Debates on the Nanfang Zhoumo Incident of January 2013

A view on blogs

by Miriam Seeger


During the first half of January, 2013, the Nanfang Zhoumo incident created a lively controversy in Chinese online circles. Besides micro blogging, regular blogs are still widely read in China. Many well-known people in China regularly write blogs, which are followed and reposted by many readers.

This section focuses on blog entries by more or less well-known Chinese bloggers. Social commentators, scientists and professors, authors, lawyers and economists commented on this event with diverse intentions.

Selection of materials

How did we search for and select those blog entries among the great variety of blog entries on the topic?

We conducted a combined Internet search from 10-13 Jan. 2013:

  • the URL of Sina, one of the large Chinese blog providers together with search terms: AND 南方周末 (Nanfang Zhoumo) OR 南周 (short form of the newspapers’ title) OR 南周事件 (Nanfang Zhoumo incident) OR 新年献词 (New Year editorial)
  • two search terms combined: blog OR 博客 (which means blog) AND 南方周末 OR 南周 OR 南周事件 OR 新年献词.

We selected the blog entries according to the author’s degree of popularity within the scene of online commentators (i.e. their number of followers/readers) and the relevance of the text (i.e. the number of reposts and comments). We tried to locate the original blog entries from the bunch of reposts and comments on those texts. However, for some of the texts we had to rely on reposts, because the original posts were already deleted. Still, that does neither mean that we located all relevant texts of this debate, nor that all texts we archived are equally relevant. 

Why we didn’t search directly on the blog provider’s webpage.

We suspected that some search terms might be censored or restricted for searching. Hence, our search results would have been limited to those entries which are valid for searching. For example, when searching for 南方周末 AND 总有一种力量, the title of a blog entry by the social commentator, author, musician, and race driver Han Han (韩寒), who is one of the most well-known Chinese bloggers in and outside of China, via the blog search function directly on the Sina webpage, one only gets many reposts and comments of Han Han’s blog entry. However, searching with 南方周末 AND 总有一种力量 AND in, for example, the search engine Google, one immediately gets the link to Han Han’s blog entry, which is no longer displayed on his blog.

The debate

The debate in blogs reflects many individual voices and ideas. We can order the different voices into four big topics, presented below:

Arguments in favour of CCP censorship of the press

Very much in common with an official editorial by the Global Times (环球时报), some bloggers highlight that the demands for freedom of the press in the Chinese internet does not correspond with China’s reality. The official editorial states that media in China cannot openly confront politics. It is argued that reform of the media should be part of system reform.

Wu Danhong, an assistant professor at China University of Political Science and Law, who blogs under the pseudonym Wu Fatian (吴法天), and the social commentator and journalist Sima Nan (司马南) argue in this manner:

Firstly, although the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of speech, of publication, of expression etc., at the same time the constitution regulates that the people, when exercising their freedoms and rights, should not prejudice the legitimate national, social and collective interests. That means freedom of speech and of the press are only provided as long as social stability is not affected.

Secondly, all newspapers, and the Nanfang Zhoumo is no exception, are Party publications. Although the constitution guarantees freedom of press, ownership of the Nanfang Zhoumo lies with the Party Committee of the Guangdong Provincial Government. Hence, in order to guarantee social and political stability the provincial Propaganda Department has the right and the duty to control the publication.

Because this kind of argumentation is close to those of the official reaction, this group of commentators was criticized as being part of the “Wumaodang” (五毛党), the Fifty-Cent-Party. These are internet commentators hired by the Chinese government who supposedly earn around 50 Chinese Cent per comment on the Internet leading the general discussion away from criticism of the government or other sensitive topics (see e.g. an interview by Ai Weiwei (艾未未). Wu Fatian for example refuses this accusation in his blog. He writes that only because you have another opinion as that by the majority of the commentators you get marked as “Wumao”.

Freedom of the press and freedom of speech

Arguments for state censorship, however, are refused by many bloggers. To mention some names, Li Chengpeng (李承鹏), a very famous blogger and author, the social commentator Han Han, and Chen Weijian (陈维健), an activist for democracy who lives in New Zealand, contribute to the discussion.

Li Chengpeng gives an analysis of political power. He writes that “political power is not the result of the right to prohibit, but of the strength to allow” (所有政权的尊严并非来源于有权禁止,而来源于有实力允许). In this sense, bloggers not only question the principle that media in China should convey the Party’s doctrine (see DACHS catalogue here and here), they also call out for freedom of speech and for not restricting oneself with self-censorship in thinking and writing. There is even a call for abolishing the Propaganda Ministry.

The Chinese dream of constitutionalism

The original topic of the New Year editorial – China’s dream and the dream of constitutionalism (, DACHS copy – is a topic in the debate, as well.

Li Yinhe (李银河), professor at the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, argues in her blog that the constitutional dream and freedom of speech are fundamental values of Marxism. Hence, the censorship-system in China and despotism (专制主义) contradict these values. She writes that the Nanfang Zhoumo incident is an event that shows how the people’s rights of freedom of expression are restricted.

Zhao Jinbin (赵进斌), an economist, writes about the importance of having a dream. However, one cannot only have an eye for the nation and its stability; one should have in mind the people and their different needs. In his opinion freedom of speech and the possibility to live as free people, to have the opportunity to take part in civil society is of highest importance. He judges the Chinese potential for realizing the dream of constitutionalism, democracy, human rights, and rule of law as quite high, when – and only when – the Party, all administrative organs and the people act according to the written constitution.

In this context Zhao also mentions the New Year editorial “The Constitution is the consensus of the reform of the political system” (宪法是政治体制改革的共识) in the January 2013 issue of the scholarly journal Yan Huang Chunqiu (炎黄春秋). Shortly after New Year the website was down for many days. The break-down of the Yan Huang Chunqiu website, however, was much less discussed in comparison to the Nanfang Zhoumo incident.

Outlook on the Nanfang Zhoumo-incident: the relevance for China’s politics

Last but not least, the relevance of the Nanfang Zhoumo incident for China’s politics is a recurring topic in this online debate. The Nanfang Zhoumo editorial was published shortly after the announcement of China’s new leadership at the 18. Party Congress in November 2012 and after Xi Jinping’s speech on China’s dream in early December 2012. According to this string of argumentation, the New Year editorial picked up this topic in order to probe the new leadership whether or not they might go on with political reforms.

Li Yinhe values the Nanfang Zhoumo incident as a sign of the people’s hope that with the new leadership that recently got into power China will move towards a democratic constitutionalism. Tan Mintao (谭敏涛), a lawyer and jurist, values the Nanfang Zhoumo incident as a good starting point for the new leadership to rethink their strategy for administrative and political reform and to (re-)strengthen the people’s confidence in China’s leadership.

Zuletzt bearbeitet von: RS
Letzte Änderung: 18.12.2014
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