China is richer than before, but its wealth relies on duplicating and emulating foreign products. Such wealth is temporary and will dwindle away. Without its own original cultural and material products, a country can never stay rich and strong. In other words, the real wealth a country has is the talent of its people. In the case of China, the way to nurture that talent is to lift the yoke of censorship.
Every publisher – Chinese and foreign – must secure approval from the department’s General Administration of Press and Publication, which has an office in every province and major city, before it can publish a book or magazine in China. As the following example attests, Ha Jin notes that the party is forced to rely on censorship in part because of the poverty of its own ideas and the sterility of its own in-house intellectuals:
In the summer of 2004, Yuan Hongbing, a Chinese writer, defected to Australia, taking with him four fiction manuscripts. After Yuan’s novels were published abroad, some top Chinese leaders were flustered. Luo Gan, director of the Politics and Law Committee of the Chinese Communist Party at the time, went so far as to give orders to punish with a death sentence whoever dared to pirate the books. Li Changchun, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, who is in charge of ideology, issued the following directive: “The General Administration of Press and Publications, the Border Police, and Customs must work closely to prevent Yuan Hongbing’s novels from being smuggled into the mainland. We must ponder about this phenomenon: For many years our party has spent a great amount of manpower, money, and material resources in bringing up many writers, but our writers have not created any work that can trump Yuan Hongbing’s fiction artistically.” Regardless of whether Li was capable of literary judgment, he did raise a serious question for the party. The answer is clear and simple: The system of harsh censorship has crippled and “sterilized” the writers and artists who exist within its field of force.
“Though the efficacy of China’s propaganda system has eroded considerably from its Orwellian past, and is being buffeted by the information revolution and globalisation,” analyst David Shambaugh notes, “the system remains effective in controlling most of the information that reaches the Chinese public and officialdom.”
Yet the Internet is undermining the party’s attempts to control information and ideas by ” incubating a generation of Chinese free thinkers – who have got used to debating and acknowledging different points of view – who may over time help to shape a more pluralistic system for their country,” writes Rebecca MacKinnon.