Mo Zhixu on the Crackdown of the Southern Media Group

On 27 January, Chang Ping, one of the most respected and independent-minded journalist in China, was sacked from his job at the Southern Media Group. He was not alone. Two other prominent journalists, Li Wenkai, opinion page editor at the Southern Metropolis Daily, and Peng Xiaoyun, chief editor of Time Weekly’s opinion section, respectively faced involuntary transfer and leave. As a recent report at Asia Sentinel put it, it may signal a new round of crackdown on liberal forces in China’s media.

In a recent blog post, prominent writer Mo Zhixu examined the political context behind the crackdown, specifically focusing on the Southern Media Group. The so-called Southern family of papers usually refers to papers under the group, which include the Southern Weekend, Southern Metropolis Daily, 21st Century Business Herald and Southern People Weekly. The group, which originates from Guangzhou, then at the forefront of reform, is known for its liberal stance even though it is an official Communist Party newspaper group. But apart from this core group of papers, Mo pointed to the wider significance of the Southern Media Group:

More broadly speaking, the Southern Media Group is the result of recent years of expansion. Because of Southern Media’s collaborations with Beijing News (新京报) and Yunnan’s Information Times (信息时报), these newspapers’ ideological missions are close to that of Southern Media. Perhaps there exists a more abstract ‘Southern family’. Because of the group’s success, its former professionals are targets of recruitment by other new media. These people are now widely scattered in various new ventures, and carry with them the same spiritual consensus.

It is difficult to define the spirits and values of the South Media Group and its professionals. But generally speaking, it includes: affirmation of market economy, globalization, rule of law, human rights and universal values, and the promotion of political reforms. In essence, there are two main points: political reforms, and responding to the demand of rights by the newly emerging social class.

His key thesis was that it was not the Southern Media Group becoming more aggressive, but the diminishing space of political reform which makes the group more conspicuous as a dissenting force within the system:

We should say that most of the opinions [from the Southern Media Group] do not exceed the official stance or touch the red line. In fact, for a time these opinions were promoted officially in order to effect political reforms and to respond to the demands of the emerging social class. Recognizing that the South Media Group is part of the system, the objective of advocating reforms and responding to new demands is in fact to inject new energies and to prolong the life of the current system.

However, the Southern Media Group is increasingly seen as a dissenting force within the system. Deng Xiaoping’s ‘two basic points’ are upheld, and China’s economic development is not accompanied by corresponding political change. In this context, the fruits of economic development are transferred by the system to vested interests. This creates a symbiotic relationship between the system and the vested interests, and develops a trend of conservative thoughts. The goal of this conservatism is to maintain the current network of interests though the rejection of any fundamental changes.

It is the strengthening of this network of vested interests and the natural ideological alliance of the Southern Media Group with the emerging social class which makes the group an obvious target of suppression:

China’s economic and social developments lead to the emergence of a new social class, which is demanding their fair share of rights and interests, and a change to the current establishment. The onset of marketization, globalization and informatization also bestows them with new tools to challenge the system. This is shown by the increasingly numerous rights defense and protest actions, and the demanding of rights in the media and internet. Although these challenges still cannot effect any fundamental change in the system, they are picking up steam.

As a result, because of its continuous advocacy on reforms, the Southern Media Group is seen as a dissident force within the system, and a part of the emerging challenge of the new social class. It needs to be suppressed. In a system which emphasizes stability and resists any great change, the Southern Media Group has no choice but to support the status quo and the existing network of interests. Hence the purges.

Therefore, the attacks on the South Media Group come from political reality – defending the existing network of interests and denial of any reforms in the name of stability. From this angle, the firing of Chang Ping and transfer of Li Wenkai are subtle psychological incidents. They indicate that even advocates of reform within the system will not be tolerated.

0 thoughts on “Mo Zhixu on the Crackdown of the Southern Media Group”

  1. It looks like the whole “financial freedom brings political freedom” theory is finally starting to take some form. Not sure how far will the new nonpolitical middle class will go in order to change the system though.

    The timing of the sacks is interesting. Probably related to what is happening in mideast.


  2. Here’s a reference:

    A year later, an independent German reporter investigated and found Falun Gong’s accusation to be fasle, politicians jumped on this accusation unchecked, and DW acted hastely in sacking Zhang and her boss, Matthias von Hein, who backed her work.

    So what, as powerless emerging social class, Zhang and Von Hein’s career now remain ruined.


  3. Andy, just as I suspected, this story is not so simplistic as you or the Guardian would like us to believe. It’s not the Chinese government, rather free and unchecked public debate that eventually caused the personale change.

    Baidu this article titled “Southern Metropolis Turning Into Representative Of anti-China Media Force” (南方都市报正在蜕变成反华媒体反华势力的国内代表人) and see the current around it.

    Appearantly, after Chang Ping wrote an OpEd in Financial Times Chinese edition on the Tibet riot, many Chinese netters were unhappy with his criticism of rampant nationalism in China, felt he used it as deflection for appearant Western media bias. Debate ensued in the forums (凯迪网-pro, 中华网-con) and it snowballed from there. Here’s a fairly succint summmary:


    “The Tibet bloodshed elicited Chang Ping’s article, Chang Ping’s article elicited huge debate on Zhonghua Web and Caidi Web, this is the so called “Southern Metropolis Incident”. The whole thing evolved around Chang Ping’s patriotism, that’s it. last night friends asked to write in favor of Chang Ping and Southern Metropolis, in light of Southern Metropolis’ rare independent “voice” in China. Right now “voices” and many Chinese are heartedly anti-spearatism. No matter who you are, as long as you don’t criticize Tibetan “rioters”, don’t praise the authority’s suppression – you are accessary to spliting up China. This tall hat naturally cause people’s quill to quiver.”

    Compare this with what happened at DW cited previousely, I see a lot of parallel. Attributing this simply to “crack down”, yet ingores the complexity that simiarly exists in Chinese society, all seems to serve no purpose other than to enforce an “official narrative” of China that is far from the truth.


  4. I disagree that this is some kind of crackdown rather the problem is that this journalist probably did or said which irked many Chinese netizens.

    Some of the American journalists that reminded me of Chang Pang is Helen Thomas when she said some insensitive remarks about Jews being the source of the problem of the Middle East. I mean what she said was certainly a source of debate, but nobody in the mainstream media would mention it.

    A more recent incident involved Nir Rosen who made described Lara Logan as a ‘warmonger’ after she was ‘sexually assaulted.’

    People who make wrong statements in the wrong time are bound to be put under a bus, whether he/she is a Western or Chinese journalist.


  5. Some of the Deutsche Welle’s critics had connections with Falun Gong (which is no crime in Germany), others had no such connections. For a more comprehensive picture of the case, this link starts with my latest post, and ends with the oldest one of 2008. Chasl’s assertion that Zhang had been fired isn’t correct.


  6. Custer, so you don’t know what happened with the other two people, so it’s automatically crack down or some nefarious government action?

    Come on, you got to do better than this China FUD. Baidu there names and scan the results.

    Here, according to an article on Qianlong Web’s society page titled “Chronicle of Souther Metropolis Chang Ping War of Words” (“南都长平论战”始末), this is not the first time the papaer garnered backlack from the public.

    Appearantly during the Asia Games, another reporter, Zhang Shaozhou, wrote an article “Chongqing Is One Messed Up City”, which enraged tens of thousands of Chongqing netters. Zhang and the paper issued an appology, but Chang Ping and few others at Southern Metropolis broke rank and issued a scathing reply, labeling the angry readers “Online Taiping Boxers”, “Rememant Poison from Cultural Revolution”.

    There, the story is more nuianced and more actors are involved. I for one am automatically suspecious of our media’s manipulation and propagation of “official narrative” on China. The simplisitic, overly visceral trigger words like “crack down” are usually red flag.


  7. “I for one am automatically suspecious (sic) of our media’s manipulation and propagation of “official narrative” on China.”

    Yet you suck up anything the PRC pumps out or treat the rantings of fenqing on any subject as more believable than insiders’ accounts.

    I don’t think a PRC shill should be using “our media” unless referring to Communist Party publications.


  8. Just read the bits about Zhang Danhong, interesting stuff.

    Isn’t the whole point of news to inform people? It’s one thing to say that China fabricated news, it’s another trying to get someone fired for being too “pro-China”. For one, in Germany how far can you go to punish a journalist for being too “anti-China”?

    That China lifted hundreds of million out of poverty from 1980s to early 2000s is fairly widely known. I think it was originally published by a World Bank study. To not inform the public of the accomplishments of the Chinese government only misleads the Western audience when interpreting the people who are not anti-government (they are often labeled as pro-government). If it had not done so already, maybe the Voice of Germany should have given a platform for people to reason to discredit the study itself, but that the Germany government jumped on the chance to persecute someone for speaking to standard research is hypocrisy at its best. The folks who criticize China for persecuting reporters who don’t speak the “official line” are the same people who are calling to silence others they don’t like.

    Of course, it’s little wonder that Germany people for the most part are overwhelmingly hateful towards China as reflected by the PEW global surveys.


  9. “I don’t think a PRC shill should be using “our media” unless referring to Communist Party publications.”

    Who cares if someone is pro-China or anti-China as long as the he/she is speaking the truth? Attacking the premise and use it as a pretext to mock the messenger is one thing, but wasting posts engaging in pure ad hominem attacks seem to be the only thing the China-bashers are fond of doing nowadays. The hypocrites criticize China for being too thin skinned about any unfavorable news but then are acting exactly like China when it comes to anything favorable to China.


  10. Once again, neither Zhang Danhong nor von Hein were fired. Both of them have, however, switched departments. The Chinese press maintained that they had been sacked (see the link I gave further above in this tread, on February 19, 2011 at 16:21), and they also fail to point out that Mrs Zhang only got into real hot water professionally after she had conducted an interview with herself. An intern had to take the role of the reporter asking the questions Mrs Zhang had mapped out previously. She’s now working with the station’s economic editors, and I’d say that her employer has shown a lot of patience.

    One more thing: the Voice of Germany has a public mandate. It is therefore legitimate that politicians and the public take a particular interest in its work. No commercial / privately-owned broadcaster or newspaper would face similar scrutiny.

    I think Chasl and lolz are parading pretty selective perceptions here – no wonder that they get mad when they suspect others of similar flaws. Experts, I believe, refer to this as projection.


  11. Um, not everyone in the Southern Media Group story were fired either. Two of the editors that backed Chang were transfered, just like Von Hein.

    However if the complaint is “involuntary transfer”, I think the same complaint should also apply to Von Hein.

    Ignoring the nuances of the case in China while highlighting it in the DW case seem duplicitous to me.


  12. “I think Chasl and lolz are parading pretty selective perceptions here – no wonder that they get mad when they suspect others of similar flaws. Experts, I believe, refer to this as projection.”

    Huh? Was it not a fact that people were trying to get Zhang Danhong fired for mentioning World’ Bank’s report on China lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty? In words, didn’t a group of people, who happens to be anti-China, made efforts to censor someone who made comments which were perceived to be pro-China in Germany?

    The case for “selective perception” could be made about me if I somehow don’t recognize the fact that the Chinese government is out to censor journalists who are perceived to be anti-China. My stance is that in the case of Zhang Danhong is that in their attempts to punish Zhang Danhong, the anti-China critics are engaging in a tactic not unlike what Chinese government is doing to censor the journalists China doesn’t like.

    I suggest “justrecently” to re-read what I wrote and stop pretending to smarter than he/she actually is.


  13. Fine, Chasl. And did the Southern Media Group editors use an intern to conduct an interview with questions prescripted by themselves? Von Hein only got into the firing line after Zhang Danhong had published that interview, still under his watch.
    I think you are blinding yourself – which is fine with me. But I won’t try to pull your hands off your eyes. Before things get farcial, I’ll just leave judgment to the general readership here.
    I’m glad that lolz starts realizing that there were tries to get Zhang Danhong fired, but that those tries weren’t successful after all. That’s an encouraging bit of progress. Next step: he could try to see the difference between certain groups within society to get people fired, and a one-party government to do that same thing – no matter if their decisions affect state-owned, or privately-owned media.

    And yes – the perceptions of these two gentlemen is willfully selective. My post about the Deutsche Welle‘s Chinese Service’s acquittal was good enough to be used in an argument – and the link I provided for a bigger picture hasn’t even been read.
    To re-read would be good advice – to lolz himself.


  14. “I’m glad that lolz starts realizing that there were tries to get Zhang Danhong fired, but that those tries weren’t successful after all.”

    No shit? I haven’t complained about Zhang’s firing at all, I was complaining about people wanting to get her fired for her beliefs from the very beginning. Apparently “justrecently” has still not read my earlier posts, or read it but fell to the victim of “selective perception” himself/herself. He probably thought that I believed Zhang was fired, not because of what I wrote but because he projected that’s what I would write.

    “Next step: he could try to see the difference between certain groups within society to get people fired, and a one-party government to do that same thing ”

    This is the discussion I was actually looking forward to: what is the difference to the listener of these radio programs? The anti-China groups in Germany are obviously very powerful. Zhang Danhong was not fired but she was removed from her position and her capacity to broadcast to the masses has been diminished, all this because she dared to broadcast a view which the anti-China group didn’t like. How is that any different from Chinese government forcing reporters they don’t like to say, take a vacation for year rather than an outright firing? The end result is exactly same: The audience gets only one side of the story, the side which one party prefers others only to hear. Now from what I have read in his blog so far, “justrecently” was arguing for the differences in policy. In theory, voices perceived to be “pro-China” maybe heard in Germany whereas voices perceived to be “anti-China” are to silenced in China. This is the easiest part to understand and I agree with this. However, in reality voices which are “pro-China” are clearly under pressure in Germany for their views and as result some people do have fears to express their thoughts. Clearly, the censorship is much worse in China, however this does not excuse the hypocrisy by the anti-China groups in Germany who criticize China’s attempts at censorship, but then on attempting to censoring others in Germany.

    “And yes – the perceptions of these two gentlemen is willfully selective. ”

    Example please? I am still waiting to see what I wrote which would indicate some kind of cognitive bias. If anything, “justrecently” writings about me is full of his own projections.


  15. I haven’t complained about Zhang’s firing at all

    I’m sometimes lumping you and Charles together, lolz. That’s not selective, that’s integrative, as your message is identical.

    Read some more details about the Zhang Danhong affair, lolz – I’m not going to repeat everything here; my link given on February 19, 2011 at 16:21 is my offer to you. Whatever Zhang’s critics demanded – her story goes way beyond that, and has a lot to do with utterances by herself, such as suggesting that, after all, “child pornography is filtered in Germany, too”.

    Yes, your perceptions are selective, lolz.

    “Online Taiping Boxers”, “Rememant Poison from Cultural Revolution”

    Is it this what you are referring to? German tabloids like to “insult” readers too – especially those who won’t be regular readers, so as not to spoil business. Nothing that would strike me. I read the entire threads here, but if you think there are points of yours I should react to in particular, this is my suggestion: name the top-three of them.

    However, in reality voices which are “pro-China” are clearly under pressure in Germany for their views and as result some people do have fears to express their thoughts.

    Besides the story about the Voice of Germany itself, you haven’t brought up anything yet that would even constitute evidence, for this theory of yours, lolz. Can you elaborate?


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