The Li-Lu Statement On Freezing Point

The Joint Statement by Li Datong and Lu Yuegang on the Suspension of Freezing Point.  February 17, 2006 (see Chinese original)

(in translation)

On January 24, 2006, the Youth Central made the decision to suspend and re-organize the Freezing Point weekly magazine.  As described by Li Datong in his open letter of protest published on January 25, the entire process had no basis in the constitution and the law.  Even the correctness of the administrative procedures was ignored.  It was full of conspiracy and plotting.  A friend commented: "The bureaucrats went to the extreme technically, but they look pathetic and risible in terms of the value system."  That is so true.

But no matter how base the authorities were, we have to do things properly.  On February 6, Li Datong submitted a letter of complaint for the Central Party Discipline Inspection Committee to the newspaper party organization secretary Wang Hongyou.  Wang promised that he would follow the procedures to forward the letter of complaint and then he would provide a response.  The reason why he promised so easily was because this is common knowledge to party members -- the party organization has the obligation to forward complaints from party members from one level to the next.

Yet after a delay of seven days, in response to persistent inquiries from Li Datong, secretary Wang finally gave the reply from the League Central on February 13: after many people have studied the party rules and regulations, it was believed that the upper-level party organization does not have the obligation to forward complaints from party members.  Therefore, it was decided that this letter of complaint would not be forwarded to the Central Party Discipline Inspection Committee; instead, it would be returned to the individual for him to handle by himself.

The result of studying by many people?  This is an enormous joke!  Let me list the relevant regulation in the following: "Concerning how the party organization treats the party member or others, the party member has the right to make statements, offer explanations, accuse and defend at party meetings or to superior levels including all the way to the Party Central.  The party organization must handle or transmit the statements, explanations, accusations and defenses of party members in a timely manner.  The information must not be held up, and the unit must not make excuses.  Complaints and accusations must not be given to the subject of the complaint/accusation for handling.  There must not be any retaliation against the complainant/accuser."  (Quoted from "Certain Regulations On Political Life Inside the Party.").

Given this very clear regulation, many people in the League Central have nevertheless studied it and came to the opposite conclusion!  Apart from the shock, we must sigh: A senior party organization located in the capital can be shameless to this point.  Do they have any moral bottom line!?

On February 14, we went through other trustworthy channels to directly forward the letter of complaint to the Central Discipline Inspection Committee.  There is reason to believe that the letter should arrive on February 16.

But on the afternoon of February 16, while fully aware that the letter of complaint has not yet been seen by the relevant government leaders, our newspaper party organization announced seven decisions to us, of which the core content is:

First, they violated the party constitution by suppressing and delaying the letter of complaint against their actions.  Immediately afterwards, they issued these sanctions without offering any reason.  Where is the justice?

What is the reason for relieving Li Datong of his duties?  Let us suppose Freezing Point published an article with the "wrong viewpoints."  But then any newspaper worker would realize that whether an article is published or not is never decided by the page editor.  It is up to the newspaper's editor-in-chief.  Without the editor-in-chief reading the article first and then signing off, nothing goes into print.  Previously, Freezing Point had been ordered by the editor-in-chief to withdraw or swap articles numerous times, and that is a normal phenomenon in newspaper publishing.

Concretely about "Modernization and History Textbooks" itself, Li Datong had a thorough discussion with the Administrative Deputy Editor-in-Chief and the Editor-in-Chief, and the final decision was to publish after some deletions.  The final editing step was done personally by the Editor-in-Chief.  In other words, as the page editor, Li Datong is responsible for certain intermediate details in the publication, but he does not have any responsibility for the decision of what or how to publish.  This is just common knowledge about newspapers.  This is not to lessen any responsibility that Li Datong should have to accept, but this is to tell those muddleheaded decision-makers not to do stupid things just because they can pull rank (and never mind the totally unfounded "economic sanctions").

As to whether the essay was wrong (and where it went wrong), it should not be up to individual high officials to say so.  There has to be some high-quality discussion.  It is normal to gradually arrive at a common understanding, and it is normal for the various participants to continue to hold onto their own views.  It is abnormal to insist on opposing (because "I am the truth")!  To peremptorily order Freezing Point to cease publication has stripped the opponents of the right to express their opinions as well.

The unspoken true reason was that Li Datong had the nerve to make a public protest and to accept overseas media interviews to speak about the truth of the incident -- state officials can set fires, but civilians are not allowed to light a lantern!  Their brains have no hint of any notion of "civil rights."

What is the basis of relieving Lu Yuegang of his duties?  Lu Yuegang was totally unconnected with the aforementioned essay.  Upon persistent questioning, the newspaper party organization secretary hesitantly brought up three issues:

1. Publication of an essay to commemorate China Youth Daily veteran reporter Liu Binyan in the newspaper's intranet.

2. Interviews by foreign media

3. Connection with "democratic movement people" in China.

This is the biggest joke in the world!  A young person wishes to commemorate a famous newspaper predecessor who was forced to die in exile.  Is that a crime?  When the old man was eighty years old, he requested many times to return to China but he was refused.  Do those officials have any humanity to speak of?  To consider Lu Yuegang's small essay a crime is to show what "cold-blooded" means.

Is it not permitted to be interviewed by foreign media?  Which Chinese constitution article or law forbids that?  National leaders and various levels of officials have been interviewed by foreign media countless number of times.  Should they be accused of crimes and relieved of their duties too?  Of course, we would prefer to be interviewed by the national media, but the authorities have blocked all the media and websites, including personal blogs that were used to disseminate information.  The mouths of the citizens are regarded as more frightening than flood waters and fierce beasts.  This is risible and pathetic.  Why is there such terror over a little bit of truth?

As for "connection with democratic movement people in China," this is even more absurd.  Two names were cited.  Lu Yuegang does not know one of the persons (never met the person in his life); the other is an old friend of many years.  This is just looking for excuses.

This is the public revenge and political persecution of Lu Yuegang for the 2004 "Open Letter to Chinese Communist Youth League Secretariat Office Executive Secretary Zhao Yong" and the later "The Letter of Protest to Zhou Qiang and Zhao Yong on the political summary by the League Central concerning the 'Open Letter to Chinese Communist Youth League Secretariat Office Executive Secretary Zhao Yong' (unpublished)."  It is the standard technique for these people to take revenge later.  This is not surprising, but their intelligent quotient is probably only slightly higher than a three-year-old child.

Did a small number of officials suddenly took pity and began to consider the needs of the readers by letting Freezing Point resume publication?  No!  They were worried about the strong public response inside and outside of China.  They were worried about their "international image."  They let the Freezing Point sign hang out there, but they have take away the soul of Freezing Point!  Without the core editors, what will Freezing Point look like?  It will be down on its knees asking for instructions.  Listen up, you criticize Yuan Weishi in the first issue -- yes, master!

We say sorry to the dedicated readers of Freezing Point.  We have walked with you for eleven years.  The comments that come after each issue of Freezing Point and the seasonal greeting cards are still fresh in our memories.  We may never have met, but we have sometimes chatted like old friends over the telephone and we discussed via email ... within the dozen or so days after Freezing Point was suspended, we received several hundred telephone calls from readers, ranging from a 17-year-old student to an 80-year-old intellectual.  People wrote to express their support.  A Central Publicity Department leader, People's Daily publisher, Xinhua publisher, senior Communist Party members and cadres all publicly denounced the unconstitutional behavior of the Central Publicity Department.  Many readers went down to the postal office to cancel their newspaper subscriptions.  We felt the consolation coming from people of integrity.  We were never alone.

What do the people want?  The freedom of news and speech conferred on them by the constitution, information that is valuable about the environment in which they live in, the investigation and disclosure of injustice, support for the socially vulnerable groups against the powerful groups and deep reflections that are required for the survival of the people.  This is a newspaper that is paid for by the taxpayers.  This is a newspaper that takes in taxpayers' money in the form of subscriptions.  But it is usually stuffed with garbage by the publicity officials.  This is an illegal abuse of power and a crime!  If we don't stop this, the spirit and creativity of the people will never be unleashed and civil society will never arrive.

We worked at Freezing Point with a certain anxiety and tension.  We dared not relax.  We published articles that our readers enjoyed and we have gained a small reputation.  But we were just doing our share of duty following professional standards for journalism.  This was the result of our work in conjunction with the other colleagues at Freezing Point.  Here, we want to thank our Freezing Point colleagues.  Without their first-rate performances, we cannot have the Freezing Point of today.  If our efforts to protect our rights have caused them inconvenience in their work and lives, we deeply apologize for that was not our intent.  Everything that we did were signed under our own names.  We are fully responsible, and it is unrelated to them.

How many nights of writing and editing without sleep?  How many tense and happy Tuesdays and Wednesdays?  The "408 Cartoon World" in which there are no young or old.  Here, we have to tell our Freezing Point colleagues: we miss the happy times that we spent with you.  We love you all.

Next, we want to thank the writer friends inside and outside China over the eleven years of Freezing Point.  We will never forget the support, hope, intimacy, understanding, wisdom and passion in every article.  We will forever treasure those elating and moving stories.

Li Datong has been at China Youth Daily for 28 years and Lu Yuegang has been at China Youth Daily for 20 years.  The two of us can be said to be veteran newspaper workers.  Here we will quote the sentence used by Freezing Point to commemorate the esteemed late China Youth Daily editor-in-chief Mr. Wang Shi: "An old newspaper worker never dies.  He will just slowly float away."

We believe that no strong power can strangle the thirst and pursuit of freedom by human societies including China.

Freezing Point has fallen.  Freezing Point is innocent.  Freezing Point will be born again!

2006 February 17 early morning.

Appendix 2: There Was A Man Named Liu Bingyan.  By Lu Yuegang.

The China Youth Daily Party Organization made the following decisions with respect to the re-organizaiotn of the Freezing Point weekly magazine in order to allow it resume publication as soon as possible:

1. Censure Party Organization Deputy Secretary and Editor-in-Chie Li Erliang, who will make a detailed self-criticism at the Party Organization meeting about failure to be vigilant.

2. Form an editorial committee to write a written report to the League Central to seriously summarize the lessons, to rectify the publishing spirit, to perfect the regulatory system, to define the system of responsibility and to define the concrete steps for implementation.

3. Take away the month's bonus pay for Li Erliang and Pan Ping; take away Li Datong's performance bonus for the month.

4. Re-organization of the personnel of Freezing Point weekly magazine:

- Relieve Li Datong's duty as editor-in-chief of Freezing Point and reassign him to work at the News Research Institute

- Relieve Lu Yuegang as the deputy-editor-in-chie of Freezing Point and reassign him to work at the News Research Institute

- Party member, executive deputy editor-in-chief and deputy publisher Chen Xiaochun will before the editor-in-chief of Freezing Point weekly magazine.

5. During the reorganization period of Freezing Point weekly magazine, there must a serious attempt to summary the lessons, to rectify the idea of the direction of the pubcation, to perfect the regulatory system, to define the process of publication clearly and to implement the system of responsibility.  A report about the reorganization should be submitted to the editorial committee within a week about the progress of the reorganization.

6. Seriously criticize the essay "Modernization and History Textbooks" by Yuan Weishi in the first issue of the relaunched Freezing Point weekly magazine in order to eliminate the bad influence.

7. Freezing Point weekly magazine will resume publication on March 1, 2006.

China Youth Daily Party Organization

February 26, 2006

(SCMP)  Ex-editor sees hope for press freedom.  By Vivian Wu.  May 4, 2006.

It has been less than three months since Li Datong's turbulent departure from the helm of the gutsy Bingdian Weekly, but the 54-year-old pinup for press freedom on the mainland can already laugh about his abrupt removal.  And he is optimistic that the time will come when an independent mainland media will be able to pursue stories based on news value rather than an official line.

Bingdian, or Freezing Point, was a weekly insert in the China Youth Daily that made a name for itself by running in-depth reports on social issues and corruption.  It was closed down on January 24 after it published an article by Guangdong professor Yuan Weishi criticising the mainstream interpretation of historical events such as the 1900 Boxer Rebellion.  It was relaunched five weeks later as a more orthodox publication - after Mr Li, Bingdian's editor, and his deputy, Lu Yuegang , were sacked on February 16 and exiled to a research institute.

In Beijing, Mr Li laughed loudly as he recalled the saga. He said that before the closure, he and Mr Lu pushed what authorities deemed to be acceptable limits on expression by running exposÚs of corruption and critiques of media censorship.  One of the critical moments was the circulation last year of a 10,000-word open letter written by Mr Li attacking the micromanagement of the party's secretive Propaganda Department and the growing blacklist of banned topics imposed on the China Youth Daily, other mainland media and websites.

But Mr Li's action was not without precedent. As an employee of the China Youth Daily, he was a leading member of the campaign for a free media during the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, when he and other media representatives met senior central government officials.  The group expressed its opposition to the tight flow of information and called for a transparent administration. In the fallout, Mr Li was sacked and sent to a research institute, where he now again spends his working days.

It was not until 1994 that he was recalled into service and invited to start up Bingdian Weekly. It became a popular journal, where readers could find down-to-earth stories that reflected their lives, exposed the unfairness of the social system, and challenged mainstream views.  He said that in his three-decade career in newspapers, he never expected to become part of the news, but he hoped to change society with conscientious and influential stories.

He was taken on as China Youth Daily's Inner Mongolia correspondent in 1979 after more than a decade in the region herding sheep. His family background prevented him from accessing higher education and he fled to Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution.

Mr Li said he and his colleagues "have been trying to reveal the real lives of Chinese people, to be close to their happiness and sorrows, and, by all means, to push forward change of the social system".  "We are always pushing the authorities, to prick them with the most crucial problems in society, and urge them to remedy the situation, so as to push forward social progress and improve ordinary people's lives," he said.  "In fact, Bingdian has pierced through the political bottom lines of today, and all the barriers and restrictions on media reporting set by the authorities have been all broken up by Bingdian's coverage."

Mr Li said the supplement's closure was the culmination of growing tensions over its content and a difference in journalistic values with the Communist Party Youth League.  
He described the campaign for Bingdian's resumption as "a political success", but said it was a pity he and Mr Lu were removed and had lost the chance to produce more stories in the mainstream media.

"Politically speaking, we won - grass roots journalists forced top-level officials to reverse an administrative decision. That had never happened before," he said.  It was also the first time journalists had voiced public opposition to an official decision and garnered higher support.

"Chinese media have been used to not speaking out when they are strangled. They have silently swallowed the humiliation. But this time, we editors stood out to express opposition, to disclose the truth, and win wide social support from senior officials and intellectuals," Mr Li said.  "It was also the first time that such a clampdown on the media prompted so many senior party officials to openly express their support. They were senior propaganda officials from the state media, including Xinhua and the People's Daily. It would have been unimaginable in the past."

But Mr Li said the mainland media environment would not change radically in the next five years because the present administration is dominated by people without a specific vision of the future. "Authorities now consist of officials with a transient ideology, instead of comprehensive abilities to generate fresh ideas about how to create a democratic and legal country with media freedoms," he said.

Mr Li, who is writing a book about his Bingdian experience, said that in the aftermath of the closure, hopes for an independent media lay in journalists at city newspapers, rather than mainstream publications.

"If newspapers and magazines had united and signed a joint letter calling for freedom of speech in the way that those seniors and intellectuals did, the Bingdian event would have been a breakthrough for creating a wider space for freedom of speech.  Freedom of speech will not fall from heaven all of a sudden. Freedom can only be realised through more battles. If there is no rebellion, authorities will become stronger, bolder and fiercer."

Official newspapers are not alone in avoiding sensitive topics. Mr Li said much of the market-driven media also refused to touch on controversial issues for fear of alienating advertisers.

"All advertisements come from real estate developers and giant enterprises, so how can the media uncover the inside stories and dirty business tactics? This is also where many media fail to execute their social duty," he said.  "But what kind of media does China need? China needs a media whose reports keep a check on powerful interests, and support and aid the disadvantaged.  Hopes lie in the younger generation of reporters, who are no longer injected with Marxist journalism, but are inspired by the values and principles of a democratic and independent media."

(SCMP via AsiaMedia)  There's hope on the horizon.  By Li Datong.  July 27, 2006.

A remarkable incident has emboldened mainland Chinese journalists. The government suspended publication of the Bingdian Weekly newspaper supplement this year, provoking unprecedented open protest that received extensive media coverage worldwide. Even more surprisingly, the government, under the pressure of public opinion, allowed Bingdian to resume publication. The editor-in-chief and his deputy were sacked, but the open questioning of the legitimacy of the government's regulation of journalism is bound to have a profound impact.

Foreign observers are prone to associate the incident with other recent crackdowns on China's mass media, and to conclude that journalistic freedom is a hopeless cause on the mainland. There has been no significant change in the government's system of regulating journalism during the almost 30 years of its open-door policy in other areas. On the contrary, it has become more rigorous and covert.

But I still have faith that subtle changes are occurring. For example, a prerequisite for effective control of the media is that those who are controlled should accept the controller's ideology. But today, the Central Propaganda Department struggles to maintain ideological control through internal notices and issuing warnings by telephone - which are widely scorned. More importantly, even the regulators themselves have ceased to believe in obsolete and rigid doctrines. I recently met an official working for a provincial Department of Propaganda and was impressed by his bold and straightforward comments on current affairs.

For their part, producers of news have long since ceased to believe that news should be propaganda. I started my career with China Youth Daily in 1979 and have experienced the whole process of China's opening up and reformation. My generation of Chinese journalists broke from traditional communist ideas about journalism by the mid-1980s, through extensive reading of western journalism. Younger journalists have been exposed to western journalistic ideas from the very beginning of their training. This is a crucial change, and it is the fundamental reason for an increasing number of genuine news items and commentaries in the mainland media today. Market pressure has also been important in pushing the mainland media to embrace change.

Contrary to foreign perceptions, only a handful of publications - for example, People's Daily, Guang Ming Daily, and The Economic Daily -- still rely on government funds. China Central Television depends mainly on its advertising income, with only a symbolic fraction of its massive budget covered by the government.

To be sure, political information remains rigorously controlled. That puts a premium on harmless recreational, entertainment and sports information. This has resulted, in the short run, in an embrace of low journalistic standards. But many metropolitan newspapers that have thrived on such "infotainment" have seen their circulations fall in recent years. Sooner or later, readers will start to buy newspapers that can truly inform them and give voice to their opinions.

In fact, it is such tabloids, responding to market pressure, that have started to take on responsibility as public watchdogs. On many occasions in recent years, they have been the first to break sensitive news.

Thus, even without any change in the current system of regulation, it's become common to see extensive coverage of disasters, judicial abuses and citizens' pursuit of their statutory rights -- along with a questioning of policies from the public perspective.

Such progress is slow and full of frustrations, for it reflects the incremental evolution of the system. But it is nonetheless real progress, indicating the growing influence of the mainland media and pointing to China's becoming a country of "free expression".