Just the Fax, Ma'am


Want to aid democracy in China? Access to a photocopier and a fax machine may be all you need. Spy magazine and the L.A. Weekly tabloid have joined an international campaign to distribute phony editions of Communist Party publications via fax machine to dissidents in China.

One bogus newspaper, closely resembling the Chinese government's own People's Daily, features the headline, "We Must Unequivocally Oppose the Unrest." But the stories below, written by Chinese journalists living in the United States, openly assail the government's crackdown. Julie Thompson, a spokesperson for the Weekly, says the articles include reports on the Tiananmen massacre, along with satire, editorials, and statements from student leaders in exile. The paper also has a Jeff MacNelly cartoon, with text in Chinese. (To obtain a copy of the bogus newspaper and the list of fax numbers, contact the L.A. Weekly or REASON.)

Actuel, a French magazine in the style of Mother Jones, initiated the campaign. While visiting Beijing last September, Actuel editor Christophe Nick sneaked in 600 copies of the phony paper. Nick told the Los Angeles Times that government censorship and disinformation have led some Chinese citizens to distrust their own memories of the crackdown. One student told Nick, "I don't know anymore what is true and what is wrong." The fax campaign may counteract propaganda.

While Thompson doesn't know when another bogus newspaper issue will appear, she did say that a computer manufacturer may transmit the current edition over its international bulletin board service. In addition, Actuel is raising money to establish an opposition radio station which would broadcast from a ship located in international waters off the Chinese coast. Thompson also reports that Chinese embassy officials have visited Actuel's offices three times, urging the magazine to end the campaign.