2013 Southern Weekly incident

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2013 Southern Weekly incident or 2013 Southern Weekend incident was a conflict between the Propaganda Department of Guangdong Province and Southern Weekly in press freedom, regarding a New Year's special editorial that was changed significantly under the pressure from the propaganda officers bypassing the normal publication flow. The newsroom staff went on strike to protest against the censorship. The incident also caused demonstrations outside the gates of the Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangzhou, China.[1] and drew attention of many overseas Chinese. According to Southern Weekly editors, the incident wasn't a coincidence because 1,034 of their stories were censored one way or another in 2012 alone.[2] Because of the incident, keywords such as Southern Weekend, Tuo Zhen have become sensitive words and filtered by the Chinese firewall.


The Southern Weekly is a part of the Nanfang Media Group (Chinese: 南方报业传媒集团), which is a provincial government-owned media corporation. The same as any government-owned corporation, its top leader is the party secretary. However, unlike many other government-owned media, Southern Weekly is known for investigative journalism, testing the limits of free speech in the country.[2]


All the following events are timed using UTC +08:00.

In January 2013, it was reported that under the command of Tuo Zhen, Southern Weekly was forced to add a provided commentary glorifying the Chinese Communist Party on its annual new year editorial, which was intended to call for proper implementation of the country's constitution.[3][4] The new year editorial originally had the title of Dream of China, Dream of Constitutionalism (Chinese: 中国梦,宪政梦), calling for the cementing of rights into a constitution, but was replaced with praise of the Chinese Communist Party.[2]


On January 7, 2013, Southern Weekly News Ethics Committee issued a statement that at early December, the editorial department started to discuss about the 2013 New Year special edition and initially decided that the topic should be "across the river" (过河). Chief editor, Huang Can (黄灿), however, did not respond to the idea. In mid-December, Huang suggested to adopt "Chinese Dream" (中国梦) as the keyword for the special edition. On the night of December 23, after discussion the editorial department finished the preliminary plan:[5][6]

  1. New Year Message: Settle the problem of "Which stage has Chinese Dream reached; What kind of Chinese Dream should be at the current phase." Later this formed the first draft of Chinese Dream, Constitutional Dream (《中国梦 宪政梦》).
  2. Past Chinese Dreams: Look back to the past century and review how Chinese Dream evolved.
  3. Dream and Reality: People that reflected Chinese Dream and contributed to the society in the past year.
  4. Journalist Actions: Revisit the commonalities under the news spotlight and daily life and reflect their life and dreams.
  5. Ten Predictions for the Coming New Year: Invite public figures to predict the trend of development of Chinese society in 2013.
  6. Collection of the Past "Chinese Dream Practitioners".
  7. Evaluation of 2012 Newsmakers: Review the 2012 hot news and related reports.

On the afternoon of December 24, Huang Can asked editorial department to submit the plan to the Propaganda Department of Guangdong Provincial Party Committee. Two days later (December 26), Huang debriefed the editorial department about the propaganda department's initial opinion:

  1. In the "Past Chinese Dreams" section, articles should not mention Mao Zedong and other related people. Some of mentions about the historical characters in the legal system are advised to change or omit.
  2. In the "Dream and Reality" section, three characters are asked to remove from the articles: Ren Jianyu (任建宇, a recent college-graduate official who was sent to labor camp. One of the accusation is that he owned a T-shirt with "Give me Liberty or Give me Death" printed on it), the sensible patriots at Anti-Japanese demonstration, and Qian Liqun (钱理群, non-partisan author, and researcher on modern Chinese literature). Also the propaganda department had misgivings about adding Zhang Xiaolong (张小龙, manager of Tencent's WeChat project) to the list.
  3. In the "Ten Predictions for the Coming New Year" section, four predictions were asked to remove: Whether a Second-child policy will replace the One-child policy in the whole country; Whether other provinces will try to publicize government officials' properties and possessions; Whether the Re-education through labor policy will be repealed; Whether more counties will provide visa-free policy to Chinese passport holders.
  4. In the "Collection of the Past 'Chinese Dream Practitioners'", editors are not allowed to include Bai Yansong, Liu Ji (刘吉, a member of the CPPCC National Committee that publicly criticized the corruption within the Party), etc.

After Huang's debriefing, the graphics design department started to plan the graphical arts for the New Year special. A traditional Ink wash painting of Yu the Great stopping the flood was planned to be the headline picture.[5]

On December 29, Southern Weekly commentator Dai Zhiyong (戴志勇) finished the New Year Message draft titled Chinese Dream, Constitutional Dream and submitted it to chief editor Huang Can. Next day afternoon Huang expressed dissatisfaction towards the message: "(I) don't know how to revise the message after the first paragraph. I don't even dare to submit this version (to the propaganda department) since the department will cancel the whole New Year special (after reading this)." He suggested that the message mentioned too much constitutionalism.[5]

To keep the integrity of the New Year special, Shi Zhe (史哲), head of the editorial department revised the message at the midnight of December 31. The revised message, titled Chinese Dream, Difficult Dream (《中国梦 梦之难》) stressed Chinese national rejuvenation in the past 170 years, and showed the difficulty of Chinese Dream in about 1,800 Chinese characters. Huang then submitted the revised message to the propaganda department. In the afternoon of December 31, Huang conveyed the propaganda department's opinion to his coworkers, did some structural modifications to the message and renamed it Dream Make Life Shine (《梦想,让生命迸射光芒》). The second revision further abridged the elaboration on constitutionalism and rights, making it at about 1,400 Chinese characters. Huang said, "Once this messages gets approved (by the propaganda department), I'll be mostly relieved." [5]

After some initial modification, editorial department head Shi Zhe handed this draft down to editors Cao Junwu (曹筠武) and Yang Jibin (杨继斌). Shi told them that the draft has gone through censorship, any modification should not exceed the established structure, and new contents were not allowed in the draft. Cao and Yang sensed that the post-censorship draft was different in written style than other editorials they've been edited, hence they did some changes rhetorically. The final draft, named Dream is our Promise to the Ideal Matter (《梦想是我们对应然之事的承诺》), was about 1,000 Chinese characters. (However at a meeting on January 5, Huang professed to change the title to We are Closer to the Dream than Any Other Times, or 《我们比任何时候都更接近梦想》, before submitting to the propaganda department).[5]

At 9 pm that day (December 31), Huang debriefed his colleagues that the whole "Evaluation of 2012 Newsmakers" section should be removed; In the "Journalist Actions" section, the reports of post-90s teenagers at Shifang protest as well as Zhang Jing (张晶, wife of Xia Junfeng. Xia is a merchant who defended himself against Chengguan and was sentenced to the death penalty). Huang declared that this move was his promise to the propaganda department to make the New Year special to be published. In the end, the "Chinese Dream" New Year special was reduced to 12 pages, rather than the planned 16 pages. During typesetting Huang took a photo of the sample pressing of headline on his phone and sent it to the propaganda department. At or around midnight of January 1, 2013, Huang suddenly received a new opinion from the propaganda department:[5]

  1. Headline photo was too gloomy and could be misinterpreted by others. It was asked to be changed to a photo of aircraft carrier. (Presumably, Liaoning (16))
  2. Chinese Dream, Difficult Dream should not be used as the New Year special's title.

But the editors (Shi Zhe, Cao Junwu, Yang Jibin, Su Yongtong, and Ye Weimin) at duty told Huang that it was not possible to change the special completely since approval node for the sample has expired. After calling the propaganda department Huang was told that the headline photo can stay but the title must be changed. Eventually the title was changed to Dream of Homeland (《家国梦》).[5]

Modification by Propaganda Department after finalization[edit]

On January 1, 2013, Southern Weekly editorial department finalized all edits for 2013 New Year special at 3 am. Since New Year holiday starts from January 1, the five editors went back home, ending their three-day overtime work.[5]

The same day, chief editor Huang Can, and standing vice chief editor Wu Xiaofeng (伍小峰) was summoned by the Propaganda Department of Guangdong Province. Assistant minister (who is also the Party chief in the Nanfang Media Group) and news director of the propaganda department were also present. Both sides argue within these points:[5]

  • Request of approval for the 2000-character New Year Messages Dream of China, Dream of Constitutionalism signed by Dai Zhiyong. That draft of message emphasized the implementation of Constitution and a constitutional government. On the night of January 1, phototypesetting correspondent of Southern Weekly emailed the sample of the typesetting to the news department of the propaganda department. The final typesetting sent back from the news department deleted tens of characters and added about a hundred characters, which was the controversial message on the newspaper.
  • Request of removal of the traditional ink wash painting of Yu the Great stopping the flood. Huang and Wu do not believe that the painting has any political issues, and chaining them can actually cause gossip. Assistant minister compromised but still requested to scale the painting down, with a restrictive description printed beside. He suggested to transform the spirit of Yue the Great to the spirit of Jinggang Mountains, eventually, the spirit of Reform and Opening up. Huang asked Wu to take a note on-site then submit it to the news department. Wu wrote about 100 characters and sent it to another commissioner via SMS. At the night of January 1 the commissioner sent back the final revision, which expanded the definition of "dream" and altered the end of the notes. This was the preface printed on the front page.
  • Request of removal of the "Guangzhou teens shown their patriotic actions rationally (at anti-Japanese demonstrations)" article at Page 3. A Southern Weekly image advertising took the place where the article used to be.

At the night of January 1, Huang was asked by the propaganda department to change the New Year special name from Dream of Home-country (家国梦) to Chasing Dreams (追梦). Because at that time the publication process has already finished, editors and proofreaders are still taking their national holiday off, Huang and Wu overworked at the publication chamber and modified six pages against normal working procedures.[5] After the newspaper went on sale, readers found multiple issues:

  • Miswritten words: “众志成” ("城" means "city"; the idiom means "unity is strength (that is as strong as the rampart of the city)") was written as “众志成” ("诚" means "honesty");
  • Historical inaccuracy: Described Yu the Great stopping the flood happened two thousand years ago. In fact, two thousand years ago from 2012 was the fifth year of Shijianguo, the era of Xin Dynasty; the emperor was Wang Mang. Yu the Great is believed to live in the era of 2200 - 2100 BC, so it should be four thousand years ago.
  • Incoherent sentences: for example, “历经半个多世纪共产党人建国的苦难辉煌” (literally, After more than half century the Communists' founded the state's difficulties and splendour).[6][7][8]

Staff's struggle against officials[edit]

On January 3, some of the Southern Weekly reporters post Sina Weibo to protest Tuo Zhen's ultra vires acts. As a consequence, 15 reporters' Weibo accounts got muted or deleted.[7]Southern Weekly's editorial department released a statement about Tuo's distortion on their articles.[9]

On the morning of January 4, about fifty editors and reporters who previously worked for Southern Weekly co-signed an open letter, criticizing Tuo's instruction of altering the work as "an act of cross-boundary; an act of domineering; an act of ignorance; a move of unnecessariness." (越界之举、擅权之举、愚昧之举、多此一举) They demanded Tuo take the blame and resign, and restore the Weibo account for the affected reporters.[10] According to Xinhua News and People's News, the national meeting of Ministers of Propaganda was held at Beijing. Ministers from all provinces were gathered there. Liu Yunshan, Member of the 18th CPC Politburo Standing Committee and First Secretary of the Central Secretariat of the Communist Party of China, attended the meeting and delivered a speech.

At the night of January 5, Southern Weekly called an emergency enlarged meeting for members of the editorial board. Huang and Wu detailed what happened to the editorial staffs. Shortly after the meeting, the administrator of Southern Weekly's official Weibo account was asked to hand over the password, which immediately made the editorial staffs start to negotiate with the leaders of Nanfang Media Group. Next morning, the heads of Southern Weekly met with Tuo Zhen. Tuo promised that a Great Purge won't happen.[11] Nevertheless at night, Wu Wei (吴蔚), administrator of the official Weibo account was forced to hand in the password, and soon after the official Weibo posted a "clarification", passing the blame to the editors.[11] Meanwhile, Huang Can, chief editor of Southern Weekly took the responsibility of the incident, saying Tuo has nothing with the incident.[11]

On January 7, Southern Weekly News Ethics Committee posted a public statement at several social medias, pointing the finger to chief editor Huang Can and standing vice chief editor Wu Xiaofeng, blaming them acting against normal procedure under pressures from higher authority. The statement made no mention of Tuo Zhen.[6] Some of the Southern Weekly staffs, including Zhang Hua (张华), Zhu Zhaoxin (褚朝新), and Chao Getu (朝格图), went on strike.[12] Hong Kong broadcasting station TVB confirmed that the economy department of Southern Weekly was also on strike.[13]

Sina Weibo backfire[edit]

On 9:18 pm, January 6, Wu Wei (吳蔚), director of Southern Weekly's news department, posted a statement on Sina Weibo, which was censored and removed shortly after:

Two minutes later (at 9:20 pm), Southern Weekly's official Weibo account sent a "clarification" statement:[11]

At 9:23 pm, Southern Weekly Cultural Edition's Weibo account confirmed the information Wu Wei sent:

Soon after at 9:30 pm, @SouthernWeeklyEditorialDepartment2013 (@南周編輯部2013) posted:

The very same Weibo post was also reposted by the official account of Southern Weekly's Economy Edition.[14][15] However except the 9:20 pm Weibo post, all other posts were censored and removed by Sina Weibo.

At 9:49 pm, a Weibo account posted a statement that claimed to be from all editorial staff of Southern Weekly's Economy Edition, stating "Editorial staffs will fight against the inaccurate statement till the every end. We won't continue to work until the incident gets resolved." (採編人員將與此不實聲明抗爭到底,事態解決前不再進行正常採編工作。)

At 11:04 pm, the official Weibo account of Southern Weekly's Economy Edition posted a statement and attached some names of their staff (from editorial board, news department, economy department, green news department, cultural department, commentary department, new media business, visual graphics publishing business and Chengdu station. A total of 97 people):

Those series of Weibo posts intensified the incident. On the night of January 6, media with different opinions, public figures, and anonymous users posted their supports or doubts about the incident, however some of the posts got removed very soon. At 2:30 am of January 7, Fang Kecheng (方可成), a reporter for Southern Weekly, posted a long Weibo signed as Southern Weekly News Ethics Committee on his verified Weibo account, describing what happened at the editorial department between the emergency meeting on 7:00 pm, January 5, to 10:00 pm, January 6.[16]

Reprint of Global Times' editorial[edit]

On the evening of January 7, several media persons pointed out that the Central Propaganda Department issued instructions to some newspapers and network media to reprint an editorial from Global Times titled Southern Weekend's "to our readers" is thought-provoking, which is an article alleging Chen Guangcheng as the supporter of the incident, and saying that the so-call "free media" cannot exist under the socio-political reality of China today. From January 8, one after another, the newspapers reprinted the editorial invariably. But some of the media added the disclaimers at the end of the reprinted article stating the "republishing the editorial does not mean it agrees with their views or confirm the description", such as Tencent stating "republishing this article does not mean Tencent is in favor of their views or confirms the description" at the end of the reprint; Sina also said in a statement that "Sina posted this article for the purpose of passing more information. It does not mean (Sina) agrees with their views or confirms the description".

The following newspapers reprinted Global Times' editorial:

  • January 8: Beijing Evening News (Beijing), Beijing Youth Daily (Beijing), Xinkuaibao (Guangzhou), Information Times (Guangzhou), Yangcheng Evening News (Guangzhou), Xinmin Evening News (Shanghai), City News (Hangzhou), Huaxi City News (Chengdu), Jinbao (Shenzhen);
  • January 9: Xiaoxiang Morning News (Hunan), The Beijing News (Beijing).

The Beijing News used to be owned by Nanfang Media Group, which also owns Nanfang Weekly, and it was reluctant to reprint the editorial. On the night of January 8, Yan Liqiang (严力强), assistant minister of Beijing Party Committee, swooped on the editorial department of The Beijing News and demanded it to reprint Global Times' editorial: Initially discussion with Dai Zigeng (戴自更), principle of paper, and Wang Yuechun (王跃春), chief editor, was unsuccessful; at the midnight of January 9, all on-duty editors voted nay to reprint, but Yan insist that "(You) must reprint the editorial, otherwise we will dismiss the newspaper." Eventually The Beijing News reprinted the editorial on Page A20 ("Signature of Editor-in-Duty" was left blank). Dai Zigeng asked to resign after failing not to reprint.[17][18] According to Radio Hong Kong, Dai's resignation was not approved.[19]

Xiaoxiang Morning News did not reprint the editorial on January 8, hence was criticized by the Central Propaganda Department. It reprinted the editorial with How to Trust the Feeling to Correction (今天我们如何弥合信任拨正情绪), Follow the Time (要跟得上时代的节拍), and an advertisement for deinsectization service on the same page, and this was understood to be an insinuation to the Global Time.[20] Gong Xiaoyue (龚晓跃), former head of Xiaoxiang Morning News, who got demoted in 2010 because of a special cover, voiced against editorial by Global Times. He got muted on Sina Weibo soon after.[21] His personal Weibo account, as well as some Nanfang Weekly journalists', got un-muted at the midnight of January 12.

On January 9, "Porridge from the South" (南方的粥), an article from The Beijing News Gourmet Weekly, got promoted to the front page of The Beijing News online. The title was considered to be a paronomasia since "粥" (Porridge) and "周" (Week) are both pronounced as "zhōu", so the title can also be understood as being "Week(ly) from the South". The idea was reinforced by the first sentence of the article, "Rice was boiling in pot of hot porridge from the South when just served; it seems, also, to have a brave heart. In this cold night, breath is frozen, and in this tiring world, only this porridge and its warmth should not be let down." (一碗熱滾滾的砂鍋粥,來自南方大地,剛端上桌時,粥還在裡面翻滾,它似乎也有一顆勇敢的心,在寒冷的夜裡,張嘴都是白氣,塵世折騰,惟有溫暖與這碗粥不可辜負).[22]

Official responses[edit]

On January 4, when asked about the incident, Hua Chunying, the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China said: "I do not know about the specific circumstances, which do not belong to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I would like to point out a matter of principle that the so-call censorship does not exist in China. The Chinese government protects the press freedom in accordance with the laws, and gives full play to the supervisory role of the news media and citizens."

Other official media, such as the People's Daily, Xinhua News Agency haven't expressed their stances. The Propaganda Department of Guangdong Provincial Party Committee has not come out to provide any explanation either.


Supporters outside the gates of the Southern Weekly newspaper on January 7




Wang Yu-chi, the Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council of the Republic of China called on Beijing to improve the news environment, and respect the press freedom. On January 8, Taiwan's opposition party Democratic Progressive Party also expressed its views on the incident. Su Tseng-chang, the party chairman said: "A media environment with freedom of speech can help the real reform of the Chinese Communist." Former party chairman Tsai Ing-wen also expressed that press freedom is a universal value can not be deprived of.

On January 7, Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the United States Department of State spoke to reporters at the daily department briefing that "We believe that censorship of the media is incompatible with China’s aspirations to build a modern information-based economy and society. It is, of course, interesting that we now have Chinese who are strongly taking up their right for free speech, and we hope the government’s taking notice." [23]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Keith B. Richburg (January 5, 2013). "Chinese journalists mount rare protest over an alleged act of government censorship". Washington Post. Retrieved January 9, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Jessica Elgot (7 January 2013). "China Censorship: Journalists Strike At Southern Weekend Over Censorship In New Year Editorial". Huffington Post. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
  3. ^ Outrage at Guangdong newspaper forced to run party commentary, SCMP, 4 January 2013. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  4. ^ Southern Weekly reporters confront China censors, BBC, 4 January 2013. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j 2013年南方周末新年特刊出刊过程 南方周末新闻职业伦理委员会 2013年1月7日
  6. ^ a b c 薛健聪. "《南方周末》编辑部披露2013新年特刊制作过程 指违反编辑流程". IBTimes中文网. Archived from the original on January 8, 2013. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  7. ^ a b 《南方周末》新年献词遭广东省委宣传部长越权篡改 (in Chinese). 法广中文网. Retrieved 2013-01-03.
  8. ^ 《南方周末》新年致辞被篡改引热议 (in Chinese). 自由亚洲电台. Retrieved 2013-01-03.
  9. ^ 網傳南方周末採編人員抗議「斃稿」聲明 (in Chinese). BBC中文網. Retrieved 2013-01-03.
  10. ^ "继 《南方周末》 新年献词被删改 《炎黄春秋》 网站突被关闭". 联合早报. 2013-01-05.
  11. ^ a b c d e 《南方周末》重压下分裂:高层妥协 采编酝酿罢工 (in Chinese). 法广中文网. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
  12. ^ 吴雨. "《南方周末》记者罢工抗议". 德国之声中文网. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  13. ^ "TVB采访资料". Retrieved January 9, 2013.
  14. ^ 《南方周末》採編人員聯署聲明:官微《致讀者》並非真相 將發布準確信息 (in Chinese). IBTimes中文網. Archived from the original on 2013-01-08. Retrieved 2013-01-06.
  15. ^ 《南方周末》輿論戰因「道歉」聲明激化 (in Chinese). BBC中文網. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
  16. ^ 「南方周末新聞職業倫理委員會」聲明:有人以行政指令粗暴扭曲事實 (in Chinese). BTimes中文網. Archived from the original on 2013-01-08. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
  17. ^ "Archived copy" 新京報昨夜集體抗命 社長請辭編輯拒署名 (in Chinese). 南華早報. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  18. ^ "Archived copy" 昨晚《新京報》究竟發生了什麼? (in Chinese). 華爾街日報中文版. Archived from the original on 2013-01-12. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  19. ^ 傳新京報拒登有關南周評論 有職員稱非事實 (in Chinese). 香港電台. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
  20. ^ 《潇湘》黑色幽默转载批南周社评,2013年1月9日BBC中文網
  21. ^ 《瀟湘晨報》拒載 同遭批評,2013年1月10日明報
  22. ^ "南方的粥". 新京报. Retrieved January 10, 2013.
  23. ^ "Chinese protest outside newspaper gates in rare censorship demo". NBCNews. 2013-01-08.