The Death of a News Censor

David Bandurski rounds up journalists’ tributes to Southern Weekly’s former “news examiner” Zeng Li, whose blogging played an important role in January’s uproar over heavy-handed censorship by higher-level propaganda authorities. Zeng died on Wednesday, days after retiring. From China Media Project:

In a pointed reminder of the complex relationship between control and its subversion in China’s media, many professional journalists today mourned the passing of Zeng Li (曾礼), affectionately known as “Old Zeng,” a man who served as a “content examiner” (审读员) at Southern Weekly but also played a crucial role in the paper’s fight against overbearing censorship policies earlier this year.

[…] Journalists, writers and others took to Chinese social media, chatrooms and other forums to remember Zeng Li, his character and his contributions. They also widely circulated a copy of Zeng’s farewell letter, in which he looked back fondly but with some remorse on his time at Southern Weekly:

Looking back on these four years, I know I did things I shouldn’t have done, that I killed reports that I shouldn’t have killed, that I removed content I shouldn’t have removed. But in the end I had an awakening, preferring not to carry out my political mission, refusing to go against my conscience and to become a criminal of history.

The full letter is available (in Chinese) at CMP. At South China Morning Post, Patrick Boehler gave more details on Zeng’s role in January’s events, along with further praise from scholars and writers.

“This letter is surely an important document in China’s history,” Ma Yong, sociologist and history scholar at the Academy of Social Sciences wrote after Zeng’s passing.

“He used to be an in-house censor for Southern Weekly, he was entangled, but justice always dominated his mind,” wrote Li Chengpeng, a prominent writer. “When this thing happened some time ago, he behaved beautifully. Now that he’s gone, he will continue to edit this country in heaven.”

“He showed the strength of character and dauntlessness typical of a Southern Weekly newsman,” wrote Qian Gang, a former managing editor of the newspaper and now a scholar at the University of Hong Kong. “Everyone has a choice.”

Committee to Protect Journalists Asia Program coordinator Bob Dietz also noted Zeng’s passing on the organization’s blog.


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