Thu, Jan 24, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Discontent swells in China among the normally faithful

The ranks of those protesting against newspaper censorship, air pollution, toxic spills and corruption and who are demanding greater government transparency include billionaires, students, movie stars and middle-class homemakers

By Edward Wong  /  NY Times News Service, BEIJING

That unleashed a torrent of questions online about the government’s ability to ensure clean tap water, and it even prompted Global Times, a newspaper that often defends the party, to run a lengthy article on Tuesday last week with the headline “Watered-Down Truth.”

On Monday last week, the Economic Observer, a respected newspaper, ran a strongly worded editorial that said the recent environmental debacles underscored the need for officials to provide more information.

“Our hope is that the government treats this as a turning point and presses ahead with an overarching reform aimed at promoting transparency, effectively guaranteeing the public’s right to know,” it said. “By doing this, they can help to restore the public’s trust in government.”

Any official commitment to transparency, though, could be fragile. After Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Wen took charge of the state in 2003, they opened up reporting on the SARS virus, which raised expectations for a more liberal administration. However, the leaders dashed those hopes by enacting conservative policies.

Propaganda officials could simply now be allowing the state news media to report on the air pollution and other sources of discontent among the middle class to shape public opinion and prevent anger from swelling. Those same officials took a hard line on the Southern Weekend conflict by ordering newspapers to run a harsh editorial denouncing the protesting journalists.

Other officials, including those in the security apparatus, are sticking to their own methods for containing outbursts. The anticensorship rallies in Guangzhou lasted only three days before the police began hauling off protesters. By the fourth day, Xiao, the man in the wheelchair, was nowhere to be seen.

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