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He Qinglian: The Political Face of Several Hong Kong Media Owners

[Editor’s Note: He Qinglian, a Chinese author and economist, is famous for her book The Pitfalls of Modernization. She has conducted extensive studies on the Chinese government’s control of the media. The following is an article she wrote about the Hong Kong media’s connections with Beijing.] [1]

Since Ai Weiwei was jailed, the media of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have repeatedly criticized him. Because they worry that the Chinese people might relate to too many things, they have not publicly shown Ai’s famous photo “Grass-Mud-Horse-Crotch-Party-Central” (Ed: It is a picture of Ai completely naked and holding a toy horse in front of his genitals. The name of the photo, “Grass-Mud-Horse-Crotch-Central,” is homonymic for “F— Your Mother Party Central” [2]). Hong Kong media Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao took up the “baton of revolutionary mass criticism” from Beijing’s Party media and opened fire on Ai to show that Ai had angered the “overseas Chinese media.” With even greater cunning, Ta Kung Pao changed “Grass-Mud-Horse-Crotch-Party-Central” to “Grass-Mud-Horse-Crotch-Motherland” in an attempt to get their readers to be irate over Ai. It stated: “Ai’s so-called artwork resonates with the West by humiliating China … it has seriously hurt the Chinese people’s feelings.”

It is important to let Mainland readers know the actual facts about the Party’s claim that “The Party’s bright sunlight” shines on all Chinese media around the world. Let’s first examine the real situation of how the Communists have infiltrated the Hong Kong media.

Currently, there are two types of pro-CCP media in Hong Kong. One is the media that the CCP funds directly. This includes Ta Kung Pao, Wen Wei Po, Hong Kong Commercial Daily, Phoenix Television (PTV), as well as two that the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) member Charles Ho acquired, Sing Tao News Corporation and Asia Television (ATV). In the 1990s and earlier, the persons-in-charge of this type of media were usually underground CCP members in Hong Kong. For instance, Li Zisong was the president of Wen Wei Po for many years. Since the reunification of Hong Kong and China in 1997, the authorities in Beijing have appointed most of the persons-in-charge of these media. For instance, the president and CEO of Wen Wei Po are Zhang Guoliang (CPPCC member) and Wang Shucheng (Xinhua News Agency Beijing’s Bureau Chief and Economic Information Daily’s editor-in-chief). Wang was sent over by Xinhua News Agency. Kang Zhong, the current president and CEO of Ta Kung Pao was formerly the Bureau Chief of Xinhua News Agency’s Inner Mongolia Branch and director of Xinhua News Service. This type of media has always been the CCP’s voice in Hong Kong, and now they have been given to the “propaganda specialists” who once worked for the CCP’s media in China. Thus it is no surprise that they are becoming more and more like branches of People’s Daily and Xinhua News Agency.

The second type is the media that have recently grown closer to the CCP. They include Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB), the Oriental Press Group, and Metro Broadcast. Before the reunification in 1997, there was a period of time in which intellectuals headed the newspapers. During that time, Hong Kong enjoyed full freedom of the press. After the reunification, however, the Hong Kong business giants suddenly took up the hobby of investing in media, and many people started buying media. Their purpose, just as Lee Chin-chuan pointed out, was to “to put some tough free media in order for Beijing.” Instead of intellectuals owning newspapers, business people gradually took over. In time the pro-CCP businessmen and pro-CCP financial groups occupied Hong Kong’s public opinion front. Taking an overview of Hong Kong’s mainstream media, the owners or senior members of the majority of the media have been the recipients of honors from the Hong Kong government or the Mainland. Those who do not yet have such titles all have large businesses in mainland China.

Media owners who Beijing awarded various types of political honors include:

Charles Ho is the chairman of Global China Group Holdings Limited, which owns Sing Tao Daily, Headline Daily, and the English newspaper The Standard. Beijing appointed him a member of the CPPCC Standing Committee. In 2004, Lo Wing Hung, the Chief Executive Officer of Sing Tao Daily and the president of Headline Daily, was awarded the Bronze Bauhinia Star.

The Chairman of Economic Daily, Feng Shaobo, is a member of the CPPCC and was awarded the Bronze Bauhinia Star in 2003.

In 2003 Beijing appointed Ma Chengkun, chairman of Oriental Press Group, which owns Oriental Daily and The Sun, as a member of the CPPCC. That same year, Ma Cheng, the Group’s president was awarded the Bronze Bauhinia Star.

Hong Kong Commercial Daily is listed as one of the three patriotic newspapers (to mainland China) together with Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao. It belongs to the Joint Publishing Group, whose chairman, Lee Cho Jat, is a member of the CPPCC and was awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star in 1998.

Peter Woo, chairman of Secretary Wharf, which owns i-Cable Television, is a member of the CPPCC Standing Committee and was awarded the Gold Bauhinia Star in 1998. Li Ka-shing, chairman of Cheung Kong Group, was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Star in 2001; its vice-president, Victor Li, is a member of the CPPCC Standing Committee. Cheung Kong Group and Hutchison Whampoa Limited share the ownership of Metro Broadcast. Run Run Shaw, chairman of Television Broadcasts Limited, and his former assistant general manager Raymond Wong were each awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star in 1998. Chen Yongqi, former Chief Executive Officer of Asia Television, is a member of the CPPCC Standing Committee and was awarded the Gold Bauhinia Star in 2000.

Chen Zaobiao, editor-in-chief of Hong Kong Economic Times, received the Bronze Bauhinia Star in 2007.

There are also many who do not hold government positions or honors, but have businesses and economic interests in mainland China. Robert Kuok, chairman of the Kerry Group, which owns the South China Morning Post, invested heavily in real estate and hotel businesses in the Mainland after the June Fourth Incident in 1989; in the 1980s, he was known as one of the most important investors. Ming Pao Corporate President, Malaysian Chinese businessman Tiong Hiew King has several leisure publications distributed in major cities in the Mainland. Shih Wing Ching, the founder of the free newspaper am730, has a real estate business in the Mainland with over ten thousand employees. Because these people have substantial economic interests that are tied to China, of course the position these media take reflects their bosses’ attitudes.

Let’s take Sing Tao Daily as an example. The wealthy Southeast Chinese businessman Aw Boon Haw founded this newspaper in 1938. It was headquartered in Hong Kong but had branches in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia. In 2004, Aw Boon Haw’s daughter, Sally Aw Sian, sold the ownership of Sing Tao Daily to the Global China Group, which is owned by Charles Ho (a member of CPPCC), who has a strong CCP link. Charles Ho renamed it Sing Tao News Corporation, and its position became even more pro-CCP. Its editorials commonly support the Beijing government. In October 1995, Malaysian Chinese timber industry giant Datuk Tiong Hiew acquired Ming Pao; since then, Ming Pao has been pro-Beijing.

Because the owners of the media or the media themselves have close ties with the Mainland, the freedom of the press that the British Hong Kong Government left has been gradually disappearing. For over 10 years, the Executive Director of Social Ventures Hong Kong, Doris Leung, worked as a television reporter, host, and director. She admitted that, since the reunification, the overall credibility of Hong Kong’s media has gone steadily downhill. She pointed out that Hong Kong media have been in pursuit of commercial interests at the expense of social responsibility. She said, “If it is a serious car accident, a large-scale fire, or a big lawsuit, the Hong Kong media will almost always diligently report on it. They even recognize those with loving hearts and open fire on the cold-blooded and ruthless ones.” When it comes to sensitive topics such as politics or powerful figures, however, they will present another face. “Those in power, including the government and all the enterprise groups and public institutions, pay more and more attention to dealing with the media. They expend great effort to learn to ‘take care of” the press in order to protect themselves.” From the perspective of the media industry, many have become a “white terror.” [3] “Even the media cannot help but doubt themselves: ‘Can today’s media still have a broad and deep influence and bring society Truthfulness, Goodness, and Beauty?’”

According to the 2009-2010 Annual Review of Press Freedom around the World published by U.S. Freedom House, due to the growing influence that Beijing imposes on Hong Kong’s media, the Hong Kong press freedom designation dropped from “free” to “partly free.” The Hong Kong people increasingly dislike the pro-Beijing newspapers that the Hong Kong businesses run. They have even launched a “destroy ‘Headline Daily’” movement on Facebook.

When this kind of “Communist Voice in Hong Kong” joins the chorus that is criticizing Ai Weiwei, at best they can only fool those Mainland people who are closed to the outside world. Since most of them do not get to see these media anyway, what these media are doing can only be regarded as providing mental comfort for Beijing’s authorities.

[1] The Epoch Times, “He Qinglian: The Political Face of Several Hong Kong Media Owners Exposed,” April 15, 2011.
[2] The photo can be seen on the Guggenheim petition calling for Ai’s release. See:
[3] In modern Chinese history, White Terror describes a period of political suppression enacted by the Kuomintang party under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek. See: