China to Let Publication Return, Without Top Editors

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 17, 2006

BEIJING, Feb. 16 -- China's Communist Party has decided to allow a newspaper supplement that was shut down over its coverage of politically sensitive subjects to resume publishing next month, journalists said Thursday. But the party fired the two editors who had built it into one of the most daring publications in Chinese journalism.

The move appeared to be an attempt by the party leadership to blunt criticism of its decision last month to close Freezing Point, a four-page weekly section of the state-run China Youth Daily, while pressing ahead with a campaign to tighten controls over the media.

Li Datong, the editor of the supplement, said officials told him that he and Lu Yuegang, a prominent investigative reporter and the section's deputy editor, had been removed from their posts and transferred to an obscure research wing of the newspaper. In addition, he said, Freezing Point would be required to publish an article attacking the author of the commentary piece that triggered its suspension.

"The soul of Freezing Point has been extinguished. Only an empty shell remains," said Li, who has petitioned for a party investigation into the propaganda department's action. He added that some members of the staff might refuse to help produce the section's next issue, scheduled to appear March 1.

The party's decision came after a small group of retired officials and scholars issued a joint appeal supporting Freezing Point and criticizing what they described as an illegal and ill-considered campaign to tighten control of the press with "blacklists" of banned subjects and frequent purges of editors.

The Feb. 2 letter argued that the party would find it more difficult to address rising social unrest if it did not allow the news media to expose problems and foster public discussion. The letter was signed by aging members of the party's reformist wing who command respect but no longer wield much influence, including Li Rui, a former secretary to the late leader Mao Zedong, and Zhu Houze, who once served as the party's propaganda chief.

In recent months, the party has replaced editors at three other publications known for aggressive reporting. The moves marked an escalation of the prolonged media crackdown undertaken by the government of President Hu Jintao, who took office three years ago.

Freezing Point was closed Jan. 24 for publishing an essay by a Chinese scholar who argued that distortions in the nation's history textbooks fuel dangerous nationalist sentiment. But the section had been under pressure for more than year by propaganda officials who objected to its hard-hitting coverage.

Both of the editors dismissed Thursday had written lengthy letters, leaked to the public, that challenged efforts to rein in the publication.

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