China by the numbers
Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 26, 2010
ENTERPRISING REPORTERS keen to cover today’s China should find the following list of 18 topics an excellent starting point.
1. Yuan revaluation
2. Bureaucratic corruption
3. Expensive health care
4. Food safety
5. The Uyghurs
7. The gap between rich and poor
8. Reform of the family registry system
9. The soaring price of cooking oil
10. Forecasts of personnel moves of senior party leaders
11. Expanding the autonomy of universities
12. The difficulty of university students in finding employment
13. School destruction in the Szechuan earthquake and the delays in rebuilding
14. The use of defective vaccines in Shanxi province
15. The beating death of a steel plant president in Jilin province
16. Police-gangster collusion in Chongqing Province
17. Rising real estate prices and the housing shortage
18. Real estate developers spurring land price increases
Why those 18? Those topics are now forbidden to the Chinese news media, according to this report in the English-language Asahi. Liu Yunshan, the chairman of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China, sent a notification by fax to all the media companies informing them of the new rules of journalism. (The Asahi, unable to tell the difference, called it the “Publicity Department”).
Some Chinese reporters are wondering what they can write about, especially because these topics were of the most interest to their readers. Not to worry.
Amid complaints of cheaper Chinese exports flooding overseas markets, Washington has increasingly pressed Beijing to revaluate its currency. Liu banned reports on criticism against China, especially from U.S. lawmakers, and told the Chinese media to use stories from the state-run Xinhua News Agency. But commentaries that “criticize U.S. actions” were welcomed, even ordered, by Liu.
In fact, the official China Daily website is editorializing for a new press law.
Press law is imperative now, not only for protecting reporters’ rights, but also to restrict press power.
The part about protecting reporters’ rights comes from the problem of “unemployed youths” posing as reporters to blackmail unscrupulous mine operators in Shanxi. It seems as if the Chinese are living in interesting times, doesn’t it? Then again, considering what passes for English-language journalism about Japan, telling an employed journalist and a shiftless youth apart might not be such a snap after all. Maybe a press law for…nah!
As for the part about restricting press power, well, this is the Chinese Communist Party after all. Take a look at the Propaganda Department’s website in Chinese. There are enough hammer and sickle emblems to outfit an official motorcade for a May Day parade.
But the China Daily does have another list showing there are indeed subjects suitable for examination. This one is six items long. The article is called Six Advantages of China’s Political System, and it’s about an op-ed written for Singapore’s zaobao.com (the coolest domain name on the planet) by Song Luzhen. Here are the six:
1. “Under the one-party system, China could formulate a long-term plan for national development and ensure stabilization of its policies without being affected by the alternation of parties with different positions and ideologies.”
No wonder Ozawa Ichiro likes China so much!
2. “High efficiency and promptly effective reaction to emerging challenges and opportunities, especially in response to sudden and catastrophic accidents.”
That high efficiency and promptly effective reaction must be why they don’t want reporters to write about #13 on the list of the forbidden. It isn’t a problem, it’s an advantage! Covering those stories would be a waste of everyone’s time.
3. “Its effective containment of corruption in the social transition period.”
Ditto #2 on the first list.
4. “A more responsible government”
(I)n democratic societies, many officials are elected with fixed terms, and they then will not fall out of power before the expiration unless they break the law or make wrong decisions or take no action.
In democratic societies, many people would be thrilled if their elected officials took no action.
5. “(I)ts personnel training and selecting system and avoiding the waste of talented people.”
6. “One party (Chinese Communist Party) can truly represent the whole people.”
Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein—whoops! Sorry! Wrong branch of the left wing!
Seriously though, there’s plenty to write about. Take Google, for example, That’s a really hot topic in China now. The China Daily even has an op-ed by Philip J. Cunningham, a visiting scholar from Cornell University, called Goodbye Google and GM Information. Scholar that he is, he finds a way to compare Google to genetically modified food.
Google’s departure from the Chinese mainland appears to have been a business retreat dressed up as an ideological offensive, in which a specious argument about free speech was used as a fig leaf to cover the company’s failure to penetrate and dominate a market of its choosing. But it also reflects outdated, Cold War style thinking.
The guy really got on a roll. I’m not going to get in his way.
Like a shark that doesn’t know how to stop swimming, it is a nonstop eating machine, buying up competitors and kindred companies, all for what purpose? Free speech? Democratic expression? Personal freedom? That’s what CEO Eric Schmidt recently told the Google Personal Democracy Forum, but speaking to advertisers, he probably came closer to the truth, saying: “We love advertising!”
That prose is like a bowl of alphabet soup without the broth. But if he talks the way he writes, that shouldn’t be a problem. There’ll so much spit flying around he won’t need any broth.
In the place of the bipolar world of Cold War certainties, we live in a more nuanced, multivalent world. But the rise of the Internet, while touted by never-say-die Cold Warriors as a tool to combat state propaganda, has inadvertently begun to serve up decentralized propaganda of its own; full of mindless mash-ups, advertising jingles, corporate slogans, recycled canned entertainment and de-contextualized information for disunited people.
I’m sure the editors dug the Mao riff:
But is it not better to let one hundred wild flowers blossom, than allow agribusiness to weed out competitors until there is only one kind of crop?
If the China Daily is a sample of the new Chinese journalism, I can see its advantages. With the Chinese political system, having only one party means the people don’t have to bother with all those messy competing ideologies. With the China Daily, readers get a combination of the New York Times and Mad Magazine all in the same publication.
UPDATE: Slim writes in to say that the PRC did “in Orwellian fashion” rename its Propaganda Department the Publicity Department a few years ago. Thanks for catching that.