China recently shut down newspapers and detained academics, sparking a debate here on whether the government has launched a new era of repression or merely is sending a message...

Share story

BEIJING — China recently shut down newspapers and detained academics, sparking a debate here on whether the government has launched a new era of repression or merely is sending a message to the country’s burgeoning media that they need to practice more self-censorship.

Authorities last week shut down the New Weekly, a hard-hitting paper that has been in circulation less than two months. It was run by former members of another popular paper, Southern Weekend, which has seen many of its editors ousted for failing to toe the government’s line.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Censors might have been offended by the New Weekly’s sensational headlines, which included “TV Hostess Dies in Deputy Mayor’s Bed,” and “Female Students Required to Dance with Officials.”

The top editor at another paper, the China Youth Daily, was fired this month. Some observers speculated that his offense was his paper’s coverage of official corruption. The state-run daily was among the first to report that a Shenzhen party official forced public-school students to watch a movie made by his daughter.

It was unclear if the New Weekly would return to the newsstands. Authorities announced they had suspended another publication, the 21st Century Globe Herald, for a month early last year. It never resumed publication.

Some analysts say the government action represented a stern warning to journalists that they should not push the envelope, and it was not necessarily a sign that a new era of repression had begun.

“This administration is no different from the past in the sense that all people in power do not want to rock the boat. Their challenge is to not encourage dissenting views on either side of the political spectrum,” said Linda Chelan Li, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong. “But China has become a much more pluralistic society. There’s no way to return to the old days.”

Chinese reporters say new publications are vulnerable to unwritten rules controlling the domestic media. Clampdowns can be seasonal and unpredictable. Something acceptable one day might not be the next time around. Enforcement, reporters say, is aimed at keeping journalists in fear of breaking the rules so they would censor themselves as much as possible.

China this week detained at least three outspoken intellectuals. Author Yu Jie was accused of endangering national security and told to stop posting his writings on the Internet. The other two, literary critic and democracy activist Liu Xiaobo and political theorist Zhang Zuhua, are part of a writer’s group that recently gave an award to the author of a banned book on Mao Zedong purges of intellectuals in the 1950s. All three were allowed to return home.