Open Letter From Freezing Point Writers to the Political Bureau Standing Committee (CECC Full Translation)

September 1, 2006

The following is a translation prepared by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China of an open letter issued by the 13 Chinese scholars, lawyers, and editors protesting the Central Propaganda Department's censorship of the progressive weekly publication "Freezing Point" [bingdian], on February 14, 2006. The Chinese text was retrieved from the Boxun Web site on February 18, 2006.

Secretary General Hu Jintao
Members of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee

We are writers for the China Youth Daily's "Freezing Point" Weekly.

On January 24, 2006, the Central Committee Propaganda Department of the Communist Youth League decided that, because this weekly had published an article by Professor Yuan Weishi that considered modern Chinese history and history text books in a new light, and that "created a negative influence on society, and relevant departments of the Central Committee issued sharp criticism," leading to critical reports being issued to that newspaper's editor-in-chief and the chief editor of the weekly, which in turn "enjoined the China Youth Daily to shut down and rectify the Freezing Point weekly, and impose economic sanctions on those persons responsible, with the Freezing Point weekly ceasing publication for rectification commencing January 25, 2006." After this incident occurred, it immediately elicited a strong reaction among domestic and foreign public opinion, and the sounds of protests lingered in the air.

No doubt we understand this better than you: in fact it was the decision on how to deal with this incident that created "a negative influence on society," because not only was it illegal, it was also unwise, denying citizens their most basic constitutional rights to speech and freedom of the press, and destroying the current government's efforts to build a "harmonious society."

In the past 11 years, "Freezing Point" weekly editors and journalists used their collective wisdom and diligence to set an example for the media industry. Through expression that was rich in ideological content they did in-depth reporting on important and representative events, enlightening innumerable readers, exposing the underlying causes of numerous problems, and undertaking to transform society. This kind of thoroughly independent pursuit and scientific and contructive attitude allowed "Freezing Point" weekly to become one of the few bright points in the current age of our nation's media. But after all is said and done, it is this kind of media that is subject to rectification -- what is going on here? Is it possible that this is the "governing the country in accordance with law" that we are constantly hearing about, or the "harmonious society" that everyone is focused on realizing?

In recent years members of the Standing Committee have repeatedly emphasized in different settings governing the country in accordance with law. The people will not forget the inspiring words of General Secretary Hu during his first public activity after being elected General Secretary, which just happened to be at the 20th Anniversary Memorial Assembly of the Chairman's Constitutional Implementation:

To comprehensively implement the Constitution it is necessary to strengthen constitutional safeguards and ensure that the Constitution is put into effect. . . . As a result of problems with flawed laws and systems and the ill-adapted quality of law enforcement personal, there remain many problems of laws not being complied with, laws not being strictly enforced, and violations of law not being prosecuted, and there continues to exist some unconstitutional situations at different levels. We must expeditiously study and implement constitutional supervision mechanisms and further clarify constitutional supervision procedures in order to redress all violations of the Constitution. The National People's Congress and its Standing Committee must take as their starting point the fundamental interests of the nation and the people, and in the process of enacting legislations they must ensure that the freedoms and rights of the citizens provided for in the Constitution are fully protected. We must carry out the responsibility of supervising the implementation of the Constitution and resolutely redress Constitutional violations. . . . No organization or individual may have any prerogative beyond that which is set forth in the Constitution and law.

Even so General Secretary Hu: is it not obvious that the closure of the publication that has occurred before our eyes violates Article 35 of our Constitution? This constitutional article clearly stipulates that citizens "have freedom of speech, publication, assembly, association, marching, and demonstration." Many of us and numerous readers gave a high appraisal of professor Yuan Weishi's article, and there are some of us that did not entirely endorse the thesis of Yuan's article, but nevertheless resolutely defend his right to publish the article, because Yuan did not violate the Constitution or the law. The fundamental meaning of freedom of speech is that people have the right to publish "incorrect speech." Anywhere people are only allowed to publish "correct speech," then there freedom of speech has vanished. Furthermore, at the beginning of the period of reform and opening we affirmed the following proposition as our rallying point: "practice is the sole criterion for measuring truth," which is to say that, to determine the truthfulness of speech, it is necessary to make it public and allow it to be subject to the test of practice. But, in fact, the current situation is that the Central Propaganda Department manipulates and controls the range of speech, and they have become the sole criterion for measuring truth. In addition, today this kind of unconstitutional attack has fallen on the head of professor Yuan Weishi, and tomorrow it may fall on the heads of others, just as in the past it has fallen upon the heads of Liu Shaoqi, Peng Dehua, and other senior members of the political bureau. If the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party Youth League Central Committee or other "relevant departments of the Central Committee" do not like Yuan's article, they have the right to write articles to refute it, at the same time they must also ensure that professor Yuan Weishi has the right to offer his own counter-retort, and absolutely may not unconstitutionally silence others like a tyrant. Furthermore, a general principle of civilized media is that the author takes responsibility for his writings, and to shut down "Freezing Point" because of Yuan's article is to ignore all propriety.

In a country ruled by law a fundamental principle is that all exercise of public power must be pursuant to a grant by the Constitution and law, and must give the relevant parties recourse to legal relief. This is to say that, once people are subject to effects of power and believe that relevant decisions violate the Constitution or law, they may lodge a complaint and have the right to a fair hearing. But the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party Youth League Central Committee that made this decision and the Central Propaganda Department that has consistently enforced policies silencing the mass media are, as far as the law is concerned, organizations completely lacking in legal character, and exercise authority in a completely unscrupulous manner. As a result, the media and individuals are unable to offer any legal challenge. The reason is simple - - they and other departments like them do not have any legal characteristics, they are organizations that are beyond the law. Our nation's Constitution's Preamble states: "The people of all nationalities, all state organs, the armed forces, all political parties and public organizations and all enterprises and undertakings in the country must take the Constitution as the basic norm of conduct, and they have the duty to uphold the dignity of the Constitution and ensure its implementation." The statements of General Secretary Hu set forth above also emphasized that "No organization or individual may have any prerogative beyond that which is set forth in the Constitution and law." Therefore, any organization that does not have legal characteristics lives outside the Constitution and the law, and once this kind of organization issues its orders, they will be strictly enforced, and they have the authority to wield absolute control over media organizations. Is it possible that you cannot see that this is a "prerogative beyond that which is set forth in the Constitution and law?"

Many government officials are worried that as soon as we speak freely certain negative effects will arise, such as triggering social unrest, influencing economic development, bringing about ideological chaos, and jeopardizing the power and prestige of the government. But if we open our eyes to the rest of the world, we will see that these kinds of fears are completely unfounded. Any kind of social order that is able to be maintained over the long term cannot be founded on the basis of suppression. In a society going through a period of transition traditional interest structures will be revised and diverse interest groups need channels for public dissemination. The public dissemination of all kinds of speech will expose the true social situation for all to see, and allow policies that have definite goals. While all suppressing dissent will accomplish will be to cause policymakers to be divorced from reality, to see the sky from the bottom of a well, and to be left unable to make rational policies. Quite often Standing Committee members will go see or investigate what things are like on the ground, and quite often they are vexed by the deceptions of local officials, and in the process of carrying out their investigations they will call upon the people to speak the truth, but in the end the truth is scant, even to the point where they are completely duped. In fact, if there is freedom of the press and freedom of speech, then everything will be greatly simplified, and it will no longer be necessary to drag people out to carry out inspections, as a public media will be able to reveal the truth of all situations, and you will have all of the kinds of information that you require, and how will local officials be able to cover up anything?

We believe that, like us, the esteemed members of the Standing Committee have a strong sense of responsibility to this nation, and we a deep understanding that ruling a country as large as this is no easy matter. These days, on the one hand there is you constantly emphasizing building a harmonious society, while on the other hand a succession of social contradictions and conflicts emerge, growing more severe all the time. Your concern that relaxing controls on speech will trigger unrest is not completely irrational, but we must recognize that a society that is truly harmonious is also a society that happens to appear as if it is filled with all kinds of conflict. Respecting different interests and diverging ideas, and simultaneously establishing a system that is just in order to allow different interests and ideas to openly and peacefully compete with one another, only in this way can a country truly move in the direction of great order. This was the rationale of our forefathers when they spoke of "Those that are the same cannot govern one another, it is only when there are differences that a positive result can be achieved."*

Of course, in this country that has had such a long tradition of autocratic rule, the process of establishing rule of law and constitutional government will be a gradual one. But even if the pace is slow, our direction must be correct. Regrettably, in recent years the high handed policies in the area of news have represented an incorrect direction. The handling of the "Freezing Point" weekly was merely the most recent example.

Members of the Standing Committee, looking back three years, the ravages of "SARS" and the "Sun Zhigang incident" triggered the anger of the entire nation, you were able to adhere to public opinion, relax controls over the news, and abolish the notorious "Measures on the Detention and Repatriation of People Engaged in Begging in Cities," and won the heartfelt support of the people and the praises of international society. But what people cannot understand is how this situation could last for only a few months, after which there has been a continuous regression. It has even gotten to the point where control of public opinion has made certain people feel secure enough to not only use such absurd excuses as so-called "illegal petitioning" and "malicious discussions" to wantonly suppress those victims who had placed all their hopes in the government, but even instigate incidents that are even more brutal than the Sun Zhigang affair, such as the Dingzhou incident, the Shanwei incident, and others, and these have aggravated the social crisis, and the government's image of harmony and kinship with the people has been severely damaged.

In view of the foregoing, we call upon each of you to put a stop to the unconstitutional actions of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party Youth League Central Committee, and return to the harmonious direction of three years ago. In this way the people will prosper, the nation will prosper, and you and we will prosper!

February 14, 2006.

Signatories (in order of the number of strokes in the surname)

Cui Weiping (scholar), Ding Dong (scholar), Fu Guoyong (scholar), He Weifang (scholar), Hao Jian (scholar), Jiang Xiaoyong (lawyer), Li Xiaofeng (scholar), Ma Shaohua (scholar), Qin Hui (scholar), Tong Dahuan (editor), Zhang Yihe (scholar), Zhao Mu (editor), Zhu Xueqin (scholar).

*[N.B. CECC: This is a quote from the Huai Nan Zi, written in the former Han dynasty by guests attached to the court of Liu An, prince of Huai An (d. 122 B.C.) who planned a rebellion that ultimately failed, and committed suicide.]