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Wednesday, July 3, 2013 04:02 pm

China censorship makes U.S. press freedom shine

Back in the late 1980s a purchaser of the English version of the China Daily, an approved Chinese newspaper, eventually would become baffled. It had a status among some foreigners as a glimpse of daily life among 1.5 billion Chinese citizens. What was amazing about it was the absence of any mention of bad news in its pages. There were no reports of divorces, frauds, robberies, rapes, crashes, murders, executions, the usual grist of some local newspapers in the States. It did, however, contain the recent scores of the Cubs.

To what can one attribute this Communist Party-imposed lack of disturbing events? The party was quite effective in presenting an ideal image for its foreign readers. One critic spoke that the Daily’s aim was to “print all the news not worth bothering about.” At this time the only source of worthwhile news in China was the BBC on the radio, on occasions when it was not blocked. In contrast travelers arriving at San Francisco from Beijing must have become awestruck by the “bad news is good news” bent our newspapers favored in those days.

Years passed. Initially ownership of a cell phone, with access to uncensored, unlimited information, became the principal means of disseminating controversial news items throughout China on Sina Weibo, the national Internet. The openness enabled by the Internet, however, provoked in turn stringent measures of repression. Nowadays the party in China has taken almost complete control over what it believes bloggers can chat about. A good example of the means used to avoid control of the Internet appears often in the website, China Digital Times [CDT], available from a site in Berkeley. [http://chinadigitaltimes.net]

Those netizens who risk discussing news banned as too sensitive, may try to avoid official censure by resorting to guile. When texting in Chinese characters the writer combines one or more characters to create a substitute that has a connotation different from what they usually denote, e.g. the characters for ‘crown prince’ were blocked as sensitive words because they referred to matters involving Xi Jinping, when a candidate for president of China. Such attempts to circumvent the censoring of disruptive ideas face increasingly powerful measures of online control.

During the picnics and games celebrating Independence Day on July 4, we might reflect upon the importance and value of the freedom we enjoy to access all manner of communication freely without undeserved surveillance. One might deem it a worthy act to fly this nation’s flag with, not only pride, but also gratitude, for the awesome gift of appropriate freedom of speech and press the framers of the Constitution enabled.

Robert Crowley, Ph.D., of Springfield is a UIS emeritus professor. He taught the course, “Pacific Century,” at UIS for many years. He has also lectured in Shanghai, Beijing and other venues as a visiting professor while on sabbatical.

Also from Dr. Robert Crowley

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