The current press structure in China is fundamentally fused with the organizational structure of the ruling Communist Party, and media are extensions of various bureaucratic branches of the party and/or government. Under such a state of affairs, one can imagine the level of sensitivity accorded the notion of “media independence”. The term therefore generally does not appear in publications or publicly circulated articles.
However, in the warming intellectual climate of the early to mid 1980s, scholars in China began raising the idea that the press should have “relative independence” (相对的独立性) or “formal independence” (形式上的独立). In May 1981, Sun Xupei, a key force behind the push for media reform and freedom of speech within the socialist system throughout the decade leading up to the Tiananmen Massacre, wrote in Investigations of Press Theory (新闻理论探讨): “When we talk about socialist freedom of speech, this means the media must certainly accept monitoring by the people, by the party and by the law. [We will] persist in the socialist project, [we will] persist in serving the masses. At the same time, [we must] allow the press relative independence, permitting [them] a freedom that cannot be violated both within the scope of the law and the [political] system.”
As China entered the 21st century, a number of journalists and scholars felt that media commercialization might push the country toward more independent media. In response, Qian Gang, former chief editor of Southern Weekend, warned that: “Journalism should be independent — it should not serve neither official power nor the interests of capital.” Zhan Jiang, a professor of journalism at China Youth University for Political Science, has also, employing the work of Jurgen Habermas, written of the “re-feudalization” of Chinese media — a dirty pact between official and business interests — as a result of the push to commercialize.