By Qian Gang and David Bandurski — This has been a delicate year for China’s leaders, who must cross a veritable minefield of sensitive anniversaries. There was the 90th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, the 50th anniversary of the Lushan Conference, the 20th anniversary of June Fourth. And of course we have, just around the corner, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
China is now in the midst of preparations for a National Day celebration that should by any standard be extravagant. Although the English-language Global Times managed to say in a single breath this week that “the ‘warm but frugal and cost-effective’ celebration” would include a “grand military parade and a mass pageant featuring 200,000 people.”
Meanwhile, the propaganda war for people’s hearts and minds has long been under way.


[ABOVE: “National unity” is one of the five “main themes” for National Day coverage. Screenshot of coverage at Global Times. A quick show of hands: how many think this photo is real?]

Media in China may view the National Day celebrations as a golden opportunity to cash in and enhance their commercial reach and influence. But China’s leadership views this event as an internal affair of paramount political importance, and as a key strategic front along which to tighten news controls.
It was way back last spring that China’s Central Propaganda Department conveyed its overall position on reporting of the 60th anniversary: “Shout throughout the whole of society the main themes of the goodness of the CCP, the goodness of socialism, the goodness of opening and reform, the goodness of our great motherland, and the goodness of our various ethnic groups.”
These five points, which are referred to as the “five goods,” essentially define the permissible scope of 60th anniversary coverage.
The term “main theme,” or zhǔxuánlǜ, is specific to public opinion controls (舆论控制) in China. The “main theme” refers to the general orientation and message the authorities expect news media to reflect.
So, to sum up, the crucial motifs for news reporting on the 60th anniversary are:

1. The leading position of the Chinese Communist Party
2. The strength of the socialist system
3. The importance of opening and reform
4. Patriotism
5. National unity

The demands the authorities have placed on reporting this year are essentially no different from those we saw for the anniversary ten years ago. But despite an overriding emphasis on Jiang Zemin’s policy of “guidance of public opinion” then, 1999 was a year of relative vitality for China’s media.
At the time, CMP Director Qian Gang was managing editor of the more freewheeling newspaper Southern Weekend, which on National Day that year ran a front-page editorial calling for political reform. “From a Society of Subjects to a Civil Society,” it was called (从臣民社会到公民社会), and it argued that rule by the people “is the stamp of a civil society” and “the moral foundation of the legitimacy of our government.”
In 2009, statements like this already seem unimaginable.


[ABOVE: Screenshot of a People’s Daily Online page, “I love you, China,” devoted to National Day.]

In June 2008, Hu Jintao introduced his new policy for handling news and information, which placed a strong emphasis on the notion of “public opinion channeling.” This is all about state media taking the initiative in getting the news out quickly, so that at least some critical information, particularly about breaking news events, is made public in record time. This more active posture was reflected to a limited extent during last year’s Beijing Olympics, but this year’s 60th anniversary has offered a stark contrast.
The Beijing Olympics were an international affair. Under the glaring lights of world attention, the authorities took a somewhat more open stance on press controls, even if this brought no relief for Chinese journalists.
The 60th anniversary is a “household affair,” China’s own business, and with social and political stability as the overriding domestic priorities the authorities are exercising strict control over the media.
The heart of the five “goods” is the “goodness of the Chinese Communist Party,” which means that the party’s leadership position is beyond question, and that the CCP’s accomplishments are resplendent and undeniable. As for the errors and blunders of the past 60 years, the human tragedies and buried injustices, these cannot be addressed at all.
Propaganda controls notwithstanding, the 60th anniversary will inevitably become an occasion to reflect back on sixty years of Communist Party rule. Whether or not CCP leaders are capable of taking an earnest and clear-eyed look at the party’s own record will be a key test of the party’s leadership.
But the initial signs are not encouraging.
The sensitivity of June Fourth is without question — this is a topic no media can be expected to broach. But so far even such episodes as the Anti-Rightist Movement of 1957 and the actions against rightists during the Lushan Conference of 1959, events on which the party long ago pronounced its official verdict, have become dangerous topics ahead of the 60th anniversary. Why? Because they touch on the crimes of Mao Zedong and on the serious failings of China’s political system.
Major web portals in China have planned a number of historical retrospectives, each of which highlights one important event during every year since 1949. has posted special features called “History in the Twinkling of an Eye” (回望历史瞬间) and “30 Years of Reform” (改革开放叁十年). Netease has one called “Made in China” (中国制造). The official Xinhua Online has a retrospective called “Footprints of the Republic” (共和国的足迹).
But what sort of events and landmarks do these highlight?
The Anti-Rightist Movement, during which some 550,000 people were politically persecuted as rightists, and millions of others dragged down into the chaos, was surely the defining event of 1957. Is it there? No, of course not.
The Great Starvation, which claimed the lives of some 36 million people, and the crushing of moves to promote democracy within the party, both resulted in large measure from the political madness of the Lushan Conference. Surely, that event merits attention in a historical retrospective.
But can we find it in 1959? No, of course not. We find at best fleeting references.
For 1957, Xinhua Online mentions “rectification within the party,” but includes only very light treatment of the campaign against rightists. chooses to focus on Mao Zedong’s criticism of Ma Yanchu’s proposals on limiting population growth in China, but sidesteps the whole Anti-Rightist Movement. mentions the destruction of Beijing’s city wall in 1957. Netease notes only the conclusion of China’s first Five-year Plan.
For 1959, Xinhua Online highlights the putting down of rebellion in Tibet. notes the general pardon issued for war criminals and former Nationalist officials (as well as many “counterrevolutionaries”) to commemorate the republic’s tenth anniversary. Netease and QQ both choose to focus on the 1959 discovery of the oil field in Daqing.
None of these major web portals dared devote coverage to the Lushan Conference.
Two portals, Netease and QQ, did offer online polls that allowed users to select what they saw as the major events during particular years, and these included events like the Anti-Rightist Movement and the Lushan Conference. But these episodes in history could not be elaborated, and they could not become major defining events for those years.
In fact, we understand from our sources that user comments in the online polling sections of these sites are being actively removed. Forums for online comment have seemed unprecedentedly cold and cheerless ahead of the anniversary.
Websites have also been handed an explicit notice by the authorities letting them know that these two topics – the Anti-Rightist Movement and the Lushan Conference – are of extreme sensitivity.
In a moment of high spectacle, we have struck a new low. And this side-stepping of major episodes in China’s history does significant damage yet again to the credibility of China’s media.
[Posted by David Bandurski, September 10, 2009, 3:57pm HK]

[For reference, we publish the full Chinese text here of the 1999 editorial by columnist and CMP fellow Yan Lieshan (鄢烈山) published on the front page of Southern Weekend to commemorate China’s National Day.]
然而,中华儿女是有血性有骨气的,中华民族岂甘忍受任人宰割的命运?他们要推翻内外压迫者,赢得生而为人的权利与中华民族的尊严。他们中的先进分子披荆斩棘探寻着救国救民的真理。他们曾试图“师夷长技以制夷”。 1894年(甲午)中日之战的失败宣告了“洋务运动”的失败和“中体西用”道路的破产;1905年日本战胜沙俄,更使国人看到了“立宪”对于富国强兵的重要性。人们认识到,所谓坚船利炮并非仅仅是器物制造技术的成果,军事实力与战争动员能力并非无源之水、无本之木,中国只有在政治经济等事关根本的制度层面变法维新,才能改变积贫积弱受人欺侮的局面。目睹无数血写的事实,大多数的中国人才达成共识,以“宁赠友邦,勿予家奴”为信条的腐朽卖国的封建王朝若不彻底推翻,中华民族就不可能避免亡国亡种的灾祸,起而拥护孙中山领导的“目的在求中国之自由平等”的民主革命。
遵循邓小平的理论,20年来,我们大力发展社会主义民主,健全社会主义法制,努力改变“无法无天”的局面,切实保障人民当家作主,参与管理国家事务和社会事务、管理经济和文化事业的权利,成就有目共睹。《中华人民共和国宪法》修正案庄严地载入了“建设社会主文法治国家”的目标;《中国共产党章程》庄重承诺(也是规定):“党必须在宪法和法律的范围内活动。”从此,任何组织和个人都不再享有超越宪法和法律的特权。作为现代民主国家依法治国基本方略的成果,这些年我国先后制定了一系列实体法和程序法。为防止滥用行政权力,保障公民的自由与人权,我国于 1989年出台了《中华人民共和国行政诉讼法》,为“秋菊”们民告官“讨说法”提供了法律依据;今年又颁布了《行政复议法》,强调以法律作为判别是非的标准,开始改变以权力为标准的传统状况。此外,如《国家赔偿法》的颁行,新的刑事诉讼法对无罪推定原则的采用,都是中国公民权利得到前所未有的保障的显证。与此同时,村民自治、厂务公开、政务公开等一系列民主建设正在展开,我国人民正在逐步提高对杜会与公共事务管理的发言权。尤其值得大书特书的是,二千年来我们不断解放思想,打破形形色色的精神桎梏,确立了建立社会主义市场经济体制的伟大目标,努力为全体公民创造发挥个人潜能,参与平等竞争获取成功的机会,极大地解放了社会生产力,也切实提升了人民的生活水准和人格尊严。
来源:南方周末 来源日期:1999-10-1

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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