August 16, 2005

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Communists as capitalists

Brave or foolhardy? Perhaps Li Datong is both. From the SCMP, the story of ructions within China Youth Daily:

A veteran editor of the outspoken China Youth Daily has taken the newspaper's editor-in-chief to task for allegedly restraining editorial freedom and succumbing to party dogma.
In a high-profile move, Li Datong, who edits the Bingdian Weekly, an influential section of the paper that runs investigative stories every Wednesday, wrote an open letter to the paper's staff questioning a new appraisal system which pegs journalists' bonuses to praise by party and government leaders.

The new editor-in-chief, Li Erliang , took over in December in a reshuffle regarded as a sign of a tightening of media controls by the authorities.

The lengthy letter by Li Datong was posted on the popular chat room Yannan BBS yesterday and picked up by other chat rooms. When contacted by the South China Morning Post, Li Datong said he had written the letter on behalf of the paper's editorial staff but declined to comment. "This is an internal letter I wrote for the editorial department and the management. But somehow it was leaked," he said.

The regulation, to be introduced on August 20, will provide guidelines for the rating of reporters' remuneration based on the "credits" they receive on each article they write. Most mainland reporters receive payments for their articles on top of their basic salaries. Some newspapers weigh the price of articles by their quality, while others go by their length...reports would gain 50 credit points for being among the top three most-read articles, while 80 credit points would be given to those praised by the secretariat of the Communist Youth League. Stories praised by state government bodies and provincial leaders would gain 100 points, while acclaim from the Communist Party Publicity Department would be worth 120 points.

While describing the media's watchdog role as its most basic and irreplaceable function, Li Datong wrote: "Under such an unreasonable system, would any editors and journalists who are not out of their minds do [such] stories?"

A reporter with the newspaper said management had yet to formally respond to the letter, believed to have been written last week.

"What matters the most isn't our salary, but our editorial freedom," said the reporter, who declined to be named.

Controlled by the Communist Party Youth League, the power base of President Hu Jintao , the China Youth Daily has aggressively exposed official corruption. It was one of the first national newspapers to run articles and editorials criticising the Shenzhen deputy party secretary in charge of propaganda, Li Yizhen , for allowing authorities to force students to watch a movie produced, directed and starring his daughter.

A source told the South China Morning Post that the authorities had released a circular yesterday banning websites from running Li Datong's letter and related news.

Any bets on how long Li Datong will last? Answers in minnutes please. What is more interesting is the explicit aligning of reporters' interests via their pay checks to spouting the party line. It's textbook capitalism by the Communists. While on press freedom, Hong Kong journalists have been warned to learn the mainland's news rules after the Ching Cheong arrest.

Update (14:30) On a related topic, James Hamilton looks at the story behind China's puzzling oil demand. It is also important to remember that China's statistics are dodgy at best. And for a non-China example, it seems the British Labor Party have done the impossible and created a sperm shortage. Forest has the original letter in Chinese. (8/17 11:40) ESWN has a translation of Li Datong's China Youth Daily letter.

There is second example today of the opposite: China's control mechanisms failing in the face of the market.


More than half of Shenzhen's service stations and fuel depots were forced to close yesterday as the oil-supply crunch that has plagued Guangdong for weeks worsened. The fuel crisis has also begun to spread, with Shanghai now suffering shortages. Shenzhen municipal government and fuel giants Sinopec and China Petrol yesterday shut down indefinitely 128 of the 245 service stations in the city. The move triggered panic buying by Shenzhen drivers, who have complained about shortages for more than three weeks.

International oil prices broke through US$67 a barrel on Friday, putting pressure on mainland refiners to stop supplying petrol, particularly the lowest-grade fuel, to consumers because they are losing money under the mainland's controlled pricing system.

In Guangzhou, where rationing was first reported, roads outside some service stations have been transformed into car parks for vehicles waiting to get their tanks filled...

A Shenzhen official in charge of fuel supply said the daily supply of petrol in the city is about 40,000 litres, but demand is well over 70,000 litres...In Shanghai, the so-called No90 petrol, the lowest-quality and the cheapest, had sold out at some stations, Xinhua said on its website, without giving figures.

With petrol prices controlled there is no incentive for companies to supply the stuff at a loss, especially given ever-rising global oil prices. The problem can only get worse and will start to have a broader economic impact - people can't drive they can't get to work, make deliveries, get parts or get to markets.

A breakdown to the oil price controls is likely. The Communists have found something they can't control: market economics.

posted by Simon on 08.16.05 at 10:11 AM in the


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I'm more intrigued at the rating of the CPC Central Committee Propaganda Department's opinion as being "worth" more than that of the central leadership. I suspect that is what Li Datong is really getting at - the way Liu Yunshan and his cronies are cracking down on the media.

posted by: dylan on 08.16.05 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

'Textbook capitalism' is right! Companies should formalise this system, so that employees know where they stand in the brown-nosing stakes, and can strive to better themselves.

posted by: Bromgrev on 08.16.05 at 05:19 PM [permalink]

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