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The first big political scandal of 2013 has been delivered courtesy of Tuo Zhen, propaganda chief of Guangdong province.
Earlier this week, Tuo spiked the annual editorial address run by the widely respected Southern Weekend newspaper, the latest issue of which hit shelves today. Tuo then replaced the address with a short bland message lined with officialese, referring repeatedly to Xi Jinping as the key for China to realise all its dreams.
See the two works side-by-side here, with the original on the left.
For his "rape", as it's being called, of the news weekly's meagre editorial independence, Tuo's has become a household name overnight as furious media professionals and netizens across the country have raised discussion over the censored address to the top of social media trending topic lists.
The original text, “China's Dream, a Difficult Dream”, instead of being censored, can now be found easily on various websites.
Talk of protests and resignations began soon after the scandal broke online on Wednesday night.
One Sina Weibo user claiming to be an employee of Southern Weekend's parent company, Nanfang Media Group, wrote this morning:
Rumour has it when Tuo arrived in Guangdong, he called up the heads of each newspaper for one-on-one chats, saying the party has entrusted them to hold the line on permitted speech together, that any lost ground will be lost for good.
Then he came out with a series of mortal blows: forbidding Guangdong media from reporting on corruption in other provinces, banning any commentary on negative news in far-off locations, constantly requiring that only the People's Daily or Xinhua version of news be allowed to run. Southern Weekend in particular has been ordered to get prior approval for every story from the provincial propaganda department, which won't let each issue go to print until it's seen all major reports.
Read more about Tuo, who served as vice-president of Xinhua prior to his appointment to Guangdong in May 2012, here.
Apple Daily today reports, through an interview with one Beijing-based journalist, that Tuo made his changes after today's issue of Southern Weekend had been signed off by editors who refused to approve Tuo's later version, which he then sent on to be printed.
“China's Dream”, penned by longtime Southern Weekend columnist Dai Zhiyong, is a lofty and moderate essay approximately twice the length of what Tuo wrote. Aiming to inspire, Dai opens with mention of the Chinese people's desire for freedom and rule of law, and the chance China has to make a fresh start 30 years on the from the "nightmare" of the Cultural Revolution.
Tuo's version, on the other hand, says little and even leaves out Dai's references to China's past defeats at the hands of foreign powers.
For the moment the official face of the Communist Party's war on press freedom, Tuo reveals himself as something of a tragic figure in his final paragraph, apparently having forgotten which side of the censors' desk he now works as he inserts himself further into the newspaper:
We're listening carefully to your dreams, hoping you dare to make them come true: it isn't only the outstanding who have dreams of their own, when in fact it's through dreams that one is able to stand out. We have no greater purpose but the pursuit of our hopes, such as we have nothing more to pursue than the fulfillment of our promises.