A Hundred Flowers Bloom

“Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.” / “百花齐放,百家争鸣”

I’ve long advocated that “free country” and “free press” go hand-in-hand. A free press acts as a watchdog for the government, assuring that they aren’t misappropriating the public’s money or trust. It might not be a perfect system we’ve got in our so-called “freedom of speech” countries, but it is miles ahead of what is on menu here in the PRC.

The idea, I assume, is that with freedom of speech you would have a seething mass of people all wanting to pass off their half-baked ideas about the way things should be. Movements in countries have been sparked on less, and well, a movement is the last thing the CCP digs. Status Quo is what they know, everything else feels like an ice cube down the backside… eventually it melts and goes away, but mostly it just chaps your ass.

It’s taken some time, but it would seem that I’ve convinced Maggie that reading any newspaper in China (which she – as many – was in a hardcore habit of doing) is no better than kicking the “open” right out of the phrase “open mind”. The papers are all funnelled through the Central Propaganda Department, which puts their OK stamp on the good, and buries the bad and the ugly, making all newsprint in the Middle Kingdom nothing but a Party newsletter.

This isn’t to say that articles that are negative aren’t published, they are. And here in lies the brilliance of brainwashing. Borrowing from the Matrix here, the human mind needs a bit of negative to make things believable – so there’s no shortage of articles about this crazy person doing crazy things, that corrupt official being punished, and a cornucopia of filler that displays just how messed up every place outside China’s borders are… especially those not in favour with Beijing.

In the end you get 1.3 billion people (not adjusting for illiteracy, though word-of-mouth would compensate here, more than most places) who have a rather skewed version of events. Tack in the sugar-coated history, and rather liberal geography classes… and man… you begin to wonder if anyone’s got an idea about what the “real world” is.

But then there’s Freezing Point. A supplement of the China Youth Daily, that dared to push the boundaries of what was “acceptable” to print. Perfect, no. Biased, what isn’t? But largely, it had the gonads to go the distance with some real attempts at journalism. Sadly, as of two days ago, it’s been axed.

China Shuts Down Influential Weekly Newspaper in Crackdown on Media
By Joseph Kahn, New York Times, January 25, 2006

Bing Dian, or Freezing Point, published as a supplement to the influential newspaper China Youth Daily, was one of the few major news outlets that routinely printed in-depth investigative stories and broached delicate topics. The order to cease publication is effective immediately, the paper’s longtime editor, Li Datong, said in a telephone interview. “This is an intolerable step that has absolutely no basis in law and is in fact completely illegal,” he said. It cannot be appealed, he said.

The authorities cited the publication of a lengthy study of Chinese middle-school textbooks as a reason for the order, Mr. Li said. The Jan. 11 article discussed what the author, Yuan Weishi, a Zhongshan University professor, referred to as official distortions of history to emphasize the humiliations China suffered at the hands of imperial powers. He criticized the textbooks’ treatment of events like the Boxer Rebellion and the burning of the Summer Palace by British and French troops in 1860, which he said were partly the result of mistakes by then-flailing Qing Dynasty leaders. “We are at a critical moment in our modernization and the key to the success of our development is understanding our system and mental model,” he wrote. “I was shocked to see that few things had changed since the Cultural Revolution.”

Mr. Li said the article, though provocative, was just an excuse for closing the paper. In August, a letter by Mr. Li led to a revolt at the China Youth Daily group after the paper’s new party-appointed editor, Li Erliang, sought to impose a review system that graded the staff on factors including the reaction their work elicited from party leaders. The letter, which was posted on the Web, and the backlash resulted in the modification of the review system.

Hope flickers, but in my opinion, is not extinguished. Perhaps it is a step backwards in the scheme of personal liberties… but it illustrates something that is much greater (and to me, a little surprising) – people care. This open letter from Li DaTong about the shutdown, and the mention of the wide-spread readership of The Freezing Point exemplifies that though the masses may be duped, there are those drowning in the sea of blind acceptation that are still swimming for shore. There are those that are eager for truth, whether it conflicts with national pride and current taught tenets of the Mainland or not. Pride is really the problem here, I think. Face is a tricky thing, and it makes it damn hard for anyone in China to go back on anything they’ve publicly stated. For the CCP to admit fault, even if it was by previous regimes, is a step not easily took. It’s good to know that when the truth finally does make it’s debute there will be an audience for it.

5 Responses

  1. Pingback: Adventures of the Humanaught: Life In China Blog » Blog Archive » Freezing Point, Dead But Not Forgot

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