Criticism in China
The WSJ’s China Journal called attention to an interesting analysis of Chinese being critical in their blogs by calling attention to a paper presented at the Chinese Internet Research Conference that was a content analysis “conducted on more than 500 blogs with political content and discussion of news events from 2006.”
It underlied some of the challenges facing free speech and the “chilling effect” of control in Chinese society.
More research needs to be done in regards to whether challenging ideas are being posted and deleted by censors, posted and deleted by the bloggers, or if quite simply no one dares set their opinions down in digital ink.
Only 61% of 500 blogs with political analysis studied by Ashley Esarey of Middlebury College expressed criticism of some “important” group in society. 81% of Chinese newspapers “did the same.”
But the amount of “real criticism” is overstated by the raw numbers.
* A chilling 0% gave implicit or explicit criticism of the head of state.
I recall one teacher I had in China who shut the door whenever we discussed political terms, and would nearly hyperventilate whenever foreigners criticized their own political leaders. She couldn’t believe that foreigners could be so audacious.
* More upsetting, 0% gave criticism of local government leaders.
This belies a system where local government leaders have disproportionate power to harm people under their control and therefore, people fear to criticize them openly (at least in print–there is plenty of criticism happening verbally). As Chen Guidi discusses in Will the Boat Sink the Water: The Life of China’s Peasants, a book written by Chinese researchers investigating allegations of power abuse, there is a systemic problem of power concentration in the hands of a few elites, especially at lower levels of government.
* 2% gave explicit criticisms of local governments.
* 2% gave implicit criticisms of local governments.
* 8% explicitly criticized the national government.
Presumably, criticism in the aggregate should be easier to do than criticising any particular cadre. It should be noted that in the past it has been all right to criticize certain figures in government; from Chen Liangyu of Shanghai (busted in a corruption probe). Also, after Jiang Zemin stepped out of power, many made fun of his antics, especially those who were upset about his handling of the SARS epidemic.
* 12% practiced implicit criticism of the central government.
Interestingly, only 2% contained criticism of foreign countries. When contrasted to popular perceptions of rising Chinese nationalism, this low proportion merits further investigation.
* 19%, combined, criticised national and local phenomenon (which would include disasters like the snow emergencies in January/February.)
* 6% criticized public figures, private individuals or celebrities. (This would include criticisms of celebrities having more than one child, which became a big issue.)
* And 10% criticised corporations. Some of that criticism, though, might not be rooted in reality; instead it might be mercenary. As a BusinessWeek article states: “Plenty of companies are willing to pay for positive spin. PR outfits hire students to write postings that boost certain brands and criticize the competition, says a staffer at a Western PR firm in Beijing. The job description of one online help-wanted ad reads: “Publicize and popularize [products] via online forums and blogs. Send at least 50 propaganda posts per day.” Workers are offered 1.5 cents per post. ” (Imagethief does more analysis of this phenomena).
* As the study demonstrates, China’s civil internet society still has a far way to go before it can be counted on as a significant independent commentator on political issues at the crucial local and macro head-of-state levels.
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