China's censorship authorities have warned a cutting-edge political magazine that dozens of its recent articles, including some about late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, are in breach of government guidelines, telling its editors they must submit the next issue for approval before going to press, sources told RFA on Monday.
The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) told the editors of Yanhuang Chunqiu that 37 articles it has published since the beginning of the year are in breach of political guidelines, a source close to the magazine said.
"The SAPPRFT issued them with a written warning four or five days ago, telling them how many of their articles had contravened the regulations in issues 1, 2, and 3 this year," the source said.
"If there are similar problems in the next issue, they will probably cancel the magazine's business license and publication number," the source said.
"That is the serious situation they are in now."
The source said deputy editor Yang Jisheng would likely be forced to resign from the magazine.
"A number of retired officials from [state-run] Xinhua news agency and the [ruling Chinese Communist Party's] Central Commission for Discipline Inspection went to visit Yang Jisheng at his home last week," the source said.
"They wanted him to leave the magazine this month, but after some negotiation, it was agreed that he would leave in June."
Forbidden to speak
Yang declined to comment on the report on Monday.
"I have to tell you, I am Yang Jisheng, but I have been ordered not to give interviews to the foreign media," he said.
"Xinhua news agency has ordered me not to speak to foreign journalists."
The reports that Yang will resign come after the magazine was forced to cancel its annual spring conference on March 18.
Yanhuang Chunqiu's annual conferences typically gather revolutionary elders and their descendants, editors, readers, and contemporary historians.
According to former top Communist Party aide Bao Tong, this year's guest-list was to have included revolutionary elders and nonagenarians Li Rui and He Fang; legal scholars Guo Daohui and Jiang Ping; Marxist theorist Du Guang; retired politician Yang Rudai; and Ye Xiangzhen and Xi Ganping, descendants of two of the founders of the People's Republic of China.
Link to articles
The cancellation was linked to articles in the March edition of Yanhuang Chunqiu about late former premiers Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, Bao Tong's former political boss, sources said at the time.
Hu and Zhao were ousted from their posts by late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, who feared their liberal-minded approach to dissent would endanger party rule.
Hu's April 22, 1989 state funeral sparked a spontaneous outpouring of public grief on Tiananmen Square, which sparked the student-led pro-democracy movement that ended in bloodshed on June 4 of that year.
Hu was credited with overturning many of the injustices of the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), while Zhao's political fall came after he took too lenient an approach to the 1989 protests, by Deng's reckoning.
To this day, Zhao is rarely mentioned in official historical accounts, and any attempt to commemorate him is met with official suppression, sometimes in the form of prison sentences.
According to the source, Yanhuang Chunqiu's May edition must be submitted to the authorities ahead of publication.
"Starting with Issue 5, all copy must be submitted for inspection," the source said. "But Yanhuang Chunqiu has taken its own decision that it will definitely not submit its copy."
"It's hard for anyone to say what the outcome of this decision will be."
The magazine's former deputy editor, Huang Zhong, told RFA on Monday that the written warning came after a series of verbal warnings from censors.
"They've had verbal ones before. For example, [former editor] Wu used to get visits, and chats," Huang said.
"But it's unprecedented for them to receive a warning about 37 articles in so many issues all at once."
"There was never any of this 'according to law' wording before, either," Huang said.
Huang said the SAPPRFT under the administration of President Xi Jinping is continuing to tighten its grip on China's already tightly controlled media.
"There's no way to compare the freedom of the press today with the freedom it enjoyed back in 1989 [before the Tiananmen Square crackdown]," he said.
Earlier this month, a court in Beijing sentenced veteran political journalist Gao Yu to seven years' imprisonment for "leaking state secrets overseas" after she reported on a party policy Document No. 9, detailing the "seven taboos" for public discussion.
Document No. 9 lists "seven taboos" to be avoided in public debate, including online and in China's schools and universities, including democracy, freedom of the press, judicial independence, and criticism of the party's historical record.
Gao's detention came as she planned to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, which culminated in a military crackdown by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on the night of June 3-4, 1989.
Gao Yu, 71, an outspoken political commentator who was named as one of the International Press Institute's 50 "world press heroes" in 2000, has repeatedly denied breaking Chinese law, and has already appealed her sentence.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.