Mon, Aug 01, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Liberal magazine girds for battle against Beijing

The Yanhuang Chunqiu’s founding publisher said they would rather shut the magazine down than see it hollowed out by the authorities who want to install pro-Beijing editors

By Chris Buckley  /  NY Times News Service, BEIJING

Illustration: Yusha

The cluttered offices of a history magazine in Beijing have become an unusually public battlefield in China’s ideological wars.

For 25 years, the monthly magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu (炎黃春秋) has survived the ire of censors, protected by moderate-minded retired officials who used it to call for limited political liberalization, market overhauls and an honest reckoning with dark periods in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) past.

However, the magazine’s survival is in doubt as the authorities try to install editors who would march more closely to the political tune of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平). That would end the magazine’s relative independence and editors have said they would rather let it die than continue compromised.

“It’s better to be shattered jade than an intact tile,” Du Daozheng (杜導正), the founding publisher of the magazine, said in an interview.

He was using an old saying that means perishing with integrity is preferable to unprincipled survival.

“With the way that they’ve treated Yanhuang Chunqiu, we no longer have the conditions for survival,” said Du, a former head of China’ General Administration of Press and Publication. “We’ve been forced into a corner.”

Editors resisting the changes said the upheaval reflected the party’s intensifying offensive against unorthodox ideas. Yet they have chosen open resistance, using a lawsuit, a standoff at the magazine’s offices, and gestures of support from academics, writers and some senior retired officials.

Quarreling erupted at the magazine’s office on Tuesday, when Hu Dehua (胡德華) — a son of the reformist CCP leader Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦) and a deputy publisher of the magazine — tried to enter with journalists and was blocked by plainclothes guards who refused to say for whom they worked.

“This is our office,” Hu told a man in a blue shirt who was directing the guards. “What are you doing here? This is our office. Who told you could be here?”

CHANGING POLITICAL SCENE

The guards eventually let Hu in to deal with the magazine’s tax affairs, provided journalists remained outside.

If Yanhuang Chunqiu dies, or becomes a ghost of its old self, it will be another signpost of how limits on expression have tightened under Xi.

“What has happened shows the big changes in China’s political environment,” Wu Wei (吳偉), the executive editor of the magazine, said in an interview. He took up the job only a month or so ago.

“I don’t know whether we’ll be able to resume publication or stop entirely,” said Wu, who once served as an aide to Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽), the CCP leader purged during the political upheavals of 1989. “Ending Yanhuang Chunqiu would take away a voice for reformists inside the party.”

The magazine, whose title roughly translates as “China Annals,” has survived many run-ins with censors. However, the worst threat yet came this month, when the government-run Chinese National Academy of Arts, which officially oversees the magazine, announced it would install a new editorial lineup.

In China, magazines must have a sponsoring government-linked unit, and the academy has sponsored Yanhuang Chunqiu since 2014, when it took over from an association more sympathetic to the periodical. Growing friction between the academy and editors culminated in the academy’s saying it would remove Du, demote other longtime editors and install its own editors.

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