While the spoken word has been a vital means of communication for much of human history, technological advances, such as printing, have given man the ability to record his thoughts for eternity in the form of written language. Advances in printing technology have caused significant events in both the religious and social spheres of Europe since the 1455 invention of Gutenberg’s technique of metal alloy typesetting. Yet, as European social advances were under way, China was not as deeply affected due to its long history with less technological methods of printing. China has relied on the printed word to communicate to it people and control their actions and thoughts since far before Gutenberg’s work in Europe.The first instances of printing in China occurred around 868 A.
D. with crude clay block printing. This method was almost entirely illegible therefore anything widely distributed was hand-written in order for the reader to be able to interpret the information. As early as the tenth century, current news in the form of important events in the Imperial Court, official edicts, and memorandums, were being hand-printed and distributed to the public. Towards the sixteenth century movable type began to be utilized along with a system of official mail service which allowed for a wider distribution of these official bulletins.While these great advances in printing should lead to a more informed and knowledgeable public, the Chinese government did not take long to begin to enforce its power over those publishing these news stories. A memorandum issued by Chou Linchin in the early twelfth century petitioned for suppression of tabloid news so that “the dignity of the government is upheld” (Lin 17).
Confucian dogma was utilized by these governments as it allowed them control over what was being printed and released.Confucius believed in a freedom to choose only as long as it was a freedom to choose good, thus the public should only be allowed complete freedom if there is an absence of evil. As there is no world without evil, the people of China were never allowed freedom and the ruling classes were given the power to designate what was “good” and “evil” (Merrill, 6). Emperors utilized the Confucian belief that “the people may be allowed to act, but may not be allowed to know” (Lin 3) to exert control that was forced upon the public though much of China’s history. The Qing dynasty directly used its power in the last decades of its rule in order to close down numerous publications as well as executing the editors of these publications.Despite these harsh forms of punishment, the newspaper market exploded under the Qing dynasty as there was no general governmental interference with private papers. Publication of private papers was only regulated under the statute against “Writing Books or Speaking About Sorcery” which only forbid immoral or anti-Manchu writing while ignoring most other aspects of modern journalism. Therefore, when the press market made it initial entrance into mainland China from the safe zone of Hong Kong, there was little to no governmental interference such as laws specifically restricting newspapers (Vittinghoff 3).
It was this lack of control that allowed journals to exist that later set the stage for the 1911 Republican Revolution which took the place of the once powerful Qing dynasty. Press freedom under the Republic varied widely due to Chiang Kai-shek’s use of warlords as local officials and generals. As each warlord had a different agenda, press control became very erratic and inconsistent. General Han Fuju allowed the press in his province to criticize the current government as long as they promoted his image as a reformer and did not support the fledgling Communist movement. This time of peaceful ignorance would not last long when, beginning as early as 1938, Mao Zedong and other party members were enforcing media control in areas already under Communist rule (Mackinnan 16).
Early party press can be traced back to the late 1910s when students and intellectuals voiced their opposition to Imperialism and Chinese warlords. The Party realized very early on the necessity of independent commercial papers in urban areas due to the fact that the existing Party press was very rural-oriented and thus did not satisfy urban tastes. Yet as the Party supported independent press in theory, they implemented rules that forced the editors to design coverage to support the Party. Private journalists were refused access to news sources and competition for advertising was overwhelmingly in favor of the Communist papers, so very few independent papers survived (Zhao 2).These policies agreed with Marxist thought in that Marx believed that the definition of a ethical journalist was one who was completely loyal to the Communist system. The media system should exist solely to perpetuate and expand the social system, not dig unnecessarily for the objective truth, thus mass media should only be a tool of the Party. Though, Marx also believed that the media was an important tool in the hand’s of the working class as “an agitator and propagandist for change and revolution” and the Party gave little press control to the general public, thereby selectively maintaining Marxist theory (Merrill 97).
There is no place for revolutionary thought if journalists are so strictly regulated as a censored press is bad for society because it “kills the political spirit.” The subsequent ignorance due to lack of sufficient information turns the people into a “private mob” as they begin to exclude themselves from those that are operating behind the closed doors of the Communist government (Jansen 93). These regulations are an example of the Chinese Communist Party’s wide interpretation of the original Marxist thought that backed Communism.In regard to the Party’s approach to the news media, it takes a very Leninist stance.
The Party expanded on Lenin’s notion that a Party paper should be the Party’s collective “propagandist, agitator, and organizer” by issuing the “Party Principle” for news media. The “Party Principle” stated that the news media should accept the Party’s guiding ideology as its own, propagate Party programs and policies, and accept Party leadership (Zhao 19). These policies were used by Mao as the Communist Party came into power in order to completely control the information being given to the people. Blatant fallacies were implemented to fool the general public into thinking that Communist ideas were being carried out in a more successful manner than they actually were.
News was often selected purely on the basis of its relevance to the central tasks of the Party. These stories were reported from the perspective of the Party so subject matter often became extremely narrow and overly technical. Occasionally, the story was merely given a slight pro-Party leaning such as the 1957 dispatch about extremely cold weather in Shanghai which describes a pre-Liberation snowstorm that caused the deaths of hundreds of children and compares it with the much colder conditions in 1957 when nobody froze to death (Zhao, 27).By 1958 this exaggeration had throughly permeated news coverage of the Great Leap Forward as journalists competed to see who could invent the highest agricultural output figures. While the highest actual output was approximately 500 kilograms per mu, reports ranged from 1,000 kilograms to an impossible figure of 65,000 kilograms per mu (Xupei, 3). This only succeeding in making communes needlessly strive for a preposterous goal which could never be achieved by sacrificing rice that was needed to feed the village in order to make their own output look higher.
Obviously, the Party papers that were designed to be “for the people” were having a negative affect on the public that would not have occurred if there had been another source of news. The existence of private papers free of the Communist control would allow for a more truthful account of rice output, which would have allowed the country to avoid the mass starvation that resulted from the Great Leap Forward. This trend of newspapers filled with lies and berated by fanatical press control only worsened during the decade of the Cultural Revolution as a policy was implemented requiring that all articles have the same style and content and that all newspapers have the same general layout.
Reporters were required to check wording against the two newspaper and one journal that the Communist Party had officially sanctioned: “The People’s Daily,” the “Liberation Army Daily,” and “Red Flag.” These publications were referred to by editors across the country before designing the layout of their own papers to ensure identical publications, also editors called “The People’s Daily” for advice on everything from placement of headlines and number of columns to even the size of print (Xupei 15).The Cultural Revolution was a particularly bleak time for press in China in that the government was forbidding press freedom in any form, thus demonstrating the Party’s desperation for validation and respect after the disastrous effects of past campaigns. Since very few of Mao’s reverent followers had ever seen him, much less heard his voice, he relied very heavily on print media to communicate his speeches and thoughts. Therefore newspaper had an almost direct link to the eagerly lead minds of an entire country ravished with Chairman Mao.This would be an ideal situation if the press had been allowed to educate the public truthfully but in order to critique public officials, journalists had to seek permission from the very officials which they wished to attack.
Therefore, those in positions of great power were never openly critiqued because the press did not even ask permission for fear of persecution. Policies like these not only prevented the press from properly reporting on important events but it also prevented the people from even beginning to voice their opinions on the government that was controlling them.The press had been utilized for informing the public of what they should think, say, and feel for such a long time, that it had ceased to inform the public of the policies that were forming their lives. The people were not allowed access to valid decision-making information so they could not voice their opinions concerning governmental laws and regulations until after these policies had been implemented. The Press had fully become the voice box of the Party and excluded the people, do they had no way to make their own desires known.
Despite the lack of their own “voice box,” the people of China’s need for a public outlet was eventually made known to those in power as one committee member at the 1980 National People’s Congress said, “Let all citizens of the country have the freedom to openly express their views and publish newspapers and periodicals” (Xupei 35).