The Du Daozheng Interview
Du Daozheng (杜导正) is the publisher of the monthly magazine <Yanhuang Chunqiu> (炎黄春秋) and a former director of the General Administration of Press and Publications. This interview with him is interesting because it reveals how some 'progressive' media work in China today. It is very wrong to assume that it is an all-or-nothing situation in China -- that is, they have no freedom of expression and press today and there won't be any until 'democracy' arrives on some future date. The fact is that there are plenty of people ready and able to push the envelop right now. <Yanhuang Chunqiu> is one example. The interview showed that there has not been a crackdown on this particular publication because of an obvious characteristic: the publishing staff as well as the tens of thousands of readers are all veteran Communist Party cadres! Not even the current Central Publicity Department and General Administration of Press and Publications dare to move on them because of their possible connections.
(Asia Weekly; no link available yet) Democracy Moves Ahead and Breaks Through Slowly In China. By Jiang Xun (江迅). June 10, 2007.
Q: Did you have any worries when you published the essay by Xie Tao (谢韬)? (note: the 15,000-word essay entitled <The Democratic Socialism Model and the Future of China> appeared in the second issue of <Yanhuang Chunqiu> in 2007)
A: His essay was basically speaking from the viewpoint of the Deng Xiaoping thoughts and the Three Represents theory. I put the likelihood of getting into trouble at about 10% or 20%. The core assumptions of the essay of Xie Tao are correct. I have read the records of a conversation between Deng Xiaoping and certain young leaders of African opposition parties. These African opposition party leaders had been overseas students. When they returned home, they pushed socialist movements which were dismal failures. That was why they came to Beijing to seek Deng Xiaoping's advice. Deng said: "I advise you to give up socialism. I recommend that you concentrate on improving the national economy. When the economy does well and the people live well and are happy, then it does not matter what -ism you want to call it." This was so brilliant and exceptional. I am a student of Marxism-Leninism. I believe that what Deng said was a typical speech of "treason" and he would be found guilty as a "traitor." During the Deng Xiaoping era, the economic portion of the reforms was generally successful and he can be said to be a great man who marked the transition between eras. For several thousand years, China could not solve the problem for providing adequate food and shelter for the Chinese people. He basically solved all that in just over twenty years. But the people high up in the hierarchy have basically continued with the old stuff about the planned economy. They have basically not gotten themselves out of the ideas of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the class struggle, even though there have been seen reforms and improvements.
Q: Did the Central Publicity Department and General Administration of Press and Publications give you trouble?
A; On April 3, two months after the essay was published, then General Administration of Press and Publications director Long Xinmin came to see me and we spoke here for an hour. He did not mentioned the name "Xie Tao" and he did not talk about the essays in <Yanhuang Chunqiu>. The second half hour of the conversation were positive in nature. He was saying the 17th Party Congress was about to begin. While the Party Central is in reasonable shape, there are serious problems. So the Party Central wants to create a harmonious environment together. Since <Yanhuang Chunqiu> is influential at the moment, we should call everybody to work together to create this harmonious atmosphere. In the end I said, "I know what you mean."
Q: What do you think about those criticisms of the Xie Tao essay?
A: In the present state of discourse, some individuals may launch diatribes on the Internet but the majority of the people discuss calmly about what they agree or disagree with. The majority of the people agreed with it, and only some people disagreed with some of Xie Tao's viewpoints. Most people treat this as a topic for scholarly discourse, as in the social sciences. This atmosphere surrounding this debate surprised me, but this is just so wonderful. It can be said that this is the first time after the June 4th incident that such a complicated and important theoretical issue was discussed fairly and calmly. There were no abused, threats, name-calling, punishments, bans or dismissals. I feel that there must be something behind the scene. At the moment, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao are relatively more open and civilized. This indicates a stance, a tendency and a revelation to move towards democracy. If Hu and Wen (especially Wen Jiabao through his continuous call for democracy and freedom) can write this grand framework into the political report of the 17th Party Congress, then it would be wonderful.
Q: How did <Yanhuang Chunqiu> come into existence?
A: The magazine was founded in April 1991. With the support of old generals Xiao Ke and Zhang Aiping, a group Communist Party elders founded and operated the magazine under the management of the Chinese Yanhuang Cultural Study Association. Its predecessor was the <Zhonghua Yingli> magazine supported by Hu Qiaomu and which was discontinued after several issues due to financial difficulties and personnel problems. Meanwhile, the magazine <Yanhuang Zisun> founded by certain high military elders had ceased publication. So <Yanhuang Chunqiu> used the registration number of <Zhonghua Yingli> and some of the editorial workers from <Yanhuang Zisun> to publish.
Q: That was two years after the June 4th incident of 1989. Did <Yanhuang Chunqiu> had any special ideals when it was launched?
A: It was 1991 and Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang and Zhaog Ziyang had been in charge for more than ten years already. The reform of the economic system was underway, but the reform of the political system was lagging behind somewhat. But this was no longer the era of the Cultural Revolution and things were more relaxed. Discussions were based upon the standard of truth. The political situation was no longer one in which certain things cannot be discussed, but we had to stay within certain bounds. We were a group of old people who experienced plenty in life. We have won and we have lost. We have been happy and we have been sad. We have suffered and we have made other people suffered. As we moved into old age, we were all reflecting about our experiences.
At first, the publication of <Yanhuang Chunqiu> had to face the environment after the June 4th incident. After the June 4th incident, the newspapers and magazines in Beijing were like a desert. I am an old Communist newspaper worker. I have been through the War of Resistance against the Japanese as well as the War of Liberation. Before 1949, it was reasonably good to work in the newspapers as we were able to reflect what was happening with the people. For the first few years after 1949, things were reasonably well. But after the Anti-Rightist campaign, the Anti-Rightist-Tendency campaign, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, I became increasingly pessimistic. <Yanhuang Chunqiu> began by being more objective, more scientific and more truthful. We began by distributing 40,000, or 50,000 or 60,000 copies and we made a name for ourselves in Beijing. At the time, the voices of the Beijing media were very much silenced. The official newspapers were filled with lies, exaggerations, empty talk and clichés. The publication of <Yanhuang Chunqiu> encouraged many people. A group of old cadres such as Li Pu, Zeng Liuxiu, Wu Xiang and others all joined the staff at <Yanhuang Chunqiu>.
Q: What objectives did you seek when you started publication?
A: The objectives of the publication were truth, fairness, objectivity and science. The core is about seeking the truth. We want to seek the truth for events and people. But it is not enough to seek the truth, for we also have to be daring. When we find the truth, we achieve understanding. But if we don't dare to express our understanding, it is useless. Conversely, to be courageous without any understanding or awareness of the truth is blind.
<Yanhuang Chunqiu> covers a lot of areas. The Chinese people have lived for several thousand years across tens of thousands of square miles in area. The magazine has to be diversified. Therefore, <Yanhuang Chunqiu> has to be very broad. So <Yanhuang Chunqiu> started at a relatively high level. We needed to be objective, we needed to be fair to people and events, we needed to withstand the test of history and we needed to be accepted by the people.
For example, when we speak about the history of the Party and the army, we could only talk about the First Army but not the Fourth Army. Actually, the Fourth Army won many victories under the leadership of Zhang Guotao. But the First Army was led by Mao Zedong. As for the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, we could say that Li Dazhao was then succeeded by Mao Zedong. The historical truth was not like that, because Chen Duxiu made a lot of contributions. Nowadays, Chen Duxiu and Zhang Mintian are not mentioned. <Yanhuang Chunqiu> was started in order to say something fair. Of course, that carries certain risks.
Q: Supposedly, there was trouble with the first issue?
A: Yes, Li Rui wrote an essay about Mao Zedong in his student days. That was because the author was Li Rui. Around the June 4th incident, the Central Publicity Department and certain central government departments considered him to be a representative of the dissidents. Du Runsheng and Li Chang were too. After the anti-liberalization campaign, they were rejected to be re-registered as Chinese Communist Party members. Ultimately, it took Chen Yun to speak up on their behalf.
They would not allow an essay by Li Rui to be published, even though there was nothing wrong with the essay itself. It was because of "Li Rui." I insisted on publishing the essay by Li Rui. Just to be on the safe side, I asked Li Rui to use a pen name. Li Rui said, "Fine. You can use the pen name 'Angry Howl'." How can that pen name be used?
Other people did not agree with publishing Li Rui's essay. I went to consult Xiao Ke. Xiao Ke said: "Just publish it! If someone has an issue afterwards, you just reply: 'This essay was reviewed and approved by Xiao Ke. If you have an issue, please call Xiao Ke. I can give you Xiao Ke's telephone number right now.'" It was so hard to even publish one essay.
Q: After being in business for so many years, how many times has <Yanhuang Chunqiu> gotten into "trouble" or been "criticized"?
A: Seven or eight times. In April 2003, it was four years after Hu Yaobang's death. The name Hu Yaobang had disappeared from Chinese media two or three years after the June 4th incident. "Hu Yaobang" was a taboo zone. Anyone who mentioned "Hu Yaobang" was in trouble (but the punishment was usually sneaky and never done in the open). When someone mentions Hu Yaobang, he will receive a telephone call from a leader in the supervisory department to say that the essay must not be published, although this leader would not divulge his identity.
On the fourth anniversary of Hu Yaobang's death, I thought that <Yanhuang Chunqiu> ought to say something. So I invited a writer to write a commemorative essay of Hu Yaobang. The essay was written but the superiors said that it cannot be published. So I came up with an idea. On the second page of the magazine, I published seven or eight photographs of Hu Yaobang and let an editor write a free-form poem to commemorate Hu Yaobang. Someone asked whether this should be submitted for review. I said no, because there would be trouble. The magazine issue was published and it caused a stir. The supervisory leader said, "You've caused trouble again. All the undistributed copies should be destroyed immediately." At the time, I was out of town on business. I said: "Ignore that. This cannot be changed. If there is trouble afterwards, I will deal with it." Later on, that leader told me that he had acted out of goodwill. But when the supervisory leader speaks up like that, it is scary.
Q: <Yanhuang Chunqiu> published three or four more essays to commemorate Hu Yaobang. Was there any trouble?
A: The feedback after publishing the commemoration of Hu Yaobang was good, so we thought about continuing the series of essays about Hu Yaobang. His contributions were greatest about using truth as the standard of deciding debates, the vindication of wrongfully convicted cases and entrepreneurship at the household level. We selected two reporters to gather the information and they wanted to consult the files and archives of the party organization. So they sought out the Party Organization leader Lu Feng. He said: "I am not going to tell you what to write or not to write. But the Central Party organization will not cooperate You may not access the archival materials."
A month later, I refused to give up. I located Dai Huang, who was a special correspondent at Xinhua on Party internal issues. He was both talented as well as courageous. He said that he has been wanting to write about Hu Yaobang and he already had some materials on hand. He wrote an essay of 16,0000 to 17,000 words very quickly. There were some 'thorns' in his essay and I revised it three or four times. The publication of this essay caused a stir. Afterwards, many old cadres wrote commemorative essays of Hu Yaobang. They also wrote commemorations and recollections about Zhang Mintian, Liu Shaoqi, Peng Dehuai and others. It was 1993 and there were still many taboos. In 2005, before the commemorative assembly for Hu Yaobang, <Yanhuang Chunqiu> published eleven essays that commemorated Hu Yaobang. A telephone call came from the Central Publicity Department about the number of copies that were printed. We said around 50,000 copies. They said that this issue was banned. We replied: "The copies have almost been completely distributed. There are only about 5,000 copies left." They said, "Then put those 5,000 copies on hold."
Q: So you were banned ultimately?
A: On the next day, I wrote a letter to Hu Jintao. There were only 360 words in it. I said:" The Party Central's assessment of the life of Hu Yaobang was based upon the funeral oration and it has not changed since. None of the essays published in <Yanhuang Chunqiu> have gone past this boundary. I do not understand why the Central Publicity Department is saying that these essays have violated the rules of the Party Central. I understand that you are a very busy person who has to deal with many things every day. But I have to appeal to you."
Half a month after the letter was sent out, the Party Central called for a commemorative meeting on the 90th anniversary of the birthday of Hu Yaobang. I was there personally. The Central Publicity Department then called me. They did not admit that they were wrong. They only said that this affair was over. Also, Hu Qili wrote a special essay for us to commemorate Hu Yaobang. It was very moderate without a single troublesome word. When <China Youth Daily> saw that essay, they called to ask for permission to re-publish it. I said that a good essay should be published anytime, without any regard to re-publishing issues. So they did it immediately. Afterwards the Central Publicity Department went after them. They complained, "How come the same essay was trouble at China Youth Daily but not at <Yanhuang Chunqiu>?" The Central Publicity Department replied, "You've got your problems and <Yanhuang Chunqiu> have their own problems." Ultimately, <Yanhuang Chunqiu> did not encounter any problems over this.
Q: Why were you relieved of their duty as the director of the General Administration of Press and Publications?
A: It was Zhao Ziyang who asked me to re-organize the General Administration of Press and Publications. After I formed my cabinet, I wanted to establish new regulations for the press and publications. I organized a team of several dozens of people to discuss the press regulations and we ran through six drafts. The principal obstacle was about whether private entities should be allowed to operate newspapers. I became the director of the General Administration of Press and Publications on May 19, 1987. I was relieved of my duty in July 1989, principally due to the June 4th incident. When I was relieved, the party central organization sent someone to the General Administration of Press and Publications to call for a meeting of department-level cadre leaders. The party organization representative announced at the meeting: "The decision and directive of the Party is clear that Comrade Du Daozheng is very determined and effective when he implements policies. But as a veteran Party cadre, he does not work hard when the Party's decisions are unclear." So they did not say that I was wrong; they only said that I did not "work hard."
Q: How is the business situation at Yanhuang Chunqiu?
A: The magazine has been in business for 16 to 17 years. We have not asked the state for one cent. We relied completely on ourselves. We are just some old cadres. We received no subsidies the first year. In the second year, I and Fang Shi each subsidized 40 yuan per month while Xu Kong subsidized 70 yuan. At the start, old general Xiao Ke came to the<Yanhuang Chunqiu> office and saw that we had no tea leaves. So he immediately asked someone to purchase two liang of tea leaves. The Political Department director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saw that the magazine lacked office furniture and immediately carted over five used desks from the military quarters. Two of those desks were still pasted with big-character wall posters left over from the Cultural Revolution era. The envelopes that we use at<Yanhuang Chunqiu> came from taking old used envelopes and flipping them inside out. When we started, we used half a basement as our office. Today, the office is rented for a total of 120,000 yuan per year.
Q: How are your circulation figures?
A: Old people like us don't know how to manage advertising. So we rely principally on distribution. We only know how to organize for articles to be written and published. The readers of <Yanhuang Chunqiu> are almost all old cadres and intellectuals. At first, the circulation was more than 40,000. The circulation has reached its highest right now at more than 60,000. Over the years, there is a slow growth in circulation.
In January, the increase was very high. The Post Office distribution alone was 3,149 copies more. In February, there were 2,200 copies more. In March, there were 200 plus copies more. In April, there were 400 plus copies more. In May, there were 520 copies more. The wages for magazine workers are not high. They are here mainly for an ideal. The deputy publisher Wu Si has an offer from a university at 6,000 to 7,000 yuan per month with a relocation fee of 250,000 yuan. He turned it down. His monthly wages at <Yanhuang Chunqiu> is only 2,000 to 3,000 yuan per month.
Q: Over the more than ten years as the publisher of <Yanhuang Chunqiu>, what are your strongest feelings?
A: <Yanhuang Chunqiu> has been able to trudge along. It can only be said to have some determination and quality to seek the truth and accept responsibility. I often tell people to remember Lin Zexu's couplet: "If you care about the nation, you should be prepare to die; how can you avoid it because it is bad for you?" I used to be very leftist. I have gone through three major political events: the Anti-Rightist campaign, the Cultural Revolution and the June 4th incident. I am now retired from my leadership post. I have a big group of old friends. We are all reflecting about what we have done right or wrong in those bygone days.
There is no future of China if we should ever retreat. But we do not have the ability to take giant steps forward. We have to move forward "in slow steps." Under the leadership of the Party Central and the central government, we should purposefully, regularly and systematically move forward. We will begin by increasing democratic mechanisms within the party such as expanding plurality elections. We will open up supervision by public opinion at least to the stage about how the central government/party dealt with media criticisms at the time when I left my post (as director of General Administration of Press and Publications): "When I criticize you, I don't need your permission. When I express my opinion, I will be responsible with respect to the truth." That would be good enough. This gives the media a great deal of power and it protects the media. Presently, officials at certain central government departments lack the self-confidence and they are afraid of trouble when things are opened up. They do not trust that the people and the intellectuals really support this Party in their hearts.
Q: It is a miracle that <Yanhuang Chunqiu> is still standing on its feet. How do you grasp the political handle?
A: It is necessary to be careful and meticulous. You need the courage to speak the truth and accept the consequences. When we first got started, I brought up the five "No's": We will not publish anything that touches on state secrets; we will not publish anything on foreign diplomacy; we will not publish anything on religion; we will not publish anything on ethnic minorities; and so on. Later, I brought up the new five "No's": we will not discuss the multi-party political system; we will not discuss the nationalization of the military; we will not mention the independence of the three powers; we will not mention the FLG; etc.
Of course, the more important thing is that the party and the state as well as democracy and legal system are all progressing in the overall scheme of things. From the experience of <Yanhuang Chunqiu>, we must say that we were treated leniently.
I am an optimist. Democratic rule is a global trend that cannot be stopped. The economic foundation of China has undergone a revolutionary structural transformation. There are more than 60 million intellectuals in China with university education or higher. Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao do not have the political 'capital' of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping back then. Mao Zedong had been wrong, but he was able to continue because he had the capital to do so. Hu and Wen need to be more humble and careful, because they need the understanding and support of the people.