By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
BEIJING, Jan. 24 -- China's ruling Communist Party on Tuesday suspended one of the premier publications in Chinese journalism, escalating a campaign to rein in the state media, part of the government's toughest crackdown on freedom of expression here in more than a decade.
The decision to shut down Freezing Point, a four-page weekly feature section of the state-run China Youth Daily that often tested the censors and challenged the party line, came less than a month after the authorities replaced the top editors of another daring newspaper, the Beijing News.
The China Youth Daily is the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League, a power base for President Hu Jintao. Because any move to punish it would almost certainly require his approval, the decision to close Freezing Point was seen as further evidence of Hu's personal support for a tightening of controls on the media that began two years ago, about a year after Hu took office.
Party officials summoned the senior editors of the China Youth Daily and ordered Freezing Point closed a day after distributing a five-page document that accused the section of "viciously attacking the socialist system" and condemned a recent article in it that criticized the history textbooks used in Chinese middle schools.
Propaganda authorities issued an order barring all media from reporting the suspension, all reporters from participating in any news conference about it and all Web sites from carrying any discussion about it, journalists said.
The chief editor of Freezing Point, Li Datong, confirmed the suspension in a message on his blog before censors deleted the page. "My colleagues and I just finished the full-page proof of tomorrow's Freezing Point, but it looks like it can't come out," he wrote. "Freezing Point tenaciously survived for 11 years, and it has finally died."
Reached by telephone, Li said that it was inconvenient to discuss what happened in detail but that he planned to write an essay to fight the decision. He said propaganda officials issued a notice criticizing him and the newspaper's editor in chief by name and ordering the section closed until it is "rectified and fully recognizes and corrects its mistakes."
Li, a party member and veteran journalist, stunned the propaganda authorities last summer with a lengthy letter attacking a plan to award bonuses to reporters at the newspaper who had won praise from government officials while deducting pay from reporters whose articles were criticized by officials. After the letter was leaked, the newspaper scrapped the bonus plan.
Though some publications ordered to undergo "rectification" by the party resume operations within weeks, others never publish again. Li said he planned to meet with his colleagues before deciding how to proceed, but he indicated that he did not believe Freezing Point had erred in publishing the article about the history textbooks.
The piece, written by Yuan Weishi, a reform-minded scholar at Zhongshan University in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, criticized Chinese textbooks for teaching an incomplete history of China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing, that fosters blind nationalism and closed-minded anti-foreign sentiment.
For example, he challenged the textbooks for portraying the 1900 Boxer Rebellion as a "magnificent feat of patriotism" without describing the violence committed by the rebels or their extreme anti-foreign views. He also criticized the books for blaming the Opium Wars of the mid-1800s entirely on foreign nations, without mentioning the Qing government's record of violating treaties by refusing foreign merchants access to Chinese cities.
The piece was the latest in a long series of articles in Freezing Point that carefully pushed the limits of permissible journalism in China. In November, the section published an essay describing the "White Terror" of authoritarian rule in Taiwan during the 1950s and democratic Taiwan's efforts to cope with that history of political repression. The contrast with events in mainland China was obvious but unstated.
Researcher Jin Ling contributed to this report.