April-September 1949: The Nanking Press

Knight Biggerstaff

The following account of the post-liberation Nanking print media appeared on 8 March 1950 in Far Eastern Survey, vol.19 no.5: 50-54.

The Editors

The Chinese Communists frankly regard the press as an instrument of propaganda, as an important means of ‘educating’ the people. An examination of the Communist press can be enlightening in its disclosure of the points the party is emphasizing at any given moment and of the ideas it wishes to put into the minds of readers. The present writer was in Nanking when the city was ‘liberated’ by the Communists on April 24, 1949 and remained there for the next five months. Thus he had an opportunity to observe the first steps taken by the Communists, and, by reading the local newspapers, to discover what they wanted the populace to believe. What follows is a brief analysis of the Nanking press during the first five months of the new regime.

In the period immediately before the flight of the Central Government, some fifteen daily newspapers were published in Nanking. At one time there had been a larger number, but several had died natural deaths and others, most notably the outspoken Hsin Min Pao and Nanking Jen Pao, had been suppressed by the authorities.

For a short time after the People’s Liberation Army entered Nanking a few of the pre-liberation newspapers, including the Catholic I-shih Pao, the Nanking Jih-pao and the Chung-kuo Jih-pao, continued to appear, the employees of the newspapers in most cases having taken over their operation from the former publishers. Even the official Kuomintang organ, the Chung-yang Jih-pao appeared on the morning of April 24, startling its old readers with an enthusiastic welcome to the ‘liberators’ and the attribution of most of its news to the Communist New China News Agency.

During the following weeks more than a score of half-sized single-sheet newspapers were published, some for only two or three days, others for longer periods. The printing plant of the Chung-yang Jih-pao was taken over by the New China News Agency, which published a Chieh-fang Hsin-wen (Liberation News) for several days, but on April 30 changed the name to Hsin Hua Jih-pao (New China Daily). This has since continued to be the official organ of the new regime in Nanking. May 17 was set as the final date for the registration of Chinese-language newspapers and on that day all papers ceased publication except the Hsin Hua Jih-pao and the Chung-kuo Jih-pao (China Daily). The latter, immediately prior to the liberation, had been regarded as the most independent newspaper published in Nanking. Later two other papers, suppressed by the former regime, were registered and began to appear: the Hsin Min Pao (New People’s Paper), on June 3, after a lapse of almost ten months, and the Nanking Jen Pao (Nanking People’s Paper) on July 7, after a lapse of more than five months. With the reopening of communications following the ‘liberation’ of Shanghai on May 25, newspapers began to come in from that city once more. The Shanghai Ta Kung Pao (L’Impartial), in spite of a drastic change in its ideological orientation and modification of the traditional independence of its editorial page, remains the best newspaper in the region and the favorite of the more literate Nanking readers.

Purpose of Registration

On May 13, interim regulations governing the registration of Chinese-owned and Chinese-operated newspapers, magazines, and news agencies were issued by the Nanking Military Control Commission. These required, among other things, the filing of information regarding the present and past political views, records, and connections of the publishers and of all editors, correspondents, technical personnel, and stockholders. The declared purpose of registration was ‘to protect the people’s freedom of speech and of the press, and to deprive anti-revolutionists of freedom of speech and of the press.” Newspapers, magazines, and news agencies were forbidden by the regulations ‘(1) to violate the laws and regulations of the Control Commission or of the People’s Government; (2) to carry on propaganda against the democratic activities of the people; (3) to divulge national or military secrets; or, (4) to publish rumors or slander.’

The Hsin Hua Jih-pao was the most widely read newspaper in Nanking. This was partly because it published all official proclamations and regulations (as well as a great deal of other material that literate people were expected to be familiar with), and partly because in addition to readers who bought or borrowed copies it reached a large audience through copies posted daily on walls at strategic locations throughout the city. It consisted of four full-sized pages, and occasionally of six or eight, in contrast to the four half-sized pages of the other local papers, and was well printed on good paper.

Most of the space in the Hsin Hua Jih-pao was given over to matters of national or local interest. Of primary importance and, in fact, the only parts of the newspaper read by many people were the official proclamations, instructions, and regulations already mentioned above. These ran all the way from instructions to report soldiers who tried to board buses or enter theaters without buying tickets, through local curfew, traffic, and other police regulations, to currency and foreign trade regulations, provisions for the establishment of national labor, youth, women’s, and other such organizations, and the new Organic Law of the People’s Democratic Republic of China.

Presumably no less important in the eyes of the authorities were the speeches and articles of prominent Communists and fellow-travelers and the biographies of military and political leaders. Most of the biographies appeared during the first weeks after liberation, but the speeches and articles, some of which had been delivered or written several years before, continued to be published in nearly every issue. Among the latter were policy statements by Mao Tze-tung, Liu Shao-chi, Chen Po-ta, and Liu Po-cheng, who was at that time mayor of Nanking. The speeches delivered at the opening of the meeting called to plan the Political Consultative Conference filled nearly half the space in the June 20 issue, and Mao’s statement on the occasion of the 28th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party took up the entire front page of the July 1 issue. Articles by little-known persons were given significance by the fact of their appearance in this official publication. The same may be said for the regularly unsigned editorials, which generally addressed themselves to some event of the moment such as a national youth or labor meeting, a conference on literature and the arts, or the Political Consultative Conference; or to some subject of current urgency such as the elimination of the black market in silver and foreign currencies or the necessity of converting Nanking from a city of parasitical government employees and their hangers-on into one of productive enterprise; or perhaps to some international topic.

Domestic news items, no less than speeches, feature articles, and editorials, were presented in such a way as to serve the cause of the New Democracy. News of the fighting was generally accurate, although the reports usually lagged several days behind the event. Supplementing the news were human interest stories describing the anti-social acts of Kuomintang soldiers and police before the liberation, the exemplary behavior of the People’s Liberation Army, and the enthusiastic reception accorded the liberators everywhere. Although the news was generally optimistic, reports of failure, even of internal opposition, occasionally appeared. Unfavorable reports appear to have been published only when they could be made to serve a particular purpose. For example, although brief reports of local flood conditions had been published from time to time, it was not until July 13 that the extent of the disaster along the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers was disclosed, presumably at that particular time in order to explain food shortages and the resultant skyrocketing of prices. A favorite type of news story consisted of the reports of meetings of laborers, students, teachers, and other groups to welcome the liberators, to study the doctrines of the New Democracy, or to reorient the activities of members.

Reports of Achievement

No less common were reports of the achievements of this or that group: laborers who had saved machinery or vehicles from Kuomintang demolition; workers who had quickly repaired damaged railroads, mines, factories, and dykes; technicians who, after group study and discussion of Mao’s ‘New Democracy’, had increased their production by working more efficiently, or for longer hours; students who enlisted in political cadres to serve in newly liberated areas, and so on. Other articles described various phases of the rehabilitation of Manchuria and of economic and educational developments in North China; and still others called attention to the improvement in popular living standards following the introduction of the People’s currency or outlined new salary schedules for professors, officials, and other occupational groups. Membership lists of both local and national committees and other bodies and announcements of the names of students who had successfully passed examinations occupied considerable space in the daily press.

Almost every issue of the Hsin Hua Jih-pao included an article or two about the Soviet Union, the Communist satellite countries in eastern Europe, or Russian-dominated international organizations such as the World Federation of Trade Unions. Some of these were translated from the Russian, others were written directly in Chinese. Examples of the former were excerpts from the writings of Lenin, the May Day proclamation of the Central Executive Committee of the Russian Communist Party, an essay entitled ‘Our Pushkin,’ eulogies of the Bulgarian Communist Dimitrov, and articles on Russian labor organization, industrial development, education, cooperatives, etc, translated from Russian periodicals. Examples of the latter included articles on Gorki, Dimitrov, Russian music and drama, Russian leadership of international labor, and various aspects of the history of the Soviet Union and the ‘new democracies’ of eastern Europe. Such writings were usually eulogistic in tone, never critical.

Ordinarily between a fifth and a fourth of the space in the Hsin Hua Jih-pao was given over to foreign and international news, with dispatches and articles covering the whole range of present-day Russian interest and showing undeviating adherence to the cur? rent Soviet line. Nearly all foreign news items carried the byline of the New China News Agency, but most of them also credited Tass or the Polish News Agency. American and other ‘imperialist’ news sources were used only when, quoted out of context, they supported the Russian position, or when the quotation of partial truth served the same purpose.

The combination of Russian anti-Americanism and Chinese Communist bitterness over American aid to the Kuomintang resulted in studied distortion, and sometimes even in falsification, of news concerning the United States and its overseas activities. To illustrate: on the day the last American naval units were withdrawn from Tsingtao the Hsin Hua Jih-pao announced that large reinforcements of American naval craft had arrived in that port and that over a thousand marines had been put ashore; on another occasion it declared that Formosa had been purchased from Chiang Kai-shek by the United States for use as a military base; several times the American Secretary of State was charged with secretly negotiating a Pacific alliance similar to the North Atlantic Pact; and there was a steady campaign of charges that the United States was secretly rebuilding the Japanese army and encouraging the resumption of political and economic control of Japan by reactionary elements.

In reporting events within the United States the Hsin Hua Jih-pao faithfully followed the Moscow line in fact nearly all such stories came through the Tass News Agency. Opposition to the Marshall Plan and to the North Atlantic Pact was played up to give the impression that a Wall Street-controlled government was forcing them upon an unwilling American people. Shortcomings in American democratic procedure and evidences of economic recession were spotlighted: favorite examples of the former were cases of racial discrimination, and typical of the latter were almost daily reports in June and July of drops in the stock market, increases in unemployment, and declines in commodity prices.

The ‘reactionary’ character of the big American labor organizations was frequently alluded to, even while the strikes they called were described as desperate measures taken by the workers against their capitalist oppressors. One day a sympathetic story of a strike of Ford workers against the ‘speed-up’ appeared on the same page with an account of the ‘voluntary’ decision of the Nanking motor repair workers union to ‘repair more! repair better! repair faster!’

Frequent accounts of the activities of the American Communist Party and of other ‘progressive elements’ greatly magnified their importance and influence in the American scene.

Attack on White Paper

Release by the Department of State on August 5 of the White Paper on United States Relations with China touched off an almost hysterical anti-American outburst in the Nanking press. Not waiting to begin their campaign until they could secure a copy of this bulky document, the Chinese Communists for several weeks used the broadcast version of Secretary Acheson’s Letter of Transmittal for ammunition. Day after day editorials, speeches, resolutions, and reports of round- table discussion groups and protest meetings were spread across the pages of the Hsin Hua Jih-pao, challenging American policy and the White Paper from every angle.

Particularly singled out for attack was Acheson’s statement that ‘We continue to believe that … the profound civilization and the democratic individualism [which the Communists translated ‘democratic individualists’] of China will reassert themselves and she will throw off the foreign yoke. I consider that we should encourage all developments in China which … work toward this end.’ This was interpreted as an appeal to all Western-educated Chinese to work secretly against the new government and as a promise that such efforts would be aided by the American government.

During a period of more than a month only one issue of the official newspaper failed to refer to the White Paper and sometimes extra pages had to be added to include all the attacks.

For a Chinese paper the Hsin Hua Jih-pao devoted an unusually large amount of space to European affairs, and persons familiar with Russian propaganda on the Marshall Plan, the North Atlantic ‘Aggression’ Pact, the Conference of Foreign Ministers and the German question found it faithfully reflected in this Nanking newspaper. Here also were the same vitriolic attacks on the anti-Communist governments of western Europe and on Tito, and the same explanations of the Greek and Italian situations as were published in Pravda and Izvestia. One invariably found the ‘peace- loving’ USSR leading the propertyless peoples of Europe, and of the whole world for that matter, against the aggressive ‘secret plans’ and actions of ‘Imperialist America’ and its western European satellites.

The Russian propaganda line regarding Asia was no less faithfully followed. Nehru was declared to have sold out to American and British capitalism, thus betraying the Indian revolution; the invasion of the princely state of Hyderabad by the Indian army was portrayed as an act of aggression against the exploited masses; Hatta was also said to have sold out to American imperialism, thereby betraying not only Indonesia but all the peoples of southeast Asia; and South Korea, in contrast to ‘independent democratic’ North Korea, was spoken of as a colony of the United States. Even with regard to the negotiation of a peace treaty with Japan, the Russian position that the small nations should be excluded and Russia and China have veto rights was maintained, on the ground that ‘China and Russia had made the principal contributions to Japan’s defeat.’

A substantial portion of each issue of the Hsin Hua Jih-pao was given over to stories, slogans. poems, songs, and cartoons praising Mao Tze-tung, the New Democracy, the People’s Liberation Army, the laboring class, or some cause being pushed at the moment, or attacking Chiang Kai-shek and his reactionary associates, American imperialism, black market operators, or other enemies of the people. Historical sketches often depicted the struggles and achievements of early revolutionary heroes. A ‘letter box’ welcomed criticism of all phases of life: speeding vehicles, official inefficiency, behavior of individuals and groups that was not in accord with the New Democracy; and answered questions ranging all the way from the time of train and bus departures, to problems of social ethics and political theory. Many letters suggesting improvements in the newspaper, in the city, and even in the ad- ministration of national affairs were published. Finally there was a daily chart of wholesale prices, and a half page or more of paid advertisements of theaters, shops, department stores, schools, etc, lost and found notices, and engagement, wedding, and divorce announcements. At least once a week a part or all of one page was devoted to the promotion of public health; and there was a weekly pictorial supplement, with pictures of public events and achievements of various kinds and sometimes propaganda cartoons.

Special issues of the Hsin Hua Jih-pao were published to commemorate such important days as International Labor Day (May 1) and the anniversaries of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (July 1) the 1925 Shanghai Incident (May 30), the Japanese attack at the Marco Polo Bridge (July 7), and the signing in 1945 of the treaty between the Central Government of China and the USSR (August 14). In each case editorials, special feature articles, and songs, poems, and cartoons celebrating the event were included.

Although privately owned, the other three Nanking newspapers were little more than pint-sized versions of the Hsin Hua Jih-pao, for they included, as far as space limitations permitted, virtually all the types of material mentioned above. Some readers preferred them to the Hsin Hua Jih-pao primarily because their smaller size required them to be briefer in what they had to say and to leave out much of the duller propaganda carried by the official paper. But they derived all of their international and much of their Chinese news, and not a few of their feature articles and editorials, from the official New China News Agency. Moreover, they went out of their way to conform to the party line; in fact, some of the most malicious anti-American articles published in Nanking during the summer appeared in the small papers rather than in the Hsin Hua Jih-pao.

While the Hsin Min Pao maintained private wire connections with Shanghai and Peking and a small staff of its own reporters, thus supplying its readers with more of what we call ‘news’ than the other papers, it was reported by the end of the summer to be in financial difficulties and to be applying for permission to close down. The Chung-kuo Jih-pao actually did cease publication for awhile, and may no longer be appearing. The political and economic decline of Nanking, combined with the new interpretation of what constitutes news, was rapidly making it financially impossible for any but government-supported newspapers to carry on.

Although the importance of Nanking appears to be slight in the eyes of the Chinese Communists, the intellectual fare offered to its people through the press after the ‘liberation’ differed little from that reportedly supplied to the citizens of Shanghai, Hankow, Canton, and other central and south China cities. Not only was Communist news policy made in Peking but most of the copy originated there also. During the next few years as the government of the People’s Democratic Republic of China struggles with the many problems it has fallen heir to, the material it releases for publication in the Chinese press will bear careful watching as an indication of the direction official policy may be expected to take.