Outspoken magazine under pressure to soften its line
The mainland's most outspoken political magazine is under unprecedented pressure from the authorities to remove its publisher and soften its editorial line, fuelling speculation about the fate of the publication which has the support of many retired senior party liberals.
The news comes as an increasing number of writers and committee members at Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, are becoming too old or sick to play an active role. Five died this year.
Officials from the government censor, the General Administration of Press and Publication, and the Culture Ministry told the magazine earlier this month that its 87-year-old founding publisher, Du Daozheng, must step down.
Chief editor Wu Si said the authorities also accused it of breaching government regulations by failing to submit several articles to the authorities for censoring.
Recent articles that attracted criticism included an article by former Renmin University vice-president Xie Tao, who died this year, calling for the liberation of thoughts and democracy. Another one was by Du, who praised Premier Wen Jiabao's recent speeches in support of political reform. Some of the official press took Wen to task for his support for what they call 'capitalism democracy', insisting China must not copy Western-style liberal values and political systems.
The authorities also asked that the organisation which Yanhuang Chunqiu operates under assume 'fuller responsibility' in controlling the content of the magazine. All publications on the mainland have to operate under state-affiliated organisations, who are supposed to be responsible for their editorial content.
Wu said it was the 10th time that the magazine had been officially censured since its founding 19 years ago, not counting many more incidents throughout the years in which the magazine was ordered to tone down its relatively liberal content.
But Du, a former director of the General Administration of Press and Publication and a staunch party reformist, insisted on resisting official pressure and vowed to maintain its editorial independence within limited room to move.
'We are always treading carefully around landmines ... but we say what should be said,' Du said. 'Yes of course we're taking risks, if we don't have the courage, there would be no point having this magazine.
'We will stay firm on our principles and we won't budge, but we can go about things wisely and make measured steps.'
Du has already given up much of his editorial role due to ill health and his advancing years, and originally planned to officially retire from the magazine next year. But the latest round of repression had made the magazine more reluctant to see his departure, Wu said.
'Even if he only has an honorary role and comes to the office every now and then for a chat, that gives us a sense of security. So we hope the status quo can be maintained,' Wu said. 'The current situation shows that if he does retire, we would end up having to deal with the pressure all by ourselves.'
Wu said the magazine had always exercised self-censorship to try to avoid official wrath and abided by government rules by regularly submitting articles for censorship. But subjects deemed sensitive covered too wide a range of topics and the definition of what should be sent to the authorities for censoring was too vague. It was simply impossible to submit all articles because it could take the authorities months to give an answer on what could, or could not, be published, he said.
Just four months ago, Yanhuang Chunqiu published a memoir paying tribute to late Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang , who was purged for sympathising with students in the 1989 Tiananmen prodemocracy movement.
That article was not criticised in the latest crackdown, although articles mentioning Zhao were criticised two years ago. This was an example of how the magazine keeps pushing the official limits by publishing articles that would normally be deemed sensitive.