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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
China diary: Press restrictions
Former BBC Beijing correspondent Tim Luard is back in China, 25 years after his first visit, to write a series of articles for BBC News Online on how much the country has changed. He will also be writing a diary during his trip, and this is his fourth instalment:

I writing this in haste before heading for the railway station and the overnight express train to Beijing.

It's been an invigorating few days in Shanghai, but it's a big city to cover in such a short time - there are 17 million people and rising fast.

And there's none of the smooth compactness of Hong Kong, where one can easily fit three or four interviews into a morning.

Here you're hard pushed to fit that into a whole day.

Shanghai skyline
Shanghai has changed beyond recognition
Taxis are often hard to find, so the new metro is a boon. It's not just cheap but fast and clean.

Too bad the underground system has only two lines. They were about to build more but Beijing is still stalling on giving permission.

I'd have liked more time to get to see the huge number of changes around the city since I was last here, in the mid 1990s.

But you don't need long to get a sense of Shanghai's energy and confidence.

After all, it's the undisputed showpiece for China's rise into economic superpowerdom.

When I used to come down here from Beijing in the 80s, Shanghai always seemed a much more human place than the austere northern capital.

The people seemed less cowed and more accessible and friendly.

Sign in Shanghai
"Liberate your thoughts and seek truth from facts... to strive to build Shanghai into a modern international centre"
I just hope the Shanghainese aren't being overwhelmed by the never-ending boom - the sheer size of the new buildings and roads, the gradual victory of the car over the bicycle and the overall culture of each for himself.

I've spoken to students, executives, journalists, migrant workers, a lawyer, a professor, an artist and an economic consultant - but unfortunately not a single government official.

Strangely, Shanghai is in some ways more politically conservative than Beijing - and when it comes to journalists, it believes the less said the better.

The Chinese embassy in London for once gave me a journalist visa, and agreed I could arrange my own interviews and would not need to be constantly accompanied by the usual Foreign Ministry minder.

But the Shanghai Government says it knows nothing of this, and if I want any interviews I must pay $100 a day for an official "companion" for the length of my stay.

After I declined their offer, one academic who had already agreed to see me changed his mind, and a couple of others have engaged their assistants to tell me they are out of town when I happen to know they aren't.

But at least they don't have to worry that what I write will upset readers in China, since the BBC News Online site is completely blocked here.

It's worse for local journalists. Some are content to take their envelopes from companies and oblige with favourable write-ups.

Magazines on sale in Shanghai
The Chinese authorities still regulate the media
Others try to push the boundaries of what they're allowed to report.

But progress is slow. Reporters are currently being encouraged to write about next week's Formula One race - it's China's first and tickets are cost US$300 each.

But also coming up is the Autumn Festival, when you admire the moon and eat mooncakes.

Now, it seems, even mooncakes are off limits to the press.

An order has gone out that a squabble between suppliers and distributors of the seasonal delicacies must on no account be reported.

But I can report that delivery of the mooncakes to the hungry masses IS taking place - in army trucks.

Click on the links below to read other excerpts from Tim Luard's diary:

China tightens web control
27 Jan 04  |  Asia-Pacific



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