Is China losing its war on free speech?

If so, it’s not from a lack of effort. As this Howard French article points out, Hu has gone to extraordinary lengths to muzzle pesky reporters, discourage “unharmonious” Internet chatter and persecute regnegade bloggers. Yet the article’s conclusion is that the Internet tidal wave simply can’t be held back, and the government’s elaborate censorship operation is doomed to failure. The trend toward greater freedom of expression appears irreversible.

Newspapers have been closed, reporters and editors jailed — even killed, like Wu Xianghu, a newspaper editor who died last week after being beaten by the police, who reportedly were incensed by an article he published on abuses of power in their ranks. Still, the trend has not been reversed.

Editors, like Li Datong of a recently closed Beijing newspaper supplement, Bing Dian, officially owned by the Communist Party Youth League, have begun to use the courts to challenge government efforts to silence them. But many frustrated reporters have simply moved to blogs, which give them an outlet to write about what they are not permitted to in their day jobs.

“Symbolically, the government may have scored a victory with Google, but Web users are becoming a lot more savvy and sophisticated, and the censors’ life is not getting easier,” said Xiao Qiang, leader of the Internet project at the University of California, Berkeley. “The flow of information is getting steadily freer, in fact. If I was in the State Councils information office, I certainly wouldn’t think we had any reason to celebrate.”

In light of this trend, isn’t it time the CCP end its antiquated and failed policy of persecuting and imprisoning cyberdissidents and muckraking reporters? Isn’t it like trying to stop the Yangtze River with a bucket?

My questions are, of course, rhetorical, as we all know they aren’t going to stop the repression anytime soon. Eventually, however, the Party has to face the fact that its critics are here to stay and cannot all be silenced. Eventually. For now, expect more arrests and never-ending crackdowns on self-expression.

The Discussion: 9 Comments

Shut up and be harmonious!

February 9, 2006 @ 2:34 am | Comment

Shut up and be harmonious!
(the party line)

February 9, 2006 @ 1:32 pm | Comment

And there were no grumblers or malcontents, because Wise King Otto had had them all put to death under the Happiness Act.

February 9, 2006 @ 5:40 pm | Comment

Great question. The CCP’s tendency for centralizing knowledge and information will likely become ever more difficult with the trend toward free expression. Knowledge/information cannot be centralized as easily as other resources.

February 9, 2006 @ 8:45 pm | Comment

yeah, you can read what you like online if you try hard enough, but is that ever going to move into free and open discourse?

for example, can you imagine an academic revisitation of the roots of communism, or the real record of mao? as much as i like the internet, it alone is no replacement for a real respect for free speech.

February 9, 2006 @ 10:58 pm | Comment

I tend to agree, but maybe the Internet will create a fissure in the wall of ignorance and make it all fall apart – someday. It’s nice to dream, isn’t it?

February 9, 2006 @ 11:00 pm | Comment

The fax machine was instrumental in catalysing the collapse of Russian Communism.

February 9, 2006 @ 11:29 pm | Comment

Yeah, but you couldn’t censor a fax machine could you, Ivan?

February 10, 2006 @ 2:38 am | Comment

Raj, that’s a good question. Simple answer: Until the Communist Party finally collapsed, faxes were not censored but faxORS were, by sending them to prison.

One the one hand it was hard to arrange any prior restraint of any particular fax. On the other hand, the way of creating prior restraint was the ham-fisted way of sending the offender to the Gulag after the first offense. This was going on as late as the late 1980s under Gorbachev.

February 10, 2006 @ 4:02 am | Comment

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