Tag Archives: chinese censorship

Overdose of Politics in China New Year Programming

China Digital Times has a great wrap up of the heavy handed propaganda New Year Gala on CCTV. As a result, the censors had a whole new list of words to block behind the Great Firewall of China.

New Year Sensitive Words: Did CCTV Party Too Hard?

To dampen criticism, a number of related search terms have been blocked on Sina Weibo, including CCTV Gala + politics (春晚+政治), CCTV Gala + brainwash (春晚+洗脑), and CCTV Gala + suck up (春晚+献媚). As Wong noted, some complained that the gala felt like an episode of network’s propaganda-heavy nightly newscast: CCTV Gala + News Simulcast (春晚+新闻联播) is also blocked. Another censored search term is CCTV Gala + steamed bun (春晚+包子), referring to [President] Xi’s appearance at a Beijing steamed bun shop in 2013 which became a symbol of his personal image-crafting.

Maybe the government stepped up the propaganda because of the predictions based on the Chinese zodiac for the 2016 Fire Monkey.

The Monkey is very intelligent, hyperactive and strong-minded. He represents the unfettered mind freed from inhibitions and guilt. Relieving himself from the heavy burdens of a touchy conscience, the Monkey type will not hesitate to test his theories, experiment and think the unthinkable. In his domain, everything is possible. What is difficult, he could do right away; what is impossible may take a little longer.

All the animals have a shadow side, and the Monkey is no exception. The problem solving tendencies can turn the Monkey to being a tricky tactician, opportunistic and not all that trustworthy. The youthfulness hides an unscrupulous adolescent, and the independence can turn to unfaithfulness.

While the leadership in Beijing denounce belief in powers of the zodiac, they have to know that most Chinese still hold a bit of the old ways in the back of their minds. And nothing can be worse for a dictatorship than a whole year dedicated to people with unfettered minds who think anything is possible and who can be tricky tacticians and not trustworthy.

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China needs to learn from Hong Kong

As usual journalist Frank Ching is spot on in his analysis.

When Hong Kong was handed over to China, people were saying Beijing could learn from Hong Kong how to enter the modern world of finance and politics. But there are lessons Beijing just does not seem to want to learn.

For example, when a major issue dominates the public’s concern, the Hong Kong government sets up commissions to investigate and report back to the people.

Such commissions are part of Hong Kong’s tradition. The British colonial government, between 1966 and the handover to China in 1997, set up commissions of inquiry 12 times to look into such issues as the cause of riots, a fire on a floating restaurant that claimed 34 lives, and the flight from Hong Kong of a police chief superintendent wanted on corruption charges. The strength of such inquiries is that they are conducted by individuals of standing in the community who, while appointed by the government, act independently. Often, such inquiries are headed by judges.

The latest issue is the discovery of lead in the Hong Kong drinking water. The pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong reacted in a way that does credit to the recent history of Hong Kong. They set up a commission.

[T]he commission is headed by Justice Andrew Chan, a high court judge. The commission’s terms of reference are to ascertain the causes of excess lead found in drinking water in public rental-housing developments; to review and evaluate the adequacy of the present regulatory and monitory system in respect of drinking-water supply in Hong Kong; and to make recommendations with regard to the safety of drinking water in Hong Kong.

Frank also points out that the people of Hong Kong know what the local standard is and how it compares to the World Health Organization standard. BTW, 10 micrograms per liter for both.

Now take the explosion at Tianjin — as Frank did — as an example of how not to investigate a major incident that have people concerned for their health and safety.

Premier Li Keqiang promised to “release information to society in an open and transparent manner.” But the Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus has moved in as usual and demanded: “Use only copy from Xinhua and authoritative departments and media…. Do not make live broadcasts.”

Cyanide has been detected in the soil near the blast sites, but a Chinese official, Tian Weiyong, director of the environmental emergency centre of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, was quoted as saying that the level does not exceed the national standard. However, we are not told what the Chinese standard is and how it compares with WHO guidelines.

And just as a side note, Frank points out that even if China revealed the “Chinese standard,” it would probably not be of much comfort to the people. In the case of the Hong Kong lead-in-the-water situation, it would never come up as an issue in China. While the readings in Hong Kong exceeded WHO standards by four times, they would have been within Chinese standards of 50 micrograms of lead per liter of water, or five times that of the WHO.

Frank’s bottom line is something a lot of us have argued for years. When the Chinese people know the information they are getting has been carefully sifted and purified, they reject the official statements and turn to rumors for information. Rumors cause panic. And yet, the Chinese leadership says controlling information is necessary to preserve social stability. They really don’t seem to see how their actions are actually adding to instability. (Or at least they are acting as if they don’t see the connection between media control and social instability.)

Independent commissions to investigate disasters and access to the commission reports have provided stability to Hong Kong society. People may not like the results of the studies, but at least the process is public and the public knows how and why the conclusions were reached.

Frank points out

China can learn from the outside world is the creation of an independent body, such as a commission of inquiry, to show its determination to uncover the truth, regardless of where it leads. Such commissions are used around the world, including by the United Nations.

Setting up such a commission lifts a huge burden from the government’s shoulders. The trouble is that, in China, the Communist Party won’t let anyone else investigate.

He adds another problem finding individuals trusted by the people to serve on the commission. “After all, there is no independent judiciary,” he wrote, “no Independent Commission Against Corruption and no Office of the Ombudsman where people of integrity may flourish.”

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How Chinese censorship hurts US businesses

I have long argued that when a government engages in censorship, it makes it difficult to do business in that country.

Sure, companies can cut deals to build factories and export goods. But part of doing business is working with reliable numbers. And governments that engage in censorship do not stop with just making sure the media report the latest bit of propaganda. They reach into every bit of information, including economic data necessary to make solid business decisions.

Freedom House has a report that explains the impact Chinese censorship has on US businesses.

How Beijing’s Censorship Impairs U.S.-China Relations

And is not just about cooking the books to make an economic plan look good. In China, it is all about controlling everything and limiting outside information that might challenge the official line.

  • Between May and September 2014, photo-sharing applications Flickr and Instagram.
  • Virtually all Google services were blocked.
  • In December, Gmail access from third-party applications like Outlook or Apple mail was also disrupted
  • Last summer, Dropbox and Microsoft’s OneDrive were rendered inaccessible.
  • In November, segments of Verizon’s Edgecast were blocked, affecting commercial platforms like Sony Mobile

In short, Chinese government policies make it difficult to work online and to get independent data necessary for business planning.

This impact on US (and other Western) companies has a direct relationship to our economic well-being.

So I would think, for our own understanding of the economy and economic development, we would need to have more and better reporting on the censorship policies of our trading partners.

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China plays games with journalism visas

But at least it is not as bad as 2013.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China conducts an annual survey of its members (and a few outsiders) on the visa renewal process.

The bottom line for the 2014 survey period: “In general, the visa renewal process went more smoothly this year than last.”

The survey of 2013 was a damning indictment of the pettiness of the Chinese government authorities:

This year it became more obvious than ever that the Chinese authorities abuse the press card and visa renewal process in a political manner, treating journalistic accreditation as a privilege rather than a professional right, and punishing reporters and media organizations for the content of their previous coverage if it has displeased the government.

The most public cases were the denial of visas (or slow walking of the paperwork) to the New York Times and Bloomberg for their reports on how wealthy family members of prominent Communist Party members became and where they are hiding their money.

(See summary here.)

The 2014 report showed that while the visas were handled in a more professional manner, there were still cases of intimidation and out-right threats.

“In one run-in with the authorities, they made perfectly clear they would see us again at the end of the year for visa-renewal. In that sense it was a covert threat.”

“In case of new hire, visa delay was explained by MOFA in a meeting with bureau chief as being the result of concerns about bias in her previous job.”

“I had two interviews where I was questioned about my reporting on Xinjiang and told that the Foreign Ministry would need to be satisfied with my attitude in order to approve my press card. In the end they said they were and that my card would be approved.”

Animosity toward Western media (and Japan is counted in that group, oddly enough) has been a standard feature of how Beijing deals with the press. When we lived in Shanghai — 1992-1994 — the two Western journalists allowed to live there (Reuters and — I think — Asahi Shinbun) had their phone lines cut and received extra shadows in the lead up to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

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China’s Censorship: It’s not just on the Internet

We all know about the Great Firewall of China and how it tries to block anything the leadership in Beijing doesn’t like. As in anything they don’t declare is “safe” for the Chinese people. That means Twitter and Facebook with their free-flowing way of communicating is blocked. (See for yourself at Great Firewall of China, where you can test any website to see — in real-time — if it is being blocked by Chinese censors.)

Just because China has gotten all high-tech, does not mean they have forgotten about good old traditional media, such as books and academic papers.

The New York Times reports on how the daughter of retired party leader Li Rui is fighting to get the government to own up to its censorship practices. (Lawsuit Over Banned Memoir Asks China to Explain Censorship)

The book being held hostage by Chinese authorities is a memoir by her father. Basically it is a no holds barred look at the inner workings of the Chinese Communist Party and government.

It seems Chinese censors have stepped up their efforts to prevent so-called subversive material coming into China from Hong Kong. They even have a code name for the operation — Southern Hill Project.

Chinese academics and dissidents have been able to get papers and memoirs published in Hong Kong because the former British colony and now Special Administrative Region of China still enjoys civic and human rights the rest of China does not. According to the Times’ article, border crossing agents subject incoming luggage to X-ray scans to look for hidden books and documents, in addition to random searches of bags being brought into the country.

And this is the problem with censorship. If a country really wants to impose its views on its people by blocking any outside ideas, the effort keeps getting harder and harder. Also, it weakens whatever trust the people might have had in their government and lessens its legitimacy.

So if the rulers in Beijing really want to bring about an unstable society, they are doing all the right things to undermine any support they may have had with the people of China.

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