Court Rejects Lawsuit From Besieged Liberal Journal

Last week, senior staff at the reformist journal were replaced by its supervising organization, the Chinese National Academy of Arts, an organ of the . Other domestic media were ordered not to report or comment on the reshuffle, which former editor Wu Si described as “a big setback” for “reformists, and those who support moderate democracy.” On Sunday, the journal issued a statement announcing its own closure in light of the Academy’s intervention, occupation of its offices, and seizure of website management passwords. Some hope remained, however, in the form of a planned lawsuit against the Academy for breaching a written guarantee of editorial and financial autonomy.

On Friday, South China Morning Post’s Minnie Chan reports, a Beijing court rejected Yanhuang Chunqiu’s lawsuit:

Beijing-based lawyer , who is one of two lawyers representing the magazine, saidthe case they filed one week ago in Chaoyang District Court, was turned down with no reason given. “The court refused to give us a reason in black and white, which we can use as a legal statement to appeal to an intermediate court,” Mo said.

“Their ambiguity indicated that the case, which is a simple case involving contract disputes between Yanhuang Chunqiu and its contract party, was interfered with by some external factors.”

[…] After negotiations, the district court agreed to send a presiding judge on Monday to meet the lawyers and explain the reasons for rejecting the suit, Mo said.

If the presiding judge still refused to issue a legal statement explaining the rationale, Mo said they would complain to the leadership of the district court. [Source]

The Associated Press’ Gerry Shih had previously reported on ousted publisher Du Daozheng’s pessimism regarding the lawsuit’s chances:

Although the magazine’s former staffers filed a lawsuit last week to regain control, Du said he announced the publication’s suspension because he feared new issues would go out to its 190,000 subscribers under government control without his approval. He struck a weary note as he considered the likelihood of taking back the magazine.

“I don’t think we will pass this final obstacle,” Du said in an interview this week at his Beijing home. “In 25 years we’ve had differences and clashes with authorities, but we’ve always scraped by. Both sides talked and made earnest concessions. “This time it feels very different. It feels disrespectful of law. It feels crude. It feels violent.”

[…] On an afternoon this week the magazine’s editorial offices were locked and its building empty except for two people who sat in a reception area. A woman who identified herself as a Ministry of Culture employee said she could not answer questions, then closed the door.

Although staffers could not work, top editors have pledged to try to resume normal operations at another location, said deputy editor Wang Yanjun, speaking by telephone from home.

He spoke optimistically about the lawsuit, saying: “We place more trust in Xi’s vow to govern the country according to law.” [Source]

The New York Times’ Kiki Zhao also spoke to Du:

“As a cadre, a Communist Party member, I absolutely can’t understand this. It resembles methods used in the Cultural Revolution,” said Mr. Du, who once oversaw the General Administration of Press and Publication, a state regulatory agency. “Does this mean that we, the Communist Party, want another Cultural Revolution?”

[…] In an interview in 2009, Mr. Du said, “I am old enough and tough enough that if there is any pressure from the government, I can hold on here.”

But this time is different, he said on Tuesday.

[…] Mr. Du, 93, said he suspected the academy might have moved against the journal when it did because he was hospitalized for high blood pressure after the death of his wife of 68 years last month. He returned home from the hospital on Tuesday morning.

“This is so low,’’ he said. “To some extent, this is inhumane and is taking advantage of my misfortune.”

[…] He said that he had contacted several people he hoped could intervene on behalf of the journal but that those efforts had been unsuccessful so far. “Ministerial-level officials I asked — I don’t know why they’re not willing to say something,” he said. “They’re shying away.” [Source]

This latest and possibly last assault on Yanhuang Chunqiu appears to reflect both the erosion of its traditional support base among aging Party reformists and the ongoing narrowing of permitted political discourse. From Reuters’ Ben Blanchard and Benjamin Kang Lim:

The magazine’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, told Reuters the party had clearly decided it had had enough of the magazine.

“It is the only magazine that speaks the truth,” Mo said. “They don’t want the magazine to exist anymore.”

[…] The party has tried to shut the magazine 19 times in the past 25 years, one of its editors told Reuters, seeking anonymity because the situation is sensitive. [Oiwan Lam summed up recent pressures on the journal and its staff at Global Voices.]

It escaped closure last year after Xi intervened, a source with ties to the leadership told Reuters, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Yanhuang Chunqiu’s old comrades are not anti-party,” the source quoted Xi as saying, referring to the publisher and his team. [Source]

Another report from South China Morning Post similarly cited Du’s belief that the reshuffle must have been ordered from a higher level than the Academy, but below Xi himself.

While Xi may not personally have had a hand in the journal’s apparent demise, the chilling of the political climate under his rule has been widely blamed. Authorities have issued insistent calls for unity behind him, while banning “improper discussion” of central policy among Party members. Verna Yu explains this context at The Diplomat:

Analysts say the heavy-handed tactics against Yanhuang Chunqiu indicate that the authorities are no longer tolerant of reformist and liberal views within the party.

[…] Since Xi assumed power in 2012, official ideology has taken a conservative turn and his government launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent. Hundreds of activists, rights lawyers, journalists, and social commentators have been detained or arrested on subversion or public security charges.

[…] One of the seven taboo issues listed in an internal party document called Document No 9 was “” — which effectively bans any versions of other than the official one. A senior official at the Central Party School this month railed against “historical nihilism,” quoting Xi as having said that “hostile forces” like to use historical issues to “attack, smear and slander” the country.

Public discussion and publication on the dark side of party history such as the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the anti-rightist movement in 1957 that sent intellectuals to hard labor, and the Great Famine (1958-1961) remain mostly banned in China, but Yanhuang Chunqiu repeatedly carried articles on historical issues like these, believing that reflections on past mistakes would help steer the country back on the reformist path.

“I feel very hurt and sad. In the past 25 years, my friends and I were just trying to do something good for the party and the country,” said Du despondently. “We’ve tried our best and have a clear conscience… but I can’t do much any more.” [Source]