Let Freedom Ring

The article further below this page is a NYT story about a journalism professor Jiao Guobiao (焦國標) in China who has written an article  (討伐中宣部) which is a polemic against the Central Propaganda Department.  While the Chinese-language article has been circulated on the Internet, there does not appear to be an English-language version.  I have taken the trouble to render a rapid translation.  The article is fairly long, and my translation is not publication-quality, but you should be able to get the gist of it.

Stylistically, I would consider the article not to be well-written.  Somewhere in the middle of the article, the author has pretensions of this declaration being included in the pantheon of the Chinese classics of polemic tracts.  On literary merits, this one will not make it.

The arguments are also not well-rounded, and the author destroys himself with some unfortunate slips.  The attack on the Deputy Head of the Central Propaganda Department focused on his provincial origin.  That man was from the Henan province, and Jiao invoked the old prejudicial proverb, "Watch out for fires, watch out for robbers, watch out for people from Henan."  This was scurrilous and totally unnecessary, and Jiao would done much better had he focused on the work performance of the said individual.

In another section, Jiao said that he wanted this article to be a contribution to both the Han language (漢語文) and the Han tribe (漢民族).  This is an unfortunate chauvinist slip of the pen, since the Chinese language does not belong solely to the Han tribe.  The five stars on the Chinese national flag represent five ethnic groups, of which Han is one.

Politically, this article is weak in several spots.  Jiao showed a blind admiration for the American political system, using it as the standard towards which everybody else ought to be moving.  Obviously, he has not been paying attention to the details of what has been going on over there right now.  The United States is a deeply divided country, with a great deal of hostility and hatred among political camps.  I will simply say that I would not wish a fate like that on any other country.

Jiao also says that the United States does not have a Propaganda Department.  Technically, this is true but Jiao obviously has not tried to deconstruct any of those White House press conferences, or Coalition Provisional Authority press conferences from Baghdad, or Republic National Committee faxes, or Fox News television talk shows, or Rush Limbaugh radio talk shows, or New York Post editorials.  The phrases that Jiao uses --- black is white and white is black, etc --- are applicable to these American media.  I will grant that the difference is that the American propaganda are dissected carefully and openly, fairly or unfairly.

I agree with the essential points that Jiao wants to make.  Nationally, there are some critical problems that need to be solved: the back wages that have not been paid to laborers, and the process of petitioning officials up the hierarchy due to the impossibility of getting satisfaction locally.  These problems need to be addressed quickly and effectively.

I agree with Jiao that the notion of a propaganda department is anti-democratic and, worse yet, it is counter-productive due to its proven ineffectiveness.  State propaganda was a na´ve idea introduced by Mao and that might have worked in a controlled setting such as Yennan with an unsophisticated peasant base.  In a massively connected world of savvy and empowered consumers who own cellular phones and computers, state control of information access is impossible.  It is a thankless job and a pointless exercise since the world won't appreciate it if you are right (and you can't prove you that you are right) and they will only remember how ridiculous your decisions were if you were wrong.

What does Jiao hope to accomplish with this article?  It seems that he is just sitting there and waiting for the knock on the door for the security agents to take him away to Qincheng prison.  I don't see the point.  There has to be better ways of fighting this battle.

Here is the link to my English translation of the article.


(New York Times)  Let Freedom Ring? Not So Fast. China's Still China, by Joseph Kan, May 3, 2004.

During the Cultural Revolution, China's propaganda department often made hyperbolic charges against intellectuals - capitalist roaders, enemies of the people - accused of betraying Mao Zedong.

So when Jiao Guobiao, a journalism professor at Beijing University, was searching for words to describe China's still all-powerful censors and standard-setters more than 30 years later, he borrowed from its lexicon of vitriol.

The department is spiteful like the Nazis, he wrote in a recent essay. It thinks itself infallible like the pope. In the 1950's it covered up the starvation of millions of people. Today, he charged, it lies about SARS.

"Their censorship orders are totally groundless, absolutely arbitrary, at odds with the basic standards of civilization, and as counter to scientific common sense as witches and wizardry," he wrote in the article - which has been widely circulated by Internet in Beijing despite, not unpredictably, being banned by the Communist Party's propaganda department.

Such explicit outbursts of dissent are still rare in China. But Mr. Jiao is not alone in expressing frustration that, even after a long-awaited transition to a new generation of leaders some 18 months ago, China's political scene remains stultifying. Intellectuals, Mr. Jiao said, are "supposed to act like children who never talk back to their parents."

The leadership team headed by the president and party chief Hu Jintao that many hoped would tolerate more open debate has instead slapped new restrictions on free speech and the press that some say remind them of the repressive years after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

State security agents have been scouring the Internet and pressing charges against people who use it to distribute information or express opinions deemed unfavorable. The authorities harassed scholars who took part in a debate about constitutional changes, disappointing some who believed that Mr. Hu had once invited discussion about how to strengthen the rule of law.

Last month, Beijing decided against allowing universal suffrage in Hong Kong, even though many in the former British colony felt they were promised that right when China assumed sovereignty in 1997.

The political environment may reflect a seasonal shift to tight controls during the spring Communist Party meetings and a state of high alert ahead of the 15th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, crackdown.

But some see worrying signs that the leadership remains instinctively hostile to political discussion and more independent news media. Scholars say they now suspect that Mr. Hu is not as forward-looking as they had once hoped, and at any rate he must still defer to Jiang Zemin, the military chief, who handed the formal reins of power to Mr. Hu in late 2002 but by many accounts remains a domineering influence.

"I don't think we had a real transfer of power or a turning point in leadership," said He Weifang, a law professor at Beijing University. "There was a moment after Mr. Hu took control when people were optimistic, but now things are even tighter than before."

The most conspicuous sign of that tension is in the media. In recent years many newspapers, television stations and Web-based media have flourished in a more market-driven environment. Diversity and competition seemed to foster more open discussion of delicate topics, including corruption, legal reforms, foreign affairs, crime, business abuses and other matters that were once taboo.

But pressure to conform to political norms, which never went away, has been strongly reasserted in recent months, people in the industry say.

Propaganda officials have increased their presence inside news, culture and entertainment organizations, and have refined a system for pre-censorship that leaves less discretion in the hands of editors.

"It used to be that they would punish people who made too many mistakes," said the editor of a leading political magazine. "Now, you don't have the leeway to make mistakes."

Among topics now considered off limits, the media are no longer permitted to investigate corruption without approval. That limits what many had seen as one of the few effective checks on official wrongdoing, reporters and editors said.

Mr. Hu and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao have been promoting themselves as populists determined to address poverty in the countryside. But when two writers in Anhui Province wrote an in-depth critique of the handling of such problems, called "An Investigative Report on Chinese Peasants," the book was banned and the publishing house that issued it came under pressure, possibly because the book argued that the most severe problems had been caused by officials.

Authorities also stepped up their scrutiny of Web-based news and discussion groups, closing the most popular forums and imposing registration and monitoring requirements on others. The move came after people participating in Web discussions forced officials to act against abuses by the police and the judicial system in cases that had not been extensively covered in the mainstream press.

Mr. Jiao, a trim, intense man with close-cropped hair and wire-rimmed glasses, was a reporter himself for a few years before becoming an academic. He was not known as a critic of the government before he wrote his essay on propaganda controls. But it quickly became a samizdat sensation, not only because it expressed openly what many journalists and intellectuals say privately, but also because he did so as pungently as possible.

"I chose a sharp way of saying things because that's their own language from the Cultural Revolution," Mr. Jiao said in an interview. "If it's too soft and measured, they'll just ignore it."

His treatise mocks the 10 "forbiddens" and 3 "musts" style used in propaganda orders and describes "14 diseases" and "4 cures," one of which is abolishing censorship.

Among his criticisms: propaganda officials "protect thugs and corrupt officials" by banning reports on corruption. The reason, Mr. Jiao wrote, is that the propaganda officials "use the media administration power granted them by the Party to enrich themselves" with bribes.

During SARS, Mr. Jiao wrote, propaganda officials used the excuse of "social stability" to prohibit reporting about the disease. In fact, he argued, social stability was threatened because reporting was so inadequate, panicking people who felt they could not trust official sources of information.

"There's not a shadow of scientific rigor in their brains,'' he wrote. "They simply follow their own ignorant feelings.''

Mr. Jiao said he suspected that his phone was being tapped and complained that a publishing house dropped plans to publish two of his books. But he said he and his family had not suffered other reprisals.

Some experts say the resort to tight controls on President Hu's watch should not be mistaken for a long-term policy. With the economy booming and social freedoms more evident, politics will sooner or later have to follow, they argue.

In fact, one close scholar of the political scene at People's University in Beijing says recent efforts to tighten the screws on expression are signs of weakness. The authorities are annoyed about being increasingly forced to react to public opinion, and are resorting to old methods to defend themselves.

"When you see them using these old-style methods, it's a sign that they cannot just set the tone and rely on people to carry it out," said the People's University scholar, who asked to remain unidentified. "The current leaders are lacking in confidence, and their power is weak."

Still, many complain about the glacial pace of change, which they say has bred malaise in intellectual circles. Some say they are worried that discussion of topics not considered off-limits in the recent past has now been restricted.

Mr. He, the legal scholar at Beijing University, said he had written a book review for a leading newspaper mentioning the need to make China's Constitution binding on the judicial system so that protections the Constitution offers would have legal standing. The newspaper struck the reference, saying it was forbidden to discuss the Constitution when the Communist Party was amending it, he said.

Hong Kong also offered a sobering example, Mr. He said.

The former British colony has all the prerequisites - income, stability, education - that Communist officials often say are necessary for democracy on the mainland. And yet in Hong Kong the country's leaders have indefinitely delayed its introduction. "If Hong Kong isn't ready yet,'' Mr. He said, "who can tell how long before we get any here?"


(The Guardian)

A professor at one of China's foremost universities has launched ferocious attack on the state propaganda department saying it uses Nazi tactics and has been covering up famines, corruption and disease for more than 50 years.

In what may be a sign of a power struggle within the Communist party, the author, Beijing University journalism professor Jiao Guobiao, said he was "encouraged by elders" to launch the tirade.

Its target is an organisation that is controlled by allies of the former president Jiang Zemin, who is said to have used his position as head of the military to block moves towards more democracy and media freedom.

The essay has predictably been banned in the mainstream media, but it can be seen on the internet, where it has become a focus of the disappointment felt by many who had hoped the new leadership of President Hu Jintao and the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, would loosen the gag on free speech.

Mr Jiao, a former journalist, called for the abolition of the state's propaganda machinery, which he said was guilty of shielding corrupt officials and whitewashing the darkest moments in the country's history.

"The character of its work is the complete opposite of that of a modern civilisation," he wrote. "Where else can you find propaganda departments? Not in the US, the UK or Europe. But you did find them in Nazi Germany, where Goebbels said 'a lie that is repeated 1,000 times becomes the truth'."

Ignoring the caution that usually typifies public criticism of state institutions in China, Mr Jiao dished out the sort of vitriol that the propaganda department was once famous for.

"Their censorship orders are totally groundless, absolutely arbitrary, at odds with the basic standards of civilisation, and as counter to scientific common sense as witches and wizardry," he wrote. "They take money from the parties referred to in reports. They distort the media's sense of right and wrong and justice. They are killing the constitution."

He accused the department of covering up the starvation of millions in the famines of 1962 and more recently of hiding the Sars epidemic. In one case, he said, it took money to fix a programme that was due to appear on television about Ningbo City.

In the past, outspoken critics have been arrested and jailed. But Mr Jiao said he could no longer remain silent about the "No orders" issued by the propaganda department.

"The worst thing that could happen to me is death," he wrote. "But I cannot stand see ing the Communist party develop in this way. We must take responsibility for China."

Chinese journalists say the propaganda department issue a list of stories that must not be reported. According to the Secret China website, the lat est list includes prohibitions on stories on the revaluation of the currency, university graduates' poor job prospects, the business activities of government officials in Anhui province and sales of state-owned assets. Similar blocks have been placed on book publications, including anything to do with one-night stands and extra-marital affairs.

A year ago, hopes were high that the new government would relax media controls. Journalists had been allowed unprecedented freedom to expose the Sars cover-up and a policy paper was circulating in the high ranks of the Communist party that would have forced officials to be more responsive to media requests for information and interviews.

But in recent months, the journalists who pioneered stories on Sars have been imprisoned, and the transparency proposals have been shelved. The Guardian was told that the former president Jiang Zemin was behind the tightening of controls. The head of the propaganda department is the vice president, Zeng Qinghong, a close ally of Mr Jiang.


(AFPChinese academic levels rare criticism at China's propaganda machinery.  May 5, 2004.

A leading Chinese academic has launched a vicious attack on the country's powerful propaganda department, claiming it has butchered freedom of speech and protects corrupt officials.

Jiao Guobiao, a journalism professor at Beijing University, called for the abolition of the secretive propaganda machinery, which regulates what the media can and cannot write about, in an essay banned in China but circulated on the Internet.

"Their censorship orders are totally groundless, absolutely arbitrary, at odds with the basic standards of civilization, and as counter to scientific commonsense as witches and wizardry," he wrote.

Jiao said China's censors were unregulated and operated in a manner similar to the Nazis, charging that it was the "worst infringer, and the spiritual butcher, of the freedom of speech that is guaranteed by the constitution".

"The constitution was created by the government, but here is a government department that does not try to protect it and instead does everything possible to trash it," he said.

"The Central Propaganda Department has become the bastion to defend the most reactionary forces, allowing them to abuse power and practice corruption at the cost of ruining the images of the party and the government as well as damaging the civil development of the nation."

Though decades of economic reforms have empowered many in Chinese society, the communist party, spearheaded by its propaganda department, continues to retain a firm grasp on the tools of repression.

Dissidents, or anyone not toeing the party line, are regularly rounded up.

"The Central Propaganda Department is the only dead spot in China that does not operate by rules and regulations; it is a dark empire in which the rays of law do not shine," said Jiao.

"We cannot permit it to continue to exist peacefully with all those powers."

Over the years, propaganda chiefs had covered up famines and corruption, and continued to ban any mention of "historical errors", he claimed.

"The Anti-Rightist campaign, the Cultural Revolution, the death of tens of millions of peasants from famine, June 4 (1989 Tiananmen Square massacre)... are all taboo topics," he said, although some of these subjects are, in fact, permitted to be discussed within certain limits.

"All this has made it unbearable for people in the media and academia, and it is extremely disappointing to the people at large."

Such outbursts of dissent are still rare in China and Jiao acknowledges that he faces jail.

"Criticizing the Central Propaganda Department probably does not merit a death penalty. There will probably be some jail time, but there is nothing to be afraid of," he said.

In an interview with AFP, he said the only way China could make progress was to abolish the department altogether.

"At minimum, the department of propaganda should work in transparency and be governed by a legal framework," he said.

"In the final analysis though, it will have to be abolished."


(Yazhou Zhoukan)  October 3, 2004.

[translation]  When the new academic year began in September, assistant professor Jiao Guobiao at the Beijing University School of Journalism was barred from teaching.  After the publication of his declaration, he was denounced as "Chinese traitor" and "academic monster", his phone was monitored and his works were not publishable.  Although the Beijing Universities authorities supported him for a while under poiltical pressure, they finally yielded with the start of the new academic year.  Jiao Guobiao was barred from teaching, depriving the students of their rights to learn and offering a huge sarcastic jab at the liberal tradition of former Beijing University leader Cai Yuanpei (蔡元培).


(Yazhou Zhoukan)  Jiao Guobia not permitted to teach, but he is unrepentant.  By Jiang Xun.  October 10, 2004.

[translation]  Assistant professor Jiao Guobiao at the Beijing University Journalism and Communications School wrote Declaration of the Campaign against The Central Propaganda Department which had a tremendous impact on the Internet as well as outside of China.  Six months have passed, and people were glad that the authorities did not take any action against Jiao.

On September 17th, a leader in the Beijing University Journalism and Communications School told Jiao Guobiao that his name has been removed from the roster of instructors for the masters' research program.  Jiao Guobiao asked: "Why was my name removed?"  The leader said: "This is an order from above.  We are only informing you of the fact."  Prior to this, on September 2nd, another leader in the school told Jiao Guobiao that he is no longer required to teach the course "Communications To The Outside World" for the coming semester.  This was a scheduled course for 20 students to be taught by Jiao Guobiao three times a week.  Jiao Guobiao asked: "Why was the course dropped?"  The leader replied: "This was the desire of the relevant parties."

On the 17th, after receiving the news of the removal of his name, Jiao Guobiao bicycled once around the Nameless Lake inside Beijing University.  He said: "At the time, as I looked at the night view of the lake water, I felt the impulse to cry.  It was a feeling that darkness had covered heaven and earth, as in Li Po's poem: 'The way is like a clear sky, except that I cannot walk on it.'  The way is like the clear sky and people can go anywhere, except I alone have nowhere to go.  I went home to watch television.  I couldn't watch anything.  I just used the remote control device to flip channels, one after another."  On September 27, Jiao Guobiao was interviewed by Yazhou Zhoukan.  The following are summarized from the interview:

Q:  What did you think when you received the notification?

A:  I wanted to ask to the school: Why was the class dropped?  Why was my name removed?  How long will the class be stopped for?  When will my name be placed back?  Will my class be stopped for one semester, or forever?  I know that those two leaders were not the decision-makers and they couldn't give me any explanation.  The two of them have been good to me, but they should still tell me what I did wrong, right?  If I made a mistake to cause the course to be stopped, there should still be a reason.  To not explain -- to not even say that I am right or wrong -- disrespects me.  As a teacher of Beijing University, I have the right to know what my fate is.  What did I do wrong?  If I receive a sentence, how many years will it be?  Otherwise, I become a malleable object that can be squeezed and twisted at will, right?  There is a serious flaw in the process.

Q:  When did your family find out?

A:  I did not explain the situation to my family.  I did not tell my friends and students.  When friends run into me, they ask "How are you?" and I am tell them: "It's been okay.  I'm very busy."  I don't know what the teachers and students at the university think about me.  But the decision obviously affected me greatly and caused me a lot of pain these days.

Q: You wrote Declaration of the Campaign against The Central Propaganda Department which led to your present state.  Are you sorry?

A: There is nothing to be sorry about.  I am responsible for what I did.  Declaration of the Campaign against The Central Propaganda Department had received the wide distribution by accident.  Originally, I wrote a draft paper and showed it to a friend for comments.  I was hoping that he could look at things from different viewpoints so that I can make some revisions.  I did not expect that it would be propagated like that.

Q:  Was that only a first draft?  You wanted to make some revisions?

A:  Yes, looking at it now, there are parts that can be polished in terms of the manner of expression.  In this era, we need to represent different voices as well as maintain a gentlemanly tone.  I was not very classy, and some words and presentations could be improved.  But I stand firm on the ideas that were expressed in the article.

Q:  Will you continue to write these types of political articles?

A:  I will continue to write to express my views.  Beijing University and Qinghua University want to become first-class universities in the world, but they are at least a thousand years behind in the humanties and social sciences.  In the present state, much of the humanities and social sciences are around the standards of Europe in the middle ages around A.D. 1000, where there was a big tussle between universities and established religion.  In China, the universities are still subject to control in the formation of consciousness, with very little space for freedom of speech and scholarly discousre.  China should be able to perceive this problem.

Q:  It is said that you made two promises to the university?

A:  I originally promised the Dean of the School and the Secretary that I would not give interviews to foreign reporters and I would not write commentary on current affairs.  I did make those promises.  But that reconsidered carefully again.  Those two promises were inconsistent with the spirit of the constitution, so I told them apologetically that I had to break the promises.  My promises to the leaders were personal in nature and I should keep them.  But these promises violate the constitution and therefore they are ineffective.  If a common law violates the constitution, it becomes ineffective as well.  Therefore I will give interviews to foreign reporters and I will write commentaries on current affairs.

Q:  Where does your spiritual support come from?

A:  There are several souces.  First, civilization has its patterns.  It is difficult to say when a civilization rises and falls, but it can be traced clearly.  The human social culture points in a certain way and is not directionless, and what I do is consistent with the way.

Second, the reform of Chinese society is developing continuously.  I believe that society will move in a more civilized direction.

Third, I trust the Beijing University.  It has given me strength.  Its history is consistent with the movement of the times.  Sometimes, the fit is imperfect, but generally speaking, its excellent tradition moves right in step with civilization much better than other universities.

Furthermore, my standards of determining right versus wrong is based upon the standards of human civilizations.  In the end, people have to rely on their own beliefs to do what they think is right and not to do what they is wrong.  Such values are my last strengths.  When outside forces can no longer be relied upon, I must rely on my beliefs as my final support.

Q:  Now that you don't have to teach, will you be doing research or writing?

A:  The school leaders told me that I should concentrate on writing now that I don't have to teach.  I am writing a specialized book on communication with the outside world.  It will be between 250,000 to 300,000 words and will be part of the school's teaching materials.  It will be published by the Beijing University Press.  I am very involved in this academic book and I have completed more than 100,000 words so far.  I estimate that I will finish the writing before the end of the year.

At the end of this August, Japan's Caisi Corporation published a book of mine.  I have not received a copy of this book yet.  This is a collection of my articles about news broadcast.  I don't know what the final name of the book is.  Originally, the publisher wanted to use the title from the article Declaration of the Campaign against The Central Propaganda Department.  The major reason that the school stopped me from teaching and advising the researchers in the masters program is that article which is critical about the central propaganda department.

But I believe that within the next three years, the central propaganda department will be subject to open criticism just like all other departments.  Recently, the propaganda department heads of several cities and provinces such as Yunnan and Chongqing were denounced in the media, and that was unprecedented.  In China, there are many things that may seem never resolvable, and yet they are changing.  This is the strength of my article and also quite accomplishable in Chinese society.  I believe that there are two more social liberations that await Chinese society.

Q: What do you mean by "two more social liberations"?

One of them is to liberate news publishing from under the control of the central propaganda department.  The other one is to release political freedom from the hands of the administrative leadership according to the constitution.

When the school stopped me from teaching, it was not over any problems with my teaching but it had everything to do with what I said.  Any problems with making speech should be guided by the constitution and not by the school leaders.  The constitution says that I have the right and therefore I exercised my right under the constitution.  When the school stopped my class, I obviously objected.  

In the past, the unit leaders controlled your marriage and private life.  If your job was important, the leaders would investigate the background and peformance of your prospective mate.  Marriage and divorce must be approved by the unit.  But today, the unit leaders won't even attend weddings.

I believe that the freedom to think and speak for the Chinese people will become free like their pesonal lives.  When the party and the government no longer control things, the cultural standard of China will be elevated by a lot.

Q:  Thank you for breaking your "promise" by speaking to us.  Are you worry that this may have some consequences for you?

A:  Today's interview may break the calm.  But I think I still want to be the Sunshine Boy or the Sunshine Chinese.  There are still many hidden rules in Chinese society about what may or may not be said.  I hope that I can shine the light on some of these things.  I hope that the roads that I travel will be shined upon.  If everyone brings some light when they walk down the road, then there is hope for China.  I want to say that I love my leaders but I love the constitution even more; I love Beijing University, but I love the truth even more.