Aug 21, 2007
China's readers were given a taste of the Mao era at the weekend, when at least five state newspapers published nearly identical front pages, the latest sign of tightening control ahead of a Communist Party meeting.
All led with a story about China's leaders directing a mining company to do everything possible to rescue miners trapped in a flooded shaft, carried the same picture of President Hu Jintao visiting Kazakhstan and a piece about China deepening cooperation with its neighbours, laid out identically.
While many of China's state newspapers prioritise similar news, or publish identical headlines on sensitive stories, it is rare to see entire pages carrying not only the same news, but the same pictures, layout, headlines and text.
"It's like going back 30 years!" laughed one Beijing journalism professor, who asked not to be named, referring to the the Sunday front pages of the People's Daily, Economic Daily, Liberation Army Daily, Beijing Daily and Guangming Daily.
China's leaders gather later this year for the five-yearly 17th Party Congress, at which leadership changes are expected.
The sensitivity of the congress, combined with the country's opaque political culture, mean a tighter political atmosphere, from media to non-governmental organisations.
"This is the most important political event in five years. They can't afford for anything to go wrong," said Xiao Qiang, a China media expert at the University of California at Berkeley.
"They're instructing in much more detail and about many more news items -- Xinhua only, Xinhua only, Xinhua only," he said, referring to directives to use only reports carried by the country's official news agency.
"It also makes those editors at those papers think, 'the last thing I want to do at this stage is make any political mistake'."