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Censorship and Its’ Impact on Researching on China


Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House ranks China’s press situation as “very serious”. It is listed as “Enemies of the Internet” and is ranked 173rd out of 179 countries in the 2013 RBS Press Freedom Index.[1] Hundreds of thousands of websites are blocked in the country and tens of thousands of cyber-police and cyber-censors constantly monitor the Web with massive financial support from the government and the ruling Communist party. Party and the Government do not only invest heavily in censorship but also in massive propaganda works. The chief of propaganda works and censorship is a very senior politician and many a times, member of the powerful political bureau of the central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

In July 2008, just before the Olympics several thousand kids were massively affected because of the contaminated milk in the country. The state controlled media did not report or name and shame the companies involved in this scandal because China did not want to lose its’ face at the international stage just before organizing Olympics. For the country and the party saving its’ face was more important that saving the lives of hundreds of kids!

As China is not a full democracy the ruling party has been always wary and scared of any kind of mass protest which could potentially threat the legitimacy of the party. Information and news which can instigate anger or bring the public together against the government or censored regularly and when Obama was delivering his Presidential inaugural speech live and while he mentioned about the Human Right issues and Chinese Dissidents, the national televisions in the country went blank. This is not an isolated incident and these kinds of situation occur very frequently.

Several of my journalist friends who have worked for Chinese media as an Associate Editor have written how the ‘3 Ts’ are almost barred by the top editors to discuss in the country. The ‘3 Ts’ are Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen Square incident.

As a researcher, if one wants to do any kind of survey or want to interview Chinese politicians, scholars, academicians or even general public, several ‘forbidden topics’ including ‘Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen Square incident’ are politely refused to be the discussed by them.

We are all aware that most popular websites of the world, namely “Facebook, Twitter and Youtube” are completely banned and blocked in China. One cannot engage in online discussion on sensitive issues particularly the issues which the Chinese government and the Party may abhor. An internet search about ‘Tianmen’ on Google in the west will give you completely different results if you search the same in China. Because of censorship issues, Google had to face lots of problems in the country and ultimately Google China had to shut down its functionality in the country. If you try to work on Google in China, it will take you to Google Hong Kong. In 2008, The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) recorded 178 cases of interference from the central government with foreign media in the Olympic year.

The Chinese government has been also interfering in the education system of the country and in May 2013, when the Chinese Communist Party issued an instruction to educational institutions banning the teaching of seven sensitive topics, Zhang Xuezhong of Shanghai East China University (华东政法大学) was one of the first Chinese academician to reveal the issue on popular micro blogging site SinaWeibo. The “Seven Speak-Nots” policy prohibits discussion of “universal values, civil society, citizen rights, judicial independence, freedom of the press, past mistakes of the communist party, and the privileged capitalist class” in university settings. Zhang’s Weibo account has since been deleted and On 17 August 2013, Zhang was notified by the university that his qualifications to teach at school had been revoked. The decision was made by the university’s communist party committee, according to China Change, a human rights website.[2]

The above episode simply reflects that not only academicians are discouraged to not to discuss and research on the issues which are not like by the Party, if one tries to do so, the job could be at stake and one can be also easily incarcerated. Judiciary in China is not independent from the clutches of the government and the party and most of the senior judges in China are the member of the Party themselves.

With the pressure from the government, even giant American Corporation, Apple has also kowtowed to Chinese authorities and has recently removed its’ circumvention app ‘OpenDoor’.[3] Several school students, researchers and academicians working on China have expressed dissent on this but there is no any hope that Chinese government is going to buckle down under the pressure of some of its’ netizens.

On the contrary, Party has intensified “ideological and political” training for young college lecturers, including monitoring their online conversations. Washington Post,reported on 3 June, 2013 that the Chinese government has recently notified that “Teachers should be self-disciplined when lecturing in class and stop words and deeds that harm the national interest.”

According to the Reporters Without Borders (http://en.rsf.org/) one can see how stringent the party could be on the media reporting. According to the website, the following orders were given:

1. Media organizations must not stress (report) violence on a college campus but should concentrate on the steps taken by party committees and the government to prevent similar incidents in the future – Central Propaganda Committee (中共中央宣传部). 2. Coverage of the international Africa conference in Tokyo is forbidden – State Council Information Bureau (国务院新闻办公室). 3. Coverage of the arrival of U.S. military vessels in the Southern Ocean is forbidden. 4. All statements about clashes between police and groups of camphor traders in Dongguan (东莞) must follow the information issued by the relevant departments. They must not carry out interviews of their own volition – Guangdong Party Office. 5. Information on the public hearings on the rise in taxi fares in Beijing must not be circulated – Beijing Network Office. 6. The report on the Shenzhen coastal power station must be followed to the letter in order to avoid unnecessary tension – Shenzhen Publicity Department. 7. The micro-blogging account of Zhang Xuezhong is to be blocked – State Council Information Office. 8. Media coverage of the student at the Agricultural University of Huanan found hanged is forbidden – Guangzhou Propaganda Ministry 9. It is forbidden to mention or comment on the Shenzhen costal power station and related matters, or the relocation of Guangzhou’s cemetery for those who resisted the Japanese. 10. It is forbidden to talk about Party Provincial Bureau deputy director Yu Laishan’s meal or his 170,000 Yuan dinner – Guangdong Department of Propaganda. 11. Absolutely all posts about Xu Zhiyong (許志永) must be suppressed, without exception – Central Department of Propaganda. 12. It is forbidden to publish any report or communiqué about the press conference or other activities organized by the Gu Chu military corps – Council of State’s Bureau of Information. 13. It is forbidden to comment on the attack on government officials by residents of the village of Dongxia, in Hui’an district – Fujian Department of Propaganda. 14. “Internet clean-up” operations will continue. The level at which key subjects are handled will be raised by one level and the precision of website registering will be stepped up.

One can easily gauge that when the Party and the government are so strict on the freedom of media and expression of views, how can one research independently on probably any issue concerning China? In January this year, a little liberal Chinese Newspaper—South China Morning Post (南方周末)Published an editorial article asking for more freedom for the media and criticizing censorship in the country. The end result was that under the pressure from the government the Editor of the paper has to finally resign.

GAPP (General Administration of Press and Publication (新闻出版总署) screens all the books published in the country and literature sold in the market.Hundreds of thousands of books banned in the country and people go to Hong Kong to buy the banned books and this has resulted into more than 4,000 underground publishing factories around China.[4] “The Most Beautiful First Lady of the Republic: An Illustrated Biography of Peng Liyuan” (共和国最美的第一夫人;彭丽媛画传) for example is banned in the mainland.

My personal experience has been also not a very happy one. In December 1999 when Karmapa defected to India, I was researching at Peking University and while I wanted to talk, discuss and research on Tibetan Buddhism, I was thoroughly discouraged from my own teachers and friends. I am mostly dissuaded to talk about Tibet, Dalai Lama, Karmapa, Xinjiang and Taiwan in the country.

In the end, I must say that I highly admire the effort of the Chinese government and the CPC in bringing huge economic success and uplifting the life style of millions of Chinese people but the party and the government has a long way to go as far as censorship in the country is concerned. The researchers on China would only feel dejected to see so much censorship in the country.

(The writer Dr.Yukteshwar Kumar is Course Director of Chinese Stream at University of Bath, UK, email: yukt@hotmail.com)

[1] Press Freedom Barometer: Chinahttp://en.rsf.org/report-china,57.html, (Accessed on 3 May 2014) [2] Global Voices, Chinese Professor Suspended for Teaching Constitutionalism, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/09/01/chinese-professor-suspended-for-teaching-constitutionalism/ (Accessed on 4 October 2013) [3] Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Apple kowtows to China’s censors; removes circumvention app, http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/apple-kowtows-china%E2%80%99s-censors-removes- circumvention-app-0 (Accessed on 5 June 2014) [4] The New York Times, On Hong Kong Shelves, Illicit Dirt on China’s Elite:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/world/asia/exposes-of-chinas-elite-a-big-lure-in-hong-kong.html?_r=1& (Accessed on 5 June 2014)

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