For centuries, China stood as a leading civilization, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences. But in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, China was beset by civil unrest, major famines, military defeats, and foreign occupation. After World War II, the Communists, under chairman Mao Zedong, founded the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, which centralized control over almost every facet of Chinese life. After 1978, his successor, Deng Xiaoping, gradually introduced market-oriented reforms and decentralized economic decision-making. Political controls remain tight even while economic controls have continued to be relaxed under President Jiang Zemin (1993 –2003) and President Hu Jintao (2003 –).
China occupies a total of 9,360,000 square kilometers of land. The total population is approximately 1.3 billion. The Communist Party of China (CPC) is the key decision-making group in Chinese politics, economics, and security affairs, but the influence of non-party consultants, business leaders, and organizations has increased since the reform launched in early 1980s.
Media Regulation And Control
The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) is the government’s administrative agency responsible for drafting and enforcing China’s press regulations as well as screening books for content. The GAPP has the legal authority to screen, censor, and ban any print, electronic, or Internet publication in China. Because all publishers, including those using the Internet, are required to be licensed by the GAPP, the agency also has the power to deny people the right to publish and to completely shut down any publisher that fails to follow its dictates.
China’s State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) controls the content of all radio, television, satellite, and Internet broadcasts in China. The Ministry for Information Industry is responsible for regulating China’s telecommunications and software industries. It also controls the licensing and registration of all Internet information services.
The Central Propaganda Department (CPD) is the Communist Party’s counterpart to the government’s GAPP and SARFT. Whereas the GAPP and SARFT exercise their powers through their authority to license publishers, the CPD is the organization primarily responsible for promoting and monitoring content to ensure that China’s publishers, in particular its news publishers, disseminate information consistent with the Communist Party’s policies and agendas. The CPD is a special organization that is highly involved in almost every aspect of China’s media issues.
China was among the first nations to have printed newspapers. The country’s earliest newspaper, Di Bao (Court Gazette), debuted in the Tang Dynasty, during the first half of the eighth century. The Chinese press, however, remained undeveloped until the late nineteenth century, when nearly 300 newspapers began mass circulation. In the early twentieth century, many progressive newspapers appeared to support bourgeois learning as part of the New Culture Movement. Between the two world wars, journalism under the Nationalists and the Communists saw steady growth (Chang 1989).
The number of Chinese newspapers increased approximately tenfold from 1950 to 2000. According to the GAPP (China Knowledge 2005), there were 100 million copies of daily newspapers printed every day in 2004, surpassing circulation figures for all other countries in the world, and making up 14.5 percent of the world’s total number of daily newspapers in 2004. China had a total of 1,926 newspaper titles as of July 2005. The country has 218 party-affiliated newspaper titles, accounting for 11.3 percent of its total newspapers. Provincial newspaper titles reached 806, accounting for 41.8 percent, while city newspaper titles totaled 848, accounting for 46.9 percent.
There were only a limited number of magazine and periodical titles until the 1970s in China. While the exact number was unknown, it was reported that one-fourth of total circulation of all magazines was attributed in 1955 to two youth publications, Chinese Youth and the High School Student (Chang 1989). However, 9,500 magazine and periodical titles were published in 2006, among which more than 4,000 emphasize the natural science areas. This number also fairly represents the vast number of staterelated institutions that are active in the publishing business (McCullagh 2006).
The total annual circulation of Chinese magazines has been wavering between 2 and 3 billion copies for nearly 20 years. The average magazine purchase per capita per year has never reached more than three copies. Magazine advertising revenues are estimated to be $500 million (McCullagh 2006).
Chinese magazines largely focus on general interest and leisure, which allow for simple and easy reading. The Chinese periodical industry, compared to other media, is slow in adapting to the information age and changing its business model accordingly.
Radio And Television
The nation’s official radio station is the Central People’s Broadcasting Station (CPBS), which has eight channels, and broadcasts for a total of 156 hours per day through satellite (Huang 2006). Every province and autonomous region has local broadcasting stations. China Radio International (CRI), the only national overseas broadcasting station, is aired to all parts of the world in 38 foreign languages, standard Chinese Mandarin, and four Chinese dialects, and its broadcasts total 290 hours every day. It offers a variety of programs consisting of news, current affairs, commentary, entertainment, politics, economy, culture, technology, and so on. Currently, CRI ranks third in overseas broadcasting time and languages in the world. There are approximately 1,000 radio broadcasting stations in China (Huang 2006).
The television era did not begin in China until 1958, when the Beijing TV Station began servicing the capital city with one channel. Chinese radio was a step ahead, with the CPC establishing its first radio station in 1940 (Chang 1989).
In 1965, there were 12 television and 93 radio stations in China. In 1978, China had less than one television receiver per 100 people, and fewer than 10 million Chinese had access to a television set. However, at the time of writing there are about 25 TV sets per 100 people and approximately a billion Chinese have access to television (G. Xu 2003). By the end of 2005, there were approximately 2,450 television broadcast stations in China. Of these, 20 are administrated by China Central Television (CCTV), 31 are provincial TV stations, and nearly 2,400 are local city stations (Huang 2006).
CCTV is the largest and most powerful national television station in China. It has established business relations with more than 250 television organizations in over 130 countries and regions around the world. CCTV and some 3,000 television channels across the country constitute the largest television network in the world.
The first computer network in China was the China Academic Network (CANET), set up in 1987. It provided email exchange services with the global Internet via a gateway at Karlsrühe University in Germany. In spite of political and social concerns, the Internet has seen rapid growth in the last decade. Today, there are 123 million Internet users and the number is expected to hit 180 million by 2010 (CINIC 2006), making China the second largest Internet-using nation after the United States. According to China’s Ministry of Information Industry (MII), three major Chinese metropolises, Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin, have the highest concentration of Internet users, with 28 percent of Beijing’s population having access to the Internet.
China’s broadband users have reached 77 million, about two-thirds of the total Chinese online population. This represents roughly 11 percent of Internet users in the world. Although mainland China has the second-largest Internet population, its penetration of 9.9 percent lags far behind nations like the United States and Japan. However, the price of broadband connections is fairly reasonable, financially within reach for the Chinese middle class. A wide gap exists between Internet use in cities and rural areas.
The number of websites has risen by more than 110,000 to a total of 788,400 (CINIC 2006). Blogging has also become a new way of communication for scholars, researchers, novelists, and social activists.
News Agency And Multimedia Group
Xinhua is the nation’s official news agency, headquartered in Beijing. It was established in 1931 and is known as one of the major international news agencies in the world, with over 100 branch offices internationally. It has more than 7,000 staff engaging in news coverage, management and operations, and technical work. Its news gathering and processing system consists of three parts, namely the head office, domestic branches, and overseas branches. In many ways, Xinhua is the fuel propelling China’s print media. Perhaps unique in the world because of its role, size, and reach, Xinhua reports directly to the CPC’s Department of Propaganda. Because most newspapers in China cannot afford to station correspondents abroad, or even in every Chinese province, they rely on Xinhua feeds to fill their pages. The People’s Daily, for example, uses Xinhua material for approximately a quarter of its stories. Xinhua is more than just a news agency, however; it is a publisher as well, with more than 20 newspapers and a dozen magazines in Chinese, English, Spanish, French, Russian, and Arabic.
China’s membership of the World Trade Organization began on December 11, 2001. In response to competition and challenges from overseas media groups, the Chinese government organized state conglomerates by establishing transregional multimedia news groups in 2001 in order to compete on the transnational media giants’ terms. The China Radio, Film and Television Group, founded by the end of 2001, combined the resources and power of the central-level radio, television, and film industry with the radio and television Internet companies, through the varied avenues of television, Internet, publishing, and advertisement. It is the biggest and most powerful multimedia group in China. At the same time, Chinese media began to cooperate with overseas media groups.
Prominent newspaper groups in China include the Guangzhou Daily Newspaper Group, the Beijing Daily Newspaper Group, the Wenhui Xinmin Associated Newspaper Group, the Liberation Daily Newspaper Group, and the Zhejiang Daily Newspaper Group. Among electronic conglomerates are the Hunan Radio, TV, and Film Group, the Shanghai Radio, TV, and Film Group, and the China Radio, Film and Television Group.
Changing Media Environment
Within the PRC, there has been heavy government involvement in the media for some decades. A number of the largest media organizations are seen as mouthpieces of the government. There are certain taboos and red lines within the media in mainland China, such as questioning the legitimacy of the CPC. Yet within those restrictions, there is vibrancy and diversity of the media as well as fairly open discussion of social issues and policy options within the parameters set by the party (Paradise 2004).
Much of the surprising diversity in the media in mainland China can be attributed to the fact that most state media outlets no longer receive large government subsidies and have to largely depend on commercial advertising (Zhao 1998). Therefore, they can no longer fulfill the sole function of mouthpieces for the government; instead they must produce programming that attracts and interests people so that they can survive and develop through advertising revenue. In addition, while the government does issue directives defining what can and cannot be published, it does not prevent state media outlets from competing with each other for viewers and commercial advertising.
Government control of information can also be ineffective in other ways. Despite government restrictions, much information is gathered either at the local level or from foreign sources and passed on through personal conversations, text messaging, and the Internet. The withdrawal of government media subsidies has caused many newspapers, including some owned by the CPC, to take editorial stands which are bold and critical of the government. This has come about as the necessity of attracting readers and avoiding bankruptcy has become a more pressing fear than that of government repression (Zhu 1997).
Chinese newspapers have been particularly affected by the loss of government subsidies, and have used investigative reporting and muckraking tactics in order to gain readership. As a result, even papers that are nominally owned by the CPC are sometimes very bold in reporting social issues. However, both commercial pressures and government restrictions have recently caused newspapers to focus on lurid scandals often involving local officials who have relatively little political power. Chinese newspapers tend to lack in-depth analysis of political events that are seen as politically sensitive.
This separation between ideological dependence and financial independence has led to two interesting phenomena. First, most newspapers have begun to increase the number of pages printed in order to include light reading material. Publishers hope this method will help to increase readership and maximize advertising income. Second, some have become media conglomerates by acquiring or founding other businesses (W. Xu 2002). The Guangzhou Daily Newspaper Group, for example, owns 13 newspapers, four magazines, one publishing house, and one web station, in addition to advertising, printing, chain supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, and clubs (C. Lee 2003).
The deepening of market reforms has typically resulted in two types of outcome. One is the change of the media ownership structure. Although by law Chinese mass media could not be owned or operated by private sectors or individuals, the development of the stock market has begun to erode the state-owned basis deeply. The other typical outcome is the introduction of world professional standards, direct investment, and advanced management, which is a positive sign of China’s integration into broader world standards. Although there is no concrete evidence that the greater participation in political affairs and relative autonomy will eventually lead to freedom of the press, an elite-journalist group, eager to shoulder more social responsibility for the mass public rather than ideological gospels, is steadily taking shape in China (Pan & Lu 2003).
Although the trend in mainland China clearly is toward greater media autonomy and diversity and away from government control and intimidation, cross-currents of resistance persist. Powerful domestic institutions still constrain efforts by the media to become more autonomous and politically diverse.
With the economic development that started in the 1980s, and the arrival of the Internet in the 1990s, Chinese media have become more diverse as they extend their reach throughout China and accommodate their content to mass audience for the sake of advertising revenue. China’s media reform started in the early 1990s, and while the pace was slow, the process of change is inevitable (P. Lee 1994).
Institutional change allows governmental authority and media practitioners to work together to explore some new paths, even though a clear destination is still uncertain. The basic principles of the party-state system remain heavily rooted and powerful (Pan 2005). Journalists have to effectively manage the tensions between market forces and the party-press system in order to reduce political and financial risks in media change. This juggling act often limits them to pursuing professional ideals in a highly restricted manner. Devising and establishing new methods constitutes a mode of media change in this transitional society where the central authority, through its control of political resources and ideological ownership over all media, initiates reforms and sets their speed, depth, and parameters. Viewed in this context, the trajectory of China’s media reforms may be hard to predict; much is dependent on the political climate in the forecast (Pan 2005). While the ongoing media change is expanding the presence of and voices from people of different social milieus in the media, such representation enhances the welfare of the public without jeopardizing the authority of the regime.
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