When things start going bad the first thing dictators do is limit information about just how bad things are. And China is acting according to the same script.
As the global economic slowdown started to hit China, President Xi Jinping stepped up pressure on the media. Then more cases of corruption started popping up all over the country, including in the upper echelons of the party. To stop people seeing party leaders living well while many are losing their jobs, Xi figured the only thing to do was to prevent the people from seeing or hearing about such things.
The crackdown has been building. In 2013 Xi started clamping down on traditional media as well as online services. In January 2014 he put himself in charge of a new committee to keep an eye on the Internet.
The South China Morning Post reported:
News that Chinese President Xi Jinping will take charge of a new panel overseeing internet security and information technology development has sent a shiver down the spines of Chinese media practitioners and net users.
Many have expressed fears that the launch of such a high-level task force would deal another blow to press freedom which had already been suffering after Xi’s administration tightened controls on the internet in recent months.
Along the way Xi also said it is the responsibility of journalists to follow the Communist Party line and to promote government policies. He also launched a campaign against any dissent by not only going after dissidents in China but also those who have been driven into exile because of their views. The government has also started rounding up family members of Chinese living abroad who have expressed critical views of the government. The event that seemed to cause an increase in the repression was a letter that circulated just as the rubber-stamp People’s Congress started its sessions calling for Xi’s resignation. (China Digital Times has a good summary.)
The latest victim is an editor from Southern Metropolis Daily.
Yu Shaolei posted a resignation note online, saying he could no longer follow the Communist Party line. His message wished those responsible for censoring his social media account well.
Yu posted a photo of his resignation form on his Sina Weibo microblog account Monday evening. It was quickly taken down, but a few resourceful people saved a screen capture of the note.
From the BBC:
Under the “reason for resignation” section, he wrote: “Unable to bear your surname”.
This was a reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tour of state media outlets in February, when he said journalists must give absolute loyalty to the Communist Party, and “bear the surname of the Party”.
Instructions to the media and Internet censors have included not only hyping good news about the Chinese economy and leadership, but also what stories not to allow out.
Again, China Digital Times does a great job of keeping track of the censorship directives under their “Ministry of Truth” section. Here are a few examples:
- Don’t Report on “Saudi Arabia Uncovered”
- Don’t Hype Article on Illegal Vaccines
- Control Malicious Commentary on Zuckerberg
All in all, despite China’s efforts to become a major global player, the leadership is still acting like a group of 19th century petty dictators who think they can control all aspects of the lives of the people inside their borders.