How the Chinese Government Controls the Media
The following is a review of the book titled How the Chinese Government Controls the Media by He Qinglian of Human Rights in China. I was reading the 462-page Chinese-language edition of the book published in May 2006 by Liming Company of Taiwan. This will not be a detailed review, as I had only read the book during the airplane flight from Hong Kong to New York City today.
First things first -- there are numerous errors in this book. It is most glaring in the English-language references. Here are some examples:
The preceding examples are mostly due to the fact that the proof-reader or editor does not know enough English or is unfamiliar with English-language media. It is irksome, but these are not substantive issues.
As this version was published in Taiwan, there were some introductory essays to explain the relevance of this book to the audience in Taiwan. The first essay is by Chang Chin-Hwa, who is identified as the director of the Graduate Institute of Journalism of the National Taiwan University. On the second page of the book, there is this reference to 'mass incidents in China.' Let me translate the following:
In 2004, there were 74,000 rights protest incidents (this refers to incidents in which more than 100 persons were involved in protesting) with the number of participants estimated to be as many as 3,600,000.
Here, I must say that I am unable to figure out the mathematics. There were 74,000 incidents, which are defined to involve at least 100 persons. Therefore the total number of participants must be at least 74,000 x 100 = 7,400,000, which is bigger than the 3,600,000 subsequently cited. Conversely, if there were 74,000 incidents and 3,600,000 participants, the number of participants per incident is 3,600,000 / 74,000 = 49 per incident.
Notwithstanding all that I have said above, I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the media in China, for this is one place where many of the different events have been assembled, analyzed and synthesized. Personally, this book filled in many of my personal knowledge gaps. Chapter 9: Foreign Correspondents in China should be made available in English to countervail the perception that foreign correspondents are biased and driven solely by their nations' political agendas to demonize China (see The Declining Market for Demonization).
Here is a piece of information from this book that can be used to analyze some current news stories. From pages 127-128, I summarize:
As for the media function of "opinion supervision," Chinese media professionals make the following classifications:
- It is easier for an upper-level news unit to supervise/monitor a lower-level government unit. For example, a national-level media organization such as CCTV or People's Daily will find it easier to supervise/monitor a local government than the local media. Public relations and direct line-of-authority do not work as well against the upper-level news unit.
- It is easier to beat up on a 'dead tiger' (namely, officials who have already been listed as corrupt by the Chinese government) than a 'live' one.
- It is easier to 'beat up on a fly' (that is, a low-level corrupt official) than 'beat up on a tiger' (that is, a senior-level government official).
Let us look at some current events.
In The Case of Gao Yingying, the incident occurred in 2002 and nothing could be done because there was a blanket net of local protection. In 2006, there was a wholesale clean-out of local officials on unrelated corruption charges. When this case was resurrected recently, there was a national feeding frenzy by mainstream media and individual netizens. So this was a case of beating up on "numerous dead little flies."
In The Case of Liu Zhihua, the Beijing municipal vice-mayor was a 'big tiger.' While this tiger is 'dead,' it is uncertain if other 'live' tigers may be implicated. Therefore, it seemed that the only news report allowed was the Xinhua release and no Internet commentary or mainstream heresy was allowed.
In Lai Changxing Writes His Memoirs, the fugitive Lai Changxing threatens to write his memoirs while he awaits the decision by the Canadian courts whether to send him back to stand trial in China. Already, more than one hundred officials have been implicated in that case but no 'really big tiger' as yet. Will Lai Changxing name more names (such as Jia Qinglin)? So this part of the Lai Changxing story seemed destined to be blacked out inside China.