Movements and Challenges to the State
Protests have always been part of China's past and present. From the May Fourth Movement to the Tiananmen protests, demonstrations have, in many ways, defined China's path forward. Despite such periodic displays of discontent, however, most Chinese embrace the new direction of the country. In large part, there exists a consensus that the central policies implemented under Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and Xi Jinping have ushered in an era of economic prosperity not seen in China since the mideighteenth century, the golden age of the Qianlong emperor. However, like the Qianlong reign, such prosperity also created new problems like corruption, malfeasance, and ethnic chauvinism. As a result, the PRC's economic success has not benefited all Chinese evenly. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the level of income inequality in China has gone from being "moderately unequal" in 1990 to being one of the "world's most unequal" countries in 2020. In the past two decades, Tibetans, Ughyurs, and numerous religious minorities continue to be targeted, detained, and repressed. Knowledge of such events remain actively censored and rarely publicized, resulting in little public engagement or discussion.
In recent decades, Chinese have increasingly carried out strikes and protests as state subsidies were slowly rolled back and as the judicial system was no longer an avenue to promote change. To see this from the point of view of Taiwan's government is also insightful as they seek to find a path that breaks them out of the so-called One China policy (14.10). What is clear, however, is an increasingly harsh attitude toward open disagreement. The government's reaction to dissent in print, such as Li Datong's letter in Freezing Point Weekly (14.9), or as mass gatherings such as those held in Hong Kong in 2019 (14.11), or even just efforts, such as Li
Wenliang's, to share information about COVID-19 (14.12), all hint at the difficulty to discern a clear-cut definition of what is and is not tolerated.
Open Letter Protesting the Decision on Freezing Point Weekly (January 25, 2006)
Freezing Point xvas a weekly supplement published by the China Youth Daily newspaper. Well known for its spirited intellectual analysis of contemporary issues, the weekly had a wide readership, which was largely a result of the unflinching editorial board that challenged unstated (but apparent) restrictions on sensitive topics typically censored by the Propaganda Department. The aggressive editorial stance taken by the weekly, however, eventually resulted in the editor, Li Datong's dismissal and the magazine being "stopped for reorganization." The professed reason for closing the supplement was an essay by Yuan Weishi (a professor at Zhongshan University) that accused government-approved history textbooks of whitewashing specific historical movements (such as the Second Opium War and the Boxer Rebellion) for patriotic and political purposes. The dismissal was met with a wave of negative publicity and international condemnation. As result of this negative reaction, the Propaganda Department allowed the supplement to resume publication but without the two top editors and with a requirement to publish a criticism of Yuan Weishi's article. The following is a complete translation of the letter posted by Li Datong on his website after he was removed as editor.
- 1. What is the primary focus of Li Datong's indignation? Is it the issue of censorship, party oversight, or his dismissal?
- 2. Why would Yuan Weishi's article be a sensitive topic for the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party?
Media colleagues, friends from academic and legal circles, and Freezing Point readers around the world:
As the deadline for the January 25 issue of Freezing Point Weekly approached, on Tuesday, January 24, 2006, following the typical routine, the Beijing editors and reporters gathered in the editorial department intently proofreading the next issue. A little after 4 p.m., the galley proofs were completed and delivered to the editor-in-chief for review and printing. But abnormally, there was no response. We heard that the entire leadership of the newspaper had been called to the [Youth] League Central Office for an emergency meeting, so there was no one to look over anything. This was our clue that something out of the ordinary was about to happen.
Even when the sky comes crashing down, a newspaper's publication has to go on as usual. This is the responsibility owed towards all subscribers and readers. We corrected all the identified errors in the proof and waited quietly for what was to happen. There had been endless criticisms and attacks toward the Freezing Point Weekly from the Central Propaganda Department. Just on Monday as we read their ruthless attack from the news critics group of the Central Propaganda Department which employed a Cultural Revolution-style tactic of magnifying insignificant problems appearing in Professor Yuan Weishi's Freezing Point article "Modernity and History Textbook," I, as the chief editor, expected my dismissal was near.
However, the degree of their despicableness is still beyond the imagination of normal people. Around 5 p.m., telephone calls from friends of various media centers around the country began to arrive, informing me they had received notices from the Central Propaganda Department, News Office of State Council, and Beijing Municipal News Bureau “forbidding them to publish any news or commentary on the suspension and reorganization of Freezing Point," “Forbidding them to participate in the news conference of Freezing Point's editors and reporters," "Forbidding them from making it into a media frenzy," and "To maintain distance" etc. A steady stream of phone calls from overseas media reporters followed, asking me to verify the situation. Yet up until 7 p.m. I received no official notice of any kind. The top leaders of the newspaper had returned from [their meeting with] the Youth League Central Committee but remained sequestered in a meeting. I, on the other hand, became the last person to learn of this decision. All information suggests that their action had been carefully planned by several senior Party officials for a long time, which goes against the will of the people. This action not only lacks any constitutional or legal basis, but also grievously violates and tramples on the Party's constitution and the principles of political life within the Party.
PINGXINGGUAN CAMPAIGN (LIAN XIANGBAN)—One of the largest battles carried out by Communist military forces during the War of Resistance Against Japan.
As a professional journalist, the suspension of the Freezing Point Weekly is beyond my comprehension, something I simply cannot accept. Because a newspaper is a civic tool, there is a contract between the newspaper and the subscribers and readers public—that is to say the buyer expects an information product, and the newspaper must honor this agreement—no matter the fate of any one individual, the Freezing Point Weekly should reach the subscribers on time. But for those who made this decision, what does social influence matter? What does broad readership matter? What does the reputation of a large mainstream newspaper matter? What does the Party Constitution and the country's law matter? What does the image of China's 'reform and opening to the outside world' matter? What does the image of the governing Party matter? They regard the civic tool as their private property, to be disposed of at their own will.
At 7:30 p.m., I received a call from the publisher and the editor-in- chief asking me to come up for a conversation. They notified me the decision made by that the Communist Youth League Central Propaganda Bureau. The "decision" consisted of groundless charges against the article by Mr. Yuan Weishi, and announced that the publication of Freezing Point Weekly would be "stopped for reorganization." In addition to published criticism of the editor-in-chief and myself, a "monetary penalty" would also be assessed. Who gave them this kind of power! Such a despicable mindset leaves one not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
Under the conditions described above, the conversation became a farce. Obviously, the Youth League Central Committee was assigned to play the role of the clown on the stage, while a small number of "superiors" manipulated them from behind the scenes. I condemned this "decision" in front of the publisher and editor-in-chief, as well as the absurdity of the Central Propaganda Department's "News Commentary and Criticism." I also announced that I would formally complain to the Party's Central Disciplinary Inspection Committee about this illegal act.
Today just as the Freezing Point Weekly is being shut down, the newspaper is receiving a large number of calls from readers for clarification, with some of them, upon learning of the Freezing Point Weekly's suspension, angrily going to the Post Office to cancel their subscriptions.
The elimination of Freezing Point Weekly by a few "superiors" had been plotted far in advance. On June 1 of 2005, prior to the sixtieth anniversary celebrating the victory of the Second World War, the Freezing Point Weekly published an article entitled "The Campaign of Pingxingguan and Victory of Pingxingguan." The article factually documented the close cooperation between Communist and Kuomintang military forces that bravely fought together in a period of great danger for the nation. Differing from previous propaganda, Freezing Point, for the first time in a mainstream publication, objectively and truthfully reported the Kuomintang's sacrifice of several tens of thousands of officers and soldiers in the battle.
This fact-based historic narration received churlish criticism from the journalist-criticism group of the Central Propaganda Department. What was their evidence for criticism? They had not one iota of historical fact; instead, they based their critique on the "Narratives on the Victory of Pingxingguan in the History of Communist Party of China, published by XX Press in XX year, on XX page." The Freezing Point Weekly, they went on to proclaim, "glamorized the Kuomintang and debased the Communist Party." In the end, however, at the sixtieth anniversary celebration of the victory of the Second World War, Comrade Hu Jintao, General-Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party, fully confirmed the contributions of the Kuomintang officers and soldiers in the main battlefields of the Resistance War Against Japan. It is obvious who was right and who was wrong.
When [KMT Chairman] Lian [Zhan] and [PFP Chairman] Song [Chuyu] were visiting the mainland [separately,] Ms. Long Yingtai, the well-known Taiwanese writer published a long article in Freezing Point, "The Taiwan You May Not Know." Supported by abundant references and factual sources, the article for the first time, objectively and truthfully revealed to mainland Chinese the changes in and the development of Taiwan over the past few decades. The article generated strong response and received positive comments among readers, as well creating an essential conduit connecting the peoples from both sides of the strait. However, some people from the Central Propaganda Department, whose viewpoints and mindset were astonishingly narrow, condemned the article as "targeting the Communist Party on every level."
On November 18 of last year, the Central Committee of the Party held a solemn meeting to commemorate the 90th birthday of Comrade Hu Yaobang, the great proletariat revolutionist. On behalf of Central Committee of the Party, Comrade Zeng Qinghong introduced Comrade Hu Yaobang's glorious achievements and great character at length, a presentation that was warmly received by the people. However, some individuals from the Central Propaganda Committee prohibited media from publishing articles commemorating Comrade Hu Yaobang and limited publications to articles exclusively from Xinhua News Agency with no alterations permitted.
On December 7 of 2005, Freezing Point published Comrade Hu Qili's unabridged reminiscence, "[Hu] Yaobang in My Heart." The article generated a deep-felt response in many domestic and international Chinese-language media outlets, which republished the article. Many Internet readers posted comments in which they said the article was so touching it brought them to tears. Despite receiving singularly positive popular reactions, the Central Propaganda Department made phone call to the newspaper agency, condemned and claiming it violated the rule of "publishing without approval!" Among these people there is not a single ounce of recognition of the true feelings and reminiscences expressed towards Comrade Hu Yaobang!...
Under pressure, the next installment of the report was withdrawn from the Freezing Point Weekly. As a result, on December 28 of 2005, Freezing Point Weekly for the first time was a reduced to a three-page issue. Let's ask, what kind of behavior are the people from the Central Propaganda Department safeguarding? .. .
This incident again reveals the fundamental flaws in the news management system of our country. A small number of people in the Central
Propaganda Department employ a narrow-minded view, using an intolerant, autocratic and peremptory style, to impose controls that deaden what should be a lively political phenomenon in which "a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thought contend." These people want obedience, not equality. Which article in the Chinese Communist Party's constitution grants them this monopoly of power? ...
With heartfelt thanks!
Chief Editor of Freezing Point Weekly, China Youth Daily January 25,2006