- Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by Michael Keane
Chapter 15: The cultural governance of mass media in contemporary China
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has one of the most carefully regulated media environments in the world. The Chinese state and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) take an unapologetically authoritarian stance when it comes to controlling the production and flow of culture: for China’s political leadership, it is of crucial importance to ‘correctly guide public opinion’. This is true for political issues, such as news reporting on sensitive current affairs or international relations, but also for cultural expressions that might constitute ‘ideological challenges’ to Chinese sovereignty or cultural identity, which the leadership views as matters of ‘national security’ (Ng 2014). Foreign media tend to interpret media controls in the PRC as the workings of a monolithic authoritarian apparatus that is trying to win a ‘cat and mouse’ game (Economist 2013) with the ‘forces of freedom of expression’ (Sudworth 2013). Such assessments can also be found in academic accounts, where Chinese media workers and government officials are at times seen as ‘unapologetic spouters of lies’ (He 2008: 38). There is of course much to criticize about censorship and propaganda in the PRC today. However it would be misleading to view such information control solely as top-down acts by the state. The reality of cultural regulations is far more complex, and it is the purpose of this chapter to capture some of this complexity.
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