Ian Johnson on Southern Weekend Incident and It’s Impact

 Ian Johnson, Pulitzer Prize winner, China journalist for the Wall Street Journal, and author of Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China, writes on Southern Weekend incident and it’s impact in New York Times:


Indeed, Mr. Xi seems to be casting himself in the mold of Deng, who was known for bold economic reforms but who also brooked no opposition to the rule of the Communist Party.

The latest indication was a speech Mr. Xi made that also was published in newspapers on Sunday. Speaking to senior leaders, Mr. Xi repeatedly invoked Deng, especially on the need to adhere to “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” a phrase often used to mean a combination of pragmatic policies and one-party rule. He also praised the pre-reform era, in what appeared to be an effort to appeal to harder-line Communists.


Zhan Jiang, a professor of media at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the public anger showed how expectations had risen. “Currently in China people are unusually sensitive to developments like this, and so the reaction has been quite intense,” Mr. Zhan said.

Some are less sure that the atmosphere is more open, saying the media shutdowns have occurred because Mr. Xi has avoided taking a clear position.

“There are still no clear rules on the media, and so officials stick to using their habitual ways to control the media,” said Li Datong, a prominent Chinese newspaper editor fired for his views. “There won’t be any change until Xi Jinping enunciates any ideas about major change.”

Other commentators doubt this will happen. They note that in previous jobs Mr. Xi upheld the status quo and that now that he has reached the pinnacle of his career he is unlikely to support systemic reform.

“This is a traditional viewpoint: if you change the emperor you’ll have a change of policy and maybe some new, hopeful things,” said the exiled Chinese political commentator Zhang Ping, who goes by the pen name Chang Ping. “But I don’t think this is likely, because you still have an emperor.”


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