China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 4 | Freedom House

China Media Bulletin: Issue No. 4

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

Issue No. 4: December 21, 2010

* As 2010 ends, Beijing intensifies crackdown on activists
* State hides scale, causes of Great Leap Forward death toll, says scholar
* China's online game makers prosper on blocked Facebook
* Taiwan animated news can be serious, too
* China's state-run media expand in Europe and Asia

Printable version



As 2010 ends, Beijing intensifies crackdown on activists
On December 13, three United Nations human rights investigators reported that activists in China are facing growing pressure from the Chinese government as 2010 draws to a close. The three officials, including Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Frank La Rue, said they had received over 20 reports of actions to muzzle human rights defenders in China. In one recent case, authorities in Guizhou province detained four people involved in organizing a conference on human rights scheduled for December 10, International Human Rights Day. Among them was poet Wang Zang, who spoke briefly with reporters from Radio Free Asia before being taken from his home by the authorities. He stated that the crackdown this year was particularly intense because of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to imprisoned Chinese democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo.
* Reuters 12/13/2010: UN sleuths say China rights crackdown alarming <>
* Radio Free Asia 12/16/2010: Guizhou poet still missing <>
Jailed journalists face restrictions after release
Several prominent writers and activists have recently completed long prison terms imposed for exercising their right to free expression. However, they have continued to face official harassment, and in some cases arbitrary detention, after their release dates. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 34 reporters are imprisoned in China.
- On December 8, Hubei-based writer Du Daobin was released after completing a three-year jail term for “inciting subversion of state power,” based on articles he had published online regarding democracy and human rights. Prior to his release, he was warned not to write articles, accept media interviews, or leave town lest he be detained again.
- Mongolian journalist and activist Hada, who completed a 15-year prison term on December 10, continues to be held in custody, along with his family. According to Hada’s sister-in-law, Naraa, a police official told her that Hada and his family were being detained in an unidentified hotel “for their own good.” The police disseminated a photograph on the internet last week showing Hada sharing a meal with his wife and son in order to quell concerns over his well-being.
- Zhang Yuhui, a China-based correspondent for the overseas Epoch Times newspaper, was scheduled for release on December 21 after serving a 10-year sentence for his reporting. His wife, who lives in the United States, has reportedly received no information on whether he is being released or will be allowed to join his family abroad.
* Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) 12/13/2010: Hubei writer Du Daobin released from prison <>
* New York Times 12/16/2010: Mongolian dissident confined to hotel, family says <>
* Epoch Times 12/14/2010: Chinese editor up for release after 10 years in prison <>
State hides scale, causes of Great Leap Forward death toll, says scholar
Based on studies of Chinese archives conducted from 2005 to 2009, Professor Frank Dikötter of the University of Hong Kong estimates that the Chinese Communist Party’s 1958–62 Great Leap Forward reform campaign, including a disastrous famine that is typically attributed to bad weather in state propaganda and textbooks, caused 45 million deaths—twice as many as official census figures suggest. At least 2 million of those who died were “tortured to death or summarily executed.” In one instance, the Public Security Bureau in Sichuan informed superiors of 10.6 million deaths in the province. Dikötter writes that in China “there is no museum, no monument, no remembrance day to honor the tens of millions of victims.” Although some documents have been made available to scholars, the Communist Party has yet to fully acknowledge the scale of the famine or the role that terror and violence played in the tragedy.
* New York Times op-ed 12/15/2010: Communist Party still hides Great Leap Forward archives <>
* New Yorker 12/16/2010: Frank Dikötter on famine and Mao <>

Activists’ communications cut off
According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), the communication tools of dozens of activists across China have been disrupted as part of a broader crackdown associated with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo. Individuals including artist Ai Weiwei, writer Wang Lixiong, Tibetan blogger Woeser, and Charter 08 organizer Zhang Zuhua are known to have had their internet service cut off or mobile-telephone use restricted. On December 11, prominent Beijing-based human rights attorney Mo Shaoping’s mobile phone was “unable to function” when he returned home after an arbitrary detention. Such actions appear aimed at inhibiting activists’ ability to grant interviews to international media or use channels such as the Twitter microblogging service to spread news of the award within China.
* CHRD 12/15/2010: Nobel award ceremony marked by empty chair and crackdown domestically <>
Chongqing government launches ‘Red Microblog’
The Chongqing municipality has launched a Chinese Twitter-like site called Red Microblog that will spread pro–Communist Party messages. According to London’s Telegraph, the site is a response to calls from central propaganda authorities to manipulate online information at the local government level. Beijing’s other efforts to expand internet control during 2010 have included making blocks on Twitter and YouTube permanent, amending the state secrets law to reinforce service providers’ responsibility for policing sensitive content, and increasing restrictions on anonymous posting. Last year, Freedom House published Freedom on the Net, a pilot study of digital media freedom in 15 countries, including China. In spring 2011, Freedom House will release a second edition covering developments in China and 36 other countries.
* Telegraph 12/15/2010: China launches ‘Red Twitter’ <>
* Countries at the Crossroads Governance Blog 5/28/2010: The ever increasing expansion of China’s internet controls <>
* Freedom on the Net: China 2009 <//>
Internet empowers local Chinese protesters
The internet has become a popular platform for Chinese citizens seeking a government response to certain grievances, according to Chinese civil society expert Yiyi Lu. While small-scale street protests are often ignored or suppressed by local governments, online protests can gain national prominence and win coverage in traditional media, prompting substantive action by the authorities. In one case in November, a group of 16 villagers in Ninghai county, Zhejiang province, posted an online pledge on several popular Chinese web portals, declaring that they would commit suicide on November 20 if the local government had not investigated the illegal seizure of their lands by that date. The tactic effectively drew attention from higher authorities, who were forced to meet their demands. Such successes are typically limited to local grievances, however, as censors restrict circulation of policy complaints with national relevance.
* Wall Street Journal 12/14/2010: Chinese protest in the age of internet <>
* Sina News 11/15/2010 (In Chinese): Zhejiang villagers vow to commit suicide together over illegal land seizure <>
China’s online game makers prosper on blocked Facebook
As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg began his anticipated trip to China, a country that has made his social-networking tool inaccessible, the media noted that the number of Chinese makers of Facebook-based games has increased. Five Minutes, a Shanghai-based game studio, has attracted millions of dollars from overseas investment firms such as the U.S.-based Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Most players are Chinese-language users based in Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Facebook game makers in China said Facebook, which collects 30 percent of the games’ revenues, offers a better rate than domestic social-networking platforms. Tencent, which owns popular Chinese instant-messenger site QQ, also allows third-party developers to create games and applications, but some argued that the company denies them a “fair playing field” as they compete with Tencent’s own game-development units.
* Agence France-Presse (AFP) 12/15/2010: Great Firewall no obstacle for China’s Facebook game makers <>
* Forbes Blog 12/20/2010: Mark Zuckerberg begins China trip in Beijing, meets Chinese search giant Baidu <>


Prominent Uighur professor and family temporarily held
Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur professor at Central Nationalities University and the founder of the minority rights website Uighur Online, was released along with wife and two toddler sons on December 15 after one week of detention. They had been taken from their home in Beijing on December 9 and held at a resort in Hainan province. Chinese authorities have clamped down on dissidents inside China since jailed democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo was announced as the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on October 8, and Tohti said he was likely detained for being Liu’s good friend. During the detention, he and his wife endured intensive questioning about his views on Uighur autonomy rights and China’s minority policy, adding that the “main purpose” was to “brainwash” him.
* Radio Free Asia 12/15/2010: Prominent Uyghur writer, family held <>

China’s Nobel pressure clarifies nations’ stance on freedom
Beijing’s heavy-handed efforts to squelch coverage of and participation in the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony for jailed democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo effectively turned the event into “a litmus test for freedom,” writes Alan Cowell of the New York Times. “Not one of the [17] Nobel stayaways [among the 64 countries with diplomatic missions in Oslo] is on the Freedom House list of truly free countries,” Cowell observed. These countries’ absence was typically attributed to scheduling conflicts. “But it also seemed to represent an axis of opposition to the democratic notions that Westerners once assumed could only spread after the defeat of Communism.”
* New York Times 12/17/2010: Freedom in an era of empty chair <>
Hong Kong journalist assaulted in Beijing trying to visit tainted-milk activist
A crowd of up to 30 people, many from the local residential committee, attacked a group of Hong Kong journalists outside jailed activist Zhao Lianhai’s home in the Daxing district of Beijing on December 10. Zhao was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment in November for “disturbing social order” after he campaigned for victims of melamine-tainted milk, which killed at least six babies and made 300,000 children ill in 2008. The journalists were investigating rumors that he had been released on medical parole. Their cameras were blocked by the crowd, and one of the journalists was “slapped with considerable force” in the clash. Witnesses said police at the scene made no effort to halt the violence and refused to accompany an injured journalist to the hospital.
* International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) 12/15/2010: Police witness assault on Hong Kong journalists <>
* China Post 12/14/2010: Hong Kong media alliance condemns reporters in China <>
Taiwanese reporter quits over paid news items
Reporter Huang Je-bing resigned from China Times, one of Taiwan’s major newspapers, on December 12 after working there for more than 16 years. The announcement of his resignation on his blog, which has registered 136,000 visitors so far, probes the phenomenon of paid news in Taiwanese media. Although both private companies and the government are known to pay for news items, Huang was particularly concerned about articles promoting government policies that were paid for using public funds. Taiwan is ranked Free in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2010, and its media environment is considered “one of the freest in Asia.” However, a revival of “embedded marketing” amid economic difficulties has raised concerns about the country’s media independence in recent years.
* Taipei Times 12/18/2010: Policy placement corrupts the media <>
* China Times Blogs 12/13/2010 (In Chinese): Leaving China Times on a jet plane <>
* Freedom of the Press: Taiwan 2010 <//>
Taiwan animated news can be serious, too
Apple Daily, a popular Taiwan-based media outlet known for its sensational coverage of gossip and news, also produces animated videos that “mix fact and rumor.” Recently, the videos’ focus has shifted to more serious subjects, and the news site’s recent clips, “China Creates Peace Prize to Rival Nobel” and “Liu Xiaobo—A Story of Hope and Struggle,” may represent a “new form of political cartoon for the Internet age.” Apple Daily was first introduced in Taiwan in 2003 by Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who is an outspoken critic of the Chinese government. Multiple applications by his company, Next Media, to launch a television news channel in Taiwan have been the source of debate, as regulators have expressed reservations about its use of animated news. Part of Next Media’s response has been to create a cartoon titled “Is There Press Freedom in Taiwan?”
* New York Times Blogs 12/10/2010: Taiwan animators skewer China’s response to Peace Prize (with three sample videos embedded) <>
* IFEX 12/20/2010: Authorities refuse broadcasting license to Next TV, legislators threaten stricter Internet regulations <>
China’s state-run media expand in Europe and Asia
On December 10, the English-language China Daily launched its Asian edition, which will be sold in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Japan. On December 15, the Hungarian radio station Klasszik Radio announced its official launch of Chinese Music Time and Asian Culture Time, two China-focused programs sponsored by China’s state-run China Broadcasting Media International Management Company (CBMIMC). At the launch ceremony, which was attended by the Chinese ambassador to Hungary, CBMIMC director Wang Genglian thanked Klasszik for building a “cultural bridge” between the Chinese and Hungarian peoples.
* China News 12/16/2010 (In Chinese): Hungarian radio station starts broadcasting China programs <>
* China Scope 12/10/2010: China Daily expands in Asia <>