Wu Si: The Five Levels of Freedom of Expression

Scholar and editor of Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine Wu Si recently outlined restrictions on freedom of expression in China as he sees them. He describes five different levels, using the image of square meters to measure the media environment, with various factors expanding or restricting the space for free expression. China Media Project has translated an article outlining his talk.

Wu Si describes the “third level” as “administrative orders and bans.” As part of our series Directives from the Ministry of Truth, CDT regularly translates such orders that have been leaked online. Wu describes the mechanics of these orders (from CMP’s translation):

When you’re running a newspaper, magazine or website in China you regularly receive certain phone calls to “just say HI” (打招呼). These are administrative orders and bans. They specify what you can say, and what you cannot say. Generally speaking, the things within the scope of those important topics we talked about earlier that need to be reported and registered are difficult to handle in practice, and in fact there is no way to keep a handle on them. So if you bring them up, you bring them up. If you touch them, you touch them. If what you say is in line with the Party line there is generally no problem. If what you say is not in line, only then will someone call to say HI, sending down an order or ban. If everyone is perfectly honest, they know in their hearts where the boundaries are. If you’re a good and well-behaved editor-in-chief, editor or reporter the two side co-exist in harmony. In this situation, the degree of freedom of expression we enjoy is not the 10 square meters dictated by regulations that we saw on Level Two, not that dismal — we might have 20 square meters.