China's Sanctioned Dissent
In China, there are two kinds of online dissent.
While the Communist Party strives to control independent bloggers, the country's official online media outlets do allow criticism of the government -- up to a point.
Sanctioned dissent is the flip side of the government's effort to control the online world reported in The Post's three-part series. Respectful criticism is allowed as along as the proposed solutions do not cast doubt on the system of communist-controlled capitalism.
The result is online media that are not independent but not quite slavish. China's billionaires get positive coverage in the China Daily, while China News Digest reports on the cost of the gap between rich and poor.
Harsh criticism is permissible on certain subjects. In a country where deadly mining accidents are routine, debating workplace safety is not taboo. Today, Xinhua.net, the semi-official news agency, reprints part of a local newspaper commentary arguing that new government regulations capping the number of permissible accidental deaths is likely to fail.
"We should not depend on such a system to push work safety," reads the excerpt from the Yanzhao Metropolis News. "An excessive reliance on it is actually a reflection of the twisted political achievement concept of related departments. When such a limit is imposed, some may try to hide the truth and fabricate death tolls to avoid failure, to meet the target and help the political career of local officials."
The conclusions may be culturally sensitive. On PLA Today, the Web site of the Chinese armed forces, a general asks, "Why did China's military fall behind the West?" His answer: traditional Chinese thinking, which he says "features strong philosophical theory" but is "weak at precise analysis."
Indeed, the emerging party line is that constructive criticism is not only acceptable, but essential to a modernizing society. "Social progress has made society more tolerant of different views and a more healthy public opinion environment is in the making," said the People's Daily Online, the flagship of the government-controlled online media.
But the superficiality of sanctioned dissent is evident when the government news sites are compared with, say, the Asia Times, a news site based in Hong Kong, where Communist restrictions are less stringent. The AT's report on how Chinese government officials and organized crime clans reap windfall profits reselling farmland for urban development would not likely be tolerated by Beijing's censors.
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