China’s odd ecology of intermittently vibrant but always constrained speech is a difficult environment to understand. But it has to be understood through the dynamics of CONTROL and CHANGE.
We have to begin by divesting ourselves of the notion that CHANGE necessarily means a loosening of controls, or that CONTROL necessarily eclipses change. We need to get rid of the simplistic metaphor we see constantly in foreign news coverage of China’s media — the one about expansion and contraction, of gains made and then reversed by the proverbial “media crackdown.” (There can, of course, actually be crackdowns and reversals — but they happen more frequently, in my view, in Western newspapers than they do in reality).
[…] Getting down to business, the most recent example we have at the local level in China of the dynamics of CONTROL and CHANGE at work in CCP media policy came late last week from the city of Shenzhen.
[…] The language of CONTROL is followed directly in Liu’s remarks by the language of CHANGE, and the focus is on commercial viability as a means of achieving both economic and political vitality (so this is at once about CHANGE and CONTROL). The idea, in other words, is that media can serve a propaganda role while at the same time making their “media products” palatable enough that they sustain themselves commercially and even work as an engine of economic growth.
For more on the “control” side of the dynamic, see an AP story from today: “Rights groups worried by Chinese media crackdown.”