China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 34 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 34

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

Issue No. 34: September 29, 2011

* Officials invoke 'state secrets' over sex-slave exposé
* Shanghai Metro bows to netizen wrath with revised crash apology
* Vice minister calls on police to increase microblog use
* Global outlets join Chinese state-hosted media summit
* Red ballet at Washington's Kennedy Center prompts outcry

Printable version



Officials invoke 'state secrets' over sex-slave exposé

On September 22, reporter Ji Xuguang of the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, one of China's more aggressive investigative newspapers, was interrogated after he published an article on sex slaves in Luoyang, Henan Province. According to Ji, over the course of two years, a former civil servant named Li Hao had kidnapped six women from local nightclubs and imprisoned them in a dungeon where he deprived them of food and forced them to have sex with him. Li was arrested on September 6, but Ji's reporting broke the story publicly. Ji was then visited by two unidentified security agents at his hotel in Luoyang. The officials questioned his sources for the article and accused him of revealing a "state secret" that could tarnish Luoyang's reputation. In a follow-up article that criticized state control over news in China, Ji said he had to rely on his microblog for "self-help," because his readers served as a safeguard against "being made to disappear" by the authorities. China's laws on state secrets are both harsh and vague. Over the past decade, numerous journalists have been sentenced to prison for as many as 10 years after revealing information that was arbitrarily classified by officials as a state secret.

* New York Times 9/23/2011: Journalist is detained in China for article on sex slaves <>
* Southern Metropolis Daily 9/23/2011 (in Chinese): Whose state secret is Luoyang sex slave news? <>


Transgender talent judge banned from TV show

Jin Xing, a famous transgender dancer in China, has reportedly been banned from being a judge on Zhejiang Satellite Television's popular competitive singing show, I Am the One (Fei Tong Fan Xiang), due to her gender identity. On September 20, she wrote on her microblog that a directive was sent by the Zhejiang Province Radio, Film, and Television Bureau to the show's production team just a week before its final round of competition. Jin Xing went through sex reassignment surgery 16 years ago and is married to a German man. Her post was circulated by more than ten thousand netizens within three days after it was written. She demanded an apology from the authorities and the television station. According to state-run Xinhua news agency, the director of the Zhejiang media regulator, Hu Jian, denied interfering in the station's selection of judges, insisting that it was an internal decision made by the station. China's national media regulator has stepped up censorship of entertainment-themed television shows in recent weeks. The popular talent competition Super Girl, which had 400 million viewers at its peak, was suspended in mid-September by the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (see CMB No. 33).

* Wall Street Journal 9/23/2011: Transgender TV show judge claims government discrimination <>
* Xinhua 9/23/2011 (in Chinese): Zhejiang Province Radio, Film and Television Bureau denies sending directives to Jin Xing for her transgender identification <>


China detains S. Korean journalists near N. Korea border

On September 20, a group of journalists with jTBC, a television channel affiliated with the South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo, were detained by the Chinese authorities on suspicion of spying in the North Korea–China border region. Four jTBC reporters, the chief of the South Korean government–run Korea Transport Institute, and a local guide were stopped by soldiers in a restricted military zone near the Duman River, which forms a boundary between China, North Korea, and Russia. According to the Associated Press, the journalists, who reportedly traveled on tourist rather than press visas, were held in a hotel for four days before being expelled from the country. Press visas are difficult to obtain in China, and the authorities often use the visa process to prevent foreign journalists from entering the country and covering sensitive topics. According to Reporters Without Borders, a South Korean freelance journalist was arrested in a similar case in 2003 for filming North Korean refugees fleeing to China, and was held for 14 months on a charge of "trafficking in human beings."

* Reporters Without Borders 9/25/2011: Chinese arrest South Korean journalists near North Korean border <,41049.html>
* Associated Press 9/29/2011: Official: China expels South Korean journalists <>


Historical opera canceled, political motives alleged

Dr. Sun Yat-sen, an opera produced by Opera Hong Kong about the leader of the revolution that toppled the Qing dynasty in the early 20th century, was scheduled for its world premiere on September 30 at Beijing's National Center for the Performing Arts. The opening was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the revolution. However, despite four years of planning, it was canceled by the venue in early September, allegedly for "logistical reasons." The Berlin-based music management company Karsten Witt, which represents the opera's composer, Huang Ruo, suggested that the cancelation was politically motivated. The company said a government official who had attended the opera's rehearsals decided that the opera was "inappropriate." "I suppose they wanted something to glorify [Sun]," a Karsten Witt representative who wished to remain anonymous told the New York Times. The Chinese authorities appear to be quite sensitive about how Sun is portrayed. In August, two high-ranking staff members at a Guangzhou magazine were demoted and suspended after they published an interview with a Taiwanese historian who voiced criticism of Sun (see CMB No. 32). The opera is now scheduled to premiere in Hong Kong on October 13.

 * South China Morning Post 9/24/2011: Beijing faces the music over cancelled opera <>
* New York Times 9/26/2011: Historical opera is cancelled in Beijing <>



Shanghai Metro bows to netizen wrath with revised crash apology

On September 27, due to a signal failure, a subway train in Shanghai collided with another at the downtown Xintiandi station, injuring over 200 people. The news quickly spread on China's microblogs as netizens posted photographs and first-hand reports with furious comments. One photo was shared over 45,000 times. For many, the crash was reminiscent of the deadly high-speed train collision in Wenzhou in July. Some media outlets, including the respected magazine Caixin, reported that the same company, Casco, was responsible for the signaling technology in both rail systems. The Shanghai Metro quickly issued an emotional apology on the popular microblog platform Sina Weibo, calling it the "darkest day" in the subway system's history and saying that Metro personnel felt "extremely ashamed and regretful." However, the apology was deleted and replaced with a version similar to the usual official statements on disaster relief. It emphasized that the victims had helped each other and that rescue workers and firemen had rushed to the scene. The statement ended with a restrained acknowledgment of error: "We did not do well. Please believe us, we'll definitely do better." It was criticized by many Weibo users for attempting, in the words of one blogger, to "gloss it over with pleas for trust and forgiveness." Another cited the importance of action rather than words: "We don't need an apology. We need safety." The Metro's statement went through a third round of edits in the evening, returning it to the tone of the first version. According to Guangdong-based Southern Daily, the Shanghai Metro employed an eight-person team responsible for providing updates of the accident on its official microblog account.

* Wall Street Journal 9/27/2011: The case of the disappearing Shanghai subway apology <>
* China Digital Times 9/27/2011: Shanghai metro crash injures more than 200 <>
* Southern Daily 9/29/2011 (in Chinese): Shanghai Metro's "humane" microblog well received by netizens <>


Sina shuts down blog featuring officials' luxury watches

China's popular microblogging service Sina Weibo removed an account last weekend that featured photographs of Chinese ministerial-level officials wearing designer watches and had garnered over 20,000 followers. The account's operator, Daniel Wu, had been praised by Chinese netizens as well as the state-run news agency Xinhua for helping to combat corruption (see CMB No. 33). He denied equating possession of luxury watches with corruption, but acknowledged that he had attempted to avoid censors' redlines. "I had … the impression that we had achieved a tacit understanding: I would not touch the most expensive watches and the highest-ranking officials and I would get away with that," he said. Sina first deleted an entry that featured a photo of the current railway minister, Sheng Guangzu, wearing an $11,380 Rolex timepiece. Then the company sent Wu a shutdown notice, claiming that pressure from the Chinese Communist Party had grown too strong. Wu said that only three out of a hundred officials he wrote about had responded to him.

* Financial Times 9/21/2011: China's censors clamp down on watchblogger <>


Vice minister calls on police to increase microblog use

On September 25 and 26, the Ministry of Public Security organized a two-day seminar in Beijing on police use of social-networking sites. Representatives of security and police forces from 14 provinces participated. The vice minister of public security, Huang Ming, said that the police should use microblogs as a communication platform to "release correct information and dispel misunderstandings." According to Reuters, China's public security organs have opened more than 4,000 accounts on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging service, and about 5,000 police officers have registered personal microblogs with their real identities verified. As Chinese microbloggers frequently disseminate information that is critical of the government, the police microblog accounts are an effort to respond in a timely fashion and ensure that the official government line receives attention. Microblog providers like Sina Weibo have come under official pressure to more aggressively curb users' criticism of the Communist Party and the spread of information that threatens "social stability" (see CMB No. 33).

* Ministry of Public Security of the People's Republic of China 9/26/2011 (in Chinese): Huang Ming urges police use microblogs to release correct information and dispel misunderstandings <>
* Reuters 9/26/2011: China urges police use microblogs to dispel rumors <>


U.S. envoy urges internet freedom, draws media fascination

On September 20, U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke delivered a speech at the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing. Having missed an opportunity to defend internet freedom earlier in the month (see CMB No. 32), he urged Beijing to relax its web censorship, saying such measures have hindered the country's innovation and suppressed its ability to compete in the global economy. Since arriving to take up his post in August, Locke has received much media coverage in China, with netizens particularly taking note of various incidents in which his casual humility and rejection of perks and privileges contrasted with the typical behavior of Chinese officials. In one case, he was photographed buying his own coffee and carrying his own backpack. The China Economic Weekly reported on September 19 that he acted like "an ordinary person" as he and his family waited in line for an hour to ride a cable car at the site of the Great Wall in Beijing. State-run media have recently sought to portray these incidents as deceptive manipulation by Locke. The Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times criticized Chinese journalists' way of "romanticizing" the envoy, and on Guangming Observer, a web forum hosted by the party-run newspaper Guangming Daily urged Chinese people to be cautious of "American neo-colonialism" and attempts by Locke to incite political chaos in China through his Chinese American identity.

* New York Times 9/20/2011: New U.S. envoy urges China to relax business restrictions <>
* Christian Science Monitor 9/20/2011: Why China seems so fascinated by US ambassador Gary Locke <>
* Guangming Observer 8/16/2011 (in Chinese): Warning from Gary Locke's neo-colonialism <>


Police fall victim to identity theft

Police in Beijing's Fengtai district have reportedly cracked down on a company that was selling personal information for 0.10 yuan ($0.01) per name, adding to concerns that the incidence of identity theft is increasing in China along with the surge in internet penetration. The couple who allegedly owned the company and its encrypted database were detained on September 15. They first came to Beijing in 2007 and acquired information such as names, ages, and telephone numbers through online forums and chat rooms. They also created a typing-service agency, through which they obtained and resold the personal information of their customers. During the investigation, police found that even their fellow officers' data were stored in the system, including their ages, addresses, phone numbers, and car information. The huge cache contained data on tens of thousands of individuals, including several famous business figures in China.

* Penn Olson 9/23/2011: Chinese police bust web store selling millions of stolen identities <>
* Global Times 9/21/2011: Police bust identity thieves <>



Jiangxi authorities bar netizen from Hong Kong

On September 15, Chinese activist Liao Mulin was denied a permit to travel to Hong Kong by the authorities in Pingxiang, Jiangxi Province. Liao has frequently used the internet to expose the brutal enforcement of state family-planning policies and the difficulties unregistered children face in trying to attend school. The authorities admitted to Liao that his record included no indication that he had violated the law, but he was told that the order had come from the public security bureau in Pingxiang. Liao then contacted the national security officer for Shangli County and was told that he would not be issued a permit because his "online posts affected the government's image."

* Sound of Hope 9/18/2011 (in Chinese): Liao Mulin denied permit to Hong Kong due to internet activities <>
* Chinese Human Rights Defenders 9/13/2011: China Human Rights Briefing Sept 13-20, 2011 <>



Baidu launches Arabic, Thai services

Reflecting its global ambitions, the Chinese internet company Baidu has recently branched out to Thailand and Egypt, quietly launching a Thai version of the information portals Hao123 and Baidu Zhidao (Baidu Knows) and an Arabic version of Baidu Zhidao. The Thai version of Hao123 features a directory that enables novice internet users to easily search for popular links under different categories. Interestingly, the search bar for the Thai Hao123 is powered by Google, Baidu's main international search-engine competitor, and the top features include the video-sharing site YouTube, the social-networking site Facebook, and the microblogging platform Twitter, all of which are blocked in China. Both the Arabic and Thai versions of Baidu Zhidao provide a question-and-answer service through which users can post questions and obtain answers from other users. More than 6,000 questions in Arabic and almost 3,000 in Thai have been asked and answered. Almost none of the queries had a connection to China or politics, though there were several questions related to Islam on the Egyptian site. Baidu founder Robin Li, after stating his aspiration for Baidu to be recognized globally, was recently encouraged by Communist Party propaganda chief Li Changchun to win "honor for Chinese companies" abroad.

* Wall Street Journal 9/15/2011: Baidu brushes up on its Arabic, Thai <>
* Baidu Zhidao (Thai version): <>
* Baidu Hao123 (Thai version): <>
* Baidu Zhidao (Arabic version): <>


Global outlets join Chinese state-hosted media summit

On September 27, China's state-run Xinhua news agency hosted the second "World Media Summit" in Beijing. At least 10 foreign media companies and news outlets participated and apparently sat on the meeting's governing body. They included the Associated Press, the New York Times, News Corporation, Thomson Reuters, Time-Warner's Turner Broadcasting System, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Russia's Itar-Tass news agency, Qatar's Al-Jazeera network, and Japan's Kyodo News. Xinhua head and former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda department deputy director Li Congjun called for a coordinated mechanism for global media production and proposed that participating members outline a "common code of conduct" (see CMB No. 33). Li stressed that the summit should be "non-governmental" in nature. In a thorough and insightful analysis, David Bandurski of the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project pointed out that according to official statements, the initiative was in fact funded by the Chinese government and Xinhua's agenda goes "beyond a simple business exchange." Reflecting the underlying goals of the summit-not only to promote Xinhua to the world, but to increase its credibility domestically by boasting international recognition-all but one of the 14 stories about the summit on Google News were written by Xinhua or other Chinese state-run news sources; the 14th was by Russia's state-run broadcaster. At the end of his commentary on the gathering, Bandurski requested an explanation from the 10 foreign participants as to why they were lending their reputations and time to a CCP propaganda ploy.

* Xinhua 9/27/2011: World media leaders meet in Beijing to discuss IPR, new media, cooperation <>
* China Media Project 9/28/2011: What exactly is the World Media Summit <>


International press freedom group holds congress in Taiwan

On September 26, a day before an international media summit hosted by China's state-run news agency in Beijing, the International Press Institute (IPI), a Vienna-based nongovernmental press freedom group, held its annual congress in Taipei. Speaking at the gathering, President Ma Ying-jeou reflected on Taiwan's progress in protecting press freedom since martial law was lifted in 1987, and since Taipei last hosted the IPI congress in 1999, prior to the country's first democratic transfer of power. Among other points, Ma noted Taiwan's high ranking in Freedom House's annual Freedom of the Press report. In his closing address, IPI chairman Carl-Eugen Eberle marked the absence of members of the press from mainland China, who were either forbidden to attend or feared reprisals if they did so. He expressed hope that they would be able to join future meetings. The congress also passed a number of resolutions on issues ranging from abolition of criminal defamation to calls for better protection of journalists' freedom and safety in Mexico, Turkey, and the Philippines.

* Central News Agency 9/27/2011: Taiwan's democracy recognized around the world: president <>
* China Post 9/28/2011: IPI calls for greater press freedom in China <>
* IFEX 9/28/2011: Resolutions issued by IPI membership at World Congress point to concerns over impunity, criminal defamation and restrictive legislation <>


Chinese media executives and officials tour Taiwan

On September 22, a group of Chinese media executives led by the vice president of state-run Xinhua news agency, Zhou Xisheng, arrived in Taiwan for an eight-day media exchange program. The exchange, first carried out in 2008, was organized by Taiwan's Want Want Group, which owns China Times, one of the four biggest newspapers in Taiwan, as well as other print and digital media outlets. According to Xinhua and China Times, participants in the program included leaders from the Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces People's Daily and Economic Daily, as well as the state-run broadcasters China National Radio, China Central Television, China Radio International, and China National Radio. They visited 20 Taiwanese media outlets, including China Times and the Central News Agency, and were received by Want Want owner Tsai Eng-meng. In his opening remarks, Tsai urged further cross-strait media cooperation to "increase Chinese people's status in the world."

* Xinhua 9/22/2011 (in Chinese): Mainland media tour group visited Taiwan <>
* China Times 9/29/2011 (in Chinese): China state media: Taiwan visit helped increase mutual understanding <>
* Central News Agency 9/24/2011: Chinese media delegation visits Central News Agency <>


Red ballet at Washington's Kennedy Center prompts outcry

From September 22 to 24, the Chinese National Ballet performed The Red Detachment of Women at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. In an open letter to the media, policymakers, and the venue, Chinese activists and scholars based in the United States, as well as some Laotian and Vietnamese groups, decried the performance, arguing that it promoted violence, hatred, and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda. The piece is loosely based on historical events during the CCP's Land Reform movement in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, in which hundreds of thousands of people were publicly humiliated, tortured, and killed. The story follows a peasant girl's journey to join the women's detachment in the Red Army and overthrow landlords on Hainan Island. It is one of eight "revolutionary operas" that were the only pieces permitted to be performed in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). In remarks at a small protest near the Kennedy Center, democracy advocate Wei Jingsheng stated that one should not see such performances as "simply art" because the CCP views art as a means to serve politics. Indeed, a September 26 report in the Legal Daily referenced a February meeting of the CCP Propaganda Department and reforms it was planning to oversee in the state-supported Chinese culture industry.

* Epoch Times 9/26/2011: Chinese ballet at Kennedy Center extols violent revolution <>
* Epoch Times 9/28/2011: Red ballet at Kennedy Center becomes focus of controversy <>
* Legal Daily 9/26/2011 (in Chinese): Propaganda department discusses deepening culture structural reform <>



Report probes internet firms' responses to China censorship demands

In a report issued on September 20, the SecDev Group examines the ethical dilemmas facing Western internet corporations doing business in China, particularly search engines. It concludes that voluntary codes of conduct to date have not sufficiently served as a counterincentive to complying with Chinese censorship demands, and that more enforceable-but still specific and practical-commitments should be explored by policymakers, corporate executives, and legislators.

* SecDev Group 9/20/2011: Collusion and collision: searching for guidance in Chinese cyberspace <>
* Washington Post 9/19/2011: U.S. companies playing by Chinese cyber rules <>


Essays discuss online social mobilization among Chinese speakers

A new collection of essays by leading observers and users of online social-media platforms focuses on the relationship between such media and social mobilization among Chinese-speakers in five societies: mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and Malaysia.

* Iam Chong Ip (ed.): Social media uprising in the Chinese-speaking world <>