Cultural Revolution Expert Says Free Media Crucial to Hong Kong


2004-05-31
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A Chinese-American academic who has carried out extensive research into China's bloody Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) has warned in a recent interview with RFA that media freedom is Hong Kong's key defense against the sort of political tactics encouraged by Mao Zedong during that period.

"Mao Zedong called for uniformity of the press," Normandale Community College professor Ding Shu told RFA's Mandarin service. "In other words, let the news media be uniform. This means all news media, including newspapers, radio, television, and magazines: all need to have one and the same voice."

"This is what the Chinese Communist Party needs. If Hong Kong conforms to 'uniformity of the press,' then we don't know what will happen," Ding said.

However, some fear that political tactics reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution era in Hong Kong have already begun to make an appearance in the former British colony, which was promised continued freedom of speech, assembly, and the media under the terms of its handover to China in 1997.

In recent months, a flagship political discussion forum in Hong Kong's central Victoria Park has seen the emergence of a strange new phenomenon, a group of politically active and sometimes threatening older citizens, dubbed by some "The Victoria Park Old Guard."

RFA's Cantonese service reported that the most recent episode took place Sunday, shortly after a former radio talk-show host and outspoken critic of Beijing, Albert Cheng, said he would not attend a Legislative Council meeting to explain his reasons out of concerns for his personal safety.

A young man who got up to film a pro-Beijing audience member heckling a panel guest on the government-run Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) show was surrounded by a group of about 12 older participants, who hurled short-range verbal abuse at him and behaved threateningly.

The young man was only able to leave the scene with assistance from local police. Earlier this month, democratic politician Martin Lee was also repeatedly heckled by shouts of "traitor" and mobbed in his car by audience members as he left the area in his car. Lee had appeared on the show to discuss political reforms in the wake of China's veto on full democratic elections in 2007 and 2008.

Hong Kong has been strongly affected by internal Chinese politics even throughout its period as a British colony, with riots in 1956 between supporters of the Communist Party and those of the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT). Further riots in 1967 mirrored the political chaos taking place across the border during the Cultural Revolution.

Ding, who published a report in Hong Kong recently in which he estimated that two million of China's intellectual and artistic elite lost their lives during the Cultural Revolution, said China's approach in Hong Kong so far appeared to be to "attack the minority" of pro-democracy politicians, painting them as unpatriotic troublemakers.

But he said such an attack had the potential to turn into a Cultural Revolution-style attack on the majority. "Maybe there are quite a large number of people who are sympathetic to or have the same view," Ding said.

"Of course they're concentrating their efforts on the leaders [of the pro-democracy camp]," said Ding. "The huge demonstration that took place earlier against Article 23 showed that it's certainly not a minority of people, but the will of the majority of the people."

Half a million people took to the streets in Hong Kong on July 1, 2003 to protest at the government's handling of "Article 23" national security legislation that sparked fears that it might be used to control the media, and to curb other traditional freedoms enjoyed in the territory. The government was forced into an embarrassing retreat on the issue, but the size of the demonstration had been totally unexpected in Beijing.

More recently, Beijing intervened heavily in the debate on constitutional reform, ruling out the possibility of direct universal suffrage in the 2007 and 2003 elections before any formal proposal had been made by Hong Kong. Reports of political pressure, politically motivated violence and vandalism against democratic politicians and outspoken critics of Beijing have mounted in the run-up to Legislative Council elections in September. Police have so far failed to identify those responsible, so no direct evidence has been forthcoming.

In the past month, three outspoken radio talk show hosts, Cheng, Wong Yuk-man and former pro-Beijing politician Allen Lee have quit their jobs, with Cheng and Wong citing violence and death threats, and Lee citing pressure from China-connected friends and business associates.

Ordinary citizens have also reported an increase in the number of unexpected phone calls from relatives in China urging them to vote for pro-Beijing parties in the forthcoming elections, Reuters news agency reported recently.

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