Country Summary

While China’s commitment to market reforms remains firmly in place, the Communist Party has signaled a desire to retreat to the rhetoric of Maoist ideology on social and political issues. At its sixth annual plenum, the party endorsed a resolution to tighten its grip on ideology and social control as part of a broad-ranging crusade to revive traditional socialist values. It ordered government agencies, social institutions, and state-run enterprises to subscribe to party publications. At the same time, Xu Guanchuan, the deputy head of the Propaganda Department, called for a crackdown on unauthorized publications and the closure of any publications defying the party line. Xu’s directive was a clear signal of official intolerance toward an independent press, and a reminder that the media’s only role is to be the party’s mouthpiece.

Feverish activity at China’s nascent Shangai and Shenzhen stock markets, coupled with the dearth of economic information in the state-owned press, has fueled the growth of several independent stock market newsletters. The official daily Renmin Ribao carried a strident denunciation of the newsletters, blaming the wildly overheated market on their sanguine predictions.

As part of its bid to further control the distribution of information, China blocked access to a large number of Internet sites run by Chinese and English-language media outlets. The government warned the domestic media not to cover sensitive issues, such as corruption scandals involving party officials and the arrest of dissidents such as Wang Dan, who received an 11-year prison sentence for plotting to overthrow the government. They could carry only reports issued by the official Xinhua News Agency.

These developments caused consternation among the Hong Kong media, who remain fearful for the prospects for press freedom after China assumes sovereignty from Britain in July 1997. Anxiety about the future of press freedom has given rise to self-censorship among members of the Hong Kong press seeking to avoid angering the Beijing government and incurring possible repercussions after sovereignty passes to China.

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