In the context of Chinese journalism, “seizing a pretext,” or jieti fahui, refers to the strategic use of an opportunity afforded by external circumstances to push one’s own agendas or professional objectives.

One common form of “seizing a pretext” comes as government leaders make a pronouncement on an issue, or on the edge of an issue, that is generally too sensitive to deal with directly or in great depth.

In 2006, the Central Propaganda Department issued a ban on coverage of the fortieth anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution. As a result, there was virtually no coverage, even on the subtle fringes of the topic. Shortly after the anniversary, however, China’s cultural minister made a public statement about plans to eventually create a museum to commemorate the Cultural Revolution. More professionally-minded journalists in China used this public statement to run a brief (but still very careful) burst of coverage on the Cultural Revolution.

More recently, when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) mentioned the need for “political system reforms” during a speech in Shenzhen in August 2010 to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the special economic zone’s founding, some journalists viewed this as an opportunity. One Chinese scholar remarked on Twitter: “As for Wen’s political reform speech, I think we can seize this pretext. Regardless of what Wen’s real meaning is, we can use this opportunity to talk about what we mean. Those who are courageous, speak directly. Those who are more fearful, speak as a response to Wen’s talk.”