Zuo Fang, one of the founders of China's Southern Weekly, is dead

Zuo Fang, a pioneering journalist who helped launch China’s most influential reform-era newspaper and edited it with the belief that the...


Zuo Fang, a pioneering journalist who helped launch China’s most influential reform-era newspaper and edited it with the belief that the press should inform, enlighten and entertain rather than parrot Communist Party propaganda, died on November 3 in Guangzhou, China. He was 86 years old.

His death, in a hospital, was announced by the newspaper he co-founded, Weekly South.

Southern Weekly – the newspaper prefers this English name to another common translation, Southern Weekend – was started in 1984 as a sister publication to Nanfang Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party in Guangdong Province, where Mr. Zuo started. his career in 1962..

A weekend broadsheet, it laid the groundwork for a golden age of Chinese journalism in the 1990s and 2000s, when the government somewhat relaxed its tight control over the media. New market-oriented outlets pushed the limits of the Communist Party’s tolerance by producing impactful investigation reports and heartbreaking reports on China’s poor and powerless. These publications set the agenda for national debates and held the powerful accountable.

“Mr. Zuo and the Southern Weekly were symbols of a certain era,” said Yan Lieshan, a retired opinion editor of the newspaper. Journalists, academics and others in China mourned the death of Mr. Zuo, he said, “because they still believe in journalism and the truth.”

Mr. Zuo, an idealist who joined the Chinese military during the Korean War, argued that newspapers have a responsibility to enlighten the public with ideas of science and democracy – a radical departure from the spokesperson role that the press had played under the Communist Party regime. since 1949.

The weekly’s circulation topped 100,000 by the end of its first year and topped one million in a decade. Many of its journalists have left to start similar publications.

“Sir. Zuo believed that enlightening the public was the newspaper’s most important responsibility,” said Xu Lie, a former associate editor who started Southern People’s Weekly magazine in 2004. “He started the fire at Southern Weekly and passed it on to generations of journalists. “

By the time Mr. Zuo died, however, that era was over. Southern Weekly was among the first liberal-leaning institutions to was attacked after Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, came to power in late 2012. Today, as with other media outlets in China, key articles on his website regularly include information about Mr. Xi and the latest initiatives and successes of the party.

“The Southern Weekly has been reduced to a very ordinary newspaper,” wrote Lian Qingchuan, a former editor there, in an article after Mr. Zuo’s death. “I haven’t read it for a long time.

Zuo Fang was born Huang Keji on November 18, 1934 in a village near Guangzhou, according to a memoir he published in 2014. His grandfather Huang Kang joined the 1911 revolution that ended the last Chinese imperial dynasty . Her father, Huang Wenzao, joined the anti-Japanese resistance during World War II and was executed. His mother, Chen Yuqing, worked as a maid for the owner of an opium den.

Mr. Zuo joined the military at the age of 16, changing his name to Zuo Fang (Zuo translates to “left” in English). His unit is preparing to go to Korea by executing counter-revolutionaries, like former landowners, in a village in Guangdong.

Mr. Zuo once described how his hands trembled during his first execution. His unit leader took his gun and shot the prisoner but did not intentionally kill him, then told Mr. Zuo to finish the job. Mr. Zuo wrote that he closed his eyes and fired about six bullets at the prisoner.

He left military service without going to war and studied Chinese literature at Peking University in Beijing. After graduating, he joined the Nanfang Daily.

Unusually for someone involved in the Cultural Revolution, Mr. Zuo bluntly described his role as the leader of a rebel group during this time of party-fueled violence and paranoia. He lashes out at former officials in his comments and accompanies the Red Guards when they publicly denounce their enemies.

After the Cultural Revolution, he worked at the Nanfang Daily library for six years until he was asked to start a new weekend newspaper in 1983. At that time, he wrote , he had come to reject revolution and radicalism and believe that China should embrace economic growth and values ​​like freedom and democracy. One of his biggest worries, he wrote, was that “the whole nation would lose memory, hearing and speech.”

He set out to create a post that people would read. The main article in the first edition of Southern Weekly, in February 1984, was about a famous actress and writer who had gone into business. An article on Deng Xiaoping, then China’s supreme leader, got the second bill.

Southern Weekly published what might have been Communist China’s first sex column. He has published articles on hairstyles and pop music. Critics called it a tabloid with little social significance. But publishing front-page entertainment articles in an official newspaper in 1984 “required courage and guts,” Zuo wrote.

The weekly paved the way for other provocative publications that followed. He did not challenge the government or party officials at the national level. It also avoided trouble in Guangdong, as government officials ultimately controlled the newspaper. Mr. Zuo borrowed a line from a mentor and made it the Weekly’s motto: “There are some truths we cannot tell. But we will never tell lies.

Corrupt officials in other provinces were a fair game. In its early days, the newspaper ran an article about the party secretary of a county in another province who raped his predecessor’s daughter-in-law. He named the official, but he used an obscure title to avoid the attention of censors. “We started at the county level,” Mr. Zuo wrote, “and kept exposing the provincial party secretaries. “

Chinese censors have often ordered the newspaper to stop publishing temporarily or withdraw items. Mr. Zuo said he wrote many letters of self-criticism.

“If a newspaper only tells the truth it is allowed to tell, anyone can publish a newspaper,” he wrote. “The test stone of running a newspaper is how to tell the truths that are not allowed to be told.”

Mr. Zuo retired in 1994, but continued to work at the newspaper for another four years.

His survivors include his wife, Li Yaling, and his two daughters, Zuo Dongyun and Zuo Yueyun.

Former colleagues said Mr. Zuo did not publicly discuss the changes at Southern Weekly after Mr. Xi’s rise to power. He stopped reading newspapers later in life due to poor eyesight, but continued to follow the news. Former colleagues have said he listens to the Chinese services of the BBC and Voice of America.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Zuo Fang, one of the founders of China's Southern Weekly, is dead
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