Updated 12/14: Chinese Authorities Crack Down on Freedom of Expression, Detain Four Writers, Encourage Strengthening Restrictions on the Media

December 20, 2004

It appears that Chinese authorities have launched a new campaign against authors who have voiced disagreement with the government and the Communist Party. In the past two weeks Chinese government officials have detained four prominent writers known for publishing their criticisms on foreign Web sites:

  • Shi Tao: On December 7, the Independent Chinese PEN Center reported that Chinese authorities took Shi Tao, one of its members, into custody at his home in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province.
  • Liu Xiaobo (Updated 12/14): Chinese authorities detained Liu, a former professor and long-time activist, in Beijing on December 13 and released him the following day. Liu told Associated Press International that a group of police officers arrived at about 5 p.m. and took him to a nearby police station where they questioned him for nine hours before releasing him.
  • Yu Jie (Updated 12/14): Chinese authorities detained Yu in Beijing on December 13, and released him the following day. API quoted Yu as saying "They just kept asking me about my overseas essays, which they said were against the government and against the law."
  • Zhang Zuhua (Updated 12/14): The New York Times reported on December 13 that Chinese authorities had detained Zhang, an attorney and political theorist, during a raid on his home. The Washington Post reported that Zhang was released the following day.

In addition to these detentions, Chinese authorities have also recently harassed other political commentators. For example:

  • Jiao Guobiao: On October 9, the Epoch Times reported that Jiao, an associate professor in the Department of Journalism at Beijing University, was not given any classes to teach in the 2004 fall semester, apparently as a result of his having published an article entitled "Repudiating the Central Propaganda Department," in which he criticized the way the Communist Party's Central Propaganda Department exercises control over the media and infringes on freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
  • Wang Guangze: On November 23, managers at the 21st Century Business Herald (a newspaper owned by the Guangdong branch of the Communist Party) fired reporter and activist writer Wang immediately after he returned to China from the United States. While in the United States Wang had given a speech entitled "The Development and Possible Trends of China’s Political Ecology in Cyber Times" at a symposium held at Trinity College in Connecticut.

Sources in the academic and activist communities had expressed concern about an impending crackdown on intellectuals since November 15, when the Liberation Daily, a publication of the Shanghai Municipal Communist Party Central Committee, published an editorial regarding “public intellectuals.” The editorial was apparently a response to a Southern People’s Weekly cover story entitled “50 Public Intellectuals Who Influence China” that was published in early September. That story listed 50 Chinese scholars, lawyers, philosophers, journalists, and musicians that the publication characterized as "activists who advise society and participate in public affairs." The Liberation Daily editorial on this story included statements such as:

  • "The concept of 'public intellectuals' has been introduced essentially to drive a wedge between the intellectuals and the Party and between the intellectuals and the general public."
  • "Intellectuals are part of the working class, members of the general public, and a group under the leadership of the party."

The following events have occurred since the editorial was published:

  • On November 22, the South China Morning Post (subscription required) cited a law teacher at Chengdu University (who was on the list of 50 public intellectuals) as saying that the Central Propaganda Department had banned China’s media from using the term “public intellectuals” because of political implications that could be considered a threat to the government.
  • On November 25 the People's Daily reprinted the Liberation Daily editorial on "public intellectuals."
  • On December 3, Reporters Without Borders cited the China Information Center as reporting that the Central Propaganda Department had blacklisted six social and political commentators: Jiao Guobiao, Li Rui, Wang Yi, Yu Jie, Mao Yushi, and Yao Lifa.
  • On December 6, the People's Daily print edition reprinted a three-week-old editorial from the Wenhui Bao calling on authorities to use the law to silence speech that "provokes trouble," or "confuses public opinion."
  • On December 8, the People's Daily ran its own opinion piece emphasizing that the Internet represents an important tool for the Party to manipulate public opinion, calling on China’s news media to increase their self-censorship, and directing Chinese authorities to step up their control over the Internet.
  • On December 10, a freelance journalist in Beijing published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) citing unnamed reporters at several Chinese publications as having confirmed that the Central Propaganda Department had issued a ban in November prohibiting reports on the role of public intellectuals.

Combined with the detentions noted above, these events indicate that China's central leadership has decided to send a warning to China’s media and intellectuals that they must either curb public criticism of the government, or face harsh reprisals.

More information on Shi Tao, Zhang Zuhua, Liu Xiaobo, and Yu Jie is available on the CECC Political Prisoner Database.