China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 24 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 24

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

Issue No. 24: June 9, 2011

TV propaganda to expand despite drop in revenue, viewers
Beijing stifles attempts to mark June 4 massacre anniversary
Netizen jailed after mocking Chongqing official Bo Xilai
Independent electoral candidates spread message online
Fallout from Gmail cyberattacks continues

Printable version



TV propaganda to expand despite drop in revenue, viewers

A campaign by China's media regulators to increase television content that promotes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is apparently taking a toll on commercialized stations and their ability to manage their outlets based on market demand. The Guangdong-based Southern People Weekly reported on May 30 that the viewership and revenue of Chongqing Satellite Television have dropped dramatically since the station was ordered to replace all commercials with pro-CCP clips in March. As a result, managers have been forced to dismiss dozens of employees, cut wages, and limit resources for reporting trips. In a similar vein, the director of Hunan Broadcasting System, the country's second-largest television network and a pioneer in taking a market-based approach, told the Financial Times last week that he had received orders from the government not to focus exclusively on "entertainment." He said that the benchmarks for measuring the success of programs would have to change, implying a shift from viewer ratings to political appraisals. This would mark a reversal of the policy of the past decade, under which the authorities encouraged the commercialization of outlets without privatizing ownership or granting editorial independence on political and social matters. In another manifestation of the television propaganda drive, it was reported on June 1 that to mark the 90th anniversary of the CCP's founding in July, China's State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television planned to introduce 90 "red" movies and television dramas from June to August. The well-financed campaign will feature popular actors and target young audiences.

* China Media Project 6/1/2011: Inside Chongqing's red TV revolution <>
* Southern People Weekly 5/30/2011 (in Chinese): Decisions on red channel remote control <>
* China News Net 6/1/2011 (in Chinese): China's "Red Idol Dramas" target young audiences <>
* Financial Times 5/30/2011: Beijing in fresh TV censorship move <>


Pro-Ai art festival closed down by authorities

On June 2, the Beijing authorities dismantled exhibitions at the Incidental Art Festival in Beijing, which featured generally apolitical pieces alongside an empty wall that implied the plight of detained artist and blogger Ai Weiwei. Three organizers of the event were briefly detained. One of them, 28-year-old artist and curator Wang Jun, said he was held for ten hours of questioning, followed by seven hours of isolated confinement. The police told him not to discuss his detention with anyone upon his release, but Wang revealed to friends and reporters what had happened. He also said that he had received an eviction notice from his landlord immediately upon returning home, and that when he visited his favorite restaurant, the owner asked him to leave and not come back because he had become "politically sensitive." Wang, along with Wen Jie, one of the festival's participants, were briefly held by the police in late April after they performed "silent standing" at Beijing's 798 Arts Zone to protest Ai's forced disappearance. His situation highlights the authorities' growing efforts to isolate Ai and anyone associated with him. Wang said the current crackdown has created a "growing chasm between established artists unwilling to upset the government and young upstarts unwilling to compromise their ideals."

* New York Times 6/2/2011: China closes festival that alluded to jailed artist <>
* New York Times 6/3/2011: Chinese artist Wang Jun speaks out after release <>


Media directives demand prompt content removal, threaten fines

A series of media directives allegedly issued by the Chinese authorities in May hint at some of the organizational dimensions of the censorship system. For example, online discussion related to a Southern Metropolis Daily editorial that paid tribute to the victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and made veiled references to detained artist Ai Weiwei was targeted with a "first-grade command," indicating that it should be removed within 10 minutes. A "second-grade command" requires content removal within 30 minutes, and a "third-grade command" within two hours. Separately, a provincial internet administrative office reportedly warned that a fine of 30,000 yuan ($4,630) would be imposed for those violating media restrictions related to a recent suicide at a facility run by the Taiwan-based manufacturer Foxconn and to unrest in Inner Mongolia. National authorities also ordered websites to remove articles about the protests in Inner Mongolia. A test conducted by the editors of the China Media Bulletin indicated that phrases such as "Inner Mongolia" and "student protests" are banned on popular Chinese sites, including the state-run search engine Panguso and the microblogging platform Sina Weibo. Other alleged media directives for the month restricted reporting on a bombing by a frustrated petitioner in Jiangxi, a deadly building collapse in Wuhan, a scandal involving low-income housing, and the upcoming release of a compensation plan for a deadly fire in Shanghai.

* China Digital Times 6/4/2011: Directives from the Ministry of Truth: May 1-31, 2011 <>



Beijing stifles attempts to mark June 4 massacre anniversary

The Chinese government intensified censorship ahead of the 22nd anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre. On May 31, a leaked internal document from the Beijing Municipal Government posted on China Digital Times suggested that the authorities had launched a "wartime coordination mechanism" that required all units to report suspicious information during the "sensitive period." Internet users in China sometimes refer to the June 4 anniversary with the term "May 35" to avoid censorship, but popular search engines such as Baidu and Sina have apparently banned that term along with others like "student protests" and "democracy movement." Searches for such phrases lead to error pages. The China Digital Times succeeded in recording screenshots of some individuals' attempts to commemorate the massacre, which were quickly deleted by censors. Most of the postings had only implicitly hinted at the massacre with phrases such as referring to the student protestors as the "idealist youth from that time" or saying that "tomorrow is not a good day to talk or take a stroll."

* China Digital Times 6/5/2011: June 4th on Sina Weibo <>


Netizen jailed after mocking Chongqing official Bo Xilai

Fang Hung, a retired civil servant in Chongqing, was ordered on April 24 to serve one year in a "re-education through labor" camp after mocking the municipal party secretary, Bo Xilai, in a microblog post. Written on April 21, the post made reference to a homonym of Bo's name with sexual overtones and satirical jokes about his anticorruption campaign. Fang was ordered by the authorities to remove his post the next day, and was soon charged for "fabricating fact and disrupting social order." His son, Fang Di, received notice of the decision on April 25, which was too late for him to appeal. However, on June 6 it was reported that the police might consider dropping Fang's charge, with the condition that his son not speak to the media. Separately, Lu Jiaping, a 70-year-old military scholar from Hunan province, was sentenced on May 13 to 10 years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power." The Beijing court's decision was believed to be related to Lu's writing about former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, whom he called a "traitor."

* Global Voices 6/7/2011: China: Netizen sentenced to one year labour education for mocking at leader <>
* Ming Pao 6/7/2011 (in Chinese): Satirical tongue twister about Bo Xilai causes one year at labor camp <>
* China Human Rights Defenders 5/25/2011: China human rights weekly briefing <>


Independent electoral candidates spread message online

Dozens of Chinese citizens have recently begun campaigns to stand as independent candidates for local legislatures called people's congresses, which hold limited power but are nonetheless potential avenues for gaining the attention of higher authorities. Among those campaigning are Xu Chunliu, an online journalist in Beijing who is upset over what he views as unjust parking fines, and Li Chengpeng, the Sichuan-based author of a popular novel on forced evictions. With no ability to spread their message in China's tightly controlled traditional media, independents have turned to microblogging sites such as Sina Weibo to reach the public. Some candidates, including Li, have received support from popular media personalities like prominent blogger Han Han and film director Feng Xiaogang. The candidates are generally focusing on social issues and trying to work within the current political system rather than challenging Communist Party rule. Nevertheless, as the idea has gained momentum, the party has begun to signal its disapproval. In a June 9 article in the People's Daily, an unnamed official of the Communist-controlled National People's Congress warned citizens not to run for the district-level people's congresses, saying there was no legal basis for it. In fact, all citizens over age 18 are eligible to run under Chinese law, though in practice the Communist Party typically handpicks candidates from among its own ranks and supporters.

* Reuters 6/9/2011: China warns "independents" challenging Party-run legislatures <>
* USA Today 6/3/2011: Independent enter China's political arena <>


Exclusive online club finds niche among China's elite

P1, a privately owned, invitation-only social-networking site in China, has flourished since its launch in 2007. To emphasize its exclusivity, the company only grants access to those who earn a monthly income of at least 8,000 yuan ($1,230) and have invitations from five of its existing members, currently numbered at 1.2 million. Users receive deals for high-end nightclubs and luxury brands in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, and the site subdivides its wealthier users into silver, gold, and platinum memberships. According to P1 chief executive Wang Yu, the platinum members, mostly younger than their gold counterparts as they belong to the "rich second generation," are "desperate" to find social peers with similar wealth levels.

* Financial Times 5/26/2011: A social network for socialist China's lonely super-wealthy <>
* Connecting the exceptional <>


Tibetan student writer receives four-year prison term

On June 2, Tibetan writer Tashi Rabten, also known by the pen name Theurang, was sentenced to a four-year prison term for "inciting activities to split the nation," according to Radio Free Asia. He was convicted in a closed trial at the Intermediate People's Court in Ngaba prefecture, Sichuan province. Tashi Rabten was an editor of banned Tibetan-language magazine Shar Dungri and the author of the book Written in Blood, both of which feature political writings about Tibet and suppression of dissent in the region. He was detained in April 2010 while he was a student at the Northwest Nationalities University in Lanzhou. Three writers for Shar Dungri received similar prison sentences in December (see CMB No. 7).

* Phayul 6/4/2011: 4 years prison term for Tibetan writer <>

Fallout from Gmail cyberattacks continues

On June 6, China's Foreign Ministry said Google had become a "political tool" after the U.S.-based company contended that the attack on its popular Gmail e-mail service had originated in Jinan province in eastern China, home to a command center of the Chinese military. According to the Wall Street Journal, there is some speculation that Lanxiang Vocational School, a technical college in Jinan that boasts of having the largest computer class in the world, may have been used by the military as a front to conduct online hacking and espionage activities, though others doubt the school's capacity to serve as the launch pad for such attacks. The school was a military facility until the late 1990s, and its shareholders include relatives of military officers. On June 3, Los Angeles–based internet security company Trend Micro reported that e-mail service providers such as Microsoft and Yahoo! had been targeted in cyberespionage campaigns similar to that identified by Google the previous week, though it was unclear whether these necessarily originated from China. In addition to monitoring the hacked e-mail accounts, the intruders seemed intent on discovering which software was installed on the affected computers, so as to enable a more precise attack.

* Wall Street Journal: 6/7/2011: Hokey advertising undermines China hacking threat <>
* Agence France-Presse 6/3/2011: Cyberattacks also targeted Gmail rivals: Trend Micro <>


Communist Party film epic set for American release

On June 17, Los Angeles–based China Lion Film Distribution will release The Founding of a Party, an epic movie that celebrates the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party's founding, in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. China Lion targets Chinese audiences in North America through exclusive deals with Confucius Institutes, Chinese government-sponsored international education facilities, and AMC, the second-largest theater chain in the United States. The film, produced by the state-run China Film Group, features more than 150 well-known Chinese and Taiwanese stars, including Liu Ye as Mao Zedong and Chang Chen as Chiang Kai-shek. It was reported that Tang Wei, a controversial Chinese actress who was banned in China for her explicit nude scenes in director Ang Lee's 2007 thriller Lust, Caution, had all her scenes cut from The Founding of a Party, in which she played Mao's lover during the 1910s. While producers of the film declined to comment, Hong Kong–based director Manfred Wong said in Southern Metropolis Daily that the decision to excise the actress's scenes may have been due to "high-level censorship considerations."

* Hollywood Reporter 5/20/2011: China lion to release Chinese Communist Party epic in North America, Australia, New Zealand <>
* Vancouver Sun 5/14/2011: Actress cut from Mao film for sex scenes in Lee thriller <>
* China Daily 6/3/2011: Raise the red curtain <>