Forced closure of liberal magazine harms China’s image

Yanhuang Chunqiu had a readership of only 200,000 and was backed by Communist Party elders, yet its editorial team has been purged

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 July, 2016, 1:53am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 July, 2016, 1:53am

Amid a sustained crackdown on dissent on the mainland and an increasingly conservative ideological tone, enduring exceptions stand out. One has been the magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu, a platform for liberal voices. Founded 25 years ago by party elders and backed by retired senior officials, it has wielded influence beyond its 200,000 readers.

Outspoken liberal Chinese magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu threatens to sue state organisation over editorial appointments

Now one of its founders, 92-year-old Du Daozheng, has announced its closure after being sacked as publisher in a sweeping reshuffle initiated by its state overseer, an academy of the Ministry of Culture. He said he did this because he and other executives were worried the new team would depart from the magazine’s core value – to uphold the spirit of reform and opening up advocated by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平). This will dismay many who see Yanhuang Chunqiu as a steady flagship of liberal views regardless of official tolerance of dissenting voices from time to time. No reasons were advanced for the reshuffle, just that Du was “too old”, which suggests it was well planned and endorsed by higher authorities.

The journal voiced support for constitutional democracy and published articles contesting the official version of history. Du made the point that it had never championed the party’s overthrow, only the need for it to become gradually more democratic. If even that view cannot be accommodated it does not augur well for political and economic reform.

Outspoken liberal Chinese magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu stops publication after management purge

After all, Du remains a loyal party member. The magazine has been seen as a strong supporter of President Xi Jinping (習近平) and his anti-corruption campaign. Du, for one, has said he does not believe the idea of a clean-out at the magazine came from Xi, which leaves officials who may have had personal or political motives ahead of a top leadership reshuffle next year as the prime suspects. The sweeping purge of a respected, long-established publication feeds the perception of a political tightening that leaves no room even for a loyal liberal voice. That is bad for the image of the country and its leadership when the world is looking for more open engagement.