New year, old methods

New years usually come with promises, expectations and hope for a brighter future. The first days of 2013 has proved rather an exception, at least here in China.

First Guangdong province propaganda chief (广东省委宣传部长) Tuo Zhen (庹震) heavily censored a new year special issue (新年特刊) of outspoken Guangzhou newspaper Southern Weekly (Nanfang zhoumo 南方周末). This sparked fierce protests and leading journalists directly published a protest. Now ”the management” of the newspaper has also taken over its Weibo account from the editors. Interestingly Tuo is new in Guangdong, just as the up-and-coming party chief of the province, Hu Chunhua (胡春华), one of the ”post-60” young leaders. Nothing ”new” or ”young” in behaviour, however.

Protester in Guangzhou with mouth cover saying ”prevent speech cover” (避言套), a pun with 避孕套 (condom), only changing the middle character…

On New Year’s Eve another outspoken magazine, Yanhuang chunqiu (炎黄春秋), was notified that its website would close, which it did in the morning 4 January. The editorial department continuously comments and updates on its Weibo. The print version seems to be unaffected this far, but such a closure is not a good sign.

Are such acts sign of the ”four new modernizations” (新四化) that CPC no. 2, Li Keqiang, likely the next Chinese premier, has been talking about during the autumn 2012? One of these ”new” modernizations is ”application of information technology” (”IT-ization”) (信息化), and it seems that this ”application” is not beneficial to freedom of speech, but rather the contrary.

While brave people stand up for their rights in Guangzhou, supporting Southern Weekly, Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia (刘霞), sits isolated in house arrest in their flat in Beijing. She has been there more than two years now, just for being Liu Xiaobo’s wife. 6 December 2012 some reporters from Associated Press (AP 美联社) managed to pass the guards and make a short interview with her, and crying she described the absurd life she is forced to live. On 28 December 2012, Liu Xiaobo’s birthday, a group of her friends, including Hu Jia (胡佳), Xu Youyu (徐友渔) and Liu Di (刘荻), also managed to enter her flat and talk to her. How come Liu Xia is not a major cause for concern and action outside China? Her house arrest is surely not legal even by PRC standards, and the emotional pressure on her must be enormous. One cannot but think of Wei Jingsheng’s (魏京生) proposal for a ”fifth modernization” in 1978, namely democratization. 35 years later it is still valid.

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