Leading magazine faces tough action

Two days ago, rumors began circulating on social media that there were troubles at Window on the South (南风窗), a Guangzhou-based news and current affairs magazine with a distinguished 26-year history and a reputation as one of the leading lights of professional journalism in China. It is now confirmed that Zhao Lingmin (赵灵敏), one of the publication’s top editors, has been suspended from her duties (停职).

The action is the latest in a number of disciplinary actions against journalists in the past year. Most recently, China Central Television producer Wang Qinglei (王青雷) was suspended after his program was outspoken in its criticism of the government’s handling of the July 23 high-speed train collision in Wenzhou.

It seems that the chief reason for Zhao’s suspension is an article called “China Has Risen, We Must Say Goodbye to the Foreign Policy of Revolution” (中国要崛起,必须告别革命外交), which she wrote for a recent edition of the magazine [more from the SCMP]. This article is still available on a number of blogs and chatrooms, but has been deleted from most other sites. The original link at the Window on the South website now results in an error message:

The following is a translation of Zhao Lingmin’s letter to colleagues concerning her suspension from Window on the South:

Dear Colleagues:

After a meeting yesterday I had already accepted a notice from the board [informing me] a termination was to be carried out and that [I was to] undergo self-examination. Beginning from today, I have already been released from all editorial work on this publication. The second half of the year is a crucial time for circulation and advertising for next year, and I already had many ideas and plans in place for the next few months, but none of these can now be done. Window on the South no longer requires my thoughts and consideration.

As to the “errors of political guidance” (政治导向错误) represented in the article “China Has Risen, We Must Say Goodbye to the Foreign Policy of Revolution” (中国要崛起,必须告别革命外交), I naturally see this in a different way [from authorities], but clearly right now there is not an atmosphere or opportunity for the discussion of issues on the basis of facts and principles. As the writer of this piece and as the editorial head (采编中心主任), I feel deeply sorry for the negative impact this piece has had on this publication, but magazine publishing has its own process and I can only take on the responsibility I am meant to take on. They way things are now being handled, heaping all of the burdens on the writer and on the publisher who has no direct connection to the article, magnifying the problem as a question of principle, targeting people rather than issues and selectively and brashy handling this matter — clearly, this is something I cannot countenance.

I have passed seven full happy years at Window on the South. Having made the journey from a point where I was a new hand too timid even to pick up the phone to interview someone up to this point today, I offer my heartfelt thanks to Window on the South for giving me this opportunity and nurturing. I am also thankful for the support I have received from all of you. At the same time, I feel I have given my utmost in my work, and there is nothing on my conscience. Particularly in the recent three years, as demanded by my position and my sense of responsibility, I have put perhaps all of the time and energy I could into work, to the point where it has been difficult to have a full personal life. If it had not been for this incident, I might not perhaps [anyway] have continued this way of life for too many more years. But now, in this accident, I have at last been disengaged, and I have an opportunity to live a normal and relaxed life. This morning, I discovered for the first time upon crawling out of bed that I no longer have to think about things for the sake of work. While this feeling is unfamiliar, it seems not so bad.

Over the past few months what has most gratified me is the way that most members of our editorial team have found their own independent characters and judgement, that they don’t fawn and slavishly accept things. In my view, it is on the basis of this spirit that Window on the South has stood tall these 26 years, and it is also the reason why so many colleagues have been able to press on year after year even as they are full of complaints about the situation of hte magazine. The inertial force of this spiritual community is something that no material bounty or connection could ever replace. While it may be buffeted by a larger climate and local environment that grow narrower by the day, I really hope everyone [at the publication] will continue to push on with this independent character and judgement [NOTE: By "environment large and small" Zhao is referring to larger national trends, such as tightening ahead of next year's Party Congress, and the specific environment facing the publication, including management and local leaders]. I also hope that our department in charge (主管部门) [which administers the publication] and those in charge will respect the time-honored legacy, culture, atmosphere and values of Window on the South, having an attitude of caution and responsibility toward history in operating and managing this magazine with such a brilliant past.

I thank everyone for their concern over the past two days. I am fine, and I hope all of you take care as well.

Zhao Lingmin (赵灵敏)
August 16, 2011

各位同事:

昨天早上会议之后,我已接获社委会通知,进行停职反省。自今天开始,我已退出本刊所有采编业务和工作。下半年是明年广告、发行的关键时期,我本已对未来几个月的内容有了很多的设想和筹划,但现在都做不了了,《南风窗》已不需要我再为它设想考虑了。

关于《中国要崛起,必须告别革命外交》一文的所谓“政治导向错误”,我自然有不同的看法,但目前显然并没有一个从事实和道理上讨论问题的氛围和契机。作为本文的作者和采编中心主任,我对此文给本刊造成的负面影响深感抱歉,但杂志出版是有流程的,我只能承担自己应该承担的责任,像目前这样把所有板子打在作者和与此文无直接关联的社长身上,进行上纲上线、对人不对事的选择性和扩大化处理,显然 并不能服众。

在《南风窗》,我度过了非常快乐和充实的7年。从一个给采访对象打电话都战战兢兢的新手起步走到今天,我由衷感谢《南风窗》给予我的机会和培养,也感谢各位的支持和帮助。与此同时,我在工作上也尽了最大努力,自认问心无愧。特别是最近3年来,出于工作岗位的需要和责任感,我将几乎所有能拿出来的时间和精力都投入到了工作中,以至于很难有完整的个人生活。如果不是此次的事件,我大概还会将这样的生活方式继续很多年,但现在,以这样一个始料不及的方式,我终于解脱了,有机会过更为正常和轻松的生活了。今天早上,我7年来第一次在起床后发现不需要再为工作想东想西了,这样的感觉虽然陌生,但似乎很不错。

过去几个月,最让我感到欣慰的,是采编部门的大部分同事所表现 出来的独立人格和判断力,遇事不阿附,不盲从。在我看来,这种精神力量是《南风窗》能够屹立26年的根本,也是很多同事即便对杂志的现状啧有烦言、但仍一年年坚守下来的根本原因。这一精神共同体的向心力,是任何物质上的恩惠和拉拢所不能替代的。虽然这种独立人格和判断力,在今天日益逼仄的大环境和小环境面前简直弱不禁风,但我还是期望大家能勉力坚守。也盼望我们的主管部门和新的主事者,能够尊重《南风窗》长期形成的历史、文化、氛围和价值观,以审慎和对历史负责任的态度经营和管理这本有光辉过去的杂志。

感谢大家这两天来对我的关心,我很好,大家也保重。

赵灵敏
2011年8月16日

7 Comments to “Leading magazine faces tough action”

  1. ltlee says:

    @Joe
    Thank you for a long response.
    However, I cannot agree with you. Basically, the issue is about people’s choice.
    The Chinese people had abandoned warlordism and its accompanying anarchy/freedom. This is history. Neither the Communists nor the Nationationalists could have victory over the warlords if the Chinese people as a whole did not side with them. In contrast, the German people had chosen to side with Hitler who implemented policies on their behalf. If praising Hitler and/or denying the Holocaust should be sent to jail per certain European laws, I fail to see why praising the warlords and their policies should be considered righteous. Comparing between Zhao and Thomas, Thomas view had a more praiseworthy pedigree since it reflected UN resolution. Her view represented the desire of the world as a whole. Can we say the same about Zhao/Tang’s view?
    Concerning about the so called “revolutionary diplomacy.” It is nothing but a red herring. History again is clear. Mao, and Zhou and Deng did not establish diplomatic relations with the US, Britain or Japan based on this so called “revolutionary diplomacy.” In addition, they all sided with the US and work to undermine the former USSR. If anything, they were practicing anti-revolutionary diplomacy.
    I have no problem with 多元化的历史视角. One can certainly see history from different angles. Saying the period of warlordism was China’s golden era is spreading falsehood.

  2. Joe says:

    @ Itlee:

    Completely agree with you about Hellen Thomas’ case. (Wen Ho Lee’s story is a bit more complicated than that, however). Especially because Thomas expressed her ideas privately, not as a reporter. Being even slightly critical of Israel in the US can be a career-ending mishap. However, technically she lost her job in a private company because pro-Israel lobbyists are powerful in the media, not because of an order from the federal government. It is also extremely grave that the entire US mainstream media didn’t even think for a moment about critiquing her removal as a threat to free speech.

    Even though Thomas’ case is certainly serious, the difference with Zhao’s case is that the ideas we are commenting upon are Tang’s, not Zhao’s. As Tang could not be punished and is entitled to his opinion being a Taiwan-based scholar, the government had Zhao punished for merely making them known on the Mainland. Would you punish a publisher or a translator for the opinions of the author? I don’t think it’s fair.

    Secondly, I don’t find either Tang’s words or your interpretation of them to be so dangerous, so inflammatory to justify Zhao’s removal. By the way, Tang is not saying that is was a golden era for “all the Chinese people”, he says it was “a golden era for intellectuals and education” because of the lack of an enforced official ideology and plurality of ideas. You are distorting his words and using against him a very simplistic and populist argument. Nor is he praising the warlords.

    The reason why he calls it a “golden era for education and intellectuals” is because he is contrasting his interpretation with the official history taught by the CCP for the last 60 years, as emerges from the previous paragraph: “国共两党都极力攻击北洋时期,把北洋时期说成一个中国历史上最黑暗的时代,与洋务运动失败、北洋水师覆灭、北洋军阀卖国等刻板印象相连接。北洋时代是否是军阀混战,民不聊生?我个人觉得需要仔细研究之后才能下定论。”

    Finally, his argument is a bit more sophisticated than “praising Hitler and denying the Holocaust”:

    “过去近百年,外交往往成为内部斗争和政治宣传的工具,告诉大家列强欺负中国,我们要报仇雪耻,这种灌输不容易形成平衡公允的世界观和民族性格。政治家对群众情绪的操控,虽然可以获得一时之利,但长远看会损害国家利益。如果我们认定自己是受害者,沉浸于八国联军、南京大屠杀等事件的悲情中,琢磨着有一天要一雪前耻,就只会让世界感到害怕。民族主义会激发爱国心,但狭隘民族主义会成为中国前进的绊脚石。中国要崛起,必须告别革命外交,在多元化的历史视角中,摆脱过往政治神话的束缚,以平衡自信的大国心态走向世界。”

    I find this thought quite praiseworthy — How can it be even compared with a pro-nazism rant? Tang is expressing in a moderate manner a historical interpretation that has as its bottom line the advocacy of friendship and understanding between peoples and countries — not the debacle of the Chinese state and the (impossible) return to the Warlord period. Today the Chinese state is much stronger that intellectuals and scholars, so no worry, the real problems China faces today do not stem from the weakness of the state, maybe the opposite. He is advocating confidence and plurality against ideological orthodoxy and revanchism — the latter two being exactly the fundamental principles of the Hitlerian foreign policy.

    As to antisemitism, neo-nazism and neo-fascism are resurrecting quicky and strongly all over Europe, from Germany, to Italy, to the UK. And how about Norway? These movements, made illegal by several European countries for obvious historical reasons in their laws and constitutional charts, are becoming closer and closer to mainstream politics, sometimes even receiving the endorsement of vote-starving conservatives like Cameron and Berlusconi. Today, praising Hitler or Mussolini is no longer persecuted as a crime, despite abovementioned laws, This is the biggest threat to democracy in Europe today, a threat to values like cultural and political pluralism, to freedom of speech, to the friendship between peoples and nations. Not only their values are opposite to those expressed by Tang, but their methods are also very different. They kill and threaten, they intimidate and insult in the most hideous way — they do not express their ideas through scholarly articles. That’s why I coudn’t agree with your comparison (you mentioned Europe, not the US: please do not confuse the two, thanks).

    (I know he’s quite popular among some Chinese, but Henry Kissinger is a well-known criminal and liar, no way I’m reading his book, sorry).

  3. ltlee says:

    On saying good bye to revolutionary foreign policy, the article is too late. Mao had said good bye 40 years ago. Kissinger’s recent book “ON CHINA” has provided a lot of details.

  4. ltlee says:

    @Joe
    I did read the original article which portrayed the period of warlordism and anarchy as a golden era China should drawn inspiration from.
    “中国要往上走,是可以从北洋时代得到启发的。那时虽然军阀混战,但彼此之间还是有道义上的约束,不会赶尽杀绝;北洋内部派系林立,轮流执政,这对今天的政改是有借鉴意义的;北洋时代是一个多元化的时代,社会氛围自由宽松,没有官方的意识形态,观念上百花齐放,有学术自由,是知识分子和教育的黄金时代。”
    Of course, anarchy by default means plurality on many aspects of the society and more freedom to the powerful. In addition, thieves anywhere also means that they had to establish and follow their own thievery morality among themselves. But was that really a golden era for all the Chinese people?
    Concerning Hitler and his policy, history is also clear. Hitler won his position democratically. I bet more Germans would praise Hitler’s than Chinese would praised the warlords anytime anywhere for understandable reasons.
    I don’t know much about antisemitism. However, senior journalist Helen Thomas had to resign because she dare to raise the issue on Israel leaving the Palestine as UN resolution had asked. I also see a lot anti-China and anti-Chinese propaganda coming from the Western media. And a now infamous New York Time article had helped sent Dr. Wen Ho Lee to jail because he was Chinese.

  5. Joe says:

    @ Itlee

    Evidently you have not read the article, which is an interview to a Taiwanese scholar, Tang Qihua. The opinions for which Zhao is punished are those of Tang, who suggests a change in foreign policy and does not deny the historical reality of tragedies and massacres. By the way, the European struggle against the current resurgence of antisemitism and nazi-fascism is also something you don’t seem to be familiar with.

  6. ltlee says:

    Zhao should count herself lucky. If she was in German or some other Western countries publishing an article praising Hilter and denying the Holocaust, she would be sent to jail.

  7. Phil says:

    The issues involved were summarized very well by Zhao Lingmin, who deserves our admiration for having kept her cool and stood her ground in the face of extremely unjust treatment by the authoritarian system. The last sentence in her second paragraph is especially worth reading, as it reflects how little has changed in the Chinese Communist Party’s longstanding tradition of severely punishing independent thinking amongst the intelligentsia, including journalists.

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