In a nation where censorship is a fact of life, the newspaper staff's brazenness has stunned many observers. The event's quick transformation from an
editorial spat into a national-wide political campaign is also remarkable. Together, they are evidence of the public's growing impatience with the state's
draconian control of their private lives, and their increasing willingness to find reasons to seek redress for their grievances.
For a long time, journalists at Southern Weekend, a relatively liberal voice in the Chinese media sphere, have managed to maintain a functional,
if uneasy, coexistence with censors. Each article goes through four rounds of scrutiny -- by the reporter, the editor, the managing editor and the
editor-in-chief -- before it reaches a group of final "reviewers," mostly retired party-loyal journalists deployed by the state to serve as the newspaper's
handlers. To avoid riling the handlers, the paper's staff has over the years learned to exercise their own judgment in navigating the censorship minefield.
Although the task of self-censorship has left them disgruntled, by and large they have acquiesced, knowing that the compromises were crucial to the
The censors' most recent meddling with the New Year's Greetings, however, appears to have been the last straw. More than anything else, it has trampled
upon the newspaper's sense of journalistic integrity, already weakened through more subtle methods of censorship.
"It is our view that Minister Tuo Zhen's actions overstep the bounds," wrote a number of former Southern Weekend journalists in an open letter,
according to a translation provided by China Media Project. "They are dictatorial ... they are ignorant and
"The New Year Greetings is like the face of our publication, and this is a slap in the face," as one journalist -- who left Southern Weekend last
year after a 10-year stint and who prefers not to be named -- told me. "If you keep putting up with things like this, how can you live among other media
professionals in the industry?"
If the journalists' anger has led to open letters and a strike, it has led them to conduct some soul-searching among themselves: what have they done, or
failed to do, that allowed such things to happen?
"We are like frogs being slowly cooked in warm water," the former Southern Weekend journalist told me. "We were perishing slowly without knowing
it, until this bowl of boiling water was dumped on us."
"All these years, people like us have seen our articles killed and our voices silenced, and we've started to get used to it. We started to make compromises
and to censor ourselves," reflected Lin Tianhong, a Chinese journalist at Renwu magazine, in a message that had been reposted over 5,000 times.
"We've gone too far, as if we have forgotten why we had chosen this industry to begin with."