As the November 8 China Journalist’s Day approaches, expect Chinese media to stake out their positions along a spectrum of press roles and positions on professionalism, from party promoters to party watchdogs to independent voices. Party notions like “guidance of public opinion” should face off against gutsier perceptions of the media’s role, such as “supervision by public opinion” (watchdog journalism) and the “right to know”. [PHOTO: Shao Piaoping (邵飘萍), founder of Jingbao (京报) in 1918 and pioneer of independent journalism in China, from]. [pdf_southern-metro-daily-on-shao-piaoping.pdf: November 6, 2006, feature on Shao Piaoping in Southern Metropolis Daily].


The significance of Journalist’s Day, inaugurated in 2000 to honor the profession of journalism (there were already special days for nurses and teachers), has been a bone of contention since the holiday’s inception. On November 8, 2000, top Chinese officials stepped out to honor the nation’s journalists with grandiose speeches, but their emphasis was on their role as news workers for the party, as promoters of its will and guiders of public opinion [NOTE: November 8 was date of founding of the All-China Journalist’s Association in 1937]. Zheng Mengxiong, who was then secretary the official All-China Journalist’s Association, wrote in a Journalist’s Day edition of News Line, a key party journalism publication, that “we must uphold the Marxist View of Journalism, praise the fine tradition of the party’s news work, and be firm and unshakeable in carrying out the news theory and policy direction of the ruling party …” [People’s Daily news on letter to journalists on first Journalist’s Day].
In its own issue commemorating the first annual Journalist’s Day, Southern Weekend, a weekly newspaper with a reputation for pushing the envelope, emphasized instead its duty to the people and its “social conscience”. The function of the media, it said, was to “show care for the weak, to give strength to the powerless”.
The debate over the role of the press in China is a complicated one, dominated ultimately by the state’s press control regime. But there are two basic currents. The first is the party position on the role of the press — while the notion of media as mouthpieces is fading into the past, the party still regards control of the press as essential to controlling public opinion and ensuring social stability. The second is China’s free press tradition going back before 1949 to the 19th century and the establishment of China’s first non-partisan newspapers. The latter tradition entered China from the West via newspapers like Japan’s Asahi Shinbun, and is sometimes said to include in more recent times such figures as Liu Binyan [TIME magazine hero], Deng Tuo and even such figures as removed Freezing Point editors Li Datong and Lu Yuegang.
Not surprisingly, Hu Jintao’s overarching social policy of the “Harmonious Society” is making it into Journalist’s Day celebrations this year. The central party’s official People’s Daily wrote today that “Journalists are a special strength toward achieving a ‘harmonious society’, playing a special and irreplaceable role.” Underscoring the importance of the media as a tool of the central party to monitor the provinces, the article also emphasized media supervision:
Not long ago Premier Wen Jiabao delivered an important speech via telecast concerning the strengthening of government building to promote better governance. When he was speaking about how to develop democracy and strengthen the monitoring of power, he said [China] must attach great importance to supervision by public opinion [Chinese watchdog journalism], and problems addressed in the news must be seriously investigated, verified and dealt with in a timely manner. This doubtless means strong support for the work of supervision by public opinion, and expresses the high importance attached to this work by the central leadership …
Shanghai’s Wenhuibao today emphasized the responsibility of journalists to the party in an article chockful of ideological rhetoric:
The battle drums urge us on, responsibility on our shoulders. Journalist’s Day is a holiday of harvests, but a time to plant again too. The vast news workers of this city make a wish together: that we march toward [Hu Jintao’s] view of [Socialist] honor and disgrace, that we sing high the song of correctness, that we continue to raise raise the level of our professional work, writing many more excellent articles and doing our part for the realization of a harmonious society.

Nanfang Groups’s Southern Metropolis Daily began its commemoration of Journalist’s Day in yesterday’s edition with a feature on one of China’s journalism greats, Shao Piaoping [ABOVE], a free press proponent and author of China’s first professional manuals on journalism, Practical Applied Journalism (实际应用新闻学) and Introduction to Journalism (新闻学总论). Shao was murdered in 1926 in Beijing by warlord Zhang Zuolin. The Southern Metropolis Daily feature includes an interview with Deng Fenyang (郭汾阳), a grandson of Shao Piaoping and a history professor who has spent more than 20 years researching Shao’s legacy. Deng (penname San Mu, 散木) is author of the recently-released Piaoping in Turbulent Times (乱世飘萍) [Coverage from The Beijing Times via]. It was Shao Piaoping’s Jingbao (京报), which he launched in 1918, that inspired the founders of Beijing commercial newspaper The Beijing News (新京报). The Beijing News was originally to be called Jingbao, but this met with disapproval from propaganda authorities.
The headline of the Shao Piaoping feature in Southern Metropolis Daily, which also ran in Nanfang Daily, read: “Newspaperman Shao Piaoping and His Times”. The following is a translation of a section headed, “A Spirit of Freedom”, which uses repeatedly that term used only with care in China, “press freedom” (新闻自由):-
Shao Piaoping’s date with disaster ensured that he came to symbolize the trailblazing spirit in China’s newspaper world, and made clear the long road toward press freedom that lay ahead for China. It also gave those who came after a clear marker [for their own work]. Before his death, he had a thorough understanding of China’s newspaper environment and said, “Suppression of free speech by various governments in Europe and America has already become a thing of the past”, and Chinese newspapers “alone must deal with government people who handle things illegally if there is some issue that concerns their personal interests. Military officers, officials, councilors, politicians [derogatory], all of them perpetrate it”; and as to news [Shao said] “there is no time at which news is not severely suppressed [in China]”. He proposed creating laws for journalism, in order that “it would not be illegally trampled by the government”, but he also knew that ensuring protection of press freedom had to first mean freeing society. Nevertheless, freedom is not an endowment but, he believed, had to be realized through a process, that is was “the history of the fierce war and bitter struggle between speech and government authorities”. Therefore, he encouraged uniting the struggle for press freedom with the struggle for political freedom.
Last weekend, the city of Nanjing marked the upcoming Journalist’s Day with a public event called “News Workers and the Party Join Hearts with the People”. According to a report in Jinling Evening News, the event allowed the public to interact with media workers “from more than 60 media” and voice their views. The event was arranged by the Jiangsu provincial chapter of the All-China Journalist’s Association (ACJA).
Ping pong and badminton matches seemed to have been par for the course for this year’s Journalist’s Day celebrations. A news item in sports sections of today’s Guangzhou Daily and Nanfang Daily said about 200 competitors from Guangdong’s All-China Journalist’s Association (ACJA), Nanfang Daily Group, Yangcheng Evening News Group, Guangzhou Daily Group and other media were battling it out to honor the profession of journalism. Henan Province’s local chapter of the ACJA also held a ping pong tournament over the weekend, according to Henan Daily, the party paper of the Henan provincial leadership: “The invitational included five categories of competition, including men’s and women’s teams, men’s and women’s singles and cadres. 50 athletes from eight teams, including Henan Daily Group, Henan People’s Radio, Henan Television, Henan ACJA, Zhengzhou Daily, Zhengzhou City Radio and Zhongyuan Railway Daily.”
Shao Piaoping Key Points:
1886 — Born in Dongyang, Zhejiang Province
1906 — Tests into Zhejiang Provincial Higher Academy (浙江省立高等学堂), the precursor to Zhejiang University
1909 — After graduation becomes a correspondent for Shenbao (申报)
1911 — becomes an editor at Hangzhou’s Hanmin Daily (汉民日报), beginning a formal journalism career that will last 15 years.
October 5, 1918 — launches Jingbao (京报) and is afterwards visited repeatedly by the young Mao Zedong.
April 24, 1926 — Warlord Zhang Zuolin (张作霖) enters Beijing. Shao Piaoping is detained and accused of “promoting communism”. He was reportedly detained after leaving the Russian Embassy and heading for his newspaper offices and killed shortly after.
[Source: The Beijing News and Wikipedia]
[Posted by David Bandurski, November 7, 2006, 12:05pm]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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