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China shuts down influential weekly newspaper in crackdown on media

BEIJING, Jan. 24 - China's Propaganda Department on Tuesday ordered the closing of Bing Dian, an influential weekly newspaper that often tackled touchy political and social subjects, as the authorities stepped up efforts to curb the spread of information and views the Communist Party considers unfavorable.

The shutdown came the same day that Google announced that it would begin steering its Chinese users to, which will restrict access to content that China's media monitors consider problematic.

President Hu Jintao has been tightening controls on expression as his leadership grapples with mounting internal challenges, including social unrest over corruption, pollution, unpaid wages and land seizures.

Though the Chinese news media have never been permitted to criticize top leaders, television, newspapers and Web-based news sites, now mostly commercially driven, have often competed to break explosive news stories and discuss sensitive topics.

But authorities under Mr. Hu have slowly but systematically purged editors who defy propaganda controls and have closed or reorganized publications that they believe have become too bold, making the news media more timid today than they were regarded as being in recent years.

Bing Dian, or Freezing Point, published as a supplement to the influential newspaper China Youth Daily, was one of the few major news outlets that routinely printed in-depth investigative stories and broached delicate topics.

The order to cease publication is effective immediately, the paper's longtime editor, Li Datong, said in a telephone interview.

"This is an intolerable step that has absolutely no basis in law and is in fact completely illegal," he said. It cannot be appealed, he said.

The authorities cited the publication of a lengthy study of Chinese middle-school textbooks as a reason for the order, Mr. Li said. The Jan. 11 article discussed what the author, Yuan Weishi, a Zhongshan University professor, referred to as official distortions of history to emphasize the humiliations China suffered at the hands of imperial powers.

He criticized the textbooks' treatment of events like the Boxer Rebellion and the burning of the Summer Palace by British and French troops in 1860, which he said were partly the result of mistakes by then-flailing Qing Dynasty leaders.

"We are at a critical moment in our modernization and the key to the success of our development is understanding our system and mental model," he wrote. "I was shocked to see that few things had changed since the Cultural Revolution."

Mr. Li said the article, though provocative, was just an excuse for closing the paper. In August, a letter by Mr. Li led to a revolt at the China Youth Daily group after the paper's new party-appointed editor, Li Erliang, sought to impose a review system that graded the staff on factors including the reaction their work elicited from party leaders.

The letter, which was posted on the Web, and the backlash resulted in the modification of the review system.

Date posted: January 25, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 10