Today’s interrogation roundup: Minjian is a journal covering emerging civil society in China, which is not a mission likely to get you a publishing licence. Founder Zhai Minglei got round that through having the journal published under the chop of Guangzhou’s Sun Yatsen university as an internal reference specialist publication for social scientists. That didn’t prevent a visit from something called the Cultural Enforcement Squad, apparently an arm of an “invisible office” outside the normal censorship/security nexus. Read about Zhai’s encounter with the cultural squad here.
Elsewhere, Nick Young writes about the closure of his China Development Brief earlier this year, an independent English language newsletter circulated around the international NGO-China watching circuit, and tolerated until he decided to launch a Chinese edition and transfer to local management. The specific concerns expressed by the security forces here were about Xinjiang separatist organisations in particular and colour revolutions in general. This is how the closure went down:
On July 4, our office was visited by a dozen officials, police, and security agents, who ordered us to stop publishing. They came wielding video cameras, which they directed at us while rifling through papers and questioning us. Ominously, one of the group boasted to my colleagues that his team was "fluent in foreign languages, including Arabic and Uighur" – the language of the Muslim majority in Xinjiang, China's northwest frontier province.
I was made to sign a statement admitting to "conducting unauthorized surveys" in contravention of laws that give the Chinese state a monopoly on information gathering. Colleagues on our Chinese edition were charged with distributing an unlicensed publication and subsequently fined 12,000 yuan (about $1,500).
The charges could have been more serious and the penalty much harsher, so it seems the idea was to apply the minimum force needed to close this small window of free speech.
Surgical, you might say: at any rate a different order of business than sending in a goon squad to trash the offices of a publication which offended a local boss, or sending ordinary cops to ask for licenses and permits as part of their normal duties.
Aside from the official mechanisms of information control in China – designed to ensure the security of the state under the party – there are shadow organizations, sometimes amusingly known as reading groups (see here), which are internal institutions of the CPC and which monitor and interdict trends which may result in direct political threats to Party rule somewhere down the line. And here, the combination of “invisible offices,” colour revolutions, civil society and a certain smoothness of execution in both cases seems to indicate this level of involvement.