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For China, a Criminally Funny Poem

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Posted on Jan 8, 2007
Qin Zhongfei

When Qin Zhongfei took 10 minutes to scribble down a satirical poem about local bureaucrats, he had no idea it would land him a month in jail—a sign that free expression still languishes in China, despite hopes that President Hu Jintao’s economic reforms would translate to a more open society.

Washington Post:

Qin, 31, spent a month in jail on criminal charges because of a poem he wrote satirizing local officials accused of corruption. He was released only after several out-of-town newspaper articles related his fate and the central government in Beijing stepped in to halt the prosecution.

What happened to Qin, a mild bureaucrat in the county education department, was by any measure an abuse of power by local authorities here in the remote and wooded hills of central China. But more broadly, it was a vivid reminder of the Communist Party’s enduring determination to control information and opinion among China’s 1.3 billion people.

Since the party took power in 1949 under Mao Zedong, it has maintained tight censorship over radio, television, newspapers, movies, fine arts and books, carefully selecting what Chinese are allowed to know and enjoy. Human expression, it has decreed, must follow the party’s lead.

But as China has opened to the world—and as the use of cellphones and the Internet has become more common—the censors’ mission has become more difficult.

Still, controls persist. To carry out official policy, censors ban coverage of certain stories—Qin’s was censored from television—and force the party organ, People’s Daily, to fax over the front page every night for approval. Roomfuls of technicians have been enlisted to monitor millions of computers and cut off Web sites the party judges to be dangerous to its monopoly on power or unhealthy for the morals of young Chinese.

President Hu Jintao’s ascension to power more than three years ago generated hopes that information controls would loosen as part of the economic opening he has championed. But they have tightened instead. Several prominent editors have been fired over the past two years—the most recent one last month—for straining at censors’ guidelines. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 30 Chinese journalists are in prison for what they wrote.

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By 127001, March 16, 2007 at 6:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To: Comment #46545 by Eleanore Kjellberg

Not being an expert on China (only the Chinese can say that, and they don’t) but being married to one, with a child and having had my eyes opened from a lot of what I had formerly mis-perceived about it, I disagree with you 100%.

I was there in 2002 for a month. Not in the city, but in the rural areas. Yes. It’s poor. Extremely. But it is ALL poor (or was, actually ... if you look behind the doors it is far better than the Chinese let the Western world see).

As for the government, the majority of all we talked to said that when they don’t like their government, they will change it. They also think their own is far better than the American one. In fact, they continually insulted the Americans choice of government, which they claimed is not “government” at all but a media circus.

Finally, we had the opportunity to visit two highly respected and well-known individuals. Unlike the U.S. (and this is changing now in China), and particularly in the smaller regions, there is less disparity between “classes” than one would think.

You ignore rural America ... talk about abusive dictatorships, a lot based on drug manufacture and traffic, or other illegal or corrupt activities.

I saw a statistical analysis that estimated that at least 90 percent of Missouri’s politicians and judiciary are in office and supported by those same drug cartels.

Hmmmm… Where do you get your facts?

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By Eleanore Kjellberg, January 9, 2007 at 8:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“I still hold my stand that China is not as “third-world” as the Western world tries to claim.”

127001—There are many billionaires in China, but once you leave the industrial cities, there is a ton of poverty—it’s more like a capitalistic dictatorship; maybe this is the portent of things to come.

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By 127001, January 9, 2007 at 3:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


I have at least five stories right now about people who were jailed for less.

They were Americans, and it was done in the U.S.

And its not hard to find more, including the stories where far worse was done and no one cared a bit.

I still hold my stand that China is not as “third-world” as the Western world tries to claim.

Different, but not better or worse; particularly right now with the current atmosphere in the U.S.

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By Terry, January 9, 2007 at 2:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Just to point out that google and yahoo are late comers to the web scene here, it was actually SUN Microsystems (Stanford University Networks) that built the original great firewall of china, now ain’t that strange, the bastion of free speech, human rights etc helped the Chinese gov to limit those same rights to the Chinese people, and that my friends is corporate America.

Look at IBM, Bush’s family, the CIA, Chase Manhattan, Hearst, Andrew Mellon, Du Pont, GM, Standard Oil, Ford, IBM, ITT, all made their fortunes or started them working with the Nazis.

So like China the US has a history of saying one thing and doing another, but in the end it comes down to, principles are fine until they cost you something, which of course were never principles at all.

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By China Law Blog, January 9, 2007 at 12:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While economic growth moves at warp speed in China, political reform and freedoms moves at a snail’s pace.  Sometimes it is even hard to tell in which direction it is moving.  It will be interesting to see what impact the 08 Olympics have on all of this.

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By Eleanore Kjellberg, January 8, 2007 at 9:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Imagine turning on your computer, hearing it come to life with all its familiar little beeps; typing in a website, eagerly looking for information and only coming to a DEAD END.  Each inquiry remains unanswered, until you feel as if you entered an intellectual cul-de-sac and the only exist out has been blocked by an intricate technical filtering regime.

This total censorship is buttressed by a complex series of laws and regulations that control all access to publications of materials online. While no single statute specifically describes the manner in which the state can carry out its filtering regime, a broad range of laws-–including media regulation, protections of “state secrets,” controls on Internet service providers and Internet content providers, provide a patchwork series of rationales and, in sum, massive legal support for filtering by the state.

There are no rights afforded to citizens against filtering and surveillance.

The above describes the Internet in China, it is a screening system designed with the help of Google; Yahoo is equally involved in helping the Chinese government roundup troublemakers. Let’s hope this is not our future.

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By Manny, January 8, 2007 at 6:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The nature of Chine is control of the masses. if it is wrong or right it will be up the Chinese
to control their destiny. Its to bad that the Western press don’t see them self as the right hand of the state. Let us not forget that the Iraq war was a creation of American media.
Mr. Bush would not have not gone to war without his right hand working the public.
Let us not forget that criticism of the Zion state will not be tolerated or printed in the western media. At least Chine is not hypocritical about its control of the press, it doesn’t give a damn what others think.

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