Fiery Peking University professor Kong Qingdong, a key leftist academic, is no stranger to publicity.
He was back in the public spotlight last month after he claimed in a microblog entry he had told Cao Linhua, a reporter for Southern People Weekly magazine, to 'f*** off' three times in a row because Cao represented a 'traitorous' media organisation, Nanfang Media Group.
'A minute ago, Southern People Weekly called me for an interview with a nice attitude but sinister language,' Kong, a professor of Chinese language and literature, wrote.
Some in the media reacted with outrage, calling for Kong's dismissal, while others interpreted his tantrum as the latest salvo in a struggle between leftists and rightists.
Kong, who claims to be a 73rd-generation descendant of Confucius, has refused to explain his remark.
But Cao, in a written account of their exchange, said Kong (pictured) had later apologised in a text message, saying he did not have anything personal against him as a reporter but had been hurt by the publication he worked for.
Cao said Kong had told him to 'f*** off' once, not three times, but 'tried to play it up' on his microblog.
In Kong's support, self-proclaimed patriots in Taiyuan, Shanxi, and Shijiazhuang, Hebei, torched hundreds of copies of Nanfang Media's Southern Weekend and Southern People Weekly. The publisher of newspaper and magazines, based in Guangzhou, is among the most liberal and outspoken media organisations on the mainland.
Southern Weekend editor-in-chief Huang Can said readers had the right to self-expression, and it was up to them how they went about it.
'We will do the same through our reporting,' he said, refusing to comment directly on Kong's criticism.
Guo Songmin, another prominent leftist, said he agreed with Kong that Nanfang Media wielded much more clout in forming public opinion than the Communist Party Publicity Department, the mainland's top censor.
He said the problem with Nanfang Media was that its publications often sided with Western countries in their reporting of international issues because it subscribed to a simplistic, black-and-white view of things - favouring the United States over China and saying that market economies are good and planned economies bad.
Another problem with Nanfang Media and the liberal intellectuals it represented, Guo said, was their constant demonisation of Mao Zedong, not realising that many people, particularly the older generation, still remembered Mao's substantial contribution to an independent, strong China.
Chen Yongmiao, a Beijing-based political analyst and rights activist who describes himself as a diehard rightist, said he could not side with Nanfang Media, because he objected to its glorification of reform and its portrayal of former premier Zhu Rongji as a saviour.
He said Zhu's drastic push for state-sector reform in the late 1990s, which led to millions of workers being laid off, was terribly flawed.
Chen said the real struggle was not between the left and right but between those who had not benefited from the reform and the few who had.
'The vast majority, no matter whether they're on the right or the left, first have to face up to exploitation from those elites with power and money,' he said.
'And Nanfang Media was largely chosen as a venue [for the struggle].'
Chen said Taiyuan and Shijiazhuang were both old industrial bastions with large concentrations of laid-off workers who were not educated enough to properly express themselves and so resorted to the rhetoric of Mao's era.
Tsinghua University sociologist Li Dun said media organisations should not be expected to be too politically correct and Nanfang Media had done a better job than most outlets under state control.
Li said the people burning its publications in Taiyuan and Shijiazhuang were no doubt highly irrational, but many irreconcilable social tensions lay behind that irrationality, including forced evictions, the seizure of land and exploitation by vested interests in the name of economic development.
'When the public is deprived of the chance of a sensible dialogue, it's not shocking for even an educated person like Kong Qingdong to behave in such a way,' Li said.