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High-stakes contradictions: liberalization and authority in China today.

A familiar question haunts much recent coverage of China, on issues from the Beijing Olympics to food contamination: what if the country's economic liberalization and growth never foster liberal values and institutions? To help get beyond pat answers, the LRC commissioned online reviews of two important new books on the complex tensions within Chinese culture and politics. To read more of the pieces excerpted below, visit

From Jeremy Paltiel's review of Falun Gong and the Future of China, by David Ownby:

Falun Gong's rise has been just one part of a widespread spiritual or religious revival in post-Mao China. Churches and mosques as well as traditional temples are filled to overflowing despite the continued insistence on atheism as the official creed of the Chinese Communist Party. In line with its open policy of reform the party has become more tolerant of religion than in the militantly iconoclastic days of Mao Zedong's rampaging Red Guards. At certain moments, the party has even encouraged religious organizations to fill the void in social services left by China's headlong rush into market economics. As a way to reduce political pressure and mitigate public demands, since Tiananmen and the fall of the Berlin Wall the Chinese Communist Party has acquiesced and even embraced private life and enjoyment. A lifestyle that includes privacy also entails a degree of toleration for private religious practice.

Thus it is something of a mystery why the CCP chose specifically to politicize the Falun Gong, denouncing it as an "evil cult" and launching against it a massive campaign reminiscent of the worst excesses of the Mao era. This began after a demonstration on April 25, t999, that saw 10,000 peaceful and silent Falun Gong practitioners surround Zhongnanhai (the seat of the Central Committee next to the Forbidden City) demanding state recognition and registration as a civic organization.

From Bernie Michael Frolic's review of Communication in China: Political Economy, Power and Conflict by Yuezhi Zhao:

China has more than 2,200 newspapers, 7,000 magazines and journals, 3,200 television broadcast stations, 360 TV companies, 500 million television sets and 500 million radios, plus a rapidly growing internet and cell phone system. The task of supervising this vast network of information is immense ...

In 2005, Hunan Province Satellite Television developed a show called Supergirls, modelled after American Idol. It quickly became the most popular show on Chinese television. The audience was asked to vote for their favourite candidates with their cell phones, at the rate of one yuan per message, ten times the regular price. I watched this show when I was in China and marvelled at its explosive success in winning audience participation. It showed how a provincial broadcaster could use market principles to outstrip the state-run national media. But within the year, Supergirls was marginalized by the authorities, not allowed to run in prime time and, according to Zhao, was criticized for its "individualistic and consumerist value orientations."

These two reviews are the LRC's latest Online Originals. Featuring contributors such as George Gait and Spider Robinson, these web-exclusive pieces provide even more of the same great writing and thinking that appears in every issue of the LRC.

For notice of new Online Originals as they appear, sign up for the LRC's monthly e-newsletter at
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Publication:Literary Review of Canada
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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