Harmonized

One of the Chinese government’s favorite buzzwords is ‘harmonious society.’ It’s Hu Jintao’s signature, and undoubtedly deserves a nod of approval from policy linguists for it’s succinct and pleasing synthesis of cooperation and ‘don’t rock the boat’. The term, however, has picked up another meaning. Whenever an opinion, or website, or writer, or dissident, or whatever, disappears it’s said they’ve ‘been harmonized’.

Last week, the entire editorial staff of a Beijing newspaper was dismissed, apparently for one article that went too far. It’s often unclear where the line of acceptability stands, and the censors are known to make examples—the proverb runs kill the chicken to scare the monkey. So what did it take to get harmonized this time? The offending article was called China’s 7 Repulsions and I’ve summarized them briefly:

1st repulsion: Government leaders deign to preach to the people while their lackeys, including the news media, fawn over their every word. And for all that, what they say is simple common sense and a waste of time.

2nd repulsion: The many songs glorifying party leaders and Chinese history lack all artistic merit and shame the pandering artists who make them.

3rd repulsion: The National People’s Congress is a poor excuse for government cooperation. The selection of unqualified celebrities as deputies and their inability to go against the communist party makes the yearly event a drawn out media circus that only serves to obfuscate the government’s real policies and actions.

4th repulsion: The Chinese government criticism of America and other countries is mentally handicapped. Well-founded criticism wouldn’t rely on circumstantial evidence or quote discredited sources like North Korea and Saddam Hussein.

5th repulsion: The steady stream of movies that glorify the Communist victory over Japan and the Kuomintang whitewash a tragedy. The war actually represents China’s past political failures and the death of many of it’s people.

6th repulsion: Government propaganda about China’s successes is unconvincing. The numbers are always trumped up. If China is truly a top-tier country the government should proudly display how it compares to other successful countries not to arbitrary self-selected targets.

7th repulsion: The government’s sense of superiority. The Chinese people are belittled by constant reminders that they should be grateful to the government for saving them from disasters and protecting them from enemies.

I tried to be true to the tone of the article in my summaries; it’s pretty antagonistic and defiant. Word is that actively taunting the censors is a sure fire way to get in trouble. There’s no way of knowing if that’s what happened here. The article definitely includes broad sweeping personal attacks on government officials.

What is clear is that the article targets government information control. It points out how government ideology, their version of history, and their perspective on the news gets passed on. It’s a criticism of propaganda methods that seems like it could have come from any communist country over the last 50 years. Word is that anything attacking government systems of control are a sure way to get in trouble.

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One Response to Harmonized

  1. eric says:

    criticism of China outside of China hasn’t been so hard to come across… this article is also depressing. Wen has allegedly, at times, talked about “reform”. I guess he maybe wouldn’t be involved in a decision like laying off the editorial staff at a newspaper (he’s presumably got bigger fish to fry).

    Yue lai yue hao, keneng. China is an out of control train. I don’t think that this bucking bronco can be reined in. However I’ve noticed the “burgeoning military nerds” you mentioned in the April short photo highlights and have also hear people speak of the Dali Llama as something like the head of a terrorist organization, a child molestor, or yes, genocidal tyrant is a good one. Interacting with Chinese people of these unbelievable mindsets and weighing them against the critically thinking, creative and open-minded types I also met didn’t tip me in either direction that there is more of one or the other.

    I’ll spend the next few years as a China watcher I suppose. Maybe as I digest the experiences more I’ll begin to miss the culture more than I expect. They sure need more jazz though.

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