Weekly relaunches, but without its editors
Authorities purge pair to salvage reputations after high-level intervention: observer
The China Youth Daily's outspoken Bingdian Weekly supplement will resume publication on March 1, five weeks after it was closed down by the Communist Party's Propaganda Department, but editor Li Datong and deputy editor Lu Yuegang have been purged.
The four-page supplement, whose title means Freezing Point, was closed down on January 24 after it published an article by Guangdong professor Yuan Weishi criticising the mainstream interpretation of historical events such as the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. The article irritated a group of historians, who complained to senior officials.
The closure attracted extensive criticism at home and abroad, becoming another flashpoint in relations between an increasingly independent media and the central government and party propagandists in the Publicity Department, following the previous closure of a number of outspoken newspapers and magazines.
In addition to removing Bingdian Weekly editor Li and his deputy Lu, a renowned investigative journalist on the mainland, the newspaper party committee also ordered the daily, the China Youth League's mouthpiece, to publish a feature-length report in its March 1 edition attacking Professor Yuan's article.
'The China Youth Daily party committee announced that myself and Lu would be transferred to a news research institute,' Li said from his office yesterday.
'It's shameless revenge on Bingdian, and I was surprised to know it came so quickly.'
Li founded the weekly 11 years ago and had submitted a petition letter through private channels this week - addressed to the party's Central Discipline Inspection Commission - complaining about the abrupt closure and asking for a 'responsible reply based on a careful investigation'. The letter was submitted to China Youth Daily last week but rejected by the China Youth League this week.
'[The daily] took revenge on us without waiting for a higher-level response,' Li said.
High-profile support for Bingdian had come earlier this week in a joint declaration signed by 13 veteran intellectuals and retired officials, who called for a complete relaunch of the publication without any revenge.
Lu, known for his in-depth stories on mainland social problems and corruption, said the purge was 'unfair to Li Datong and a rigorous rebuff to myself for my previous remarks that irritated the newspaper and the authorities'.
He said Li had only headed the Bingdian supplement and it was 'unfair to see Li Datong sacked while other senior newspaper officials remain untouched'.
As well as the sackings, China Youth Daily chief editor Li Erliang was urged to make an 'in-depth self-criticism' to the newspaper party committee, and the newspaper editorial committee was told to make an 'in-depth self-criticism' to the China Youth League party committee.
'It's a very miserable result. I was deeply saddened to hear about the removal of the two editors,' said outspoken lawyer Pu Zhiqiang .
China Youth Daily deputy editor Chen Xiaochuan will succeed Li. A senior reporter at the China Youth Daily said Mr Chen was 'a veteran editor with good journalistic experience and a prudent manager and it's hard to predict how he could take over the hot potato'.
He said the reopening of Bingdian could be regarded as 'a partial victory' for supporters of media reform. But the purge of the two editors and the order to criticise Professor Yuan were a 'typical measure to save the authorities' already damaged reputation'.
A media analyst said it was a 'a typical prosecution measure, to remove the original founder of Bingdian and the man who established its reputation over the past 10 years, and it's hard to predict what it will be like afterwards'.
At a regular press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang defended the decision.
The article by Professor Yuan had 'gravely violated historical facts, gravely hurt the national feeling of the Chinese people, and gravely injured the image of the China Youth Daily', Mr Qin said.