Chinese authorities have closed down the last unofficial magazine and the last public wallposter area in the Peking, signalling a desire to silence even the weakest surviving forms of unofficial dissent here.
Editors of the unofficial literary magazine Today said police visited their tiny office and told them they had no legal permit to pulbish. The magazine staff voted Friday to apply for official sanction but said they had little hope of success.
The Today ediors, who have published without interference since early 1979, seemed unusually worried and reluctant to discuss the shutdown with foreigners. The police visit followed the arrest of four unofficial editors in Canton, some perhaps destined for labor camps where other editors have been sent recently, and the official removal from the state constitution of the right to express public dissent through wallposters.
Auhorities stripped all wallposters off the last, little-visited wallposter area in Peking's remote Yuetan Park and dismantled the office that had been built in the park to register all wallposter writers. The National People's Congress Wednesday removed the right to "speak out freely, air views fully, hold great debates and write big-character posters" from the constitution arguing that the Maoist phrase could be used to disrupt further political stability.
The police moves against the remaining unofficial magazines reflect the inconsistancies of Chinese policy against dissent. Delegates to the Congress, and the official press reporting on them, were allowed more leeway than ever before in expressing views contrary to government policy. One delegate recorded a public abstention to the removal of wallposters, a hitherto unheard of wallposters, a hitherto unheard of breach in official unanimity.
The wallposters removal was expected, but officials opposed to the slightest evidence of unsanctioned expression in their localities seemed to have been emboldened by the anti-wall-poster move to silence all remaining nongovernment publications. Today was the last of at least a dozen magazines which flourished during last year's brief "democracy" movement. It had been publishing about once a month, confident that its mix of romantic short stories, poems, and drawings with only indirect social comment would pass muster with the authorities.
The staff at the magazine's office, two small cubicles off an alley in north Peking, said the police told them their most recent issue a month ago had been illegal. They made no arrests, but "the situation is really bad now," one editor said.
He said he did not know what the staff, consisting mostly of young workers and some students with an urge to write, would do now.
Xu Wenli, editor of the now defunct magazine April Fifth Forum, said in an interview last week that about nine unofficial magazines were still publishing in other parts of the country, although he added that the recent arrests in Canton might have reduced this number. On Aug. 31 police arrested editors of the Canton magazines People's Road and Voice of the Masses, of the Wuhan Bell and the Changsha Republican. They confiscated papers and newspapers at the home of Road editor He Qiu, where the editors had been holding a meetng. One of the four was later released.
Unofficial sources say People's Road has prepared an article charging the police with unlawful arrest.
Under a loophole in Chinese law, dissidents can be sent to labor camps for up to four years by official order without trial. Another former editor of the April Fifth Forum, Liu Qing, has already been sentenced to three years in a camp in Shanxi. Another unofficial editor killed himself by jumping under a train just as he was to board for a labor camp.
Former editor Xu, who closed down his magazine several months ago apparently in part to avoid a similar sentence, has written the National People's Congress asking for an appeal of Liu's case. Like most editors here, Xu says he supports the Communist Party but feels more free expression is necessary. In an interview last week, he referred several times to the unrest in Poland as an example of what could happen if the Chinese government focuses only on economic, and not political, progress.