By Zhang Jialong, published: May 24, 2014
On May 20th, I was notified by the department head at Tencent that I was being suspended, citing radical expressions I made in my meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year and the propaganda directives I publicized online. I was told that I would receive a final decision after Tencent coordinated with the propaganda authorities.
On May 23rd, Tencent’s HR department notified me of the termination of my labor contract for “leaking business secrets and other confidential and sensitive information.” On the same day when I went back to collect my personal belongings, I found that my desktop had already been removed without my knowledge. Nor did anyone give me a reasonable explanation for what might have been done to my computer during my suspension from the 20th to the 23rd.
I had always known that this day would come, because a dictatorship holds anyone who challenges it as an enemy, and there is no exception to this.
When I arrived at work on February 17, the first work day after three others and I met with Mr. John Kerry, my supervisor promptly told me that I could no longer publish in my own name financial reviews I wrote and they had to be published under the names of my colleagues, because my articles had my name, avatar and links to my Tencent Weibo.
Nor could I, when on editor duty, use the account assigned to me to access backstage and post financial news items. To do so, I also had to use my colleagues’ accounts. As such, my name and avatar have been “erased” from all the Tencent online media platforms. At the time, the supervisor warned me that adjustments would be made to my job after Tencent discussed it with the propaganda authorities, including dismissal. I was told to be prepared for that.
My labor contract with Tencent wasn’t immediately terminated after the February meeting only because, I believe, they wanted to minimize its possible impact on China-US relations and the international media response.
Meeting with Secretary Kerry
On February 11, 2014, a staff member of the US embassy in Beijing called and asked me if I would have be available to attend an event in the embassy. I said I would like to.
On February 13, the embassy staffer told me that, I as a Chinese blogger would join a meeting Saturday morning with Secretary of State John Kerry who was visiting China. The meeting was to be held in the American Center on the 28th floor of Jingguang Center and I was told to bring my ID and, if I wish, iPad, cellphone and other electronic devices.
The next day an embassy official called and told me that the Saturday (the 15th) meeting would begin at 9 am, and as a representative of young Chinese bloggers I would be discussing internet freedom and other issues with Mr. Kerry, that I had to arrive at the American Center before 8:15, and that at the meeting Chinese bloggers were expected to ask questions freely and simultaneous interpretation and VPN would be provided.
He told me that there would be four people participating in the meeting, including Ms. Hu Shuli (胡舒立), Mr. Wang Keqin (王克勤), another blogger and myself. Over the phone he said he believed I was the best suited person among Chinese young bloggers to talk with Secretary Kerry about internet in China.
On February 15 I arrived at the American Center at 8 am and entered the meeting room after a security check. Four people attended: Wang Keqin, Ma Xiaolin (马晓霖), Wang Chong (王冲) and myself. Ms. Hu Shuli didn’t come and I don’t know why. Mr. Wang Keqin said police officers were looking for him on the 14th “for a talk” but he declined. He believed that the police wanted to prevent him from attending the event. To avoid being intercepted on Saturday, he didn’t go home nor go to his office.
As we sat down, I went online to thank the embassy for the invite, and I said I would soon be discussing internet freedom with the U.S. Secretary of State Mr. Kerry, and from netizens I solicited questions that they wanted to ask. Very soon I received a lot of them from people all around the world.
At 9 am, Mr. Kerry arrived and the talks began. When called on by Jen Psaki, the spokeswoman of the US State Department and the moderator of the meeting, to ask questions, I said I hoped the U.S. would support the freedom-loving Chinese, and help to tear down China’s internet censorship tool known as the Great Fire Wall. I also condemned some American companies that assisted the Chinese government to block Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites in China. Secretary Kerry said he had not heard of these behaviors before and he promised to look into it.
Towards the end of the 40-minute meeting, when the spokeswoman said we could ask two more questions, I raised my hand. I said I was very concerned about Chinese prisoners of conscience, especially human rights activist Xu Zhiyong and the author and activist Liu Xiaobo. Xu Zhiyong was sentenced to four years in prison in January, 2014, and Liu Xiaobo was serving a prison term for “inciting subversion of state power” and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.
I asked Mr. Kerry whether he would visit Liu Xia, wife of Liu Xiaobo, who had been under house arrest since his Nobel Prize win and who, I had heard, was suffering from illnesses. Mr. Kerry said – I paraphrase – that the issue of Chinese political prisoners was brought up every time he met with the Chinese officials.
On February 16, the Chinese propaganda authorities ordered all web portals to delete reports about “the U.S. Secretary of State meeting with four Chinese social media big Vs to talk about ‘internet freedom.’”
Meanwhile, I became a sensitive word on Tencent Weibo. Though I could still log in my Weibo account and post, but a search for my name would yield “search result cannot be displayed according to relevant laws, regulations and policies.”
On February 17, the Global Times published an editorial titled “Asking the US Secretary of State for ‘Freedom’ Was a Pretty Cute Show,” criticizing me without citing my name and the appeal I had made to Mr. Kerry about Chinese internet freedom, and referring to me as a dissident. Known for inciting nationalist sentiment, the Global Times is an offshoot of the People’s Daily, the communist party’s mouthpiece.
On February 18, during a routine press conference, the Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to Mr. Kerry’s meeting with Chinese bloggers by emphasizing that China’s affairs would be decided by the Chinese people based on the Chinese circumstances and “it is naïve for someone to think they can push China in the direction they want to see in such manners.” She further rejoined, “How would China have bloggers if there has been no monumental development of the Chinese Internet?”
On February 19, upon invitation by the Foreign Policy website, I wrote an article spelling out everything I would like to say to Mr. Kerry. I said, “Since 1949, Chinese dictators have robbed their people of their freedom, forcing the country’s citizens to live in fear. China’s people are still unable to freely access the World Wide Web. For many years, Chinese who aspire to freedom have spilled their blood and sweat fighting for it. Chinese people will continue to try to push down every wall erected by their dictatorial government, but if the United States could help in the effort to tear down China’s notorious Great Firewall, it would help China realize internet freedom sooner.” I also called on the U.S. to implement visa sanctions on those who contributed to creating the GFW, such as Fang Bingxing (方滨兴), the father of GFW.
This year, the Chinese government once again launched the so-called “sweeping out porn and cracking down on illegal publications” campaign to stop people from expressing independent views and ideas publicly. On April 16, I wrote another article for the Foreign Policy website pointing out that, at its core, this campaign is about curbing “illegal publications” in the name of “sweeping out porn.”
I wrote, “Ever since President Xi Jinping came to power in November 2012, central authorities have been tightening control over the press and expression, detaining or harassing a growing number of reporters and netizens. Therefore, Xi and other central leaders are regarded as the enemies of free speech. As the conflicts intensify between the Party and the people, the Party wishes to clamp down, clean up, and suppress any information detrimental to it. One can anticipate that the Party will continue to do anything in its power to tightly control the media and Internet, turning it from a platform for relatively free expression into just another propaganda tool.”
Publicize Directives of the “Ministry of Truth” Online
In an totalitarian country, unchecked propaganda organs are inevitably crooked. They were in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and they were in China.
Chinese netizens refer to the propaganda authorities of the communist party and the state as “the Ministry of Truth” to include the Propaganda Department of CCP Central Committee and the party’s provincial propaganda departments, the State Council Information Office, National Internet Information Office, and a slew of other departments and offices that censor expressions and publications. These propaganda organs often issue orders to media outlets to either restrict expressions as they see it is needed or artificially create “truth.” These orders are protected as “secrets.”
By publicizing orders from the “Ministry of Truth” online, I want to tear open the iron curtain and reveal to the world how censorship of press and expression is carried out in China. Of course this irks the authorities and is regarded as an open challenge to their power.
- Websites must clean up information that attempts to politicize smog. Information and expressions inciting sentiments and disturbances must be deleted without hesitation.
- Delete “You in Rosy Color” MV by Deserts Chang (张悬, Taiwanese pop singer). At 49 second, the man on the ambulance wears a Free Tibet scarf on his head and a flag of snow mountain and lion around him.
- The report about “CCTV exposing a scandal of internal dealing in which a station chief profited close to 40 million” is inaccurate. Do not re-post it; existing reposts must be deleted immediately.
- Please stop sales of VPN tools in online stores and clean them up.
- Websites immediately delete photos and information about a 17-year-old Uighur teenager in Aksu, Xinjiang, being shot dead for running a red light and other related unrest. Please set “Aksu 17 years old” as a prohibited phrase on Weibo for the time being.
- Websites clean and delete “Letter to the public by Beijing Shouwang Church on the third anniversary of its outdoor worship” and related comments.
- Delete video “who turned us into the proletariat class.”
- Across the entire internet, find and delete “real-time video of Chengdu police officers alleged to have beaten rights-defending owner.”
- Do not recommend the Urumqi explosion in the interactive sections. Do not show it in the hot search list.
- Regarding the Urumqi train station explosion, commentaries shall focus on praying for the dead, condemning violence, and consciously defending ethnic solidarity and social stability.
- Across the entire internet, find and delete Xinhua News Agency’s English report on the Urumqi incident which is unauthorized, and wait to post Xinhua’s Chinese report.
- Make an effort to clean up Weibo posts and related comments supporting Pu Zhiqiang. Delete all information found by searching “provoking disturbance;” and close down all Weibo accounts with the phrase “provoking disturbance.”
- Please continue to clean up information about “Research Center on the Spirit of Xi Jinping Speeches Established” that are still available on Weibo. Please block “research center on the spirit of speeches” as a key word.
- Websites continue to find and delete reports about “Vietnamese navy ships collided with Chinese survey ship” and “standstill of large numbers of Chinese and Vietnamese coast guards,” and report your feedback to us.
- “2014 Bitcoin International Summit” will be held on May 10-11 in Beijing. Websites may not participate or cover the summit, nor hype about bitcoin. In the future, any reports about bitcoin must keep in line with financial regulators. Please implement the requirement immediately.
- Please find and delete Zhang Xuezhong’s article “Ms. Gao Yu’s actions unlikely to be a crime.”
- Media shall delete the article “Li Ka-shing withdrew from mainland for an unspoken reason: sense of safety unattainable.”
- Find and delete: Facebook plans to open a sales office in Beijing.
- No publication of any report, or repost of overseas coverage, about Chinese companies in Vietnam being attacked, is allowed. Strictly find and delete any related information, expressions and photos in interactive sections.
- Regarding projects of China Construction (South Pacific) Development Co. and the violent attacks against Chinese companies in Vietnam, publish only Xinhua’s standard coverage as well as information from the official website of the Foreign Ministry. Do not publish separate coverage; do not post foreign media coverage; do not provide reviews; and strictly manage the interactive sections and comments about current affairs.
- Please review and promptly clean up negative comments about Shenzhen QVOD Technology Co. being shut down for spreading pornography, keeping only positive comments that support the shutdown.
- Websites pay attention to delete the article “China’s history of being beaten up is really a history of asking to be beaten up.”
- Across the entire internet, find and delete harmful information about making explosive devices (including text, pictures, videos, and book downloads), such as “DIY rocket projectile CAD design blueprint,” methods for making “centrifugal bombs,” sales information about professional books like “Techniques of Making Explosives” or “The Chemistry and Making of Explosives,” and information about making fire bomb or remotely controlled time bomb using a walkie-talkie or a watch.
- Delete Xitler and related information. (Hitler in Chinese is xi te le.)
- [We] emphasize that all financial news in the near future must be managed as news about current affairs; no negative economic reports or critical commentaries about economic policies and situations are allowed.
Ironically, after Li Wufeng (李伍峰), the deputy director of the State Council Information Office, jumped to his death earlier this year, the propaganda authorities ordered, “delete all information on Weibo and BBS about Li. Li worked for years in the propaganda system, especially on internet censorship, was until his death a highest-level official in charge of internet censorship in China, and was once involved in the maintenance of the GFW, but the news about his death too became a thing for deletion. As the Chinese would say, this is just “picking up a stone and striking your own feet with it.”
In our globalized world of information and markets, it is unsustainable for a regime to try to cover media with an iron curtain and separate them from the rest of the world. Every freedom-loving and truth-loving person will protest the existence of the propaganda organs because it is an affront to liberty, the human race and the international law.
It is a badge of honor for media practitioners to report and spread the truth, but doing so, one directly runs at odds with the propaganda organs that try to suppress you.
My Work in the Media Profession
When I graduated from college in 2010, I stumbled on my first job and became a journalist. I reported for Caijing (《财经》) about the forceful demolition of artist Ai Weiwei’s workshop in Shanghai. I also covered Zhao Lianhai (赵连海), a father whose son was a victim of melamine-tainted milk formula, and other rights defenders.
In April, 2011, I was interrogated by Beijing police for 24 hours, and my home ransacked, for tweeting “today on taxi the driver said that two third of taxi drivers in Beijing will stage a strike during the May First holidays.” I was subsequently given a 10-day administrative detention for “posting false information on an overseas website Twitter that was retweeted 37 times and caused disruption of social order.” [read his account “Days without Freedom in 2011” (Chinese)]
The incident was listed as a “significant, particularly sensitive case” by the criminal detection squad of the public transportation unit of Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, and I was called by the Beijing police a “dangerous element” who “incited a strike online” and “attempted to provoke disruptions and harm the capital city’s public transportation order.”
In a totalitarian country, the reality is that you will have a hard time to find a livelihood if you don’t obey. I know that, going forward, no media controlled by the Chinese communist party will hire me. I tell myself and my loved ones not to be over concerned and that things will turn around as the situation develops.
The Ministry of Truth tries to seal my mouth so that I won’t be able to spread “anti-party and anti-socialism expressions,” indicating that they do not tolerate any dissent in media organizations under their control.
I will be looking for a new job, and hopefully the dismissal will only have a temporary impact on me. The event is the latest case of China’s ruthless persecution of anyone who dissents.
May 23, 2014
Zhang Jialong (张贾龙, @zhangjialong) is a 26-year-old blogger and, until May 22, 2014, a web editor at qq.com.
(Translated by China Change)