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China’s constitution affords its citizens freedom of speech and press, but the opacity of Chinese media regulations allows authorities to crack down on news stories by claiming that they expose state secrets and endanger the country. The definition of state secrets in China remains vague, facilitating censorship of any information that authorities deem harmful [PDF] to their political or economic interests. CFR Senior Fellow Elizabeth C. Economy says the Chinese government is in a state of “schizophrenia” about media policy as it “goes back and forth, testing the line, knowing they need press freedom and the information it provides, but worried about opening the door to the type of freedoms that could lead to the regime’s downfall.”

https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/media-censorship-china

Can they, for instance, control the media to publish certain news articles?

If so, how do they do so, and apart from censorship is there any tool in their toolbox that the government can use to control the narrative and manipulate the public opinion.

I know they have some states media, but I am wondering if they can also control other organizations in the media industry and how.

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  • Hi as a Chinese native, I can answer but I decided to wait for a couple of days to see how others answer it. One of the reasons I see most active users are not Chinese I would love to see how they see this question and how accurate they are. The other reason is of course related to my other question you commented and answered.
    – Qiulang
    Sep 5, 2023 at 2:14
  • @Sayaman I made some grammatical corrections. My intent is to leave the substantive meaning unchanged.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 5, 2023 at 18:27
  • do you mean "media", as in the "published items from a certain media company, or companies in general", or as in the "popular opinion of the mass on the internet"?
    – Faito Dayo
    Sep 6, 2023 at 4:54
  • "how do they do so" As an outsider I imagine they simply ask the media to publish a certain information and if that doesn't work, command it. It would be the most direct way. Sep 6, 2023 at 9:14

4 Answers 4

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As an ordinary Chinese who was born, grew up, educated, and worked in China, I think the state of free speech in China is far worse than one who is living in a world with freedom of expression could imagine.

This isn't just my personal perception. From the Democracy Index provided by The Economist, we can see that China's ranking has been declining over the past decade.


Can they, for instance, control the media to publish certain news articles?

Yes, not only can they control what the media reports, but also control what it doesn't. They can control everything.

If so, how do they do so?

For an individual, they can imprison you for a variety of reasons, such as solicitation. Moreover, China has a notoriously vague law known as "picking quarrels and provoking troubles".

Apart from censorship is there any tool in their toolbox that the government can use to control the narrative and manipulate the public opinion

Internet water army, also known as 水军,网评员,五毛. When news unfavourable to the CCP arises, and it's not convenient to remove it for various reasons (such as its significant impact), the CCP employs online trolls to steer public opinion. A common tactic is to glorify hardship.

For instance, if a delivery driver is overworked due to the government's inaction and lack of legally mandated labor protections, Internet water army would praise his diligence, diverting attention away from the government's failure to provide adequate labor safeguards.

I am wondering if they can also control other organizations in the media industry and how.

By exerting pressure on businesses.

If you run a business in China, making a profit while strictly adhering to the tax laws is almost impossible. You'd likely need to break the law in some aspects to make money. This legal framework is intentionally designed by the CCP to ensure they have leverage over every enterprise.

Often, when your posts are removed from Chinese social media platforms, it's an action taken by the platform itself, not a directive from the Communist Party. These platforms are merely trying to protect themselves.

Some platforms, which have been penalized multiple times by the Communist Party, even require individual review of comments before they become visible to others. eg: IT之家


As an ordinary person living under an authoritarian regime, the genuine thoughts and feelings of the Chinese people are seldom understood by foreigners. I've never expected individuals from the free world to be devoid of prejudice towards me; I simply wish that when you look at China, you distinguish between its people and the Chinese Communist Party.

Human nature is universal. It's for this reason that the Chinese Communist Party fears freedom of speech just as the German Nazis, and the Soviet Communists did. For the same reason, the Chinese people also yearn for freedom and democracy, much like the people of East Germany and Romania once did.

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Chinese media control has three major components.

First, as you already mentioned there is censorship on the level of individual articles and even social media posts.

Second there is the Chinese Firewall which controls which websites hosted outside of China one can visit from within China. Most Western media channels cannot be accessed from within China.

Finally there is control of media organisations in general. If you want to own and operate a media organisation in China you need the approval of the Chinese government and that will hinge on you following their rules about what you can and cannot talk about. If a media organistion breaks these rules too often it will be shut down and there is a good chance the owners and journalists working there will go to prison.

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    There's also the general way that anyone too critical of the government faces "arbitrary arrest and detention"; this applies to private individuals as well as to media organisations. Nobody would criticise the government without extreme bravery.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 7, 2023 at 10:39
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This is just my opinion through the many Chinese academics I have spoken to:

By what tool others can influence to most of Chines? By Twitter? Facebook? YouTube? Instagram? WhatsApp? Google? Bing? Yahoo? NYT? WSJ? etc

They have their own Super app called WeeChat (2004 - now) instead of all the west social medias and platforms. They have their own Google, their own YouTube (one of them is Bilibili (2009 - now) if I am not mistaken).

In general, if there is any popular media outside of china, then there is more than a Chinese copy of it in China.

So while almost everything is Chinese in China, how can't they control the media?

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  • I'm not sure if the West has any message for Chinese citizens even if it had efficient tools to do so. Perhaps WeChat can be used to virus your message, but it has to be engaging to Chinese citizens. What would that be?
    – alamar
    Sep 5, 2023 at 15:47
  • China is going to be the World Rank 1 economy beating the west. So you think the West will sit back and watch its kingdom fall? Or will it try to survive at all costs?
    – C.F.G
    Sep 5, 2023 at 17:38
  • There are two ways of using media - enlightening people or confusing people. And I don't see how more enlightened Chinese people would help the West WRT China ranking number one.
    – alamar
    Sep 5, 2023 at 18:52
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    This answer does not appear to answer the question, which is, I think, rather asking about the concrete mechanisms in place to achieve a certain effect. Of course, you can simplify the explanation to "If X is published in country Y, then country Y can control X." But presumably, it's not so simple, and it also does not explain how this control would be exerted. Sep 6, 2023 at 16:36
  • @O.R.Mapper: My post address two facts: 1- other countries can't spread antigovernmental news 2- the Chinese government can pay or command to for example WeChat chief to spread what they want and censor antigovernmental news/messages/campaign etc
    – C.F.G
    Sep 6, 2023 at 17:11

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