On June 13, 2003, China Youth Daily reporter Lu Yuegang published a public letter online addressing a speech given on May 24 that year to top newspaper cadres by Zhao Yong (赵勇), secretary of the standing committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League, publisher of the newspaper. In his letter, Lu Yuegang said Zhao’s speech was “full of sermonizing, intimidation and ignorance.” Summarized, Zhao Yong’s three main points had been: 1) whoever doesn’t fall in line with the CCYL will be sent packing, 2) China Youth Daily is a publication of the CCYL, not an ‘abstract major newspaper’ [in other words, not a professional journalistic enterprise], and 3) the newspaper could not operate on the principle of “idealism”.
For more than a century the tradition of press professionals in China has held that “the responsibility of defending the nation lies with the people” (天下兴亡，匹夫有责). This sense of idealism and purpose could be seen in the Shiwubao (时务报) of the late Qing Dynasty (19th and early 20th centuries), in the Ta Kung Pao of the Republican Period. For more than a half century, the news industry in China was colored strongly with a sense of justice and social conscience. Economic reforms in the 1980s brought the reemergence of this sense of idealism among the generation of journalists who had experienced the Anti-Rightist Movement of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution. China Youth Daily was home to a number of such journalists, including Lu Yuegang and Li Datong.
In the preface to Zan Aizong’s book The Fourth Estate [Introduction to Zan at Independent Chinese Pen Center], Lu Yuegang explains “idealism” in the following way: “All editors and reporters will face these sorts of questions – Why do we interview and write? What are our basic rights and interests? In our social environment, whose interests does public opinion serve? In what way can we carry out objective and impartial reporting? In what way can we get nearer social truths? In a normal social environment these questions don’t constitute questions, or merely become questions of technique. But for us [Chinese] they are question we cannot turn away from. Some people say I’m an ‘idealist’. An idealist’s action is characterized by ‘acting for something even if you know that thing is nearly impossible’, and in the process drawing the attention of the world. Strictly speaking, I’m not that kind of idealist. Rather, my standard for idealism is ‘keeping truth as one’s creed even if it means losing one’s head’, basically not hesitating to shed blood or lose one’s head for some belief or concept about which you are determined.”