Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay today on learning the reasons given by China’s Publicity Department (the former Propaganda Department) for closing China Youth Daily’s liberal weekly supplement, Bing Dian, yesterday.
Editor Li Datong said the authorities singled out an 18 January article entitled “Modernisation and history textbooks,” saying it expressed a “dangerous” view of the foreign occupation of China at the end of the 19th century. The supplement was accused of hurting national sentiment by romanticizing the invasion.
The offending article ceased to be available on the newspaper’s website today. Clicking on a link to the article brings up the message: “We are sorry. This page does not exist.”
In an attempt to avert an outcry, the Publicity Department sent a message to all the leading Chinese media forbidding them to mention Bing Dian’s closure. China Youth Daily’s management has meanwhile banned Li from access the newspaper’s intranet. His blog has also been blocked. Li said he intended to appeal to the Chinese Communist Party’s disciplinary control commission.
In an e-mail message to his colleagues, Li voiced his sadness about Bing Dian’s closure by recounting this anecdote:
“I have a neighbour who is more than 70 years old. He is a retired Academy of Social Sciences professor. He was a China Youth Daily subscriber. He was disappointed to learn of Bing Dian’s closure and went to the post office to cancel his subscription. The postal employee asked why, pointing out that there would be a two-yuan charge for the cancellation. The old professor said he had only wanted a subscription to Bing Dian, but this was not possible so he was forced to subscribe to China Youth Daily. As Bing Dian no longer existed, there was no point buying the newspaper. The post office employee asked him: ‘What was so interesting about Bing Dian?’ The old professor replied: ‘Bing Dian said a few words of truth, that’s all.’ The employee said: ‘If that’s the case, I will do the cancellation for you and you won’t have to pay the charge.’”
Popular weekly supplement closed in new attack on the liberal press
Reporters Without Borders condemned the closure today of the pioneering weekly supplement Bing Dian (Freezing Point), which until this week was published every Wednesday by Zhongguo Qingnian Bao (China Youth Daily). The sudden decision ends two years of friction between the supplement’s editor, Li Datong, and the newspaper’s owner, the Communist Youth League.
“After the crises at Xin Jing Bao and Nanfang Dushi Bao in the past month, Bing Dian’s closure confirms that the Communist Party’s propaganda chiefs want to reduce the room for expression for the liberal newspapers to zero,” the press freedom organisation said.
“We are very concerned at where this crackdown could lead, because it is gaining pace in the run-up to the Spring festivities,” Reporters Without Borders added, calling on Zhongguo Qingnian Bao’s editors to reverse their decision and resume publishing the supplement.
Li was summoned by Communist Youth League officials yesterday and notified that his supplement was being closed. He was not told why, or what would happen to the 13 journalists who worked on the supplement. Bing Dian was not on sale in news stands today while the newspaper’s intranet site said nothing about the closure. Reporters Without Borders confirmed that its discussion forum (www.cyol.net), was blocked. A message said this was due to a technical problem.
Li, who is well-known, told the Associated Press news agency that he was very angry. “I cannot reveal to you all the details of this case,” he told the editor of Radio Free Asia. “For the time being, Bing Dian will no long appear and there is nothing we can do about it,” he said, stressing that it would be “dangerous” for him to say any more.
One of Li’s former colleagues said he had done everything possible to promote investigative journalism and the critical examination of social problems. The publication of an essay by a Taiwanese woman politician entitled “Perhaps you do not know Taiwan” in the supplement last October triggered a heated debate in China.
Li was fierce critic of Li Erliang, who was appointed by the Communist Youth League as Zhongguo Qingnian Bao’s editor at the end of 2004. He published an open letter condemning the management’s decision to impose new criteria on the journalists and to make promotions and raises conditional on the praise received from the Publicity Department (the former Propaganda Department).
“Bing Dian has been in the Chinese Communist Party’s sights ever since the publication of that open letter,” dissident Liu Xiaobo told Radio Free Asia. Created in 1995, Bing Dian was very popular and had a print run of 400,000.