Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sichuan Earthquake and China's New Openness

Well, that didn't take long. Apparently on Monday, the first day of a three national mourning here in China that I wrote about below, a Chongqing-based magazine published some "sexy" pictures of the Sichuan earthquake (follow links from Shanghaiist to see the pics).

Now, I think even Larry Flynt would agree that this photo spread was in bad taste (what were they thinking?), but what really struck me from the news report was this:

The [press and publication department of the southwestern city of Chongqing] said the magazine "seriously violated propaganda discipline and went against social morals" and the report constituted an "extremely evil social influence."

Yes, the Chinese government has allowed unprecedented media access to the earthquake story. But even this is on China's terms, and thematically fitting with China's "propaganda discipline."

So, some are pondering whether the earthquake incident will usher in a dawn of greater openness in the Chinese government, but I remain skeptical. The key development here is that the nationalism fostered in response to this horrific tragedy has rallied people in support of this one party-ruled government. The government is deserved of tremendous praise for its response to the natural disaster and the human suffering. But this changes nothing in terms of China's numerous domestic and global sociopolitical pathologies arising from the same one party-rule.

What it will do is make China's polity even more deferential to Party authority, and make it easier for the Party to tighten the reins once again, down the road, when it sees fit.

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