Forget the flap about Google.cn for a bit. In China, the main media controversy right now is the closure of Freezing Point, a popular weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily, on the orders of individuals in the Central Propaganda Department. The magazine didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a particular agenda as such, but embodied a general commitment to freedom expression in China to the effect that it published articles contradicting the official line and various contemporary and historical incidents. Not surprisingly, this made it some powerful enemies.
The cause of, or pretext for, the magazineÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s closure was an article by academic Yuan Weishi on distortions of 19th century history in official Chinese textbooks. You can find that article translated through the link, along with various reports of the magazineÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s suppression. Needless to say, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s well worth reading on its own account.
Freezing Point also got into trouble after publishing Lung Ying-TaiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s The Chairman Bowed Three Times, an account of the KuomintangÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s attempts to apologise and make amends for the white terror it inflicted on Taiwan from the late 1940Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s onward. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an obvious Ã¢â‚¬â€œ though, obviously, unstated – parallel here with how the mainland has dealt with this issue.
Typically, the government has not only shut down the magazine, but banned any reporting within China of Freezing PointÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s suppression, not only in print and audiovisual media but also on the Chinese internet. References to the affair on bulletin boards in China will likely be deleted as soon as they appear.
Freezing PointÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s editor Li Datong has also had his personal blog wiped, after he published an open letter condemning the decision. An open letter from Lung Ying-tai to Hu Jintao about the closure is reproduced here.
As I understand it, the value of Freezing Point for its readers didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t lie in any overt oppositional stance, dedication to controversy or formal endorsement of the principle of free speech. What it did was speak as freely as it could, week after week, and in doing so set an example and gave hundreds of thousands of readers across China information they may not have got anywhere else. The closure of the magazine also follows the Ã¢â‚¬Å“re-organisationÃ¢â‚¬Â of the Beijing Evening News, and the jailing of the editor of the Southern Metropolis Daily and appears to be part of a general campaign to suppress ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more outspoken media outlets.
So, what is to be done? Li Datong has described the decision as illegal and may appeal against it. It may well be that he and his colleagues have sympathizers within parts of the government apparat. After all, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve managed to tweak a lot of noses and survive for a good many years. Lots of embarrassing publicity abroad about the closure of Freezing Point may give them the leverage they need to reinstate the magazine. So, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s get it round the blogs and forums. If you know of any interested party who might like to receive Li DatongÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s letter by e-mail, then that would be good too.