A top editor at a cutting-edge newspaper in the southern Chinese Guangdong province resigned after the ruling Chinese Communist Party imposed new media controls, the journalist announced on social media.
"It’s time to end things without dragging them out any further," Yu Shaolei, 48, wrote on the popular Twitter-like Weibo service where he announced his decision to leave the Southern Metropolis Daily. He had been culture editor since 2000
"I’m old and my knees can't take it anymore," Yu wrote in the post, which went viral on China's tightly controlled Internet before censors deleted it.. "I want to see if I can change to a new position.”
His language in the post, sparked speculation that he was referring to the power Chinese censors have to force media outlets to kowtow to the government.
In what looked like another shot, Yu scrawled on his resignation slip for the Southern Metropolis Daily writing: "I can't take the surname of the Communist Party anymore."
It was an apparent reference to recent visits to state media by President Xi Jinping where the Chinese leader reminded journalists that they belong to the party.
Yu attached a scan of the resignation slip to his post and took a parting shot at government censors, saying that his online monitors will now get a well-deserved rest.
"I'm sorry for giving you so much stress over the past few years," he wrote in a comment that some netizens took to be sarcastic.
Repeated calls to Yu's cell phone went unanswered on Tuesday. However, two of Yu's colleagues at the Southern Metropolis Daily confirmed that he had resigned.
"Yes, it's true that he has left his job," a reporter at the paper told RFA. "He couldn't stand the atmosphere around here anymore."
"I don't feel that there's much interest [in the job] nowadays, either."
A second colleague surnamed Liu agreed: "So many people have quit now that there are hardly any people I know who are still here.”
"Of course they're leaving,” he said. “The industry is dying, and there's not much left of the Southern Group any more. You won't be able to use it as a platform to do things that are in keeping with your values. It’s finished.”
Journalist's family targeted
Yu's post came as exiled journalist Chang Ping hit back publicly at the harassment of his family back home, an increasingly common tactic used to put pressure on overseas dissidents.
An outspoken journalist who began a new life in Germany after he lost his job at the Southern Weekend, a sister paper to the Southern Metropolis Daily, Chang attacked recent moves by police in the southwestern province of Sichuan to put heavy pressure on him via his family.
Police summoned Chang's two brothers and a sister on Sunday, telling them to warn the journalist against writing articles critical of China or else his relatives might find criminal charges pinned on them by the authorities, Chang told RFA.
He hit back in an online statement on Tuesday, revealing that state security police had demanded via his brother that he take down an article on the Deutsche Welle website describing the detention of his family members as a "kidnap."
"After they were detained, the interrogation was mostly about me and my work," Chang told RFA on Tuesday, adding that no legal documentation was given by the authorities. "The police demanded that I change my job, but [my family] has no way of complying with their request."
"They don't even have a direct method of contacting me," Chang told RFA, saying that the police also wanted to know if he was linked to an anonymous online letter calling for the resignation of President Xi.
"The Chinese Communist Party should immediately stop its investigation into this open letter and the harassment, investigation, threats and kidnappings of media workers, commentators and their families," Chang said.
He denied any involvement with the letter.
"I'm not interested in such letters, nor would I get involved with writing one," he said. "The leadership is just spooked, but I don't think they are very effective."
Police threatened his family with prosecution over minor damage to vegetation that came after they set off firecrackers near a family tomb ahead of the annual tomb-sweeping festival of Qing Ming, he said.
State security police are unlikely to concern themselves with such matters without a political reason to do so, he added.
Before leaving China, Chang, whose official name is Zhang Ping, was dismissed from two previous editorial posts for his outspoken commentaries on Tibet and for refusing to make changes to articles in line with directives from China's powerful propaganda department.
A second anonymous letter purportedly signed by 171 "loyal party members," also calling for Xi's resignation, was sent to the U.S.-based Mingjing News website on Tuesday.
But the site's editor Ho Pin said he had been unable to confirm the source of the letter, which has different wording from the one that first appeared.
"We don't know where this letter came from, so we have no way of confirming this," Ho said. "That's why we didn't post it on the site."
Reported by Xin Lin and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san, Pan Jiaqing and Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.