July 15, 2024

Zuo Fang, a Founder of China’s Southern Weekly, is Dead

He set out to create a publication that people would read. The lead article in Southern Weekly’s first edition, in February 1984, was about a famous actress and writer who had gone into business. An article about Deng Xiaoping, then China’s paramount leader, got second billing.

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

The Weekly charted a course for other provocative publications that followed. It didn’t challenge the government or party officials at the national level. It also avoided issues in Guangdong, because government officials there ultimately controlled the paper. Mr. Zuo borrowed a line from a mentor and made it the Weekly’s motto: “There are truths that we cannot tell. But we shall never tell lies.”

Corrupt officials in other provinces were fair game. In its early days, the paper ran an article about the party secretary of a county in another province who raped his predecessor’s daughter-in-law. It named the official, but it used an obscure headline to avoid the attention of censors. “We started from the county level,” Mr. Zuo wrote, “and went on to expose the provincial party secretaries.”

China’s censors often ordered the paper to cease publication temporarily or pull articles. Mr. Zuo said he wrote many letters of self-criticism.

“If a newspaper only says the truth that it’s allowed to say, anyone can run a paper,” he wrote. “The testing stone of running a paper is how to tell the truths that are not allowed to be told.”

Mr. Zuo retired in 1994, but he continued working at the paper for four more years.

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

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/11/world/asia/zuo-fang-dead.html

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