China's media censorship rattling world image
The deposing of an editor is part of a two-year campaign to control public debate.
At 5 p.m. on Jan. 24, Li Datong's status went into a deep chill. Mr. Li, a Tiananmen protest veteran and a rare crusading editor still allowed to work, learned that "Freezing Point," his weekly magazine, had been closed.Skip to next paragraph
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The proximate reason: a lengthy article smashing official history of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, when a peasant cult killed more than 230 foreigners in a spasm of xenophobia. Li ran the story to ask why, in modern China, children are learning to praise the Boxers for being antiforeign.
Freezing Point will reopen March 1, without Li, following an unusual storm of protest that included retired party statesmen. Yet the episode highlights a censorship campaign here that is wide-ranging and whose opposition seems ineffectual.
For two years, the crackdown on virtually all media expression has played out through arcane ideology sessions and micromanagement of newsrooms.
More broadly, the war on liberal ideas is starting to alter the image of China overseas. For a decade, the country has been seen as a rambunctious marvel of manufacturing and export, of developing infrastructure, and a major source of cash reserves. It has managed to outflank human rights agendas, and enjoys an image as a safe, traditional society that is emerging into the international mainstream. Beijing won its 2008 Olympics bid in the midst of a brutal roundup of Falun Gong practitioners in 2001 - many of whom remain disappeared.
"China's deteriorating international image is impacting its ability to achieve its foreign policy goals, and could well affect its ability to stage a successful Olympics in 2008," argues John Kamm, former head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, who now runs Dui Hua, a nonprofit human-rights group in San Francisco. Mr. Kamm says the State Department report on human rights in China due next month will be far tougher than in recent years.
"Maybe the Olympics will help change China in the right direction, was the main idea," argues a Beijing scholar. "But at present what we see ... is an old-style party reaction of 'no debate' - meaning no discussion, no democracy, just hunkering into a political survival mode."
Indeed, the outspoken Bishop Joseph Zen, the chief Roman Catholic authority in Hong Kong who was made a cardinal on Wednesday, was warned by Chinese officials this week to not participate in social and political movements.
In a way that surprises even many experts, the repression campaign by the powerful Communist Party propaganda department here, including decade-long prison terms for Web bloggers - has again raised the image of China as seriously lagging in rights and liberal values that much of the world takes for granted. It has awakened a moral language of justice and condemnation, as seen last week on Capitol Hill when members of Congress berated Internet company officials for complicity with Chinese security police.
China's prohibitions on livelier, more authentic news are growing stronger, sources say - and extend to radio, TV, newspapers, and the Internet. On Wednesday, China Workers website (www.zggr.org) was shut. The forum allowed sharp criticism of peasant and laborer policies. A Mr. Chen, spokesperson of the Website Propaganda Management Department at the Beijing Municipal Propaganda Office, said he was unaware of the site and had no comment.
China leads the world in jailed journalists, with 39 detained. This week, Mo Shaoping, lawyer for jailed New York Times researcher Zhao Yan, told the Foreign Correspondents Club of China that Mr. Zhao, who has been in jail for a year, will probably be in court in March. Zhao faces 10 years in prison. While the charges against him are for "endangering state security," a wide net used by police, the specific charges remain unclear - though appear to be based on anger in high political circles that the New York Times learned a day ahead of the event that former leader Jiang Zemin was to retire.