Older Generation of Chinese Politicians Seek to End Censorship

By: Qichen Zhang on 16 October 2010

For the younger demographics living in China during the age of social media and online networking, Facebook, Twitter, and numerous other Web 2.0 sites remain inaccessible to them. But it may be an older generation that will change that for them—or at least hope to. This week, senior members of the Chinese Communist Party—including Li Rui, Mao Zedong’s former secretary—signed a letter calling for freedom of speech and less Internet censorship by the government. According to the Wall Street Journal, much of the letter focused on allowing more freedom on the Internet rather than consistently resorting to the "invisible black hand" of state intervention:

“Our core demand is to abolish the system of censorship in favor of a system of legal responsibility.”

The letter doesn’t grant complete autonomy to the public though, suggesting that an authoritarian approach to Internet regulation won’t be changed overnight. They go on to say:

“Internet regulators shouldn't arbitrarily delete online posts and comments, except when it really involves national secrets or infringes on personal privacy.”

And people don’t expect China’s policies toward freedom of speech to evolve immediately. With the letter coming out at the same time as the announcement of Chinese political dissident Liu Xiaobo's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize this month, the shift toward free speech is closely linked to human rights issues in the country. As a tool of political control, the CCP’s tendency toward online censorship has come under attack by many critics in the developed world.

But political commentators and citizens alike remain positive, seeing this letter as the political catalyst to a more open and liberal approach to Internet regulation in China. After comparing the state of free speech to that of other developed nations, stating that “Our current system of censoring news and publications is 315 years behind Britain and 129 years behind France,” political leaders in China clearly seek to change the government’s perception as a dangerous breeding ground for dissident activity to one marked by an open environment for modern public discourse.

Interestingly enough, the writers of the letter did not choose to publish it first in People’s Daily or another established state-controlled news source. Instead, they posted it online on Sina.com, the most popular microblogging service in China.