Zhang Hong was the deputy editor in chief of the Economic Observer website who was sacked from his job this week for his major part in an editorial that was published on March 1. Here is the English translation with the original Chinese below.
I Am a Moderate Adviser
By Zhang Hong
After the 13 newspapers jointly published the editorial "Request for Representatives at the Two Meetings to Hasten Reform of the Household Registration System," major repercussions ensued, and there were a great many conjectures about the back story behind the appearance of this editorial. As a party involved, I think it is necessary to discuss the context of this event through the appropriate media that is able to report on it. Some have commented that this event should go down in media history, I myself don't believe it's that significant but I want to write an explanation out of my sense of duty to readers.
The original plan for the joint editorial was hatched last year when the Economic Observer joined the Guardian newspaper in a joint editorial on climate change that was published by 56 media outlets. At the time I was responsible for communicating with the Guardian, discussing and translating the joint editorial, and developed a fairly deep understanding of the entire process. Afterward the idea sprung up of whether we could publish a similar type of editorial domestically.
The suggestion to use the household registration issue as a focal point came from another colleague. In choosing this as the topic, it's important to understand that hukou reform has already seen breakthroughs on many fronts, many cities are speeding it up, and Premier Wen Jiabao and high level central government officials have stated their position on this item of reform on many public occasions. We believed that publishing an editorial on this topic would be in line with the direction of Chinese government reforms and with the broad public interest, and that the risks were not too great. Some foreign news agencies have said that the order for this may have come down from high levels of government, but in fact it was not at all like that. This was the product of a few editors working behind closed doors, but the stir it created went beyond our initial expectations.
Moreover, we decided to use the two meetings [of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference currently taking place in Beijing] as the timeframe for publication in order to express the media's wish to participate in China's overall reform. To put it bluntly, I've lived for 36 years, but never known which representatives were chosen by me, who are able to seek justice on my behalf. I think many people might also have similar views. As part of the media, we hope that the voices of the masses can make themselves heard among the representatives who "represent public opinion." This is a moderate stance, but it is the type of thing that before was rarely expressed directly in the media.
The entire household registration reform plan had four steps, with the joint editorial as the focus.
The first step: On Jan. 26, the Economic Observer Online posted a survey on household registration reform, with a call for submissions and a special topic page, and at the same time we invited two other Web sites to participate. The first paragraph of the joint editorial, "China has endured the bitterness of its household registration system for so long! We hold that individuals are born free, born possessing the right to move freely!" first appeared as part of the online call for people to participate in our survey. Our online survey was well-received, with more than 3,500 people participating, which was quite unusual for a Web site on the scale of the Economic Observer Online.
The second step: On Feb. 22 we promoted a special section in the newspaper titled "Angry Hukou." This special section mainly featured the difficulties people face due to the current household registration system and experts were invited to participate in the discussion. This special section already created some impact.
The third step was the climax: Putting out the joint editorial on March 1, in time for the two meetings. Our work on inviting other media to participate with us was somewhat affected by the Lunar New Year. Originally we expected that more than 20 media organizations might participate, but the actual number of participants was somewhat smaller than expected. The first draft of this editorial was written by a colleague, and I received a draft for revision on Feb. 7. I made major revisions and the final version that appeared in the paper was largely the same as this draft. On Feb 9., after I sent the revised version to my colleague, he suggested some revisions in accordance with provisions of the [Chinese] constitution, and we made some further slight changes in wording based on feedback from other media organizations. I understand the article was quite stimulating, but it's the style that I have always embraced- commentary should be incisive. Since we had decided to publish the joint editorial on March 1, after the papers were printed, the major Web sites only posted the joint editorial on the morning of March 1, and the Economic Observer Online also promoted the editorial as the top story that day. The editorial went out, and that's how we set the prairie on fire.
The fourth step was the conclusion. According to our plan, we would write at least two articles following the publication of the joint editorial. One was our own news story about the joint editorial, and the other was an explanation of the whole drafting process behind the editorial. I myself wrote another commentary in the afternoon entitled "Media is Not Only a Witness: Why We Released the Joint Editorial," which we posted online. At the same time, we also published another article, "The 13-media Joint Editorial on Household Registration Reform Inspires Heated Discussion". However, the planned article about the editorial drafting process wasn't run due to some problems, which is the sole regret in our entire plan.
After the joint editorial was published, the reactions to it went far beyond what we initially anticipated, so to speak. We expected it would get some response, but we didn't think it would be so great. It actually echoes an old Chinese saying, "In a world without heroes, ordinary people can make a name for themselves." I don't dare to take credit for the work of others, but at the same time I am not willing to put the blame on someone else, so I removed all the names of both media and individuals who participated in the editorial, leaving only the name of myself who has nothing to lose. As a matter of fact, every reader understands that the reason why this joint editorial has attracted such widespread attention is not because the media is so powerful, but because it shows the fervent anxiety of the people's expectations!
After this incident, I was punished accordingly; other colleagues and media partners also felt repercussions. I feel a sense of guilt whenever I think about it. This can't be blamed on the newspapers, because they are confronted by forces that cannot be resisted, and when we act we must always consider that there are many others whose livelihoods must be protected. Here I would like to thank the folks who have worked hard together with me.
My father's generation endured so much hardship because of the household registration system, many of my friends and even the next generation still suffers greatly because of this system―struggling endlessly with nowhere to turn with their complaints. I'm not an expert, I do not propose a complete plan for reform, but I have a firm conviction that legislation that disregards the dignity and freedom of the people will ultimately land on the rubbish heap of history. I hope that this system will ultimately be abolished. When the time comes I believe that many people will burst into tears from happiness and run around spreading the news. As a media person, I can only do my utmost to fulfill my duties and obligations, and each of us should also assume our respective duties and obligations.
I am a moderate adviser, who has inadvertently stirred up a great controversy, and the development of circumstances has gone beyond my expectations. In the end I hope everyone will remember this. I am now an independent commentator. I just hope that these words may allow everyone to have a full understanding of this event. Thank you for your feedback, whether supportive or critical.