China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 37 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 37

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

Issue No. 37: October 20, 2011

* Party summit, state media hint at forthcoming 'cultural reforms'
* Video of passersby ignoring injured toddler stirs online uproar
* Military organizes 'cybermilitia' units in tech companies
* UK magazine names Ai Weiwei as world's 'most powerful artist'
* Taiwan reporter sued for article on media merger

Printable version



Party summit, state media hint at forthcoming 'cultural reforms'

The 365-member Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held a plenary session on October 15. While little is known of the discussions that took place, state media reports and official announcements have offered some hints. A key focus of the meeting appears to have been upcoming "cultural reforms," according to a jargon-laden communiqué and follow-up editorials in party mouthpieces like the People's Daily. The program aims to boost the party's cultural influence overseas while reinforcing "socialist principles" at home, which many observers interpreted to mean greater controls over the internet and domestic media, including the film and entertainment industries. The international dimension appears to be as much a response to the growing prominence of independent Chinese voices as to any perceived threat from Western culture. The international attention given in recent years to CCP critics like artist Ai Weiwei and author Liao Yiwu, as well as to independent films like Zhao Liang's Petition and overseas Chinese cultural initiatives such as the New York–based Shen Yun performing arts company, has led the CCP to promote state-sponsored alternatives abroad, such as a recent "red" ballet at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC (see CMB No. 34). Meanwhile, in a possible sign of intraparty political jockeying ahead of a leadership shuffle set for 2012, the People's Daily on October 17 praised Guangdong Province for its cultural development, singling out provincial party secretary Wang Yang. Wang, considered a relatively liberal figure, is competing for a spot on the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee with rivals including Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai, a fervent advocate of the Maoist-inspired "red culture" campaign (see CMB No. 26).

* Wall Street Journal 10/18/2011: Front-page love for a political outsider as China prepares for leadership shuffle <>
* Associated Press 10/19/2011: China's top communists call for cultural campaign <>
* China Media Project 10/19/2011: The fog of China's cultural reform: <>
* Shanghai Daily 10/16/2011: Party looks at culture <>
* Radio Free Asia 10/17/2011: Party elders meet, debate 'culture' <>


Police put damper on independent film festival

Parallel to a plenary session of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on October 15, the annual Beijing Independent Film Festival (BIFF) was held in the village of Songzhuang, on the outskirts of the capital. The event featured more than 50 films that had not been previously reviewed by censors at the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television. According to Time magazine, the BIFF had to change the venue for its opening twice because of pressure from the authorities, and ultimately held the ceremony outside and the film screenings in two small rooms. Some of the movies addressed social topics deemed sensitive by the authorities, such as environmental degradation and illegal land grabs. A dozen police officers appeared at the screenings, demanding identification from attendees. Separately, on October 14, the Guangdong-based Southern Metropolis Daily, a relatively liberal but state-owned paper, ran an interview with popular Chinese blogger Han Han, focusing in part on the film industry. Han Han remarked that although the film market is flourishing, it is difficult to make "decent films," suggesting that this is partly because "the film censorship system means current material [relating to life today] is avoided altogether." He noted that as Hong Kong producers have sought to increase cooperation with mainland Chinese partners in order to gain access to both markets, the quality of Hong Kong films has dropped. Han Han also confessed that his own books are often subject to self-censorship, both by him and by his editors.

* China Media Project 10/14/2011: Han Han on China's fizzling film industry <>
* Time 10/17/2011: In Beijing, the Party elite and the police all have a say on culture <>


Activist Hu Jia threatened with renewed detention for speaking out

The Chinese authorities have reportedly warned AIDS and human rights activist Hu Jia not to speak to foreign media and to stop his activism, barring him from visiting dissidents who are under house arrest. Hu was told on October 14 that he would face indefinite "administrative detention" if he violated the restrictions placed on him. The activist was formally deprived of "political rights" for one year following his release from prison in June. He had served three and a half years, having been charged with "inciting subversion of state power" in April 2008 after he criticized the Chinese Communist Party's human rights abuses before the Beijing Olympics, both on his blog and through interviews with the foreign media. However, Hu has continued campaigning for the release of other dissidents, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate and democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo and blind, self-taught lawyer Chen Guangcheng (see below). In recent weeks Hu has posted various messages on the Twitter microblogging service, calling for more international attention to Chen's situation.

* Agence France-Presse 10/18/2011: Police warn China activist against speaking out <>
* Hu Jia's Twitter feed <!/hu_jia>


Pressure mounts for blind activist's release from house arrest

Pressure is growing on authorities in Shandong Province to relax restrictions on blind, self-taught lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who has been under house arrest with his wife and six-year-old daughter at their home in Dongshigu Village since Chen's release from prison in September 2010. According to a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation on October 18, over a thousand netizens are planning to try to visit him, though it remains unclear when. Meanwhile, there is an online campaign under way to collect a collage of photographs of people wearing dark sunglasses or a blindfold as a way of expressing solidarity with Chen and his family. The Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times unexpectedly voiced support for Chen on October 12. It urged officials to provide more information concerning his situation rather than hoping that the inquiries go away, but it also blamed foreign media outlets and human rights organizations for increasing pressure. Journalists and activists have had difficulty accessing the area around Chen's home. Rechal Beitarie, a reporter with the Tel Aviv–based daily Calcalist and Israel Radio, was reportedly intercepted by 30 local thugs on September 21 as she traveled to cover reports that Chen's daughter had been prevented from attending school. Beitarie was pushed into a taxi and taken away from the scene, while the four activists who accompanied her were detained; their situation remains unclear. Chen was sentenced to four years and three months in prison in August 2006 after he granted an interview to Time magazine, and for his work providing legal services to villagers who faced forced sterilization and late-term abortions in connection with China's one-child policy.

* BBC Chinese 10/18/2011 (in Chinese): More than a thousand people might visit Chen Guangcheng <>
* Global Times 10/12/2011: Don't turn a village into a pressure cooker <>
* Epoch Times 9/23/2011: Israeli journalist intercepted attempting to visit bind Chinese rights activist <>
* Dark Glasses, Portrait: Love Guangcheng, Free Guangcheng <>



Apple under scrutiny for alleged pollution, copyright violations

In contrast to Chinese netizens' expressions of mourning over the October 5 death of Steve Jobs, cofounder of California-based technology giant Apple, the company has recently faced a series of negative media reports in China (see CMB No. 36). On October 15, state-run broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) aired an edition of its weekly News Investigation (Xinwendiaocha) program that focused on Apple suppliers in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. Citing complaints from local residents, the 45-minute report accused manufacturers in Apple's supply chain of causing hazardous pollution. Taiwan-based Catcher Technology, which produces Apple's laptops and smartphones, confirmed on October 17 that its plant was temporarily shut down by Suzhou authorities. Some observers saw the decision as an example of the authorities responding to citizens' environmental concerns, and confirmed that residents had indeed complained of harmful air pollutants. But others raised suspicions that the affair was politically motivated, noting that it singled out a Taiwanese supplier and targeted a U.S. company just days after the U.S. Senate passed a bill aimed at punishing China for currency manipulation. Meanwhile, in September, the Chinese literary group Writers' Rights Alliance filed a lawsuit against Apple on behalf of six Chinese writers, including popular bloggers Han Han and Murong Xuecun. The group, which seeks 6.5 million yuan ($1.01 million) in compensation, said mobile-phone applications available on the company's online App Store have allowed viewing of 23 books without permission from the authors. The plaintiffs' lawyer said that Apple's behavior "is more detrimental" than popular Chinese search engine Baidu's library, Baidu Wenku, because the latter at least provided pirated books "for free," while Apple's store earned revenue by charging users for downloading the books.

* Wall Street Journal 10/17/2011: Catcher's China outage may hit MacBook shipments <>
* Liberty Times 10/19/2011 (in Chinese): CCTV criticizes Apple supply chain: Taiwanese businessmen risked to be sacrifice amid US-China trade war <>
* China Central Television 10/17/2011 (in Chinese): News Investigation webpage <>
* South China Morning Post 10/6/2011: Authors take on Apple over pirated books <>
* Beijing Morning Post 10/4/2011 (in Chinese): Writers alliance sues Apple for infringement and asks for 6.5 million compensation <>
* PC World 10/18/2011: Odor from Apple supplier factory in China unbearable, residents say <>


Latest warning signs of microblog restrictions to come

During a seminar in Beijing on October 13, titled "Full Utility of Microblogs to Serve Society," Wang Chen, the new State Internet Information Office director and deputy head of the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), called for the strengthening of regulations governing microblogs. He stressed that users who threaten online information security and public security by circulating rumors, lies, and other "illegal" information will be punished, adding that microblogs should be used for "popularizing sciences, advancing culture and projecting social morality." In China, terms like "illegal" and "unhealthy" are typically applied at the CCP's discretion and used to punish speech on a wide range of political, social, and religious topics that are protected under international law. Following Wang's comments, U.S.-listed shares in Sina, parent company of the popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo, spiked 18 percent. The gains indicated that investors were no longer worried about the service being completely shut down by the government, and that they would tolerate greater censorship so long as it is not perceived as hurting Sina's popularity. Wang's speech came on the heels of a series of other announcements suggesting that tighter regulations will soon be imposed on microblogs, whose users in China number over 200 million (see CMB No. 36).

* Xinhua 10/14/2011: China calls for a "healthy" environment for microblogs <>
* Forbes 10/13/2011: Sina spikes on positive China gov comments on Weibo <>
* China Media Project 10/14/2011: Meeting signals pressure on microblogs <>


Military organizes 'cybermilitia' units in tech companies

The Financial Times has reported that many of the 500 employees at Nanhao Group, a technology company situated just outside Beijing, are part of a militia unit organized by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to specialize in cyberattacks and cyberdefense. Though he refused to elaborate on what the unit does, the company's vice president confirmed its link to the military. He said that "all staff under 30 belong to the unit" and that they have "regular exchanges" with local PLA officers. According to the article, the Nanhao unit is part of an extensive PLA network of reserve cyberwarfare units that draw on talent from the technology industry and relevant research institutes. According to a paper published in National Defense, the official magazine of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, the cybermilitias' tasks include "stealing, changing and erasing data" on enemy networks, with the goal of "deception, jamming, disruption, throttling and paralysis." The PLA frequently sponsors hacking contests at local universities and research on information warfare. China has been cited as the point of origin for multiple, highly sophisticated cyberattacks in recent years, though the government has denied involvement. The latest revelations suggest that the PLA would be able to muster a significant cyberwarfare capability in a time of crisis, even if it is not being used at present.

* Financial Times 10/12/2011: China tech companies have army-linked 'cybermilitias' <>
* Nanhao Group website: <>


Blocking' of Google phone applications debunked as technical glitch

After the U.S.-based technology giant Google's "Android Market" was reported inaccessible in China in early October (see CMB No. 36), the company told the technology website CNET that the server was down due to a software update. The Android Market offers applications for use on mobile telephones equipped with Google's Android operating system. Google spokesman Taj Meadows said the company had fixed the "technical issue," which many netizens had interpreted as intentional blocking by the Chinese government. A quick test on the "Blocked in China" website has shown that the URL is now accessible. During the disruption, multiple tests had reportedly indicated that the site was blocked on October 11 in several locations across China, including Beijing, Shenzhen, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang Province, and Yunnan Province.

* CNET 10/11/2011: Google: market back up in China <>
* Test if any website is Blocked in China in real-time <>


Video of passersby ignoring injured toddler stirs online uproar

On October 13, a two-year-old girl named Yue Yue was run over by a van at a market in the southern city of Foshan. Security camera footage showed that after the hit-and-run, up to 18 different people passed by without attempting to help to the girl, who lay critically injured and bleeding on the road. A second van even drove over the girl's legs. Finally, after seven minutes, an elderly street cleaner saw the girl, picked her up, and called for help. The recordings were uploaded to the video-sharing site Youku, where they were viewed over a million times within hours. The story drew 4 million comments on the Sina Weibo microblogging service over the following days; Sina set up a hashtag in Chinese meaning "please end the coldheartedness" to organize discussion of the case. In addition to expressing shock at the callousness of the passersby, comments have pointed out that this was not an isolated incident. In another recent occurrence, a foreigner rescued a woman from a lake while Chinese tourists stood by. Some observers noted past cases in which individuals who helped accident victims were punished or sued, rendering people more cautious about assisting strangers. According to state media reports, the two van drivers have been arrested, but Yue Yue remains in a coma, having suffered damage to her brain.

* Wall Street Journal 10/18/2011: Would good Samaritan Law in China have helped little girl? <>
* Sydney Morning Herald 10/18/2011: 'A seriously ill society': hit-run case of little Yueyue shocks China – and the world <>
* Diplomat 10/20/2011: Chen Xianmei's tragedy <>



Journalists' access restricted in new parliament building

An internal document of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (Legco) Commission has revealed that the commission, which handles the legislature's administrative affairs, has imposed media restrictions in one of the four security zones at a new Legco building. The building, which was completed about two months ago, is part of a new complex housing various government offices, including that of Hong Kong's chief executive. According to the South China Morning Post, reporters are barred from entering a restricted yellow zone situated between the legislative chamber and the ante chamber. They are also prohibited from using several elevators and escalators in the building. Journalists faced limited access to a question-and-answer session on October 12, after Chief Executive Donald Tsang made his final policy address. Photographers were reportedly blocked from taking photos, and reporters were separated from lawmakers by a chain of security guards. The Legco Secretariat claimed that the decision was made by the 12-member Legco Commission. However, commission member Cyd Ho Sau-lan said they were not told in advance about the security cordon between reporters and lawmakers.

* South China Morning Post 10/18/2011: Curbs on media in new Legco revealed <>
* Xinhua 10/12/2011: HK chief executive delivers policy address <>



UK magazine lists Ai Weiwei as world's 'most powerful artist'

The London-based contemporary art magazine ArtReview has named prominent Chinese artist and blogger Ai Weiwei as the "most powerful" artist on its "2011 Power 100" list, an annual feature that ranks a hundred influential figures in contemporary art around the world. The magazine praised Ai's social activism and reflected on the international outcry over his detention by the Chinese authorities earlier this year. The magazine concluded that Ai's activities have "allowed artists to move away from the idea that they work within a privileged zone limited by the walls of a gallery or museum," and "have reminded his colleagues and the world at large of the fact that freedom of expression is a basic right of any human being." Known as an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, Ai was abducted on April 3 in Beijing and detained for three months. Officials accused him of various misdeeds, ranging from economic crimes to plagiarism. The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to the ArtReview list on October 13, asserting that the magazine's selection of Ai was based on "political bias."

* ArtReview: The ArtReview Power 100-Ai Weiwei <>
* BBC News 10/13/2011: Ai Weiwei is named ArtReview's 'most powerful artist' <>
* South China Morning Post 10/14/2011: Ai vows to continue his crusade <>


Chinese Bible tour in U.S. criticized as propaganda

In a statement on October 13, the Texas-based religious rights group China Aid decried a Bible exhibition that opened in Washington, DC, on September 28 as a "political propaganda show" aimed at deceiving the American public into believing freedom of religion is respected in China. The exhibition, called "Thy Word Is Truth," was organized by China's state-run Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement, and has been welcomed by some American religious leaders. China Aid pointed out that anyone engaged in nonprofit printing and distribution of the Bible outside of official channels faces imprisonment in China. Religious freedom is sharply curtailed in China. All religious groups are required to register with the government, which regulates their activities and theology, including the printing of their spiritual texts.  Harassment of unregistered "house churches" in particular has intensified over the past year (see CMB No. 20).

* China Aid 10/13/2011: Chinese Bible exhibition is political propaganda disguised as religious outreach: A case of praying loudly on the street corners <>
* Freedom in the World 2011: China <>


Taiwan reporter sued for article on media merger

Lin Chauyi, a reporter at the internet news outlet New Talk and head of the Association of Taiwanese Journalists (ATJ), was sued by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) whip and legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang for defamation on October 14. Lin had written an article on September 2 about Hsieh's interference in a controversial cable television deal. According to the report, the legislator had met members of Taiwan's National Communications Commission before it held a September 6 public hearing, and pressured them to review Want Want Broadband's bid to purchase China Network Systems (CNS), Taiwan's second-largest cable television provider. Want Want Broadband is a subsidiary of Want Want Group, which is known for its friendly relations with the Chinese government and state-run media outlets (see CMB No. 34), raising concerns that its acquisition of CNS would limit Taiwanese viewers' access to diverse television content. At the plaintiff's request, Lin faced a provisional seizure of NT$2.5 million (US$82,600), which was approved by the Taipei district court; one-third of his monthly salary will be withheld until the amount is covered. After other media outlets and civil society groups, including Want Want–owned China Times and the ATJ, condemned Hsieh for violating press freedom, Hsieh said on October 19 that he would settle the lawsuit if the reporter admitted "that he failed to carry out a thorough verification of the information." Immediately after Hsieh's statement, New Talk said its fact-based investigation was "open to public scrutiny." It added that Hsieh had requested provisional seizure of assets from both Lin and New Talk chairman Su Chengping, for a total amount of NT$5 million (US$165,300).

* Taipei Times 10/20/2011: KMT whip Hsieh violating press freedom, ATJ says <>
* Association of Taiwan Journalists 10/18/2011 (in Chinese): ATJ condemns legislator's lawsuit against journalists <>
* New Talk 10/19/2011 (in Chinese): Response to Hsieh Kuo-liang:Report contains no errors, open to public scrutiny <>
* New Talk 9/2/2011 (in Chinese): Legislator pressured NCC twice on Want Want-CNS merge deal <>



Ogilvy's publishes updated China Social Media Equivalents chart

The Asia-Pacific branch of the New York–based advertising firm Ogilvy's published an updated "China Social Media Equivalents" chart on October 14. The chart was first created in February. It reflects both the vibrancy of China's internet market and the Chinese government's success at fostering domestic alternatives to international applications that are blocked in China. The domestic versions are more vulnerable to government pressure to comply with censorship directives. The chart places microblogging platforms Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo in both the "Social Networking Site (SNS)" and "Microblogging" categories, given that they closely resemble both Facebook and Twitter. The chart has also added an "Online Dating" category, noting that such applications are "exploring various revenue models."

* Asia Digital Map 10/14/2011: China's social media equivalents: An updated infographic <>