The ousted editors of a liberal Chinese magazine are suing the government in an effort to wrest back control of one of the country’s best-known political journals.
A lawyer representing seven high-level editors of Yanhuang Chunqiu, Ding Xikui, said former members of staff are seeking damages after the Ministry of Culture last month forcibly replaced top executives, seized the magazine’s offices and published an issue under their names.
The struggle for the journal’s reins comes at a time when President Xi Jinping’s administration is quashing dissent and revisionist voices.
Although the magazine’s former staff and supporters do not believe the publication has an independent future, the plaintiffs are hoping to shut it down altogether to prevent authorities from releasing more issues without their consent.
Outside the courthouse on Tuesday, deputy editor Wang Yanjun held a copy of what he called the “fake” August issue put out by the Ministry of Culture and decried its new editorial direction. The magazine’s new leaders convened a meeting this week that sought contributions from well-known neo-Maoist and nationalist writers that horrified the old guard, he said.
“It’s diametrically opposite to the spirit of our magazine,” Wang said.
Wang said seven of them were also suing the two new editors, Hao Qingjun and Jia Leilei, demanding they return the magazine to its former staff and saying its current operations were illegal.
“They hijacked our official website, cracked the password, and are publishing their own illegal views there,” Wang said.
Hao declined to comment, while contact details for Jia were not available.
The court did not answer calls seeking comment. The Chinese National Academy of Arts, which is technically in charge of the magazine, also did not answer calls.
Founded in 1991 by senior members of the Communist Party’s liberal wing, Yanhuang Chunqiu amassed a following by examining sensitive historical periods such as the Cultural Revolution and advocating gradual political loosening. The magazine has clashed with censors on numerous occasions but has survived until now, thanks to behind-the-scenes support from its sympathisers, including high-ranking military officials.
Its contributors have tangled with the authorities on several occasions in the past year alone as China’s political climate has grown more restrictive.
Separately, Hong Zhenkuai, a former editor at the magazine, lost an appeal against a June court case in which he was told to publicly apologise for two articles written in 2013 questioning the details of a well-known story about Communist soldiers fighting the Japanese in the second world war.
Hong said he would not apologise and that he had defamed nobody.
“My articles exposed the truth about a period of history,” he said. “I did nothing illegal.”
Calls to the Beijing court which heard the appeal went unanswered. The office of the lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, Zhao Xiaolu, said Zhao was not accepting media interviews.
Hong had been sued by relatives of the surviving soldiers.
In the story, five soldiers jumped off a cliff so the Japanese could not take them alive, although two of them lived.
Hong had expressed doubt about how many Japanese the Chinese soldiers killed, how the two survived and where the cliff is.
Communist Party history is a sensitive subject in China as so much of its legitimacy rests on its position as claiming great historical achievements, such as leading China to victory over Japan during the second world war.
Associated Press, Reuters