By David Bandurski — Hong Kong’s Yazhou Zhoukan has reported that the Chinese journal Yanhuang Chunqiu, which has lately faced pressure from authorities, is now officially out of the woods [more from ESWN here]. The Hong Kong weekly also reports that the group behind the action against Yanhuang Chunqiu was the propaganda department’s news commentary group (NCG), or yueping zu (中宣部阅评组). Sound familiar?
When Freezing Point, the weekly supplement of China Youth Daily, was shut down in January 2006, the action also stemmed from a criticism issued by the NCG.
In his open letter protesting the move, Freezing Point editor Li Datong (李大同) openly mentioned the NCG’s role, calling the group a “sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of China’s media.” [Here is Roland Soong’s translation of Li Datong’s open letter, in which he renders yueping zu as “Criticism Group”].
In a separate open letter protesting the shutdown of Freezing Point, former party officials and newspaper bosses called for the disbanding of the NCG.
If what Yazhou Zhoukan is now reporting is true, the NCG is alive and well as an informal organ of post-facto censorship. But the Yanhuang Chunqiu affair has played out very differently from what we saw two years ago, and this might suggest some measure of change to the group’s role and influence.
Little is actually known about the secretive NCG. But for a taste of who they are, we point readers to several of our own past writings on the group.
China’s Shadow Censor Commissars,” published in the March 2006 edition of Far Eastern Economic Review [subscription only], gives an overview of the NCG and their role since the 1990s and their part in the shutdown of Freezing Point.
Garden of Falsehood,” published in the Spring 2008 edition of Index on Censorship, includes examples of (sometimes comical) NCG criticisms.
For readers of Chinese, we recommend Qian Gang’s essay, “From Liu Binyan to Freezing Point” (从宾雁到冰点), which tells the story of how celebrated journalist Liu Binyan (刘宾雁) was “struggled against” (揪斗) as a right-roader at the outset of the Cultural Revolution in 1966.
As Liu Binyan sat across from his accusers, his most vicious critic was none other than Liu Zuyu (刘祖禹), the leftist propaganda official who sat at the helm of the NCG when the group targeted Freezing Point forty years later.

“Liu Binyan! You must toss aside this guise of yours and honestly face the fact that you are guilty of opposing the CCP and opposing socialism!”
This “most vicious” Liu Zuyu is today head of the Central Propaganda Department’s News Commentary Group.

Word went round in 2007 that Liu Zuyu was no longer a member of the NCG, but little birds now tell us he is back.
[Posted by David Bandurski, December 16, 2008, 1:53pm HK]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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