Minitrue 2017: November—Child Abuse, Evictions Etc
This series is a month-by-month recap of censorship instructions issued to the media by government authorities in 2017, and then leaked and distributed online. The names of issuing bodies have been omitted to protect sources.
In November, after several dry months, the floodgates opened. Several of this month’s directives included specific instructions on story placement and emphasis, rather than the more usual deletions and comment closures. While it may be tempting to read this shift as a general change of approach, CDT Chinese editor Sandra Fu notes that it more likely reflects the different job responsibilities of the person or people behind the recent burst of leaks.
One reason for the sudden increase may have been the sheer quantity of controversial news in November prompting especially intense information controls while also spurring media workers more strongly to reveal them to the public. In this case, the impetus seems to have come from two sets of stories affecting vulnerable segments of society that triggered major public outcries in sympathy. First, Chinese social media was shaken by reports of child abuse at a Shanghai daycare center run by travel firm Ctrip. One multi-part city-level order issued on November 10 instructed sites to "close down comment sections on coverage of the Ctrip daycare mistreatment incident, including on Weibo and WeChat. There are no new public responses on the incident, do not publish or repost related reports." A separate section of the directive ordered, "do not send any more push notifications concerning the Ctrip daycare mistreatment incident. Related news must be moved to after websites’ third page […]." Four days later, a six-part directive leading with instructions to promote the official line on Xi Jinping’s meetings with Donald Trump during the latter’s state visit went on to direct coverage of the Ctrip scandal. "Do not send any more push notifications concerning the Ctrip daycare abuse incident," it read. "Related news must be moved out of immediate sight. […] Move reports that three people have been detained out of immediate sight." On November 17, another directive ordered the removal of related reports from front pages, and the closure of comment sections. This order also touched on a newer abuse scandal at a daycare center in Beijing.
Another child abuse story, involving allegations of bullying, drugging, and molestation, emerged towards the end of the month. A directive on November 24 ordered media, "don’t report or comment on the matter of the Red Yellow Blue New World Kindergarten in Beijing’s Chaoyang district." After an official statement from the local public security bureau dismissed most of the accusations, a directive on November 24 called on sites to "resolutely prevent malicious hyping of the [police] notice on the RYB Kindergarten matter. Social media accounts that exaggerate the situation should be closed on sight, or have content deleted." While that order sought to silence critics, a third directive issued on November 30 promoted a more harmonious view by calling on websites to "prominently repost" an article entitled "A Police Officer Involved in the RYB Investigation Speaks From the Heart." The account was originally published by a blogger who had posted a number of pro-police articles during the similarly controversial Lei Yang police brutality case, and who claimed to have received it from a follower. It supports the official statement’s conclusions, lamenting that investigators’ exhausting work had encountered widespread skepticism, and attacking parents who made the accusations, reporters and social media users who spread them, and the manufacturer of the kindergarten’s allegedly faulty security equipment.
Elsewhere in the capital on November 19, a directive ordered media outlets to "follow official wire copy without exception" on a deadly fire in Beijing’s Daxing district. "Photos or video that may incite panic are forbidden." The fire, which struck housing occupied by migrant workers, triggered a crackdown on "unsafe dwellings" that saw tens of thousands evicted just as winter fell. Social media erupted in solidarity with Beijing’s "low-end population"—an originally official term widely seized upon amid the eviction campaign. Authorities moved against those showing charity or support to the displaced. On November 28, a directive ordered:
Concerning the Beijing city campaign to regulate and purge illegal structures, all web portals immediately shut down related special topic pages, control interactive sections, refrain from reposting related content, and resolutely delete malicious comments. Print media must give prominence to policy reports, and stop independent focus on the topic. Non-local media cannot release related reports or commentary. [Source]
Other instructions over the course of the month include the municipal Ctrip directive’s separate order to "websites and other new media" not to "cover, report, comment, or reprint foreign information" on a court verdict regarding clashes between two villages in Yunnan and Sichuan over a resource dispute; an order not to send push notifications and "remove already published articles from prominent view" following reports of poor construction along the Guizhou section of the Shanghai-Kunming high-speed rail line; the six-part Trump/Ctrip directive’s call to "demote images, and clean up comment threads" on extreme pollution in Delhi, whose chief minister had described the air as like "a gas chamber"; the same directive’s broad injunction against "push notifications for negative human interest, crime, or entertainment stories"; an order on November 16 that "websites must not hype the news about the theft in Hangzhou by UCLA basketball players"; a deletion order for a Global Times article on loans and aid to the Philippines, which risked stirring existing resentment over use of government funds abroad instead of within China; the November 17th directive’s call to downplay a quadruple murder in Qingdao and "not hype related reports"; and, on November 22, an order to suppress comments on the corruption investigation of a former "Minister of Truth," the founding head of the Cyberspace Administration of China:
Regarding the matter of former Central Propaganda Department Vice Minister Lu Wei’s investigation on suspicion of serious disciplinary violation, please close comments on websites, Wechat public accounts, Weibo etc. Find and delete negative comments attacking the system, and so on. [Source]
Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.