What were China’s top stories in 2010?

With a list of candidates for the “Top Ten Domestic Stories of the Year“, an online survey feature released over the weekend and shared on most major news portals, People’s Daily Online packaged a politically tidy version of China’s headlines in 2010. Missing from the list of options to be selected from web users between December 17 and December 27 — with the winners announced afterwards — were not just odd favorites, but critical and defining stories, such as the ongoing burden of housing prices and a series of violent attacks on school children in April and May.

In the comments section at People’s Daily Online, web users noted a number of conspicuous absences. “I think the whole ‘My Dad is Li Gang‘ story deserves to be number one,” wrote one respondent, referring to an October incident in which the son of an influential police official in Hubei province struck and killed two female students while driving his sedan across a university campus.

The Hubei story drew a wave of public outrage after it emerged that the official’s son, when finally stopped by students and security guards, had stepped out of his car and threatened, “My Dad is Li Gang! You just try to sue me!” Bans on the reporting of this sensitive story followed quickly, and the university campus was reportedly under lockdown. Just last week, the lawyer representing the parents of one of the victims was attacked by unidentified assailants.

But no one will be casting votes for the Li Gang story, which didn’t make the short list of candidates at People’s Daily Online. A user sarcastically identified as “the river crab is so yellow and so violent“; (a reference to censorship masquerading under the official banner of ‘harmony’) wrote: “With even Li Gang not on the list, this whole thing is so obviously a fraud!”

“Why isn’t Li Gang on the list?” asked another user, identified as “GoGoGo.” Wrote another: “I veto this entire list! Li Gang and demolition aren’t even on there.”

“What about illegal demolition and removal?” another web user commented, referring to the forced removal of residents from their homes to make room for development projects, a sensitive ongoing issue that has in fact gotten substantial play in the headlines in China — not least following an incident in Yihuang, Jiangxi province, in which three residents facing eviction at the hands of callous local officials set themselves on fire and eventually died of their injuries as the nation looked on.

In an act of defiance that apparently escaped forum managers, user “1223″ invoked the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo: “I think that the Peace Prize is the number one story this year,” they wrote. In order to remove the obvious red flags, the user replaced the characters for “peace” + “prize”, or heping jiang (和平奖), with the same-sounding characters “crane” + “level” + “palm”, or heping zhang (鹤平掌).

“How can the democracy question not be on there?” asked user “Communist Party.” A very good question, considering that democracy and political reform have been recurrent issues this year ever since the National People’s Congress, when Wen Jiabao said that the “drive toward modernization will fail without political reform” [the bold headline on this front page, below, at Xiao Xiang Morning Post].

Despite the diligence of forum managers — two of my own attempts to post on neglected news stories failed — the majority of comments were fault-finding.

“The official color of this list is so obvious,” wrote user “123.” “Just think about housing prices. That should be number one!”

“This is so fake,” said user “asdf.”

“This really is a selection list with Chinese characteristics!” wrote user “Chinese Characteristics,” poking fun at the conservative political buzzword “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Here is the list from People’s Daily Online of the 15 candidates for the top ten domestic news stories of 2010.

1. The Fifth Plenary Conference of the 17th Central Committee of the CCP is held in Beijing (October)
This meeting of top CCP leaders, held from October 15-18, issues opinions for the creation of China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, and politburo member Xi Jinping (习近平) is promoted vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission.

2. CCP organizations and Party members at the grassroots levels launch intensive campaigns to encourage them to excel in their performance (April-May)

3. The Shanghai World Expo is held successfully, showing off the fruits of urban civilization (May-October)
Successfully held from May 1 to October 31, the World Expo notched up many records: 246 nations participated, 73 million domestic and international guests visited, and on the biggest day more than one million guest visited the
exhibits.

4. The Central Party leadership introduces successive policies to adjust housing and product prices, controlling the rise of property and product prices

5. The government launches the country’s first medium and long-term talent plan (May)
On May 25 and 26, China’s State Council introduces a strategic plan ((中长期人才规划纲要)) for the development of talent up to 2020. This is the first plan of its kind in China, and aims to put China in the ranks of the world’s top talent nations.

6. 30-year anniversary celebrations held for Shenzhen, Shantou and Zhuhai (September)

7. Strengthening cross-straits economic ties (June)
On June 29 in Chongqing, Chen Yunlin (陈云林), chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits http://www.arats.com.cn/, and Jiang Bingkun (江丙坤), president of the Cross-Straits Dialogue Foundation, signed a Framework Agreement for Economic Cooperation Between the Two Sides of the Taiwan Straits (海峡两岸经济合作框架协议). Both sides pledged to strengthen economic and trade ties.

8. China’s 6th National Census begins (November)
The national census is launched on November 1. On November 15, the Office of the Population Census Leadership Work Group and the National Bureau of Statistics issue a letter of thanks to the people of China. This national census is the first to also count Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan residents living in China, as well as foreigners.

9. Implementation of the National Plan for the Medium and Long-term Reform and Development of the Education System (July)
According to this plan, preschool education will be universal in China by 2020.

10. The Chang’e 2 satellite is successfully launched (October)
The satellite successfully enters orbit around the moon, beaming back images of its surface. The mission was a successful step toward a manned lunar mission.

11. Track laying was completed for the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway (November)
The high-speed railway will be the world’s fastest when it opens in 2011.

12. Guangzhou successfully hosts the 2010 Asian Games (November-December)
China wins 199 gold medals, 119 silver and 98 bronze, dominating the medals table.

13. An earthquake strikes Yushu County in Qinghai province (April 14)
The earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, claims 2,000 lives.
CMP: “Day of mourning for the victims of Yushu

14. A mudslide suddenly strikes Zhouqu County in Gansu province, killing around 1,000 people (August 7)
CMP: “Caijing shines with Gansu disaster coverage
CMP: “China’s media go dark for Zhouqu

15. 115 die and 38 are rescued in a mining disaster in Wangjialing (王家岭), Shanxi province (March)
CMP: “Why must our heroes sleep on stones
CMP: “Slogans do no honor to China’s miners

Just to give readers an idea of what other stories might be considered for a list of top ten news for 2010, here is a top-eleven list of news stories that do not appear on the People’s Daily Online list. We provide links to relevant English-language news coverage where possible. And we encourage readers to share in the comments section other stories we may have neglected to mention.

1. Jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo wins the Nobel Peace Prize
CMP (People’s Daily): “Liu Xiaobo can’t possibly understand
CMP: “China Youth Daily attacks Liu Xiaobo Nobel
CMP/Comic China: “Dove of peace caged
CMP/Bei Feng: “Viewing the Liu Xiaobo response through Twitter
CMP/Comic China: “Nobel languishes behind bars
CMP: “China’s responds to Liu Xiaobo Nobel

2. Seven Mentions by Premier Wen Jiabao of Political Reform
CNN: “Transcript of Interview with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao
CMP/He Weifang: “First Steps Toward Political Reform
CMP/Hu Shuli: “We Must Act Quickly on Political Reform
CMP/Du Daozheng: “Democracy should not be divided into capitalist and socialist
CMP (People’s Daily): “China must take its own road

3. The Yihuang Self-Immolation Case
On September 10, 2010, a large contingent of police surrounded the Zhong home in Yihuang, Guangxi province, to carry out a forced demolition and removal order that would force the Zhongs from their family home. The family had been fighting eviction for months. In a final act of desperation, Ye Zhongcheng (叶忠诚) and two family members doused themselves with fuel and set themselves on fire to protest the government’s action. The event followed a similar self-immolation to protest eviction in Chengdu in 2009. On September 16, as the three victims remained in hospital, Zhong Rucui (钟如翠) and Zhong Rujiu (钟如九), daughters of Zhong Zhifeng, went to the local airport. They planned to take a flight to Beijing to petition for central government attention to the family’s case. Local officials responded by dispatching scores of police to the airport to stop them from traveling. Holed up in the women’s restroom at the airport, the women used their mobile phones to call a journalist, who then posted the news about their plight and the actions of local officials on a popular microblog service. Over the next three hours, Deng Fei (邓飞), a reporter for the Beijing-based Phoenix Weekly, sent out more than 20 microblog posts with the help of a reporter on the ground in Jiangxi. On September 18, Zhong Rujiu set up her own microblog, making regular posts on the tragedy and their own situation.
Global Voices: “The Power of Microblogging
ESWN: Full roundup and translations
CMP: “Microblogs Reshape the News

4. Xie Chaoping arrested for work of reportage exposing abuses during the building of the Sanmen Dam project in the 1950s
The Guardian: “Writer Xie Chaoping detained in Shanxi
Useless Tree: “Xie Chaoping and the Impossibility of State Confucianism in China

5. String of violent attacks on Chinese schoolchildren across the country (April-May)
CNN: Round-up of attacks on China’s schools
The Guardian: Wen Jiabao’s remarks on causes of attacks
NYT: “Fifth deadly attack on schools haunts China
CMP/Chang Ping: “School Attacks and Media Ethics
CMP/Comic China: “Safety for China’s Schoolchildren

6. Uncovering of Beijing Anyuanding Security Technology Services, a private firm running black jails in China
Global Asia/Yu Jianrong: “Holding Tight and Not Letting Go: the Mechanisms of Rigid Stability
CMP/Xiao Shu: “Anyuanding, and Why Political Reform Can’t Wait
NYT: “China Investigates Extralegal Prison Detentions

7. Google Exits Mainland China (January)
Forbes: “Google Takes on China
CMP: “Google, Don’t Become a Tool of Hegemony
Qian Gang: “Why Google’s Departure is Not Cause for Despair

8. Li Hongzhong NPC quote (March)
During this year’s session of the National People’s Congress, Hubei Governor Li Hongzhong became furious when a reporter from the Beijing Times, a commercial spin-off of the Party’s official People’s Daily, asked a question about the Deng Yujiao case in 2009. Grabbing the reporter’s digital recorder from her hand, Li fumed: “You’re from People’s Daily and you ask such a question? Is this the kind of mouthpiece you are? Is this how you guide public opinion? What is your name? I want to find your boss!” Hundreds of professional journalists responded with an open letter calling on Li to publicly apologize.
CMP: “Journalists Issue Open Letter Against Hubei Governor

9. Shanxi Vaccine Scandal (March)
An investigative report by Wang Keqin in the China Economic Times exposes how at least four children died and 74 suffer serious conditions as a result of the careless administration of vaccines by provincial authorities in Shanxi. The report suggests the vaccines were improperly stored in rooms without refrigeration and then delivered throughout the province, and that a company under the provincial health authority held a monopoly on vaccine distribution.
CMP: “China’s top watchdog reporter strikes again
CMP: “Editorial urges more action on the vaccine scandal

10. Joint editorial by Chinese commercial media (March)
On March 1, 14 newspapers in China jointly issued an editorial called “Will Our NPC Delegates Please Turn Their Attention and Efforts to the Reform of the Household Registration System.” “China has long suffered under the household registration system!” the March 1 joint editorial declared. In clear violation of China’s Constitution, it said, the two-tiered system of household registration cleaves China’s urban and rural residents into two distinct and unequal classes, and restricts the free movement of Chinese citizens.
CMP: Qian Gang: “Joint editorial should top the premier’s NPC reading list

11. Open letter from Party elders calls for free speech
On October 11, 23 Chinese Communist Party elders known for their pro-reform positions, including Mao Zedong’s former secretary Li Rui (李锐) and former People’s Daily editor-in-chief Hu Jiwei (胡绩伟), submitted an open letter to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, formally China’s highest state body, calling for an end to restrictions on expression in China. The letter urged the Communist Party to abolish censorship and realize citizens’ right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

6 Comments to “What were China’s top stories in 2010?”

  1. Heidi says:

    Dear Bandurski:
    Thank you for this sharing!
    I think there is another important news which is not covered in the top eleven stories.
    Zhao Lianhai (趙連海) being sentenced on November 2010 under the charge of “inciting social order” is also a shocking news. In a society in which family is also a value, this piece of news kind of attempting to measure the bottom line of the citizens.
    Thank you for your attention!
    Happy New Year!
    Heidi

  2. David says:

    Bill:

    Thanks for your remarks, of course. You may have noticed that I opened the post up to suggestions. I never suggested this alternative list was representative or ‘balanced.’ For what it’s worth, I assure you that if I made a similar list for ANY country, what you call ‘negative news’ would predominate. This is how news works, and should, in any country. Which is why a responsible news reporter working on your story about ‘China’s economy outpacing the rest of the world’ would be professionally obliged to look carefully at the reasons WHY it has done so, and at the implications of that growth, etc. The outcome of scrutiny on this issue might not — perhaps should not — be the ‘positive story’ you’re looking for.

    Next, your focus on Chinese victimization at the hands of a hostile “Western” press is tiresome and predictable . . . Did you follow ANY of these stories? And where? With the exception of 11, the letter from Party elders, all of them were followed by Chinese media. With the exception of 1, 7 and 11, all of the most important reporting was done by Chinese reporters working as insiders in China’s press system.

    How is Wang Keqin’s vaccine story a ‘negative’ story? . . . Do Chinese NOT care about the well-being of their own children? Of course they do. Do they really believe their country should be run by greedy Li Gangs? Of course not. And that is why it is ‘positive’ for Chinese journalists to serve this role, monitoring corruption by unaccountable officials. And many readers outside China WOULD see the revelation of the ‘negative’ news as a positive reflection on China . . .

    Every five year’s since 1987, the CCP’s political report has emphasized the importance of “supervision by public opinion,” or media monitoring of power. This has nothing to do with Western media. And to be perfectly frank, Western media generally add very little to reporting of these stories pioneered by Chinese journalists, often at great risk.

    The Liu Xiaobo story, I remind you, was commented upon quite robustly (if narrowly) by Xinhua and People’s Daily. My list does not suggest the reporting of Liu Xiaobo be sympathetic, but just that it be counted as a story.

    You do remind me, however, of the story of China’s overtaking Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy. That, certainly, should be among the candidates.

    Best,
    David

  3. Bill says:

    This was a great read; however I think the ‘alternative stories’ could have been a bit better and somewhat balanced. There wasn’t a single ‘positive’ story there; just another litany of disaster in China by Western media. For example, what about China’s economy outpacing the rest of the world as other countries recover from financial crisis? Surely that gets an honorable mention, no? I write this, because it’s the reason I don’t bother to share this post with Chinese friends who would just cry ‘foul’ and ‘unfair’.

  4. David says:

    Right you are. Don’t know how that gem of a story slipped my mind!

    Best,
    David

  5. Kaiser says:

    Great post!!

    It might not make the top 10, but certainly the savaging of Guo Degang by the media, and subsequent harmonization of any defense of him, was significant. From what I could tell, it really broadened the audience paying attention to the fact of censorship: Many people who apparently weren’t bothered by censorship when the issues were “merely” political were incensed that a “man of the people” like Guo Degang would be muzzled, along with anyone trying to voice support for him online.

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