Outwardly Open, China Keeps Censoring

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Only authorized dramas are allowed on Chinese prime-time television, customs inspectors are seizing books on Mao Zedong at China?s borders and newspapers are prohibited from running stories on the Communist Party?s misdeeds.

To that end, internal security agents and media censors are clamping down on political dissidents — who are warned to keep a low profile and in some cases kept under house arrest — and making sure that books that cross the party line do not reach the public.

Though security precautions are ratcheted up every year for March?s annual session of the national legislature, this year?s efforts are particularly zealous. President Hu Jintao and others in the leadership are seeking a renewed mandate at a once-every-five-years party meeting later this year and want to shield themselves from criticism.

Maintaining control has gotten more difficult, however. With the increased prosperity that free markets have brought, Chinese are on the move and on the Internet, being exposed to new ideas and becoming more assertive. When an official from the government?s publishing regulator announced a ban on eight books at a closed-door meeting, his remarks were immediately posted on the Web.

In January, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television announced that prime-time television programming had to be “ethically inspiring.” Programs had to “reflect the reality of China in a positive way,” the official Xinhua News Agency said.

On the list are past bloody political campaigns, such as the radical Cultural Revolution and the crushing of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement, as well as controversial current issues like endemic corruption and the lifestyle of China?s new rich, according to the South China Morning Post.

“What can be published are stories about achievements, what good things the government has done and how they have won the hearts of the people,” said Li.

While the notion of creating a consensus in a nation of 1.3 billion people may be alarming abroad, China is unabashed about the need for it. Last week, a headline in the Communist Party?s official mouthpiece, the People?s Daily, read: “Correct guidance of ideology and public opinion is an important factor in the harmony of society.”

Such guidelines help keep the country?s more than 70 million party members on message for the party meeting — a difficult task in a large country, said Jin Linbo, a party member since 1984 and a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies.

Newspapers and TV often chafe under the controls, mostly because state propaganda is so staid and more attractive offerings boost advertising revenues.

“It?s like a guerrilla war between the media and the Propaganda Department,” said Zheng. “It?s too early to say who?s winning in this fight for money and for power, but it?s quite interesting to watch.”

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