No change in forty years, 焦國標 Jiao Guobian on propaganda

Much is being made of 焦國標 Jiao Guobian, journalism professor at Beijing University who wrote a vitriolic attack against the Central Propaganda Department. In language rich in hyperbole, the essay’s publication has been perceived as the emergence of a power struggle in the Communist Party, in which Jiao has the backing of party Elders in attacking the hardline group allied to Jiang Zemin and demanding more democratic and media freedoms.

The New York Times ran a lengthy article on the current political climate in China at the publication of this essay:

The department is spiteful like the Nazis, he wrote in a recent essay. It thinks itself infallible like the pope. In the 1950’s it covered up the starvation of millions of people. Today, he charged, it lies about SARS.

“Their censorship orders are totally groundless, absolutely arbitrary, at odds with the basic standards of civilization, and as counter to scientific common sense as witches and wizardry,” he wrote in the article – which has been widely circulated by Internet in Beijing despite, not unpredictably, being banned by the Communist Party’s propaganda department.

EastWestNorthSouth has circulated a rough translation of Jiao’s essay with commentary on the style and content which addresses some troubling aspects of Jiao’s attack, notably personal attacks on character and uncritical admiration for the US political system. While broadly agreeing with the issues Jiao raises, there remain questions, in particular wondering what he hopes to achieve by such a blatant baiting of the government, when dissidents have ended up serving lengthy prison terms for much less.