In every year there are winners and there are losers, and 2012 was no different. With the Communist Party leadership transition taking place at the end of the year, this was always going to be a tumultuous time for China, but its unlikely any of us could have guessed just quite how much drama would occur. Here are the people who won’t be looking back on 2012 fondly.
We reported in June on the worrying developments at the previously fiercely independent Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post. The SCMP’s new editor-in-chief, Wang Xiangwei, is believed to have ordered the reduction of a report on the suspicious death of Tiananmen activist Li Wangyang to a brief, effectively killing the story. Staff accused Wang, a former editor at the China Daily, of being too close to Beijing, and veteran reporter Paul Mooney, who had previously won 10 awards for his work at the paper, was let go. Mooney later said that the SCMP “may be beyond the point of no return”.
In July, a large number of ex-reporters for the newspaper published an open letter to the SCMP’s executive director Hui Kuok, expressing their concern that the paper was abandoning its “traditions of independence, truthfulness and service to its readers.”
In many ways, 2012 was probably quite a good year for Professor Daniel Bell of Tsinghua University: his writings were being published and discussed in more places than perhaps ever before. However, the vast majority of the discussion on those writings, including on this site, was intensely negative.
Bell particularly attracted our ire when an op-ed, written in conjunction with the fame-whorish venture capitalist Eric X. Li, was published in the Financial Times arguing that the new generation of Chinese leadership was chosen by meritocratic means. We were not the only site to gleefully take apart this facetious argument, particularly given that the eventual make-up of the Standing Committee was so clearly influenced by nepotism and backroom dealings.
After Professor Bell published a somewhat ill-judged and peevish retort to what he felt was a mischaracterisation of himself by the Globe and Mail’s Mark MacKinnon, we looked into Professor Bell’s work in detail, concluding that his representation of the modern Chinese political system as ‘meritocratic’ was wrong-headed and, worse, harmful to a constructive conversation on the flaws in, and potential alternatives to, democracy.
There have been a number of fantastic stories by Chinese and foreign journalists this year, including a couple of groundbreaking scoops about the finances of those at the very top of Chinese society. However, the reaction by the Chinese state to such scoops, and the general treatment of journalists within China has been largely regressive and often harsh.
In May, Al Jazeera English’s Beijing bureau was effectively shut down when its top reporter Melissa Chan had her visa revoked, apparently as retribution for an Al Jazeera story on black jails. Yang Rui, host of CCTV’s Dialogue, got personal, calling Ms Chan a “foreign bitch” on Weibo, a remark he would later have to embarrassingly apologise for. Earlier this year Yang also called on the Public Security Bureau to “clean out the foreign trash” and then went on to threaten China Geeks editor Charlie Custer with legal action when Custer called for a boycott of Dialogue.
Journalists permitted to remain in China didn’t have much of a better time of it. Gmail reported in June that “state-sponsored” hackers were attempting to access many foreign correspondents’ accounts. Bloomberg reporter Mike Forsythe received death threats after his report on the massive wealth amassed by Xi Jinping’s family as the now General Secretary rose to power. That story also led to Bloomberg’s website being blocked on the Chinese mainland, a fate that also befell the New York Times following David Barboza’s excellent work in exposing the massive wealth and power of now ex-Premier Wen Jiabao’s family.
Finally, towards the end of the year, we unravelled the peculiar tale of Andrea Yu and CAMG Media, who were apparently in cahoots with the CPC Propaganda Department in providing officials a friendly Western ‘journalist’ who they knew would only ask pre-approved questions.
Though the Hong Kong ‘democratic’ process is admittedly stacked against those parties who would promote real reform, the Hong Kong Democratic Party utterly failed to capitalise on growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the Special Administrative Region following protests over mainland immigration (which started out xenophobic and grew even more so) and so-called ‘patriotic’ (pro-Beijing) education reforms.
The Democrats saw their share of the popular vote drop by 7 percent and lost four seats in the Legislative Council. Commentators pointed to deep divisions in the pan-democrat/reform camp and a lack of a cohesive election strategy as the major causes of the defeat, Democratic Party leader Albert Ho accepted responsibility for the loss and the party’s “serious failure in this election”, and resigned from his position. Ho was also delivered a drubbing by CY Leung in the 2012 Chief Executive election, a defeat that must taste all the more sour following Leung’s embarrassing kowtowing to Beijing and alleged abuses of power since his election.
Tune in tomorrow for our continued countdown of 2012’s biggest losers, and later in the week when we look at who won 2012, and the most popular posts on Shanghaiist this year.