Chinese journalist freed after 12 years in prison

In an act of sweet forebearance, the CCP has released former Xinhua journalist Wu Shishen from his dungeon in Beijing after serving a mere 12 years of his life sentence.

At least in this case, no one can dispute that Wu didn’t deserve his harsh sentence.

Wu was arrested on 26 October 1992 along with his wife, fellow journalist Ma Tao, who spent six years in detention. On the direct orders of then President Jiang Zemin, he was convicted in April 1993 of “illegally divulging state secrets abroad” because he gave a Hong Kong journalist an advance copy of a speech Jiang delivered a few days later.

If that doesn’t merit life in prison and a ruined life for Wu and his wife, what does? But don’t worry that the early release signifies the end of Wu’s travails. He’ll suffer for a long time to come, as well he should.

A onetime journalist with the official news agency Xinhua, Wu will continue to be deprived of his civil and political rights for eight more years – a second sentence that will prevent him from writing articles or speaking in public about matters relating to “national interest.”

Although it is hard to get precise information about his present situation, Wu is currently believed to be in Beijing in the company of friends and colleagues who campaigned for him to be freed.

I actually had an argument with someone today in another thread who insisted the media in the US in the 19th century were treated the way they are today in China. I have only two words, one beginning with a b, the other with an s (or are they one word?).

Thank God for groups like Reporters without Borders, which spurred the international community to put pressure on the CCP to let Wu go.

The Discussion: 32 Comments

Well Richard, about your argument with the guy who believes 19th century America treated journalists like 21st century China does:
You know History is not taught in China. So, you should tell him about the trial of John Peter Zenger (in New York, 1735) for seditious libel.
It set the precedent for America’s laws on freedom of the press – not in the 19th century, but even earlier, in 1735.
Just google “John Peter Zenger”. One good site about him (from U of Pittsburgh Law School) is at:

If China Daily had existed in 1735, of course they would have censored all news of the Zenger trial…..

August 2, 2005 @ 4:00 pm | Comment

Oh of course the link to the rsf (Reporters Without Borders) story about this, is blocked in China.
Good CCP logic says: The most effective way to prove China has a free press, is to censor all stories which say otherwise.

August 2, 2005 @ 4:35 pm | Comment

Rather telling that in the 18th century, the West had a media and China was still wading around in feudalism. Go us.

And to save you folkses the trouble, yes I am aware that China invented paper, gunpowder, etc way before the West did…

August 2, 2005 @ 4:45 pm | Comment


If you are referring to me….

Please take a deep breath, before you bash me. I say enough stupid things on purpose that I don’t need the additiional hassle of being accused of stupid things that I didn’t say…… ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

I was stating that the press laws of *Imperial France* and *Bismarckian Germany* were as roughly as bad (and in the case of France probably worse) as the ones in the PRC. In particular Napoleon III would send any journalist he didn’t like off to Devil’s Island. Victor Hugo fled to English to avoid this fate.

August 2, 2005 @ 5:21 pm | Comment

Also keep in mind that a lot of the pressure for releases like this are internal (i.e. Chinese journalists putting pressure on the Chinese government to be more liberal).

August 2, 2005 @ 5:25 pm | Comment

If you think journalists in Bismarck’s Germany were treated, in any way, shape or form, in a manner similar to the way Wu and his wife were treated, then I really question your knowledge of Germany. There was censorship, but in Bismarck’s time the press was full of wild gossip, including many scandalous stories about royalty and politicians, the likes of which you would never, ever see in China. I don’t know about France (though I suspect it wasn’t that much different from Germany) but I am expert in German history and can safely say you don’t know what you’re talking about.

August 2, 2005 @ 5:29 pm | Comment

O.K. point taken.

In the case of France, Napoleon III was fairly ruthless about silencing political dissent. I was assuming the German case was similar, but it may not be.

In any case, I wasn’t talking about the United States and England, both of which have been very liberal from the beginning.

In the case of China, there are some areas which are relatively free (economics news and lifestyle). Some areas which are highly censored (politics). The good thing is that there is a lot of pressure on the part of journalists to push the limits. One interesting thing is that almost every story you read about “something bad happening in China” in the West started as a story in a Chinese newspaper, yet I’ve never seen a Western newspaper acknowledge this.

Also there are some *big* issues that the Western newspapers haven’t mentioned. The Sun Zigang case in which the State Council was forced to abolish a set of regulations regarding homeless people, because the NPCSC was about to rule them unconstitutional, because of the public outcry than came about because of Chinese newspapers.

August 2, 2005 @ 5:46 pm | Comment

This site has referred to the Sun Zhigang case probably more than any other single criminal act. But to bring this up as an example of free speech in China is a double-edged sword, considering the misery of the editors of the feisty Nanfang Daily, who paid dearly for their temerity.

August 2, 2005 @ 5:50 pm | Comment

Two steps forward, one step back.

August 2, 2005 @ 6:04 pm | Comment

The other hero of the Sun case was the Internet chat rooms. But as we know, since then the CCP has taken many steps to tighten control of that, too. I’ll give the CCP credit for many things, but freeing the media is not one of them, at least not for political news. In that sense, things have only gotten worse since Hu’s ascent.

August 2, 2005 @ 6:10 pm | Comment

Damn, it’s terrifying to know that this guy Wu is out on the streets again!
I’m gonna get an extra lock added to my front door, and put bars on my windows!

August 2, 2005 @ 6:57 pm | Comment

And I wonder why Jiang Zemin wanted to keep his speech a secret from the public. I mean, was it THAT dreadfully boring?

August 2, 2005 @ 7:12 pm | Comment

Speech freedom aside, in the field of economy, the comparison made by Joseph is not unreasonable.

Granted, people can always find many difference. But both are raw capitalism aiming for capital accumulation with “anything goes” attitude.

If the old 18th-19th century is that great as you guys insisted, communism will not come to birth in the first place. That will save us lots of trouble.

August 2, 2005 @ 8:06 pm | Comment

I’m sure the speech included some daring and exciting new theories that he didn’t want any one to hear about until the necessary red banners with yellow lettering on them had all been printed out and hung throughout the country.

August 2, 2005 @ 9:13 pm | Comment

Hm, “state secrets” reminds me of a joke they used to tell in Soviet Russia:
It was in Brezhnev’s time, in the early 1980s, a story went around saying that a dissident had been thrown in prison for 20 years for saying: “Our Leader is an idiot!”
He got one year in prison for disturbing the peace, and 19 years for revealing a state secret.

August 2, 2005 @ 9:18 pm | Comment

And if that’s not reason for sending a man and his wife to the dungeon for the rest of their lives, what is?

Just imagine how many other totally innocent people are languishing in prison due to Jiang’s vanity. We just happened to hear about this one because he was let go and because RSF made a lot of noise about it. There are probably many others rotting behind bars, for no reason.

August 2, 2005 @ 9:21 pm | Comment

There is a division of an international group of writers, i think it is called Pen, in China, and on their website, which is obviously blocked here, they have a list of writers currently serving prison sentences.

August 2, 2005 @ 9:27 pm | Comment

Yes, I posted the Pen link once before. It shows their photos and really gives these prisoners a face. Heartbreaking.

August 2, 2005 @ 9:31 pm | Comment

Another old Soviet joke: An American law professor went to Moscow, and talked for a while with a Russian law professor about their constitutions, and the American said,
“Ah, your Soviet Constitution says you have freedom of speech! So, we’re not so different after all!” And his Russian friend replied: “No, my friend, you see the difference is that in America, you have freedom AFTER speech.”

August 2, 2005 @ 9:33 pm | Comment

Just go to
they have an english page

August 2, 2005 @ 9:33 pm | Comment

oh oops, can delete that then.

August 2, 2005 @ 9:34 pm | Comment

And you know, the Chinese have the SAME freedom of speech that Americans have! Anytime I like, I can stand in the middle of Washington DC and shout: “To Hell with President Bush!” And the Chinese can do the same thing: Anytime a Chinese wants to, he can stand in the middle of Beijing and say, “To Hell with President Bush!”

August 2, 2005 @ 9:37 pm | Comment

Shit, according to the PEN website, in chinese, the writer Zhang L-n, whose story was covered both here and on my website, has been sentenced to 5 years.

August 2, 2005 @ 9:40 pm | Comment

Should we be surprised, Kevin?

Ivan, very fiunny. But some readers just don’t get it.

August 2, 2005 @ 9:44 pm | Comment

PEN: Writers in Chinese prisons.

August 2, 2005 @ 9:50 pm | Comment

I guess I expected it, but this is the first time I’ve followed a trial of someone whose writings I appreciate. I must say it’s been quite a bummer.

August 2, 2005 @ 9:58 pm | Comment

Reference 19th century France. Press laws did not stop Emile Zola from publishing “J’accuse”, which aroused a storm of protest over the Dreyfus affair and led, eventually, to that officer’s release from Devil’s Island. Of course, this was a generation after the Franco-German war had toppled Napoleon III.

August 2, 2005 @ 11:03 pm | Comment

I don’t think comarisions between the historical West and contemporary China are not helping to understand the situation in China very much.

There are similar arguments about other problems in China and the bottom line is allways the developement argument: China is in a process comparable to Europe or America in the 19. century. When China will have reached a ceirtan stage it also will implement more liberal laws. My problem with this argument is that I don’t think there is a fixed pattern how developement works and for shure there is no law in nature how societies develope.

Some time ago I was doing a little research on the evolving of a the Chinese press in the late 19. early 20. cet. China and the mysterious “civil society” ( a topic that became very fashionable in the 1990es among scholars of China). The author of of one article had an interestiing thesis. He said one who wants to understand more about todays Chinese media should have a look at the Republican period particularly the 30es. Situation then had some similarities. As today the press was censored heavily but on the other hand had to sucseed in a fierce market competition.

August 3, 2005 @ 3:11 am | Comment

That should read:
I don’t think comarisions between the historical West and contemporary China are helping to understand the situation in China very much.

August 3, 2005 @ 3:12 am | Comment

Shulan: an interesting point that you’ve just made. My great great uncle who died last year used to compare today’s China with Shanghai in the 30s and Hong Kong in the 50s and 60s. He lived through all those times so I guess his comments were relevant. You are the second person that’s made similar comparison.

August 3, 2005 @ 7:43 am | Comment

Free Mumia! Anyone?

August 4, 2005 @ 10:07 am | Comment

hey, I know it’s late on this thread.
but does anyone know the story about a chinese poet imprisoned after publishing a poem about a tree dying? this was quite a few years ago I think.

August 4, 2005 @ 3:18 pm | Comment

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