Trouble at Yanhuang Chunqiu

A sudden reshuffling of top editors at China’s leading liberal journal is the latest sign of unrelenting pressure on more outspoken media

Yanhuang Chunqiu’s founder and publisher, Du Daozheng, a leading reform figure within the Chinese Communist Party.

Yanhuang Chunqiu, a monthly journal known for its candid discussion of Chinese history and politics, is facing a shakeup of its top editorial leadership after a sudden notice Wednesday from its “sponsoring institution,” the government-linked partner giving it licence to publish. This latest action — the third major convulsion at the journal since 2014 — is part of a sustained push to subdue an influential voice with strong backing from Party reformers.

A July 12, 2016, notice from the Chinese National Academy of Arts lists out new senior editorial appointments at Yanhuang Chunqiu journal.

In a notice dated July 12, the Chinese National Academy of Arts, which sponsors Yanhuang Chunqiu but has not been directly involved in its financial or editorial affairs, said it was replacing the journal’s publisher, Duo Daozheng (杜导正), along with its editor-in-chief, deputy chief editor and other senior staff.

In an open letter yesterday, Yanhuang Chunqiu said the notice was a clear, unilateral violation of a December 2014 agreement with the academy, which gives the journal full control of editorial, personnel and financial matters. “Our journal has sought legal representation,” said the letter, “and is bringing a lawsuit against the academy.”

Du Daozheng, 93, is regarded as one of China’s most outspoken Party insiders in the reform camp. Before founding Yanhuang Chunqiu in 1991, Du was head of the General Administration of Press and Publication, the agency in charge of regulating print media. Du was also instrumental in the preparation of the memoirs of former Premier Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳), who was ousted during the crackdown on the 1989 democracy movement.

Yanhuang Chunqiu has long enjoyed the support of a number of prominent Party elders, including Li Rui (李锐), the former deputy director of the CCP’s Organisation Department and a staunch advocate of political reform. Also among the journal’s supporters was the communist revolutionary and political leader Xi Zhongxun (习仲勋), the father of current President Xi Jinping.

Yanhuang Chunqiu is pretty decent,” read a dedication included in the January 2001 edition of the journal, accompanied by a photo of the elder Xi.

A message of support for Yanhuang Chunqiu, written by Xi Zhongxun, appears in the January 2011 edition of the journal.

Close by was a hopeful and insistent New Year’s message calling for “active and steady political reform.

“What do we mean by active?” the journal said. “As political reform lags behind, power has no checks and balances; official corruption in China has reached a point where society can no longer bear it, and it has become a societal cancer that pains the entire population.”

Yanhuang Chunqiu has faced constant pressure since Xi Jinping came to power, making anti-corruption a signature goal even as he rejected deeper political reform.

Yang Jisheng (杨继绳), a veteran Xinhua News Agency reporter and author of Tombstone, an investigation of China’s Great Famine, was forced to resign his post as editor-in-chief of the journal in July 2015. This followed the departure in September 2014 of the previous editor-in-chief, author and political theorist Wu Si (吴思).

In an open letter addressing his departure, Yang Jisheng revealed that he was pressured into quitting by three senior officials from Xinhua News Agency “on grounds of Party discipline” — meaning the concerns were political. As Yang said, the mission of the journal was to tell the truth about history, and “those who fear the truth inescapably feel a tinge of terror.” Concerning the origin of the shakedown within China’s power structure, Yang would only say cryptically of the visit from Xinhua officials: “Clearly, this was not just a signal from Xinhua’s Party leadership group.”

Like the earlier pressure on Yang Jisheng, this latest move is almost certainly a reflection of the mood at more senior levels.

This is a story to watch. But for now, here is a translation of the open letter from Yanhuang Chunqiu.

On July 13, 2016, our publication’s sponsoring institution, the Chinese National Academy of Arts, delivered to our offices a “Notice Concerning Duties and Appointments at Yanhuang Chunqiu Journal,” informing us that the “Contract Between the Chinese Academy of Arts and Yanhuang Chunqiu,” signed on December 18, 2014, was null and void. Concerning this matter, our statement is as follows.

(1) The “Contract Between the Chinese Academy of Arts and Yanhuang Chunqiu” clearly stipulates that our journal has the right to make personnel appointment decisions, control over financial affairs, and the right to make publishing decisions (发稿自主权). Both sides stamped and sealed [the agreement], and it has legal force. Our publisher and legal representative, Duo Daozheng (杜导正), and the staff of the journal hired by Du Daozheng, will defend the seriousness and validity of this agreement and defend their own rights and interests, including the right to employment and compensation at the journal, and they object to this unilateral termination of contract. Our journal has sought legal representation and is bringing a lawsuit against the academy.

(2) The Chinese Academy of Arts has unilaterally terminated the contract, and has sent people to the editorial department of our journal in violation of contract stipulations, disturbing our normal operations. These actions amount fact to a stripping of basic working conditions for the editing and publication of the journal, and the legal rights and interests of our subscribers and readers have therefore also been violated. We cannot as a result ensure that the August 2016 edition of Yanhuang Chunqiu will be published on time, and we ask our subscribers and readers to understand and to forgive us.

(3) Yanhuang Chunqiu supports the policy of “governing the nation according to law” (依法治国) of the Party’s Central Committee under the leadership of Xi Jinping. In the 25 years since our journal was launched, we have worked hard to propagate the line and policies of the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the CCP [the meeting in December 1978 that launched opening and reform], and we have earned a favourable reputation. Lately, under the unusual actions of our sponsoring institution, we face an impasse. We sincerely entreat our readers, our writers and people from various corners of society to pay attention to this matter.

Yanhuang Chunqiu journal

July 14, 2016