Cross Post,  Democracy,  East Asia

The Invisible Black Hand of Censorship

This is a cross-post from A Rabbit’s Eye-View of the Hyperborean North.

Protesters in Hong Kong carry placards of the Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo during a march to demand his release. Photograph: Ym Yik/EPA

A week before Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, a number of Chinese dissidents and reformers signed an open letter to the NPC calling for the honouring of promises for press-freedom which appear on paper, at least, in the Chinese constitution; and which appeared on the Hong Kong-based website of the Chinese Media Project.

One signatory and former defence official, Xin Ziling has appealed to supposedly deeply-held PRC principles of Marxism to elicit a sense of awareness by asking how Karl Marx would have circumvented Chinese censorship laws to publish The Communist Manifesto (my guess is, if refused, he would have gone-off to boff another maid). One point this appears to miss is that, despite Liu Xiaobo’s incarceration for endorsing Charter 08 (which used the 60th anniversary of the inception of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to call for its incorporation into Chinese legislation), virtually all the other signatories of this escaped imprisonment.

In fact, many of his co-signatories asked to be arrested as well, but were declined: and the text of Charter 08 remains in the ether. Liu Xiaobo was a long-established and high-profile dissident who had, it appears, tried the patience of the appalling old waxworks of the NPC once too often. Although Xin Ziling this week was disinvited from a speaking event at a bookshop in Beijing, he and others enjoy a certain degree of protection through their elder-status, but also are relatively powerless in their current roles.

This is not to say that Beijing seeks a level of totalitarian control over the media: described in the open-letter to the NPC as the invisible black-hand on editorial decisions. Major newspapers and periodicals still have to confirm their intended content with a central committee, and the letter has been excised from online references within China. Strikingly, so have murmurings of sympathy abroad by Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao for a less restricted fourth estate.

Chinese authorities appeared genuinely alarmed and unawares when widespread Internet support sprung-up in 2008 for Yang Jia, a multiple murderer who had stabbed six Shanghai Police officers to death. Typically approving attitudes towards the death penalty for a wide-range of offences appeared to have taken a back-seat to loathing of the Police.

More recently, heavy censorship has taken place of reports on the spate of school stabbings which has occurred across China. Although Wen Jiabao has admitted the issue to international audiences, domestic reporting is curtailed firstly to discourage copycat attacks but also as a knee-jerk response to deny the existence of disharmony.