China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 29

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

Issue No. 29: July 14, 2011

Huge oil spill kept under wraps for a month
CMB special feature: Cyberdis appearance in Action
Tudou makes fourth try at IPO amid copyright suits
Reporters pepper-sprayed, detained during Hong Kong street protest
Caixin magazine to expand beyond mainland China

Printable version



Huge oil spill kept under wraps for a month

It has been revealed that a 320-square-mile oil spill on the Bohai Sea went unreported by the Chinese government and relevant companies for over a month. News of the spill eventually emerged via a June 21 post on the microblogging platform Sina Weibo. The leak behind the slick was first found on June 4 at the Penglai 19-3 oil field, operated by the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation and U.S.-based energy firm ConocoPhillips. State news agency Xinhua said the authorities did not make any official announcement until July 1 "due to technical limits," but further details of the spill and its environmental impact remain undisclosed. The incident comes nearly a year after a major oil spill near Dalian, after which the government had promised open information and transparency. However, the Guardian points out that today, "the authorities and state-owned oil industry are just as close, and their first instinct still seems to be to plug the news before the pollution."

* Guardian 7/7/2011: Chinese oil spill half the size of London went unreported for a month <>
* New York Times 7/5/2011: China admits extent of spill from oil rig <>


Prominent writer flees to exile in Germany

Liao Yiwu, a prominent Sichuan-based writer, declared on July 11 that he had sought refuge in Germany after slipping across China's border into Vietnam and then traveling to Poland. Best known for his nonfiction book The Corpse Walker, which relays the experiences of 27 Chinese from the "bottom rungs of society" and is banned in China, Liao had been denied an exit visa by the Chinese authorities 17 times, and was barred from attending several literary events abroad (see CMB No. 22). Among the catalysts behind his escape to Germany was his fear of official retribution for two upcoming books--God is Red, about Christians in China, and The Witness of the 4th of June, a memoir that includes accounts of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Nevertheless, Liao said his decision to flee was difficult, as he left behind his family, including his mother, his son, two siblings, and his girlfriend. Admitting that he was "too overwhelmed and excited to eat or sleep" after arriving in Germany, Liao said he was optimistic about prospects for a political opening in China, which would allow his return in the future.

* New York Times 7/12/2011: Dissident Chinese writer flees to Germany <>
* New Yorker 7/6/2011: Liao Yiwu unbound <>


Outspoken blogger, lawyer banished to Xinjiang

Li Tiantian, a Shanghai-based human rights lawyer and an outspoken blogger, was forcibly returned to internal exile in Xinjiang on July 6. Li had been released after some three months in detention on May 28, on the condition that she relocate to Xinjiang, not return to Shanghai for three months, and stop posting comments on the internet. However, she continued writing on her microblog accounts. She announced on July 2 that she would leave Xinjiang for Shanghai no matter the consequences, and it was reported that as soon as she arrived in the city, she was forced to board a train back to Xinjiang. Li told Radio Free Asia that she had made a number of earlier attempts to return. Separately, on July 8, Zeng Jinyan, the wife of prominent AIDS and environmental activist Hu Jia, told the BBC that two AIDS patients who attempted to visit Hu in Beijing were temporarily detained on July 6. They were taken away by security personnel near Hu's residence and released after a five-hour interrogation. The Global Times, a state-run English-language paper, also briefly reported on their detention. Hu has been under house arrest since his release from prison in late June.

* Radio Free Asia 7/6/2011: Shanghai lawyer banned from home <>
* BBC Chinese 7/8/2011 (in Chinese): AIDS patients taken away from visiting activist Hu Jia <>



CMB special feature: Cyberdisappearance in Action

In recent months, as prominent activists and lawyers have been abducted by Chinese security forces, the editors of the China Media Bulletin noted corresponding restrictions that effectively reduced the detained individuals' presence on the Chinese internet, a practice that might be termed "cyberdisappearance." To investigate this phenomenon in greater detail and simulate the experience of an average Chinese user, the editors selected a sample of eight prominent activists, lawyers, and journalists, many of whom have used the internet as part of their activism. Staff then conducted searches for their names on (whose results are largely uncensored), as well as on,, and the search function of China's popular Sina Weibo microblogging service (all three of which are subject to Communist Party censorship restrictions). The findings reveal not only clear evidence of significant restrictions, but also the nuance with which the Chinese censorship apparatus imposes those restrictions. Among the key findings were:

- Heavy restrictions on Sina Weibo
- restrictions that match or exceed those on Baidu
- A nuanced spectrum of restrictions that corresponds to the perceived political sensitivity of given topics
- A major quantitative gap between the numerous search results on and and the much more limited results provided by and

A more detailed explanation of the testing and its findings, including brief profiles of the selected sample of activists and a chart summarizing the test results, is available here: <//>. On July 14, the Taipei Times published a related op-ed by Freedom House's Asia research analyst Sarah Cook addressing the phenomenon of "cyberdisappearance."

* Taipei Times 7/14/2011: Cyberdisappearance taking hold <>


Authorities block user reviews of panned Communist Party film

The Chinese authorities have censored online reviews of The Beginning of the Great Revival (also known as The Founding of a Party), a state-sponsored movie released in late June that dramatizes the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in July 1921. Two popular movie-review websites in China, Douban and Mtime, have disabled the star-rating and comment functions for the film, preventing users from criticizing it. Screenshots of the pre-censored Douban, which were posted on several web forums, show that 88 percent of 802 users had given it only one star. To boost box-office grosses, movie theaters in China forced customers to purchase tickets for The Founding of a Party, then manually changed the movie title to the ones they were actually going to see (see link below for images of altered ticket stubs posted by netizens). These incidents come after other reports of official efforts to artificially inflate box-office results and recover the costs of the expensive film (see CMB No. 28).

* China Digital Times 7/10/2011: Propaganda film audience response manipulation <>
* PC World 6/22/2011: Web ratings disabled for Chinese Communist Party film <>


Communist Party maintains grip on telecom executives

A series of developments at China Mobile, which boasts 600 million mobile-telephone subscribers, have reinforced Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence in the country's telecommunications sector. Xi Guohua, who was appointed as the new vice chairman and party secretary of the company on June 30, has close ties with the CCP's Central Organization Department, a secretive entity that controls personnel changes at Chinese state-run companies. The department typically implements its decisions without notice or explanation, a lack of transparency that poses a challenge for investors. Xi's appointment was interpreted as a punishment for China Mobile chairman Wang Jianzhou, who has been buffeted by the company's corruption scandals. One former executive was recently given a death sentence for bribery (see CMB No. 28). Ironically, Wang's own appointment had also come as a surprise; he was transferred in 2004 from China Mobile's business competitor, China Unicom, without prior notice.

* Financial Times 7/5/2011: China Mobile shows power still lies with the party <>


Tudou makes fourth try at IPO amid copyright suits

Tudou, China's second largest video-streaming site after Youku, submitted its fourth application for an initial public offering (IPO) in the United States on July 8. However, the company's filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reveals that it has received 587 claims of copyright infringement; it has lost 182 of the 364 settled cases, while 223 are still ongoing. Whereas Youku has increased its spending on purchasing rights to stream on-demand movies and series, Tudou chief executive Gary Wang said on June 28 that his company will focus on producing low-budget, podcast-style video content. According to Sina Tech News, Youku reportedly spent a total of 150 million yuan ($23 million) to settle lawsuits in 2009 before it went public in New York in December 2010. Similarly, Steven Millward estimates that Tudou's copyright payouts amount to millions of yuan. The international video-sharing site YouTube remains blocked in China, and both Tudou and Youku have faced growing pressure from Chinese authorities in recent years to tighten procedures for screening user-posted videos.

* Penn Olson 7/12/2011: For, a fourth attempt at a US IPO reveals mounting copy right claims <>


Japanese partner to help Baidu offer mobile-phone content

Chinese search-engine giant Baidu and Japanese telecommunications operator NTT DoCoMo confirmed on July 8 that they would establish a joint venture to distribute mobile-telephone content in China. The deal will help Baidu, which is set to hold an 80 percent stake in the venture, to provide online entertainment including Japanese games, animation, and comic books to China's growing number of smart-phone users.

* Wall Street Journal 7/8/2011: Baidu, NTT DoCoMo to set up JV in China <>



Reporters pepper-sprayed, detained during Hong Kong street protest

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) reported that at least 19 reporters were pepper-sprayed by police during a mass demonstration on July 1. The gathering, which organizers said drew more than 200,000 people, demanded that the Hong Kong government safeguard the territory's freedom of expression. Many reporters were caught in the chaos when police suddenly moved into the crowd as the event was drawing to an end. Two reporters were sprayed directly in the face, and Cai Wenwen, a student at City University of Hong Kong and an intern photojournalist for New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television, was taken to a police station for investigation. She was released the next day but is required to report back to the station in early December, and she complained of being misled by police into providing her fingerprints.

* Hong Kong Journalists' Association 7/13/2011: HKJA condemns police action against demonstrators <>
* Epoch Times 7/6/2011: Photographer arrested while reporting protest in Hong Kong <>


Pro-Beijing station criticized for false Jiang Zemin death scoop

During its primetime news broadcast on July 6, Hong Kong's Asia Television (ATV) erroneously announced that former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin had died (see CMB No. 28). ATV later had to retract the report and make a public apology. The story was initially considered credible because the station is known to be friendly with Beijing. One of its shareholders, Wang Zheng, the stepson of late Communist leader Shu Tong, is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and has claimed in the past to be a relative of Jiang's, though other sources disputed the claims. Two ATV board members wrote to executive director James Shing, demanding an explanation for the erroneous July 6 report and raising concerns that no board meetings had been held since November 2010, despite company regulations stipulating that a meeting should be held every three months. Media analysts said the incident was unlikely to damage ATV's relations with the central government, which has made large-scale investments in the station.

* South China Morning Post 7/12/2011: ATV board members demand answers <>
* South China Morning Post 7/8/2011: 'Princeling' surprised by his broadcaster's 'scoop' <>
* Standard 7/8/2011: It's new to me <>



Young Tibetan writer arrested, severely beaten

On July 5, Pema Rinchen, a 25-year-old Tibetan writer from Kardze in eastern Tibet, was detained and severely beaten by police officers in Kardze's Drango County, according to prominent Tibetan blogger Woeser. He was taken to the Drango County hospital the next day for emergency treatment, but his family members were barred from visiting him, and the hospital was put under heavy surveillance. Pema Rinchen had personally distributed copies of his book Look, which discusses the Chinese government's Tibet policy and Tibetans' accounts of torture by the police during the 2008 protests.

* Phayul 7/11/2011: Another Tibetan arrested <>



Mongolian activist and family still detained, relatives harassed

Xinna, the wife of Mongolian journalist and rights activist Hada, was reportedly visited by her brother on July 5 at Inner Mongolia No. 1 Detention Center. As co-owners of Hada's family-run bookstore, Xinna and her son Uiles were charged in January for "illegal business activities." Her sister and her mother were pressured and harassed by the local authorities. They were also asked to persuade Hada to stop his activism for Mongolian rights. Hada, who founded the pro-Mongol newspaper Voice of Southern Mongolia, has not been fully released from police custody since he completed a 15-year prison term for "separatism" in December 2010.

* Reporters Without Borders 7/8/2011: Mongolian cyber-dissident and relatives still in prison, relatives harassed <,40253.html>


Police crack down on Xinjiang independence leaflets

Copies of leaflets advocating Uighur independence appeared in western Xinjiang's Aksu city on July 1. The leaflets, which contained phrases such as "Uyghur People Unite" and "Resist Sinicization," were distributed on the 90th anniversary of the founding of Chinese Communist Party. The police began a citywide investigation to prevent them from spreading to Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, ahead of the second anniversary of ethnic violence in that city on July 5. According to Dilxat Raxit, spokesman of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, at least six people were taken away by Aksu police for allegedly distributing the leaflets. Meanwhile, the local Pinganwang website said a two-month propaganda campaign had been launched in Aksu. All schoolchildren aged seven and older are required to attend four days of political education sessions in July and August. Security forces in China periodically engage in drives to "strike down illegal publications," with particularly intense efforts focused on Xinjiang. According to reports on official websites, in recent years millions of copies of printed materials have been confiscated, including tens of thousands of underground religious and political publications.

* Radio Free Asia 7/11/2011: Uyghur leaflets prompt crackdown <>



Caixin magazine to expand beyond mainland China

Caixin Weekly, an English-language magazine owned by the Beijing-based news group Caixin Media, became available on newsstands in Hong Kong on July 8. The company also plans to distribute the magazine with weekend editions of Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. According to founder and editor in chief Hu Shuli, who was listed by Time magazine in April as one of the world's "100 most influential people," Caixin will launch an application for the iPad tablet computer, targeting readers in the Americas and Europe. The Wall Street Journal described Caixin's expansion as "the boldest push" by a non-government-run Chinese news organization to grow outside the country. While Beijing strictly enforces its media censorship rules, Caixin has covered a wide range of sensitive topics, including alleged fraud at state-owned companies. On July 11, during a talk at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong, Hu said that powerful commercial interests, not just state censorship, are a threat to China's press freedom.

* Wall Street Journal 7/7/2011: A Chinese muckraker expands its mandate <>
* Agence France Presse 7/11/2011: Top China editor says 'private interests' censor press <>


Confucius Classrooms spark controversy in Australia

A petition with more than 4,000 signatures was recently submitted to the state legislature of New South Wales (NSW) in Australia, calling for the removal of the Chinese government-sponsored Confucius Classroom Program, which was launched in July at seven high schools in the state. The program's teaching staff and curriculum are said to be paid for by the Chinese government with more than A$200,000 in contributions. The Australian government reportedly confirmed that sensitive issues such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and China's human rights record are to be omitted from classroom discussions, sparking concern among the public and legislators that "students are being denied a balanced curriculum that explores controversial issues, such as human rights violations and Taiwan, because critical examination might upset the Chinese government." The NSW education minister, Adrian Piccoli, defended the initiative, arguing that it is meant to support Chinese-language teaching and culture in local schools and not the study of political content. Since their launch in 2004, a total of 322 Chinese government-sponsored Confucius Institutes and 369 Confucius Classrooms have been established in 96 countries.

* Sydney Morning Herald 7/13/2011: Call to scrap 'biased' Chinese culture classes <>
* Undermining Democracy 6/4/2009: Confucius Institutes: Authoritarian soft power <>


Chinese writers accuse Apple of violating copyrights

China's Union for the Protection of the Rights of Writers, a group that represents dozens of writers and publishers in China, has accused Apple's App Store of offering applications that enable unauthorized downloads of hundreds of books. The group, which has gathered a fund of 3 million yuan ($464,000) from the chief executives of several Chinese technology companies, including e-commerce websites Dangdang and, is planning to sue Apple and Chinese search-engine giant Baidu in the next two years. While global policies on intellectual-property rights are poorly enforced within China, the Chinese writers' union has demanded that U.S.-based Apple strictly regulate its Chinese application developers. In March, Baidu was accused by more than 40 authors in China of infringing on copyright by providing free access to their works through its online document-sharing service, Baidu Wenku. Baidu chief executive Robin Li promised to shut down the service if the dispute remained unresolved, but unauthorized works remain accessible on the platform (see CMB No. 16).

* Wall Street Journal 7/12/2011: Chinese writers target Apple <>



Study of Maoist catastrophe wins literary prize

On June 14, Frank Dikötter, a professor of modern Chinese history at the University of Hong Kong, was announced as the winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for his book Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe. Based on four years of research using Chinese-language archives, many of which are inaccessible to the public, the book investigates the Chinese Communist Party's disastrous Great Leap Forward reform campaign. The resulting famine caused an estimated 45 million deaths, according to Dikötter, and unfolded with the full knowledge of Mao Zedong and other party leaders. Biographer Brenda Maddox, one of the prize's judges, was quoted as saying, "This book changed my life-I think differently about the 20th century than I did before. Why didn't I know about this?" The judges' chairman, historian and journalist Ben Macintyre, said, "We feel we know who the villains of the 20th century are-Stalin and Hitler. But here, fully 50 years after the event, is something we did not know about. It's a testament to the power of nonfiction, that it can rock you back on your heels."

* New Yorker 12/16/2010: Frank Dikötter on famine and Mao <>
* Guardian 7/6/2011: Samuel Johnson prize won by 'hugely important' study of Mao <>


Interactive online internet-freedom ranking

On July 7, as a special feature accompanying an article on internet restrictions in Tunisia, the Wall Street Journal published an interactive feature presenting internet freedom rankings. The feature draws on the findings of Freedom House's Freedom on the Net report, published in April 2011, and allows users to sort both the total and category scores of 37 countries, with China ranked 34th overall.

* Wall Street Journal 7/7/2011: Internet censorship around the world <>