Skip to content

The Chinese Media’s Freezing Point

Beijing continues tight media control: liberal magazine Freezing Point shut down; American search engine giant caves in.

The latest assault by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on freedom of information hit the popular weekly magazine Bingdian (Freezing Point), which is affiliated with the China Youth Daily. Publication of Bingdian was suspended by the Chinese communist regime on January 24, 2006. Editor-in-Chief Li Datong[1] and Assistant Editor-in-Chief Lu Yuegang were subsequently stripped of all editorial responsibilities.

The event that triggered this retribution was an article published in Bingdian on January 11, 2006, entitled "Between Modernization and the History Textbooks" by Yuan Weishi, a history professor at Zhongshan University in Guangdong Province.

In the article, Professor Yuan used the metaphor "children fed on wolf’s milk" to describe students in China who are taught distorted history. Citing numerous examples from a widely used history textbook, Yuan concluded that the content of this textbook was based on three premises: 1) present Chinese culture is superior to all others; 2) foreign culture is invariably evil and has corrupted the pure nature of the present Chinese culture; 3) it is right and acceptable to use political power and totalitarian means to eradicate evil in the realm of ideology. This article drew the attention of the CCP to the magazine and led to its suspension.

Founded in January 1995 and published every Wednesday, Bingdian was outspoken in its unreserved criticism of the Chinese communist regime’s policies. Most noticeably, in late 2003 the magazine published an article based on an interview with human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. That article detailed the plight of property owners whose properties had been expropriated so that the state could lease them out to generate income. In 2004, Bingdian published an open letter directly criticizing Zhao Yong, who was the General Secretary of the Youth League, for his remark bidding good riddance to any news reporter who did not want to take Party orders.

Given how Bingdian has offended some senior Party members, many see the removal of its chief editors as a kind of revenge that also serves the purpose of "killing one man to terrorize a thousand."

The news of Bingdian‘s fate immediately caught the public’s attention in China. Thirteen senior Party members wrote an open letter in the magazine’s defense, among them Zhu Houze, the former Head of the Central Publicity Department; Li Rui, former secretary to Chairman Mao Zedong; Li Pu, Vice-President of the China News Agency; and Hu Jiwei, former editor-in-chief of People’s Daily.

Echoing the CCP’s confrontation with Bingdian is its encounter with Google. {mospagebreak}

Since 2000, Google has had a Chinese-language version of its website, which mirrors its English version with uncensored news and webpages. The Chinese authorities did not like it. Using the "Great Firewall of China" (online filters), the regime caused Google to run with annoying slowness and sometimes not at all. The option given to Google was to launch a new site in the Chinese language——which is heavily censored with the communist government’s preferences. China’s websurfers now have a choice: They can use either slow, often-interrupted, relatively uncensored or speedy, self-censored

As an example, typing in "Tiananmen" on brings up photos showing row upon row of tanks, the unforgettable afterimage of the tragedy of 1989, and links to that event begin the entries. Do the same search with, and the result is innumerable links to tourist information on Tiananmen, with a snapshot of U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez and his wife posing on their visit to Tiananmen Square.

By purging dissident editors in the state-controlled Chinese media, the Chinese communist regime enforces its control over the Chinese press and its influence on the Chinese people. However, in the Internet age, this alone is not enough. To keep freedom of the press "below the freezing point," the regime also needs to seal off channels of free information on the Internet from overseas. The launch of the highly self-censored by one of the largest American Internet companies indicates that the regime’s tactic of enticing businesses in but coercing them to conform to Communist Party standards is working.

To the top management of Google, this may sound like a simple trade-off. Yet, as a U.S. company, Google also has social responsibilities. When American companies give in to the Chinese communist regime and become helping hands in information censorship, they betray both American principles and 1.3 billion Chinese people.

[1] Li Datong, Chief Editor of the magazine Bingdian (Freezing Point), was stripped of his position as ordered by the Ministry of Propaganda after he fallowed publication of an article that challenged the Chinese history books in the January 2006 issue. Bingdian under Li has been one of the more liberal magazines that has won the votes of its readers by has offended regime authorities in China.