Dr. Thomas Lairson Professor of Political Science XI Jinping This is a collection of materials relating to the leader of the Chinese Communist Party and President of China, XI Jinping. Nyt

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Curbing dissent

Muzzling the media

Jan 4th 2013, 12:29 by J.M. | BEIJING

AS The Economist reported this week in its China section, the Communist Party’s new leaders are facing bold calls for political reform. These are coming from figures close to the establishment, with backing from at least a couple of the country’s more liberal-minded newspapers. Since we published the story, more signs have appeared of the leadership’s anxiety about these appeals for greater freedom and democracy, which began to surface almost as soon as the new leadership was installed in November. Officials could well be worried that unless they move quickly to suppress the appeals, demands for political change might spread to other newspapers and gather support from the public.

One of the new signs is a decision to water down a feisty new-year message in Southern Weekend, a newspaper based in the southern province of Guangdong. As originally drafted, the message would have appealed for the “realisation of the great dream of constitutionalism”. China Media Project (CMP), a Hong Kong-based website that monitors developments in the Chinese press, has translated part of it as follows:

"Only if constitutionalism is realized and power effectively checked can citizens voice their criticisms of power loudly and confidently, and only then can every person believe in their hearts that they are free to live their own lives. Only then can we build a truly free and strong nation..."

According to CMP, Guangdong’s propaganda chief, Tuo Zhen, is said to have re-written the message, making it much more anodyne. This has angered journalists at the newspaper, prompting many of them (as the Associated Press reports) to issue a public complaint—a rare act of defiance by employees of a prominent state-owned publication. A group of former reporters from the newspaper have also called on Mr Tuo to step down. Many Chinese microbloggers have expressed support for them, notwithstanding the authorities’ efforts (reported here by China Digital Times, a California-based website) to suppress the news.

The authorities’ jitteriness was also evident in their decision to close the website of Yanhuang Chunqiu, a reformist journal in Beijing. (On January 4th the site, http://www.yhcqw.com, began to direct visitors to a message saying that it had been closed because it had not been officially registered.) The journal had just published a call for genuine implementation of the constitution, which notionally guarantees freedom of speech, assembly and publication as well as the right to demonstrate.

The appeals for the party to respect the constitution’s provisions are part of what appears to be a new tactic by Chinese liberals to push for faster political change. On November 16th, a day after the party’s new leadership was installed, Yanhuang Chunqiu and academics from Peking University jointly organised a meeting in Beijing of around 100 intellectuals as well as a sprinkling of retired officials to discuss the constitution and the importance of upholding it (see this account on Yanhuang Chunqiu’s website, in Chinese, as stored on Google’s cache). At the meeting a draft was circulated of what was called a “Proposal for a Consensus on Reform”. The thrust of its message was that if only the constitution were to be respected, China would become far more democratic. The document was made public on December 25th, with the names of 72 academics and lawyers attached.

The liberals’ decision to appeal to the constitution is likely to gather wide support among intellectuals, many of whom fear that any more overt challenge to the party could provoke a backlash. A petition for radical political reform issued four years ago resulted in police harassment of many of the thousands of people who signed it, as well as the sentencing of its chief author, Liu Xiaobo, to 11 years in prison. This time the authorities will find it harder to crack down. Thanks to the rapid growth of social media, especially microblogs, in the last couple of years, the liberals’ message is likely to spread.


Face-Off Continues Over Censorship of Newspaper in China

Jonah M. Kessel for The New York Times

A free speech advocate outside of Southern Weekend newspaper in Guangzhou, China, on Tuesday.

Published: January 8, 2013 6 Comments

GUANGZHOU, China — Protests over censorship at one of China’s most liberal newspapers descended into ideological confrontation on Tuesday, pitting advocates of free speech against supporters of Communist Party control who wielded red flags and portraits of Mao Zedong.

The face-off between liberals and leftists at the headquarters of a newspaper company in southern China came after disgruntled editors and reporters at Southern Weekend last week decried what they alleged was crude meddling by the head of party propaganda in Guangdong Province, which has long had a reputation as a bastion of a relatively free press.

The protesting journalists at Southern Weekend have called for the dismissal of Tuo Zhen, the top propaganda official in Guangdong Province. They blame Mr. Tuo, a former journalist, for making a drastic change in a New Year’s editorial that had originally called for greater respect for constitutional rights. The revised editorial instead praised Communist Party policies.

A former editor with the Southern Daily group of newspapers, which includes Southern Weekend, said negotiations continued on Tuesday between representatives of the disgruntled journalists and newspaper managers and provincial propaganda officials.

The former editor, who asked that his name not be used for fear it could jeopardize his new job, said the talks focused on the protesting journalists’ demands that the paper’s managers rescind a statement that denied that Mr. Tuo was responsible for the New Year editorial and for an inquiry into the incident.

“They want that statement to be removed, and they also want assurances about relaxing controls on journalists — not removing party oversight, but making it more reasonable, allowing reporters to challenge officials,” he said. “The other main demand is for an impartial explanation of what happened, an accounting so it won’t happen again.”

The former editor said a continued standoff into Wednesday could jeopardize the newspaper’s usual publication on Thursday. “In effect, it’s a strike,” he said. “It looks unclear whether it can come out on Thursday.”

Senior Chinese officials have so far not commented publicly on the censorship dispute at the newspaper, which has tested how far the recently appointed Communist Party leader, Xi Jinping, will extend his vows of economic reform into a degree of political relaxation. But self-proclaimed defenders of Communist orthodoxy who turned up at the newspaper headquarters said on Tuesday that they were there to make the party’s case.

“We support the Communist Party, shut down the traitor newspaper,” said one of the cardboard signs held up by one of 10 or so protesters who came to defend the government.

“Southern Weekend is having an American dream,” said another of the signs. “We don’t want the American dream, we want the Chinese dream.”

Some of the group held up portraits of Mao, the late revolutionary leader who remains a symbol of communist zeal, while others waved the red flags of China and of the Communist Party. Most of the party supporters refused to give their names. They said they came on their own initiative, and not at the behest of officials.

The dueling protests outside the newspaper’s headquarters in this provincial capital reflected the political passions and tensions churned up by the quarrel over censorship, which has erupted while Mr. Xi is trying to win public favor and consolidate his authority.

Hundreds of bystanders watched and took photos on mobile phones as the leftists shouted at the 20 or more protesters who had gathered to denounce censorship, and shoving matches broke out between the demonstrators.

At one point, leftists were showered with 50-cent renminbi currency notes. The “Fifty Cent Party” has become a popular term for disparaging pro-party leftists, who are alleged by critics to be willing to take 50 cents in payment for each pro-party message they send onto the Internet.

“It’s the only newspaper in China that’s willing to tell the truth,” said Liang Taiping, 28, a poet from the southern city of Changsha who said he took the train to Guangzhou to show his support for Southern Weekend, which is widely read nationwide.

“What’s the point of living while you can’t even speak freely?” he said.

About 70 police officers and security guards stood nearby. They did not try to break up the protests, but officers recorded them with video cameras and occasionally stepped in to stop shoving and fisticuffs. Later, the rival protesters broke into separate camps concentrated on different sides of the gate to the newspaper headquarters.

The protests at Southern Weekend broke out while Mr. Xi, the party’s general secretary appointed in November, has been sending mixed signals about his intentions. He has repeatedly said he supports faster and bolder reform, but on Saturday he gave a speech defending the party’s history and Mao’s standing in it.

The Central Propaganda Department, which administers the censorship apparatus, issued instructions telling news media that the dispute at Southern Weekend was “due to the meddling of hostile outside forces,” according to China Digital Times, a group based in Berkeley, Calif., that monitors media and censorship issues.

Both supporters and critics of Southern Weekend journalists have claimed that Mr. Xi would back their cause.

“I don’t believe that Xi is totally hypocritical when he talks about reform,” said Chen Min, a prominent former opinion writer for Southern Weekend who was forced out of the newspaper in 2011.

“The Southern Weekend journalists have said that they accept party control, but the question is what kind of control and how far should it go unchallenged,” Mr. Chen added.

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