Monday, November 12, 2012

Blast From the Past: Censorship of Responses to Wen Jiabao's 2010 Call for Political Reforms

On August 20 and 21, 2010, Wen Jiabao conducted an "inspection trip" to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. On August 20, Wen made what the state run press called an "important speech" at a meeting to  review work reports from Guangdong and Shenzhen. An excerpt:
It is not only necessary to promote economic reform, but also to promote political reform. Without  the guarantee of political reform, the achievements of economic reform will be lost, and the goal  of modernization cannot be achieved. We must  protect the people's democratic rights and legitimate  interests and extensively mobilize and organize the people to manage state, social, and cultural  affairs in accordance with law. At a system level we must solve the problems of over-centralized  and unrestrained power, and create the conditions for the people to criticize and oversee the  government, and resolutely punish corruption. We must build a fair and just society, and in  particular guarantee justice, and emphasize protection and assistance to vulnerable groups, so that  people may live with a sense of security, and have confidence in the development of the nation. 
With the trend of economic globalization, we must better co-ordinate domestic and international  affairs, and this requires us to unswervingly push forward reform and opening up. Thousands of  years of history tells us: only an open and inclusive country can become prosperous and strong, and  a nation that is closed will fall behind and be beaten. We must unswervingly implement the basic  national policy of opening up,  better use of domestic and foreign markets and resources, and  boldly learn from all human societies and civilizations, to promote the further opening up China's  economic and social reform and development.
Two days later, the front page of the People's Daily carried the headline "Only By Persisting in Reform and Opening  Up Can The Nation Have a Bright Future" (只有坚持改革开放国家才有光明前途), and the Beijing Times headline read "We Must Push for Economic Reform, We Must Push for Political Reform" (要推进经济体制改革要推进政治体制改革).

China's English language press published headlines proclaiming "Shenzhen - After Money Comes Politics" (Global Times), "Chinese Premier Calls for Further Reform, Ideological Emancipation" (People's Daily) and "Wait's Over for Political Reform in China." (Caixin)

Wen's statements were seen as having added symbolic weight because when China’s then-leader Deng  Xiaoping wanted to restart economic reform in 1992, he conducted a similar "southern tour," and proclaimed that the Special Economic Zones were the fire of China’s future, and he singled out Shenzhen in particular.

On October 3, 2010, China's Premier Wen Jiabao gave an interview to CNN's Fareed Zakaria. Wen had not given an interview to the Western media since his 2008 interview with Zakaria. The interview included the following exchange on freedom of expression:
ZAKARIA:  You - you speak,  in your speeches, about how China is not yet a strong and creative nation in terms of its economy. Can you be a strong and creative nation with so many restrictions on freedom of expression, with the Internet being censored?  Don't you need to open all that up if you want true creativity?
WEN:  I believe freedom of speech is indispensable for any country,  a country in the course of development and a country that has become strong.  Freedom of speech has been incorporated into the Chinese constitution. I don't think you know all about China on this point.  In China, there are about 400 million Internet users and 800 million mobile phone subscribers. They can access the Internet to express their views, including critical views.  I often log onto the Internet and I have read sharp critical comments on the work of the government, on the Internet and also there are commendable words about the work of the government. I often say that we should not only let people have the freedom of speech.  We,  more importantly,  must create conditions to let them criticize the work of the government.  And it is only when there is the supervision and critical oversight from the people that the government will be in a position to do an even better job and employees of government departments will be the true public servants of the people. All these must be conducted within the range allowed by the constitution and the laws. So that the country will have a normal order.  And that is all the more necessary for such a large country as China, with 1.3 billion people.  
ZAKARIA:  Premier Wen  -- since we are being honest, when I come to China and I try to use the Internet, there are many sites that are blocked.  It is difficult to get information.  Any opinion that seems to challenge the political primacy of the,  of the party is not allowed.  Hu Yaobang, for example, was not somebody who could be mentioned in the - in "The China Daily" until your own article appeared.  It just feels to me like all these restrictions -- this -- the vast apparatus that monitors the Internet are -- are going to make it difficult for your people to truly be creative and to truly do what it seems you wish them to do.
WEN:  I believe I and all the Chinese people have such a conviction that China will make continuous progress and the people's wishes for and needs for democracy and freedom are irresistible.  I hope that you will be able to gradually see the continuous progress of China.
China's state run media did not report the interview until October 6. At that time a report (attributed to Shanghai's Liberation Daily (解放日报)) was carried on Xinhua and CCTV entitled: "Wen Jiabao Gives CNN an Exclusive Interview, Discusses Political Reform and Other Sensitive Issues" (温家宝接受CNN专访谈及政治改革等敏感问题).

These screenshots show that on October 6 a search on Baidu for that title was returning only a censorship notice, but by October 7 it was returning results from the whitelist of government controlled websites.

On October 11, 2010, 23 Chinese Communist Party elders submitted an open letter to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress calling for an end to restrictions on expression in China. The signatories included Li Pu (李普) former deputy director of Xinhua News Agency (he passed away the next month at the age of 92), Jiang Ping (江平) former President of China University of Political Science and Law, and member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, and Li Rui (李锐) Mao Zedong’s former secretary.

The letter began by noting that on October 3, China's Premier Wen Jiabao told CNN in an interview: "Freedom of speech is indispensable for any nation; China’s Constitution endows the people with freedom of speech; The demands of the people for democracy cannot be resisted." It went on to say:
61 years after the founding of our nation, after 30 years of opening and reform, we have not yet attained freedom of speech and freedom of the press to the degree enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong under colonial rule. Even now, many books discussing political and current affairs must be published in Hong Kong. This is not something that dates from the [territory's] return, but is merely an old tactic familiar under colonial rule. The “master” status of the people of China’s mainland is so inferior. For our nation to advertise itself as having “socialist democracy” with Chinese characteristics is such an embarrassment.
The letter concluded with a list of eight specific demands:
  • Abolish the requirement that media outlets must have government sponsors.
  • Respect journalists and make them strong.
  • Abolish restrictions on investigative journalism and ensure that journalists can report freely throughout the country.
  • Abolish the “Fifty-cent Party” and remove restrictions on anti-censorship technologies.
  • Eliminate the taboos concerning the history of the Communist Party’s history. 
  • Privatize Southern Weekly and Yanhuang Chunqiu.
  • Permit the free circulation within the mainland of books and periodicals from the already returned territories of Hong Kong and Macao. 
  • Transform the functions of various propaganda agencies from ones that assist corrupt officials in suppressing and controlling stories that reveal the truth to ones that support the media in monitoring Party and government organs.
The screenshots below were taken in October 2010, and show that Baidu censored search results for queries that included the names of some signatories plus "open letter."