Chinese media and the rule of law: The case of the China youth daily, 1979-2006

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Abstract

Since the early days of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), CCP leaders such as Mao Zedong have repeatedly stressed the importance of public media to serve the people. According to Julian Chang, Mao first perceived the importance of political propaganda in the 1920s.1 In 1942 Mao evidently stated that literature and art should serve only four kinds of people: workers, farmers, soldiers, and the urban petite bourgeoisie.2 One year before the CCP took over China, Mao further addressed the role of newspapers, which would "allow the Party's principles, guidelines, policies, working goals, and methods to be spread to the masses in the quickest and broadest way." Because of the importance of newspapers, Mao also said that it was crucial for the Party to make them appealing to the masses and to correctly publicize the principles and policies of the Party.3 In 1957, with Mao's encouragement, major intellectual newspapers began lambasting the wrongs of the Party. But as some criticisms went beyond the tolerance of the leaders, Mao and his adherents launched the Anti-Rightist Movement. They accused the editors of those newspapers of being reactionaries and rightists and believed that they stood against the masses.4 During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) public media remained a pivotal tool of the CCP and, as Merle Goldman and Lowell Dittmer have argued, were even used as a weapon in political warfare. Shortly after the end of the Cultural Revolution, however, a reform occurred in public media that became a part of China's open policy. Indeed, the recent reform of the media is not the first one in the history of the CCP. According to Leonard L. Chu, three media reforms were conducted in the 1940s and the 1950s.6 Yet, in terms of width and depth, the latest reform dwarfs all previous ones. Because of its significance, scholars around the world have spilled much ink over the post-1976 media reform in China. Some scholars study the Chinese public media as a whole, while others center their attention on specific and individual media in this period.7 Despite different approaches, most scholars tend to agree that this reform and consumerism have brought certain freedoms to China's press.8 After the 1989 crackdown on the democratic movement, however, the Chinese government briefly tightened its control over the media.9 After Deng Xiaoping made his "southern tour" to support further reform in 1992, and especially after the CCP terminated its subsidy to the government media, Chinese public media have undergone even more profound reform.10 For the question of whether the media reform has weakened or strengthened the CCP's control over propaganda, however, there has been a disagreement between two schools of scholars. Researchers such as Daniel Lynch, James F. Schotton, William A. Hachten, Leonard Chu, and Paul Siu-nam Lee argue that the media reform has resulted in the receding of CCP's ability to mold people's values and beliefs,11 whereas scholars such as Zhongdang Pan, Ashley Esarey, Marie Brady, and David Shambaugh contend that the reform has actually buttressed the Party's control over propaganda.12 Both schools, as Guoguang Wu comments, have "certainly contained partial truth" and have enriched our understanding of the development of the Chinese public media in this period. In this chapter I shall not try to deal with this question directly. Instead, I shall examine one area that most scholars of Chinese public media have yet to explore: The role of Chinese newspapers in the CCP's repeated promises of the rule of law.14 To better fill that gap, I shall study the China Youth Daily (Zhongguo qingnianbao; hereinafter CYD), a national newspaper that is both influential and representative. The reasons for choosing it are numerous. First, the CYD is run by the Chinese Communist Party Youth League, making the paper's importance second only to that of the CCP's primary mouthpiece, the People's Daily. Second, the CYD is one of the most popular newspapers in China.15 Third, because most readers of the CYD are young people, who constitute the biggest proportion of the criminals, the legal reports of the newspaper are very important. Fourth, as we will see, the CYD has since the mid-1980s devoted much energy and space to covering law-related reports that help promote the CCP's efforts to construct a rule-of-law China. More important, the CYD has always been regarded as one of the boldest national dailies, owing to its harsh criticisms and exposure of lawbreaking officials. Some questions to be asked in this research are: What kind of role did the CYD play in tandem with the CCP in promoting the CCP's goal toward the rule of law? When did the CYD begin to focus on legal issues? What steps did the CYD take to promote the rule of law in China? How and why did the newspaper adapt to the ever-changing political and legal situations in this period? Was the newspaper merely a propaganda tool of the Party? How did the CYD balance its reports to serve both the Party and the general readers? To what extent did the CYD help promote the cause of the rule of law in a reformed China? What are the limitations of the CYD? To answer those questions, I shall first entertain the CCP's call for the rule of law17 in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. Then I shall ana- lyze the three major shifts of the strategies of the CYD from 1979 to 2006. Finally, I shall examine the historical role of the CYD in the course of China's march to the rule of law as well as its limitations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationModern Chinese Legal Reform
Subtitle of host publicationNew Perspectives
PublisherUniversity Press of Kentucky
Pages27-58
Number of pages32
Volume9780813141220
ISBN (Electronic)9780813141220
ISBN (Print)9780813141206
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

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