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Press and Religion in the 1950s

Mar 20, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald

The media were under the control of the Party's Central Propaganda Department (Zhongyang xuanchuanbu 中央宣传部) headed by Lu Dingyi 陆定一. Seen as an instrument for class struggle instead of a means of information, the spread of newspapers and journals drastically increased in the early 1950s: in Beijing alone from 1.6 billion copies to 2.2 billion newspapers, and from 204 to 315 million copies of periodicals between 1952 and 1957. Concurrently, the number of book copies published rose from 785 million to 1.2 billion. (Guillermaz 1976: 152)

The largest daily newspaper was the Central Committee's organ Renmin ribao 人民日报 (People's Daily), with a daily number of 550,000 copies. Other newspapers were targeted at specialized audiences: Guangming ribao 光明日报 for cultural circles, Gongren ribao 工人日报 (The Worker's Daily) for trade untions, Zhongguo qingnian bao 中国青年报 (Chinese Youth) for the Youth League, Dagongbao 大公报 (Impartial Daily) for economic circles, Jiefangjun bao 解放军报 (Liberation Army Daily) for soldiers, and Wenhuibao 文汇报 for literary circles. Most of them mirrored after 1957 the articles of the leading organ Renmin ribao. There were in total 265 newspapers in 1957 (Guillermaz 1976: 153).

The most important periodicals were Xuexi 学习 (Study)—in 1958 replaced by Hongqi 红旗 (The Red Flag), which in turn was renamed Qiushi 求是 in 1988—, Shijie zhishi 世界知识 (World Knowledge) and Xin guancha 新观察 (New Observer). Book publication remained on a modest level. There were quite a few translations from Russian works, or, for scientific purposes, from Western languages. The cinema remained an urban phenomenon, with a publication rate of 119 in 1957.

The Constitution guaranteed religious freedom. Yet their organizations, be it the Buddhist Association (Zhongguo fojiao xuehui 中国佛教协会) founded in 1953 or the Chinese Islamic Association (Zhongguo Yisilanjiao xiehui 中国伊斯兰教协会), inaugurated in the same year, stood under the observation of the party. The Islamic Association in particular was strictly observed in fear of further rebellions in Xinjiang after the Party had met local resistance during the collectivization phase. Considered as "more dangerous" than these two religions was Daoism, which had been the creed from which countless rebellions and sectarian movements had surged. The Daoist Association (Zhongguo daojiao xiehui 中国道教协会) was founded in 1957. Similarly sensitive was the issue of the Christian creed, as Beijing feared that it might be an instrument of foreign powers. While Protestants declared their loyalty to the regime and their refusal of US imperialism, Catholics had a stronger sense of loyalty to Rome, and were harshly persecuted. Yet because the Party allowed service to continue, and did not interfere into dogmatic issues, the Catholics submitted to the Patriotic Three-Autonomies Movement (Sanzi aiguo yundong 三自爱国运动), which separated them administratively (zizhi 自治), financially (ziyang 自养), and in apostolic matters (zichuan 自传) from Rome. Bishops were consecrated without authority from the Vatican or any foreign institution. In 1957 the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (Zhongguo tianzhujiao aiguo hui 中国天主教爱国会) was created.

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