The Wall Street Journal “China Real Time Report” is one of the more comprehensive group blogs out there about the PRC, and this WSJ piece by Lu Yiyi on the soft spots in China’s censorship regime is really worth reading. Amid the apparent trend toward more hard-line behavior, the CCP still needs to get a bit of credit for pushing the envelope and encouraging more transparent discussion of things like corruption, at least most of the time.
The English-language media in China is a very interesting case indeed. China Daily has been trying to run more edgy stories in the past couple of years, and is now in the running with the (also state-controlled) Global Times for an occasionally critical story. (Global Times, by the way, is looking for a copy-editor for their Xi’an office, which looks like a good job for a college graduate who might otherwise be wandering the wilds of, say, Detroit, looking for some stories or scrap metal to hawk.) A good example of how Global Times will occasionally tip their hat to informational realities in China is this February article on censorship on the portal Douban, an arts-centered social networking site of which I also happen to be a member.
And so it seemed strange when a Wall Street Journal blogger attacked the Global Times for the GT’s humor column entitled “Ask Alessandro” which parodied stereotypes of sexually active Italian males.
The resulting fiasco, with the relevant links, is aptly summarized here in an essential post on one talented itinerant sportswriter’s Heart of Beijing blog.
Jacob Li, of the Global Times English edition, responded with an editorial that announced that Alessandro’s column was being cut:
…I would like to apologize to those who have been offended by Alessandro’s occasional vulgar language during the last three months. I decided to discipline the foul-mouthed Italian by canceling his advice column until he realizes how wrong he is and how he has jeopardized Metro Beijing, the first daily English language local news provider in town.
As I read more of the blog, I did start to feel ashamed of being incompetent, particularly when I saw the appellations Miss Canaves of the WSJ gives us: An arm of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece and the “government-run” epithet, and calling us on our so-called great ambition of gaining a voice abroad…
We’re clear about who we are. This is simply an English language newspaper run by Chinese people, with the help of some foreigners. We never talk about ambitions in our office, and if we, mostly young Chinese journalists, had an ambition, that would be projecting all voices in society, namely the voices of foreigners, migrant workers, petitioners… not only of officials. But if objectivity and plurality happen to build up our country’s soft power, everyone who is involved should feel proud.
Anyway, we should thank Miss Canaves for pointing out the inappropriateness of some of Alessandro’s advice. It helps us, a fledgling English language newspaper, to find the boundary.
Of course, the art that accompanies the editorial seems to speak more powerfully than the words.
Say what you will about Alessandro’s ribald humor, but it is an awful irony when, in the same week that the United States is getting hammered in the Chinese press for repression of personal freedoms domestically, that the Wall Street Journal succeeds in closing off a slight avenue for free expression in the PRC.
What would Ai Weiwei say? Well, that’s probably also unprintable.