Open Letter in China Calls for Free Speech

It is signed by a number of formerly influential Communist Party members

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Twenty-three elder members of China's Communist Party have put out an open letter to the National People's Congress calling for an end to censorship and a move toward truly free speech in China. Making headlines around the world, the letter, as the BBC notes, "comes just days after the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize" while in prison. The signatories include Mao Zedong's former personal secretary, a former editor of party newspaper the People's Daily, a former vice minister in the CCP, and a number of professors and journalists. Here are the key points of the letter.


Article 35 of China's constitution as adopted in 1982 clearly states that: "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration." For 28 years this article has stood unrealised, having been negated by detailed rules and regulations for "implementation".


It's not even just high-level leaders--even the premier of our country does not have freedom of speech or of the press. ... We are utterly incapable of putting our finger on a specific person. This is the work of invisible hands ... often ordering by telephone that the works of such and such a person cannot be published, or that such and such an event cannot be reported in the media. The officials who make the call do not leave their names, and the secrecy of the agents is protected, but you must heed their phone instructions. These invisible hands are our central propaganda department. Right now the department is placed above the central committee of the Communist party, and above the state council.


Our core demand is that the system of censorship be dismantled in favour of a system of legal responsibility. ... The so-called system of legal responsibility means that published materials need not pass through approval by party or government organs, but may be published as soon as the editor-in-chief deems fit. If there are unfavourable outcomes or disputes following publication, the government would be able to intervene and determine according to the law whether there are cases of wrongdoing.


1. Abolish sponsoring institutions of [Chinese] media, allowing publishing institutions to operate independently; and truly implement a system in which directors and editors-in-chief are responsible for their publication units.
2. Respect journalists and make them strong. Journalists should be the "uncrowned kings". ....
3. Abolish restrictions on extra-territorial supervision by public opinion by the media, ensuring the right of journalists to carry out reporting freely throughout the country.
4. ... internet regulatory bodies must not arbitrarily delete online posts and online comments. ...
5. There are no more taboos concerning our party's history. Chinese citizens have a right to know the errors of the ruling party.
6. Southern Weekly and Yanhuang Chunqiu should be permitted to restructure as privately operated pilot programmes in the independent media. The privatisation of newspapers and periodicals is the natural direction of political reforms. ...
7. Permit the free circulation within the mainland of books and periodicals from Hong Kong and Macao. ...
8. Transform the functions of various propaganda organs, so that they are transformed from agencies setting down so many "taboos" to agencies protecting the accuracy, timeliness and unimpeded flow of information ... Our propaganda organs have a horrid reputation within the party and in society. They must work for good in order to regain their reputations. At the appropriate time, we can consider renaming these propaganda organs to suit global trends.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.