Weekly goes back on stands with a whimper
Publication of Bingdian resumes with front-page critique of contentious article
The Bingdian Weekly reappeared on readers' breakfast tables yesterday after a five-week suspension ordered by the authorities, with its entire front page devoted to a formulaic critique of the controversial article by Guangdong professor Yuan Weishi that triggered its suspension.
Final proofs of the four-page supplement to the China Youth Daily were reviewed by China Youth League inspectors on Tuesday night before going to press and a brief statement apologising for Bingdian's five-week absence was removed at the last moment.
Bingdian will be devoted to special reports on the annual National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference sessions for the next two weeks.
'So the normal editorial business of Bingdian will be suspended for another two weeks, and it's still hard to predict what the editorial policy of the resumed publication will be,' said a source close to the newspaper.
Bingdian's new editor, Chen Xiaochuan - who is also deputy editor of the China Youth Daily - could not be reached for comment.
The front-page article by veteran Marxist historian Zhang Haipeng , demanded by Youth League authorities as a condition for the resumption of Bingdian, was headlined 'Anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism are the theme of modern Chinese history'.
Professor Yuan's article had called for an objective attitude towards historical events rather than partial conclusions based on nationalism or national sentiment. It led to the closure of the outspoken supplement, known for its in-depth stories on social problems, after mainstream historians complained to the top leadership.
Mr Zhang, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences - an official think-tank - started his 10,000-word article by denouncing Professor Yuan's views as a denial of the 'fundamental conclusions Chinese academia has achieved in the study of modern Chinese history directed by Marxism since the new China was established'.
He argued that China's modern history (1840-1949) was full of examples of Chinese fighting against imperialism, invasion and feudal suppression, and criticised Professor Yuan's article as 'groundless, unpersuasive and unable to stand up to any judgment according to historical data'.
But a modern historian from Jiangsu criticised Mr Zhang's view, saying 'any conclusion drawn on the basis of so-called national patriotism and national sentiment is subjective'.
'Zhang represents the Marxist intellectuals whose academic beliefs, perspective and reputation are totally established within the party's value and ideological system,' she said. 'This article is part of a counter-attack by conservatives against the rise of liberal opinion leaders who have started to question the values the authorities have been trying to instil.'
Sacked Bingdian editor Li Datong said Mr Zhang's article contained flaws, but added that every academic should be free to present individual opinions on historic events.
'But if they [the authorities] just allow one opinion and shut up anybody who disagrees with their perspectives, that would be absurd.'
Li and his deputy, Lu Yuegang , were transferred to a research institute when the decision to resume Bingdian was announced two weeks ago.
Law professor He Weifang said: 'This crucial issue is whether any more articles on this debate are allowed to appear in Bingdian, otherwise it will prove the authorities won't allow different opinions on historical events.'
Professor He was among 13 intellectuals who signed a public letter supporting Bingdian and urging the top leadership to allow the weekly to resume publication.
He said the affair was typical of the government's suppression of freedom of speech and academic study, and had had a 'seriously negative impact' on the entire mainland media sector. 'The mainland media circle has kept quiet out of fear of suffering a fate similar to Bingdian, and the propagandists have achieved their purpose of cowing them into silence.'
Mr Zhang's article was picked up by state-run websites such as Xinhua and portals, including Sina.com. Chat-room posts critical of the article on Sina.com were quickly deleted, leaving only positive responses online.