Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is China's Censorship Climate Changing?

The Globe and Mail reports that Long Xinmin, the censor who removed eight books by renowned writers and intellectuals, has been demoted to a remote post. The books have been described in AsiaMedia as, "reflections by intellectuals on historical and social events of the past six decades, events that have traditionally been subject to tight censorship."

The books include Past Stories of Peking Opera Stars by celebrated writer Zhang Yihe, a memoir by veteran People's Daily editor Yuan Ying, and the novel This is How it by Hu Fayun from Jiangsu.

All eight books are reflections by intellectuals on historical and social events of the past six decades, events that have traditionally been subject to tight censorship.

There is speculation that the ban on Zhang's work was because her father was one of China's top rightist from the 1950s. Her previous books were also banned. Zhang is the recipient of the 2004 International PEN Award for Independent Chinese Writing.

Zhang voiced her dissent and found support among many Chinese.
I must voice my rage. They banned the book just because I wrote it, but they have to tell me why! It's a terribly serious event. In the 50 years since the disaster visited on intellectuals, how little has the situation for intellectuals in China improved? In some party officials' eyes, I am still an active anti-revolutionist, and the only difference between my father and myself was that they suppressed my father with extreme measures and a rightist label....Chinese intellectuals have almost been deprived of our rights to free speech and publication. This is so serious that I have to stand up to appeal through open argument and reason for our basic rights. If we keep silent today, tomorrow they can do the same thing to other writers and eventually the entire intellectual community will be muzzled. I have no other way to express myself. Writing the books about my life and memories is the only way I can support myself in retirement.

According to AsiaMedia, Zhang released a 1,000-word attack on the General Administration of Press and Publication's (GAPP) ban of eight books on historic events by mainland intellectuals and writers.

Zhang Yihe, a historian whose latest banned book was a collection of biographies of Peking Opera singers, sent a flood of open letters and petitions to the government demanding a change to censorship laws. The Internet played a role in informing the world of this ban despite the Chinese government's attempt to censor the Internet. A story in the Telegraph credits Zhang for being a "A Lone Voice Fight[ing] Chinese Censorship."

Censor Long Xinmin is being replaced by one of his deputies, Liu Jinbie, a long-time associate of President Hu Jintao who has a reputation as a reformist.

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