The “New Year’s Greetings” incident


Was it just a bump in the road or was it a turning point in the history of censorship in China? The future will tell, but the journalists at the Guangzhou-based weekly Nanfang Zhoumo (南方周末) have clearly waged a heroic battle against the authorities’ attempts to silence them.

A courageous New Year editorial calling for constitutional reforms in China was to have been published on their magazine’s front page on 3 January but a zealous Propaganda Department official decided to censor it and replace with something he wrote.

Free speech defenders have been protesting on online social networks ever since. Tens of thousands of messages of support have been posted on the micro-blogging site Weibo by journalists and anonymous citizens. And if speech is in the process of freeing itself in the Middle Kingdom, what will become of the Communist Party’s propaganda and cant?

WeFightCensorship is posting the uncensored versions of the Nanfang Zhoumo editorial.

This is how it all began. Every New Year, the leading political newspapers publish a political editorial in the form of New Year’s greetings to their readers. Nanfang Zhoumo invited one of its most senior journalists, Dai Zhiyong (戴志勇), to draft this year’s message.

Zhiyong drafted an editorial entitled “The Chinese dream, the dream of constitutionalism” (中国梦, 宪政梦), calling for the protection of civil rights and for checks on the authorities in China. After discussion with the rest of the staff and the local propaganda office, the editorial was changed. It still called for respect for civil rights but the headline was changed to “Dreams are the promises of what should be done” (梦想是我们对应然之事的承诺).

A third version was nonetheless published in the 3 January issue. Tuo Zhen (庹震), the head of propaganda in the Guandong region, the region where Nanfang Zhoumo is published, rewrote the second version without telling the newspaper’s journalists, who discovered the new version at the same time as their readers. It removed all the critical content, added an introductory paragraph and retitled it “Let’s pursue our dream” (追梦).

Censorship is not new in China but the method used in what is now known as the “New Year’s Greetings” incident is unprecedented. It was the first time that a propaganda official took it upon himself to change an article without telling the newspaper concerned.

Given the enormity of the affair, reactions came thick and fast. Already on 3 January, people were posting the various versions of the editorial on Weibo, pointing out the differences between the original version and the modified one.

The authorities reacted by trying to delete all messages mentioning the New Year’s Greetings affair but it was already out in the open and more and more messages of support were being posted online.

On 4 January, a group of journalists who used to work for the weekly posted an open letter online describing Tuo Zhen as a “bureaucratic tyrant” who stifled the vitality of the Chinese media. On 6 January, a second open letter signed by some of Nanfang Zhoumo’s journalists called for Tuo Zhen’s resignation. In a desperate attempt to end the controversy, Nanfang Zhoumo publisher Huang Can posted a message on the weekly’s official Weibo account claiming that the editorial had not been doctored by propaganda officials.

致读者:本报1月3日新年特刊所刊发的新年献词,系本报编辑配合专题“追梦”撰写,特刊封面导言系本报一负责人草拟,网上有关传言不实。由于时间仓促,工作疏忽,文中存在差错,我们就此向广大读者致歉

Far from defusing tempers, his micro-blog post just added fuel to the flames, and the messages in support of the newspaper’s journalists became even more numerous.

According to the Tea Leaf Nation website:

  • The University of Sun Yat Sen posted an open letter on 6 January.
  • The blogger Han Han condemned the pressure that Chinese writers have to endure.
  • The actress Yao Chen, a social network star, posted the Nanfang Zhoumo logo on her account together with the Solzhenitsyn quote: “A word of truth weighs more than the entire world.”
  • The blogger Li Chengpeng wrote: “We don’t need big buildings, we need a newspaper that tells the truth. We don’t need a fleet of aircraft carriers, we need a newspaper that tells the truth.”

According to estimates on Weibo, 29 activists have been interrogated by the police for expressing their support for Nanfang Zhoumo and some are still detained.

We are posting translations of passages from the first two versions of the editorial together with the complete text of the first two versions in the original Chinese. Please contact us if you are willing to translate the editorials below in English.

The Chinese dream, the dream of constitutionalism (passage from the first version of the editorial)

Only if constitutionalism is realized and power effectively checked can citizens voice their criticisms of power loudly and confidently, and only then can every person believe in their hearts that they are free to live their own lives. Only then can we build a truly free and strong nation. . .

The Chinese dream, the dream of constitutionalism

Source: China Media Project

Dreams are the promises of what should be done (passage from the second version of the editorial)

We hope that our Constitution cuts its teeth, that our Constitution can be realized [in practice] someday soon. This is the only way this ancient nation of ours can complete is arduous transition; this is the only way our nation and its people can stand strong once again on firm ground. We have already today a China where one can dream. And this is an age already in which dreams can be grasped.

We passed through the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution, and we have spent more than 30 years gradually returning to reason and sense . . .

We came anew to a realization of what is real, what is deception, seeing right as right and wrong as wrong. Our love of justice was rekindled. . .

More than 170 years ago, we began our gradual awakening from the lunacy of [feudal] imperial rule. We faced defeat, first at the hands of Britain, then at the hands of Japan . . . With the Xinhai Revolution the rule of the Qing fell, and our forebears built Asia’s first republic. But a free, democratic and prosperous China under constitutional rule never followed. Instead, wars raged inside and outside our country; cruelty and suffering came unceasing. . .

Today, we dream not only of material prosperity, but even more of spiritual abundance; we dream not only that our country can be strong, but even more that the people of our country can enjoy dignity. . .

Only if constitutionalism is realized and [civil] rights preserved can the hearts of the people gleam like the sun and moon. . . Only then can the “urban police” (城管) joke cheerfully with small-time peddlers. Only then can our own homes truly become our castles . . .

Only if constitutionalism is realized and power effectively checked can citizens voice their criticisms of power loudly and confidently, and only then can every person believe in their hearts that they are free to live their own lives. Only then can we build a truly free and strong nation. . .

Dreams are the promises of what should be done

Source: China Media Project

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