The Tiananmen Square massacre, Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine or the power struggle in the Communist Party. Chinese journalists still report on many issues that the Beijing authorities consider to be taboo.

This content was published on January 10, 2023 – 09:00

Katharina Wecker

It is the largest media market in the world: the People’s Republic of China. More than one billion people in China have access to the Internet, or over 70% of the entire population. More than half of them use the social media platform Weibo.

Investigative journalist Wang Zhian, 54, had over six million “followers” on Weibo. But on June 3, 2019, on the 30th anniversary of the brutal crackdown on China’s Tiananmen Square democracy movement, it was over. His Weibo account, as well as other channels he used at the time, were deleted by the authorities.

“(President) Xi doesn’t think the media should be a watchdog. He thinks they just need to be propaganda organs,” says Wang Zhian in the new episode of SWI’s Voices of Freedom series. Fearing for his safety and that of his family, he recently left China and moved to Japan.

Freedom of expression and freedom of the press, which have never been highly regarded by the communist rulers in the 70-year history of the People’s Republic of China, have deteriorated noticeably in recent years. This is very clear when you look at the career of Wang Zhian – one of the last democratic voices in China. He started work as an investigative journalist for the newsroom of the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV in 1998. And when he left the broadcaster in 2015, he landed a job as chief reporter for the party newspaper, The Beijing News. In both roles, he uncovered corruption cases, reported on illegal land grabs and exposed cases of abuse in the healthcare system.

Despite being constantly threatened with censorship, many of his reports were published, contributing to the establishment of truth in the one-party state. But these times are over.

“Tens of thousands of journalists have turned their backs on their jobs in recent years,” Wang Zhian tells SWI. “Inside China, journalism is dead.” At the end of 2022, 127 journalists were being held in Chinese prisons because of their work, according to Reporters Without Borders. But Chinese journalists based outside the country continue to work, including Zhian, who reports for a Chinese audience from around the world, including Ukraine, where China’s ally Russia has been waging a brutal war of aggression.