Newspapers

A property giant takes on the Xinjiang media

JDM090421guards.jpg
No Morning Post admitted

A major Xinjiang company has come away with a black eye after going up against a top-selling newspaper.

On April 15, Xinjiang Property Management, a subsidiary of Xinjiang Guanghui Industry Investment (新疆广汇实业投资), issued an order to all of the communities it manages in Urumqi to block Morning Post newspaper carriers from entering. The following morning, guards began carrying out the order, beefing up their security measures to prevent any copies of the newspaper from entering Guanghui communities.

The Morning Post (新疆都市消费晨报), which buys its ink by the barrel, devoted a front-page headline to the incident on Monday and ran a three-page illustrated takedown of Guanghui's tactics.

The report depicts in painstaking detail the cold reception that paper carriers received on the morning of April 16, when they were blocked outside the gates of dozens of communities across Urumqi. Guards offered no details, apart from cryptic references to "the leadership."

In the second part of the report, the newspaper relates a variety of contradictory explanations, ranging from accusations of improper competition on the part of the Morning Post to suggestions that the newspaper was distributing cult propaganda. In one community, a property management employee blamed the newspaper for not being "in line with the guiding principles of the party."

Guanghui eventually got its act together and issued a uniform notice that combined the cult and improper competition explanations. The third part of the Morning Post uses the opinions of lawyers and legal scholars to tear the notice apart and to suggest that Guanghui was acting in retaliation for an unfavorable report the newspaper printed earlier in the month. The article concludes with arguments in favor of watchdog journalism (舆论监督, also translated as "supervision by public opinion").

Why did Guanghui Management bar distribution of the Morning Post?

by Xing Dong / MP

A total shut-out one morning

On April 15, all Xinjiang Guanghui communities received instructions to bar the Morning Post from entering and to remove the newspaper's delivery boxes.

"Headquarters said that if a single copy of the Morning Post entered the community, I'd lose my job. If three copies got in, the director of the management company would be dismissed."

Surprised and frightened, a 72-year-old paper vendor said, "What kind of reactionary report did the Morning Post print? Why is it being confiscated?"

At 6am on April 16, Kou Haiwen showed up on Tianjin Road at the gate of Jiahua Gardens, a Xinjiang Guanghui community, like he did every morning. Two guards stopped him. The North Beijing Road-based paper carrier was informed that he was not allowed to enter the community to deliver his papers.

Kou was confused: they were usually on good terms, so what had happened?

"Don't make it hard for us. You're doing your job, but we're doing our jobs, too," the guard said. "On April 15, all Guanghui communities got instructions to block the Morning Post and to remove the newspaper's delivery boxes. No details were given."

Xinjiang Guanghui Industry Investment Group is one of Xinjiang's largest private enterprises and whose chairman, Sun Guangxin, is frequently found on Forbes and Hurun rankings. Xinjiang Guanghui Property Management (Guanghui) is a subsidiary that manages 73 residential communities in Urumqi, home to nearly 70,000 households. Guanghui's guards took uniform action on this day.

At that time, all of the Morning Post delivery boxes in Guanghui's Meilin Gardens on South Changchun Road were taken down, leaving spots of grey cement on the white walls inside the units. "There were 57 boxes in this community. Why have they all disappeared?" asked Li Yuanpei, head of the North Beijing Road Morning Post distribution center, which handled distribution in the community. Li took a look around the community but did not find any of the boxes that had been removed.

In front of the Guangsheng Gardens community, paper carriers were planning to deliver their papers to nearby storefronts because they were unable to enter the community, but they were stopped by the guards. One guard said, "This goes for shops on the first floor of community buildings, too. You're not allowed to deliver to them."

Another guard told a paper carrier, "Don't stand outside gate. You'd better move away, and keep a radius of 500 meters. We don't want to see even a shadow of Morning Post people."

Meanwhile at the gate to the Jiahui Gardens community, more than ten guards had come forward after noticing residents holding newspapers. When they discovered the Morning Post, they immediately asked where they had bought the paper.

A paper carrier arrived outside the gate and was surrounded by guards, one of whom flipped through a copy of the Morning Post and sternly, "Stay away from the neighborhood. You're not allowed to deliver the Morning Post around here."

The carrier had park his bike about ten meters from the gate, where he started telephoning subscribers to tell them to them pick up their newspapers.

Yang Junhong, the carrier responsible for the Sun Moon Starlight community, said "There were some seniors who came back from their morning exercises. Some of them were subscribers, so I gave them their papers. I didn't expect that guards would come up to block them, and then carry off more than 700 copies."

At 1pm, the station manager and delivery personnel from the Qingnian Road distribution station, which handles that community, arrived to negotiate with property management. The person in charge said that they could retrieve the newspapers, but until their superiors gave notice, paper carriers were not allowed to deliver papers inside the community.

Meanwhile, in front of the gate of the Taixi Gardens community, a Morning Post carrier had chosen to call the police after failing to make progress with the guards, and before long two officers from the Xiheba station arrived at the scene. The police attempted to negotiate, but the head guard would not back down.

"Ordinary people have the right to read their newspaper. What right do you have to strip them of that right?" "The guy's just delivering newspapers, not interfering with your work, so what right do you have to block his delivery?" In response to the officers' questions, the head guard said, "We're just acting according to our leaders' instructions. Don't make things difficult for us."

"Which leaders told you to do this? Call them over." The head guard then said that on the afternoon of April 15, Guanghui had held a meeting for all property managers and had said that starting on the 16th, Morning Post paper carriers would not be permitted to enter any of its communities. Then, after making several phone calls, he said, "The leaders are very busy and can't come over." The police took him to the station for further questioning and asked the other guards not to block deliveries by Morning Post carriers. But as soon as the police left, a few new guards arrived and continued to block the paper carriers.

Outside the gate of the Huixi Gardens community on Qitai Road, a guard said, "Headquarters said that if a single copy of the Morning Post entered the community, I'd lose my job. If three copies got in, it wouldn't just be my job. The director of the management company would be dismissed. Guards in this community have started taking 12-hour shifts so that someone is always on duty at every entrance, specifically to make sure that Morning Post carriers do not get in."

Normal delivery was unable to proceed, and newsstand sales of the Morning Post were also affected. The newsstand outside the gate of Huijia Gardens received notice barring it from putting the paper on display: "If they see a copy, the guards will seize it," the proprietor told this reporter.

After the guards confiscated fifty copies of the Morning Post, Mr. Jing, a 72-year-old paper vendor, asked in wonder and fear: "What kind of reactionary report did the Morning Post print? Why is it being confiscated?"

Jing said, "I've sold papers outside Huijia Gardens for two years and this is the first time I've seen anything like this."

A variety of reasons for the shut-out

"The PSB issued notice demanding a complete internal overhaul and stopping paper delivery."

"The Morning Post does not accurately reflect the guiding principles and policies of the party."

"Morning Post carriers are sub-par and frequently steal from homeowners."

"To suppress other papers, the Morning Post told its paper carriers to destroy 1,800 of their delivery boxes in a single night."

Beginning on April 16, when Guanghui barred the Morning Post from its communities, subscribers who had not received their papers clustered around the guardhouse to ask why the paper was not allowed in.

This reporter visited the Jingdu community that morning and found four or five seniors surrounding two guards: "It's our right to read the newspaper. What's your reason for not letting us read the Morning Post?"

The guards could only answer their questions by repeating that this was at the behest of their superiors and that they did not know the specifics.

Outside the gate of the Huifu Gardens community, a guard explained that the notice was issued by Xinjiang Guanghui Property Management because Morning Post delivery boxes had been filled with cult propaganda, and that the Urumqi PSB had asked the paper to conduct internal reforms. A Huijia Gardens property management employee gave an identical explanation in slightly more detail: "It was the PSB that barred Morning Post carriers from the community. The community is not letting them in because it received a notice from the PSB, which stopped them from delivering papers and is demanding internal reforms."

At the Jiahua Gardens, Huixuan Gardens, and Huifang Gardens communities, management employees had this response to questions from subscribers and paper carriers: Morning Post carriers frequently stole from homeowners. A Huifang Gardens employee said, "The Morning Post carriers are low-class and don't carry any ID, so we've barred them from entering the community."

JDM090421notices.jpg
Taixiang Tower notice

Around midday on the 16th, a written explanation appeared in the Guanghui Taixiang Tower signed by the tower's management office. It read: "Because the Morning Post does not properly reflect the guiding principles and policies of the party, the Morning Post is barred from Taixiang Tower in accordance with the leadership's instructions."

On the afternoon of the 17th, Guanghui finally posted a uniform Notice to Property Owners in all of its communities. The explanation provided differed from those given by Taixiang Tower and various other communities. The Notice read, "Recently, large quantities of promotional material (pamphlets and CDs) from cult organizations were discovered in Morning Post delivery boxes in Xinjiang Guanghui Property Management's commercial and residential communities. This matter is being treated seriously by the PSB and has infuriated property owners. In addition, in order to suppress other newspapers, the Morning Post told its carriers to destroy more than 1,800 of their boxes in a single night in Sun Moon Starlight and other communities. To ensure political stability, a secure environment, and the interests of property owners, following consultation with a group of property owners, all Morning Post delivery personnel are barred from this community starting from April 15 and are ordered to reform themselves."

Were large quantities of cult propaganda really discovered in Morning Post delivery boxes? Distributing cult propaganda violates national law, disturbs social order, and harms public security. Anyone who discovers large quantities of cult propaganda has the duty to report to the police. Yet on April 18, the Urumqi PSB 110 center said that it had not received any reports of that nature.

The explanation was questioned by homeowners. Mr. He, a resident of the Red October community, said, "I have subscribed to the Morning Post for four years and have never discovered cult propaganda in my delivery box. Besides, the boxes are open, so if cult materials do appear, would they necessarily have been put there by Morning Post paper carriers?"

Mr. Liu, another homeowner, called the explanation "ridiculous. Even if so-called propaganda exists, was the cult so set on the Morning Post that they didn't put their propaganda into any other boxes?"

On the 18th, this reporter surveyed fifty homeowners in the Sun Moon Starlight and Red October communities. Forty-seven of them said that they had never heard about cult propaganda, much less seen any themselves. Two other homeowners said that they had seen such materials in the hallway, but they had been stuck into door cracks, not inside Morning Post boxes.

Just one homeowner said that last year, he had found a cult CD inside a Morning Post box, but it was not wrapped up with the newspaper. That was last autumn or winter: "I reported it, and the PSB sent someone to retrieve the disc."

Did the PSB request the Morning Post to conduct internal reforms because large quantities of cult propaganda were discovered in Morning Post boxes? If the large quantities of cult propaganda actually existed, and if the PSB had ordered reforms, then as one of the parties involved, the Morning Post would have been the first to be notified. But as of press time, the Morning Post has not received any such notice.

In response to a question asking whether newspaper boxes other than those of the Morning Post had been destroyed, the homeowners surveyed all said that they had heard nothing of the sort. "When I got up on April 16, I did see that delivery boxes had been destroyed, but they were all Morning Post boxes," one Sun Moon Sunlight homeowner said.

The range of explanations provided do not supply a real motive for this incident. One reader commented online that Xinjiang Guanghui's motive was the Morning Post's watchdog journalism.

The most recent report on Guanghui published in the Morning Post, which appeared on April 3, was indeed a watchdog article.

The report said that in the course of development of Guanghui's Meilin Gardens community on South Changchun Road, excavation for construction of a tower had encroached on the foundation of a home. The homeowner, fearing that his home's structure had been compromised, approached Guanghui several times. Then on April 1, more than one hundred people from the construction site surrounded the home, and around ten people charged inside and injured him.

The publication of that report caught the attention of the national press, with major portals such as Sina, Netease, Tencent, and People Online reposting the piece to a broad response. As of yesterday [April 19], the Netease repost had received 5,717 comments.

The current incident took place two weeks after the report. Morning Post reporters sought to confirm whether the two matters were related, but Guanghui would not comment.

What does the shut-out mean?

A legal contract exists between subscribers and the newspaper. Any third party cannot prevent the contract from being carried out.

As a commercial entity, Guanghui does not have the power to enforce the law, nor does it have the power to have the Morning Post "reform itself."

Consumers have the freedom to choose which newspaper to subscribe to. The property management company does not have the right to interfere.

Immense wealth gives rise to mighty power and rights. Corporate social responsibility and entrepreneurial ethics are in even greater need of emphasis.

This is typical for our current stage of societal development, as market order is still imperfect.

Because of the overbearing tactics employed by Guanghui in depriving tens of thousands of Morning Post subscribers of their rights, five days after the incident, more than a thousand users a day complained about Guanghui through various channels. Some called up the paper to complain, others visited the paper's offices in person to seek out the reason for the incident. Still others directly contacted property management staff and guards at Guanghui communities, or even banded together to demand their right to read newspapers.

This reporter contacted a number of lawyers and legal scholars about the "shut out" case, and they spoke about the legal relationship between subscribers, the Morning Post, and Xinjiang Guanghui.

A company that prevents paper delivery has infringed on the rights of the newspaper and its subscribers, said noted legal scholar and Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences researcher Lian Zhenhua. "A legal contract exists between subscribers and the newspaper. No third party can prevent the contract from being carried out. Xinjiang Guanghui's actions constitute a tortious action."

"If large quantities of cult propaganda were actually found in Morning Post boxes, the property management should have immediately reported it to the PSB rather than blocking carriers and destroying boxes," said Dong Yonghe, head of the Xinjiang Shi Chen Law Firm. Dong said that if Guanghui barred Morning Post carriers and posted notices in the community without providing evidence, it infringed on the rights of subscribers and harmed the reputation of the Morning Post.

He said that newspaper boxes are given free of charge to subscribers and have the legal status of gifts in the subscribers' possession. Although the boxes are affixed in a public place, that does not change their status. Without subscriber consent, any action by an organization or individual to destroy them is an infringement on those rights. On this basis, homeowners may go to court if they wish to protect their rights.

Chen Xinhong of Xinjiang Capital Law Firm said that if the facts in the case were correct as stated, then the incident was unfair toward subscribers. The Morning Post sells a newspaper, subscribers are consumers, and the two have a contractual relationship that is protected by law. As a property manager, Guanghui does not possess the right to order subscribers to cancel their Morning Post subscriptions and switch to other newspapers. According to the constitution and civil law, consumers have the freedom to subscribe to whichever newspaper they please, and neither the property management company nor the developer have the right to interfere.

In addition, Guanghui's announcement, without supplying any evidence, that "large quantities of cult propaganda were discovered in Morning Post paper boxes, and the newspaper is ordered to reform itself," slanders and libels the Morning Post and its carriers, creating a negative influence among consumers at large and harming the newspaper's operations. For this reason, the Morning Post can hold Guanghui responsible through legal channels.

He said that the Morning Post and Guanghui are two distinct entities which do not have jurisdiction over each other. As a commercial entity, Guanghui does not have the power to enforce the law, nor does it have the power to have the Morning Post "reform itself." At the same time, if there really were large quantities of cult propaganda, Guanghui's primary responsibility as a property manager is to take responsibility over the illegal materials in its community, and then to make an immediate report to the PSB, rather than post a notice ordering the Morning Post to reform itself.

"How does a private enterprise have the right to shut out and block a newspaper?" asked noted PKU law professor He Weifang. "This is the first I've heard of an incident involving the blocking of tens of thousands of newspapers. Once, in a certain locale in the south, there was the case of a mysterious individual buying up all of the papers engaging in watchdog journalism, but obstructing paper carriers is unprecedented."

He said that economic development has created massive companies in many nations, some of which grow "as wealthy as small countries." Immense wealth gives rise to mighty power and rights, and when that happens, corporate social responsibility and entrepreneurial ethics are in even greater need of emphasis.

"Socially responsible enterprises ought to preserve reasonable social order rather than challenging the law and damaging social justice, equality, and credibility," said He. "Similarly, from an ethical standpoint, entrepreneurs ought to increase their efforts in the area of social morality rather than adopt illegal means of protecting their own private interests."

Yin Li, a PhD at the College of Journalism and Communications at Tianjin Normal University, interpreted the incident as a negative reaction to watchdog journalism. "If you make me unhappy, I will do everything in my power to express my displeasure, and will strike back at your supervision. But striking back is illegal. The social environment ought to take a more permissive attitude toward watchdog journalism. Not allowing the media to report on imperfections is inappropriate, as is adopting a posture of resistance against watchdog journalism."

"Guanghui's obstruction of the Morning Post's normal delivery is typical for our current stage of societal development, as market order is still imperfect," said Shen Junli, a professor at the region's party school. "Imperfections in market order allow companies to realize immense economic achievements without appropriate restraints. These restraints ought to be reflected at systemic, legal, and ethical levels. One of the outcomes created by lagging restraints is that once problems crop up, solutions are reached not by a sensible encounter between two sides but by means divorced from the market and outside the law."


The Morning Post article linked below contains a number of other photographs as well as two videos of altercations between paper carriers and community guards.

Links and Sources
There are currently 3 Comments for A property giant takes on the Xinjiang media.

Comments on A property giant takes on the Xinjiang media

Great work, Joel. You never cease to amaze.

Shen Junli has it right at the end,but does he have to talk in pure party jargon? "Guanghui's obstruction of the Morning Post's normal delivery is a typical case at our current stage of societal development, as market order is yet imperfect." Do real people talk like that?

It is kind of awkward, perhaps made more so because I went back and forth over a few different ways of rendering it. I'll probably edit it again in a bit. Still, his remarks are fairly jargony compared to the other experts consulted.

...and I've made it more coherent. Thanks for the note.

I only read the first bit of the notice I saw posted on the door which was about some cultists running around the xiaoqu spreading their heretical materials. Thanks for giving a wider audience the chance to read this fascinating story. A private company is taking its playbook from the Party denying the freedoms of the people for their own good and justifying it by portraying themselves as defenders and enforcers of Party orthodoxy.

China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
laomo2010x80.jpg
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives