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// 回复中国发生的一系列新的审查故事，CGCS焦点转向 Rogier Creemers, 牛津大学比较媒体法律和政策学院，讨论此事件和对未来进行推测。
// Rogier Creemer 的学位为中国学习，国际关系和法律。现在他在牛津大学比较媒体法律和政策项目工作。他的研究为中国媒体政策和中国政治变革的联系。他也是中国版权和媒体网站的编辑，此网站包含了一个关于中国媒体法律和政策文件的数据库。
// In reaction to a string of news censorship stories coming out of China, CGCS Media Wire turns to Rogier Creemers, of the Programme for Comparative Media Law and Policy at the University of Oxford for analysis, contextualization and predictions for the future.
At the time of writing, protests continue in Guangzhou after provincial censorship authorities were alleged to have changed the New Year message of the liberal newspaper Southern Weekend, without the knowledge of its editors. The affair is now engulfing a second newspaper, Beijing News, whose editors refused to reprint an aggressive commentary by the People’s Daily-owned Global Times. The affair follows in the wake of a number of other stories related to censorship and the expansion of control. Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan caused quite a stir with his comments on censorship; Beijing cracked down on VPNs, the service providers that facilitate bypassing the Great Firewall; the General Administration of Press and Publications issued a number of draft measures which promise to impose more licensing requirements on Internet publishing, and on representative offices of foreign media enterprises; and the National People’s Congress issued a decision confirming the earlier imposition of a real-name system for all “network service providers that handle website access services for users, handle fixed telephone, mobile telephone and other surfing formalities, or provide information publication services to users”, ostensibly in a bid to protect users’ privacy.
These matters have occurred in the wake of a leadership transition, where there had been widespread hopes that the new Party Secretary General Xi Jinping would usher in meaningful reforms, including an easing of Internet and press censorship. Hence, on Christmas day, an open letter calling for, amongst others, the implementation of the right to free expression as guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution, was published by a number of high-profile academics. Then, at the turn of the New Year, the website of the pro-reform magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu was closed after it had published a New Year’s message, also called for political reform on the basis of the Constitution. And now, there is the Southern Weekend incident.
The obvious question is how meaningful this incident will turn out to be in the wider context of Chinese politics. Certainly, matters such as this tend to be overvalued in the Western press. The protests were not started by an open call to free expression, but because of an unprecedented intervention in the editorial process. Xi Jinping, who has not yet even taken over the State presidency, will be eager to see this go away, and some horse-trading will inevitably take place between the central authorities, the provincial government and Southern Media Group, the overarching Party newspaper organization controlling Southern Weekend. In my view, however, there are two important matters to take away from this: it is necessary to thoroughly understand the lines that the Chinese leadership will not allow to be crossed, but also that the balancing act that has sustained Party power after 1989 is becoming increasingly difficult.
On the matter of freedom of expression, one could take a charitable or cynical view. Taking the Party’s pronouncements at face value and good faith, the argumentation is relatively simple. In its Constitution, the Party states that its objective is to ensure China is a prosperous and strong country, based on the scientific truths of Marxism and its Sinified version: Socialism with Chinese characteristics. The Party recognizes, however, that it is necessary to ensure that there is debate, preferentially by experts, on matters where changing circumstances make research necessary, and also that the public has a role in supervising those in power. In the cynical view, the Party is a mafiose organization that thrives on corruption, control and secrecy. It co-opts the interest groups that will ensure that it remains in power, but will not engage in meaningful political reform.
Whichever version one prefers, it is necessary that the policy consequences of both visions overlap significantly, if for different justifications. In the charitable view, having media censorship is akin to having rules of the road: it is in everyone’s interest that only correct and safe information reaches the eyes and ears of audiences that are easily confused. In the cynical view, open public communication is inimical to the Party’s interest because it reveals the extent of the privileges that Party members, cadres and officials enjoy. Both visions would also support, for example, real-name registration of social media users, because it enables a “safe, healthy and upward” Internet environment in which harmful information can be better prevented, or because it ensures that problematic dissidents can be traced, depending on preference.
The development of media and Internet policy over the last few years has also not indicated any turn towards a greater space for free expression of press freedom. On the contrary, In 2011, the Central Committee published a decision in which it aimed to remedy the problems it described as:
“the function of culture in promoting the raising of the entire nation’s civilization level must be urgently strengthened; in a number of areas, morals are defeated, sincerity is lacking, the view of life and value system of a number of members of society is distorted, […] public opinion guidance capacity must be raised, network construction and management must be urgently strengthened and improved”.
Implementation plans concerning culture and the Internet published in 2012 further outlined the specific measures that would ensure the continued domination of the Party voice: more State input into the cultural industries and the media, more regulation concerning the circulation of information, particularly online, more training for media professionals and the creation of mechanisms that ensure Party and State departments control media infrastructure. These are policies that the Xi leadership seems to have clearly taken over, which is confirmed by the appointment of their architect, ex-propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, to the Standing Committee.
At the same time, it must be recognized that the fact that the protests are a first significant challenge to the Xi leadership. As I wrote before the leadership transition, many central aspects of the Dengist model, export-led economic growth, technocratic governance, and a relatively benign international environment are no longer present, while the expansion of wealth has created inequality, and, perhaps most insidiously, rampant corruption. Obviously, the perks and living standards of Party cadres have been far removed from the life of the ordinary Chinese citizen since just about the foundation of the People’s Republic, but the fact that every mobile phone now comes with a camera and an Internet connection, and that, China’s growing middle class finds itself often excluded from jobs, education and opportunities for the benefit of cadres has deeply eroded trust in government. It is exactly because Southern Weekly is well-known for its muckraking and exposure of corruption and abuse that its purported muzzling evokes such reactions among Chinese citizens. This does not mean that the Party regime will collapse anytime soon. Most Chinese recognize that the deluge is the only other alternative. Also, the Party has successfully navigated around the weaknesses of other Socialist regimes, such as the Soviet Union. It does mean, however, that ironically, the Party may not enjoy the social trust or support for necessary reform in different realms. By its exclusivity, mendacity, and sometimes brutality, the Party continues to create its own enemies.
//Rogier Creemers has degrees in Chinese Studies, International Relations and Law. Presently, he works for the Programme for Comparative Media Law and Policy at the University of Oxford, where he researches the interaction between Chinese media policy and political change. He also edits the website China Copyright and Media, which contains a database of Chinese media law and policy documents.