China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 39 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 39

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

Issue No. 39: November 3, 2011

* Ai Weiwei given 15 days to pay millions in 'taxes'
* Filming of U.S. comedy in Chen Guangcheng's village sparks outcry
* Authorities shutter Mongolian websites after herder's death
* China's Huawei aids phone-tracking technology in Iran
* Some strings attached to Confucius Institute funds

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Propaganda chief confirms political nature of 'cultural reform' drive

In a meeting at the Beijing-based All-China Journalists' Association on October 28, Li Changchun, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda chief and a Politburo Standing Committee member, restated party policy on media control in the wake of recent television content restrictions and announcements by the CCP Central Committee regarding "cultural reforms" (see CMB No. 38). He said the news media are "an important battle front in the building of culture" and the development of strong public support for "socialism with Chinese characteristics," a euphemism for the CCP's combination of an authoritarian political system, significant state ownership of economic assets, and partial market-oriented reforms. His speech reiterated the idea that while many news outlets are operating based on market demand, their priority must be to guide public opinion in the party's favor and burnish China's image abroad. According to David Bandurski of Hong Kong University's China Media Project, Li's speech indicates that CCP leaders continue to view Chinese media primarily as a channel to deliver the party's propaganda messages. "Despite all of the language… about cultural innovation, advancement and refulgence, the Party's fundamental attitudes and policies towards culture … have not changed."

* China Media Project 10/31/2011: Media Czar: Be docile, but profitable <>
* Xinhua 10/31/2011: Senior Chinese leaders call for better work to promote culture-oriented guidelines <>


Ai Weiwei given 15 days to pay millions in 'taxes'

Prominent Chinese blogger and artist Ai Weiwei said on November 1 that the Chinese authorities had asked him to pay a total of 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) in taxes allegedly owed by Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., the company that oversees the production and design of his art installations (see CMB No. 37). Though the company is owned by his wife, Lu Qing, the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau called Ai the "actual controller" who must be held responsible for the studio's alleged tax evasion. He was given 15 days to come up with the money. The entire case, beginning with Ai's April 3 abduction and three-month incommunicado detention, has appeared arbitrary and lacked transparency, feeding suspicions that the purpose is to intimidate Ai into silence. Known as an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, Ai was released on bail in June, but officials accused him of various misdeeds ranging from economic crimes to plagiarism. He and his supporters have complained that he was denied the opportunity to review the studio's account book after it was confiscated by the police in April, and that the authorities held a closed tax evasion hearing in July that Ai was barred from attending. It is unclear what might happen if Ai is unable meet the payment deadline, but he told Reuters on November 2 that he would fight the charges "to the death" because he would "win morally." He said that there was "a trial on the internet every day," with the government as "the accused."

* Reuters 11/1/2011: China orders Ai Weiwei to pay $2.4 million for 'tax evasion' <
* BBC 11/1/2011: China artist Ai Weiwei served with $2m tax demand <>
* Associated Press 11/1/2011: China sends outspoken artist $2.4 million tax bill <
* Reuters 11/2/2011: China's Ai Weiwei will fight tax charges "to the death" <>


Party mouthpiece 'Global Times' trades on nationalism

An October 31 feature in Foreign Policy profiled Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece that combines nationalistic editorials, a sensationalistic style, and occasional investigative reporting on official corruption to garner more readers than staid party publications like its parent, the People's Daily. According to official figures, the Global Times' average daily print circulation in China is 2.4 million (compared with the Washington Post's 550,821 in 2011), and since 2008 it has also produced an English edition. The paper's editor in chief, Hu Xijin, is a former war correspondent, a "frenetic" writer, and a fervent microblogger who insists on coauthoring the lead editorial every day. As Chinese media have lost government funding, Global Times has attracted readers and advertising through its chest-thumping commentary and criticism of the West. "Frankly, I think its position is to make money-nationalism is Global Times' positioning in the market," prominent Chinese blogger and journalist Michael Anti explained, referring to the paper as    China's Fox News." Notably, however, Fox is privately owned and not subject to the kind of state and party censorship that governs the Global Times. The paper may also benefit from the poor quality of its competition. A former reporter at Beijing Youth Daily argued that people read Global Times because "there's no real news in China. We have such limited choices."

* Foreign Policy 10/31/2011: China's Fox News <



'Free Chen Guangcheng' campaign grows online, despite censorship

Dongshigu Village, the hometown of blind, self-taught lawyer Chen Guangcheng, has become a magnet for netizens seeking to test the authorities' blockade of his residence and thereby protest the broader prevalence of lawless thuggery in China (see CMB No. 38). Chen has been under house arrest without a telephone or internet connection since his release from prison in September 2010. As dozens have traveled to the village in attempts to visit Chen, they have been abducted, beaten, or robbed by hired thugs and the police. News of such incidents has quickly spread on the popular Chinese microblogging service Sina Weibo. The service had previously blocked any posts that contained keywords such as "Dongshigu" and "Chen Guangcheng," but according to China Digital Times, by October 26 these words returned some results. Other phrases, including "Free Chen Guangcheng" and "Let there be light"-a play on words related to Chen's name-reportedly remained blocked. According to a test by China Media Bulletin editors in July, Sina Weibo returned no results for his name, though information about Chen's career before he ran afoul of the authorities was available on the Chinese search engine Baidu. In an unusual occurrence, also on October 26, the website Agricultural Express, which is operated by a department of the Guangdong provincial government, featured a special report on Chen and his work for Chinese villagers. Though it was removed within 30 minutes, the report was praised by netizens for increasing public awareness and concern about Chen.

* China Digital Times 10/26/2011: Chen Guangcheng on Sina Weibo: New list of banned search terms <
* Financial Times 10/27/2011: The 'barefoot' lawyer and the web <
* Telegraph 10/27/2011: The activists shining light on China's dark corners <
* China Media Project 10/25/2011: Chen Guangcheng, in and out of China's media <>
* DW News 10/26/2011 (in Chinese): Guangzhou state-run media webpage on Chen Guangcheng immediately "harmonized" <>
* Freedom at Issue 7/19/2011: Chinese cyberdisappearance in action <


Filming of U.S. comedy in Chen Guangcheng's village sparks outcry

The California-based film studio Relativity Media sparked outrage among Chinese netizens after it began shooting scenes for the comedy 21 and Over on October 26 in Shandong Province's Linyi Prefecture, the site of blind, self-taught lawyer Chen Guangcheng's highly publicized house arrest (see above). Nanjing-based activist He Peirong called on his microblog account for a boycott of the film. Relativity Media, known for successful films including The Social Network, a dramatic account of the origins of the U.S.-based social-networking site Facebook, declined to comment on the controversy specifically, but issued a statement describing itself as a "supporter of human rights." Sophie Richardson of New York–based Human Rights Watch said it was "amazing that Relativity was unaware of Linyi's notoriety." As noted in the Washington Post, Chen's case is so well known that the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China held a hearing about his situation and its implications for the rule of law on November 1.

* Washington Post 11/1/2011: Hollywood stirs outrage with comedy filmed in notorious Chinese city <
* Associated Press 10/31/2011: Activists slam US studio for filming in China city <>
* U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China 11/1/2011: Examination into the abuse and extralegal detention of legal advocate Chen Guangcheng and his family <


Tencent explores tighter controls on microblog service

On October 31, Pony Ma, chairman of Tencent Holdings Ltd., announced a plan to develop new ways to monitor and censor content on the company's popular Tencent Weibo microblogging service. That made Tencent the second microblog platform, after Sina Weibo, to hint at future controls after coming under pressure from top Communist Party leaders (see CMB No. 33). Without providing further detail on the new methods, Ma claimed that demand for greater control over the spread of information via microblogs was coming not just from the government, but also from society. He said the company was "perplexed" by the appearance of false information on Tencent Weibo. In recent months, China security chief and Politburo member Zhou Yongkang has visited Chinese internet companies and stated the need for greater supervision of "online virtual society" as its influence grows. Sina Weibo has since reportedly employed various measures to curb its users' "misrepresentation" of the Chinese government, such as limiting searches for sensitive keywords, posting denials of certain rumors, and temporarily freezing the accounts of users who post allegedly false information. Analysts and netizens, citing China's record of censorship in both new and traditional media, have warned that any additional controls on microblogs would likely target politically relevant information, including facts and opinions that are harmful to the government's image.

* Wall Street Journal 10/31/2011: China's Tencent focuses on microblog content <
* Caijing 10/31/2011 (in Chinese): Ma Huateng: Tencent researches on method to manage microblog content <>


Local officials punish netizens for leaflets and online comments

A number of Chinese netizens in various provinces have reportedly been detained or sentenced by local authorities in recent weeks for posting information online or distributing leaflets on issues related to human rights and democracy. The following are a few such cases, though their full details have yet to be independently confirmed:

- Shaanxi: Radio Free Asia reported that on October 23, female netizen Yeung Lin was arrested and charged with "inciting subversion of state power" for distributing leaflets that carried anticorruption writings by Guangzhou-based human rights lawyer Tang Jinlian.

- Yunnan: According to China Human Rights Defenders, on October 21, Kunming-based internet café manager Cao Haibo was arrested for "inciting subversion of state power," though police showed no legal documents. Cao is an organizer of a group on the QQ social-networking site that promotes the "Three Principles of the People," a political philosophy developed in the early 20th century by Sun Yat-sen that calls for establishing liberal democracy in China. Police also searched Cao's home and confiscated his mobile telephone, computers, USB cards, and bank cards.

- Shandong: The Falun Dafa Information Center reported on October 14 that Liu Xiaolin, the son of two Falun Gong practitioners, had been abducted and sent to a reeducation-through-labor camp for one year after complaining on a local website about being unfairly denied entry to college. Liu was reportedly barred by Communist Party officials from entering college due to his parents' faith. He posted his comment using his aunt's computer and was apparently tracked down by internet monitors. Police went to the aunt's home and allegedly beat her and took her into custody. Liu was reportedly taken away and sentenced to a reeducation camp on September 9.

* Radio Free Asia 10/27/2011 (in Chinese): Netizen arrested for allegedly "inciting subversion of state power" <>
* China Human Rights Defenders 10/26/2011: China Human Rights Briefing October 21-26, 2011 <
* Falun Info Bulletin 10/14/2011: Son of Falun Gong practitioners sent to labor camp after complaining online of being denied college entry <>



One Tibetan writer sentenced, another arrested

Chinese authorities in Sichuan Province have sentenced Tibetan writer Jolep Dawa to three years in prison on undisclosed charges, according to Radio Free Asia. Dawa, editor of the Tibetan-language magazine Durab Kyi Nga (I, of This Century), was detained on October 1, 2010, and held for over a year without trial. He was previously detained for three months in 2008. The police reportedly raided his family-run bookstore and confiscated his computer and writings. Separately, according to prominent Beijing-based blogger Woeser, a Tibetan writer named Choepa Lugyal, also known by the penname Meycheh, was detained by police in Gansu Province on October 19. He worked at a publishing house, and his articles were featured in the banned Tibetan-language magazine Shar Dungri. At least four other individuals who had written for or edited the magazine have been sentenced to prison since December 2010 (see CMB No. 24).

* Radio Free Asia 10/28/2011: Tibetan writer sentenced <>
* Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy 10/29/2011: Writer sentenced to three years term <>
* Committee to Protect Journalists 10/31/2011: Tibetan writers imprisoned in China


Authorities shutter Mongolian websites after herder's death

According to the U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), popular Mongolian-language websites were shut down after an ethnic Mongolian herder was killed by an oil truck driver on October 27. The herdsman, Zorigt, belonged to a community that is trying to protect traditional grazing land from extractive industries and freight traffic in Uxin County. Xinhua news agency reported on Zorigt's death, but claimed that the incident was a "traffic accident." Within hours, the Chinese government allegedly shut down Mongolian-language internet sites such as the popular instant-messaging service Boljoo, the discussion forum Mongolian BBS, and the news aggregator Medege. In May 2011, protests broke out after the death of a herder in a similar incident, and Chinese authorities responded by cutting off internet and mobile-telephone access to large parts of the region (see CMB Nos. 23, 26). As of November 2, a check by China Media Bulletin editors indicated that at least the homepage of Boljoo appeared to be functioning, but Mongolian BBS was "temporarily unavailable," and Medege showed a note saying that it had been shut down due to a registration problem with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

* Radio Free Asia 10/28/2011: Authorities down websites following death of herdsman <>



China's Huawei aids phone-tracking technology in Iran

According to an in-depth Wall Street Journal article published on October 27, Chinese technology giant Huawei has emerged as the main beneficiary of its European competitors' withdrawal from Iran's telecommunications sector in the aftermath of the contentious June 2009 Iranian presidential election and revelations that their technologies had been used to track and arrest antigovernment protesters (see CMB Nos. 32, 36). Huawei has signed deals with Iran's two largest mobile-telephone operators. Earlier this year, it won a contract with Mobile Communication Co. of Iran (MCCI) to provide equipment that enables the company and police to track people based on the location of their phones. Huawei has also helped MTN Irancell set up a mobile-phone news service. According to one insider present at a meeting between the companies, Huawei representatives noted that, being from China, they had expertise in censoring news. Huawei also sometimes partners with Zaeim Electronic Industries Co., an Iranian electronics firm whose clients include the Intelligence and Defense Ministries and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Huawei's chief spokesperson, Ross Gan, stressed that the company complied with all international economic sanctions and local regulations. Huawei's role in Iran demonstrates not only the ease with which repressive regimes can obtain technology to stifle dissent, but also their decreasing dependence on U.S.- and European-made equipment to do so. Many Iranian dissidents believe they are being tracked by authorities through their mobile phones, with several citing incidents in which they were detained shortly after turning their phone back on after a long period in hiding.

* Wall Street Journal 10/27/2011: Chinese tech giant aids Iran <
* Bloomberg 10/31/2011: Iranian police seizing dissidents get aid of Western companies <


Taipei museum treads carefully with Ai Weiwei exhibit

On October 29, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan opened "Absent," the first solo exhibition in Asia by prominent Chinese artist and blogger Ai Weiwei since his conditional release from three months of detention in June (see above). The exhibition was named by the artist in an apparent reference to a travel ban imposed by Chinese authorities, which prevented him from attending the opening. The fact that the exhibition proceeded at all demonstrates that Taiwan allows considerable space for politically sensitive artistic expression, but the muted publicity for the show has provoked criticism of the museum. While other venues that have hosted Ai's artwork this year-such as the Berliner Festspiele in Germany or the Asia Society in New York-detailed the facts surrounding his politically motivated detention, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and its co-organizer, the Taipei city government's cultural affairs department, have omitted a description of his current situation. Press material provided by the museum simply states that "Ai Weiwei expressed that he has no plans to come to Taiwan." On the show's opening day, exiled Chinese poet Bei Ling, who is a personal friend of Ai's, questioned in an opinion piece in the Apple Daily why the Taipei city government had not engaged in the kind of advertising effort it usually undertakes for its exhibitions, suggesting that it was afraid of offending the Chinese authorities.

* Reuters 10/28/2011: China's Ai Weiwei gets "absent" exhibition in Taiwan <
* Liberty Times 11/1/2011 (in Chinese): Taipei Fine Arts Museum hides truth from Ai Weiwei exhibition <>
* Apple Daily 10/29/2011 (in Chinese): Bei Ling: Ai Weiwei muted in Taipei <>


Some strings attached to Confucius Institute funds

A November 1 article by the Bloomberg news service investigated the impact of Chinese government-sponsored Confucius Institutes on academic freedom in the United States. As Hanban, an arm of China's Ministry of Education, pours millions of dollars into facilities based in elite educational institutions, including 75 in the United States, faculty have repeatedly raised concerns that the funding could mute criticism of the Chinese government on campus. The article reports that when Hanban offered Stanford University $4 million to launch a Confucius Institute, but the professor was asked not to discuss "delicate issues" such as Tibet. Stanford refused the offer, but plans to accept other funding for a professorship in classical Chinese poetry, an ostensibly less sensitive topic. According to Bloomberg, North Carolina State University canceled a plan for Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to speak on campus in 2009, after the school's Confucius Institute director warned that his visit could "disrupt" relations between China and the university. There have also been concerns about alleged religious discrimination in the selection of teachers. Hanban, which supplies Chinese teachers to Confucius Institutes worldwide, reports on its website that they are required to have "no record of participation in Falun Gong and other illegal organizations." Despite such examples, Hanban's North America representative, Junbo Chen, claims that Confucius Institute funding is "unconditional." The institutes' annual conference in Beijing in December 2010 was attended by Chinese Communist Party propaganda chief Li Changchun, indicating the close relationship between the initiative and the party's censorship apparatus.

* Bloomberg 11/1/2011: China says no talking Tibet as Confucius funds U.S. universities <
* Epoch Times 8/23/2011: At U.S. universities, Confucius Institutes import discrimination <
* Freedom House 9/4/2009: Confucius Institutes: Authoritarian soft power <>


Shanghai establishes culture centers in Australia and Canada

On October 27, Shanghai vice mayor Jiang Ping announced that the municipal government will launch branches of its Overseas Cultural Promotion Centers in two Chinese-language schools in Australia and Canada. According to state-run Xinhua news agency, Shanghai is the first Chinese municipal government to establish its own educational sites abroad. The Melbourne-based Caroline Springs Chinese School and the JiaHua School of Montreal will cooperate with the existing 39 branches in Shanghai to implement language-exchange projects sponsored by the government. The plan appears similar to a central government initiative to sponsor Chinese language and cultural instruction in schools abroad through its Confucius Classrooms program. That project has sparked public debate in Australia due to concerns about Chinese censorship and propaganda affecting the curriculum. In July 2011, a petition with more than 4,000 signatures was submitted to the state legislature of New South Wales, calling for the removal of the program (see CMB No. 29).

* Xinhua 10/27/2011 (in Chinese): Shanghai establishes "Overseas Cultural Promotion Centers" in Australia and Canada <>



Freedom House report finds declining rule of law, media freedom in China

On November 4, Freedom House will release Countries at the Crossroads 2011, a study of democratic governance in 35 countries, including China. The China chapter, authored by Professor Carl Minzner of Fordham Law School in New York, indicates significant deterioration in the country's governance since 2007, raising questions about whether the regime will be able to maintain current levels of economic growth and political stability. According to the report, China saw notable declines in the areas of civil society, media freedom, and the primacy of rule of law, signifying a fundamental move away from democratic governance that goes far beyond transitory fears of public protest during specific high-profile anniversaries and events.

* Countries at the Crossroads 2011: China <//>
* Countries at the Crossroads 2011: Select Data and Findings – China <//>