How media "guidance" works in China

The local Chinese- and English-language press has carried many stories about the Shanxi province brick kilns in in which large numbers of people, many of them children, had been captured and forced to work in slave-labor conditions. These are horrifying stories, and the state-controlled media, rather than trying to rationalize them away, has generally moved into muckraker mode with hunts for the malefactors.

But a translated document on China Digital Times, from UC Berkeley, is as sobering in its own way. The site carries what it says is a translation of a memo from the Communist Party's Central Office of External Communication, which offers this guidance about the unsettling news.

All External Communication Offices, Central and Local Main News Websites:

Regarding the Shanxi “illegal brick kilns” event, all websites should reinforce positive propaganda, put more emphasis on the forceful measures that the central and local governments have already taken, and close the comment function in the related news reports. The management of the interactive communication tools, such as online forums, blogs, and instant messages, should also be strengthened. Harmful information that uses this event to attack the party and the government should be deleted as soon as possible. All local external communication offices should enhance their instruction, supervision and inspection, and concretely implement the related management measures.

The Internet Bureau, CPC Central Office of External Communication

June 15, 2007

For another time, discussion of which parts of Chinese life (media, public assembly, political challenge to the Party) remain under very tight control, and which others (commerce, most citizens' daily lives) do not. For now, and assuming this is an accurate report: another sobering reminder that just because China is becoming rich and capitalist, it is not necessarily becoming "liberal." And by the way: at the moment China Digital Times is blocked by the Great Firewall. You need a VPN or other work-around to see what it's publishing. (Update: to be clear, the Great Firewall prevents people inside China from reading reports on the CDT website, which is based in the United States.)