A set of Chinese government censorship guidelines recently leaked to the Internet provides a rare and intimate window into the thinking of propaganda officials. The list of prohibitions issued to editors ranges from the extremely broad, such as the injunction against “negative news,” to the bizarrely specific, such as the ban on the blooming of a particular flower in southern China.
Following are excerpts from media guidelines that the Communist Party propaganda department and the government Bureau of Internet Affairs, conveyed to top editors before this month’s annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
The sessions are often referred to here as “the two meetings.” Such internal guidelines are typically circulated weekly, and the list issued before this year’s sessions was described as considerably lengthier than the norm.
A portion was posted on the Internet, and independently confirmed and translated by the Beijing bureau of The New York Times. Annotations by The Times are in brackets.
1. For news on the electoral law during the two meetings, only use articles from Xinhua News Agency and People’s Daily. [Xinhua is the government’s official news agency, and People’s Daily is the official newspaper of the Communist Party.]
2. Do not report on news of people from all walks of life demanding that officials make financial disclosures. [Recently issued party guidelines requiring officials to declare their assets have been widely criticized as weak and ineffective against corruption.]
3. Do not report the editor of Southern Weekend being named among the 10 most influential people by a foreign institution. [Southern Weekend is a weekly newspaper based in Guangzhou that often runs afoul of government censors.]
4. Do not feature news articles on the diary of a bureau director. News must not carry photos of related figures or contents relating to individuals’ private matters from human flesh searches and the like. [A tobacco bureau official in the region of Guangxi was arrested on suspicion of corruption after a diary he allegedly wrote was published on the Internet, describing trysts with mistresses, drunken bouts and bribes. “Human flesh search” is shorthand for the phenomenon of Chinese Web users collaborating en masse to hunt down information on people or other matters.]
5. No negative news allowed on the front pages of newspapers or the headline news sections of Web sites.
6. In articles on the two meetings, do not use wording such as “thundering person,” “thundering proposal” or “thundering delegate.” Do not use the concept of “thundering” to define contents of the two meetings. [Thunder has become a trendy Chinese slang term to describe something shockingly ridiculous or embarrassing.]
7. Delete news related to the youtan poluo flower. [Buddhist lore says this rare and auspicious flower blooms once every 3,000 years. Reports that a nun at a temple in southern China found a cluster of the tiny flowers under her washing machine set off a recent stir in the press. Chinese officials are concerned about the spread of superstition.]
8. For the “poisonous cowpea incident” in Hainan, only use news articles from the Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily and the official Hainan media. [Cowpeas from Hainan Province were found to be contaminated with a toxic pesticide, setting off criticism about why the cowpeas were sold to other provinces.]
9. Do not feature news reports on major incidents in Beijing during the two meetings, including “staffer at Xidan Books Building hacks manager to death” or “accident at Shunyi car showroom, one man dies.” Do not highlight the timing of these events.
10. During the two meetings, do not feature or sensationalize news about petitioners.
11. Do not report on the hunger strike by Ai Weiwei and other artists. [There was no hunger strike, but Beijing artists are protesting being forced to relocate their studios without fair compensation.]
12. Do not sensationalize or feature reports on the joint editorial of 13 newspapers advocating reform of the household registration system. [The March 1 editorial said the system unfairly restricted the right of Chinese citizens to seek a better life outside their hometowns.]
13. During the two meetings, exercise caution in releasing negative news from all regions. Do not sensationalize or feature news articles that will create a major impact.
14. Do not feature news items about the mass promotion of 89 cadres in Handan city. [The promotions took place at a time when the government was ostensibly streamlining operations.]
15. Do not report on cases of detention center inmates dying during sleep.
16. Do not report on the news of the Inner Mongolian female prosecutor who drove a luxury vehicle and who was reinstated after resigning.
17. Do not hype or feature news of Li Changjiang and Meng Xuenong resurfacing at the two meetings. [Mr. Li was ousted as head of quality control in 2008 after a scandal involving tainted baby milk powder that killed six and sickened 300,000 children. Mr. Meng resigned as governor of Shanxi Province after 267 people died in an iron ore mine disaster. Both have since assumed new posts.]