Every March, representatives of the National People’s Congress and members of the Political Consultative Conferences gather in Beijing for the annual “Two Conferences.” The conferences are meant to be platforms for the delegates to voice their local citizens’ concerns to the central government and make policies to solve the country’s most pressing issues.
This year, it was widely hoped that the government would do something to buoy the stock market, which hit a new six-year low after a four-year slide. However, the government had a different agenda in mind. The People’s Congress unanimously passed an “anti-secession” law, which mandates the use of military force if Taiwan declares independence. The news caught many China observers by surprise and served as a reminder of China’s militant mindset.
The Hu-Wen administration’s current priorities are clear. They are asking Communist Party members to maintain their “progressive nature” through re-registration and re-taking their oaths, as well as proposing to establish a “harmonious society” (which if history is any guide, means a new wave of conflict). This leaves the true intention of passing the anti-secession law in question. More than likely, it was designed to shift public attention away from its underlying crisis.
The government can manipulate public attention and opinion because it maintains an iron grip on the Chinese media. For the most part, people inside China only hear what the state media tells them: The government has made a wise decision; countries around the world, except for a few hostile forces, are applauding the legislation; overseas Chinese are honored to have such a strong government; so on, so forth.
Fortunately, with the development of new technology and the efforts of dedicated advocates, the great wall of information blockage is being breached. People inside the wall are starting to gain access to information from the free world. Eventually, as more people realize the value of freedom and democracy, the dark cloud of military confrontation will dissipate, dispelled by what viewers see on their TV sets, on their computer screens, and even in the newspaper in their hands. The real battle being waged is over the information being consumed by the Chinese public by two ideological fronts: democracy and totalitarianism.
In this issue, our feature is devoted to independent media outlets and the people behind them who are helping to tilt the balance.