China, October 15, 1999
The Party knows best for the Chinese
No one talks about it here, so it must not happen in China, but I can feel
the censorship permeating the society on a daily basis. After Russia and
America where the presses are free (or at least free for those who own the
presses), China is a shock.
Of course, the government actively controls the media. Working at Beijing Review, I saw how it used all available media to denounce Fong Gong, trumpet progress in Tibet, and push for 'reunification' of Taiwan, all without digression or disagreement with the official party line. The official English language paper, China Daily, pulls all its articles from the official party paper, the People's Daily. The TV news is hilariously boring, with only the last ten minutes watched by the people, since that's when the international news comes on.
With control of all the data links to the outside world, the government is even able to censor the Internet. Good luck reading CNN or BBC (or my site after I upload this page), since both are blocked in China. Interestingly enough, China even blocks data going the other way. My ISP blocked me from uploading to my site, and once I started asking around, I found they've done the same to others, Chinese and foreign, too.
You would think, with all this official control, the people, as in the Soviet days, would find underground media and debate policy in private. As far as I can tell, this doesn't happen. I've asked a number of Chinese about politics or policy, and all I get are stock Party answers or quick subject changes. I don't know how to pronounce the political leaders of China. Why? Because no one in China will even speak their names! It's as if there is giant microphone over the country and if you say the name of a random Minister; a laser from space will zap you.
They do debate business though. It's as if, since they can't talk politics, they'll talk business. It fills all the newspapers and most of the TV news, making me realize two things about the news. First, business is boring. China is conducting a grand experiment to determine exactly how many industry statistics are required to dull a man into submission. I'm sure they've learned this trick from the Soviets, who even today after ten years of radical change, still quote the output of Leningrad Tractor Factory #7 in painfully minute detail.
Second, I like the political bullshit. I am surprised I can even admit this, but I miss knowing who's doing what. I miss the debates on the merits of wannabe leaders or the demerits of the current leaders. Russia, with a drunkard in charge, is actually more fun to watch that the US, with a philanderer running the show, and both infinitely more fun than the censored Chinese press.
Oddly, I think the people of China really don't mind the censorship. As long as the Party delivers on its promises of an expanding economy, and the people feel as if their lives are getting better, they seem to be willing to live with their tongues tied. Money can't buy love, but it apparently can buy silence.