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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

China's party hardliners want the last word

November 25, 2008

By Verna Yu
Asia Times
November 22, 2008

BEIJING - In an incident which highlights growing internal tension in
the Chinese Communist Party, the most outspoken political magazine on
the mainland has been put under pressure to get rid of its prominent
publisher after it printed an article praising ousted former party
chief Zhao Ziyang.

It is also evident the authorities are trying hard to keep a tight
lid on anything that could possibly remind people of the June 4,
1989, Tiananmen crackdown on student-led pro-democracy
demonstrations, as next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the
bloody tragedy.

The monthly magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu (Annals of Emperors Huang and
Yan) whose editorial board and contributors include reformist-minded
former party heavyweights, retired officials and former state media
journalists, has long been seen as a thorn in the side of the
conservative faction of the communist government.

The memoirs and essays by these influential advocates of democratic
political reform, including Mao Zedong's one-time secretary Li Rui
and former vice premier Tian Jiyun, are highly rated by China
watchers and history scholars because they offer rare glimpses of
historical reality which differ from the party's official version.

Its liberal stance has often fallen foul of official censors, and
insiders said a story in its September issue reminiscing over Zhao's
popularity as Sichuan provincial party chief in the late 1970s drew
the ire of a former top leader - widely speculated to be former
president Jiang Zemin.

Since Zhao was toppled for sympathizing with students in the
Tiananmen pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989, his name has been
categorically banned from the Chinese media. He was replaced by the
politically conservative Jiang and remained under house arrest until
his death in 2005.

But Yanhuang Chunqiu broke the silence in July last year by printing
an article which mentioned his name. The September feature on Zhao
was the first in mainland China which wrote at length about the
liberal-minded former leader.

"The article praised the works of Zhao Ziyang from beginning to end -
this has made someone very angry," said a senior staff member of the magazine.

Last Friday, an official visited publisher Du Daozheng at his home,
conveying a message from the Ministry of Culture seeking his
retirement, said chief editor Wu Si. "They said he was quite elderly
and must be quite tired, so it was time he stepped down," Wu said.

Du, 85, was head of the General Administration of Press and
Publication from 1987 to 1989. He was sacked after the June 4
Tiananmen crackdown after being accused of being sympathetic to the
student-led demonstrations. He then began to publish Yanhuang
Chunqiu. It was said that Zhao Ziyang read every issue of the
magazine sent by Du while under house arrest.

Du is now seldom involved in the day-to-day work at the pro-reform
publication, but remains the figurehead and oversees its overall
editorial direction.

The order for him to step down is seen by insiders as the first step
of a wider purge of the magazine, which has already been warned
several times for publishing essays which touched on sensitive topics
seen as tacitly critical of the present leadership.

It was suspended for two weeks in 2005 after it published essays from
15 retired cadres which commemorated the 90th anniversary of the
birth of Hu Yaobang, a former party general secretary who as a
relative liberal lost his position and was blamed for inspiring the protests.

Last year, it was criticized again for publishing an article by Xie
Tao, retired deputy head of the prestigious People's University,
which called for "democratic socialism".

By raising his age as an issue, Du said, authorities are hoping to
weaken the editorial line of his magazine. The offending article on
Zhao was just the latest example of the kind of writing loathed by
the conservative forces in the party, he said.

"This is the ninth time that we have encountered [pressure] in our 17
years," Du said in a phone interview. "Now they have found an
opportunity to target us, but they can't say it directly."

"Their aim is to change the direction of the publication," he said.
Du said he had resisted pressure to step down. "In our 17 years, the
state has never given us a penny -- the magazine is not a state
publication and there is no law on retirement age," he said, adding
that four out of six of its editors are under the age of 60.

Moreover, he said he represented the voices of more than 100 party
luminaries and authors. "They told me: Comrade Du, you do not have
the right to make a decision yourself because you were chosen by us," he said.

Du said the magazine's editorial policy would not waver, even if more
interference came along. "If they want to fight, let the fight go on
... it is a contest of strength," he said. "It is like a game of
chess, it's interesting to watch what the next step is."

"Our magazine is truly concerned about China, we're only seeking the
truth and trying to be objective and impartial," he said. "For the
sake of the future of our people and our country, we have to struggle
against things that are wrong."

Zhang Lifan, an historian formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences, said the incident was a test of the current leadership's
strength against the conservative faction.

"This is a landmark incident. The fact that a magazine's fate can be
at the mercy of the will of a certain leader just shows that China's
current speech freedom situation is full of problems. It is a test of
wisdom and courage of the current leadership… If they do not handle
this wisely, there will be a very negative impact," Zhang said.

Verna Yu is a journalist based in Hong Kong.
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