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Targets of China’s censorship policies

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This is part 2 on media censorship and abuse in the People’s Republic of China

Censorship in China is a rather broad and diverse phenomenon covering all areas of information, whether it’s expounded via the internet, radio and television content, print publications, casual literature, or the performing arts. The restrictions are so intrusively enforced that not even ones instant messaging via services like Whatsapp are barred from content monitoring.

Much of this is aimed at silencing critics of the ruling communist government, especially in cases of corruption amongst local officials or politicians. This is also seen as a bid to crack down on access to information on other forms of governance, with the hope of limiting the risk of protests by resistance or pro-reform movements.

Whilst it has yielded a reasonable amount of success, largely by fear, the Chinese government (CPC) has not been able to fully silence displeasure amongst the masses.

The June 4th incident

Few incidents epitomise China’s media and civil disobedience clampdown quite like that of the June 4th Massacre of 1989, and events subsequent to it. More commonly known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the incident saw students numbering well into the hundreds of thousands, gathering at the iconic site in Beijing following the death of deposed CPC general secretary, Hu Yaobang.

In a desperate move to stifle the unrest, the communist regime declared martial law a month prior to the massacre and on the evening of June 4th, troops and military vehicles were eventually deployed to the streets of China’s capital. The armed forces then opened fire on protesters with live ammunition (allegedly expanding bullets), resulting in roughly 241 deaths; although unconfirmed reports put the death toll at much higher.

Tiananmen square

But the other travesty of Tiananmen is what happened after. Following the brutal episode, authorities conducted a nationwide crackdown not only on protesters and sympathises to the cause, but also on media organisations and journalists who took the risk of reporting on the massacre. Many were fired from their jobs, and some reporters and editors were even arrested for showing a degree of favourability to the cause of the protesting students.

The massacre marked a notably turning point in media restrictions in the communist state, leading to the harsh implementation of censorship, and resulting punishments seen in present day China.

05 Jun 1989, Beijing, China --- A Beijing demonstrator blocks the path of a tank convoy along the Avenue of Eternal Peace near Tiananmen Square. For weeks, people have been protesting for freedom of speech and of press from the Chinese government. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

To this day, the government continues to wage a bitter war on any information on the incident that fails to fall in line with its own narrative of events, forbidding it from being taught in schools or universities, limiting internet access on the matter, and generally attempting to eradicate it from the public’s memory.

Xinjiang and the Uygher independence movement

Another front on which China has sought to wave its wand of censorship has been in trying to quell talk of independence and separatist movements within its own territory, or at least areas of contention. This includes all talk of democracy on Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Inner Mongolia region and other locations China refuses to acknowledge attempts at secession.

Amongst the most prominent and relevant in the current political climate is that of the Uyghur/Uighur in the north-western Xinjiang Autonomous region. The Uyghur, at around 9 million represent the second largest Muslim minority population in China, behind only the Hui. The Uyghur’s failure to integrate well into Chinese society has led to them being treated with a certain degree of disdain by the government, and the broader Han majority.

The tense political situation surrounding the Uyghur has led them to push for full autonomy in Xinjiang, something the communist government are unlikely to afford them anytime soon. In addition, because of the regions close proximity to conflict areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Chinese have generally held fears that the Uyghur may be being driven towards religious radicalism. Under the fear of a potential ‘terrorist threat’, the government has run a systematic form of ethnic discrimination against the Uyghur.


China has of course sought to cover up this oppression by using its local media influence to reassure locals that the region remains one of peace and stability. Anything suggesting otherwise has been the victim of censorship. There have also been attempts at censoring foreign coverage on the situation in Xinjiang, through the labelling all crimes and instances of violence committed by the population as being akin to ‘terrorism’. In 2009 China’s attempts at foreign influence were taken even further when it sought to have a documentary on the plight of the Uyghur dropped from an Australian film festival, later having several Chinese directors withdraw from the event in protest.


The situation is scarcely different in Tibet, another region of pro-independence resistance that has faced an even harsher stranglehold on media coverage, and where even foreign journalists are barred from covering politically sensitive matters.

All forms of media in Tibet are stifled along with those throughout the rest of mainland China, again to help paint a more positive picture of the situation.


A biggest figure of Tibetan resistance and a prime target of censorship by the Chinese government has been the Dalai Lama. The country has run the rule over any mention of the popular political and spiritual leader, who now resides in exile in India having fled the region following a 1959 Tibetan uprising. It has also stamped out on supposed “propaganda” spoken by an influential figure who promotes regional independence.

The Falun Gong spiritual movement

The CPC has also led a suppressive campaign on a spiritual front, against adherents to the practice of Falun Gong, an off-shoot of Buddhism which places great emphasis on meditating and physical exercise.

Since 1999, Falon Gong practitioners have bared the brunt of the government’s wrath, with explanations as to the reason for the crackdown varying. The most viable suggestion has been that due to its massive rise since formation in 1992, authorities fear the potential influence of a group it assumes to be more along the lines of a cult.


Seeking total elimination of the practice, the regime has actively run a widespread propaganda campaign aimed at limiting its appeal amongst followers. Apart from negative press via the media and internet, those found practicing Falon Gong face unwarranted arrest, forced labour and even torture. Since the clampdown began, thousands have died as a result of their adherence to Falun Gong.

Other censored topics of note

While the aforementioned highlight some of the more prominent targets of media censorship, they are by no means the only. Other no-go zones include territorial disputes like that of islands in the South China Sea, as well as historical conflicts with Japan, Russia, and India amongst others. Another key topic given the perennial cold shoulder is the Great Chinese Famine between 1959 and 1961, which led to between 20 000 and 40 000 deaths.

The media landscape in China is likely to get worse before it gets any better. The country recently released a draft on new cyber security laws that will likely tighten censorship via the internet, broadening the scope of information that could well be restricted. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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1 comment

  1. Ethnic Uyghurs native to China’s western province of Xinjiang, are prevented from fasting during the Holy Month of Ramadhān. Inspired by the Sūfīsm of the region, the Uyghurs are a conventionally liberal people.

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