The founder of China’s Southern Weekly, a Guangdong province-based paper known for its investigative journalism on social issues and its refusal to be a mere echo of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda, passed away earlier this month.
Zuo Fang died of illness at the age of 86 on Nov. 3, in Guangzhou City, according to Southern Weekly, where he was a former editor-in-chief.
Though Zuo was a member of the CCP, he believed that journalism should present readers with ideas like democracy and science, reported the New York Times on Nov. 11. Before the Southern Weekly, Chinese newspapers merely parroted the regime’s line, ever since the CCP took the country over through violent revolution in 1949.
The Southern Weekly began in 1984 as a sister publication of the Nanfang Daily, a mouthpiece of the provincial committee of the CCP in Guangdong, where Zuo worked as an editor.
Despite the Southern Weekly being a state-run paper, it became popular as a liberal-leaning outlet with investigative reports on minorities, like migrants, protesters, and government petitioners.
The rise of the paper occurred during a time of positive reforms that took place in China during the 1990s. However, the Weekly was not fully independent, as it was constrained in its freedom of speech—as are all Chinese publicly or privately-owned media outlets—and did not directly question the regime.
Zuo later officially retired in 1995 but went on working for a couple of years after.
However, in 1999, the CCP began widespread persecution against spiritual beliefs and undermined its own political and judicial reforms.
Censorship increased in late 2012 when Chinese leader Xi Jinping took power and started to campaign for more centralized control over the media.
Even though Southern Weekly had been able to weather political circumstances in the past, it did not manage to resist tightening censorship.
In January 2013, Tuo Zhen, then director of the Propaganda Department of Guangdong Province, changed the New Year’s greeting in the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly from “Chinese Dream, Constitutional Dream” to “We Are Closer to Our Dream Than Ever.”
Over 50 former editors and reporters of the Weekly protested Tuo’s action in an open letter, accusing him of “making an unnecessary revision”. The editorial staff then went on strike and many supporters gathered outside Southern Weekly’s headquarters in Guangdong, calling for Tuo’s resignation.
This incident prompted authorities to suppress public opinion and proceeded to restructure the paper’s management.
Nowadays, the Southern Weekly is mainly operating as a CCP mouthpiece.