Author: David Bandurski

Now director of the CMP, leading the project’s research and partnerships, David joined the team in 2004 after completing his master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He is currently an honorary lecturer at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre. He is the author of Dragons in Diamond Village (Penguin/Melville House), a book of reportage about urbanization and social activism in China, and co-editor of Investigative Journalism in China (HKU Press).

What China’s media minders had to say about the anniversary of the Cultural Revolution

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In our May 17 analysis of Chinese media coverage of the Cultural Revolution, we passed over one important article from Guangming Daily, the official mouthpiece of China’s Central Propaganda Bureau. That article, “Looking forward with Solidarity: A review of what Deng Xiaoping and other old revolutionaries tell us about how to correctly assess the ‘Cultural Revolution'”, was important because it offered, on the day of the fortieth anniversary, the Party’s official line on how the Cultural Revolution should be marked and remembered. It said, in over 4,000 words: the Party has already told us what we should think and feel about the Cultural Revolution – let us all look forward!:
Here is the first portion of the Guangming Daily article, which appeared at the top of Page 3:
The “Cultural Revolution” of the 60s and 70s of the last century was an important turning point in the development of our Party and the nation. The Party and the people have worked earnestly to reap the experience and lessons of the “Cultural Revolution”, and such revolutionaries as Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun have left us many profound treatises. The phrase they use most often is “looking forward with solidarity”. Today, under new historical conditions, we need urgently to review their treatises and look forward with solidarity to correctly treat that episode in history, the “Cultural Revolution”, and reach a more consensus vision, promoting the grand work of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics with one heart and mind.
It continues by pointing to two “erroneous trends in thought” following in the wake of the Cultural Revolution (our emphasis):
Thirty years ago, as the Cultural Revolution ended and countless problems waited for solutions, people’s thoughts were also in a state of chaos. Two erroneous trends in thought existed as to how to treat the “Cultural Revolution”. One was the error of Leftism, which persisted in affirming the errors of the “Cultural Revolution”. Another held falsely that disavowing the “Cultural Revolution” meant denying the history of the Party and its position of leadership, denying the socialist system, denying Comrade Mao Zedong and Mao Zedong Thought. Without question, for the Party and the country to walk out from the morass of the “Cultural Revolution” they needed to correctly assess and thoroughly rectify the erroneous theory and direction of the “Cultural Revolution” … How to appraise the intimate relationship between Mao Zedong and the “Cultural Revolution” was an even more complicated and delicate question. Do we have the ability and presence of mind to thoroughly disavow the path of the “Cultural Revolution” while looking rationally at Mao Zedong and Mao Zedong Thought? These questions, in apparent contradiction, are an important test of the Party and crucial to determining China’s fate and outlook for the future”.
A detailed discussion of Deng Xiaoping’s writings about the Cultural Revolution follows, with an emphasis on his line: “We sum up the past so we may all look forward with solidarity” (Guangming Daily citation: Selected Writings of Deng Xiaoping, Volume II, pg. 292 [《邓小平文选》第二卷第292页]).
Not surprisingly, the final paragraph is an enthusiastic self-affirmation of the Party’s mandate to rule:
The “Cultural Revolution” is already 30 years past. Our Party’s basic summations on questions of history since the Republic’s founding, and particularly the question of the “Cultural Revolution”, have stood the test of time and historical experience. Today we cherish the summaries of history given us by Deng Xiaoping and other revolutionary leaders … and affirm their call for us to look forward with solidarity … Not forgetting history, we should set our eyes on the future, and with greater unity fight our way up in the embrace of the Party Central Committee led by General Secretary Hu Jintao, never ceasing to advance the great project of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics!
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Today, however, Southern Metropolis Daily slipped right into the past by running a profile on the life of engineer Sun Jingqiao (孙镜樵), who passed away earlier this month. The story talks directly about the abuse he received after being branded an “unlawful capitalist” and “reactionary” during the Cultural Revolution.
The story is called, “A Sketch of Sun Jingqiao”. “In the prime of his life he wore ‘two tall hats’. He was branded an unlawful capitalist (不法资本家) and reactionary force (反动技术权威)”, it begins, then describes the scene at Sun’s funeral in Guangzhou on May 7. “There is a six-member band in black coattails in one corner of the parlor, playing the familiar strain of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Sun Jingqiao’s eldest son, Suen Kwok Lam, executive director of Hong Kong’s Henderson Land Development, says his father loved dancing his whole life, and would have enjoyed such a melodic farewell …”
The story briefly narrates Sun’s life prior to China’s “liberation” in 1949, and then goes on:
In 1966 the fate of engineer Sun Jingqiao met a turning point. His wife, Hu Yuzhen, recalls that shortly after liberation, Jingqiao’s salary was quite high at 135 yuan. The household never wanted for anything, and could even hire a maid. After the onset of the Cultural Revolution, everything changed. Their second son, Guoquan, remembers that one day his father said unexpectedly: ‘There are already two hats on my head, unlawful capitalist and reactionary.’ His fathers tone was relaxed as ever, but Guo Quan quickly learned the affect these two “hats” would have on the fate of the family.
The three children in secondary school were soon forced off to the countryside and Hu Yuzhen was sent to clean toilets at a glass factory. Shuyi, the only child left in Guangzhou, said her father was frequently forced to wear a tall hat and sit atop a truck that hauled him through the streets to a ceremonial hall where he was publicly denounced. Sometimes he was locked in a cowshed for many days and visitors were kept away. But every time he returned home, a smile would break across Sun Jingqiao’s face and he would describe in vivid detail the scene of the denunciation …
[Posted by David Bandurski, May 19, 2006, 12:57pm]

An unwelcome compliment?: Wen Jiabao makes the Time 100 list

When Time magazine announced its latest Time 100 list of most-influential world figures on May 1, five people on the list were Chinese – PRC Premier Wen Jiabao, film director Ang Lee, Gome Electronics founder Huang Guangyu, rights activist Chen Guangcheng and journalist Ma Jun. The last two figures did not appear in already sparse Chinese media coverage of the list due to the general sensitivity of the grassroots activism associated with them. Wen Jiabao’s appearance, an embarrassing upstaging of China’s top leader, President Hu Jintao, was also a very sensitive issue. Five newspapers, though, simply couldn’t resist:
On May 2, the day after the Time issue appeared, Nanfang Daily not only ran the story, but put Wen Jiabao in the headline and the lede. The headline was: “Wen Jiabao selected among top 100 influential persons”. The subhead: “Film director Ang Lee and Gome Electronics [founder] Huang Guangyu also selected”.
Here is the story’s lede: “Yesterday’s Time magazine published a list of the world’s 100 most influential people. Premier Wen Jiabao was selected in the ‘leaders and revolutionaries’ category, while Taiwan director Ang Lee was selected for the ‘artists and entertainers’ category.”
A paragraph explaining the categories of the Time 100 followed, and then the zinger (our emphasis):
In the “leaders and revolutionaries” section, Wen Jiabao was mainland China’s only political figure. The magazine said Wen Jiabao had supported China in pressing ahead with economic reforms, and pointed out that Wen had paid increasingly more attention to those in society who have been overlooked, wanting to raise social equality, and he had paid particular attention to problems facing peasants and workers.
The actual text, as available on Time’s website raised the issue of “social unrest” too, which naturally didn’t make it into the Nanfang Daily version:
As Premier, Wen has guided China’s tectonic economy, supporting continued economic reform and growth but also pointedly calling for greater emphasis on social equality for those who have been left out of the country’s “economic miracle.” Indeed, his expressions of concern for the plight of ordinary peasants and laborers, whose disaffection has manifested itself in an alarming increase in social unrest, have given him the image of being something of a populist. He has faced other political challenges: the AIDS crisis, SARS, China’s worsening environmental problems.
Guangzhou’s New Express (a commercial spin-off of Yangcheng Evening News), Southern Metropolis Daily (Guangzhou), Yangtse Evening News (Nanjing, Jiangsu) and Chun Cheng Evening News (Kunming) ran the story too, but softened the blow with more emphasis on foreign politicians.
Here is the New Express lede of May 2: “The May 1 issue of Time magazine announced its list of the top 100 influential world figures, among them State Council Premier Wen Jiabao”.
And in a second article in the same issue: “State Council Premier Wen Jiabao has been selected for a list of the world’s 21 most influential leaders. Time described Wen as a modest and even-tempered leader who has used a practical style and excellent political measures to further China’s rapid economic development”.
A headline in the “International affairs” page of Yangtse Evening News, one of China’s largest papers by circulation, read: “Time selects Wen Jiabao in list of most influential leaders”.
In China’s political climate, news of Wen Jiabao’s inclusion in the Time list puts Hu Jintao in an awkward position, and mentioning Wen’s inclusion is a risky move for domestic media. It is not surprisingly to find that four of the five papers daring to include the news are from China’s south (three from Guangdong Province and one from Yunnan Province), whose press has a reputation for pushing the envelope. Their choices underscore the complicated nature of China’s media environment, where officials in charge of newspapers or other media find ways of wriggling through sensitive topics and around government orders. Hu Jintao, of course, is hardly in a position to respond to the coverage without further embarrassment — and the newspapers presumably realize this.
As to why Time made the choice of Wen Jiabao, Hong Kong Economic Daily said it showed America’s ambivalence over China’s economic growth — its position as an economic partner and its potential threat to U.S. dominance. While Wen Jiabao has become emblematic of economic growth and partnership, the paper said, Hu embodied the West’s reservations about China. “US President George W. Bush has already described US-China relations in a very complicated manner, seeing China as both a competitor and a partner. Again, we have this classic pattern of love and hate … Of course, the West must confess the achievements of China’s economy. After all is said and done, after many years of economic globalization, China’s economy is already inextricably linked with those of the United States and Europe. As the principle in charge of economic work, Wen Jiabao can of course enjoy the glory of China’s economic achievements to its fullest. As the master of overall work, Hu Jintao must bear the full burden of the West’s value judgments and prejudices about China!”
[Posted by David Bandurski and Brian Chan, May 18, 2006, 5:35pm]

How “silent” were Chinese media on the fortieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution?

Western press coverage of yesterday’s fortieth anniversary of China’s Cultural Revolution talked about the “silence” of Chinese media on this sensitive political issue. But exactly how silent were Chinese media? A widely-circulated Reuters report said there had been a “blanket ban on the subject”. AFP said “all mainstream media – newspapers, television and radio stations – stayed mum on the subject”. These are very different statements, however, and it must be pointed out that an outright ban on coverage directly commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution does not mean the subject was not broached. How Chinese media did mark the event is a much more complicated story. Here is a quick run down of coverage over the last week, using information from the WiseNews publications database:

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A quick search of 140 mainland Chinese publications for the period May 11-17 shows a total of 79 articles using the words “Cultural Revolution” (文革). Of these, just three made bold to use “Cultural Revolution” in the article’s headline, where it was more likely to draw the attention of top editors and media minders. Given a blanket ban on coverage commemorating the Cultural Revolution, these occurrences are the boldest and most dangerous – even if they headline soft news they might be seen as “lineballs” (打擦边球) and could potentially bring disciplinary action. They might be read, in other words, as naughty assertions of independence.
What do these three articles actually talk about? One, in today’s Southern Metropolis Daily, is a 300-word about a showing of Cultural Revolution-era oil paintings on display at Guangzhou’s Adam Space Gallery (原子空间画廊). The headline: “‘Cultural Revolution’ Oil Paintings Shown at Guangzhou Gallery”. The next article, in People’s Daily spin-off Beijing Times on May 16, talks about an effort to restore to Beijing’s Yuetan Park a Ming Dynasty bell that was “lost” during the Cultural Revolution. The last article to use “Cultural Revolution” in its headline appeared in the May 11 edition of Jiangxi Province’s Jiangnan Wanbao (江南晚报), and profiled an old hobbyist who collects Cultural Revolution-era musical records.
Articles using “Cultural Revolution” in the body run the gamut, from a few that use “Cultural Revolution” to refer simply to an era in time (“after the Cultural Revolution”, etc.) to others that refer to writings or works of art dealing with the Cultural Revolution, or the importance of Cultural Revolution experiences in the personal growth of cultural figures.
But some coverage tackles the subject more directly, even if the story’s lede never positions it as being about the anniversary. China Newsweekly, a leading magazine published by China News Service, yesterday ran the personal story of one man’s trials as a former study-abroad student in the Soviet Union. While purportedly commemorating China’s “Year of Russian Culture” (2006), the story invoked the Cultural Revolution quite graphically:
During the Cultural Revolution, the situation of students in Beijing who had studied in the Soviet Union (留苏学生) was not bad, but outside [the capital] things were much crueler. As soon as the “revisionists” [Mao used the term “revisionist” to attack Nikita Khrushchev at the height of tensions with the Soviet Union in the 1960s] set about seizing people, they [the former Soviet students] were seized. They suffered many excruciating things. At the time, a lot of people came to inspect me, and they always asked me to inform on spies – I would say, where do you imagine all these spies are? They wanted me to expose others and forced me to write huge posters (大字报), but I couldn’t write them … Some of these former Soviet study-abroad students committed suicide, some went mad. Most, fortunately, were eventually de-purged. During the Cultural Revolution, I burned most all of my letters, photographs, books and music from the time I spent in the Soviet Union, so all I have now are memories.
A literary review in the culture and entertainment section of the May 16 Shanxi Daily says the following about a long-form novel: “It is only because the author was guiltlessly engulfed in the black maelstrom of that historically unprecedented catastrophe and suffered the torments of extreme purgatory, that he has such a keenly felt pain and profound experience of the Cultural Revolution.” This is one of six references to the Cultural Revolution in that article.
In a May 15 story in Shanghai’s Xinmin Evening News, the writer talks about coming across a literary piece by Zeng Yuancang (曾元沧) during the May holiday. The meaning of the Xinmin article itself is veiled, but its crux is “remembrance”: “Ah Cang [Zeng Yuancang] felt grateful for the protection he received from his relatives in the old village during the Cultural Revolution, and could not forgot how naïve he had been, getting rid of his ‘tiger-head shoes’ as an attack on the ‘Four Olds’ [these were ‘old ideas, old culture, old customs, old habits, anything regarded as feudal or bourgeouis]. The life of the ancestral village permeates Zeng’s writing … and he says in spartan prose: ‘My hometown will always flow through my subconscious’. Don’t you see? Those lines on our palms, they mark the past and fortell the future, but of course this has nothing to do with palm-reading. Zeng’s writing does talk about how his parents named him with canghai [“ocean”/ 沧海] to compensate for his deficiency of the water element [one of China’s five traditional elements], but that is a matter for fortune-tellers. What concerns Zeng Yuancang, and what concerns us as readers, is the need to remember, and not lightly to forget”.
It should not surprise us to find few direct references to the fortieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution in China’s headlines and filling its news pages. To do so under the current political climate would mean running a foolish risk. It is of course sad and unfortunate that journalists in China cannot face this painful chapter in Chinese history head on. But the silence is a restless one, and by no means absolute. And as with so much news coverage in China, really understanding what is happening requires careful reading between the lines.
That having been said, a look at Hong Kong coverage of the Cultural Revolution highlights the obvious difference between these two news environments. While “Cultural Revolution” appears in 79 mainland articles for May 11-17, it appears in 176 Hong Kong Chinese-language articles for the same period, for one-seventh the number of newspaper titles. The nature of the coverage, of course, is also much bolder.
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[Source: WiseNews]
[Posted by David Bandurski and Brian Chan, May 17, 2006, 6:01pm]

China details news extortion cases in official bulletin and tells newspapers to clean up their news bureaus

Chinese media ran an official bulletin, or tong bao (通报), detailing acts of news extortion (新闻敲诈) allegedly carried out by journalists from the provincial bureaus of four nationally-circulated newspapers. The bulletin, which called on newspapers to “further normalize the news reporting activities of reporters at their news bureaus” by ratcheting up their internal supervision mechanisms, was issued on May 15 by the official Xinhua News Agency and carried forceful warnings from the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP), China’s government minders for the publishing sector.
The cases outlined in the bulletin were not in fact new. For example, the second of the four cases in question concerned the actions of Meng Huaihu (孟怀虎), the former Zhejiang bureau chief for China Commercial Times, a business paper published by the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce (ACFIC).
Meng was quietly removed from his position last year after he allegedly tried to force an advertising contract from China Petroleum and Chemical Company (Sinopec) with the promise of an investigative report. China issued a ban on news coverage of the affair, which many insiders supposed was being resolved through backroom politics. Up to the release of the Xinhua bulletin, the only trace remaining of the China Commercial Times incident was a report from September 2005 in which ACFIC’s chairman called the incident “a painful lesson” and vowed that the paper would clean up its act by “grasping the lessons of the Marxist View of Journalism, [former President Jiang Zemin’s] Three Represents and the Three Lessons [training program for media personnel, which emphasizes upholding the Party’s principles in news work].”
So-called cases of “news extortion” have been on the rise in recent years as government support has been progressively withdrawn from the bulk of Chinese media, forcing them to compete for advertising revenues even as they retain their role as an arm of the party-state. With a glut of publications and many editors unable to create sharp editorial products to take advantage of the market, some “media professionals” are tempted to monetize the power vested in them as state organs to force advertising contracts from low-level government bodies and corporations.
The May 15 bulletin said reporters from “China Food Quality News” (中国食品质量报), China Commercial Times (中华工商时报), Economic Daily (经济日报), and China Industry News (中国工业报) had been involved in the extortion cases in question.
Other Coverage:
At People’s Daily Online in English
Reuters via Sydney Morning Herald
[Posted by David Bandurski, May 16, 2006, 12:35pm]

China launches fresh round of “Three-Points” indocrination for media professionals

According to a report by Beijing Youth Daily, the first session of this year’s traveling “Three-Points Study and Education Campaign” (三项学习教育活动), an indoctrination drive designed to “educate” journalists in their obligations as well-behaved members of China’s state-controlled news industry, went off swimmingly in Beijing on May 13. As it only could, of course.
The training event, which features speeches by news reporters and officials, will travel on to Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing as well as cities in the provinces of Jiangsu, Fujian, Guangdong, Hubei, Sichuan and Gansu. The event is organized by the Central Propaganda Department, the Education Ministry, the All-China Journalists Association and News Frontline (新闻战线), a media policy magazine published by the party mouthpiece People’s Daily.
The “Three-Points” campaign was first launched in October 2003 with an announcement sent out by the Central Propaganda Department, GAPP, SARFT and the official All-China Journalists Association. It said News Frontline would launch a campaign to educate journalists in 1) [former President] Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents”, 2) the Marxist view of journalism and 3) professional spirit and ethics (SEE: “中宣部等通知: 新闻战线开展三个代表学习”, CCTV International Website, October 28, 2003). If there was any doubt about the nature of “professional spirit”, the announcement spelled it out. News professionals would learn “from the first to last, to support the [Communist] Party-nature of the news, support placing ‘guidance of public opinion’ [rigorous news control] before all else, support ‘serving the people’ and serving socialism …” The training would also “make further steps to strengthen political awareness [of the Party-line], a sense of responsibility [to the Party-line], loudly singing the dominant [Party] strain (唱响主旋律)” etc., etc.
One focus of the “Three-Points” campaign has lately been poor ethics in the Chinese media, targeting such things as “fake news” and “news extortion”. The campaign’s approach, however, is ideological and does not address the institutional causes of such behavior.
At a People’s Daily Online page dedicated to news about the “Three-Points” campaign, the banner running along the top reads: “Strengthening the ‘Three-Points Study and Education Campaign’ to Build Up the Correct View of News [Work] (新闻观)”. The site is dedicated to official policy pronouncements on the work of news professionals as an arm of China’s party-state structure, and to profiles of model figures in Chinese journalism.
Speaking during the May 13 session in Beijing, Xinhua News Agency reporter Zhang Yanping said that only by “deeply loving your mother country and the people, keeping after interviews and putting your heart into interviewing and writing, could you move yourself (感动自己) in the reporting process and move society with your news reports (用新闻报道感动社会)”, Beijing Youth Daily reported.
[Posted by David Bandurski, May 15, 2006, 6:04pm]

Nanfang Daily praises Southern TV news program for being “genial but not frivolous”

What follows is an article translated from the April 26 edition of Nanfang Daily (南方日报) praising the philosophy behind “TVS News”, which airs on Southern Television (TVS), Guangdong province’s state-run TV network. The article illustrates a number of important overall trends in Chinese media, including the concept of “news reform” (新闻改革), which is tied up with Hu Jintao’s overall media policy of the “Three Closenesses”.

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The idea of the “Three Closenesses” is to maintain strict control over media, particularly news media, in China while making it more interesting and relevant to readers and viewers. This policy walks hand-in-hand with media commercialization in China, which seeks to make Chinese media a profitable industry. Recent backlashes against the excesses of commercialization, including new restrictions on Hunan TV’s immensely popular “Super Girl”, have brought a slight policy “correction” in the form of such catch phrases as Hu Jintao’s “Eight Honors and Eight Disgraces”. In the Nanfang Daily article these policy trends are balanced against one another: the program is praised as “genial but not frivolous”. Meeting the needs of Hu’s “Three Closenesses”, in other words, but not taking things too far. Sensationalism, though, seems to be written into the very fabric of “news reform” – in paragraph seven, editors are encouraged to work suspense and drama into their news stories. The model example given is an investigative report (舆论监督) about small-time crooks:
Story Dictation: “TVS News” (今日一线) is genial but not frivolous
The production of television programs is probably unfamiliar territory to most average viewers. We invited Hua Ming (华明), assistant director of Southern Television’s Editorial Office (总编室) to tell us the story behind the production of television programs using the example of “TVS News”.
The prevalence of programs about the lives of those outside [Guangdong] and a dearth of programming about the lives of local people led to the creation of “TVS News”. Behind this new and fresh program is a series of changes.
The anchors [for the show] cannot be as lax as they were in the past [when wearing suits and speaking formally was enough]. [Today] they must avoid wearing professional outfits, and they must be more laid-back in their attitude, genial but stopping short of frivolous.
The planning of the program cannot be treated lightly. “TVS News” intrepidly invites judgment from [a panel of] ordinary viewers – they just have to say, “That’s entertaining!” and the program’s objective is reached.
When broadcasting, “TVS News” avoids the crowded [prime time] news period and risks airing at 9:30pm, thereby directly carving out its own brand new news prime time.
Reporters cannot be too relaxed either. Formal news language is not accepted. And in order to make the language of news more lively, “TVS News” reporters must recite their stories once after writing them to make sure they are down to earth and genial, natural and clear.
Our editors cannot be so relaxed. News must have a story component. For example, “Encountering ‘Lao Qian'” (遭遇”老千”), which told the story of how husband and wife stall-keepers took genuine money from their customers and gave counterfeit money as change. The editors purposefully worked suspense into the story and created conflict, and the result was a dramatic piece that made watching the news downright interesting.
“TVS News” has notched up a new record for television in Guangdong province: it has broken the pattern of Cantonese-speaking news dominating Guangzhou. Just one week after airing, it shot up to the number one spot among rankings for Mandarin-language viewers. Success in digging out the hidden treasures of “news relevant to people’s lives” (民生新闻) has brought a whole series of news reforms to Guangdong (引发一系列广东新闻改革). Most important of all, as all the channels found their foothold in the idea of “popular relevance” (“民生”) there came a profusion of relevant popular programs (民生栏目).
[In this April 29 article Hua Ming speaks again on media commercialization at TVS]
[“System reforms ignite the fire of culture [industry] and become ‘ready source of income’ for Guangdong”]

Yahoo! chairman: we are seeking assistance from the U.S. government concerning Chinese press freedom

According to a report by Reuters, Yahoo Inc is seeking assistance from the U.S. government in pressing for greater press freedom in China. The company’s chief executive, Terry Semel, said while attending an event with New York media executives that Yahoo! had to abide by Chinese laws to do business there. “We tried, and we are going to continue to try as an industry to have our government help us,” Semel was quoted by Reuters as saying. In April, a fourth case came to light suggesting information provided by Yahoo! contributed to the conviction of a dissident writer in China. [Reuters report here].

Nanfang Group’s People Weekly devotes issue to Hunan TV and media commercialization

Upstart provincial television broadcaster Hunan TV has been one of China’s hottest media topics since its fabulously popular “Super Girl” program topped the ratings charts last year. Some said it was giving the state broadcaster, China Central Television, a run for its money. “Super Girl” has apparently survived talk of an official crackdown and is now rolling out its second season. But as a pioneer of internal television station reforms in China and an unapologetic provider of purely entertainment fare, Hunan TV finds itself at the center of the debate over media reform and commercialization. In its May 11 issue, People Weekly devoted 23 of its 80 pages to interviews with Wei Wenbin, the “commander” of the Hunan-led entertainment revolution, and others in the province’s broadcast industry. Selected translations of the issue follow:
Wei Wenbin Carves Out an Entertainment Empire (editors’ note)
Open up the pages of local rule in Hunan and you see peasant revolts, insurrections, wars … Its modern history too is one of courage … [Article cites the Wuchang Uprising of 1911, which precipitated the downfall of the Qing Dynasty, Hunan as a centre of rural movements, an important battleground during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)]. Hunan’s history is one of rebels and resistors standing proud. [Link to online version of editors’ note]
In this peaceful time of change, the courageous and stand-out people of Hunan are perhaps designated by fate with the power to create commotion and restlessness … In 2005, the enthusiastic welcome of the people across China brought the 10-year procession of Hunan broadcasting to a critical juncture, one of infinite possibilities but at the same time infinite risk.
This entertainment force arising from “Xiang Shui” [an ancient name for Hunan], now entertains “the greatest mass of people” [最广大的人民群众, a phrase often appearing in official party documents to refer to the people of China], and has managed to “rally together” a great mass of wealth and a substantial market. It has made industry colleagues bitterly envious and competitors uneasy in their beds and at their dinner tables.
But along with this [success] have come troubles that are almost impossible to count. The fate of the [immensely popular] “Super Girl” program, which was held in doubt earlier this year, has only in the last few weeks come back to life through much hardship … [NOTE: There were rumors the program might be shut down by officials] …
“Big brother” eats meat, “little brother” drinks soup. Under China’s national television structure, divided up according to administrative rank, there has always been just one big brother at the top … “The wolves are coming!”, Chinese intellectuals once chattered [of multinational media giants and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization]. But nothing has changed in the last few years. Multinational media giants, who came coveting the fat [of China’s media market], found in the end that they could only gather outside the big doors. Moreover, their sense of superiority meant they could never resolve local issues [dealing with the political hurdles, finding the right partners, etc]. The academic-styled stars serving as anchors for [Hong Kong’s] Phoenix Satellite Television can only talk cautiously about essential topics of news, politics and culture to the guests of Chinese hotels three stars or above.
For the last 10 years, on the silent and wide open field of China’s television industry, this force of restlessness and vitality [Hunan’s broadcasting entertainment mechanism] thrashed about and pushed the bounds. They made the first public offering of a broadcast media company on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange (Hunan Broadcasting Group) [Coverage of ill-fated link-up with News Corporation here]. They founded the country’s first provincial-level electronic media group (Hunan Radio, Film and Television Group) [People’s Daily coverage here in English]. They hosted the first “Golden Eagle China TV Art Festival” [a television awards program in which viewers vote for the top entertainment awards]. The audience ratings of their flagship satellite station, Hunan Satellite TV, directly pressured the industry’s big brother, China Central Television, with programs like “The Rose Contract” [a dating show] and “Kuaile Da Benying” [a game show] and a whole series of other programs bursting onto the national scene and bringing a host of imitations. 2005’s “Super Girl” [a singing competition modeled after “American Idol”] brought even more fierce interest from people all over the country.
Through endless difficulties and outside skepticism a powerful entertainment media group quietly emerged, including the Hunan Broadcast Television Center, Changsha’s ColorfulWorld [a multimedia website], Hunan International Convention & Exhibition Center, Golden Eagle Television Arts City (金鹰影视文化城). The people of Hunan are dreaming the bold dream of building a “Hollywood of the East”.
Someone once said that Hunan has two major brands – one is Yuan Shengping (袁隆平), the other is Wei Wenbin. One developed Chinese rice hybrids [profile here in Chinese], the other mustered Hunan’s television forces (电视湘军).
In China, system reforms have always been an incredibly difficult topic. Wei Wenbin’s importance lies in the fact that he is a pioneer in an extremely sensitive area [media reforms, specifically commercialization], and has won major successes. Still, people can push, but they cannot push the bounds of the system. In the current system, it would be unrealistic to have too many hopes for Hunan TV, because it too is a monopolist. And it is by virtue of the fact China Central Television must bear the heavy burden of serving as China’s national television broadcaster that the people of Hunan the space to be clever and break out [In other words, CCTV is bound most tightly by state propaganda mechanisms because what it says is seen as a representation of China. In contrast, Hunan TV, though also subject to the pillars of media control, is free to dance and be footloose, carrying out its project of commercialization].
Television Giant Wei Wenbin (interview portions)
… In 1993, 43 year-old Wei Wenbin was appointed to a new position as Director of Hunan Province’s Broadcast Office [This is a ting ji (厅级) level position, the second tier in the national bureaucracy, below provincial-level officials]. At the same time he served as secretary of the office’s Party Organization (党组) and station head of Hunan TV, holding all of the power of Hunan’s broadcasting network in his hands. Entrusted with such power, Wei Wenbin felt a debt of gratitude and was seized with emotion. “At that moment, I made a pact with myself, that I would set broadcasting right in Hunan”.
He wanted to know how television stations were run overseas. He found materials and researched for over a month. “As soon as you saw it, it bowled you over. The production value of the American newspaper industry long ago surpassed the steel industry, and one Hollywood built an entire Los Angeles. Media groups can bring in tens of billions of US dollars every year. How exciting and scarifying it is [to learn that].
“I realized that this industry I was a part of had enormous potential. The demands of the viewers were a mine of riches, and whoever could tap into that would stumble onto a goldmine. I think we should approach the media as an industry, one with great room [for growth] and a vast market. What is an industry? … An industry is about having commercial products. Only when you have commercial products do you have a market economy”.
In the 1990s China faced a new form of hunger. Those who had just resolved the question of subsistence found themselves grasping leisure time and some discretionary income, and they had no idea what to do. As non-material products were in great scarcity, we all at once had “one billion people playing Mah-jongg”, and feet washing, massages and other forms of entertainment started popping up on the streets and becoming popular. Among young people, Hong Kong music became hot, and television dramas had a strong impact.
To have a full stomach but be full of desires. This concerned Wei Wenbin. “This is a severe social problem. If a country lacks cultural products, then its people lack calcium, they are pale and face destruction. If a country is fostered on imported culture, it faces destruction.” In the early 1990s he appealed many times for the building of customs and piers for [the control of imports of] cultural products …
PW: “Did you have any worries you would fail when you visualized building a 1.3 million square meter industry complex?”
Wei Wenbin: (slowly and resolutely nodding his head) Of course I thought of the consequences. If I knew beyond a doubt that I couldn’t do it, dragging so many people into it, wasting energy and money – speaking as an intellectual, I would not have done it. This is a city [Changchun] you know, and we’ve invested several billion yuan. Back then it was 1.3 million square meters, but now its 1.7 million. Before this was wild country. There was nothing here except a few rural family homes – there weren’t even roads, and there was no water or electricity. If I had thought it couldn’t be done, I wouldn’t have done it. I did it with enthusiasm. I firmly believed it could be done. I thought it had to be done. Of course, it was a wonder to see it done.
PW: How much encouragement did you get from other officials for this huge undertaking?
Wei Wenbin: They don’t have the know-how [to understand it]. If there are a lot of people who don’t support you, you just do what you have to do, and don’t get hung up on this question. Once the thing is done and people have seen it, it will speak for itself. This is how it works. I didn’t buy this black gauze hat [official position] or pick it up somewhere; the party put it on my head. It was given me by these times and this opportunity. So when I face my colleagues and the people, I don’t think of protecting it [this official post]. When the wind comes and blows it off, that’s that. When I started off on this path I was already pretty well prepared psychologically.
PW: “When the people were raising their voices against it, how did you feel then?”
Wei Wenbin: l’ll tell you, at the time some of the big things I did, like send up a satellite, build this center, take the company public – a lot of people didn’t support those things or approve of them. They didn’t get it, because doing these things was too unprecedented. In the past, Mao Zedong said that the masses created history, but the masses and the decision-makers are always different. This difference is that decision-makers or leaders always have to move ahead of the masses on some things. If the decision-makers are always with the masses there is no distinction between leaders and the masses. When your ideas run ahead into the distance, running far, far ahead, resistance to what you’re doing is strong. (He takes a long sigh and is quiet for a moment). They don’t understand you, and don’t support you. If something is not understood and supported by the masses you can well imagine how difficult it is. We don’t want to gripe about the masses, but their perspective on problems is different from yours. They see things from their own angle, seeing only a small piece. Herein lies the difference.”
PW: “Can you give us your take on that time?”
Wei Wenbin: “I was talking about this with someone yesterday and I talked myself to tears. It was tough, and very sad. I lost my sensibilities, lost … (he falls silent) … perhaps lost everything I had. When the basic building had been done and I’d just made the investment, I knew then just how many tough years I had ahead, how many years of blame I would endure. Neither those above nor those below understood me. I was upbraided, and people said I was hungry for glory. I heard it all. The year we had just clinched our investment capital, as I was meeting with our earliest team in an office in the city, I said something to them that still resounds in my heart. At that moment I was really moved, and everyone there cried. I said, ‘Comrades, I beg one thing of you. What we’re doing is magnificent work, and I hope none of you makes a misstep. Do not make any mistakes when we’re doing our building, inviting public bidding, or making contact with heads of labor contractors or various other businesspeople.’ I said, ‘Whatever you do, let’s not have our own people sliding one by one as our building is going up stone by stone. This is a fierce battle. I hope everyone is mentally prepared’. I was afraid, afraid that they might cause trouble for the sake of a few thousand yuan [in kickbacks]. At the time, I had two hopes. The first was a prayer to the powers that be that my health be safeguarded, that if fate had cancer in store for me, it waited for the completion of the [broadcast] center. [The other was that] if I wasn’t careful enough and made a misstep, and higher-up officials dealt with me, this happened after the center was built …(sigh) … I can’t say clearly myself how it was that I accomplished this …”
PW: “What made you set out to complete a job that by its very nature would take several generations of people to accomplish? For such a huge price, do you think personally that it’s worth it?”
Wei Wenbin: “After everything I’ve just said, you’re still not understanding me. If I were one of the masses, I wouldn’t think this way. You ask if I’ve had difficulties or not. Has it been risky? Did I stand a chance of being utterly discredited? I never thought about (these things). But there’s one answer I’m clear about. You ask whether I will succeed or not? I will definitely succeed!”

Wei Wenbin and his Hunan television troops have always set their sights on breaking through the limitations of local television and moving out of Hunan [expanding their market]. This means that CCTV, a family which once had a plate all to itself [the privilege of a total monopoly], now has to fight for food with several families. For several years now, Hunan TV has topped the list of local satellite broadcasters in terms of audience ratings, and several explosively popular programs have put some pressure on “big brother”. CCTV must rethink the makeup of its entertainment programming, its packaging, and begin to take stock of this local competitor.
In 2005 a program called “Super Girl” made relations between CCTV and Hunan Broadcasting stickier than ever. As the “Super Girl” craze swept the nation, well-known anchors and spokespeople from CCTV stood on their moral soapboxes, condemning “Super Girl” for its sensationalism. On the other hand, many media and netizens used pointed language to vent long pent-up disappointment over CCTV. In April 2006, weathering the suspense of an “official document” [seeking the closure of the program], “Super Girl” again rung up the curtain, but under severe criteria of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.
In the wake of the “Super Girl” craze, research into the competitive postures of CCTV and Hunan TV became a focus of media big and small – financial media looked at revenue figures of the two, and several major papers said things about the stations’ respective television dramas. “PK”, the new word arising from “Super Girl”, all at once become the most frequently used word on both TV networks.
The end of 2005 was the time when nationally broadcast television stations assessed their achievements and fought for advertising clients. According to numbers from CCTV-SuoFuRui [a CCTV market research group (央视-索福瑞)] for 2005, between January and September, Hunan TV was ranked fourth among all satellite stations in China based on audience ratings, following closely between CCTV’s main channel and CCTV channels 3 and 8.
Hunan TV held its bidding for 2006 advertising on November 9, 2005, in Beijing. Nine days later, CCTV held its annual bidding for prime-time [advertising slots] here [in the capital]. Hunan TV took the following attitude toward this: “CCTV is the Big Mac [the big kid on the block], and its clients are concentrated in Beijing. We can bask in CCTV’s rays (我们可以沾沾央视的光).”
Here you can see the caution and reticence. Interestingly, an academic expert in media sales structures gave this appraisal: CCTV’s attitude at its 2005 bidding was somewhat changed, “more self-effacing than ever”.
So the relationship between Hunan TV and CCTV becomes a topic impossible to avoid in this interview. As soon as the subject comes up, the free and easy Wei Wenbin becomes more guarded. He says several times that he wishes to avoid this topic, but under the persistence of the reporter, he finally answers with extreme prudence.
PW: “What is your position on competition between Hunan TV and CCTV?”
Wei Wenbin: “Why is it that you media like this question so much? I can’t say I don’t have my reasons for backing out [of this question], but I don’t really wish to answer that question. I don’t understand why everyone cares about this question.”
PW: “Because you have definitely made CCTV nervous.”
Wei Wenbin: (laughing) “There is nothing strange at all about that. Making CCTV pay careful attention to a series of things, that’s good. There’s no need to say it has [made them] nervous. Good competition is a very normal thing, and there’s no ill-meaning in it. I’m sure CCTV also hopes the local stations below them offer something good for their reference. How could we possibly compete with CCTV? How could a child of just 10 years compete with a mature person of 30 years? They are on entirely different scales. What is more, if we must talk about CCTV’s competitiveness, I have only one hope, and that is that CCTV gets better and better. I don’t hope that Hunan TV does things better than CCTV.”
PW: “Why don’t you want Hunan TV to go things better than CCTV? That’s a bit tough to understand.”
Wei Wenbin: “Because, after all, CCTV is our national TV station, and I’m a part of China. I hope it gets better and better. If it’s not done well, I’ll have my own opinions.”
PW: “But what if one day the market picks you guys?”
Wei Wenbin: “Mm … What do you mean by that? How can the market possibly discard CCTV?”
PW: “I don’t mean discard. What I mean is what if Hunan TV wins out in terms of market competition?”
Wei Wenbin: “This is something that’s impossible. It’s absolutely impossible within the next 10 years. In terms of talent and resources, including policy [political] resources, Hunan TV cannot conceivably overtake CCTV. You want me to speak the truth? I think that under the same blue sky, Hunan TV and CCTV having a bit of competition is a good thing. I don’t want the audience to have that kind of an attitude – that one station is good and the other one bad, or that I can only choose one between two stations. I don’t harbor these kinds of intentions, or that kind of ambition.”
PW: So you mean it’s the public and other media that have made you out to be CCTV’s enemy, hoping you’ll play the role of challenger?”

(An assistant at Wei Wenbin’s side points out that it’s not good to talk about things in such a way, to make out Hunan TV as having this kind of role, that this is actually unfavorable for the station)

Wei Wenbin:
Of course CCTV will have some programs that aren’t done so well. This is only natural. They have more than ten channels of programs, and more than 10,000 people. Isn’t it laughable to expect every program to be perfect, every channel to be the best there is? There are some CCTV programs that are not done so well, and as it would happen there are some programs from local stations that are done better. Isn’t this just normal? Thirdly, CCTV is the national network, and it must safeguard the interests of the country. CCTV has things about it that make people uneasy, for example that it monopolizes all of the [national broadcasting] resources. If it monopolizes everything and orders others around, of course this is going to make people a bit uneasy. But we only want to improve it, not to overturn it. If certain reporters or programs at CCTV say things they ought not to, this of course doesn’t represent CCTV’s leaders. Zhao Huayong (CCTV’s network head/台长) once said to me, your ‘Super Girl’ program is very successful.”

[October 2000 coverage of Wei Wenbin by The New York Times]
[November 2005 coverage by The New York Times via China Digital Times]
[Hunan TV on Chinese Wikipedia]
[Posted by David Bandurski, May 11, 2006, 11:05am]

Chinese media coverage of Vietnamese Party Congress omits discussion of political reform

As Vietnam concluded its Tenth Party Congress, discussion among media in the Asia-Pacific region turned to the country’s progress in the area of political liberalization. Mainland media, however, tersely avoided the topic, focusing instead on the country’s economic goals. This is demonstration once again of China’s determination to push economic reforms while it keeps political reforms at bay.
Writing in today’s South China Morning Post (“A course for political change”), Martin Gainsborough said there had been increased discussion at Vietnam’s recent congress about “citizen participation in the decisions that affect them. There was even talk about introducing greater competition into the process of electing the party general secretary.” Here is more from that article:
During the congress, the former party general secretary, Le Kha Phieu, said in an interview that what Vietnam needed was renovation in the area of democracy, just as it did 20 years ago in the economy. Mr Phieu was not advocating an end to one-party rule but an end to what he described as the disease of “partyisation”, whereby the party dominates everything. The party took a step towards allowing private entrepreneurs to become members, without actually sanctioning it, at the congress … So we may be witnessing the beginning of a new loosening up: political liberalisation Vietnamese style.
Hong Kong’s Yazhou Zhoukan wrote that the “success of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s political reforms are another form of pressure on the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP must have a response addressing the shortfall between the economy and politics”.
The following is People’s Daily’s coverage of Vietnam’s Tenth Party Congress:
People’s Daily
2006-04-26
Vietnam’s Nong Duc Manh Again to Serve as General Secretary
Xinhua News Agency, Vietnam, April 25 (reporter Huang Haimin). As the eight-day long Tenth Party Congress closed its doors on April 25, Nong Duc Manh was once again chosen as general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party.
Speaking before the congress that day Nong Duc Manh said the Tenth Party Congress was a historic occasion for the Party, government and people of Vietnam.
Nong Duc Manh said the congress had resolved over the coming years to work hard to improve its leadership and fighting strength. At the same time it would use the strength of the nation to push ahead with its reform and opening so that Vietnam could soon throw off its lack of development, with the goal of setting the stage for Vietnam’s becoming a modern industrial base by 2020.
An article in Shanghai’s Wenhui Bao offered almost identical coverage, adding only Hu Jintao’s congratulations to Nong Duc Manh: “We are happy to see that in the last 20 years, and especially since the last Party congress, that Vietnam has achieved excellent results in its building of Socialism and reform efforts. It has maintained long-term political stability, its economy has developed rapidly, and its international standing has improved. I trust that the correct leadership of the Vietnamese Communist Party and the path of the Tenth Congress will lead Vietnamese society and reform forward”.
[Posted by David Bandurski, April 28, 2006, 4:46pm]