SHANGHAI — The Chinese Communist Party has adopted new internal rules that bar mass-circulation newspapers from publishing articles on certain controversial subjects, according to press and party propaganda officials.
Officials in Shanghai say that under the guidelines, sensitive topics may still be discussed, but only in specialized, limited-circulation magazines for scholars and researchers--not in the mass media.
One topic specifically placed off limits for now is the reform of China's political system, journalists say.
'Not in Society at Large'
"We were informed by the propaganda department that this should be discussed internally, not in the society at large," said Zhu Xingqing, deputy editor-in-chief of the World Economic Herald.
In an interview, Gong Xinhan, vice minister of the Shanghai Communist Party's propaganda department, confirmed that new rules have been given to the press about which subjects may be aired in the mass media.
Besides political reform, Gong said that issuance of stock shares by Chinese enterprises is another subject on which coverage is being limited.
"We have made a review," he explained. "Last year, we published some articles in the paper which were entirely wrong."
Law Being Drafted
Gong said the new press rules have not been written down but are being passed on to Chinese journalists through "discussions and studies." However, he said propaganda officials in Shanghai and Beijing are working on drafts of a press law that would specify in writing the demarcation line on what the press should and should not publish.
These changes in what can be aired in the press are among the most important consequences of the campaign against "bourgeois liberal" influences that began in China three months ago.
In the spring of last year, with the approval of senior officials, newspapers began publishing essays and articles exploring the need for far-reaching changes in China's political system. Some of these articles called for new checks and balances on the power of the Communist Party.
Last January, after a wave of student demonstrations for democracy, former party secretary Hu Yaobang was forced to resign, and his propaganda minister, Zhu Houze, was fired.
Papers, Magazines Closed
Since then, authorities have closed down several local newspapers and a series of popular tabloid magazines.
The publication in the forefront of the campaign for political reform last year was the World Economic Herald, a Shanghai newspaper with a circulation of 300,000. The paper is run by the Institute of World Economics of China's Academy of Social Sciences.
Last November, for example, the World Economic Herald published an interview with Fang Lizhi, a renowned astrophysicist recently expelled from the Communist Party for advocating Western-style democracy.
In the interview, Fang said intellectuals "should straighten up their bent backs."
"They should not be completely obedient to the higher level or wait for orders from above when dealing with things," he said.
'Not Mature' to Publish
Now, articles about touchy political subjects can no longer be found. "We have guidelines saying that it's not mature for these ideas to be published in the newspapers now," says deputy editor Zhu. "The ideas are being discussed within the party and among scholars."
At Shanghai's propaganda department, Vice Minister Gong rejected suggestions that the World Economic Herald might be shut down. "It makes a lot of contributions in publishing articles about economic matters," he said.
Nevertheless, Chinese sources say the editors of the paper are being forced to make self-criticisms in internal meetings. Gong said the paper's journalists are "reviewing what they have done."
"Last year, the World Economic Herald published some articles which were not suitable," he added.
Gong did not reject the possibility that the publication's veteran editor, Qin Benli, might be replaced. "It's not the case that he's been kicked out. He's still working," the propaganda official said. "If there is a change, it would be normal, because he's 68 years old."
The crackdown at the World Economic Herald is itself the outgrowth of a personnel change at Gong's propaganda department.
Last year, Shanghai propaganda was under the control of Pan Weiming, 38, a protege of former party secretary Hu and his allies. Early this year, Pan suddenly left Shanghai for Beijing.
Shanghai officials explain that Pan is still officially the head of the propaganda department but is attending a six-month course at the Communist Party's central party school. Gong said that normally people return to their jobs after the course but that he could not say for sure what will happen to Pan.
At Fudan University, one of China's leading educational institutions, Ju Yanan, director of the Journalism Department's international program, explained what he believes to be the fundamental difference between the press in China and in the West.
"Here, the media are the organ of the party," he said. "So, some information cannot get into the paper if it's not deemed helpful to China's modernization program."