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,, 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.

By Jefferson Morley |  February 21, 2006; 12:50 PM ET  | Category:  Asia
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Respectful criticism; good idea. However, I would like see the brave Washington Post reporters cover the PRC like they cover the US gov't......

Posted by: Two Face | February 21, 2006 02:30 PM

Why not write another editorial on the timorous Washington press corp and its equally deferential handling of our president? We hardly hear a whimper from the attending press corp when the President sets up straw men and then knocks them down.

Let's not condemn others before we look at ourselves in the cold clear light of reality. Job security is as important to a chinese newpaperman or editor as it is to a members of the Washington press corp or his editor.

Posted by: Oscar Meyer | February 21, 2006 04:58 PM

yes,the above is so right

Posted by: jay | February 21, 2006 09:19 PM

The policy actually makes a lot of sense from the government's standpoint. They lack the manpower to investigate and expose everything, so they rely on an increasingly investigative press to uncover misdeeds that their underlings would rather sweep under the rug.

Posted by: Jeff | February 21, 2006 10:39 PM

Oscar Meyer puts it so well. So many of the Bush administration's crimes, frauds and outright lies have come to light and yet our supine U.S. press exhibits such respect for this most deceitful of presidents and his coterie of corrupt cronies.
Let's not look down our noses at the Chinese media when our own journalists and news outlets have performed so miserably.

Posted by: Al Johnson | February 21, 2006 11:21 PM

Too true, our U.S. media, especially television, have performed dismally under Bush.
But there are still a few honest outlets, like the New Yorker whose lastest bombshell provides documentary evidence solid enough, in my view, to have Rumsfeld indicted for ordering cruel and degrading acts to be committed against detainees - a clear-cut crime under international law.
See for documentary proof that Rumsfeld is liable to criminal charges under international law.
Where are all those brave U.S. journalists? Why are they not calling police and prosecutors to inquire as to whether charges will be laid against Rumsfeld?
As far as I'm concerned, most of our U.S. media are no better than China's state-controlled media.

Posted by: James Holloway | February 21, 2006 11:30 PM

On the occasion of President Washington's birthday, it is important to recall his words from his Farewell Address: "It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world...avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty."

Immortal words from the only President named George who ever made any sense. Thank you President Washington


Posted by: CHE | February 22, 2006 03:15 AM

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Posted by: 7EoYospKeM | February 25, 2006 04:38 AM

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