Censorship devours its own children

July 10, 2007

LRB | Chaohua Wang : Diary (via aldaily.com)

Eighteen years is not a short time; it’s long enough for a baby to become an adult. On 4 June this year, a strange incident occurred. In Chengdu, the capital of the province of Sichuan, a city with a population of 11 million, the small-ads pages of an evening newspaper contained a short item that read: ‘Salute to the steadfast mothers of the 4 June victims.’ The entry was noticed by some readers, scanned and uploaded onto the internet, where it rapidly circulated. The authorities jumped to investigate. Within days, three of the paper’s editors had been fired. How had the wall of silence been breached? The girl in charge of the small ads, born in the 1980s, had called the number given by the person who placed the ad to ask what the date referred to. Told it was a mining disaster, she cleared it. No one had ever spoken to her about 1989. Censorship devours its own children.

Read about the decision-making behind the inicident-that-must-not-be-named in The Tiananmen Papers. You’ll swear you’re reading bad science fiction. I was fortunate enough to travel to China last year on business, though in fairness, I was told by my native hosts that if you’ve only seen Shanghai, you haven’t really seen China. The only images of Mao I saw were in the souvenir shops, and I still regret not picking up the wind-up alarm clock that had him waving the seconds away. I found a statue of Sun Yat Sen down by the river, and one morning saw about a dozen young men in dress military uniforms marching down the street. But really, that was about it.

Shanghai is glittering, astonishing place in many parts. In other parts, not so shiny. But all of it was big. Really, really big. So big that it sort of defies description. High-rise apartment buildings go on for as far as the eye can see.

I just read recently that the population of the Shanghai municipality has topped 20 million.  By way of comparison, the state of Georgia, our previous home, had a population of just over 9 million in 2005, and that’s spread out over a land area of around 60,000 square miles. Shanghai’s land area is about 2400 sq. miles. No wonder they’re building upwards.

I devour news about China pretty regularly, and commend to you the most recent issue of the Atlantic Monthly, which featured a special focus on China, spearheaded by the excellent James Fallows.

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