Conscience vs Fear

On state-controlled media in China and defiant journalists and editors during the 1989 failed revolution. This is an interview with Cheng Kai, former editor-in-chief of Hainan Daily. Mr Cheng presided over the newspaper during the Tiananmen incident.

His decision to veer from the party line (without opening supporting the students at Tiananmen) in 1989, publishing Zhao Ziyang’s photo, giving him significant coverage while putting official editorials on the 4th page, got him into serious trouble with the communist leadership.

While China Daily was the biggest creator of fake news, singing praises for Mao and his policies even when people were starving, the paper had its “golden age” in the 1980s. Former China Daily editor-in-chief Hu Ji Wei (1916-2012) joked that the China Daily during that time had only one truth – the date. Under Hu Ji Wei’s leadership since 1952, the paper gradually found its own feet and pulled away from party propaganda in the early 1980s.

As a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Hu had even wanted to push for legislature to protect press freedom following best practices in Hong Kong. However, the proposal was shot down by Chen Yun who said that freedom of the press provided by the KMT gave the Communists opportunity to smear the KMT and win over the people. Chen admonished that they must never allow communist China to have press freedom and provide dissidents with the same opportunity to jeopardise their legitimacy.

After the departure of Hu Ji Wei in 1985, China Daily continued its advancement as a legitimate newspaper until 1989 when the reins were pulled again. Today’s China Daily is back to being the party’s mouthpiece that it was when Mao was in power. Hu was barred from official duties from 1990 because of his support for Tiananmen protestors. In 2010, Hu told the South China Morning Post: “China nowadays looks strong on the outside, but it’s actually very weak and afraid … the regime is rotten from within.”

Hu’s dying wish was for the authorities to withdraw their accusations against him. That wish was not granted.