Have the 10 Amendments Inspired Freedom? Six Foreign Prespectives : CHINA : For a Brief Moment, a Free Press Flowered

<i> Liu Binyan does research for the Princeton China Initiative, a program, at Princeton University, that includes more than a dozen Chinese dissidents who cannot return home</i>

Until recently, few Chinese have had any knowledge of the U.S. Constitution, let alone the Bill of Rights, since China was isolated from the world for at least 30 years.

I learned about the Bill of Rights only in 1982, when I first visited the United States. As a Chinese journalist, I think I can better appreciate the meaning and importance of the Bill of Rights, especially the First Amendment, than some American journalists. In a country where there is no press freedom--where the word “freedom” itself is regarded by the authorities as the synonym of evil--journalists pay a heavy price, sometimes with their lives, for merely trying to speak the truth. I and many others lost jobs as journalists, were banned from publishing and sent to the countryside to “reform through labor.”

After China opened itself up to the world in the late ‘70s, more and more people, especially journalists, began to learn about the Bill of Rights. In China’s graduate schools of journalism, professors and journalists, risking attack, even punishment, from party ideologues, lectured on press freedom and the Bill of Rights. The young students were eager to absorb all the new and liberal ideas.


These students comprise the first generation of journalists who have some exposure to Western thoughts. They were like a breath of fresh air, bringing to the media circle liberal thinking and courageous practice. Together with their seniors, they tried hard to expand press freedom to its utmost limits, though they were handicapped by the many regulations imposed by the authorities. Still, they fought back valiantly--and subtly to avoid unnecessary losses.

These young journalists were the first among Beijing intellectuals to demonstrate, shoulder-to-shoulder, with the students in the spring of 1989. They also did their best to break through the restrictions on mass media, setting precedents in the accuracy and the objectivity of their reports on the democracy movement.

They are also the ones who suffered the most after the crackdown. Some were imprisoned, others detained, many lost their jobs, more were put under strict surveillance. All the press freedom that they had gained through years of persistent efforts was taken away from them. The media in China has retreated to its role during the Cultural Revolution. The readers say the only thing true in the papers is the date, the only item fit to be called news, the weather forecast.

I am glad to see that quite a few U.S. universities invite Chinese journalists to take short-term courses in journalism. Learning more about the First Amendment and press freedom in the United States will greatly benefit them. But, unfortunately, candidates for some of these programs were chosen by the government. The more liberal-minded young journalists can hardly win approval from the Chinese government.