Late last month Kong Qingdong (孔庆东), a China studies professor at Peking University known most recently for his part in the nationalist bestseller Unhappy China, courted criticism from journalists and intellectuals in China when he said point blank during an interview that, “Right now journalists are a major public nuisance in our country.” Not stopping there, Kong said that, “If these journalists were all lined up and shot, I would feel heartache for not a single one of them.”
The focus of Kong’s criticism was Guangdong’s Nanfang Media Group, which has long had a reputation for more outspoken coverage of hard news and a stronger tradition of in-depth and investigative coverage. Continuing his shower of invective, Kong said: “I believe that the people of China should sue the Nanfang newspaper group, which every day defiles the revolutionary martyrs [of the country], besmirches the Party and the national government, and debases the Chinese people.”
The Nanfang Media Group operates a number of what are arguably China’s most respected professional publications, including Southern Metropolis Daily, Southern Weekly, Southern Metropolis Weekly and the province’s official Nanfang Daily.
Kong’s remarks were in response to a question posed to him about statements made by Wang Lijun (王立军), the top official in Chongqing’s Public Security Bureau, during a police conference on October 16, 2010. In his speech, Wang Lijun said that in the future his agency would launch a lawsuit against any media and journalist who attacked the reputation of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau or the civil police force (民警). If individual civil police officers were singled out for attack, said Wang, the officers would bring a suit against the journalist responsible in the courts, and the Public Security Bureau would sue the media organization.
Wang Lijun’s threats, now referred to as his “double action theory,” or shuang qi lun (双起论), sparked a discussion in China’s media about increasing pressures facing the practice of “supervision by public opinion,” or yulun jiandu (舆论监督), the use of the media to monitor power.
Professor Kong’s remarks on the media and journalists essentially threw support behind the hardline attitude of Chongqing’s top police official.
Following Kong Qingdong’s attack on the media, Chinese came out on both sides of the argument, some agreeing that the media had become a problem and others arguing that the monitoring of social and political issues is an important role of the news media. Many Chinese seemed to agree, in any case, that the tenor of Kong’s criticism was uncivil — and unbefitting a professor at a leading Chinese university.
Kong’s suggestion that no one should have moral compunctions about the execution of professional journalists is backgrounded by the unfortunate fact that attacks on journalists have increased in recent years in China.
An editorial posted on the Guangming Daily website yesterday said that “‘double action’ supporter Kong Qingdong is way off base.” The editorial, which suggested Kong had gotten a dizzying injection of ego with the publication of Unhappy China, said: “In today’s China, we don’t have too much media reporting of government, police and other power organs, we have too little.”
Another editorial published in Guangzhou’s Yangcheng Evening News yesterday, cautioned readers about the not-so-subtle Cultural Revolution overtones in Professor Kong’s remarks.
“Kong Qingdong has made no secret of the fact that he is infatuated with the culture of the Cultural Revolution and beautifies the Cultural Revolution era,” the editorial said. “These calumnies that have so shocked people and filled them with unease are legacies of the language of the Cultural Revolution.”