China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 12 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 12

A weekly update of press freedom and censorship news related to the People's Republic of China

Issue No. 12: March 3, 2011

* New state-run search engine censors more than Baidu
* Foreign reporters assaulted and detained in Beijing
* Authorities round up netizens over protest plans
* Online poll allegedly rigged to defeat dissident artist
* Confucius Institutes set to open in Australian schools

Printable version



Foreign reporters assaulted and detained in Beijing

On February 27, a group of foreign journalists were harassed and detained by police in downtown Beijing as they attempted to cover a planned protest, which aimed to emulate the recent antigovernment protests in the Middle East. A plainclothes officer beat an American cameraman, took him into custody, and confiscated his camera. Two Taiwanese reporters were brought to a police station and interrogated for four hours until Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office intervened. A number of correspondents for German news outlets including ARD, ZDF, and DPA were also briefly detained. Christine Adelhardt of ARD was forced to submit a written apology for filming in Beijing's Wangfujing commercial district "without official permission." According to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China, the Chinese authorities had warned foreign journalists to "stay away" after the protest plans were disseminated online. Such orders contravene revised regulations in place since the Beijing Olympics that allow foreign reporters to travel freely in China, except in Tibet.

* Reuters 2/28/2011: Foreign reporters harassed <
* Foreign Correspondents' Club of China 2/27/2011: Journalists beaten, others harassed <>
* Deutsche Presse Agentur 2/27/2011: German TV correspondents detained by China <>
* Central News Agency 2/27/2011: Taiwan expresses regret over detention of reporters by China <


Authorities push 'openness' toward foreign journalists

On February 21, one week before foreign journalists were assaulted in downtown Beijing, the State Council Information Office (SCIO) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee organized a new training program for CCP spokespeople on "how to deal with Western reporters." At the workshop, SCIO press bureau director Guo Weimin advised the audience to be "honest and not hostile" when answering foreign reporters' sensitive questions. On February 23, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top political advisory body, invited 33 foreign correspondents to visit the organization for the first time. The tour, scheduled ahead of the CPPCC's annual session on March 3, was said to reflect the CCP's "enhanced openness." According to state news agency Xinhua, more than 1,100 overseas reporters were expected to attend and provide coverage of the CPPCC session. In recent years, the CCP has increased efforts to engage selectively with foreign media, allowing greater access to certain official events or government-led tours in regions like Tibet, while obstructing reporting on matters deemed politically sensitive.

* China Scope 2/25/2011: CCP trains spokespersons on how to deal with the media <>
* Xinhua 2/24/2011: CPPCC invites foreign reporters before annual session <>


State film and broadcast regulator appoints new chief

On February 24, Cai Fuchao was appointed chief of the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT), which oversees China's film industry and foreign broadcast imports. In recent years, SAFRT has also been intimately involved in the censorship of online video content. Cai, a former propaganda chief at the Chinese Communist Party's Publicity Department in Beijing, became the capital's deputy mayor just before the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The state news agency Xinhua said Cai's mandate in his new post is to strengthen China's "triple play" network convergence-the consolidation of the television, internet, and mobile-device sectors. There was no mention of Cai's strategy for the expansion of China's media market and the country's compliance with World Trade Organization rules. According to Hollywood Reporter, a U.S. industry publication, SARFT enforces an annual maximum quota of 20 foreign films, which must be released by the state-run China Film Group. In 2008 and 2009, SARFT shut down a number of online video-sharing websites and enforced strict censorship controls on those that remained.

* New People Net 2/25/2011 (in Chinese): Former Beijing deputy mayor and propaganda chief appointed as new SARFT chief <>
* Hollywood Reporter 2/25/2011: China media regulator SARFT appoints new head before People's Congress <
* Freedom House 4/2/2009: Freedom House dismayed by new Chinese internet restrictions <//>


Pay-to-print academic journals face closure

On February 23, China's General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP), which enforces state media regulations, announced that it would forcibly shut down academic publications whose revenues rely on page fees charged to authors, a common practice in China. The GAPP said it would soon create an evaluation system to monitor the quality of China's academic publications. It was unclear whether the regulations were aimed at reducing the phenomenon of rampant plagiarism or increasing political control over academic scholarship.

* Beijinger News 2/24/2011 (in Chinese): General Administration of Press and Publications announces new regulations for academic journals <>


Forced self-censorship said to haunt Chinese writers

On February 22, Murong Xuecun, author of The Missing Ingredient, a nonfiction work that won him the 2010 People's Literature Award, gave his acceptance speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong. Murong had been abruptly barred from making his speech at the award ceremony in December, as he had intended to use the occasion to criticize China's system of censorship. Murong said that "Chinese writing exhibits symptoms of a mental disorder," describing how writers and editors frequently go to absurd lengths to avoid using "sensitive words" and attracting the attention of the authorities. He noted that even after years of experience, he remains uncertain about which words are safe and which are not. Like other Chinese writers who have reflected on the psychological impact of pervasive self-censorship, Murong admitted his personal embarrassment at having succumbed to the fear of writing frankly and "mastered my filtering skills."

* New York Times op-ed 2/22/2011: Words we can use, and those we can not <>
* China Digital Times 5/6/2008: I am ashamed of self-censorship <



New state-run search engine censors more than Baidu

On February 22, China's state news agency Xinhua and the state-owned telecommunications company China Mobile unveiled their new search engine, Panguso. The application, available on the web and via mobile telephone, will equip the Chinese government with a powerful new tool for controlling what information Chinese users find online, as it draws upon Xinhua's information resources and China Mobile's vast subscriber base. Xinhua hopes to make Panguso one of China's leading search engines, though industry analysts said it is unlikely to challenge Baidu, which holds more than 75 percent of China's search market. The editors of China Media Bulletin have tested the new search engine by entering a number of sensitive search-terms in Chinese. The results show that Panguso filters more stringently than its competitors.

- Jasmine (Muo-li-hua): No results on Panguso; Results on Baidu are limited to jasmine flowers and a folksong called "Jasmine"; provides extensive results
- Dalai Lama: Most results on Panguso consist of information on Tibet and critical comments on the Dalai Lama published by Xinhua; Baidu had mostly state run sources; provides most extensive results
- Liu Xiaobo: Error message on Panguso; results on Baidu are limited to critical comments published by Xinhua; extensive results on

* PCMag 2/22/2011: Google who? Chinese government launches sanitized search engine, Panguso <,2817,2380730,00.asp>


China's premier holds annual online chat

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao held an annual online chat session on February 25, days before the 11th parliamentary session of National People's Congress. During the two-hour chat, Wen answered questions that focused largely on economic issues and were submitted by visitors to the website of the state-run Xinhua news agency. According to Xinhua, a total of 122 National People's Congress deputies and 167 Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference members had opened microblogs to discuss their proposals, showing that new media have become popular tools among public officials aiming to gauge and influence public opinion. Chinese new media expert Isaac Mao asserted that the netizens who chatted with Wen were actually "government-hired paid commentators" whose role is to infiltrate and police the country's rapidly growing population of internet users. Meanwhile, Hong Kong–based media expert David Banderski questioned whether Chinese leaders' embrace of social media is a sign of responsiveness or, given the broader environment of censorship, an effort to "grab the megaphone."

* People's Daily 2/28/2011: Wen outlines major government tasks in annual online chat <>
* China Media Projet 3/2/2011: China's leaders embrace social media <>


Authorities round up netizens over protest plans

The Chinese government's current crackdown on political activists is likely to be the "harshest in recent years," according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). Several internet users who relayed recent appeals for street protests on microblogs like Twitter or domestic social-networking sites like QQ have been detained on charges of "subversion of state power." Such charges typically draw almost automatic jail terms of between 3 and 15 years in China. Among those detained are prominent activists and lawyers-including some who have already served prison terms-as well as lower-profile users such as Yuan Feng, a young migrant worker from Henan. Yuan was given 10 days of administrative detention for posting calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" to QQ. On February 24, prominent Sichuan-based commentator Ran Yunfei was detained by police officers, who also searched his home and confiscated his computer. On the following day, Hua Chunhui, a Jiangsu-based activist, was taken into custody after he posted messages about the protests on his Twitter account. Hua's fiancée, Wang Yi, is currently serving a year in a labor camp for posting a sarcastic anti-Japanese microblog message in 2010.

* Chinese Human Rights Defenders 2/25/2011: A quiet crackdown, yet likely the harshest in recent years <
* Foreign Policy 3/1/2011: Wake up and smell the jasmine <


News outlets steered away from causes of Libya unrest

As with earlier antigovernment movements in the Middle East, the Chinese government has attempted to limit online discussion related to the current unrest in Libya. News outlets have focused on official efforts to evacuate Chinese nationals, and on cases of looting and violence at Chinese-operated construction sites in the North African country. On February 22, an apparent Chinese expatriate in Libya sent out pleas for help on his Sina microblog account, called Happy Xu Feng. According to the Wall Street Journal, the writer's requests for immediate evacuation were forwarded "thousands of times and attracted hundreds of comments," though it was nearly impossible to confirm the claims in the messages.

* Wall Street Journal 2/23/2011: China's other problem with protests abroad <
* Radio Free Asia 2/23/2011: Chinese attacked in Libya <>


LinkedIn briefly blocked after protest posts

LinkedIn, a popular networking site for professionals, was blocked in China for a day on February 24, after a user named "Jasmine Z" posted three entries calling for democracy and freedom in China. The Chinese authorities did not provide an explanation, but LinkedIn spokesman Hani Durzy said the blockage appeared to be "part of a broader effort in China, involving other sites as well." Other observers noted that LinkedIn provides a relatively simple way to post to Twitter, which is blocked in China, without the need for complex circumvention tools. According to online statistics, only about a million of China's 420 million internet users have LinkedIn accounts; the remarkably low number may explain why LinkedIn is still available on China's internet. Forbes Beijing bureau chief Gady Epstein said sensitive events usually prompt Chinese censors to begin blocking certain sites. The video-sharing site YouTube appeared on the blacklist after users posted videos of riots in Tibet in March 2008. Social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been inaccessible since the riots in Xinjiang in July 2009.

* Forbes Blogs 2/25/2011: LinkedIn blocked in China, then unblocked; does it face the same fate as Facebook and Twitter? <
* Bloomberg Businessweek 2/25/2011: LinkedIn blocked in China after 'Jasmine' protest postings <
* Chess Plain Coaching 1/19/2011: LinkedIn statistics as at 19 January, 2011 <


U.S. envoy's name censored over China's 'Jasmine Revolution'

On February 20, U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman's Chinese name, "Hong Bopei," was censored by the Chinese authorities, though his English name remained searchable. The move came after netizens circulated videos of him appearing in Beijing's Wangfujing shopping district, where anonymous online messages had recently called for people to gather and start a "Jasmine Revolution" that would bring democracy to China. Among various popular microblogging sites within the country, only Tencent, Huntsman's microblog host, allowed users to find his personal account, though it permitted no comments related to his name. By contrast, on Sina Weibo, searches for "Hong Bopei" produced a message saying, "Results cannot be viewed due to relevant laws and regulations." According to the Wall Street Journal, nationalist Chinese bloggers accused Huntsman of trying to undermine the Chinese government by appearing in the shopping district at the time of the planned protest.

* Wall Street Journal 2/24/2011: After protest video, U.S. envoy's name censored online <


Online poll allegedly rigged to defeat dissident artist

In February, the popular Chinese web portal Sina sparked controversy after it joined Beijing-based Art Value Magazine in organizing an annual online vote for inclusion on an "Art Power List." The poll on Sina's website had originally included several influential Chinese artists, including the activist Ai Weiwei, who soon sprung to the top of the list. To avoid crowning an antigovernment dissident, Sina removed the artist category and replaced it with the less sensitive "Art Institution of the Year." However, just as Ai's online supporters were pushing his Three Shadows Photography Art Center ahead of other nominated institutions, thousands of suspicious votes clinched the contest for the Guardian Auction House instead. "It is completely shameless that Sina commits fraud on a public platform," Ai commented on his Twitter account.

* Art Info 2/22/2011: Ai Weiwei listed as option for 'Artist of the year' sparks censorship <
* Shanghaiist 2/17/2011: Ai Weiwei censored from Sina's artist of the year vote, results doctored <>
* Ai Weiwei's Twitter account via Tumblr: <>



Tibetans detained for possession of banned songs

According to Radio Free Asia, the Chinese authorities recently banned a list of Tibetan-language songs that were deemed to support Tibetan independence. After law enforcement bodies launched their seasonal "Strike Hard" campaign in the Tibet Autonomous Region in the winter of 2010, more than 20 Tibetan youths were reportedly detained for up to 15 days for having songs with titles such as "Voice of Unity" and "My Lama" on their mobile telephones.

* Radio Free Asia 2/25/2011: Police crack down on banned songs <>



Confucius Institutes set to open in Australian schools

China's Confucius Institutes, educational facilities that offer Chinese-language and other courses in 96 countries, are set to expand to Australian schools in April this year; several are already active at the university level. Senior officials at the New South Wales Education Department admitted that it was "best [for students] not to engage in discussion about sensitive topics" such as China's human rights record, as the Chinese government is paying more than $200,000 for the new offerings. Phil Lambert, one of the institute's six board members, said the syllabus included topics on contemporary culture and the history of China, adding that its focus is to give students a good understanding of "how contemporary China works." Reflecting on the broader phenomenon of self-censorship, in an academic study published last year, a Queensland University of Technology research student found that "when it comes to certain sensitive topics, Confucius Institutes turn quiet or even silent."

* Sydney Morning Herald 2/20/2011: Confucius says school's in, but don't mention democracy <
* Xinhua 12/11/2010 (in Chinese): Li Changchun attends opening ceremony of Confucius Institute conference <>
* Falk Hartig 7/5/2010: Confusion about Confucius Institutes: A case study of Confucius Institutes in Germany <>
* Undermining Democracy 6/4/2009: Confucius Institutes: Authoritarian soft power <>


Search engineering in China

Freedom House's China Media Bulletin editors created a chart that describes search results for six politically sensitive Chinese-language terms on three different search engines. To view, please click on the following link: <//>