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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

China, better stock up on bikes, helmets, white shirts, and black pants! We are on our way!!!!


An open letter from Chinese Communist Party elders calling for an end to censorship is fueling speculation among China watchers of a possible showdown between reformers and conservatives over the country’s political future.

Signed by Li Rui, Mao Zedong’s former secretary and a known reformist, and 22 others, the letter offers unusually blunt criticism of Beijing’s efforts to stifle the free flow of information and comes as Party leaders gather in the capital for a major policy meeting later this week.

Now, thanks to the people at University of Hong Kong-based China Media Project—who broke news of the letter after it was submitted last night—we have a full English translation of the letter.

The appeal is strong from the start. Remarking in the first paragraph on the Chinese constitution’s guarantee of free speech and the government’s failure to uphold it, the authors write: “This false democracy of formal avowal and concrete denial has become a scandalous mark on the history of world democracy.”

From there, the letter goes on to lament the widely discussed censorship of Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent pro-reform comments to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, the greater freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents under British colonial rule, and the anonymity of the “black hands” in the government responsible for scrubbing the media of unwanted content.

While the bluntness of the author’s criticisms is noteworthy, arguably the most interesting part of the letter is its call further down for the creation of a press law.

Establishing a press law - spelling out clearly what China’s journalists could and couldn’t do - was a battle that consumed one of the letter’s authors, 93-year-old former People’s Daily editor-in-chief Hu Jiwei, through most of the 1980s. In the absence of such a law, Hu then argued, journalists were subject to the arbitrary whims of China’s leaders – a situation that made it impossible for the press to do its job.

Hu essentially gave up the fight after the crackdown on Tiananmen protestors in 1989, yet the letter gives creation of a press law top billing in its list of requests:

We recommend that the National People’s Congress work immediately toward the creation of a Press Law, and that the “Ordinance on Publishing Control” and all of the local restrictions on news and publishing be annulled. … the foundation of the creation of a Press Law must be the enacting of a system of [post facto] legal responsibility (追惩制) [determined according to fair laws]. We cannot again strengthen the censorship system in the name of “strengthening the leadership of the Party.” …The so-called system of legal responsibility means that published materials need not pass through approval by Party or government organs, but may be published as soon as the editor-in-chief deems fit. If there are unfavorable outcomes or disputes following publication, the government would be able to intervene and determine according to the law whether there are cases of wrongdoing. …There is little doubt that systems of legal responsibility mark progress over systems of censorship, and this is greatly in the favor of the development of the humanities and natural sciences, and in promoting social harmony and historical progress. England did away with censorship in 1695. France abolished its censorship system in 1881, and the publication of newspapers and periodicals thereafter required only a simple declaration, which was signed by the representatives of the publication and mailed to the office of the procurator of the republic. Our present system of censorship leaves news and book publishing in our country 315 years behind England and 129 years behind France.

The letter doesn’t concern itself solely with the news media. Included in a supplemental list of demands are free circulation in the mainland of books from Hong Kong and Macau, freedom to post opinions in Internet forums, and an end the to the 50-Cent Party—the anonymous army of nationalistic Internet users so named because they are reportedly paid five mao (half a yuan) for every pro-China post they write on online discussion boards.

Interestingly, the list of authors is thick with former employees of the Chinese propaganda apparatus. Besides Hu Jiwei, there are six veterans of central state-run media, including a former deputy director at Xinhua News Agency and a former editor-in-chief of China Daily.

The letter was removed almost immediately after being posted on but has been circulating through the Chinese Internet through email and other means. The original in Chinese is reprinted at the bottom of the China Media Project translation.

NOTE: A previous version of this post offered an erroneous link to the original Chinese version of the letter on Google Docs. Apologies for the mistake.

– Josh Chin. Follow him on Twitter @ch_infamous

God bless the people of China!!!

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