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.”


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.

  • 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 at 2:14
  • @Sayaman I made some grammatical corrections. My intent is to leave the substantive meaning unchanged.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 5 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 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 at 9:14

4 Answers 4


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.

  • 1
    "the free world ... the Chinese ... yearn for freedom and democracy" - do you mean they yearn to have their news controlled by the private rich, instead of the state? And yearn to get poorer every year instead of richer?
    – Steve
    Sep 9 at 5:30
  • 2
    @Steve It's evident that you don't have a clear understanding of China's news environment. Unlike the Western world, in China, no matter how wealthy one becomes, they have no say against the Chinese Communist Party. In China, there's no scenario where the wealthy control the news at all. Even someone like 任志强, who is both wealthy and comes from a Red Family, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for expressing opposition to Xi Jinping in public.
    – user975384
    Sep 11 at 12:02
  • 1
    It is quite right that the rich should not have a special say in politics. We have the opposite problem to China - the people here have no say against the rich, and the rich don't even pretend to represent the people. An additional concern for the Chinese system, besides keeping the domestic rich at heel, is that they have to be in a position to repel the attacks of foreign liberals using wealth and propaganda to attack the Chinese state and people in order to promote the interests of global capital. You might think the press here is "free" - in reality it is wholly rich-controlled.
    – Steve
    Sep 11 at 14:14
  • 1
    The rich are an "authoritarian government"! As I say, the only difference is the rich don't even pretend to represent the people. As for the safety of food and pharmaceuticals, you'd expect them to be safer in Taiwan and Japan, because those places are much more economically developed, not because they have a rich-owned press. By "here", I mean the West.
    – Steve
    Sep 11 at 15:28
  • 1
    @Steve I'm sorry. Indeed, we must admit that true press freedom only exists in utopias. However, the rich won't deploy tanks to crush dissenters into pulp, nor will they disrupt the social order for a decade, causing the deaths of millions. The difference between the news being controlled by the rich and by the authoritarian is that the authoritarian can deploy state machinery to suppress dissenters. Throughout human history, every attempt to create heaven has ultimately resulted in hell.
    – user975384
    Sep 11 at 15:44

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.

  • 2
    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 at 10:39

Apart from censorship China uses fear to control the media.

Here's a profile of former billionaire Jimmy Lai of the Giordano clothing company and the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper.

The Apple Daily was forced to close.

Here's a picture of Jimmy Lai in Stanley Prison, Hong Kong.

China can seize assets of people for speaking the truth.


China kidnapped booksellers and publishers in Hong Kong because they sold and published books that are banned in China. This shouldn't happen under the "one country, two systems" promise.

  • 1
    In other words self-censorship induced by threats of persecution. Sep 6 at 9:12
  • 1
    @NoDataDumpNoContribution, it's simply that rich press barons don't control the news in China, the state does. Most people in the West are censored because they simply cannot afford the press, whilst rich barons spout their own propaganda.
    – Steve
    Sep 6 at 9:42

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?

  • 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 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 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 at 18:52
  • 2
    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 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 at 17:11

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