China’s Great Firewall

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By Richard McGregor

Why should China’s communist rulers care about a modest book written in a language that most of their people cannot read that is not even for sale in the country? Apparently, they care very much. Soon after my book, ‘The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers‘ was released in June, the Amazon page displaying the book was blocked by the Great Firewall in China.

Not only that, if you went into the website of a foreign bookseller, like Barnes & Noble in the US and Waterstones in the UK, any pages mentioning the book were blocked in China as well. The Great Firewall has always been good at this – blocking pages within pages on websites.

The last week has bought more examples of the authorities’ efforts to airbrush ‘The Party’ out of existence in China.The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Beijing kindly invited me to speak when I was there in early August and also did a video interview with me for their website. They followed up by asking me for an article, which was duly written and received with pleasure. Then, the Beijing government intervened. According to AmCham officials, who contacted me about the issue, Beijing government officials called to suggest – which in China means request – that that the video interview with me be taken down.

As a result, the AmCham crew also no longer want to run the article they commissioned and happily accepted, because, they said, their magazine is sent to 1,000-odd government officials.
I quite understand why they don’t want to martyr themselves on my behalf and I told them as much. But such self-censorship by a stalwart publication promoting the virtues of American openness is very telling.

A few days earlier, That’s Shanghai, the what’s-on magazine catering to China’s commercial capital, was called about an interview a couple of their editors had posted with me on their website a few months earlier. (They had been canny enough not to try to publish it in the printed magazine itself.) Then last week, their boss was called in for an old-fashioned struggle session with city officials and told to expunge it from the site, which it duly was.

All in all, the episode has provided further evidence of how the world’s most powerful and wealthy political party remains a strangely insecure beast.

Richard McGregor is the FT’s deputy news editor and former Beijing bureau chief

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