Chinese Authorities Crack Down on Progressive Newspaper Publisher

February 3, 2006

The Communist Party’s Propaganda Department appears to have ordered the removal of several editors from publications of the Southern Daily Press Group during the last week of December 2005, according to reports in Hong Kong and Western news media citing sources in China. Based in Guangzhou city in Guangdong province, the Southern Daily Press Group is one of China's most progressive and reform-oriented newspaper publishers. The Hong Kong and foreign press accounts say that Communist Party propaganda officials removed several editors from the Southern Metropolitan Daily and the Beijing News, both part of the Group.

The Communist Party’s Propaganda Department appears to have ordered the removal of several editors from publications of the Southern Daily Press Group during the last week of December 2005, according to reports in Hong Kong and Western news media citing sources in China. Based in Guangzhou city in Guangdong province, the Southern Daily Press Group is one of China's most progressive and reform-oriented newspaper publishers. The Hong Kong and foreign press accounts say that Communist Party propaganda officials removed several editors from the Southern Metropolitan Daily and the Beijing News, both part of the Group.

Southern Metropolitan Daily

The Southern Metropolitan Daily dismissed Xia Yitao as deputy editor-in-chief during the last week of December, according to a December 29 Reuters report citing unnamed media industry sources. According to a December 30 article posted on the Web site of Hong Kong's Ming Pao, the Southern Daily Press Group announced the dismissal on December 27. The announcement cited a Southern Metropolitan Daily front page article that reported that Guangdong Vice Governor You Ningfeng had been given a demerit because of the Xingning coal mine disaster. The Ming Pao report cited an unnamed reporter at the Southern Metropolitan Daily as saying that, although Xinhua was the first to announce the information, their paper put the story on the front page with the headline: "Where Are the Feelings Between Parental Officials? This is too immature." On December 31, the Zaobao Web site (which is published by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd.) quoted a source at the Press Group as saying that the provincial Communist Party Propaganda Department was already extremely upset at a September 12, 2005, report in the Southern Metropolitan Daily. The report concerned a campaign by residents of Taishi village, Guangzhou city, to remove village committee head Chen Jinsheng. According to the Zaobao source, the provincial Propaganda Department subsequently ordered provincial news media to cease reporting on the matter.

The Beijing News

On December 28, the Communist Party Propaganda Department removed the editor-in-chief and two other top editors at the Beijing News as part of an effort to curb the newspaper's aggressive style, according to a December 31 Wall Street Journal article (subscription required). The report cited Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent Chinese lawyer whom the Journal said is a friend of one of the dismissed editors. Pu also said the newspaper’s opinion section was told to suspend publication, according to a December 30 Associated Press report. Several sources, including Reporters Without Borders and Taiwan's China Times (in Chinese), have speculated that editor-in-chief Yang Bin and the two deputy editors, Sun Xuedong and Li Duoyu, were removed to permit the management of the Guangming Daily, which holds the controlling interest in the Beijing News, to take over day-to-day management of the paper from the Southern Daily Press Group. The Guangming Daily is a publication of the Communist Party Central Committee.


In November 2003, a China Central Television report (via the State Council Information Office's labeled the Southern Daily Press Group a "press reform pioneer." The Beijing News was founded in 2003 as a venture between the Beijing based Guangming Daily and the Southern Daily Press Group. According to an announcement about the launch of the Beijing News published on the People's Daily Web site (in Chinese) in November 2003, the Guangming Daily is sponsored by the Communist Party Central Committee and managed by the Communist Party Central Propaganda Department, and the Southern Daily Press Group is run by the Guangdong Communist Party Provincial Central Committee. The Guangming Daily consistently follows the Party's line, while the Southern Daily Press Group's publications tend to be more commercially-oriented and willing to test Chinese censors.

Chinese authorities have attempted to curb the aggressiveness of Southern Daily Press Group publications several times since 2003.

  • In March 2003, Chinese authorities suspended publication of the 21st Century World Herald after it published an article referring to democracy in China as "fake" democracy.
  • In April 2003, Chinese authorities removed the editor-in-chief of the Southern Weekend, and replaced him with Zhang Dongming, a former director of news media at the Guangdong Propaganda Department. Zhang had a personal role in the central government's attempt to restrict reporting of the 2002/2003 SARS outbreak, according to a May 4, 2003 Financial Times article (via
  • In January 2004 Chinese authorities detained several senior editors and managers at the Southern Daily Press Group, and charged two with economic crimes. Many scholars and citizens in China objected that the charges were without legal basis, and that Guangdong authorities exploited China's immature financial regulatory system and the news media's quasi-governmental status to punish the editors of a newspaper that had embarrassed the provincial leadership.

The Associated Press reported that, at a news conference on December 30, Cai Wu, head of the State Council Information Office, answered a question from a Beijing News reporter about how China could encourage growth of new media by saying that newspapers must pay attention to the "social and economic effects" of their reporting. Cai also said that journalists "must play their due role to educate and provide proper guidance to the people," and "must follow discipline and rules and regulations."

See below for additional background and a time line of events surrounding the dismissals at the Beijing News.

In an October 2004 interview with the People's Daily, Zhao Derun, then deputy editor-in-chief of the Guangming Daily, described the Beijing News as follows:

[It] initiated the beginning of uniting central media and the local media, Beijing's media and the rest of the country's media. This newspaper "entered its prime as soon as it was born," and yet preserves the traditional leadership and high quality of Party papers, while also taking advantage of the services and market position of a metropolitan newspaper, and exploring the new path of a current political events metropolitan newspaper.

"Metropolitan newspaper" [dushi bao] is a term the Chinese government uses to refer to sister publications of Party papers which, while still under Party sponsorship, focus on increasing readership and revenue by downplaying propaganda and reports on the activities of government and Party officials in favor of professional journalism and reporting on current events. Chinese authorities hope to exploit the commercial success of these publications, while preventing them from diluting the Communist Party's ability to use the media to control ideology. For example, Liu Yunshan, a Communist Party Central Committee member who also serves as secretary of the Secretariat and Director of the Central Propaganda Department, told the National Propaganda Directors Seminar in August 2005: "It is necessary to strengthen guidance, and give full rein to the advantages of the large circulation and widespread audience of metropolitan newspapers and periodicals, and enable them to become an important force in the correct guidance of public opinion."

Time Line of Events Surrounding Dismissals of Beijing News Editors

March 2004: Chinese Authorities Detain Yang's Predecessor, Cheng Yizhong

Authorities detained Cheng for five months, claiming he embezzled funds when he was the editor of the Southern Metropolitan Daily. After senior government and Party officials intervened, authorities released Cheng in August 2004 without formally charging him. They did, however, dismiss him from his job, expel him from the Communist Party, and prevent him from traveling abroad to receive the 2005 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. In addition, Guangdong authorities charged, tried, and convicted two other Southern Daily Press Group managers associated with the embezzlement claims, Yu Huafeng and Li Mingyi, and they are currently serving prison sentences of eight and six years, respectively.

April 2005: Liu Yunshan Criticizes the Beijing News

Citing an unnamed source, the June 27 international edition of Newsweek reported that Liu Yunshan told officials at an April 2005 meeting that "The South has a newspaper that disgusts a lot of officials in the North, and the North has a paper that disgusts a lot of officials in the South." According to the Newsweek source, the "northern paper" was the Beijing News, an editor of which told Newsweek that so many "petty cadres" had traveled to Beijing to complain about the paper that they were under "heavy" pressure to conform with new restrictions on "extra-territorial" investigative reporting.

August 23: Liu Yunshan Tells Propaganda Officials to Raise the Level of Supervision of the Media

During his August 23 speech at the National Propaganda Directors Seminar, Liu Yunshan told Party propaganda officials to "ceaselessly raise the level of supervision." In order to do this, Liu said the Party must develop "innovative supervision methods," impose content controls earlier in the editorial process ("guankou qianyi"), and coordinate the application of administrative, economic, legal, ideological education, and other controls. Liu said it was necessary to "increase the establishment of laws and regulations," "strengthen supervision mechanisms," and "coordinate a legal framework for a unified propaganda culture with Chinese socialist characteristics."

October 15: Shi Feng Tells Newspaper and Magazine Regulators that the Party Must Control the Media

Shi Feng, a deputy director of the General Administration of Press and Publication, said in a speech to the 2005 National Newspaper and Magazine Administration Work Meeting that a minority of newspapers and periodicals have exhibited "political orientation problems," and continuously test government regulators' "political acumen." Shi also told attendees that some newspapers and periodicals have inappropriate ideas about how to conduct investigative reporting (sometimes referred to as "public opinion supervision reporting"), and that "[I]t is necessary to strengthen the administration and guidance of newspaper and periodical publication content."

December 6: Communist Party Propaganda Officials Target the Beijing News

Citing a "Beijing editor," Reuters reported (via the China Post) on December 31 that Chinese propaganda officials singled out the Beijing News for criticism at a meeting on December 6, where it was decided that "metropolitan newspapers" like the Beijing News should "strengthen Party control" and bow to the wishes of propaganda officials. According to the Reuters source, who was formally briefed on the meeting, officials said the Beijing News "committed errors in the orientation of opinion," and was a "recidivist." Officials also criticized the Beijing News' reporting of the June murder of seven rural protesters by officials in Dingzhou, northern China, as well as its reports about a migrant worker who killed his foreman and three others after his wages went unpaid. Liu Yunshan said at the meeting the Beijing News' "problems" must be "fundamentally resolved," said the editor.

December 7 and 8: Annual National Propaganda Directors Meeting convenes in Beijing

According to a December 9 article published on the front page of the People's Daily, at this meeting, Liu Yunshan told China's senior propaganda officials that it was necessary to "create an atmosphere that is conducive to reform, development and stability," and that they should "Grasp the correct orientation, and further consolidate the common ideological foundation of the united struggle of the entire Party, the entire country, and the entire people." Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Li Changchun told attendees that it was necessary for them to "ceaselessly insist upon the correct political orientation," and "increase political sensitivity and political discrimination capabilities."

December 28: Authorities Dismiss Three Beijing News Editors

December 29: Beijing News Journalists Stage Walkout to Protest Dismissals

News media outside of China reported that on December 29 hundreds of Beijing News workers did not show up for work. Estimates of the number of workers varied, with most placing it around 100 (see, e.g., BBC and the International Herald Tribune, December 30). The paper managed to publish a complete edition on December 20, but it was 32 pages rather than the normal 80, according to a December 30 Associated Press report, and the names of its editors, normally printed on the paper's masthead, had been omitted, according to a December 31 New York Times report (registration required). On January 10 Hong Kong Cable TV News One's "China Beat" [Shen Zhou Chuan Suo] aired an interview with Beijing News editor who participated in the walkout, who said that "In spite of pressure from above, former chief editor Yang Bin and director Dai Zigeng would strive to report any newsworthy story," and that "employees had stayed away from work "to show their discontent against the management deliberately hiding the move to sack Yang Bin and disrespecting their right to know."

December 30: The Beijing News Publishes, Spokesperson Denies Walkout, Authorities Attempt to Silence Discussion

The Beijing News was able to publish a full 116-page edition, but the refusal of some staff to work was reflected on a number of pages by the absence of the newspaper's usual editorial credits, according to a December 30 article in London's Financial Times. A spokesperson for the Beijing Times denied the existence of the walkout, according to a December 31 report in the Guardian, saying: "All our operations here are perfectly normal . . . . Editors, everyone, are all here."

On the same day, Microsoft Corporation shut down the Web site of Zhao Jing, a research assistant at the New York Times' Beijing Bureau and one of China's best known independent Internet commentators, at the request of Chinese authorities. His last three postings discussed the personnel changes at the Beijing News and the subsequent walkout.

December 31 - January 17: Authorities Replace Editorial Personnel

On December 31 several Internet news sources, including the BBC, Tsingdao Daily (via, and Hong Kong's Sun News reported that Sun Xuedong and Li Duoyu had been reinstated as a result of the walkout, but this has not been confirmed in subsequent media reports. The SCMP reported (subscription required) on January 10 that the Beijing News had announced that Dai Zigeng, the newspaper's president from the more conservative Guangming group, would take over Yang's position while retaining his presidential post. At the launch of the Beijing Times in November 2003, London's Guardian newspaper quoted Dai as saying that the paper must "give help but not trouble." The SCMP report also cited an unnamed source as saying that Yang would return to Guangzhou to work for the Southern Metropolitan Daily. The source told the SCMP that Wang Yuechun, a former Beijing News deputy chief editor and executive chief editor of, will take over as the paper's deputy chief editor in charge of news gathering and editing. A January 17 report (in Chinese) in Taiwan's China Times confirmed these personnel changes, and in addition said that Zhao Derun, deputy editor in chief of the Guangming Daily, would take charge of the Beijing News, and the Guangming Daily editorial board's Deng Haiyun will assist Zhao.