The Lu Yuegang Letter (in English)
This translation was based upon the Chinese-language version as posted at New Century Net which is also mirrored here for further dissemination. The article originally appeared in the intranet of the China Youth Daily newspaper. The original article runs to 15,000 plus Chinese characters. In view of the length of the article, my translation here was done quickly and cannot be considered completely accurate (especially the proper names of the individuals and their job titles).
Lu Yuegang is the deputy director of the news center in China Youth Daily. On May 24th, 2004, Zhao Yong, Secretary of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League, addressed the middle-level cadres at the China Youth Daily in a meeting. The conversation was supposed to be about a scandal in which a China Youth Daily reporter violated professional standards, but the subject moved on to a demand for properly defined conduct from the entire newspaper staff.
This letter was an open 15,000-word response from Lu directed to Zhao after the meeting, and was posted on the China Youth Daily intranet. Subsequently, the letter was leaked to the outside world and circulated widely on the Internet, keeping the censors very busy.
The letter contains some rather caustic remarks that show the author was pretty worked up, such as:
... To maintain a "high degree of consistency" would mean being told straight what to say, as in you excrete what you eat ...
... Do you think that the group of people that you spoke to grew up eating feces?
... I am really concerned about you because if the powers-that-be should learn that your thinking is so confused and you are so ignorant, your political career will be over; I am even more worried that if politicians like you should manage to grab more power, because you can cause great damage to the nation.
The interesting thing about this letter is that this is not some grand theory on political science coming out of a research institute. This is about the nuts-and-bolts of operating an established and esteemed newspaper, wherein journalistic professionalism comes into conflict with the outmoded party control mechanisms. There are many tales of specific historical situations.
It is difficult to predict what will happen in this case, because there are two levels here. The China Youth Daily is owned by the Chinese Communist Youth League and therefore must take orders from the League leadership. This letter is a frontal assault on the League leadership without mincing any words. Under normal circumstances, especially given the caustic language, the writer should be out of the door in a flash.
However, the Chinese Communist Youth League is still answerable to even higher authorities, who are all too aware of the issues involved here. Sooner or later, the issues raised here (namely, the de-regulation of the media industry into a free market economy model; the relaxation of party control over media coverage which is not compatible with a free market model; the legitimation of the Chinese Communist Party from a revolutionary party to a ruling party; etc) have to be dealt with, and the last thing that they need is an international scandal in which the entire staff of the newspaper may walk out.
So far, nothing has happened to Lu Yuegang yet.
A collection of press coverage of Lu Yuegang can be found here, including a court case over a news report that he wrote. Veteran reporter Liu Binyan has some comments too.
An Open Letter to Zhao Yong, Secretary of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League
To Zhao Yong:
We must have a honest discussion. On the afternoon of May 24th, 2004, you delivered a speech at the meeting with the middle-level cadres of the China Youth Daily, and you disappointed many colleagues including me extremely. As the representative of the current central secretariat, you created a bad image for the China Youth Daily. You looked like a petty official who "began to issue orders once you got a little power." In your speech, you communicated many messages. But after eliminating the lies, the clichés and the dishonesties, there are three main points: (1) anyone who does not obey can get out of the door immediately, even though your original words were: "Anyone who doesn't want to work can turn in the resignation letter and it will approved on the same day"; (2) the China Youth Daily is the newspaper of the League, and not an "abstract large newspaper"; (3) the newspaper cannot be operated on the basis of "idealism." Your speech was full of hectoring, intimidations and ignorance.
On the first point, all the China Youth Daily colleagues who listened to your lecture realized that you were not making a tough threat. You were simply recounting the events that had already taken place. The treatment of Assistant Editor-in-Chief Fan Yung-sun, "Youth Ideas" editor Liang Ping and reporter Zhen Qiyan were obviously instances of "killing the chickens to show the monkey" to clean house, and this has created a great deal of confusion among the staff.
The story about the Wuhan University female students prostituting themselves contained many serious errors. The basic reasons were that the reporter was inexperienced, the editorial supervisor was negligent and the editor-in-chief did not say enough. Such mistakes obviously cannot be simply forgotten. The reporter was dismissed, the editor lost his position and the assistant editor-in-chief 'resigned.' You have just set a precedent at the China Youth Daily for "exaggerating the problem," "cleaning the slate clear," and "shoving someone down a well and then dropping a rock on his head."
The mistakes that the China Youth Daily has committed in more than 50 years of history are much more serious than the error in the reporting of the Wuhan University female student prostitution case. But the handling of those matters were completely different in philosophy and practice.
How about 6/4? Fifteen years ago, on May 11, 1989, at the same sixth-floor meeting room that you held this meeting, former League Central Secretariat Secretary and then Chinese Communist Party Central Politburo standing committee member Hu Qili represented the central party organization to address the China Youth Daily about the reform of the Chinese news system. At that time, no matter whether we were talking about any discussion as representatives of the news media with the central hierarchy, or any reports issued from the Square -- all of these were later determined to be "mistakes in political direction." Would you not say that the problems were serious back then? But at the time if the League central leadership wanted to be opportunistic or to preserve themselves, they could have found ten thousand reasons to find some high-level or middle-level cadres and "shove them into the well and drop rocks on their heads." It would have guaranteed that there would be no blowback like today.
But the League central leaders did not do that. After the shooting on 6/4, a managing secretary from the central leadership came to meet us at the same sixth-floor meeting room. I cannot help but want to tell you about the consequences of that meeting. That meeting was able to dispel much of the doubts and resistance towards the League central leadership, and we then became at one with the leadership.
But your speech was as different from that speech as heaven is from earth. The reason is simple. He was speaking what people were thinking and what was rational. The sixth floor meeting room is a place of great significance for the China Youth Daily and Chinese society in general. It does not matter who it was and it does not matter what they say (including tantrums), because all of that will be remembered for history.
A newspaper is different from a bureaucracy. In a bureaucracy, someone with a higher rank has the power to hold "truth" and to define the "truth." The person with the higher rank has the power. Of course, people in the system will still know what is going on.
Some time ago, comrade Hu Qili was interviewed by Ho Yanguang and myself. He had not been interviewed for 15 years since 1989. We all knew that comrade Hu Qili left his post on account of 6/4; when he returned to work in 1990, he became the lowest ranked assistant department manager of the Telecommunications Department. But he rapidly got into his work and broke through the monopoly of the telecommunications sector to become the champion of telecommunications competition. Ordinarily, someone who used to be a standing committee member of the Chinese central government and an apparent heir to the secretary position would be psychologically damaged after being demoted five grade levels. One would not expect any more political accomplishments from him. So I asked him about how the ways of being an official. He said that the rank of an official does not define his quality and ability. You ought to listen to what he has to say.
After the Zhen Qiyan incident occurred, Fan Yung-sun voluntarily asked to resign in acceptance of the responsibility for the article. Someone said that he was naive and others asked him to withdraw his resignation for the good of the newspaper. He said, "I don't have to work as an official. But I cannot refuse to be a human being!" Fan Yung-sun should be your forebear.
In 1989, when Fan Yung-sun worked to prepare the tenth Chinese Youth League meeting of representatives, you were still a child. At that moment, he had the choice of either becoming a reporter at the newly re-established China Youth Daily or to go back to Gansu and become a local party secretary. He chose to become a reporter. This proved that he treated news reporting as his lifelong career. He was the assistant editor-in-chief for twenty years, he had a great instinct for news, he was open-minded, he was humble, he unified the comrades, he directed many influential reports and he was highly esteemed at the newspaper. I also have to emphasize that he was a gentleman at the newspaper.
During the Zhen Qiyan affair, he committed two errors. One error was that he was negligent in reviewing the article. The other error was that he applied the gentleman's logic to the politician's logic. What is the politician's logic? To "shove someone down a well and drop a rock on them", to expand the case, to artificially escalate the matter and to reorganize the senior leadership of the China Youth Daily.
In retrospect, it is difficult not to suspect that the reorganization of the China Youth Daily was a conspiracy that was in the works for a long time. Your error was to choose an inappropriate moment, to select an inappropriate incident and cast of characters and to use extraordinary means over a commonplace normal event to reorganize the China Youth Daily. Your mistake is to treat the China Youth Daily as a lower-level department in a bureaucracy and thereby debase (or perhaps "poison") the political consciousness of the China Youth Daily in order to turn it into a blackboard newspaper that obeys instructions.
The message that you wanted to deliver has been received. But you did not achieve the desired effect of intimidating people. On the contrary, the Chinese news industry has generated a public scandal for you while bringing unprecedented shame to the China Youth Daily. A while ago, in order to rectify the incorrect and excessive actions taken by the League leadership, more than 70 editors and reporters at the China Youth Daily signed a letter to the League Central Secretary Zhou Chang to ask for the reinstatement of Fan Yung-sun. Zhou Chang categorically refused the request. The fact that more than 70 editors and reporters took joint action to ask for the League leadership to correct an error was unprecedented in history. Of course, in your eyes, public opinion is worth less than a dog's fart and you couldn't care less about looking ugly in the historical record.
I signed my name on the letter. We were hopeful. We had kind expectations from the League central leadership. We had reason to have kind expectations from the League central leadership, because of the history from Fung Wenbin to Hu Yaoban to Li Heijiang, from the seven different League first secretaries to the secretariat that they led. No matter what the period was and what the issues were, the leadership has always regarded kindly and respected the China Youth Daily. They have always had the magnanimity to listen to the divergent opinions from the China Youth Daily.
Of course, their receptivity had precedents. First of all, they have sufficient confidence in the China Youth Daily. Second, they have sufficient respect about the professional quality and standards at the China Youth Daily. Third, they have confidence about understanding the overall situation. Fourth, they have a certain understanding and knowledge basis about right and wrong. Young newspaper workers value this receptivity, because when they encounter complicated political situations, they can maintain a high quality of consistency with the League leadership.
Please that before the word "consistency" I did not say a "high degree" but I said "high quality." To maintain a "high degree of consistency" would mean being told straight what to say as in you excrete what you eat, you hit where you are told and you bite whom you see. It is very difficult to maintain a "high quality of consistency" but it is challenging because it involves not only political wisdom and courage, but also a high standard of professionalism.
Let me tell you about a personal experience. At the end of 1986 and at the beginning of 1987, there was a movement against capitalist liberalization; there was the student strike at Beijing University; General Secretary Hu Yaoban lost his post; Liu Binyan, Wu Chaoguang and Wang Yuemeng lost their party membership; there was a backlash against the reforms and the situation was very tense.
At the time, I was working in the night shift in the general editorial office. One night, the day staff forwarded an article from the League leadership for our newspaper editorial titled "Fellow students you must grow up quickly" to appear as the headline for the next day. The assistant editorial-in-chief on duty, Zhou Xichun glanced through it and showed it to me: "Yuegang, take a took. What do you think?" I read it and I said: "The content is alright, but the headline won't do. It has the tone of giving orders to people, and the grammar is not smooth." Zhou Xichun showed it to He Chunlung, who was the editorial room's assistant editor in charge of the front page. He Chunlung said: "I agree with Yuegang's assessment." Zhou Xichun said: "What is your recommendation?" I said: "Change it." He Chunlung said: "Change it." Zhou Xichun took over the article and he added a comma after "Fellow students" and then he deleted "You must". We all agreed that it was good, because the lecture from the elder was turned into an exchange between equals. Zhou Xichun then picked up the telephone to consult the editor-in-chief and the League leadership, and they all concurred.
In the late 1980s, the China Youth Daily has a circulation of around 2 million and it was very influential among university students. The editorial was published with good responses. In summary, all we did was to maintain a cool head during a time of turbulence, we adhered to our standards of professionalism and we stuck to the role that news media play in the communication of information. Of course, we were also selfish in that we did not want to leave a bad record in history even though we could have used the fact that we were only "tools" and "mouthpieces" as our excuse.
Actually, this is not just about individual professional standards, because this is in fact demanded by social ethics and it serves as a historical lesson. In 1993, I was in your hometown discussing the problem of modernization with Mr. Chong Shuhe and he said, "What is modern society? Modern society is an organization formed by a group of responsible individuals." To say that "propaganda" is the policy for news media is to propound the theory of "tools" and "mouthpieces" to stress the party nature of party newspapers, to ignore the popular principles of the party newspapers, to annihilate the humanity and individuality of the editors, not to be responsible for their own professionalism and actually be opportunistic and conniving to foster reactionary ideas in society that will end in dictatorship and ignorance.
We have seen so many historical lessons already. Never mind anything else, but just look at the handling of crises. In 1989, if there were not the "April 26 editorial" from the People's Daily, would there have been so much rage as to cause the students and other groups to march in ever growing numbers? For the students to engage in a hunger strike that led to worsening chain of events? For the "April 26 editorial", the analysis of the situation, the evaluation of the students and the ominously threatening tone about retribution in Autumn severely escalated the conflict to a very large degree and created difficulties and obstacles in the rational handling of this social crisis. Combined with other complex reasons, this caused the tragedy that is still the source of so much grief among the Chinese people.
From the viewpoint of crisis management: two crises, two editorials, two results. The League leadership handled the Zhen Qiyan affair with the method of "kill one to warn the other hundred" and this caused us to detect some hostility. But we still felt friendly enough to submit our joint letter to League secretary Zhou Chang, until you came in and trampled upon our goodwill. Our good intention is to re-instate Fan Yung-sun to his post and to review the relationship between the League and the China Youth Daily, so that we can re-establish the trust and confidence between the China Youth Daily and the League leadership, between the newspapers editors and reporters and the League leaders. We now understand that you don't want news reporters; you only want lackeys. According to your logic, most of the China Youth Daily workers ought to just leave The conflict between us is the conflict between mercenary soldier logic versus scholar logic; it is the conflict between bureaucratic culture and newspaper reporter culture.
If we were ever to encounter the social crises of 1987 and 1989, we are sure that you would want the 1989 People's Daily "April 26 editorial" and not the 1987 China Youth Daily editorial. Compared to your predecessors, you are more selfish and hierarchical, and you do not have the confidence of history, nor the wisdom of history, and certainly not the courage of history.
Somebody said that today is "the real beginning of the history of the China Youth Daily" as if this was "the beginning of time." You produced that meeting minutes of the 1951 League founding of the China Youth Daily and you asked the China Youth Daily workers: "Why start a China Youth Daily?" This is a question that should be continuously on the minds of the China Youth Daily workers. But coming out of your mouth, based upon the atmosphere and your tone of being the "master", this was not unnatural and it even sounded funny. But we understood that you represented the League secretariat to want to get to the root of the matter by expressing your strong discontent and your desire to "let time begin now."
When you brought up this issue, you emphasized: "The China Youth Daily is not an abstract large newspaper. It is the League's newspaper and we hold the power of life and death over the China Youth Daily. We are the real 'masters.'"
Actually, the mature China Youth Daily workers never doubted that. We knew who the owners of the newspapers are. We knew that this is the party organ of the Chinese Communist Youth League. But this common knowledge is just a preamble. We have always observed the rules of the game between senior and junior ranks, between propaganda and news reporting, between serving as a tool and newspaper reporter professionalism. Since the re-publication of the newspaper in 1978, we created the glory of the China Youth Daily and we turned the newspaper into a 'national newspaper' that influenced society and young people deeply and a 'great newspaper' that is respected by the readers and industry insiders.
When people praise the China Youth Daily, they are praising the League leadership for providing an unrestrained environment. People who understand the newspaper environment in China realize that it is impossible to produce a good newspaper without the trust and support of the supervising managers. In summarizing the business experience of the China Youth Daily, we cannot underestimate the function of the League leadership, especially the tradition of democracy, liveliness and flexibility that comrade Hu Yaobang nurtured at the Chinese Youth League, thus giving the China Youth Daily a culture that is different from those at other newspapers.
We acknowledge that the China Youth Daily and the League central body have the relationship of the led and the leader. We also have a relationship of mutual reliance on the newspaper circulation. In your speech, you emphasized that of the 400,000 plus copies of the China Youth Daily printed each day, 90% of them are through subscription at public institutions. The so-called public subscriptions comes from organizational funds. To put it clearly, the circulation of the China Youth Daily depends on the League central body and the survival of the China Youth Daily depends on the League central body. These conditions will persist under the China Youth Daily becomes completely market-oriented and the newspaper industry is completely de-regulated. We do not disagree.
So where do we differ? Where we differ is that you wanted to pull a power play to create a League newspaper that listened to the League leadership, whereas we wanted a good newspaper that pushes for progress in China that will be remembered in history. You wanted a lackey, a tool, a mouthpiece, whereas from our first day we wanted to change the several decades of having a party organ newspaper that featured "slave culture", "immoral culture", "politician culture", "a culture of lies, empty words and false words." We wanted a newspaper that has a neutral political stance, we wanted to retain our independent opinion about news values, and we wanted to be editors and journalists who work with global professional standards.
In short, we differ in our opinions about the journalistic culture and the purpose of journalism. In your words, you oppose "idealism" and you oppose an "abstract big newspaper." On this latter point, we should tell you we have never thought about how to run an "abstract big newspaper." The China Youth Daily has never been abstract. We are concrete with respect to our nature, our opinions, our styles, our strategies and our techniques.
Obviously, you or your colleagues are afraid that the China Youth Daily may get out of control and become a "fourth power." We are not concerned about reaching an understanding on this aspect. But we are worried that you are too vested in your own career that you wanted to turn the China Youth Daily into the Chinese Youth Newsbrief that will praise your own accomplishments and thereby become a garbage dump to satisfy your vanity.
We are worried for good reasons. In the 1990s, I was the assistant director of the finance department. I hear those night-shift workers tell me that you want to be read in the China Youth Daily and that you keep shoving articles over, "Love your job and respect your work", to promote your own accomplishments. If you want to emphasize the group spirit of the newspaper this way, then we differ greatly in our opinions because we believe in the public nature of newspapers. This is an age-old problem. Our newspaper group carry the lifestyle section as well as the "irremovable" and "unreadable" special editions, as well as the various articles in the important news sections and the collected news sections about the various activities from the various groups within the League. We hold our noses when we release them but this is a compromise. This is as far as we will compromise. That is, the China Youth Daily can set up garbage cans for the League central body, but we cannot become a garbage newspaper. You can always publish a garbage newspaper and you can always hire people to work there, but it won't be us.
To solve this problem, I believe that it will be necessary to change the way the Chinese Communist Youth League works (beginning with its Secretary), and then to change the way that it communicates its work. There are some very good things, such as "Defend the Mother River", "Young Volunteer Movement", "Project Hope" and so on. For us, your opposition to an "abstract big newspaper" is an obviously red herring. This can be resolved at a completely technical level without further discussion. Compared to your objection to "idealism", this problem can be ignored without any further mention.
Have you noticed that I have used the term "youth newspaper workers" many times in the article? This is a unique phrase in the Chinese newspaper industry. There are two possible meanings: in one meaning, this refers to the colleagues at the China Youth Daily; in the other meaning, 'youth' is an adjective and the emphasis is on "newspaper workers." This is the core value of the China Youth Daily tradition and culture. Within this party newspaper, colleagues work together to publish the newspaper together as newspaper workers. There is the common understanding that we at the China Youth Daily have. This is why the youth newspaper workers put their forces together and feel that they belong there. This is the highest ideal pursued by the youth newspaper workers. We are proud to be newspaper workers.
I can't say about the situation today, but I can't say that this tradition and this culture is opposed to the bureaucratization of culture. It is opposed to looking at editors and reporters as bureaucrats, even though many party newspapers regard themselves as part of the bureaucracy and many editors and reporters benefit personally by being bureaucrats.
In an extreme case, the newspaper editors of a certain newspaper belonging to a department consider it to be their duty to make sure that nobody reads the newspaper and to destroy the idea that "newspapers are the vanguard in the liberation of thinking." The newspaper circulation falls down day by day (I understand that the circulation is less than 100,000 now), but the person-in-charge is rising higher and higher in the bureaucracy. When nobody reads the newspaper, it becomes a virtue rather than a fault. We understand that the key was to ignore public opinion and publish a newspaper for the higher-ups to look at. This is like following the instructions in the Sunflower Martial Arts Manual -- he castrated himself, because he thought that his own career was more important than the public interest and conscience.
What do the higher-ups want? They want "unity" and they want people who obey and follow. These people may be successful in their careers, but they are clowns in the eyes of the true newspaper workers. We will not collaborate with them because we still have our ideals for our newspaper. With respect to this meaning of the tradition and culture of the China Youth Daily, you were dismissive of the "idealism" in your speech. This particular feature is the cradle which nurtured many famous editors and reporters at the China Youth Daily, and this is the place that people in the newspaper industry and university journalism students long to be.
In the year 2000, I edited the three-volume collection of major news reports -- "This Newspaper Reports Today" -- that have appeared since the China Youth Daily began publishing again. In the foreword, I summarized the traditional and culture of the China Youth Daily as two important ideas: "idealism" and a democratic atmosphere at work." Later, the very esteemed former editor-in-chief Wang Shi told me: "Yuegang, you should add another one: 'to encourage famous reporters and editors.'"
Who is Wang Shi? I think you don't know everything, and the younger colleagues at the newspaper may be totally unfamiliar with him. Wang Shi may be the only person since the founding of the Communist Party to have resigned from the post of the editor-in-chief not on account of an "error" or otherwise promoted. This is difficult to believe.
In 1952, Wang Shi was assigned to the China Youth Daily and he was a reporter in Jilin. In the spring of 1957, he was transferred to the editorial department, where he was involved in editing "Chili". During the anti-rightist campaign, "Chili" was annihilated and they were all charged with being rightists. Wang Shi came in very late, and he only wrote a few articles. Therefore, he was only punished with a "severe warning from the party." In 1960, Wang Shi penned the article "For the 61 class brothers" and became a famous reporter. In 1978, the China Youth Daily began publishing again, and Wang Shi became the news literary section editor. In 1979, he became the assistant editor-in-chief. In 1982, he was appointed the editor-in-chief in spite of his own objections. In 1986, he resigned to become the director of the China Youth Daily News Research Bureau.
During the month and year of Wang's resignation -- December 1986 -- I joined the China Youth Daily. I saw the notice posted at the newspaper's little white building about Wang's resignation. I was surprised and I didn't understand. Li Datung went to see Wang Shi and asked, "Old Wang, tell me the truth. Why did you resign?" Wang Shi said, "To tell the truth, two reasons. Reason one, I can't stand checking other people's writings; reason two, I am getting old and I can't follow the times and be your leader."
When I asked Wang about it, he said, "I was tired of being the editor-in-chief. People come to you about everything -- promoting people, family problems ... I was just tired of it. But there was another important reason. I wanted to retain Xu Chufung. That year, the People's Daily Theory Department director Zhou Shujiang was ill and therefore asked the director Xian Liyan to ask for Xu Chufung to be transferred back to the People's Daily Theory Department to work. Xu Chufung had been transferred from the People's Daily Theory Department to the China Youth Daily. Xian Liyan called up the League secretary Li Yuanchiao and then Li called me. In 1982, Xu Chufung was the assistant editor-in-chief and he was good in character and work. I wanted to keep him. So I told Li Yuanchiao that I was willing to step down in order to promote Xu Chufung. I was afraid that this might cause a misunderstanding that I did not want to work with him, so I made it quite clear. Li Yuanchiao came to the newspaper and consulted with the middle-level cadres who all insisted that I cannot leave. But I held firm and I finally appealed to Song Defu (the First Secretary of the League)."
At the time when Wang Shi left this post, there were student strikes and all sorts of rumors were flying around. But one thing was for certain: Wang Shi was not forced to resign. Not only that, but there were efforts to keep him there. That year, he was only 53 years old and he could have stayed on as the China Youth Daily for another seven years. But he told me that there was a third reason: "I still want to be a reporter and to write some big story." After he resigned, he investigated and wrote: "Episodes in the life of Li Yunfu" and several other long reports. "Episodes in the life of Li Yunfun" received a second-place prize for Chinese news reporting. When I finished relating this story, I was temporarily confused. I asked myself: "Is this story real? Did something like really happen in the history of the China Youth Daily?"
Since I mentioned the names of Li Chilun and Xu Chufung, I have more stories to tell about them. In December of 1986, I reported for work to the main editorial room. After working the night shift for three months, I was transferred to the day shift. One day, after the editorial meeting, I was looking at the headlines and articles for the next day's edition. The headline story was a long report from the League's Lifestyle Department. I saw that there were some obvious and easily seen problems. I informed Zhen Chunchung, the director of the main editorial room. Chunchung pointed to the name on the article: "Do you know who that is?" I said, "I don't know." Chunchung said: "He is the director of the newspaper as well as the party secretary." I know that Chunchung was not using the title to silence me but he was just warning me that if I am going to offer my opinion on a long article that was requested by the newspaper editors and department heads, then I must have some basis for taking this contrarian position.
So I re-read the article and I stuck to my assessment Chunchung said: "You write down your opinions." So I took out a piece of paper and wrote down some opinions and handed it to Chunchung. Chuchung took it and left. The main editorial room and the offices of the director and the editor-in-chief were all located on the sixth floor. After a while, Chunchung brought over a tall broad-faced man to me and said to him, "This is the newly arrived editor Lu Yuegang." Then he told me, "This is our director Li Chilun. Please tell your opinions to Chilun." I said that the story and the details of the article are problematic, because I don't think the interview was actually done or else it wasn't done in sufficient detail. Chilun listened to what I said, and ordered: "The article will be held back. It won't appear tomorrow. You go and check with the reporters." We got the reporter to come down to the main editorial room. We found out that there was no interview and the report was based upon some other published information. Our recommendation was that the idea of the article was not bad, and we suggested that the reporter should investigate further. At the time, there was no question about bureaucratic rank. The only thing that mattered was the quality of the report.
There is something else about Li Chilun that I must talk about. In October 1985, reporter Ye Yan went to the front lines in Lao Shan to investigate and offended a certain military leader, who complained to General Secretary Hu Yaobang. So Hu sent a note: China Youth Daily reporter Ye Yan has to be investigated seriously. If his performance has not been good, or if you don't investigate seriously, then this will lead to removal from the newspaper position in either case. One day, the central government office director and external secretary Wang Shiaoguo called up Li Chilun and wanted to have a decision on the case of Ye Yan in accordance with the instructions of the General Secretary. Li Chilun said: "Comrade Shiaoguo, we have sent someone out to investigate, and this matter should be decided after the investigation is completed. If you don't agree with how I handled this matter, you can relieve me of my position right now!" Li Chilun is currently the head of the Supervisory Department and the assistant secretary of the central disciplinary committee. Ye Yan was spared and he would later report on the Dajingan Ling fires, the 1998 floods, the Inner Mongolia snow disaster, the South and North Poles and other major events, and won the Fan Changjiang News Award.
Prior to your speech, you announced the retirement of Xu Chufung. In front of all the middle cadres of the newspaper, you did not have a single world of assessment of Xu Chufung. Mencius said, "If you are old, then you are someone's elder; if you are young, then I am someone's youth." You don't even understand the minimum about traditional manners. Based upon age, when Xu Chufung should be among the generation of your father. In 1982, when he was the assistant editor-in-chief, you were just a little boy. When Xu Chufung became the editor-in-chief in 1987 and when he became the party secretary and director as well when Li Chilun was transferred to the Supervisory Department in 1988. In the late 1980s, he lifted the China Youth Daily to become a 'great newspaper' that was respected by the newspaper industry as well as the readers. He is the director and editor-in-chief who had the longest tenure in the history of the China Youth Daily. To be blunt, even if you retire a worker in your little store, you would have had a couple of nice-sounding, even if insincere, things to say about him.
What about Xu Chufung? The youth newspaper workers have their own views. Some time ago, the old-timers at the newspaper gave Xu Chufung a farewell banquet. Chichun said: "Who is old Xu? Old Xu is the kind of person that you don't think about when he was there, but whom you miss terribly after he leaves." This assessment is very appropriate and very relevant. Old Xu did not disappoint us. At the banquet, he gave a speech. He began by apologizing to some old comrades at the table, for those who were punished and affected after the 6/4 event. Originally, we had wanted to have a light-hearted banquet to say farewell to old Xu. But old Xu brought up a serious topic. This topic is not only a serious matter in terms of history but also in terms of what is happening today.
We have a common understanding that the many unhappy things at China Youth Daily today are the residual consequences of the 6/4 incident. The nation, the newspapers and individuals are all linked together. All those present at the table were the witnesses of history. We all knew the background of those times. Old Xu could not have reversed the situation on his own, and he did not have to bear responsibility for that historical mistake and tragedy. He was merely carrying out the orders from above and he disciplined certain middle-level cadres in order to get over the situation as quickly as possible to preserve the newspaper, even if some of those actions were contrary to the principles of the "party regulations."
Old Xu is an introverted person. He does not socialize well and so I believe that those words of apology came after some serious thinking that must have bothered him for a long time. I personally believe that his clarification on this major matter of right versus wrong is a confession of conscience. His confession certainly moved those who were present. Old Xu had many defects, and some people pointed out some of them. But there is one thing that everybody agreed upon: he is a righteous person. During the 6/4 period, we had major conflicts with him about the assessment of the situation and the reporting philosophy. We exchanged harsh words, but he could still ignore those personal battles and continued to use those people who clashed with him, such as Datung, Ye Yan and myself.
Wang Shi would rather be a reporter than an editor-in-chief, Li Chilun shielded the reporter, Xu Chufung took the insults and then apologized in the end ... there are many more stories that I don't have the space to recount today. These stories form the culture of the China Youth Daily and it also influenced the culture of the China Youth Daily -- what you dismissed and condemned as "idealistic" culture. According to your value system, this may be "idiotic culture" or "suicidal culture" and is removed one thousand miles away from your so-called "pragmatism"!
The reason that we wanted to summarize the culture of the China Youth Daily is to let you know that the culture of the China Youth Daily was created by several generations of youth newspaper workers over a stormy half century. We are responsible for our actions. We will listen to any advice from anyone, and we will discuss any doubts except for your harangues yelled down from the top. You have established a gulf between us, because there are two completely different souls on each side.
In my foreword to "The Newspaper Reports Today", I wrote: "Zhang Jianwei used to quote Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus to encourage himself. I will use the example of flood control in China. For example, the Yellow River. The Yellow River is the mother river of the Chinese nation, but it is also the cause of pain and suffering for the Chinese people over thousands of years. There is the curse and hope that 'The sages will come when the Yellow River becomes clear.' When we look at the Yellow River, we are torn between love and hate. We know that the water of the Yellow River will never become clear, we know that the Yellow River cannot be navigated or used for irrigation easily, we know that all the hard work that go into repairing the levees and dams can turn to nought in an instant, we know that water works can 'never change but only modify' but this did not change the hope of our ancestors and their descendants with the look of hope in the eyes of despair, to plant another tree on the bank of the Yellow River, to put another handful of earth on the levee and to lay down another batch of wood on the levee break. To plant a tree, to put down earth and to lay down wood year after year, again and again, is such an awesome sight! During the process, we can feel the ultimate experience of 'idealism' and to feel the huge waves and winds in the storm of history."
The reporting of the re-published China Youth Daily can be divided into two stages. The first stage went from the end of the 1970s to the end of the 1980s. The second stage was the 1990s. There are two imageries: First, 'You watch a boat weave in and out of the waves in the wind'; second, you walk on the side of the cliff and you swim in the lake to catch the fish; dancing on the cliff gives you the full view of the heights and is scary and challenging. This type of summary description includes both the sense of doing the impossible and not doing the possible is utterly unrelated to the 'pragmatism' that you referred to. Our soul is like that of Sisyphus in the thousand year quest to tame the Yellow River. But you are contemptuous of 'idealism' and you sneer at 'idealism.' In your lecture about 'pragmatism', you hint at the naivety of 'idealism' which contains an unreal logic. You are using the logic of the bureaucrat on the logic of the youth newspaper workers, you are using the ways of officialdom to dismantle the culture of the youth newspaper workers. Some things that are ideas in officialdom becomes something else once outside of officialdom. We know that idealism has no place in Chinese officialdom, as Hu Yaobang is a typical example. Idealism is laughed at inside officialdom.
Actually, history does not lack examples of 'idealism' (assuming that this is to be called 'idealism') creating great political figures. For example, your own hometown man Tsang Guofan. The reason that Tsang Guofan was able to defeat the Empire of Heavenly Peace was that he defended the Confucian traditional ideals. As another example, the leaders of the American Independence War such as George Washington had their great ideals and political foresight so that they created not only the Declaration of Independence but also supported a constitution that made their country strong and powerful. And what can really be said about the pragmatism that is favored by politicians without conscience and intellect? One day several hundred years ago, a man came to Luzizhou and pointed to the Shangjiang river and said, "The Shangjiang river is only a small wave of the Lishui." When the Shangjiang goes past Changsha, it is roaring but it is really nothing.
Of course, for the youth newspaper workers, 'idealism' is not an exaggerated and unrealistic word. The youth newspaper workers do not live in a dream world in which they admire themselves and are absorbed with themselves. Rather they watch the world, they "put their heads down to pull the cart along and they raise their heads to watch the road." We are not so stupid as not to understand the conditions under which we survive and publish the newspaper, or else we would have fallen apart a long time ago. The idealism of the China Youth Daily is actually very practical.
An assistant editor-in-chief once told the Central Propaganda Bureau director Zhong Puizhang the following representative points: first, never speak false words; second, never actively speak false words; third, if it is absolutely necessary to use false words, then don't make up anything. At a very practical level, he has detailed three bottom lines: first, the bottom line for an ordinary righteous person -- never speak false words; second, the bottom line for a professional newspaper worker -- never actively speak false words; third, the bottom line for a party newspaper -- the China Youth Daily -- when forced to use false words, we will only relay the false words from others even though the false words seem to come out of our mouths. Not only false words, but also exaggerations and deceptions.
It is not certain if things have progressed or regressed over time. I look at the television and read the newspapers, and I see that false words have not decreased in numbers, but now the exaggerations and deceptions are all over. Furthermore, the exaggerations and deceptions are spoken every day, every month, every year by everyone in the party and by all the common people.
Two years ago, I went to investigate in Yangzhou (Jiangsu), the hometown of Jiang Zemin. I saw that there was a public interest billboard in the middle of the city: "The water of Wei bestows its blessing on the people." (translator's note: this is a word play on the name of Jiang Zemin) Bestow its blessing indeed. Two years ago, on May 1st, the Yangzhou train station was opened. The people of Yangzhou had the honor of having the current General Secretary coming to the hometown of the former General Secretary for the opening ceremony. During that May 1st long holiday, I was also in Yangzhou and I heard about the scene. The people of Yangzhou had not recovered from the happiness of having the General Secretary at the opening ceremony. An official boasted to me: "Do you get that kind of treatment when the train station opened in Beijing? Do you get that kind of treatment when the train station opened in Shanghai?" Yangzhou is only a local city.
The reason that I mention all this is that the China Youth Daily must have a historical awareness to prevent the politicians from using "false words, exaggerations and deceptions" to further their own political interests and ruin the newspaper. Tung Qiao said, "News report are the drafts of history." If news become the garbage of history, or if news strengthens the false, ugly and evil forces, then it becomes a terrible situation. There are so many lessons to be learned from history.
At various party newspapers, it is common to hear people say, "Party newspaper, party newspaper. It is the newspaper of the party. However ugly it is, it is the party's newspaper. Even if it is ruined, it is still the party's newspaper. What is it to us?" A provincial-level party newspaper director once told me: "My job is to make sure that nobody reads the newspaper."
The China Youth Daily is different other party newspapers, because the youth newspaper workers treat the China Youth Daily as their own newspaper, they treat it as their own spiritual home, and they consider this the place where they realize their own values and ideals. The newspaper culture and the collegiality of the China Youth Daily grew up in this environment.
In order to survive, we compromised; to move forward, we compromised; to break through, we compromised; to be creative, we compromised. We invented many theories and techniques that are admired by others in the business. We combined idealism with democratic business practice to form the China Youth Daily. In the late 1980s, there was an anti-liberalization wave in which the leftists hated the China Youth Daily. They searched for "crimes" committed in the reporting done by the China Youth Daily. In the end, these were illusory just like the reflections of flowers in the mirror or the moon in the water. Therefore, the youth newspaper workers are particularly sensitive about any behavior that might damage the China Youth Daily, and that includes the speech that you made.
Before you concluded your speech, you defined the tone. You said that you were here to have a heart-to-heart talk with us. We would also like to have a heart-to-heart talk with you. But is a heart-to-heart talk delivered in this fashion? Do you think that the group of people that you spoke to grew up eating feces? Do you think that the intelligence of these people is so low that they cannot distinguish between a heart-to-heart talk and a lecture?
You represented the League central leadership when you asked the China Youth Daily leadership to "increase learning." I think that the China Youth Daily leadership ought to "increase learning" but I think that the League's central secretariat, especially you, should "increase learning" even more.
Why did I say that? Because you began to use political clichés in front of everybody. You said that in order to retain the permanent governing position of the Chinese Communist Party, it is necessary to rely on the pen and the rifle --- the "two weapons". We understood that you were using your Hunan home province man Mao Zedong's "two weapons" theory. To put it nicely, this is a 'political theory'; to put it not so nicely, this is a method to retain 'rulership.'
But you forgot that this was the political theory of a revolutionary party. During the period when the revolutionary party first seized power and then attempted to consolidate the power, this political philosophy implied that the pen is held within your hand and the rifle is right behind the pen: you control the discourse and standardize it; you say whatever you want to say and you do whatever you want to do; if anyone doubts it or opposes it, you bring out the rifle.
So after several decades of this, it became "a lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth." Since 1949, there were political campaigns without interruption. For more than twenty years, the people lived in distress. To summarize that experience, the Chinese Communist Party continued to stay on the path of the revolutionary party. They spent their main energies on class struggles and the dictatorship of the proletariat to create hardships for others as well as themselves, as well as the whole Chinese people. Between the three difficult years of 1959-1962, more than 27 million people perished from hunger and diseases; and then came the 10 disastrous years and the 6/4 tragedy.
Someone said that the modern history of China is the history of the people of Hunan and Szechuan. Over the past one hundred years or so, Hunan produced people like Tsang Guofan, Mao Zedong, Liu Shiaoqi, Peng Dehuai and other political, military and cultural figures who influenced the development of Chinese history. You yourself should count as a member of the Hunan people, and you have the nerve to expound on the 'two weapons' theory in the twenty-first century in the meeting room on the sixth floor of the China Youth Daily, a place which has seen so much history being made. This probably explains why at a time when ocial democratic trends are developing rapidly that the Communist Party wants to consolidate its position by controlling the discourse first and then using violence.
With a Hunan revolutionary newcomer like you working, it is no wonder that after Deng Xiaoping's 1992 southern tour speech, Hunan began a so-called "Socialist Educational Campaign" afterwards. Everyone who is familiar with history knows that the Chinese Communist Party has chosen to reform its economy to follow a market economy path. To use that same old revolutionary party stuff again seriously disrupts the rational legitimacy of the ruling party. They must face the cruel facts and make concessions to the people's economic demands.
Today, the ruling party must seriously look at the political demands of the people, because the production relationship has seriously constrained the development of production, and the social conflicts are about to explode. Actually, the problem of the transition of the Chinese Communist Party from the revolutionary party to the ruling party was recognized by knowledgeable individuals inside and outside the party and was pointed out by the Hu-Wen leadership. The reform of the political system is urgently needed, because it involves not only the fate of the Chinese Communist Party but also the livelihood of the people.
To make this clear, the Chinese Communist Party must make the transition from being a revolutionary party to a ruling party and under the basis of the "Practical Law" to resolve the matter of the legality of its rule via democratic means. Otherwise, the consequences are too severe to contemplate.
We understand that your response is the "two weapons" theory. But the words "two weapons" can also be read as "second-rate." In this Internet era where the world economy is being globalized in a democratic era, we regret to report that your "two weapons" theory is a "second rate" theory. I am really concerned about you because if the powers-that-be should learn that your thinking is so confused and you are so ignorant, your political career will be over; I am even more worried that if politicians like you should manage to grab more power, because you can cause great damage to the nation.
It is not incorrect to call you "ignorant." You blame the fact that Indian Premier Vajpayee was toppled on problems with the media and the political discourse. This explanation is just like your Hunan hometown man Mao Zedong's explanation of the ouster of Richard Nixon. When the news of Mao's old friend Nixon leaving office on account of the Watergate affair came in, Mao's explanation from inside the red walls of Zhongnanhai was that "Someone was after him." You committed the same error as Mao Zedong, and that is being ignorant about democracy. When you are ignorant, you are fearless.
I couldn't bear it anymore and that was why I wrote more than ten thousand words. I hope that you can become a good person and do well.
Lu Yuegang, June 13, 2004.