Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

Attacks on the Press in 2000 - China

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2001
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2000 - China, February 2001, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Pending membership in the World Trade Organization and fledgling steps towards greater dialogue with Taiwan are just two recent signs that China is opening up to the world, a trend that some say will lead to greater freedoms within the country. The ruling Communist Party, however, has yet to extend this opening to the news media and other forms of expression. If anything, there was retrenchment in Beijing's attitude toward the press in 2000, as regulations governing the internet were dramatically tightened and 22 journalists continued to languish in prison.

President Jiang Zemin began the year by railing against party members and others who were "openly expressing opposition to the party line in newspapers, books, and speeches." His remarks, made during an internal party meeting in January, came in reaction to an essay by respected academic Li Shenzhi, former secretary to the late premier Zhou Enlai and retired vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), that was widely circulated online. Titled "50 Years of Panic, Trials, and Tribulations: Lonely Nighttime Thoughts on National Day," Li's essay criticized China's extravagant celebrations on the anniversary of a half-century of Communist rule.

Li was subsequently dismissed from CASS in a purge of liberal intellectuals that included Liu Junning, who was forced to leave CASS and to step down as editor of the intellectual journal Res Publica, a magazine he founded in 1995. Other victims of the spring crackdown were He Qinglian, author of the book China's Pitfalls, who was demoted from her job as editor of the Shenzhen Legal Daily; Wang Yan, who was dismissed as editor and publisher of the popular national weekly China Business and the Jingping Consumer Guide; and Yu Jie, forced to leave his job at a unit of the Chinese Writers Association after publishing a number of frank commentaries on social issues, including a book of essays called Fire and Ice.

Several progressive publishing houses were either reined in or closed altogether, including Reform Press, which was shut down after publishing a book entitled The Secret Scriptures of Officialdom that detailed the prevalence of corruption within the Communist Party. All this related to Jiang's so-called Three Stresses and Three Representations campaigns, designed to strengthen ideological conformity among party cadres.

In separate incidents, two Internet journalists, Huang Qi and Qi Yanchen, were arrested and charged with subversion for posting articles that officials deemed anti-government. Web sites critical of the regime were shut down, and news content on independent Web sites was strictly circumscribed by new regulations. Government security agencies continue to monitor and restrict access to international Web sites, pursuing a contradictory policy of promoting Internet use while attempting to restrict content and threaten journalists.

When confronted with challenges to its rule, Beijing reacted in fury. In December, Teng Chunyan, an American citizen and member of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, was sentenced to three years in prison for alleged crimes against national security that included serving as a source on Falun Gong for news organizations. She was the first overseas Falun Gong member to be tried in China since the sect was banned in 1999.

While the state officially encourages investigative reporting on local corruption, Chinese journalists who uncover malfeasance have little protection against the ire of local officials. In July, a Hong Kong newspaper revealed that a Xinhua state news agency journalist had been jailed since December 1998 for reporting that a much-touted irrigation system in drought-plagued Shanxi Province was actually an elaborate scam. A local newspaper, The Yuncheng Daily, reported that 67,000 water tanks had been built in just six months, but Gao discovered that these cisterns were not connected to any water source, and that there were no pipes carrying water to irrigate the fields. The story originally ran in a limited edition of the official People's Daily that circulates only among Communist Party leaders, but was eventually picked up by the Guangdong newspaper Southern Weekend. The journalist, Gao Qinrong, is serving 13 years in jail.

As CPJ and others campaigned for Gao's release, a Chinese magazine, Democracy and Law, argued in October that local authorities had abused their authority by persecuting the journalist. "We have been following this case for a long time and finally decided to run the story," the magazine's chief editor, Wang Qianghua, told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. "Our policy is to speak the truth and dare to speak the truth."

How many other such cases are there? It is almost impossible to know, given the dearth of press advocacy in China. The official All-China Journalists Association (ACJA) rarely, if ever, advocates expanding the rights of journalists. "The ACJA was not set up with the goal of protecting Chinese journalists," a leading journalist told CPJ. "They don't mention freedom of the press at all."

In January, Xinhua reported that 27 newspapers had been punished for "political errors," fabricating stories, illegally publishing supplements, and distributing sensationalized news. The exact punishments were not specified and the newspapers were not named.

Still, the state has relaxed its grip on certain types of non-political news in recent years, allowing detailed reporting about domestic disasters and crime. When 58 illegal Chinese immigrants died in a container ship off the coast of England in June, Chinese reporters were quick to document connections between immigrants abroad and officials at home who protected the trade in human cargo. In late December, similarly, a night-club fire that claimed 309 lives in the city of Luoyang was widely covered by state television and other media, which found evidence that local authorities had allowed the club to operate in violation of fire codes. After gruesome pictures and eyewitness accounts of the tragedy sparked public outrage, Premier Zhu Rongji himself pledged to apprehend those responsible.

Independent political journalism does not exist in China, where the Communist Party enforces rigid adherence to one-party rule. Instead, the daily press is filled with ritual denunciations of Falun Gong and others who deviate from official dogma. Despite officially improved relations with the United States and Japan, China's major trading partners, the state media also continued to serve up a steady diet of attacks on both countries, leading to diplomatic tensions.

The notion of an unnamed official source shedding light on affairs of state is unheard of in domestic media. President Jiang Zemin and other top leaders are presented as opaque figures whose chief duties seem to consist of greeting foreign leaders and presiding over official ceremonies. (The January 2001 publication of The Tiananmen Papers, a book edited by two American Sinologists that contains purportedly leaked transcripts of internal discussions among party leaders about how to quell the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, was astonishing largely because of its detailed account of Party workings.)

Foreign correspondents based in China are freer to work and travel than in the past, but they still face routine surveillance and are supposed to seek special permission before leaving their city of residence. Failure to do so can result in detention by local police for several hours, or even days. Members of the foreign press corps in Beijing say that the travel restrictions, if followed, would make it virtually impossible to cover breaking news stories. "Almost everyone based here for more than several months has been arrested for being outside the city limits without a permit at some time," one foreign reporter told CPJ. "Usually they just let us go after several hours. It is basically harassment."

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