China is widely acknowledged to have the most extensive censorship program in the world, with a particular emphasis online. But now a large group of influential retired Communist Party officials have published an open letter demanding the government throw open the doors of free speech to its people.
"Article 35 of China's Constitution as adopted in 1982 clearly states that: 'Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.' For 28 years this article has stood unrealized, having been negated by detailed rules and regulations for 'implementation.' This false democracy of formal avowal and concrete denial has become a scandalous mark on the history of world democracy."
Enforce Article 35
China's government is so ferocious in its prosecution of free speech that it recently put a tremendous amount of energy not in imprisoning the dissident Liu Xiaobo (it already did that) but imprisoning additional intellectuals in the wake of Liu's winning the Nobel Prize.
The 23 retired Party officials who signed this letter -- including Mao's secretary Li Rui, former People's Daily editor-in-chief Hu Jiwei and retired Jiaotong University professor Wang Yongcheng -- are under no illusions as to their vulnerability.
"Not only the average citizen, but even the most senior leaders of the Communist Party have no freedom of speech or press . . . It's not even just high-level leaders -- even the Premier of our country does not have freedom of speech or of the press!"
The letter contained the following demands.
- Party control of the media be ended
- Local government and police interference with journalists be stopped
- Restrictions on watchdog or investigative journalism be removed
- Internet spying, the ability to summarily delete posts and restrictions on circumvention technologies be abolished
- Rules against reporting on the Communist Party's history be eliminated
- Independent newspapers be allowed on a pilot basis
- Free circulation of books and periodicals be allowed
- The country's "propaganda organs" be transformed from tools of the Party to tools of the people
The consequences of this letter can hardly be anticipated. At least not by us. We're not "old China hands" at ReadWriteWeb. Given the outcome of previous actions like this in China, we're not sanguine. But hawks have the best chance at making peace. So perhaps the old guard will be more influential than dissidents have been. If the reforms are implemented, though, it is easy to see what benefits might occur as a result.
China has been an entrepreneurial nation throughout its history. Even under the crippling rules the current regime has set down, trade, manufacturing and banking have flourished. Imagine a billion people with new access to information of any sort.
Are you a tech entrepreneur? No one will blame you for quailing a little.
What do our Chinese readers think will happen as a result of this letter? Likewise those of your who could qualify as old China hands?