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The Fate of Press Freedom in China’s Era of ‘Reform and Opening up’:  An Interview With Chang Ping

December 15, 2016

Yaxue Cao spoke with Chang Ping in Toronto on December 2, 2016.




YC: You used to be the director of the news department of the famed Southern Weekly and a columnist there, and you belong to a community of journalists who distinguished themselves in the 25 years of “market-oriented” media that coincided with the period of soaring economic development from early 1990s until recently. I’ve been wanting to hear your story, because I sensed that your trajectory as a journalist has also been the trajectory of China’s “market-oriented media.” So I’m very happy to see you. First of all, congratulations on receiving the CJFE International Press Freedom Award. They made a great choice.

Chang Ping: Thank you.

YC: I knew you were a 1989er, but I only learned yesterday, from watching the CJFE video, that you were detained for a month after the June 4th Massacre. Tell us a bit about your experience in 1989. Where were you?

Chang Ping: I was a sophomore at Sichuan University, majoring in Chinese Literature. In Chengdu, as in Beijing, college students took to the streets to protest, staged hunger strikes in the public square downtown, and held dialogues with the provincial government. I was involved in organizing some of these activities. After the crackdown, I was detained for a month and severely disciplined.

YC: How did you become a journalist?

Chang Ping: I wanted to be a novelist, and never thought much about journalism. I didn’t have a job after the June 4th protest, nor did I care for a career in the system. I stumbled on my first media job by accident: in Chengdu, a boss and I, just two of us, started a business intelligence magazine. That was 1991, the year before Deng Xiaoping’s Southern Tour. With scissors and glue, I cut out what I thought was useful business information and arranged it in categories such as policy, law, overseas information, etc. Back then it was still hot metal typesetting, and I had to go to the factory to set the characters with workers. In Chengdu region, small and medium businesses really needed that kind of information. Very soon we had a lot of subscribers. I had first-hand knowledge that, before Deng’s Southern Tour, the commercial impetus at the bottom half of society was already bubbling up. So for me, it wasn’t a surprise at all when, in 1992, the economy kickstarted after Deng’s tour. I also edited a book with the title “The Swelling Commercial Tides.”   

After a while I quit the magazine and wrote short stories that were published in a journal called Young Writers. Some were recommended to the then-famous literary magazine Harvest. An editor asked me to revise my story, but I was so proud back then that I told him I wouldn’t change a word. At the same time I also compiled historical storybooks for young readers.

After 1992, the government began to push for market reforms. Some government-owned publications were outsourced. I leased a paper called Market Herald (《市场导报》), I was the deputy editor-in-chief, but the de facto editor-in-chief. But I loved reporting on everyday life, so I went out and wrote about, for example, Chengdu’s river channel improvement project, the living conditions of the blind, etc. The paper wasn’t making any money, so after two months it couldn’t go on. Right around that time, Chengdu Commercial Daily (《成都商报》)  was founded by He Huazhang (何华章), and I joined as part of the earliest team, in charge of social reporting. Later I also edited the front page, and was one of the editorial managers.

Chengdu Commercial Daily pursued a vernacular style. Our reports, even some headlines, were written in everyday Sichuan dialect. When reporting the annual Two Sessions in Beijing, all newspapers had the same headlines as the People’s Daily, something like “The National People’s Congress Solemnly Opens in Beijing,” while our headline was simply, “NPC Held Meeting.” We were criticized for being not serious.

YC: Indeed, revolt often begins from aesthetics and taste.

Chang Ping: Chengdu Commercial Daily was an immediate success and made a lot of money. A year later, the municipal Party propaganda department took it into their hands as their own cultural achievement. Later, the paper formed a media group by consolidating with the Chengdu Evening News, which had been the leading paper of the city, a radio station, a TV station, and literary magazines, and was listed on China’s stock exchanges.

As Chengdu Commercial Daily became more and more mainstream, meaning more and more like the Party’s mouthpieces, my difference with other editors widened. I remember in early 1998 when the rock singer Cui Jian (崔健) issued “The Power of the Powerless,” I sent a reporter in Beijing to interview Cui and he talked about the difficulty of revolt. The propaganda department was very unhappy about it and chided me harshly. My commentaries were also criticized for “promoting a capitalist view of the press.”     

Another event was the death of Deng Xiaoping in 1997. We had never experienced anything like that and didn’t know how to report it. But all Chinese held the wisdom that you can’t mess around with this, and you must do whatever People’s Daily does. You have to use the standard script issued by Xinhua News — but how do we design the page? We studied how papers reported Mao Zedong’s death, what font and what size of font were used for headlines. As the Party’s mouthpiece in Sichuan, the Sichuan Daily had no pressure; they simply waited for the phototypesetting of People’s Daily that was sent to all over the country — at that point it was phototypesetting printing. Our pressure came from the market. We wanted to publish early. So the editor-in-chief came up with an idea. He went to the printing factory and cheated out the phototypesetting of the People’s Daily. The next day, Chengdu Commercial Daily was the first paper in the city with the news. We were so happy about our cleverness!

About a week later, I saw a weekend paper from Guangzhou. On the left it was a large photo of Deng Xiaoping, on the right the headline was simply “Mr. Deng Passed Away.” The text below was also Xinhua’s standard announcement, the same as everyone else. I was rather shocked: what we thought was creative and smart was really nothing; we were just toadying.

I didn’t want to stay in Chengdu anymore. I met with Shen Hao (沈灏), the news director of Southern Weekly (《南方周末》), who was in Chengdu on business. He wanted me to join the rising Southern Weekly. So I did.

YC: Shen Hao was sentenced to four years in prison last year and paraded on CCTV giving “self-confessions.”  

Chang Ping: He Huazhang has also been also detained. He was working at Sichuan People’s Publishing House in 1989. His career stalled because he joined the protests. He left the state system to found Chengdu Commercial Daily. The success of the paper catapulted him to hero status in China’s market reforms. He returned to government and became head of the municipal Party propaganda department and deputy mayor. He was taken into custody by the CCDI, the Party’s disciplinary committee, following the fall of Zhou Yongkang (周永康). He’s been in detention for a year or two already without trial. Many Party officials are in the same situation: no legal procedures are applied to them, and there’s no news reporting on them.

YC: Southern Weekly attracted a lot of young and idealistic reporters.

Chang Ping: At Southern Weekly, I reported on local government corruption, and environmental degradation. In 1998, there were floods across China. Jiang Zemin (江泽民) and Zhu Rongji (朱镕基) stood in the Yangtze River and reporting abounded. Southern Weekly made a plan to investigate the cause of the flood along the Yangtze River, beginning from the Tibetan plateau. Most of our series were observations: deforestation and soil erosion. I wrote similar things too, but I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to look for stories. In Barkam (马尔康), northern Sichuan, I found a tree feller who had been honored for years as a model feller. He told me, “Now I feel the flood has something to do with me.” I wrote a report titled “The Last Model Feller,” because my sense was that there would be no more model fellers anymore, and it was a big success.    

But soon Southern Weekly was “rectified.” Shen Hao was removed, and columnist Yan Lieshan (鄢烈山) and editor Cao Xihong (曹西弘) were censored.

YC: Why the rectification?

Chang Ping: Shen Hao organized a lot of reporting on the dark side of society — for example, publishing illustration of the varieties of torture police used to extract confessions. Yan Lieshan was an essayist well known for incisive criticism. Cao Xihong was the first to investigate the dark secrets of the railway and communication industries that the state monopolized.

After the rectification, I was appointed first the deputy director, and then the director, of the news department. I was responsible for news planning, page layout, and the deployment of reporters and editors. I also edited the front page, the Reporter’s Observations page, and the investigations page. Almost every weekend, I’d go out for stories, and I reported on judicial corruption, pollution, women’s rights, gay rights, and more.  

At the time we tried to record changes in Chinese society using methods from anthropology and sociology. For example, we chose a village, a township, and a street in the heartland, the West, and the coast respectively — our plan was to revisit the same place at the end of every year for ten years to record its changes. I was forced to leave Southern Weekly three years later, but the editors and reporters continued and completed the plan. Ten years later, they published a book titled Here and There: A Report on the Transformation of Grassroots China (《这儿与那儿:中国转型期基层调查》).

YC: I’ll find that and take a look.

Chang Ping: I’ve always wanted to be an independent voice. At that time the majority of the journalists and commentators with dissenting views went about it by latching their own ideas onto those already in the air. For instance they’d take the “Three Represents” (三个代表) and try to explain the positive aspect of the theory, and then add in their own understanding: “Only by moving towards democracy, rule of law, and liberty will the will of the people be truly represented.” But I look at things differently. I am extremely sensitive to language. Words are not just a means of expression, they are the expression in and of itself. So if you even use “Three Represents” or similar slogans, you’re doing propaganda for it, no matter how much you try to smuggle in your own stuff. Also with Falun Gong — we were required to write about it as a political task, but we stubbornly resisted. We basically didn’t do any reports, whether good or bad. I got accused by some people of “rejecting the mainstream.”

In the spring of 2001 there was the case of Zhang Jun (张君), who for a while was a notorious triad boss. He robbed banks, killed cops, and had a record throughout Hubei, Hunan, and Chongqing, and of course had numerous mistresses. It had all the ingredients of a Hollywood movie. He was caught by Chongqing Public Security Bureau led by Wen Qiang (文强). In a photo, Wen had him on the ground, one foot on his face, and announced: “Zhang Jun is under my foot.” Wen Qiang, of course, was later executed by Bo Xilai (薄熙来) for protecting the mafia.

YC: And then Bo Xilai was himself jailed by Xi Jinping. In the Communist Party’s autocratic politics, anyone in the system can just be peeled off like a layer of cabbage — no one’s safe. Who’s to say that, in a few year’s time, Xi Jinping won’t be the one in jail?

Chang Ping: The capture of Zhang Jun was a big grand achievement for Chongqing public security — a chance for them to really bignote and back-slap themselves. They organized a lot of interviews, and a CCTV crew also went to interview Zhang Jun face-to-face in the detention center. I was mulling over how we should cover the case at Southern Weekly. Media around the country were running the story front page every day, and we were a weekly publication, so we were already a bit behind. I sent journalists to write a piece about how Zhang Jun grew up. It was titled: “Exploring the Zhang Jun Case: The Rise of a Brutal Syndicate” (《张君案检讨 – 一个极端暴力集团的成长》). It traced the story of how a simple village kid who left home to become a migrant worker in the end became the head of a triad group. It also scrutinized the operations of China’s criminal justice organs. As Zhang Jun himself put it, every time he entered prison, he came out worse. The article sent shockwaves through Hunan and Chongqing. Party bosses there wrote a letter to the Central Propaganda Department, saying Southern Weekly could even turn such a monumental achievement of law enforcement into a smear against socialism, against rural policies, and against the public security agencies.

In the autumn of 2001 Southern Weekly was “rectified” once again, after four articles we published were specifically called out and criticized. Editors and journalists were moved on and sacked. One of the four was the Zhang Jun investigation, and of the other three, one was about a cemetery for Red Guards who died in the Cultural Revolution, called “A Chongqing Cemetery Buries the Cultural Revolution’s Young Warriors” (《青春墓地埋葬重庆文革武斗》). Another was about a massive explosion in the city of Shijiazhuang, where the censors thought we’d just reported too many details. The last was a commentary about the situation in the Middle East, which made the key point that dictatorship is the source of turmoil in that region.

After those four articles were specifically named as problematic, I was removed, the editor-in-chief Jiang Yiping (江艺平) was transferred, and the deputy editor-in-chief was also transferred out. That was also the biggest turning point for Southern Weekly. I was transferred to be the deputy general manager of the circulation department — so I hadn’t actually been fired. They gave me a job title and salary, but no work.

YC: So it was just about two years after the previous “rectification.”

Chang Ping: Right. It was a time when independent voices won an unprecedented level of prestige for Southern Weekly, and it brought so much space for the imagination in freedom of speech and political reform in China. The paper also became a model that journalists and editors around China aspired to emulate. Many pro-reform scholars and lawyers were also very supportive. But it was all along also a target of repression.

YC: How many pages was the newspaper then?

Chang Ping: At the beginning it was 8, then we doubled, and then went to 24 pages. Sometimes we also added pages, and there were also experimental pages. On the professional side, Southern Weekly was really at the vanguard for trying new things, and it brought together so many people in the industry who had ideals, in particular many brilliant writers in the field. Our reports were very carefully done, and the writing was always well-crafted. Layout was exceptional, too — when I became the director of news, I put a lot of energy into photography and page design.

I left soon after I lost my editorial position. CCTV had just begun a new channel, 12, and I was invited to be the editor of a talk show. I did that for two months, so I gained some understanding of CCTV. But I simply couldn’t stand the culture there. I had to get out. In 2002, with friends from Chengdu and Guangzhou, we founded The Bund (《外滩画报》) in Shanghai. Shanghai is a city with extremely strict ideological controls — there’s a certain lifelessness about it. We hoped to inject some vitality into the place, but from the beginning we were put under strict monitoring and control. We hardly had space to operate. In 2003 I accepted an offer from the University of California, Berkeley, for a one year visiting scholarship. After I returned I went back to The Bund as deputy chief editor. In 2005 the propaganda department was unhappy with the job our official supervisor, the Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House (上海文艺出版社), was doing keeping us in line, and they forced them to sell us to the Wenhui Xinmin United Press Group (文新集团). They didn’t want to buy, and we didn’t want to sell, but the deal went through regardless.

YC: It sounds similar to what happened recently with Yanhuang Chunqiu.

Chang Ping: Right. The Bund is still around, though it’s now turned into a fashion magazine. In 2005 I returned to Guangzhou and rejoined the Southern Group, running Southern Metropolis Weekly (《南都周刊》) as the deputy chief editor in charge of daily operations.

Southern Metropolis Weekly is a magazine of urbanized China — it focuses on civil society, the environment, women’s rights, and issues related to rights movements, ideas, culture, and so on. It’s relatively moderate in tone compared to Southern Weekly, but it’s still been hit with a lot of criticism by the authorities.

In the midst of all this, I also started writing a syndicated column, commenting on current affairs and culture. In April 2008 I published a commentary in the Chinese version of Financial Times titled: “Tibet: Nationalist Sentiment and the Truth” (《“西藏:真相与民族主义情绪”》). This was after the March 14 unrest in Tibet, where official media failed to carry any substantial reports, while social media and a number of websites let loose with a barrage of criticism against CNN, BBC, and other foreign media, accusing them of false reporting. In the piece, I wrote that if their concerns were really about news values, they shouldn’t be exclusively focused on exposing the misreporting of the Western press, but should also be calling into question the information found in the Chinese media, and the strict controls over the press in China. The latter deals far greater damage to the media environment than the former, the column argued. I also suggested that the narrow-minded Han nationalism common in China should be carefully examined. That article stirred up a tempest, and websites like China Online, KDnet, Utopia, and a few other Han nationalist sites pinned it on top of the page, and went into overdrive hyping it up. Just a single one of these forum posts got several hundred thousand hits, with tens of thousands of comments, most of them attacking me. Some people even threatened that they’d harm me and my family.

At the time too there was a Duke University student, Grace Wang (王千源), who during a campus demonstration was accused of supporting Tibetan independence. She was attacked by Chinese students at Duke, and her parents in China were attacked too. Her parents had to move into a hotel for their own safety, after attackers left feces at their door.

Beijing Evening News (《北京晚报》) took the rare step of publishing an article directly attacking me, called “Chang Ping Is a Rumormonger” (《造谣自由的南都长平》). The author, Mei Ninghua (梅宁华), writing under the pseudonym “Pen Spear” (文锋) was the president of Beijing Daily [the official mouthpiece of the Beijing municipal propaganda department]. His article caused an uproar. This dispute was the opening volley in a five year-long running debate about universal values, which Xi Jinping shut down in 2013.

Because of this I was again removed from my post, and prohibited from doing any work in the newsroom. They transferred me to the Southern Media Group’s research institute. But I kept writing columns for Southern Weekly and Southern Metropolis Daily (《南方都市报》). After six months those columns were also brought to a halt. They told me that if I agreed to stop writing, I might be able to keep my job. I refused, and kept publishing current affairs commentary in other outlets. At the end of 2010 the propaganda department demanded that the Southern Media Group completely cut off all association with me.

Newspapers, websites, and publishing houses around the country were from that point on prohibited from publishing or printing my articles or books, and websites were ordered to delete my previously-published articles and author information. At that point I had a large number of readers, and a lot of websites syndicated my blog, even real estate websites carried my column. It wasn’t me updating them. I saw myself disappearing from the internet before my own eyes — they weren’t only not publishing me, but erasing my existence. For a while, it was hard to even find my name online.

YC: It’s terrifying when you think about it. As long as they want to do it, they can make someone disappear. They can also make history, or reality, disappear. Even a journalist such as yourself can turn into such a nightmare for them, so much so that they want to expunge you completely.

When the wave of arrests in spring 2011 took place during the so-called Jasmine Revolution, what were you doing?

Chang Ping: I was a visiting scholar at Hong Kong Baptist University, and like a lot of mainlanders who came to Hong Kong to study, I went home on the weekends. Someone said to me at one point: You shouldn’t go back. Apart from writing my columns, I don’t do anything else — so should I follow this instruction and not go home? I didn’t want to be intimidated. It just so happened that right at that time I received an invitation to go to France for a forum. A number of others, including Yu Hua (余华), Zhan Jiang (展江), and Yu Jianrong (于建嵘), also participated. When I was in Paris, police in China came to my home to arrest me.

When I went back I remained in Hong Kong and helped found iSun Affairs (《阳光时务》.)

YC: iSun Affairs was a publication with serious ambition, and it brought together so many talented people, including yourself and Cheng Yizhong (程益中), who also worked for years in the Southern newspapers. iSun’s reporting on Wukan (乌坎), in particular, left a deep impression on me. You were chief editor at the time, but a lot of people may not realize that you were in Germany and had turned your schedule upside-down to work remotely. What happened there?

Chang Ping: I never expected it, but the Hong Kong government dragged out the approval of my work visa for two years (and in the end, rather than say that they  had “rejected” it, they simply said that they “were no longer processing it.”) They came up with all sorts of reasons for investigating me, including an absurd attempt to establish whether or not I had taught illegally when I was a visiting scholar at Hong Kong Baptist University. As soon as they did this, it was clear that I couldn’t return to mainland China. With a PRC passport I could stay in Hong Kong for seven days at a time, so every weekend I flew to neighboring countries for “vacation,” including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Cambodia. After two months of that, Hong Kong immigration personnel told me that I couldn’t stay in Hong Kong like that — I would have to return to China or else the next time I arrived, there’d be trouble. So I never went back. After I received an invitation from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, I went from Cambodia to Germany.

Thanks to the support of my Hong Kong colleagues, I was able to stay on as the chief editor of iSun Affairs, working from Germany, for the next two years. But it also was extremely difficult, and the magazine was banned in China. In the end, we parted ways. I stayed in Germany and continued writing commentary for publications in Germany, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and continued to address the Chinese authorities’ repression.

YC: So in that case you haven’t been able to return to China since 2011. iSun Affairs had to shut down after a little over a year; one of the main investors, Chen Ping (陈平), was violently attacked in Hong Kong, Cheng Yizhong relocated to the United States, and you went to Germany. Later you wrote a column for Deutsche Welle and South China Morning Post, and got into an intense debate with another Deutsche Welle columnist, Frank Sieren, about the June 4 massacre. After SCMP was sold to Jack Ma, they immediately shut down your column. Earlier this year when the letters urging Xi Jinping to resign came out, your family in China was harassed.

Of course, the storied Southern Weekly is no more after the “Southern Weekly Incident” in January 2013. A great experiment has ended. 

In 1999 “Southern Weekly” published a very famous New Year’s dedication, titled “There is a power that moves us to tears,” which said in part: “May the powerless be empowered, and may the dispirited continue forward.” This line inspired a generation of aspiring media figures. Now in 2016, press freedom in China has not only failed to progress, but has regressed dramatically. Please share some final thoughts for our interview today.

Chang Ping: Many years ago we were very optimistic. At that time I believed that every step made in the news field would promote progress in Chinese society, and that every word we wrote contained power — even if it could only be measured in milligrams. Looking back now, I often feel quite dejected. China is going backwards in so many areas. But I have never doubted the value of fighting for freedom of expression. Even if there’s no tomorrow, we still need justice today. It’s just as I put it in my acceptance speech for this award in Toronto: freedom of expression is not merely necessary for all other freedoms, but speech itself is freedom.

I made the following line the signature for my blog and social media accounts for many years: “If criticism is not free, praise is meaningless.” A friend and I translated it from  the French: “Sans la liberté de blamer, il n’est point d’éloge flatteur.” It became popular and widely quoted in China, and made many people come to see how meaningless the Chinese government’s self-flattery is once it has gone around crushing all dissenting views. It makes us also see the value of critique, which was the goal of my being in the news and commentary field for so long. Now, I could disappear, but these ideas are already deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of the Chinese people.



Chang Ping (长平) lives in Germany. Follow him on Twitter @chang_ping

Yaxue Cao (曹雅学) edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao




China’s ‘Freedom’ Cage, by Chang Ping, 2015.

‘Speech Is Freedom Itself’ – Chang Ping’s Acceptance Speech for the CJFE 2016 International Press Freedom Award, December 1, 2016

The Virus of Censorship, by Cheng Yizhong, 2012.




‘Speech Is Freedom Itself’ – Chang Ping’s Acceptance Speech for the CJFE 2016 International Press Freedom Award

Chang Ping, December 1, 2016

From the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression website: “Chang Ping is one of China’s best-known journalists who reports on political issues. He writes about sensitive topics including democracy, media censorship, the failures of government policy and Tibet. He is the winner of the International Press Freedom Award. This award recognizes the outstanding courage of journalists who work at great personal risk and against enormous odds so that the news media remain free. Establishing himself in the 1990s, he first reported from Guangzhou. As censorship has tightened in China, Chang’s pleas for transparency and accountability have put him under a political spotlight. In 2011, while working as the editor-in-chief at the now-suspended weekly magazine iSun Affairs in Hong Kong, [Chang Ping] was denied a work permit and forced to live in exile in Germany with his family. He remains there today and his columns and books are banned in the country.” — The Editors


Chang Ping 致辞.JPG

Chang Ping accepting the award in Toronto on December 1. Photo: China Change


Thank you, thank you, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression — and thank you everyone!

I am honored and certainly very happy to be here — but at the same time, I can’t really say that I am. When a Chinese citizen receives an award outside China, I don’t know whether he or she should be happy or worried. It could bring punishment to the recipient and his or her family. In China, a foreign award is often described as sugar-coated poison which should be firmly rejected, because the foreigners always have an agenda, usually a plot to overthrow the Chinese government.

What’s maddening is that it’s been so long and the foreigners still haven’t succeeded in implementing this plot.  

Freedom, peace, human rights, democracy, constitutionalism, independence, civil society… these are frightening words that have sent some of China’s most courageous men and women to jail: Wang Bingzhang (王炳章), Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), Ilham Tohti, Liu Xianbin (刘贤斌), Yao Wentian (姚文田), Dolma Kyab, Gulmira Imin,  Kunchok Tsephel, Gheyret Niyaz, Hada (哈达), Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), Shi Tao (师涛), Hu Jia (胡佳), Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Tan Zuoren (谭作人), Chen Xi (陈西), Chen Wei (陈卫), Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Liu Yuandong (刘远东), Wang Mo (王默), Liu Ping (刘萍), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Hu Shigen (胡石根), Tang Jingling (唐荆陵), Wu Gan (吴淦), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Li Heping (李和平)…

…and sent some of the most ardent advocates of these values to their deaths: Wang Shiwei (王实味), Chu Anping (储安平), Lin Zhao (林昭), Yu Luoke (遇罗克), Zhang Zhixin (张志新), Li Wangyang (李旺阳), Cao Shunli (曹顺利)…

Tonight, we gather to celebrate freedom of speech. So why did I read the names of so many of China’s political prisoners? That is because most of China’s political prisoners are made criminals for their speech. They might have been convicted of various trumped up crimes, but all they have done is nothing more than express dissent.

China’s political space is very narrow, and getting narrower. Citizens have almost no way of engaging in opposition activities other than speech. Meanwhile, speech is the beginning of everything. Dictators often realize the power of speech more than anyone else.

That’s why they brutally suppress every independent voice in China. That’s why they hate the demonstrations in Hong Kong. That’s why they are buying up news media in Taiwan. That’s why they are pushing their propaganda on the world, especially in Western democracies.  

They demand that all Chinese media must toe the Party line; they build partnership with newspapers in Australia and radio stations in the United States; they deny visas to foreign journalists; and they are forcing Facebook to build a wall and pay for it.

Mr. Trump, who also wants to build a wall, will have to learn from China’s leaders, or he’ll have no chance to be praised by Prime Minister Trudeau as a “remarkable leader.”

If you are a slow learner, don’t worry. The Chinese government will be tireless in teaching you. Lesson one: For Whom the Bell Tolls. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, clearly taught you this here in Canada in June: “You have no right to speak about our human rights. Only the Chinese people have the right to speak about this issue.” But the truth is that the Chinese people are actually never allowed to speak out.

I have been fighting for speaking out. People often ask me: Why are you willing to make such sacrifices for freedom of speech? I have never hesitated in answering: Without freedom of speech, nothing will be left in the civilized world. Speech is freedom itself. If we don’t fight for it, our freedom will be completely lost.  

My seven-year-old daughter loves museums. She once said to me, “Daddy, don’t become more handsome, or you will be locked in a museum.” What she meant to say is that, Daddy is capable of everything except speaking German as well as she does. But she doesn’t know that I’m unable even to explain to her why we can’t return to China. How do I tell her that, in many places where human beings live, people don’t even have the freedom to say what they want to say?

To my mother and my father in Sichuan, China, I wish you could be here with me to share this beautiful night. You have always been proud of me, but I can’t even tell you about this prize I’m receiving. All my loved ones in China, I have stopped contacting you, precisely because I love each one of you.

Thank you everyone!





Chang Ping Responds to Police Demands, Relayed Through Captive Brother

By Chang Ping, March 28, 2016


Around noon on March 28, Beijing Time, police in my hometown Duofu Township, Xichong County, Sichuan province (四川省西充县多扶镇派出所, telephone: 0086 817 4561065), released one of my brothers Zhang Wei (张伟), telling him that, if he succeeds in contacting me, he should pass on three demands by the police and, in return, the police would release Zhang Xiong (张雄), my other brother.

After lunch in my parents’ home, Zhang Wei managed to get in touch with me. Before that point, police had repeatedly asked my two detained brothers to contact me but, they didn’t have a means of doing so. [During my exchange with Zhang Wei], I told him that I did not believe the police’s promise, but he loudly went on to relate their message. It was clear that our exchange was being recorded.

The Chinese police made three demands:

  1. Delete the news I posted online, because the police “didn’t kidnap my relatives”;
  2. Confirm that I was indeed the author of “Jia Jia Was Disappeared for the Crime of Seeing,” and withdraw it from Deutsche Welle;
  3. Cease to publish any articles, or make any comments, criticizing the Chinese government.

I told Zhang Wei that:

  1. The police are kidnapping my brothers when they detain them for over 20 hours without any legal warrant. Even if I was wrong in characterizing the event, it had nothing to do with my brothers, and it’s illegal for the police to punish them by association;
  2. I’m indeed the author of that article, but DW will not withdraw an article just because police in China demand it, not to mention that this is an utterly ridiculous and rude demand;
  3. Whatever I do has nothing to do with my brothers, and the police should have a perfect understanding of this legal concept.

Zhang Wei kept interrupting my speech to prevent me from explaining myself in full. Finally, I promised that I would delete one post on WeChat. After that he took the recorder to the police station to get my other brother.

Domestic Security police were waiting for him in the police station, where they took my brother away immediately.

The reason the police station gave for detaining my family was that when they went to sweep the ancestral tombs, their firecrackers happened to burn some of the plants and vegetation in the vicinity.  But this “offense” clearly has nothing to do with the domestic security police [whose job is to safeguard the political security of the regime]. After they were detained, the interrogation was mostly about me and my work. Given that the case was handled by Domestic Security, it’s clear that it’s a political case.

Actually, from the beginning this was a case of political persecution. After they found that my brother had contact with me, they immediately dropped the pretense.

I deleted the WeChat post as I promised to my brother, but he kept writing me emails telling me that I didn’t delete, and he also said that I must publish a statement erasing the impact of my previous statements and comments.  

Perhaps he really didn’t know that the police were deceiving him from the beginning. Or what is perhaps more likely is that he was under police control, and every message he wrote was under police commands.

As I see it, from Party Central media to local police stations, all of them have learned to manipulate their hostages and put on puppet shows. My younger brother has become another Lee Bo of Hong Kong. Look at one of his recent emails. Don’t the police think this sort of performance is extremely clumsy?

Screenshot of Chang Ping's brother's email.

Screenshot of Chang Ping’s brother’s email. Click to enlarge.

“Brother: don’t misunderstand the situation. The police are investigating us according to the law. Please don’t write another article, and please delete those you’ve already written. Their manner of processing the case is normal and correct. It’s you who has misunderstood them. Look: Originally I was asked to go to the police station in the morning to answer questions, but it was our father’s 70th birthday, so they allowed me to go at 1pm. Later you spoke irresponsibly and claimed that we’d been abducted, causing me and our brother to still be held at the station. Only if you delete your article saying we’ve been abducted will they let us go!”

I now state again that:  

1) I am blocking the email address of Zhang Wei, and I won’t see any more emails from him; my family members and relatives have no other way of contacting me, and I won’t have any more contact with them for a long time, or perhaps forever;  

2) China’s law itself opposes guilt by association. The articles I’ve written have absolutely no relationship with my parents, brothers, or sisters, just like their letting off firecrackers and burning vegetation having nothing to do with me. Police should understand this most basic legal concept;

3) My family members and relatives will continue being brainwashed by the Chinese police, and they’ll think that the misery that’s befallen them is because I don’t care about my family. Some of them have already started cursing me. This will have no bearing on me. Nor do I have any way of making them understand just how despicable and base the CCP is.

4) I will continue to expose everything I know about the vile behavior of the Chinese police and the Chinese government.


Chang Ping

March 28, 2016


长平Chang Ping (长平) is the former chief commentator and news director of Southern Weekend. In January, 2011, he was forced to leave the Southern Media Group, and in late 2011, while working at the now-suspended news weekly iSun Affairs (《阳光时务周刊》) in Hong Kong as the editor-in-chief, he was denied of work permit and forced to live in exile in Germany.




Chang Ping: My Statement About the Open Letter to Xi Jinping Demanding His Resignation, March 27, 2016.

Young Columnist Disappeared in Beijing, Believed to be Related to Open Letter to Xi Jinping, March 16, 2016.


Also by Chang Ping on China Change:

We’d Be Satisfied With Any Government!, October, 2015.

Chinese Students Studying Abroad a New Focus of CCP’s “United Front Work” , June, 2015.

Tiananmen Massacre not a “Passing Lapse” of the Chinese Government, July, 2014.



Chang Ping: My Statement About the Open Letter to Xi Jinping Demanding His Resignation

By Chang Ping, March 27, 2016



On March 27, 2016, my two younger brothers and a younger sister were abducted by the Chinese police, becoming the latest victims in the incident surrounding the open letter demanding Xi Jinping’s resignation.  

Since the reposting of the open letter on a state-controlled website, about 20 Chinese citizens have been disappeared.

On March 19, 2016, I published an article in Deutsche Welle titled “Jia Jia Was Disappeared for the Crime of Seeing,” criticizing these illegal abductions carried out by Chinese authorities. I was also interviewed by Radio France Internationale in which I shared my views on the Communist Party’s ongoing power struggle.

Following my article and interview, my direct family members and numerous relatives in China have been subject to investigation, harassment, and threats. On March 27, during a trip back to my father’s home in Duofu Township, Xichong County, Sichuan province (四川省西充县多扶镇) to celebrate my father’s birthday, my two younger brothers and a younger sister, who are based in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, were taken away by officers from the township police station. The police showed no legal warrant for detaining them. I have not been able to contact my family members directly, but through other sources I’ve learned that the police asked my family to contact me and demand that I immediately cease to publish any articles that criticize the Chinese Communist Party, especially my Deutsche Welle column known as “Chang Ping Observation” (“长平观察”) or the government would find ways to charge my family members.  

I hereby state:

1) All of my family and relatives in China have no understanding of my political beliefs, columns, and the media work I engage in, nor are they in any way related to it. Currently they have no communication with me, therefore they will be unable to meet the unreasonable demand of the police. I’d be in support of them, should they wish to cut off all ties with me at any point.

2) Apart from the above column and interview, I personally have no other connection to the open letter. I didn’t help draft it, I didn’t publicize it, and I only read it after it had already been widely promulgated. It’s just like I said in my column: I don’t get involved in internal Party power struggles, and I’ve no interest in doing so.


Click to enlarge

3) Every citizen has the freedom of speech to engage in comment or criticism of the political activities of state leaders. The Communist Party should immediately stop investigating the people they believe are behind the letter demanding that Xi Jinping resign, and cease the abductions, harassment, and investigations of media personnel, commentators, and netizens, and their family members.

4) I’ve been involved in news reporting and commentary for over 20 years, and I’ve always taken to it in a spirit of professionalism, and with independence and autonomy and the conscience of an intellectual. I’ve always done what I think is right, and have always been willing to accept whatever fate brings as a result of that. The harassment and threats of the authorities allow me to see even more the value of my writings, and encourage me to work harder in future.

5) I strongly condemn the Communist Party’s attempts to interfere with the freedom to publish of Western media like Deutsche Welle and RFI. I call for the international community to speak out against these barbaric kidnappings by Chinese police.


Chang Ping

March 27, 2016


Chang Ping (长平) is the former chief commentator and news director of Southern Weekend. In January, 2011, he was forced to leave the Southern Media Group, and in late 2011, while working at the now-suspended news weekly iSun Affairs (《阳光时务周刊》) in Hong Kong as the editor-in-chief, he was denied of work permit and forced to live in exile in Germany.



Also by Chang Ping on China Change:

We’d Be Satisfied With Any Government!, October, 2015.

Chinese Students Studying Abroad a New Focus of CCP’s “United Front Work” , June, 2015.

Tiananmen Massacre not a “Passing Lapse” of the Chinese Government, July, 2014.



From Tiananmen to Leipzig

By Frank Sieren, published: September 10, 2014


Chances are we will never get to know what really happened 25 years ago in Beijing. But a trace leads from Beijing to the peaceful revolution in the former GDR, says DW-Columnist Frank Sieren.


Just one month after June 4th incident in 1989, a high-ranking East Germany politician traveled to Beijing. His name is Günter Schabowski. At the time he was an official of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and a member of the central committee of Eastern Germany´s Politburo, the center of power of the SED. With him he had two orders from Erich Honecker, head of state and party leader: to congratulate the Chinese government for successfully cracking down on the counterrevolutionary movement. brotherly greetings from hardliner to hardliner so to speak.

On top of that Schabowski should “find out what really happened on the Tiananmen Square.” Not that the Politburo in eastern Berlin did not believe that Beijing had taken drastic measures; it didn’t trust the western media and saw them as instruments of propaganda. Schabowski therefore was sent to get an idea for himself about what had happened. Schabowski, son of a plumber, with a diploma in journalism who had risen steadily up the ranks within the SED, wasn‘t the only one in Beijing looking for first-hand information.

Quietly,US President George Bush also sent an envoy, Brent Scowcroft. But his mission was different. He was to assure Beijing that the USA would outwardly show its indignation but behind the scenes work on a fast normalization of the relations. The reason for the American message was simple: At the beginning of the 1970s Mao Zedong and the then US president Richard Nixon had allied against the Soviet Union, and Washington wanted to continue the pact, especially after Michail Gorbachev, the then head of state and the Party of the Soviet Union, had visited Beijing in May as the first USSR leader since the split with China in 1959. The Americans wanted to err on the side of caution, although Gorbachev‘s visit had not been a pleasant one for Beiijing.

Gorbachev: Chinese Leadership Has Lost Control

Because of the protests Gorbachev had to enter the Great Hall of the People through the back door. Instead of supporting the Chinese leadership, Gorbachev kicked Deng Xiaoping in the back.  Assuming the wisdom of a western statesman, he told the Russian news agency Tass at the end of his visit that the Chinese leaders had lost control. This was a huge loss of face for Deng that definitely fuelled his decision to use military force to end the protests.

Erich Honecker, who had been angered by Gorbachev’s reforms for years because they made him look pigheaded, wanted to show his approval of Deng’s decision by sending Schabowski to Beijing. Schabowski met with the newly-installed CCP Secretary General and president of China, Jiang Zemin, who, formerly the party leader of Shanghai, had replaced Zhao Ziyang who had been dismissed for siding with the students.

Confession of Weakness

Jiang explained to his East German comrades that the military had cleared the Tiananmen Square peacefully and it was only in the neighboring streets that things got out of hand, and that about 400 people died when protestors and soldiers confronted each other. Schabowski was surprised that Jiang basically conceded that the bloodshed occurred because the leadership had obviously lost control over the situation. “That was a surprising confession of weakness,” Schabowski later recalled.

He noticed how uneasy the Chinese politicians he met were about the international condemnation after having been celebrated as exemplary reformers for just a decade before. So shocked and shaken was Jiang Zemin by the bloodshed of his own people that Schabowski refrained from relaying Honecker’s congratulations for “successfully cracking down on the counterrevolutionary movement,” Schabowski recalled. Jiang did not speak of the protesters as counterrevolutionary forces but only as confused students. From Jiang’s remarks, the visitor from East Germany neither confirmed the rumored news of a “massacre” in Tiananmen Square nor heard the assumed position of Beijing, that is, while restoring order,  “unfortunately” there had been some inevitable casualties.

No “Beijing Solution” for Leipzig

Jiang’s tone had consequences for the German-German unification process that shouldn’t be underestimated, because a mere five months later the SED-Politburo had to decide whether it should bring in tanks against the protestors in Leipzig. Schabowski was of the same opinion as Egon Kgon, the head of the state and the Party, he says looking back, “one of the lessons from the events in Beijing was that we must not use military force against protesting citizens.”

The subdued tone of the Chinese leadership was confirmed by a third party a year later. In 1990, the then former chancellor Helmut Schmidt met with Deng Xiaoping, the first German politician visiting China in the aftermath of 1989. Deng also spoke about the muddle-headed students and he faulted the party’s internal division for the incident. Deng did not leave Schmidt the impression that he would like to do the same thing again. His main concern was how to bring China back to the path of opening up to the world. As a matter of fact: 1989 has remained a one-off in the history of the New China.

A Realistic and Fair View On June 4th Is Possible

Why is this historic episode so important? It shows a picture of June 1989 that is closer to the reality. It helps no one when the west lopsidedly exaggerates the events; it is just as shameful as the silence the Chinese government imposes on the incident of 1989. Both impede consensus, for example, the consensus that it is wrong and short-sighted to jail those who want to discuss the matter, even though a political party doesn’t want to comment on it. But this consensus is rather reached if [China’s] national security can´t claim anymore that it has to stop western exaggerations from agitating its own citizens.

The West has developed an understanding of the law and justice over centuries, and it is based on the onus of proof, which distinguishes between negligence and intent, between a single killer and a serial killer, and in which there is no place for guilt by association.  We should stick to this principle even when we are outraged. It’s not about relativization of events, but about fairness even for those who have acted unfairly and still do so today, because only fairness of this kind gives power to your own values.


DW-Columnist Frank Sieren has been living in Beijing for 20 years.



Tiananmen Massacre not a “Passing Lapse” of the Chinese Government, Chang Ping’s rebuttal to this article by Sieren


(Translated by Florian Godovits. This is the first of three articles by Frank Sieren that China Change has translated from German to English to present the complete picture of the Sieren vs. Chang Ping debate about the Tian’anmen incident and China in general. – The editor)


German original on DW site

Chinese translation on DW site

Southern Weekend Incident: Larger Picture

I assume you are a China watcher and already know the Southern Weekend (also translated as the Southern Weekly) incident that’s been raging on for the last couple of days. If you are not, you’ll find out here. Either way, I want to place the incident in the larger picture.

China doesn’t have an independent press – we all know that. The Southern Weekend is a part of the  Southern Media Group (南方报业传媒集团), a Guangdong provincial-level state-owned media enterprise. Like any state-owned enterprises, whether they manufacture sewage pipes or produce newspapers, its top leader is the Party secretary (党委书记) and, in NMG’s case, the position is concurrently held by the Deputy Chief of the Propaganda Department of Guangdong province. The Group operates like a corporation, but its important positions are appointed by the Propaganda Department, and the members of its editorial boards, according to what has been revealed, are all censors. On top of that, the Propaganda Department issues written/oral directives about what and how news should, or should not, be reported down to the smallest detail. In this, all media groups and newspapers in China are about the same.

That said, the NMG papers, the Southern Weekend in particular, have been known for their liberal bent, as much as it’s been possible under the muzzle of censorship. A magnet for China’s best journalists, it has enjoyed a reputation for being refreshing, diverse and daring, and, for that, a large and loyal readership across the country.

Over the years, however, the papers have gone through several significant “purges” where editors and journalists were fired for their reports that were considered to have stepped over boundaries. Cheng Yizhong (程益中), former editor-in-chief of Nanfang Metropolis Daily, was falsely charged with embezzlement (the charges were dropped later) but he was really punished for the paper’s aggressive reporting on SARS and the Sun Zhigang case (孙志刚案). Chang Ping (长平), former news director of the Southern Weekend, was forced out in 2011 after being fired twice before for his reports and commentaries. These are only two examples. Many others also lost their jobs such as Xiao Shu (笑蜀), Li Wenkai (李文凯).

With the “purges”, the papers have declined. In an article published in the New Statesman last October, Cheng Yizhong detailed how censorship had been tightened in the paper and how informants had been planted to monitor journalists and editors. In an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide on Monday, Chang Ping said that, over the last five years, media outlets in Guangdong had been regressing steadily. He said, although Wang Yang (汪洋) has been widely perceived as a reformist and entertained rhetoric of “thought liberation” when he first arrived in Guangdong, censorship during his tenure has gotten worse. Indeed, many loyal readers of NMG papers will readily tell you that “it’s not like it used to be” these days.

According to a statement by the Southern Weekend editors, in 2012 alone, 1,034 of their stories were censored one way or the other.

1,034! You can just imagine the frustration and humiliation fermenting over there day in and day out.

The Southern Weekend incident that has been raging started from a Weibo post complaining about a procedural breach by the Propaganda Department: The paper has a long tradition of publishing a New Year’s greeting letter, and this year’s letter was entitled “China’s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism.” Approved by censors (everything the paper publishes has to be approved by censors) and signed off by editors, it was ready to be printed. But without the knowledge of the editors, officials at the Propaganda Department rewrote it, retitled it as “Chasing the Dream”, and put it in print (read a rundown of the chain of events here and a more detailed account here).

Over the last few days, Weibo was ablaze with condemnation of the Party’s control of media and support for the Southern Weekend. Several statements and petitions by the journalists themselves, by interns, by prominent intellectuals, by the public have been circulated.

Now, what I want to point out in this post is this: Whatever the journalists at the Southern Weekend may want at the bottom of their hearts, they have NOT been appealing for freedom of the press, or the lift of censorship. They are merely protesting the procedural breach and demanding the resignation of Tuo Zhen (庹震), the Party’s propaganda chief in Guangdong.

They have their prohibitions obviously: this is their livelihood and they are not ready, or not in a position, to give it up.

Besides, the journalist body there is not monolithic: Among them, there are supporters of the Propaganda Department and censorship, or people who have been planted by the department.

However, most of their supporters online and offline are taking the opportunity to appeal for significantly more: freedom of the press and other fundamental demands.

So, essentially, these are two separate campaigns. What will the SW journalists and editors do next? Will they escalate or retreat? How will happen to the public outcry? As I write, protesters from the general public are gathering outside the entrance of the NMG compound with signs such as this:  南周抗议

All in all, the New Year’s greetings from China are surprising and fascinating. Stay tuned.