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    Reporters Without Borders said in it’s 2005 special report titled “Xinhua: the world’s biggest propaganda agency”, that “Xinhua remains the voice of the sole party”, “particularly during the SARS epidemic, Xinhua has for last few months been putting out news reports embarrassing to the government, but they are designed to fool the international community, since they are not published in Chinese.”
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Bold Activists Hold Beijing to Account

Posted by Author on December 31, 2007

By Jamil Anderlini and Mure Dickie, Financial Times Limited, December 26 2007-

For an authoritarian Communist party to paint itself as a promoter of democracy and individual property rights was always going to be a political strategy with some risks.

Less than three months after a much-heralded congress of China’s ruling communists at which party leaders restated their commitment to “democratic” values and private property, they are being called to account on those very issues by some unusually bold critics.

Now the party must decide how to respond to an academic announcing the creation of a democratic opposition party and farmers across the country claiming private rights over hundreds of thousands of hectares of land seized by officials.

So far, Beijing appears in no mood to brook such challenges to the party’s monopoly on political power or the state’s authority to dispose of collectively owned land as its agents see fit.

Authorities in three provinces have detained or in effect placed under house arrest at least eight people after they separately announced on the internet that they had reclaimed collective land from the state and redistributed it among dispossessed farmers.

The announcements from farmers in the provinces of Heilongjiang, Shaanxi, Jiangsu and the provincial-level city of Tianjin were all posted within 10 days of each other and used near-identical phrasing to assert rural residents’ rights to own their land individually.

Such claims directly challenge Chinese laws and regulations, under which farmland is collectively owned but farming households are granted 30-year land-use rights on a contract basis.

It is not yet clear how the party will treat Guo Quan, the Nanjing Normal University academic who has announced the creation of what he calls the “New Democracy party” to “oppose the autocratic system of one-party dictatorship” that is the “common root of all China’s social problems”.

However, Mr Guo says his university has already stripped him of his professorial status and teaching role and police have searched his home after he issued an open letter last month calling for multi-party democracy. If it chooses to, the ruling party certainly has the ability to crack down on the small numbers of critics willing openly to defy it – even when they claim widespread support.

Mr Guo, for example, says hundreds of people were involved in setting up the New Democracy party and that it groups “10m” rights campaigners. But asked how many are willing to offer open support, he answers: “I’m the only one doing so publicly.”

Likewise, the rural land-rights promoters claim to represent tens of thousands of farmers – but their internet notices are signed by only a handful of apparently hardcore activists.

Still, the fact that anybody at all is willing to defy the party so directly makes it harder for its leaders to claim that the country is content with its selective definition of democracy.

And in the case of rural land claims, many internet users have seen a link between this month’s announcements and the actions in December 1978 of 18 farming families in Anhui province’s Xiaogang village.

Those families are credited with leading the way to China’s current “household responsibility” system of rural land-use by redistributing the land held by their village collective.

This month’s would-be land-use reformers also appear to be appealing to those within the central government and urban elites who think that China must give farmers legal title to their land.

“These peasants are probably being helped by lawyers,” said Wang Chunguang, a researcher at the Sociology Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “Peasants do not have the power to deal with and benefit from the land and many people recognise that land reform is needed.”

For all such recognition, however, activists know the party often deals harshly with perceived threats.

Following the detention of land claimants in Heilongjiang, Shaanxi and Jiangsu, activists in Tianjin expect similar treatment – but remain defiant.

“We are not afraid of anything that might happen, we are fighting for the right to live on our own land,” said Lan Guiyi, signatory to the Tianjin claim.

Mr Guo, too, shrugs off the dangers of party-founding. “I think any historically progressive person faces risk,” he says. “If nobody is willing to accept this risk, then society cannot advance.”

Original report from the Financial Times

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