina Weibo. Today in history: The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 to be World Press Freedom Day in a decision on 20 Dec 1993. Weibo is supposed to be a free media, and on this World Press Freedom Day, any tweet regarding Chen Guangcheng is deleted. What press freedom is there to speak of?
-Liu Xiaoyuan

For the world, today is World Press Freedom Day. For China, today is World Press Freedom Day。 But because the media in China is way too free, the two different days are different. Hearty congratulations to China for being ranked 187th among the 197 countries for press freedom by Freedom House. We actually managed to beat North Korea.
-Ran Yunfei

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“Journalism with Chinese Characteristics”

A somewhat funny piece, in a sad kind of way, from a former Global Times writer showed up in The Asia Sentinel today:

I was the first foreigner hired by the publication, which has since earned a reputation for scathing denunciations of pretty much anything not connected to the Communist Party and for occasional calls to arms against the west, regarded as imperialistic hegemonists.

Months before it began printing, I was interviewed and hired by the marmot-bangs bewigged Global Times editor in chief, Hu Xijin, after answering three questions:

“Are you a friend of China?”
“What is your opinion about Tibet?”
“Should China have Western-style democracy?”

That was the bulk of my interview. No questions about journalism per se, or my previous experience as a copy editor and reporter at China Daily, Shenzhen Daily, The Standard in Hong Kong and many more years in the US at daily papers, most of which are now sadly defunct.

It quickly became clear to me though that Hu’s new model wasn’t going to be as progressive as he’d initially led me and others later to believe. It was, of course, journalism with Chinese characteristics.

Although I was presented as an “expert” and asked to train and critique reporters, give several presentations on subjects such as interviewing, feature stories, and hard news stories there were moments when I wondered “What the f**k was I thinking?”

This became glaringly apparent one afternoon when I had been told to give a lecture on Western news style. Prepared with notes and a Power Point presentation, I showed up in the appointed room on time only to find it empty.

After waiting 10 minutes I began seeking one of the few English-speaking Global Times-China staff and asked if she knew where the new troops were.

“They are attending a lecture on the history of the PLA!” I was told brightly. My lecture was never rescheduled as other more “relevant” training, such as the history of the Chinese Communist Party began to amp up.

One of Zhang’s brilliant front page story assignments was one on McDonald’s offering cut rate coupons because “foreigners love McDonald’s.”

Never mind that I had never met a foreigner outside of an embassy who reads Global Times. “Mr Zhang, just go to a Chinese McDonald’s – like the one across the street — and see who the majority of the customers are,” I suggested. But he stuck to it and the result sucked, of course, though it made the front page. Great free advertising for McDonald’s, though.

GT’s comatose-appearing ad sales staff was a whole nother story. None spoke English or had a clue as to how to promote the paper. They spent most of their time playing online games and snoozing at their desks rather than pounding the polluted Beijing pavements for ads.

Given that the English-language edition of Global Times was specifically designed with foreign readers in mind, you can imagine that conditions in newspapers aimed at the domestic audiences are likely even less journalistically sound. No wonder people in China increasingly trust rumors over anything and everything else.

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Bo Xilai Humiliation Celebration Station

Whether or not he’s out of politics forever, this certainly does seem to be a pretty big derail for Bo’s career. From WaPo:

The report made no mention of whether Bo also lost his position on the Party central committee and Politburo in Beijing.

The report came one day after Prime Minister Wen Jiabao used a press conference to publicly rebuke Bo for a Feb 6 scandal that saw the former Chongqing police chief seek refuge for 24 hours at the American consulate in Chengdu.

“This is an earthquake before the 18th Party Congress,” said Wu Jiaxiang, a Chinese scholar. He called the dismissal Thursday the end of just one power struggle over the seats on the next Standing Committee.

According to Chinese media reports, Li Yuanchao, head of the Communist Party’s secretive and powerful organization department which controls personnel and staffing, traveled personally to Chongqing Thursday to announce the decision on Bo’s sacking to local officials there.

From The Useless Tree, on whether or not this is the end of the facade of unity that has been an obsession of the Chinese government since Tiananmen:

For those of us who were around in 1989, one of the key factors that fueled the massive demonstrations that year was the split at the very top of the Chinese political hierarchy, a difference of opinion on how to deal with the students in Tiananmen Square. Roughly, Zhao Ziyang seemed to be seeking some sort of compromise, while Li Peng took a harder line. That difference ultimately led to the failure of the first deployment of military power in May and the eventual downfall of Zhao. Since then it appears that everyone at the top of the political order, especially the Politburo, learned the same lesson: if they let internal differences spill out into the public they could face another crisis of 1989 proportions.

The fix might be in for Zhang: he takes over this duty for now (running the massive conglomerate of Chongqing, for which he seems unsuited), and in return he will move up to the Standing Committee later this fall. And, by some calculations, that might preserve a certain balance among various factions at the top (“Pincelings” v. Communist Youth League veterans v. regional interests, etc.).

And yet… the abruptness and publicity of Bo’s fall might open the door to new, more divisive, political tactics at the top. And if that happens, the lessons of 1989 may go by the wayside.

And still another possibility: Bo’s fall is limited and the broader political damage thus contained. Thus far, he has lost his leadership positions in Chongqing. He is still a member of the Politburo. Although it seems less likely now that he will be promoted to the highest leadership level of the Standing Committee, it may be the case that he does not fall any further politically. Maybe he remains on the Politburo and gains some other sort of position, not as prominent as the leader of Chongqing, but neither as low as some prefecture in Qinghai.

From the CSM:

His prospects had been dimmed since bloggers revealed five weeks ago – in posts supported by photographs – that Bo’s hand-picked police chief and right-hand man, Wang Lijun, had been escorted by police away from the US consulate in Chengdu.

Whether he went to the consulate seeking asylum or for another purpose has not been disclosed. But rather than blacking out all news of the scandal, local and national officials fed it, announcing first that Mr. Wang was undergoing “vacation style medical treatment” and then revealing that Wang had spent a whole night at the consulate and was under investigation.

President Hu Jintao was widely reported last week as describing Wang as a “traitor,” which bode ill for his mentor, and on Wednesday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao banged the last nail into Bo’s coffin with some blunt criticism of his political rival at a press conference – an extremely unusual public assault on a fellow leader.

Finally, the China Media Project has a post about how the news has spread in China:

In wire copy so austere it seemed to supply the epitaph for the political saga of the charismatic “princeling” Bo Xilai (薄熙来), China’s Xinhua News Agency reported today that Bo would no longer serve as the top leader of Chongqing.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether mainstream Chinese media will attempt deeper coverage of Bo Xilai and the Wang Lijun incident — or for that matter, the Cultural Revolution, given Wen Jiabao’s remarks yesterday.

Until then, the discussion will have to happen on Chinese social media, where for most of the day “Bo Xilai” has been one of the top-trending topics.

But as everyone is pouncing on this story as an illustration of internal Party struggles over the future and the 18th Party Congress, let’s not forget that it is also about the past. Bo Xilai has symbolized nostalgia over the Maoist era, and many on China’s left have been supportive of this.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai, Communist Party, media

“China blames foreign reporters for bad press abroad”

It reminds me of American conservatives talking about a vast conspiracy in the media aimed at destroying the Republican party- the Chinese version depicting an all-encompassing cabal of journalists devoting their careers to overthrowing China by reporting what happens inside her borders is just as funny:

Despite investing billions of dollars in “soft power” projects to improve its image abroad, China complains it is still getting a lot of bad press and is pointing the finger at foreign journalists.

Authorities routinely accuse China’s 900 foreign reporters — a record number, accredited to more than 400 media organisations — of covering China in a negative way. The journalists, meanwhile, complain of regular hindrance to their work.

“It is not that China is against critical reporting,” said Wang Chen, minister in charge of the press office at the State Council, China’s cabinet.

“What we don’t accept are double standards based on a Cold War mentality,” he told French ambassador Sylvie Bermann, who had just highlighted the importance of journalists being allowed to report stories on the ground.

Earlier this month, for instance, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) — an illegal organization in the eyes of Chinese authorities — complained about working conditions for reporters in Tibetan-inhabited areas.

Journalists trying to get to areas hit by deadly unrest in Sichuan province were repeatedly turned back by police, and authorities in those regions cut web and phone communications, making reporting on the issue near impossible.

On Thursday, the FCCC also issued a warning to journalists wanting to cover a revolt against local officials by villagers in east China after a Dutch reporter was beaten up by thugs who appeared to be plainclothes police.

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“Is Democracy Chinese?”

Why does the New York Review of Books occasionally have great China articles? If I recall correctly they’re all from Ian Johnson, who interviewed CMP fellow Chang Ping about his past and whether or not China is suited to democracy:

Q: So you thought everything was great. You heard about the developments in Beijing and were excited.

A: Yes and I was doing well in school too. When you’re personally successful, you tend to think that things are going well. You’re optimistic. I thought things were going well but in some ways I was an angry youth. There’s no contradiction there. You believe, but you want to improve things. During the 1986 student movement, people like Liu Binyan, Fang Lizhi, and Wang Ruowang criticized the party and Deng Xiaoping. I remember hearing about it on the radio and felt in my heart that they were heroes.

At the time I loved literature. In the 1980s, literature was at a peak. I subscribed to a lot of magazines like Harvest and People’s Literature. I remember reading Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum and thinking, Wow, someone can write like that. I remember vividly that I was sitting outside and was so moved by that story. I didn’t quite understand everything but was influenced by it. Also Yu Hua’s short stories, for example. But you know that at that time I was still a complete believer. The books I wanted to read the most were the original works of Marx and Engels. I wanted to learn German to read them.

[Later] Q: So you’re a pragmatist?

A: Actually, many people think I’m more of an idealist. I still think China needs democracy, that it needs to change. I really oppose several arguments [that are commonly made] about why China can’t have democracy, such as the argument that China is unique—that Chinese people need to wait because their “quality” [a Chinese term, suzhi, that implies everything from educational level to manners] isn’t high enough and other ridiculous things like that. Some people said that democracy wasn’t part of Chinese culture, and then Taiwan became democratic. Then they said that Taiwan was a special case. Now look at Wukan. They had their own elections. People say it’s special, but in fact Wukan is really typically Chinese. It’s a Chinese town but they organized everything. So what argument are you left with? If Wukan can have democracy so can other parts of China.

I’m not saying that China should have western-style democracy. In fact, there’s not a single western model. What do they mean? Germany didn’t copy America and America didn’t copy Britain. The issue isn’t copying. It’s do you or don’t you want democracy? Of course democracy has a lot of problems but it’s a way forward.

Since the 1980s, Chinese have been pragmatic. The question since the Cultural Revolution has been: can it work? This was Deng Xiaoping’s biggest influence on Chinese people. They ask if it’ll work or not. Now China has the world’s second-largest economy and could overtake the US. So in terms of market economics it’s been successful and I support this. What we lack is justice. There is no justice in the current system. It’s a practical issue. We need justice. Democracy is a way to bring justice. This is why democracy is necessary.

The government doesn’t discuss rule of law much anymore. It’s become more and more a hooligan way of ruling. They just arrest people and throw them in jail or mental asylums. So the past decade has seen a hooliganization of the political system. Many of the old virtues are destroyed by this. The virtues of humanism, responsibilities of the government—the bottom line is things are disappearing.

Q: What about the writer Han Han’s recent blogposts arguing that democracy may not be well suited to Chinese people? This seems to echo some of the other critics who say that China isn’t read for democracy.

A: He mentions that people have a “low quality” and that democracy could become a problem because it could lead to violence. This is a view the government has propagated for a long time. It’s like saying you can’t practice swimming until you can swim and you can’t swim because you can’t practice. Also, the arguments aren’t new. Many were made publicly last year, around the time of the centenary of the 1911 revolution.

The rest of the interview is here.

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On Shaun Rein: A Shameful Journalist

Christian Bale’s attempted visit to Chen Guangcheng has been bouncing around, with reactions generally varying from “that was awesome, good job Bale” to “that was awesome, although CNN really should have kept a bit more distance from the story.” Personally I take the first one, although I can understand why some people think that it might be somewhat off, journalistically speaking.

Now, enter Forbes writer Shaun Rein, famous on the Chinese blogosphere for his repeated attempts to carry water for the Communist Party:

Bale and CNN’s publicity stunt indicts an entire political system without delving deeper into the reality of Chen’s detention and the interplay between the central and local governments. I have no idea about Chen’s detention, and if he is being wronged or not, but if there are issues with his case, I am not convinced that calling the entire political class “disgusting,” as Bale does, can help.

The last thing the world needs is increased tension between the world’s two superpowers. CNN should be ashamed for becoming more like a tabloid and inserting itself into the story rather than maintaining journalistic integrity and providing an objective view of its subjects.

His entire article is filled with pathetic attempts to sell his upcoming book and his marketing company, but these two paragraphs really are the highlights. In case you didn’t notice- Shaun Rein, China journalist, has no idea about Chen’s detention. Take a moment and think about that. One of the biggest stories in China today, which has been going on for months, and which has attracted international attention to the point where non-China centric Hollywood stars like Christian Bale are going out on a limb to get involved… Rein has ‘no idea.’ Is Chen being wronged? I don’t know, maybe there’s a really good justification for taking a blind lawyer you don’t like and his family and keeping them under illegal house arrest for months. I just can’t make a call on that, because I’m an absolute moron.

Realistically Rein probably isn’t stupid, just propagandized and willfully ignorant and surrounded by incentives to not notice things like this. Unfortunately for him Peking Duck and ChinaGeeks have both picked his statements apart mercilessly:

And then he puts up another of his signature straw men: “They didn’t called President Obama evil for what that one officer did, or call for an overthrow of all of America. Yet Bale did that in China’s case….” Did Bale call Hu Jintao evil? Did he call anyone evil? Did he call for the overthrow of an evil Chinese government? Did we watch the same video? Shaun, as usual, is simply making things up so he can get on his moral high horse. This is straight out of the Anti-CNN playbook.

So there we have it; calling China to the carpet for its shit threatens fragile global relationships so we should shut the fuck up and keep things status quo so marketing companies can keep making money. Sorry, but I’ll take CNN’s journalism over this any time.

And from ChinaGeeks, guest-written by Tom from SeeingRedinChina:

When I pressed Shaun on his ignorance pertaining to Chen’s detention, he said again that he would not comment on something he had no knowledge of. The documentation of Chen’s abuse has been widely reported for nearly three months. To have “no idea” about it seems like he is feigning ignorance, otherwise he must have only been reading People’s Daily (even Global Times reported on Chen). It’s fine that he isn’t convinced that Bale calling the system disgusting is helpful, but how can he complain that CNN didn’t delve deeper into the reality when he himself has no idea about it?

Both rebuttals are worth a read. I’d hope that getting panned like this would encourage Rein to think a little bit harder before writing this kind of slop again, but he’s gotten called on it in the past and never stopped.

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Filed under activism, enforced disappearance, media

More on Beijing Pollution

Today, a continuous stream of reactions to the air pollution that blankets much of Beijing and the surrounding provinces- first, from Evan Osnos:

Air-quality monitors at the U.S. Embassy spat out hourly Twitter readings of “hazardous”—levels that have never been measured in the U.S., even during forest fires. And on Sunday night, the needle hit its limit—500—a point beyond which it could render only the muted plea, “beyond index.” (As Beijingers recall, a programmer on the night shift initially set it to report ultra-high readings as “crazy bad” before diplomats intervened.)

Through it all, the Beijing environmental bureau described the air as “light pollution.” Or, poetically, “fog.”

It is an old issue that returns each winter as the cities’ furnaces roar back into use to deliver central heating, and temperature inversions settle over the North. But more than ever this year, Chinese citizens have taken note of the absurdity. Online, people are debating the best model numbers of 3M masks to buy, and pooling orders for air purifiers. (“Sometimes, I suspect that what we’re breathing isn’t air, but politics,” one person wrote.)

Year by year, it is getting harder to drum up the fog, even though an article in the Global Times quoted the city’s air-pollution chief, Yu Jianhua, in a tour de force of myth-making: “If you compare the air quality on an annual basis, it is actually improving.”

Next, from Tom Lasseter:

The distance between the official line on Beijing’s bad air and a reality that’s as obvious as the sky above is proving to be a challenge for the Chinese government. As with several other high-profile cases this year, the Internet in China, though constrained by censorship, has made traditional propaganda approaches more difficult.

When public opinion amplified by online forums swells to levels that call for “guidance” by the Communist Party of China, officials are caught between contradicting earlier statements or continuing to insist on explanations that sometimes border on the nonsensical. Missteps in either direction run the risk of being criticized at an online speed that outstrips the censors’ ability to delete.

State media said that the country’s largest online retail site, akin to eBay, sold more than 30,000 cotton and respiratory masks on Sunday alone, with more than 20,000 of them going to customers in Beijing.

Using software that allows them to circumvent online censorship programs, some users have posted the embassy numbers on Sina Weibo.

One Sina user said Tuesday, echoing a common frustration on the site: “No one believes in the government, people now choose to take the index from the embassy. How pathetic.”

Finally, James Fallows has more, including pictures showing just how bad it is, and notes that even Chinese media sources are finding it impossible to deny:

Global Times (think Fox News for Chinese nationalists) shockingly uses the word “smog” in a headline on Dec 6, instead of the conventional “mist,” “fog,” or “bad weather.” The story points out that 200 flights had been cancelled in Beijing as of mid-day because of the air quality.

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Filed under censorship, media, pollution, public health

“Chinese journalists must be ‘mouthpieces’ of the state”

The new head of CCTV just gave the game away, as Malcolm Moore from The Telegraph reports. Looks to me like Beijing is thinking about tightening the reins even more, if that’s even possible:

Hu Zhanfan, who took the reins at CCTV in November, said that journalists who kidded themselves that they were independent professionals, rather than “propaganda workers”, were making a “fundamental mistake about identity”.

In an event hosted by the China National Media Association, Mr Hu told his colleagues that “the first social responsibility and professional ethic of media staff should be understanding their role clearly as a good mouthpiece”.

He added that those who forgot this lesson “would never go far”.

Since the Communist party took power, it has held to a Marxist-Leninist view of journalism as a tool of propaganda, even as it seeks to commercialise the sector and expand into markets overseas, including the UK.

However, hearing the party line so bluntly voiced by the new head of CCTV was enough to depress many journalists, and prospective journalists, about the prospects of China opening up its tight control of the sector.

Mr Hu’s comments, posted on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, caused a flurry of 10,000 responses, most of which were quickly erased by the censors. “As a media student, I feel very depressed,” said a web user called Bao Xiaomo. “People who are obviously doing advertising claim that they are doing news.”

Jiao Guobiao, a former professor of media and journalism at Peking university who fell from grace after challenging the central Propaganda department, said Mr Hu had merely spoken his mind in a relaxed meeting of his peers.

“Whether you study journalism or work as a journalist, you are told this mantra over and over again, that you work for the Party and are its mouthpiece. The problem is that only the Party gets a mouthpiece, the public does not get a mouthpiece,” he said.

Referring to the outrage on the internet, Mr Jiao said: “Kids born in the 1980s and 1990s obviously are not aware of how the system works, so they get angry and indignant. The paradox is that the media has borrowed the Western concepts of objectivity and neutrality, but put them in the service of propaganda. Hopefully things will change in five to ten years time.”

Meanwhile, Fu Guoyong, a veteran journalist and commentator, gave his view of the Chinese media on Weibo: “There is no relatively independent media at present. Even if there are quite a few organisations orientated to the market, behind them stands the party media and we are all controlled by the party’s propaganda organs.”

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“Finding common ground”

Bhucheug K. Tsering from International Campaign for Tibet has a blog post here written in response to a recent China Daily article. He finds some cause for optimism, but:

As I am writing this I am thinking of the increasing Chinese interaction with Taiwanese as a people, including those from the KMT, who are historically the arch enemy of the Communists. Chinese officials and society have been providing space to the Taiwanese, be it freedom of movement to and from China or other levels of interaction. Even KMT leader, Lien Chan, was not only able to travel all over China in 2005 but also to perform the very personal and moving act of paying homage to his grandmother’s tomb in China.

I am mentioning this because when it comes to dealing with Tibetans, the Chinese authorities have a different standard. May be ethnicity has something to do with the way Tibetans are treated, compared to how the Taiwanese are treated. I myself know a few cases of Tibetan families who have not been able to visit Tibet for personal reasons because they were denied visas even after going through a racially discriminatory process at the Chinese Embassy here in the United States. In one case a terminally ill Tibetan American was kept waiting for several months by the Embassy and eventually denied the visa to fulfill his emotional desire of spending some time on Tibetan soil before he passed away.

It is with such a background that I feel even one Chinese official revealing some positive feeling of Tibetans as a people ought to be welcomed.

Unfortunately, my admiration of Hua Zi ends there. She intentionally (or is made to do so by her professional obligation to the authorities) misses the wood for the trees in the main thrust of her article. Instead of following up on her feelings and trying to understand the reason why “these young men and women should feel compelled to take their lives in such a horrific way’ she succumbs to political expediency of blaming those outside of Tibet for the mess that is there today. Who in his right mind would believe her assertion that “Extremism, as endorsed by the Dalai Lama and his clique, seriously taints the image of Tibetan Buddhism and disrupts social order.”?

There is no indication that she or the authorities have made any effort to study the underlying causes that are leading Tibetans to take desperate measures. If the Tibetan people have positively “experienced five decades of democratic reforms and social development” why are they still having grievances? If the Tibetans in Tibet are really subscribing to the “political conspiracy” from outside what does it say about the confidence that they have in the political leadership in place in Tibet today? Hua Zi does not even heed Xinhua’s interpretation of her article, namely, “The writer called for an objective analysis of the causes and potential consequences of the self-immolations, so as to keep such tragedies from happening again.” There is no indication that she has looked into these aspects of the issue. Maybe this was not her role.

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“China’s Fox News”

Foreign Policy gives Global Times a much-deserved lashing over here:

On most mornings, the senior editorial staffers at China’s hyper-nationalistic Global Times newspaper flash their identification badges at the uniformed guard outside their compound in eastern Beijing and roll into the office between 9 and 10 a.m. They leave around midnight. In the hectic intervening 14 hours, they commission and edit articles and editorials on topics ranging from asserting China’s unassailable claims to the South China Sea to the United States’ nefarious role in the global financial crisis to the mind-boggling liquor bills of China’s state-owned enterprises, to assemble a slim, 16-page tabloid with a crimson banner and eye-popping headlines. In the late afternoon, staffers propose topics for the all-important lead editorial to editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, who makes all final decisions and has an instinct for the jugular.

Take last Tuesday’s saber-rattling editorial, printed with only slight variations in the Chinese and English editions, which duly unnerved many overseas readers. “Recently, both the Philippines and South Korean authorities have detained fishing boats from China, and some of those boats haven’t been returned,” the editorial fumed. “If these countries don’t want to change their ways with China, they will need to prepare for the sounds of cannons.”

Its offices are located within the sprawling Haiwaiban campus of the People’s Daily, the stodgy old organ of the Chinese Communist Party, founded in 1948. The People’s Daily is renowned for its mastery of bore-you-to-tears bureaucratese; its turgid official profiles induce slumber in general audiences but nonetheless signal, to those in the know, whose career is on the make and whose will soon be in tatters. But while the People’s Daily is the parent publishing organization of Global Times, the two newspapers have remarkably different missions. Global Times is unequivocally a state-owned paper subject to the same censorship regime, but since its founding in 1993 it has evolved a more populist function — a mandate to attract and actually engage readers, rather than to telegraph coded intentions of the Foreign Ministry or the Organization Department, which determines all senior personnel appointments.

Another now-infamous Global Times editorial ran on April 6, 2011. While most of China’s state-run media initially kept mum on the uncomfortable fact of artist Ai Weiwei’s detention, Global Times jumped in to argue that Ai had brought it upon himself by crossing a red line: “History will make its own judgment of such a person as Ai Weiwei. But before this happens, they will sometimes pay a price for their own peculiar decisions, as happens in any society.” And the kicker: “No one person has the right to make our entire people accommodate their personal views of what is right and wrong.”

Hu Xijin’s freewheeling tendencies probably represent the most energetic effort in China to actually win readers for party papers. Of course, Global Times’s rising profile may also be the product of limited alternatives: Beijing allows no national newspaper devoted to international news to publish on the opposite end of the political spectrum, with a more liberal slant. As a former reporter at Beijing Youth Daily told me: “Why do people read Global Times? There are few options … there’s no real news in China. We have such limited choices.”

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“Photoshopped Pants and Why “Face” is a Poison”

Custer from ChinaGeeks is getting righteous over here, where he uses a recent incident to expound on Beijing’s compulsion to save face at whatever cost:

You may already have heard about the tourist from Luoyang who came to see Beijing and got sent home and beaten because he was mistaken for a petitioner (keep in mind, it is not illegal to come to Beijing and petition the government anyway).

The image above is of said petitioner, passed out in the street after being beaten by police. The top photo was posted by Southern Metropolis Daily (as you can see by the watermark), one of the relatively independent newspapers in the Southern Media Group. The bottom one was posted to Weibo by — you guessed it! — the Beijing News.

Facepalm. Now, mix that with the revelation that national security police detained a reporter for “revealing state secrets” because he reported on a former official’s sex dungeon murders. That’s right. The fact that a former firefighter was keeping six KTV hostesses in a sex dungeon — well, until he killed at least one of them, possibly two — that’s a “state secret.”

Of course, what they actually meant by “revealing state secrets” is ‘causing the local police force to lose face’. You may be wondering how trying to conceal sex slavery, kidnapping, and double homicide isn’t somehow a bigger loss of face. By all accounts the criminal here was not some high-level official…anyway, we’re getting sidetracked.

In both instances, the issue is face. Of course, in these cases, the “face-saving” effort was completely botched, but the principle is the same. Truth doesn’t enter into the equation, it’s all about polishing that turd and hoping someone — anyone — is fooled.

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“Hurt(s) the feelings of the Chinese people”

There’s a funny post here from Language Log, which investigates the most widely-used phrase in the Chinese Foreign Ministry: “The President of [country X] has gravely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people by meeting with [person X].

Spokespersons for the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) often complain that the words or actions of individuals or groups from other nations “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”. This is true even when those individuals or groups are speaking or acting on behalf of some segment of the Chinese population (e.g., political prisoners, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong adherents, people whose houses have been forcibly demolished, farmers, and so forth). A typical cause for invoking the “hurt(s) the feelings of the Chinese people” circumlocution would be for the head of state of a country to meet with the Dalai Lama or Rebiya Kadeer. A good example is Mexican President Calderon’s recent meeting with the Dalai Lama, which the PRC government denounced in extremely harsh terms. The vitriolic rebuke led one commentator to refer to the PRC denunciation of the Mexican President as a kind of “bullying”.

I should note that the “hurt feelings” meme usually occurs in tandem with other standard kvetching: “grossly interfered with China’s internal affairs, hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, and harmed Chinese-XYZ relations.” Clearly, this is formulaic language. What is more, because it is used with such frequency in China’s dealing with other nations, it quickly begins to lose force and meaning, but amounts to mere blather and cannot be taken all that seriously. Still, its sheer ubiquity makes one wonder: why this obsession with damaged sensitivity?

Finding this expression — “hurts the feelings of the Chinese people” — so omnipresent in statements emanating from the PRC government, I wondered how it compares with the usage of analogous statements by representatives of other nations.

Here are Google hits for some comparable phrases involving other nations:

“hurts the feelings of the Chinese people” 17,000
“hurts the feelings of the Japanese people” 178
“hurts the feelings of the American people” 5
“hurts the feelings of the German people” 2
“hurts the feelings of the Jewish people” 2
“hurts the feelings of the Indian people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Russian people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Italian people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the British people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Swedish people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the French people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Spanish people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Turkish people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Greek people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Israeli people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Vietnamese people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Thai people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Egyptian people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Tibetan people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Uighur people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Uyghur people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Mongolian people” 0

As ICT’s Todd Stein pointed out on twitter, how are these meetings hurting the feelings of the Chinese people? The state media is censoring the news, the vast majority of China won’t know about it unless Xinhua kicks up a stink about it. Realistically, we can see that it’s just a useful phrase to use- a specific yet intangible harm caused by the meeting, when pointing out something more real would be impossible. When the head of any state meets with the Dalai Lama, they normally just discuss preservation of Tibetan culture and whatnot, none of the separatism of which Beijing hysterically accuses them of engaging in. “Hurt feelings” then offer an excuse for the Foreign Ministry to be indignant, when they haven’t really suffered any harm.

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“Propaganda bureau starts strangling media coverage of Wenzhou train crash”

It seems that enough has finally been declared enough. Via Shanghaiist:

According to leaked directives from the propaganda department on Friday: “All articles on the Wenzhou train collision are to be put off the homepage with immediate effect. None are to be put on the homepage itself. In the news section, only one article may be placed there, but no commentaries are allowed. Promoting the discussion of related topics on forums, blogs and microblogs are not allowed. Forum sites are to remove all previously promoted articles and blogposts off from the frontpage and mini-sites immediately. All posts, blogposts and microblog posts that do not meet with the requirements of this afternoon’s orders are to be resolutely deleted. All sites are to implement this order with immediate effect, and to complete execution within half an hour. Checks will begin within half an hour.”

All major web portals have already duly complied with the orders, and mini sites specially created earlier for the Wenzhou train collision have all but disappeared.

In a related development, the producer of the CCTV programme 24 Hours, Wang Qinglei (王青雷) is said to have been sacked after the airing of the July 25 show.

As for print media, the Economic Observer was praised yesterday for its bold (defiant?) feature entitled “Is there a miracle in Wenzhou?” even as other newspapers began consciously cutting back on coverage. The ten-page feature included such provocative articles as “What is the Ministry of Railways hiding?”, “Please respect life”, “Where the Ministry of Railways went wrong” and “The Ministry of Railways has a cold steely heart”.

Even so, coverage of the Wenzhou train collision is expected to decline significantly in the print media from now, as the propaganda department cracks its whip and demands stricter toeing of the line.

As news of the media crackdown sparked fury and incredulity, some have called for the media to jointly defy the orders of the propaganda bureau. Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠), lecturer at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, called on the Chinese media to close ranks and work together to “open a window in the sky” (开天窗) and defend its dignity. He said, that if the media could join forces to act in accordance with their conscience, they might very well be changing the course of history.

Obviously they weren’t going to let that go on forever. We’ll see if their attacks on microblog comments inspire any backlash.

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“The highs and lows of investigative reporting in China”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has, along with the usual suspects like CMP, been following the case of Wang Keqin lately. They write about the latest here:

Veteran investigative journalist Wang Keqin has always been positive about his chosen career, characterizing media restrictions in China as a cycle with ups and downs. In an interview for CPJ’s October 2010 special report “In China, a debate on press rights,” he told CPJ that “there was a big fall-off in reporting freedom in 2008 and 2009″ because of the Olympics and the 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule. But he and many of his colleagues in China anticipated a corresponding loosening of restrictions to follow, pushing the industry toward greater freedom and professionalism over time.

Last week, he had the same message. On July 15, the Hong Kong University-based China Media Project published “Muckraking on the rise in China,” a partial translation of a longer review of Chinese investigative reporting that Wang had posted on his blog on July 12. Wang looks back at 2010 as a “peak” point for in-depth journalism which “pushed investigative reporting in China to a new high.”

The latest development, however, marks another low: Wang’s investigative reporting unit at the China Economic Times was reported closed on Tuesday, and he has declined interviews with international reporters on the subject.

They go on to describe the fallout from the closing, and why Wang still feels optimistic about the future of his profession.

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“Jiang Zemin and Western Media Bias”

I’ve been meaning to get into the topic of fenqing here for a while. Fenqing are the hyper-nationalist youth, the young Chinese men who have taken up worship of China as their religion. I was on one of their main sites, Hidden Harmonies, just the other day. It’s a shock, to say the least. Normally you hear the Party line being endorsed by stiff figures at press conferences, dry pronouncements from the relevant government organs and white papers. To read these sites is a view at a crazy topsy-turvy upside-down world, where real human beings care passionately about the Party line. On Hidden Harmonies, a global conspiracy to destroy China is always working around the clock to embarrass the Middle Kingdom. The US is always seeking to subjugate her, the Dalai Lama is a globe-trotting James Bond super-villain, Rebiya Kadeer is an Osama-style terrorist, and the anti-China international media is cooking up their latest excrement bomb to soil her name.

Pretty much every event needs to somehow be fit into these narratives. If anyone anywhere says anything about China, that’s part of the conspiracy. If a Tibetan exile says something unrelated to China, that’s just a coded message to terrorists in China, an order for them to start butchering Han Chinese. And make no mistake- the fenqing view of China is that of China as a Han state, with some minorities there merely to sing and dance in pretty costumes. Han Chauvinism writ large. When the media started publishing stories about the Jiang dead/Jiang alive debate that was raging in China, you can bet that the fenqing interpreted that as an attack on China. As Peking Ducks notes, though:

Here’s the bottom line. Is there Western media bias against China? Absolutely. But here’s the secret, that I as a former reporter can state as a truth: All reporting about just about everything is biased. There is no person or nation or thing that is covered in the news that is always covered fairly. Every single person in politics in the US and just about every other free country will tell you the media treats them brutally. Ask France about Western media bias against them during the buildup to the Iraq War (remember Freedom Fries?). Ask any Arab nation what they think of Western media bias. Everyone’s hysterical about media bias. Hop around the US political blogs — all they are about is how the media distorts the news.

Maybe China feels there is more media bias against them because in recent years the flow of stories on China has exploded from a trickle to a tsunami, so there’s simply more likelihood of biased reports. But what they need to understand is that this bias is universal. And, hard as it is to believe, some of China’s own newspapers and other media are biased in their reporting. And we don’t make a big deal about it because it is universal, it is ubiquitous. (Although China’s media biases can’t be compared with the West’s.)

And I’m not saying journalism is bad. Far from it. There is a lot of great journalism out there. Good reporters always strive to tell the whole story, free of bias. Many succeed. But in the life of a story, from conception to publication, lots of things can happen, mistakes can be made, copy editors thousands of miles away can write bad headlines or cut the story in half, excising the most important part. And yes, there’s often bad journalism, too, stories that are written too quickly without enough facts and/or verifiable references. But again, these are spread out universally, covering all public figures and all nations. None are spared biased or mistaken reporting. The difference is, most are mature enough to realize that this is always going to be the case, and they don’t let it make them feel paranoid or inferior. This is just the way it is, boys and girls. You can always find media bias when you dedicate yourself to finding it, when it becomes a cult or a fetish. And yes, often it’s there, there really is bias. But that’s life. That so many young Chinese men are so invested in the notion that China has been picked out by some grand design to be mocked and suppressed and misrepresented says much more about these individuals and the environment that fostered them than it does about the Western media that, at the end of the day, is just doing their job the best they can.

I’d still say that there’s real room for improvement on the part of Western media. Even by their over-simplifying standards, they simplify China too much. And we do occasionally see pieces that for one reason or another paint China as a terrifying monster, like when their military picks up an aircraft carrier or builds a new plane or goes to the grocery store. But these are all critiques that are based on reality, a place where the fenqing don’t operate. Peking Duck goes on to note that there are also many stories which paint China in a better light than she may deserve. Are they interpreted as proof of an enormous Western conspiracy to help China and make everyone love the country? Of course not.

There’s one other thing about the fenqing: the Party should be careful in depending on them for support. I’ve met a fenqing who went from completely endorsing the government position on censorship to agreeing that it was bad and pretty insulting to Chinese people in the course of just a few minutes. I’ve met one who started out talking about how evil Japan and Korea are, but then went on to talk about how the Party destroys people who think for themselves. Their beliefs are the result of living in an echo chamber, one which doesn’t allow them to test their positions against anything except strawmen. They’ve never spoken with unhappy minorities, they’ve just read Xinhua reports about how ‘overseas organizations’ are stirring them up. If they should ever be confronted by something that decouples the Party from the nation in their minds, that partnership will end real fast.

Update: In the PKD discussion thread, it’s noted that many sites like HH are actually run by ethnic Chinese living abroad- some of whom have never even been to China. Getting into that is a whole different can of worms. I’ll just say that although the HH crowd and other English-speaking members of this group might not be based in China, it certainly reflects the mindset of the fenqing clique here in China. It should be noted that that the fenqing are far from a majority in China, and are actually reasonably rare. They’re good at making a lot of noise online, though- and certain parts of their narratives resound with the general public.


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“Turning rumors into news: The non-death of Jiang Zemin”

Zhang Yajun at Granite Studio has a good piece up about the curious case of Jiang Zemin, former Chinese president who did not, in fact, die yesterday.

So if he isn’t dead, why all the coverage? News sources, both foreign and Chinese, ran stories constantly yesterday claiming that he was either alive or dead. It looks like it all started with a rumor on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. Still, rumors on Weibo are a dime a dozen- why did it take off like that? True, he was absent from the Party celebrations last week, but what really got everyone worked up was the way Weibo and certain government-controlled outlets started censoring the news. Searches for his name and even just for Jiang, his family name, were blocked inside China. This seemed especially odd given that Jiang means “river,” so any search whatsoever containing the word river came up blank. Why go to such lengths if he wasn’t dead, the reasoning went.

Well, turns out he’s alive. There are probably a few lessons to be learned here- about the difficulty in covering such things, the need to be careful when looking at a government cloaked in such levels of secrecy. But I think it’s also an illustration of the dangers of the road China is pursuing in regards to censorship and information management. There’s such a low level of trust between the people and the government that their blocking of Jiang-related searches and pronouncements to the contrary were actually seen by Chinese internet users as proof that Jiang had died. As Zhang says:

Groundless rumors eventually die out. After all, unlike inflation or tainted food, news about a former president doesn’t affect the lives of most Chinese netizens. However, as soon as the information is censored, our natural curiosity is aroused.

Chinese netizens are as nosy and curious as any other group of news junkies in the world. Even though many of them must rely on the party-controlled media for their news, the Party’s absolute monopoly on information is a thing of the past. Many people my age would rather get their information online, even to the point of believing an unsubstantiated rumor on Weibo. This is true especially when the government is trying to block the rumor. In today’s China, it is government censorship which gives credibility to unsubstantiated rumors, and that turns rumors into news.

So far it seems that Mr. Jiang is still alive. But one thing is clear: in an information hungry society like China, Chinese people are no longer satisfied with Party-line pronouncements.

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