Smoking out the Internet subversives

[This post is further amplification of Martyn’s post below.]

As reforms continue and the CCP continues to loosen restrictions on the media, I couldn’t help but feel encouraged when I read this.

China announced a fresh crackdown yesterday on the internet amid further revelations of a plan by Hu Jintao, the president, to suppress dissent.

“The state bans the spreading of any news with content that is against national security and public interest,” said a statement from Xinhua, the official news agency. The announcement called for blogs and personal web pages to “be directed towards serving the people and socialism and insist on correct guidance of public opinion for maintaining national and public interests“.

The statement was just one of a series of initiatives by the government to root out politically sensitive news from domestic and foreign media.

On Thursday a Chinese journalist and former professor was given a seven-year sentence for “inciting subversion” by writing hundreds of articles for banned overseas news websites.

Last month the government tried to implement a scheme to pay journalists according to how much Communist party officials liked, or disliked, their articles. In July a political activist was given five years for posting a punk song on the internet deemed to be subversive, and in April a journalist was sentenced to 10 years for sending an email overseas about restrictions on freedom of speech.

Providing further evidence of an organised national crackdown, the New York Times reported yesterday that Mr Hu called for a “smokeless war” against “liberal elements” in China during a secret leadership meeting in May.

Can anyone remember back to the halcyon days following the dramatic press conference on SARS in 2003, the one where Hu Jintao answered questions and promised transparency? The one that CCP defenders pointed to as proof that China had turned an important corner and could never go back? A free press was only a stone’s throw away.

I got into some of the bitterest fights over this topic, insisting that no one-party state can survive with a free press, let alone a state that is mired in corruption and criminality, and that the “New transparency” would be fleeting and ultimately meaningless. I just want to ask, does anyone stand by the 2003 assertions that true media reform was unstoppable and imminent? Does anyone still contend that Hu is the man to end the choking of China’s media?

The interesting thing is that they have suckered a lot of people around the world into believing there is true reform. So they have it both ways: they use smoke and mirrors to make it appear to the novice eye that they have a free press, while at the same time they tighten their chokehold on public expression and ramp up the repression. (Five years for posting a “subversive” pop song??)

So by pointing this out, am I being “anti-China”? There are two main participants in this story, the repressors and the repressed. Both are Chinese. I happen to side with the repressed, and I see that as distinctly pro-China.

The Discussion: 26 Comments

That last paragraph should be on a (rather elongated) bumper sticker.

September 25, 2005 @ 9:00 pm | Comment

The article ends with a really cool quote that i should have included in the post:

The editor told the Guardian that the row in the party centred on the
president’s lack of authority over local leaders. Yesterday China
gambled with a goodwill gesture to pro-democracy members of Hong Kong’s
legislature, inviting them to mainland China for the first time in more than
15 years. But the visit appeared to backfire when at least one member
of the group wore a T-shirt with a picture of tanks in Tiananmen square,
a symbol of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in which hundreds of
students were killed.

September 25, 2005 @ 9:06 pm | Comment

Don’t you guys see? Not arresting those who post “subversive pop songs” would ruin the Chinese economy! Right now, the most important thing for us is developing the economy, just getting some food on the plate, bringing the bacon home… I’m sure you’ve heard that before, like thousands of times! So people who post “bad” things on the net need to be arrested! Otherwise development will end! The current growth in the Chinese economy depends on the arrest of those whose writings are deemed incorrect. Don’t you see the logic?

September 25, 2005 @ 9:38 pm | Comment

Thanks for letting us know you were being sarcastic! (Scary to think that there really are readers out there who would take Kevin’s comment literally.)

September 25, 2005 @ 9:51 pm | Comment

Look at Russia, then you can understand the logic behind all these suppressions.It’s bad and dangerous, everyone knows. But…is there a good way to keep China from Russia’s disaster and feed all those poor Chinese peasants and their wives and their children?

September 25, 2005 @ 9:59 pm | Comment

You’re absolutely right, almon! The only conceivable way to feed the poor is to arrest people who post subversive pop songs and lock them up for five years.

I told you: there really are people out there who take seriously what Kevin wrote above. I don’t know which is scarier, that the CCP is so apoplectic about controlling the Internet or the fact that there are loons out there who think doing so is the only way the country can survive, just because the CCP tells them so.

September 25, 2005 @ 10:08 pm | Comment

Yes, almon, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. I think the best way to feed all those peasants is to arrest people who right things on the net that don’t fit the party line. Every time one of those people is arrested, 10 cows and 2 fields of grain drop from the sky and everyone is happy!

In fact, the arrest of dissident writers, or even unintentional dissidents, doesn’t put food on the plate of anyone except for corrupt officials. And they’re already having a fuckin’ banquet anyway!

September 25, 2005 @ 10:08 pm | Comment

Every time one of those people is arrested, 10 cows and 2 fields of grain drop from the sky and everyone is happy!

I want that on a bumper sticker too.

September 25, 2005 @ 10:12 pm | Comment

Now who still remember prime minister Wen’s speech about the democracy?

Nevertheless, still Li Ao’s talk at Fudan is going on…

..You public enemy must be confused now by our Great CCP, who has been sending out mixed signals constantly for 50 years. You paper tigers just don’t have the capability to undertand the strategy of our longlive chairman HU at all. LOL…

September 25, 2005 @ 10:28 pm | Comment

Johnny, let us set up a company to make bump sticks in China. It sure will make a next millionare.

September 25, 2005 @ 10:43 pm | Comment

I remember the fights well Richard. I wonder when a certain Mr. Morris will come here and admit that we were right and he didn’t have the first clue what he was talking about.

Probably about the same time that the CCP admits what they did in Tiananmen.

September 25, 2005 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

All the news that’s fit to print (with Chinese characteristics)

Xinhua has announced new regulations for online news as part of China’s ongoing clampdown on the net. Inevitably Mainland bloggers will be considered part of this regulation. Xinhua’s report begins:Online news sites that publish stories containing fabr…

September 26, 2005 @ 12:20 am | Comment

Thanks for bringing up the dems visit to guangdong, lin. I think that’s a really important baby step. They ended up bringing up a slightly… er… touchy 16-year-old subject during a meeting and got quite an asinine reply. I just finished another sarcastic post on the topic at my site.

September 26, 2005 @ 12:33 am | Comment

Mr. Morris? I remember that I used to disagree with about 70-80% of what he used to say on Brainysmurf. Still, a big loss to the China blogasphere nonetheless.

September 26, 2005 @ 12:44 am | Comment

I like Adam a lot and respect his intelligence. And his blog was always a fun hangout. He saw SARS as the milestone that would change China forever, I saw it as a huge embarrassment for the CCP that forced them to make all kinds of public promises that would quietly be forgotten once the SARS spotlight was extinguished. The fashionable response nowadays is that the good Mr. Hu’s reforms were stalled because Jiang is still in command from Shanghai, but once he’s gone, then we’ll see the real reforms. Yeah, right.

September 26, 2005 @ 1:01 am | Comment

Actually I wouldn’t mind seeing a LOT of Chinese pop stars go to prison. Not for being subversive, but just for being soooooo stupid.

September 26, 2005 @ 1:06 am | Comment

As for what almon said about Russia: “It’s bad and dangerous, everyone knows” – well, bullshit.

Obviously almon has never set foot in Russia. I’ve been from St Petersburg to Siberia many times over, for years.

Unless you do something incredibly stupid in Russia – like going out alone to the wrong bars and chatting up prostitutes or letting gangsters buy you drinks when you’re wearing lots of jewelry – unless you do something OBVIOUSLY stupid, then your worst danger is having an icicle fall on your head during the thaw, or being hugged to death by a drunken war veteran on Defender of the Fatherland Day (Feb 23)

And I’ve seen far worse poverty and degradation in today’s China than in today’s Russia. This thing about “what happened to Russia” is a bogeyman the CCP uses to frighten ignorant people into submission.

September 26, 2005 @ 1:20 am | Comment

Does anyone still contend that Hu is the man to end the choking of China’s media?

I think it might still be too early to tell if any of the recent developments is a reflection of what Hu Jintao believes or stands for. The decision making process of the CCP is not exactly transparent, and today’s CCP is more rule by committee than ever before. Right now, the tightening of media controls is certainly in conflict with many of the things that Hu said or did before taking office.

The pessimistic view may be that Hu just put up a good subterfuge before he took office. But then why did he pretend to be reform minded when appearing as a reformer is unlikely to help him politically in the CCP?

From the article, we have

“When [former president] Jiang Zemin came to power, the propaganda department began controlling all Chinese media,” said one high-ranking editor of a party-run newspaper with close government connections. “After Hu Jintao became president, there was an effort to open up. But after about six months the central government started getting complaints from local officials about their inability to govern because of media reports exposing corruption in their administrations … everything reversed- there was a big policy change back to the way things were.”

I remain somewhat optimistic about what sort of person that Hu is (though not necessarily about how much of a difference he can make). Anyway, from the article

September 26, 2005 @ 2:46 am | Comment

It’s pretty clear to me that post-SARS China badly needed to reform in the eyes of the world. That is, it had to at least maintain the perception, real or imagined, that it was reforming. Thus, as the article says, the 6 months of apparent “reform.” There was no choice at the time. Maybe Hu really does want to be a reformer (someday). it’s pretty clear Wen is a reformer. But many of Hu’s actions show the opposite, with reforms being sacrificed in the name of stability.

I like the way you answered my question by the “It’s too soon to tell” line. Do you think there’s any doubt media reform as envisioned in the days after SARS has failed to materialize? Is Hu on permanent probation as we wait and see? You can try to blame it on the local officials, but there is ample evidence that strict control of the media and Internet — as opposed to reform — are at the very top of Hu’s agenda.

September 26, 2005 @ 3:15 am | Comment

And you were right Richard and Adam was clearly wrong. Indeed, it turns out that the SARS episode has led to less openness. Having been very publicly embarrassed when the CCP was caught by the entire world at its usual duplicitious shit, Hu did the necessary PR thing and then promptly set about creating such controls that such a gotcha would never happen to him again.

Reveal so much as an internal newspaper memo now, and go to jail for 10 years for revealing state secrets.

Adam, care to admit you were wrong?

September 26, 2005 @ 4:07 am | Comment

Did you hear the one about the Chinese newspaper reporter who said to his wife, over dinner:

“Hu Jintao is an ignoramus” ?

He got 20 years in prison for that.
One year for sedition, and 19 years for revealing a state secret.

September 26, 2005 @ 6:34 am | Comment


What you said about the 6 month after SARS is plausible. However, what about Hu’s record before becoming top leader when he was head of the CCP party school? Why did he put in all that coursework and lectures on democracy, rule of law, human rights, etc. if he is really a hardliner at heart? You say it’s pretty clear Wen is a reformer, but by all reports, Hu and Wen are each other’s closest ally in the Politburo Standing Committee.

Most western reports tend to attribute all the recent developments to the man at the top, but that’s just not how today’s CCP works. Propaganda and media affairs falls under the domain of Li Changchun. Sure, Hu can influence issues regarding the media when they are brought up in PSC meetings, but policy is made by the whole PSC together with Hu’s voice not being any more important than that of the other 8 members.

Do you think there’s any doubt media reform as envisioned in the days after SARS has failed to materialize?

Media reform envisioned by whom? Western reporters and commentators? The biggest problem with western observers of China is that they draw quick conclusions based on surface symptoms and their own expectations and feelings. If they were so wrong in their readings of developments of Chinese media after SARS, couldn’t they be wrong now?

Is Hu on permanent probation as we wait and see?

2 years is a very short time in Chinese politics. It took Jiang Zemin nearly a decade before he really became powerful enough, secure enough and comfortable enough to dominate top level decision making in any significant way. With that said, I don’t ever expect a single top leader to be able to push through any sort of significant reforms. Zhao Ziyang couldn’t do that, Hu Yaobang couldn’t do that, and I don’t think Hu Jintao or Wen Jiabao or any other leader in the near future will be able to do that single-handedly. Significant reform is only going to happen when reform minded people make up a large majority of the entire CCP leadership at both the central and provincial levels.

You can try to blame it on the local officials, but there is ample evidence that strict control of the media and Internet — as opposed to reform — are at the very top of Hu’s agenda.

I didn’t blame it on the local officials. The anonymous “high-ranking editor of a party-run newspaper with close government connections” quoted in the article did that. Sure, it’s possible that quote was completely made up by the Guardian reporter, but I’m willing to give it some weight since it corroborates widely circulated rumors that 19 Chinese provincial governments joined together in issueing a demand to the central government to reign in cross regional reporting in the Chinese media.

September 26, 2005 @ 7:53 pm | Comment

Hui Mao, for a long time I was really willing to give the benefit of the doubt to all your arguments, and I am sure the Guardian reporter was being completely accurate about the quote. At the end of the day, my philosophy is that reform is as reform does. You can actually point to specific reforms initiated by Wen, and by Hu as well. But not when it comes to media and political expression. There, things have gotten worse, and to believe that this could happen without Hu’s blessing is, I believe, naive. I realize two years is a short time, but hu has made huge strides in those two years — moving things backward and punishing the media and dissidents. I’d be more receptive to your arguments if thigs had stayed the same, or if reforms occurred very slowly. But things happened fast and furious in the exact opposite direction of reform. Do you get my point: there has been an actual regression, not a progression, under Hu’s watch. Everyone said Stalin would mellow once the White Russians were taken care of, and then the Kulak peasants, and then the “internal enemies” (the Trotskyites). So i’ll believe Hu is serious about freedom of speech and the media when I see it. Right now, I see the exact opposite.

September 26, 2005 @ 8:02 pm | Comment

Okay, fair enough. Things have definitely gotten worse with regard to controls on the media under Hu’s watch and I guess in some ways it’s pointless to speculate what Hu thinks or believes, since the end result is what ultimately matters.

September 26, 2005 @ 9:51 pm | Comment

China Great Firewall,business more than politic

How come Guardians is so stupid that they seem to not understand there‚Äôs no such a thing called absolute freedom in the game of politics business or they simply just hope that rebels in China can gain the freedom to use blog and google freely to subv…

September 27, 2005 @ 7:17 pm | Comment

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