Media regulation

Yazhou Zhoukan shut out of the mainland?

Yazhou Zhoukan

Has Yazhou Zhoukan (亚洲周刊, aka "Asia Weekly") been banned?

The newsweekly, published out of Hong Kong by Ming Pao and the Tom Group, has been available by subscription to qualified individuals and businesses on the mainland (the qualification being a foreign passport). But subscribers have been informed that it's not on the list of available magazines for 2008.

Han Yonghong reports for Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao:

Responding to inquiries from this newspaper, a circulation department employee at the China National Publications Import & Export Corporation (CNPIEC) said that they had received word from their superiors not to accept subscriptions to Yazhou Zhoukan starting next year, and they were preparing to return subscribers' money.

The employee did not give a specific reason, but stressed that this was a national rule.

On CNPIEC's list of periodicals for foreign subscribers for 2008, Yazhou Zhoukan is absent. This newspaper asked another agent that handles subscriptions to foreign periodicals, the China International Book Trading Corporation (CIBTC), and received the same answer: "You can't subscribe to Yazhou Zhoukan."

According to Chinese government regulations, only foreigners or foreign businesses can subscribe to general-content overseas publications like Yazhou Zhoukan; the magazine is seldom sold even at domestic airports and hotels. CNPIEC and CIBTC are the two companies officially authorized to handle overseas subscriptions.

The stance of the two companies as described above indicates that formal avenues for mainland subscriptions to Yazhou Zhoukan have been closed off.

Asked whether Yazhou Zhoukan has been banned on the Chinese mainland, a source within the magazine said that the situation was unclear.

Chen Qingyuan, strategy director for the magazine's Hong Kong editorial headquarters, said in a phone interview yesterday that in Hong Kong, it had been a public holiday for Christmas over the last two days and the circulation department was on vacation. Details about the situation would have to wait until the circulation department returned to work.

He said that before the holiday, the magazine had not received any notice about an official ban or restriction on Yazhou Zhoukan in the mainland.

In a different area, people in China's publishing and intellectual worlds expressed surprise and confusion at the possibility that Yazhou Zhoukan had been banned. At a time when the country was anticipating the 2008 Olympics and observing the 30th anniversary of the reform and opening up, conventional wisdom was that the leadership was concerned with international image and was unlikely to bring a ban against such a visible media outlet as Yazhou Zhoukan.
A commentator who works in the publishing industry admitted privately, "If Yazhou Zhoukan is banned, it's unlikely to be at the behest of the upper leadership; it's probably the work of some low-level official."

Yazhou Zhoukan just named the Chinese day trader as its Person of the Year.

Update: Ming Pao, Yazhou Zhoukan's sister newspaper, reported on 28 December that the magazine's editorial offices confirmed the rumor: "Chen Qingyuan said that they had been informed by their Hong Kong agent, but that the other party did not provide a reason. He thinks that one should not conclude that the mainland has tightened controls on freedom of the press purely because subscriptions to Yazhou Zhoukan have been banned." Ming Pao link (subscription required; text available on HKMetroTown BBS).

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There are currently 2 Comments for Yazhou Zhoukan shut out of the mainland?.

Comments on Yazhou Zhoukan shut out of the mainland?

If you press hard for an offical explanation for the ban, Chinese officials will probably cite the need to protect local publications, such as the 21st Century Business Herald, as an excuse. This explanation is not entirely wrong; it just doesn't reflect the whole truth. From what I understand, progressive Chinese magazine, such as the previously banned 21st Century Global Herald, have persistently argued for more editorial freedom in order to compete with HK and overseas magazines for readership. So I tend to interpret the ban of the popular Asia Weekly as an official response to this request for press freedom.

Regarding the motives for the alleged ban on subscriptions to "Yazhou Zhoukan, " I think opinions expressed in the article itself and by Catherine are off the mark.

First of all, the magazine cannot be sold in newspaper kiosks in China. I would be surprised if there are more than a few thousand subscribers, max. This means that, banned or not, readership is already quite restricted.

Nor is "Yazhou Zhoukan" what I would call international media. While it does have loyal readers in southeast Asia, for instance, it is published in Hong Kong in Chinese, the writing/editing staff are Chinese, and the topics are clearly those of interest to persons who consider themselves Chinese.

In my opinion, if subscriptions are no longer accepted -- which would effectively ban the magazine in China -- I would put it down to these factors:

--- The magazine regularly features stories on politics in Taiwan. It reports in a colorful and well-informed manner on politicians and political developments there, indirectly highlighting Taiwan's position as a democratic segment of Chinese society. This is something that neither mainland nor so-called "international" publications (i.e., English-language magazines that offer infrequent and superficial coverage of Taiwan) do. China's media controllers obviously are not keen to have such an independent voice freely available on the mainland.

--- The editor-in-chief, Yau Lop Poon, is a patriotic but liberal-minded intellectual who was educated in Taiwan and the US. The magazine's editorial stance clearly shows his preference for multiple voices, rational debate and a tolerance for diversity among Chinese of different intellectual and political viewpoints. Such a preference may be highly valued in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the world at large, but it is viewed with suspicion by conservative media apparatchiks in mainland China.

Bruce Humes

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