HONG KONG—The Chinese authorities have long waged a war on “illegal” publications, but the 10-year campaign may have more to do with controlling public access to political debate than stamping out rampant copyright piracy, commentators said in a recent panel discussion with RFA’s Mandarin service.
Local residents say China’s trade in illegally copied books, audio, and video products is booming in local markets despite Beijing’s recent claim to have destroyed more than 1 billion illegal publications in the campaign.
“Take Xian city where I live as an example,” local resident Fu Shen said. “I don’t think the numbers of pirated CDs or publications has decreased. I went to Software City in Xian last week and saw plenty of pirated CDs openly for sale and the prices were much cheaper than the original ones.”
The crackdown on pirated books and audio and video products started in China in 1994. But while China has a series of excellent laws enshrining copyright protection, the central government appears powerless to force local officials to go after infringers, especially in criminal proceedings.
“Business was particularly good for overseas big movies or newly introduced games, and pornographic videos,” Fu said. “They were doing a roaring trade.”
U.S.-based dissident Fang Jue said too many vested interests were involved at the local level to make copyright infringements a real target. The Chinese government has said that this year’s crackdown on illegal publications will be extended to focus on publications concerning “national dissension, terrorist activities, and cults.”
“I think the focus of the Chinese government’s crackdown on so-called ‘illegal publications’ is not on piracy,” Fang said. “Its real focus is on political and national security publications, the ones that it defines as illegal.”
Fang said “national dissension issues” referred mostly to books on national history, discussions on difficulties encountered during national development, and the many national inequalities in China.
“Books that actually encourage national dissension published in China are almost unheard of. Thus, I believe the Chinese government’s definition of national dissension is too broad. What it really tries to do is to prohibit discussions on national history and national autonomy issues,” he said.
Fang said the government’s definition of ‘cult’ might also be too broad, as it tended to be applied to any organized religious activity not approved by the State Bureau of Religious Affairs.
“This is in fact a disregard of freedom of religion. Other books on which the Chinese government imposes even harsher punishments involve so-called ‘national security,’ especially those that discuss politics.”
Fu said serious analytical books dealing with the history of religions and politics in China were almost unheard of in China. “I’m more than 40 years old... I basically have not seen any book containing systematic historical concepts about the religions in our country or our country’s politics.”
“Through the Internet and other channels, we realize, ‘Oh! That was what history was about!’ The present government uses the crackdown on cults and illegal publications as an excuse... But anyone who refuses to lie and dares to tell the truth is punished so hard they can’t survive,” Fu said.