Yesterday’s bust-up over the audacious intrusion of Guangdong propaganda leaders into the time-honored tradition of the “New Year’s Greeting” at Southern Weekly is now looking like the first major challenge to Xi Jinping’s politics of (apparent?) openness. In an open letter today, a group of prominent former Southern Weekly journalists, including CMP Director Qian Gang (钱钢), sharply criticize the actions of Guangdong’s propaganda chief, Tuo Zhen (庹震).
The open letter, which describes Tuo Zhen as a bureaucratic tyrant with a long history of strangling the vitality out of Chinese media, ups the ante by publicly challenging the central leadership to show where it stands on the issue of greater openness.
At one point, the letter says: “His actions right now are being seen not just as representing the Guangdong provincial propaganda department, but as many people have asked online: All of these gestures of open dealing and open-mindedness among the new central leadership, are these for real or just for show?”
Our full translation of the open letter follows. Journalists and others are welcome to use our translation (citing us properly, thank you), but we do urge everyone to defer to the original for accuracy:
We are media professionals who formerly worked at Southern Weekly, and we must voice our shared position on the recent “2013 New Year’s Greeting” incident at the newspaper. We feel that what has unfolded over the past two days is a matter of extreme seriousness.
The [original] theme of the New Year’s special edition of Southern Weekly was, “Blazing a New Trail with Untiring Determination: My Dream.” On January 2, after Southern Weekly had signed off on the final proofs, and completely without their knowledge, Guangdong CCP Standing Committee member and propaganda chief Tuo Zhen (庹震) directed that many alterations and replacements be made to the New Year’s special edition. This resulted in numerous errors and accidents.
This unconscionable act resulted in the forced insertion of a text rife with errors in a New Year’s letter that is a longstanding tradition at Southern Weekly, including a grade-school error (低级错误) on the front page, “2000 years ago King Yu combatted the floods.” (This should be 4,000 years ago).
The New Year’s Greeting at Southern Weekly enjoys a strong reputation among the paper’s readers, and this incident quickly burst out, one web user calling it a “rape.” We clearly and fiercely denounce this incident.
It is our view that Minister Tuo Zhen’s actions overstep the bounds (越界之举), that they are dictatorial (擅权之举), that they are ignorant and excessive.
It is our view that in this era in which hope is necessary, he is obliterating hope; in this era in which equality is yearned for, his actions are haughty and condescending; in this era of growing open-mindedness, his actions are foolish and careless; in this era that cares for learning and refinement, his actions are crude and thoughtless.
In recent days, the general attitude at home and overseas following the 18th National Congress has been one of optimism over China’s prospects. This optimism is grounded in the outlook and policy direction of the new leadership. That policy direction includes: Unswervingly pushing ahead with reform and opening, persevering in exercising power under the sunlight [i.e., in an open manner], firmly insisting on the basic principles of the Constitution, and resolutely opposing corruption and bureaucratism (官僚主义).
The actions of Minister Tuo Zhen, in Guangzhou and on the very front lines of reform and opening, are entirely contrary to this policy orientation.
We do not know Minister Tuo Zhen, but on the basis of what we do know, we wish to lay out the following facts. Minister Tuo Zhen formerly served as the editor-in-chief of the Economic Daily, and during his tenure there, he took a newspaper with good prospects for strong performance in the marketplace and turned it into a silent and motionless thing. When he was running the agency in charge of publications at Xinhua News Agency, these publications were so timid they would run from their own shadows, and one leader within the agency said, “In the six months since he’s been running things, the market that these Xinhua News Agency publications have taken with no small difficulty has been entirely lost.” He was then sent to Guangdong to serve at propaganda chief, and at the time there was much talk about how Guangdong media would “die a cruel death.” This in fact has been the case. His time in Guangdong has been the darkest period yet for Guangdong media.
All along Minister Tuo Zhen has himself enjoyed good prospects, and the reason for this is easy enough to understand — the actions he takes are described as duties conscientiously discharged against all criticism “in the interest of the Party.” But we are willing, openly and in good faith, to express our own attitude [view]: His actions run completely against the interests of the ruling Party. Wherever he goes media full of life are cut off at the throat. If media lose all credibility and influence, then we ask, how is the ruling Party to speak? How will it convince the people? It can be said that the actions taken by this minister cause the people and the ruling Party to part ways in their thoughts and conduct. How is that possibly in the interest of the Party? His actions right now are being seen not just as representing the Guangdong provincial propaganda department, but as many people have asked online: All of these gestures of open dealing and open-mindedness among the new central leadership, are these for real or just for show?
As former staff at Southern Weekly, we understand only too well the difficulties facing the newspaper. For many years, it has survived in Guangdong with great difficulty. It has had moments of misfortune and moments of glory. It has been branded all sorts of things. But in the end, [the paper] is a just a group of young people with ideals, even as “ideals” at present meet with mockery. Essentially these ideals are the hope that their own country can be better, the hope that their own people can live happily. This newspaper has for many years been a paper that sincerely loves its country and its people. The people [who work] there hope, in a spirit of good-will, that their country can be better. History can attest, and will continue to attest, to the sincerity of their hopes.
Finally, we clearly and assuredly support our former colleagues still at Southern Weekly. Whether out of loyalty, a sense of justice or the principles dear to our hearts, we stand together with them. We oppose this brutal style of dealing with the news media. This style arises in part from the bureaucracy (官僚主义) and in part from personal interests. But this style is catastrophic both to the media and to the interests of the ruling Party.
How can a country determined to become a culturally strong nation employ methods lacking culture to manage culture? How can a country that is building its international image permit people to use rude and arbitrary methods that damage the country’s reputation?
We hereby make the following appeal:
1. That Minister Tuo Zhen be deemed unsuited to hold his current position and forced to resign according to Article 14 of Provisional Regulations on the Resignation of Party and Government Cadres (党政干部辞职暂行规定), issuing a public apology.
2. That the honor and responsibility of those Southern Weekly editors and reporters who have voiced their objections be recognized and that no punitive actions be taken against them. Also, that their Weibo accounts be reinstated immediately.
3. That the editorial committee of Southern Weekly be allowed to resume its normal operations.