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China's media censorship rattling world image

The deposing of an editor is part of a two-year campaign to control public debate.

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At 5 p.m. on Jan. 24, Li Datong's status went into a deep chill. Mr. Li, a Tiananmen protest veteran and a rare crusading editor still allowed to work, learned that "Freezing Point," his weekly magazine, had been closed.

The proximate reason: a lengthy article smashing official history of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, when a peasant cult killed more than 230 foreigners in a spasm of xenophobia. Li ran the story to ask why, in modern China, children are learning to praise the Boxers for being antiforeign.

Freezing Point will reopen March 1, without Li, following an unusual storm of protest that included retired party statesmen. Yet the episode highlights a censorship campaign here that is wide-ranging and whose opposition seems ineffectual.

For two years, the crackdown on virtually all media expression has played out through arcane ideology sessions and micromanagement of newsrooms.

More broadly, the war on liberal ideas is starting to alter the image of China overseas. For a decade, the country has been seen as a rambunctious marvel of manufacturing and export, of developing infrastructure, and a major source of cash reserves. It has managed to outflank human rights agendas, and enjoys an image as a safe, traditional society that is emerging into the international mainstream. Beijing won its 2008 Olympics bid in the midst of a brutal roundup of Falun Gong practitioners in 2001 - many of whom remain disappeared.

"China's deteriorating international image is impacting its ability to achieve its foreign policy goals, and could well affect its ability to stage a successful Olympics in 2008," argues John Kamm, former head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, who now runs Dui Hua, a nonprofit human-rights group in San Francisco. Mr. Kamm says the State Department report on human rights in China due next month will be far tougher than in recent years.

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