Since 1978 the media had been one focus of the CCP's efforts to modernize key sectors of Chinese society, and it operated on the premise that more responsible and factual reporting would help to narrow the distance between the elite and the masses. The party hoped in this way to enlist mass support for its nation-building program. In 1987 the official media continued to play its assigned role as a vehicle through which to inform, educate, indoctrinate, control, and mobilize the masses.
Before 1978 the CCP used the mass media as a tool to "serve the interest of proletarian politics" or the party's "class struggle" and "mass line." Having these priorities, the party was concerned neither with openness nor accuracy. What the CCP considered information was more often than not the interpretation of events or data that would support the government's political, social, and economic programs. Timeliness of content was far less important than political or ideological utility. Before 1976 the party allowed no dissenting view to appear in print. The result was reporting and commentary that made information and propaganda all but synonymous.
With the ascendancy of the Deng Xiaoping reformers in 1978, the mass media began to display a different orientation and focus. It began to play a significant part in the CCP drive to popularize, first within the party, the notion of "practice being the only criterion of truth" and of "seeking truth from facts," rather than from petrified formulations. After March 1978 the party press no longer printed Mao's quotations in bold type. Moreover, it began to report more shortcomings and expose more criticism of the central authorities. In 1987 there still were considerable limits on criticism in the official media, however. Party general secretary Hu Yaobang, in a 1986 speech published in the party's daily organ Renmin Ribao, instructed editors that 80 percent of reporting should focus on achievements in modernization and only 20 percent on shortcomings.
China's extensive communication system includes both official and unofficial channels. Official means of communication include government directives and state documents, newspapers, periodicals, books, and other publications; radio and television; and drama, art, motion pictures, and exhibitions. Unofficial channels include handwritten wall newspapers, handbills, posters, street-corner skits, and theater. Of all these channels, the newspapers, periodicals, and electronic media continued in 1987 to play the most important part in communications.
Among the principal national newspapers in 1987, Renmin Ribao contained party and government directives, unsigned editorials, commentaries, and letters to the editor. The latter were often critical of local implementation of central policies. The PLA organ was Jiefangjun Bao (Liberation Army Daily). Gongren Ribao (Workers' Daily) dealt with labor matters, and Guangming Ribao (Enlightenment Daily) provided coverage of science, culture, and education. There were numerous other newspapers published both at the provincial-level and at the mass organization-level, but none of these had the prestige and authoritativeness associated with the party and army newspapers. Starting in 1978, party authorities permitted newspapers from south China provinces to circulate outside China; in 1983 north China newspapers were given foreign circulation. There were also many specialty newspapers focusing on the economy, trade and finance, agriculture, the arts, youth affairs, and so on. By the end of 1984, post offices in China reportedly were distributing 734 different newspapers with a total circulation of 112.9 million, or a newspaper for every eighth person in China.
Hongqi (Red Flag), a journal published by the CCP Central Committee, provides guidance on questions of current political theory, explaining the direction of the party's Marxist analysis, setting forth the party line, and suggesting the proper methods for implementing it. A monthly until December 1979, Hongqi since has been published twice a month. The government also publishes its major reports and documents. For example, Guowuyuan Gongbao (State Council Bulletin), appearing three times a month, provides a summary of directives, prints notices, presents agreements signed with foreign countries, and registers central approval given to local government actions.
In addition to open official and unofficial documents, there is another large category of materials that is classified for internal use (neibu), as opposed to for public use (gongkai). These materials are published by party, government, academic, and professional organizations. Some publications have additional restrictions, such as for distribution only within the publishing unit. The most protected publication is entitled Cankao Ziliao (Reference Information) and is distributed to around 1,000 high officials daily. A similar internal use publication, but with a much wider readership, is the Cankao Xiaoxi (Reference News). This publication contains translations of selected foreign news articles, many of which are critical of China. These internally circulated materials generally are more reliable and detailed than those found in the open press.
The principal source of domestic news and the sole source of international news for the mass domestic newspapers and radio is the Xinhua (New China) News Agency. This government agency has departments dealing with domestic news, international news, domestic news for foreign news services, and foreign affairs. It maintains an extensive network of correspondents in ninety overseas bureaus. Xinhua also releases the News Bulletin in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Russian, totaling about 30,000 words per day, and provides special features to newspapers and magazines in more than 100 countries. Domestic branches of Xinhua can communicate with the head office over microwave communications. Internationally, a telecommunications network has been established linking Beijing with Paris, London, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Further, Xinhua has rented an international communications satellite to file news to foreign countries and exchange news with foreign news agencies. It mails special features to newspapers and magazines in more than 100 countries. Another news agency, China News Service (Zhongguo Xinwenshe), provides news stories and photographs to Chinese newspapers and some radio and television stations in Hong Kong, Macao, and several foreign countries.
By 1984 electronic media included over 160 radio stations and 90 television stations. The Central People's Broadcasting Station, headquartered in Beijing and subordinate to the Ministry of Radio, Cinema, and Television, provided domestic service to every area of the country. Radio Beijing, China's overseas radio service, continued to expand its programming, initiating a news program in English for foreign residents in Beijing in January 1985. Television service was available in the major urban areas and was increasing its reach outside urban centers. China's television broadcasting was under the control of China Central Television (CCTV). In 1979 the network began an "open university" program. By 1984 China reported having "radio and television universities" in 326 cities and 1,168 counties throughout 28 provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities, making the use of television an important aspect of higher education in China.
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