The Thirteen Word Advertisement In Chengdu Evening News

(New Century Media)  A Veteran Chengdu Evening News Worker Discusses The "Thirteen Word Advertisement".  By Tie Liu (铁流).  June 11, 2007.

[in translation]

I am a veteran worker at Chengdu Evening News and therefore I have the right to comment on the matter in which "a thirteen word advertisement that is the size of a cigarette" appeared on the bottom right corner of page 14 of Chengdu Evening News on June 4th.  

"Salute to the strong mothers of the victims of 64!"

My purpose is let the readers and those who care about this affair to recognize the truth and not propagate untruths and rumors.  For this purpose, it is necessary first to understand the business and operational models of mainland Chinese newspapers as well as the facts in this particular case.

There are three types of newspapers in mainland China today.  First, there are the party newspapers and publications that are subsidized by the party, including <People's Daily> and the other official organs.  The expenses for these publications are completely covered by the state, their reporters and editors are state public servants and all their published articles are subjected to a rigorous and flawless system of review. 

Second, there are the publications which are not subsidized by the state but their principal workers are appointed by the party organization.  Most of the other workers are hired through labor contracts that pay very good wages.  But the workers do not have the status of government public servants.  The state does not offer any subsidies to these publications.  On the contrary, at the end of each year, each publication has to turn in a fixed profit revenue to the state (either the supervisory department or the newspaper group to which the newspaper belongs).  All the evening newspapers in the cities are like that.  Chengdu Evening News belongs to the Chengdu Newspaper Group, which is directly managed by the Chengdu city government's publicity department.

Third, there are the departmental and industrial newspapers.  The state does not provide any funding and they are not included in the organizational system.  These departments and industries are often too poor to operate a newspaper, so the newspaper is usually "out-sourced" by renting out the publication permit although the contents have to be reviewed in order to manage the political direction.  At present, an official periodical charges only about 500,000 to 800,000 yuan per year from the outsourced supplier.  So these are not considered mainstream media and they are not considered to be significant players.

Before 2000, Chengdu Evening News was a party organ for the Chengdu City party committee.  The chief editor was a member of the city party committee.  Following the reform of the newspaper system and the establishment of the newspaper group, the Chengdu City party committee restored the original Chengdu Daily News and built the Chengdu Newspaper Group around it, which incorporated the Chengdu Commercial News that was garnering 200 to 300 million yuan in annual advertisement revenues from government and businesses.  It also demoted Chengdu Evening News to an urban economic newspaper inside the group.  So even though Chengdu Daily News was losing money, the Chengdu Newspaper Group had two other economic powerhouses that made it into a formidable newspaper group that is engaged in multiple businesses.  While the calls for "separation of party and government" and "separation of politics and economics" have been going for many years, they cannot be separated in practice.

Now that we understand the operational system for newspapers in mainland China, let us now talk about the incident of the "thirteen word advertisement that appeared in the bottom right of page 14."  Ten years ago, the Chinese periodicals were establishing their own advertising agencies in order to generate revenue.  The existing advertising agencies within the system were often ineffective, so they out-sourced their advertising pages to various small and large advertising agencies that have broad social presence.  In legalese, these are known as "business representatives."

Chengdu Evening News picks up about 100 million yuan in advertising revenue each year.  It has sold its advertising pages to various advertising agencies that are licensed to operate.  The present problem occurred with the advertising agency and not with the Chengdu Evening News editorial staff.  The advertising agency usually typesets the advertisements and submits the page to the advertising department of Chengdu Evening News.  The advertising department composes the page and sends it to printing plant.  Before publication, the page editor signs off and the chief editor on duty also gives the final approval.

But we can all imagine how likely that a chief editor or a page editor could be looking at "a thirteen word advertisement that is the size of a cigarette" in the context of a newspaper that has thirty-two pages each day (sometimes expanded to 48 pages).

According to my information, as soon as this advertisement appeared, someone reported to the relevant Beijing authorities immediately.  The event was also reported in the overseas websites.  That shocked the provincial and city government leaders and they immediately dispatched people to Chengdu Evening News to investigate.  On that evening, executive chief editor Li Xiaojun, the page editor and the advertising manager were all suspended from their jobs temporarily.  Mister Li Xiaojun joined the newspapers as an intern in 1980.  I met him when I worked at the newspaper.  He was sincere and professional.  After more than twenty years, he arose from an intern to the executive deputy chief editor position, and that is not easy!  It is uncertain whether he will be able to keep his job.  That person who bought the advertisement has not been located by the public security department as yet.

From the process how the whole affair unfolded, this was a planned "prank."  This "prank" reflected the public opinion of the Chinese people in terms of its deep sympathy for the victims of June 4th and respect for the mothers who lost children.  The most thorough way to resolve this problem is for the Chinese authorities to recognize history and look it squarely.  They should "vindicate" the victims of June 4th and not to assign political responsibility for "a thirteen word advertisement that is the size of a cigarette."  If they want an investigation, they should investigate who were the butchers who suppressed the students!  They cannot invert the priorities and create new incidents.  As a veteran of Chengdu Evening News, I call for the authorities to restore the jobs of Li Xiaojun and others.  Furthermore, they should not go after the principal who started this incident.  To use a common saying in China: "A pile of feces sitting there does not stink much unless you stir it up."

It is so sad for China.  The Chinese Communist are so vulnerable that they are afraid of "a thirteen word advertisement that is the size of a cigarette."  They are even more afraid of the voices of old people like us trying to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Anti-Rightist Campaign.  Can a history written in blood be purged and forgotten?  The people in charge of compiling dictionaries have a huge problem.  Six cannot be placed next to four, rightists cannot be mentioned and the Cultural Revolution cannot be reported.  If all the disasters in history are not allowed to be mentioned, then can this still be called a nation?  The value of history is that it can be handed down, which meant that memory is essential.  Presently, the Chinese authorities are most afraid that the people should have memories.  What can this idiotic action possibly achieve?  This is the most fantastic of fantasies!  Here I can use the two lines of poetry from Liu Yuxi (刘禹锡).

A thousand sails go past the sunken boat,
A thousand trees bloom in front of the ailing tree.

Spring will come eventually.