The Chinese media face two major problems today — the censoring of content in Chinese newspapers and the abuse of journalists who question the government — Erping Zhang, president of the Association for Asian Research, said to an audience of approximately 50 students at an Ezra Stiles College Master’s Tea Friday.
Despite what he said was as a dramatic increase in the number of Chinese newspapers, Zhang said the political content in the media has become more homogenous, with nearly all networks voicing the opinion of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper. Even worse, Zhang said, the government restricts information from Chinese journalists, who increasingly risk violence when covering government corruption and environmental issues, particularly in rural provinces.
In China, foreign journalists who displease Communist Party officials sometimes face imprisonment, Zhang said, pointing to the detention of New York Times researcher and human rights activist Zhao Yan, who was imprisoned in September under the suspicion of releasing Chinese state secrets.
Zhang, a frequent guest on political television talk shows, said the Chinese Communist Party suppresses the media for political benefits.
“The Chinese Communist Party can attribute their longevity to their effective censorship,” Zhang said.
Zhang, 44, said he remembers growing up during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, when the Chinese government mobilized youths and “programmed” them to support the Communist Party.
He cited his own youth as a testiment to the effectiveness of censorship and propaganda, but warned that a movement forward towards a free press would be slow.
“The transition from a government mouthpiece to a professional press is difficult,” Zhang said.
Zhang, a fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, said he thinks the media should tell the Chinese people the truth and the nation’s leaders should let the people choose for themselves what type of government is best.
Many students at the tea said Zhang’s presentation opened their eyes to the relationship between the media and government in China.
“Many students have a hard time understanding the idea of censorship,” said Hao Wang ’07, the political chair of Yale’s Chinese-American Students’ Association. “We send e-mail and chat on [AOL Instant Messenger] everyday without a second thought.”
Mim Deng, a post-doctorate fellow in the Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Department, said she found Zhang’s talk interesting.
“I think many Chinese people are particularly interested as it concerns their own interests,” Deng said. “I hope that more people and officials support the practitioners of Falun Gong in China.”