China got your tongue?

The Leak of Document No. 9: China’s culture of journalistic silence will yield to a culture of digital infinity and possibility


“Fundamental Rights” for citizens, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press – these are all included in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. After all, a government cannot claim a robust cultural front without the free exchange of ideas.

Yet the 2014 World Press Freedom Index ranked China 175th out of 180 countries examined. You can peruse their handy interactive map here.

China also sits towards the top the list when it comes to rates of incarcerating journalists. The New York based ‘Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) published their annual report in December this year and showed that out of the 199 journalists who were imprisoned around the world as of December 1st, a quarter of them where in China.

As of the end of this year, the number of journalists imprisoned in China is the highest since the CPJ began conducting its annual survey fifteen years ago. The fact that this period of fifteen years roughly corresponds with the rise of the Internet and digital journalism should be well noted.

Over this period, both professional journalists and citizen bloggers in China have needed to find creative ways of reporting around the Great Firewall of China that censors the country’s online news and communications networks. For example, the date of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, ‘June 4th’, is referred to on the internet as ‘May 35th’ in order to bypass the country’s search engine censors. However, last year, searches for ‘May 35th’ begun being censored as well.


One key moment, two years ago, might best sum up the Chinese government’s renewed crackdown on press freedom and free speech in light of emerging and accessible digital technologies – the online leak of Document No. 9.

In 2013, a memo from the General Office of the Communist Party of China was circulated among senior party leaders, later known as Document No. 9. This confidential memo, officially titled the Communiqué on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere, warned of the increasing threat of cultural liberalism and critiqued the journalistic style of the West.

The document was obtained by Mingjing Magazine, a Chinese-language magazine based out of the U.S, and was published in its print magazine in full in September 2013, in print.  An English translation of the document was republished by with Mingjing Magazine’s permission, and it can be viewed in full here.

The document attacks Western journalistic practice and its creeping incursion into the Chinese cultural front. It outlines a number of “false ideological trends, positions, and activities.” The document outlines the Chinese government’s seemingly vigorous promotion of the cultural sphere through an increasingly close management of ideological fronts and promotes a unification of thought amongst the people.


In April of last year, 71-year-old Chinese journalist and dissident, Gao Yu, was convicted of leaking state secrets to foreign media. She was accused of leaking Document No. 9 to an overseas Chinese news group, Mingjing Magazine, in 2013. Gao was sentenced to 7 years in prison, despite the fact that Document No. 9 had already been published online, and that Ho Pin, the chief executive of Mirror Media Group, who runs Mingjing, drafted an affidavit explaining how he had in fact received the document from a party propaganda official. The Chinese consulate in New York refused to notarise his statement.

The reaction to Goa’s imprisonment was swift. Reporters Without Borders (RWB) released internal Chinese Communist Party documents in protest. You can find a link to the documents on their website, here. In releasing these documents, RWB demonstrated that such documents can be shared instantly. This form of protest demonstrated that online documents exist on the internet forever. They demonstrate how China’s culture of journalistic silence will yield to a culture of infinity, freedom and possibility in the digital age.

After appealing Gao Yu’s sentence, it was reduced to 5 years. Shortly after, the Chinese state media issued a report that she had been released on medical parole. Refusing to acknowledge Gao’s case, the matter has been quickly pushed under the carpet – like many other issues of censorships that arise with the Chinese Government.



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