“I am a moderate adviser” – Zhang Hong and the Hukou
“China has suffered from the hukou system for so long. We believe people are born free and should have the right to migrate freely, but citizens are still troubled by bad policies born in the era of the planned economy and [now] unsuitable.”
However, after the editorial spread beyond its origins with those newspapers, Chinese censors apparently leapt into action (or were instructed to do so), and it was promptly removed from many websites. A special website set up by the Economic Observer to discuss hukou reform also disappeared. Furthermore, one of the co-writers of the editorial, Zhang Hong, was ousted from his position as deputy editor-in-chief from the Economic Observer’s website. It was also claimed that the Economic Observer received a warning from the CCP’s propaganda department.
It seems that the censors have defaulted to one of their default positions, that this topic is too “sensitive”, the editorial “too” critical or maybe that it was simply unacceptable for so many newspapers to collaborate and coordinate the publication of a critical article like this. Yet I cannot see that the heavy-handed response from the Chinese authorities was warranted. Serious discussion and criticism of hukou reform too important to be monopolised by the senior echelons of the CCP. It is not enough to let newspapers dance around the edges of the subject for fear of having action taken against them. This is surely an issue of key importance for China that needs to be discussed fully and openly.
Clearly reforming the hukou would be good for China, righting social injustice and reducing tensions felt by those who fall foul of the system. But by resisting such rigorous debate as the thirteen newspapers were trying to generate, the authorities are only delaying this necessary change.
“The first step: On Jan. 26, the Economic Observer Online posted a survey on household registration reform, with a call for submissions and a special topic page, and at the same time we invited two other Web sites to participate. …. Our online survey was well-received, with more than 3,500 people participating, which was quite unusual for a Web site on the scale of the Economic Observer Online.
The second step: On Feb. 22 we promoted a special section in the newspaper titled “Angry Hukou.” This special section mainly featured the difficulties people face due to the current household registration system and experts were invited to participate in the discussion. This special section already created some impact.
The third step was the climax: Putting out the joint editorial on March 1, in time for the two meetings. …. Since we had decided to publish the joint editorial on March 1, after the papers were printed, the major Web sites only posted the joint editorial on the morning of March 1, and the Economic Observer Online also promoted the editorial as the top story that day. The editorial went out, and that’s how we set the prairie on fire.
The fourth step was the conclusion. According to our plan, we would write at least two articles following the publication of the joint editorial. One was our own news story about the joint editorial, and the other was an explanation of the whole drafting process behind the editorial. I myself wrote another commentary in the afternoon entitled “Media is Not Only a Witness: Why We Released the Joint Editorial,” which we posted online. At the same time, we also published another article, “The 13-media Joint Editorial on Household Registration Reform Inspires Heated Discussion”. However, the planned article about the editorial drafting process wasn’t run due to some problems, which is the sole regret in our entire plan.”
Zhang then went on discuss the reaction to the editorial.
“After the joint editorial was published, the reactions to it went far beyond what we initially anticipated, so to speak. We expected it would get some response, but we didn’t think it would be so great. It actually echoes an old Chinese saying, “In a world without heroes, ordinary people can make a name for themselves.” I don’t dare to take credit for the work of others, but at the same time I am not willing to put the blame on someone else, so I removed all the names of both media and individuals who participated in the editorial, leaving only the name of myself who has nothing to lose. As a matter of fact, every reader understands that the reason why this joint editorial has attracted such widespread attention is not because the media is so powerful, but because it shows the fervent anxiety of the people’s expectations!
After this incident, I was punished accordingly; other colleagues and media partners also felt repercussions. I feel a sense of guilt whenever I think about it. This can’t be blamed on the newspapers, because they are confronted by forces that cannot be resisted, and when we act we must always consider that there are many others whose livelihoods must be protected. Here I would like to thank the folks who have worked hard together with me.
My father’s generation endured so much hardship because of the household registration system, many of my friends and even the next generation still suffers greatly because of this system—struggling endlessly with nowhere to turn with their complaints. I’m not an expert, I do not propose a complete plan for reform, but I have a firm conviction that legislation that disregards the dignity and freedom of the people will ultimately land on the rubbish heap of history. I hope that this system will ultimately be abolished. When the time comes I believe that many people will burst into tears from happiness and run around spreading the news. As a media person, I can only do my utmost to fulfill my duties and obligations, and each of us should also assume our respective duties and obligations.
I am a moderate adviser, who has inadvertently stirred up a great controversy, and the development of circumstances has gone beyond my expectations. In the end I hope everyone will remember this. I am now an independent commentator. I just hope that these words may allow everyone to have a full understanding of this event. Thank you for your feedback, whether supportive or critical.”
“在共同社论发表后，引起的反响可说是远远超出我们当初的预料。我们预料过会有一些反响，但没想到会如此之大。正应了那句古话“世无英雄，乃使竖子成名”。 我不敢贪天之功，也不愿诿过于人，所以在此篇文章中将所有参与媒体与个人的名字一概隐去，只剩我这一无牵挂之人的名字。事实上，每位读者都明白，共同社论 引起的广泛影响，并不是媒体的力量有多大，而是民众的期盼有多么热切、焦急！
在这件事出来后，我本人获得了相应的处罚，其他同事和合作媒 体也受到连累。想及此，颇有负疚之感。这不能归咎于报社，因为面对的是不可抗力，我们在做事时总要考虑到还有许多人的饭碗应该保全。在此我要感谢与我一起 做出努力的同仁们。
我的父辈因户籍制度受过许多苦，我的许多朋友甚至下一代现在还在因此制度而受苦，疲于奔命，欲诉无门。我不是专家，提 不出完整充分的改革方案，但我有一种坚定的信念，一项无视人的尊严与自由的法规，终究要被历史扫入垃圾筐中。我期盼着这项制度的最终消亡，届时相信会有许 多人喜极而泣，奔走相告。作为一位媒体人，我只是在尽我的责任与义务，而我们的每一个人也都应该承担起相应的责任与义务。
我是一位温和的 建言者，无意挑起巨大的波澜，只不过事态的发展超出了预想。最后请大家记住，我现在是一位独立的评论人。只是希望这些文字能让大家对整个事件有全面的了 解。谢谢大家对我的反馈，不论是支持，还是批评。”
“In a world without heroes, ordinary people can make a name for themselves.”
If there is no political leadership in aggressively reforming the hukou system, it is madness for people like Zhang Hong to be punished for trying to take on that role. The Chinese government and elite cannot forever monopolise dealing with such an important topic, given that it affects so many people. They have had their chance and squandered it – let ordinary people be heroes for the nation.
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