The Great Firewall of China
Excerpts: Li's Response to Freezing Point Closure
Saturday, February 18, 2006; 3:31 PM
The following are excerpts from Li Datong's Jan. 25 letter protesting the suspension of the China Youth Daily's Freezing Point:
News colleagues, friends from academic and legal circles, and Freezing Point readers around the world:
Tuesday, January 24, 2006 was the deadline for Freezing Point weekly. Its Beijing editors and reporters were gathered in the editorial department as usual, earnestly proofreading the weekly to be published on January 25. Just after 4 p.m., the page was completed and delivered to the editor-in-chief for review and printing. The strange thing was we received to reply. We learned that the entire leadership of the newspaper had been called to an emergency meeting at the Communist Youth League Central Committee. No one was there to read the proof. This was our hint that something out of the ordinary was about to happen.
Then the sky came crashing down.
As a professional journalist, I am completely incapable of understanding or accepting the suspension of Freezing Point. A newspaper, as a public instrument, has an unspoken covenant with its reader -- they spend money on an information product, and the newspaper must honor its end of the agreement. No matter the fate of any individual, Freezing Point should reach the readers on schedule. But to those who made this decision, what does social influence count for? What do the readers count for? What does the prestige of a large mainstream newspaper count for? What do the laws of the country and the party constitution count for? What does the reform and opening of China count for? What does the image of the ruling party count for? They see this public instrument as their own property, thinking they can dispose of it as they please.
At 7:30 p.m., I received a call from the publisher and editor-in-chief to go up for a conversation. The decision they announced was made by the Communist Youth League Central Propaganda Bureau. The "decision" was several groundless charges against the article by Mr. Yuan Weishi, and the announcement that publication of Freezing Point would be "stopped for reorganization." Aside from its criticism of the editor-in-chief and me, it also mandated "economic penalties." Who gave them this kind of power! This kind of disgusting narrow-mindedness leaves me not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
Of course, under the conditions described above, the conversation was a farce. Clearly, the Youth League Central Committee was playing the fool while a small number of "superiors" manipulated them from behind the scenes. I attacked this "decision" in front of the publisher and editor-in-chief, as well as the absurdity of the Central Propaganda Department's "News Commentary and Criticism." I also announced that I would make formal charges against these illegal activities with the party's Central Disciplinary Inspection Committee.
On the day that Freezing Point was shut down, the newspaper received a large number of inquiries from readers. Some have already angrily cancelled their subscriptions after learning that the publication of Freezing Point has stopped.
Attacking Yuan Weishi's article is just a false pretense. Professor Yuan is an influential academic with many writings on the topic of modern history. Historical documents form the basis of his article, and its argument is founded on open-minded rationality. Its publication generated large repercussions. Discussion of historical questions requires equal and emotionally balanced exchange of materials and opinions in order to gradually reach consensus. Many comments on the Internet, although they came from users who did not agree with Yuan Weishi's article, were also earnest refutations based on sound textual research. I gave some of these postings to Mr. Yuan for his review, and after reading them he replied: "The ideas expressed in these articles are extremely rigorous. I will earnestly consider their opinions and make responses where relevant." This is healthy, normal academic exchange. But the Central Propaganda Department news critics offer nothing other than Cultural Revolution-style abuse, stigmatization and persecution.
This case again lays bare the abuses of my country's news management system. A small number of people in the Central Propaganda Department use a narrow-minded, intolerant, and autocratic working style to control what ought to be a lively political scene in which, "a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thought contend," instead making it muzzled, lifeless and stagnant. These people want submission, not equality. Which clause in the party constitution grants them this monopoly on power?
I will expound on the abuses of the news management system in another essay. In this letter, I only wish to tell colleagues, readers and friends exactly what happened and why. Without the truth, one fears debate; without the facts, one dreads openness. Even if some people in the Central Propaganda Department use their power to close all media and Internet sites, we believe that you will still read this letter! You have the power to know the truth!
With heartfelt thanks!
Managing Editor of Freezing Point, China Youth Daily
January 25, 2006