One of China’s most highly-regarded magazines, run by one of its most prominent journalists has taken the highly unusual step of speaking out about government censorship of its work.
On Tuesday, Caixin published an article on its English-language website claiming that the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) had ordered the removal of a March 3rd interview published on its Chinese-language website that centered around the issue of free speech, with the CAC stating that the article contained “illegal content.”
In the now-harmonized interview, Caixin quoted Jiang Hong, a Shanghai academic and CPPCC member, who argued that government advisers such as himself should be free to give their opinions to Communist Party leaders. He added that “certain events” had led to attendees at this week’s political meetings in Beijing “not wanting to talk too much,” The New York Times reports.
Caixin headlined its English language article “Story about Adviser’s Free Speech Comments Removed from Caixin Website” and illustrated it with a photograph of a mouth taped shut. They also interviewed Jiang once again who called the censorship “terrible and bewildering” and said that after examining the article he “couldn’t find anything illegal.” On its Twitter, Caixin even claimed that its interview about free speech had made Chinese censors “jittery.”
Both the article on its English-language website and the tweet have since been taken down.
This all comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s high-profile visits to state media outlets last month, and his declarations that all media must be “surnamed Party” so they can give “correct guidance of public opinion” by “singing the main theme, transmitting positive energy.” Influential Weibo celebrity and former tycoon Ren Zhiqiang had his personal Weibo account shut down by censors after criticizing Xi’s treatment of state media in a post. Yesterday, the South China Morning Post also had all its various Chinese microblogging accounts taken down.
Caixin has an established reputation as one of the most independent Chinese media outlets and is often considered to be given more leeway than most state-run publications in reporting on sensitive matters. Over a decades-long career Caixin editor Hu Shuli has become one of China’s most respected journalists with a reputation for going just as far as state censors will allow, but no further. In a 2005 interview with The New York Times she famously said: “We go up to the line — and we might even push it. But we never cross it.”
It would seem that Hu is once again skirting that line by publishing the article going after Chinese censors on Caixin’s English-language website, rather than on its Chinese-language one.
Still, it is not clear what kind of punishment Caixin will receive for this editorial decision. David Bandurski, an editor at the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong, told The Guardian that it is hard to know what will happen considering the current media climate in China.
“This could end with the removing of the piece and a stern warning,” he said. “[But] we are kind of throwing our assumptions out of the window with Xi Jinping.”