January 21 – Using information provided by authorities, China’s official Xinhua News Agency published the country’s first news report to deal in-depth with the embezzlement case of Zhou Zhengyi (周正毅), the former president of the Shanghai-listed Nongkai Development Group implicated in the Shanghai social security funds scandal of 2006. But the Xinhua article stuck with past practices by avoiding mention of the controversy over the so-called “Dong Ba Kuai” (东八块) area of Shanghai, whose residents opposed demolition and relocation in 2003 and were represented by lawyer Zheng Enchong (郑恩宠), who was subsequently jailed and released in 2006. [Xinhua Online and AFP reports on upholding of Zhou’s sentence on January 21, 2008]
January 23 – A spokesman for the Shanghai Municipal Government made the first official response to recent protests — known euphemistically as the “strolling incident” (散步事件) – over a planned extension of the city’s magnetic levitation train line (or “maglev”). The spokesman said a panel of experts would be organized to evaluate the maglev project, and said the government hoped city residents would “express their opinions and views rationally and through legal means.” The same day, the city’s official Liberation Daily newspaper published an editorial (the second since the veiled criticism of January 15) saying that “in expressing opinions, we must return to correct ways and normal channels, and make our way back onto the track of rule of law.”
January 24 – In a rare departure from generally staid and orchestrated coverage of political meetings, Chinese media reported a heated exchange on the floor of Guangdong Province’s “two meetings”, the people’s congress and political consultative conference. According to media reports, Guangzhou delegate Li Yongzhong (李永忠) said one of the principal problems with China’s judicial system was local protectionism. Li advocated reforms by which the central government would directly handle fund allocation and personnel appointments for the courts. His comments reportedly agitated some delegates, and one stormed out of the session, saying: “This is what you’re saying, but we won’t dare say it. You can say it here, but you can’t say it in front of the central government!” According to a report in Guangdong’s Southern Metropolis Daily, Li had been “interrupted” by a delegate.
January 21-23 — Chinese President Hu Jintao presided over a “national propaganda work conference,” or quanguo xuanchuan sixiang gongzuo hui yi (全国宣传思想工作会议) at which he sent a strong message to top propaganda leaders about ideology and media control [CMP coverage here]. Hu made no apparent changes to existing policy, but rather cranked up the volume on core concepts likes “correct guidance,” pushing “scientific development,” etcetera. Hu’s appearance was most probably timed to send a strong message at the outset of China’s Olympic year about the need to control the press and public opinion, and manage China’s image overseas. The last time such a conference was called was on December 5, 2003, in the aftermath of SARS and the Sun Zhigang Case. That conference was held nearly one year after the first meeting of propaganda ministers, or xuanchuan buzhang huiyi (宣传部长会议), following the 16th National Congress, at which top propaganda leader Li Changchun (李长春) announced Hu’s new policy of the “Three Closenesses.” This year’s conference, moderated by Li Changchun, apparently subsumed the meeting of propaganda ministers (Li emphasized to top provincial propaganda chiefs and ministers that Hu’s speech was a “programmatic document”, or 纲领性文献).
[Posted by Joseph Cheng, January 29, 2008, 11:44pm HK]