updated 2/16/2006 11:30:56 AM ET 2006-02-16T16:30:56

A Chinese newspaper supplement known for hard-hitting coverage of sensitive issues will resume publishing more than a month after being shut down, but its two top editors were fired, one of the editors said Thursday.

The closure of Bing Dian, a four-page weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily, was seen as part of the communist government’s efforts to tighten control over the media. Though no official reason was given for the shutdown in late January, editor-in-chief Li Datong has said it was the culmination of ongoing tensions over the paper’s content.

Li met with newspaper officials Thursday and said afterward he and deputy editor Lu Yuegang had been removed from their posts and transferred to the News Research Institute, another department of the China Youth Daily. He said the supplement will resume publication March 1.

As part of the deal to reopen, Bing Dian also will have to run an article criticizing a previously published essay by Yuan Weishi, who complained of a political bias in the way that Chinese textbooks present 19th century history.

“This is a ridiculous decision!” Li said in a telephone interview. “The soul of Bing Dian has been extinguished. Only a shell is left. If the staff decides to protest, no one will do the job. It will be an empty paper on March 1.”

Unprecedented support for Bing Dian
The move came after a group of Communist Party elders and scholars issued an almost unprecedented joint letter expressing support for Bing Dian and criticizing a government campaign to tighten media controls. China’s leadership has dismissed editors, arrested journalists and shut down newspapers known for outspoken coverage of corruption, environmental problems and rural poverty.

Earlier this month, Li said he wrote to the Central Discipline Inspection Committee, the party’s internal affairs watchdog, to protest the Jan. 24 closure of Bing Dian and demand an investigation.

“My appeal has just arrived at the disciplinary commission, but they made their decision before my letter could be processed,” Li said.

The 11-year-old Bing Dian — which means Freezing Point — had drawn many dedicated readers with in-depth articles on sensitive topics such as rival Taiwan’s democracy, wrongdoing by well-connected individuals and environmental disasters.

The paper was suspended for one issue after it reported Nov. 30 on plagiarism complaints about a scholar favored by high-ranking members of the Communist Party, an action that could be taken as an indirect criticism of China’s leaders.

Information crackdown
Under the leadership of Chinese President Hu Jintao, authorities have banned dozens of newspapers, dismissed editors and arrested aggressive journalists in a campaign to tighten control over the flow of information to the public and punish those pushing the limits of official tolerance.

Targets of the crackdown have included newspapers known for outspoken coverage of corruption, environmental problems and rural poverty.

Last week, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said a newspaper editor in eastern China died after being beaten by police officers angered by his paper’s reports on corruption in their ranks.

China on Thursday defended its right to police the Internet, which it encourages its citizens to use for education and business, but strictly monitors and blocks content it considers critical of the ruling party.

“It is normal for countries to manage the Internet in accordance with law and to guide its development in a healthy and orderly fashion,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.

The decision to reopen Bing Dian came after a group of party elders and scholars issued an almost unprecedented joint letter expressing support for the paper and criticizing a government campaign to tighten media controls.

“This constitutes a violation of the constitution. In order to control public opinion, they have diminished freedom of speech, made blacklists, and conducted secret investigations,” the letter said. “These deeds are ridiculous and rude and totally beyond the boundaries of law.”

Its signers included Li Rui, a former secretary to communist founder Mao Zedong; Zhu Houze, former head of the party’s Propaganda Department in the 1980s; and Li Pu, former deputy director of the government’s Xinhua News Agency.

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