Support Global Voices

To stay independent, free, and sustainable, our community needs the help of friends and readers like you.

Donate now »

See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

China: Thoughts and more on editor Yu Huafeng's release from prison

Global Voices Olympics The early release of well-known newspaper editor Yu Huafeng last week has prompted several of those personally involved in his case and many others to share their perspectives on their blogs.

Yu is widely respected for his role in operating the successful and groundbreaking Chinese newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily since its early days in the late 1990s and, it seems, just as widely seen as having been made the main object of official anger at reports his commercially highly successful newspaper published over 2003 on stories from initial SARS cover-up in Guangzhou to the brutal police murder of a student in the same city, a death which provoked outraged across the country and led to significant legal reform.

On February 8, Yu's lawyer Xu Zhiyong wrote on his Sina blog, ‘Yu Huafeng has come home’:

早上醒来接到向丽和喻华峰的电话,老喻刚刚走出监狱的大门,南方的朋友们在迎接他。我说真的想和大家一起去接你。挂了电话,我觉得自己忘记了说一句话: “其实你最应该感谢的是向丽!”当然,这句话也许根本不用我说了。时间过得真快,在向丽年复一年日复一日的申诉奔波中,四年转眼就过去了。


I was woken up this morning by a call from Yu Huafeng and his wife Xiang Li. Old Yu had just walked out the front door of the prison, and his friends from Southern were there to pick him up. I said that I along with everyone was anxious to see him. I hung up the phone, feeling I'd forgotten to say one thing: “actually, the person you should be thanking most is Xiang Li!” Of course, it probably doesn't need to be said at all. The time sure went by fast, with Xiang Li rushing to file appeals year after year, day after day, and four years went by in the blink of an eye.

Never before has someone convicted of embezzlement consistently received so much respect and love from their own workplace colleagues. Even when when was in prison, Old Yu went on as normal issuing strategies and suggestions. During those years, from the executives at Southern Media Group down to the ordinary employees, group after group paid him visits, sending joint letter after joint letter of appeal. Old Yu suffered for Southern Daily Group, and for the cause of press freedom in China, and to have defended this “criminal”, I feel truly proud.



Thank you to all those friends in and outside China who were concerned for Yu Huafeng, especially those from the media. Thank you! But please forgive me for not accepting interviews for the moment, one reason being that as his attorney, my concern is for justice to be had in the case only, and Yu Huafeng's release at this time does not suggest any change in the injustice of the case itself. At this moment of Yu Huafeng's release, I must reiterate, that Yu Huafeng is innocent, and we will continue to appeal.


Southern Group veteran and documentary filmmaker Zhou Hao has some photos of his own of Yu and his family's reunion on his SinoReel blog:

MSN Live Spaces blogger MaxiCool2004 finds hope in Yu's release in his Feb. 9 post, ‘Yu Huafeng released with a reduced sentence’:


It could be that the Olympics are coming, but the former managing editor of Southern Metropolis Daily and The Beijing News, Yu Huafeng, who reported on SARS and was forced by Guangzhou police into confession, has finally gotten out of prison. No more will I be left wishfully thinking—that democracy in China has hope! The ruling party has launched its own political reforms.

Yu Huafeng was sentenced to 12 years for embezzling 100,000 RMB, but no matter if he in fact did, this was still a trumped-up charge! The Zhou Zhengyi case at the time involved 300,000,000 RMB, and he was sentenced only to three years, is this how the ruling party makes the people have trust in the judiciary? Since that case really was about corruption, why then was he let out [at all] before the Olympics? Does a judicial system such as this have any dignity?!

From Sina blogger ‘Big Tiger’ on Feb. 11, Law and order is like gang war’:


The Sun Zhigang incident upset China, or at least the process of establishment of Guangzhou's law and order, and the price was that crime got worse for some time. If the Sun Zhigang incident hadn't taken place, we would never have known how shady ‘mandatory shelter’ was. Once ‘mandatory shelter’ was gone, residents of Guangzhou saw just how it had maintained a kind of balance in law and order. Law and order comes with a cost, and ‘mandatory shelter’ is a pretty low one at that. Rule of law comes at a cost as well, just as Deng Xiaopeng said, that the door ticket to Democracy is quite expensive. Change for the better always takes time, and the abolition of ‘mandatory shelter’ was not a change for the better, it was the use of a revolutionary move—and revolution, it also comes with a price.

Many people see this Southern Case as an extension of the Sun Zhigang incident. The Southern people got a public fixing, and even though the old leaders got involved, it still didn't stop a few key people from going to prison. If this really was a case of cause and effect, then it's also evidence of what a real jungle this world is that we live in.

MSN Live Spaces blogger Seismometer2006, who used to work at Yu's newspaper, doesn't see Yu's release as sign of any victory for press freedom:


需要说明的是,这条新闻我并非首先从国内媒体得知,而是午间休息时在“记者无国界”(Reporters Without Borders)网站上看到的。由于下午还有课,只能稍微“谷歌”一下,发现《卫报》上也有相关文章。 与国内消息有所不同,英国人暗示是最近国际笔会(International Pen Organization)向北京政府施压才直接导致了老喻一干人等的出走。但最根本的原因,大家都知道,还是要算到奥林匹克头上。文章这样写道:The campaigning for the release of other prisoners…must be stepped up before the Olympic Games ,我倒觉得不如直接把“before”改成“only because of”更贴切。问题接着就来了,正如易卜生询问的“娜拉走后怎么办?”,我们也(拼命地)跟着问一下:老喻出狱后怎么办?或者上纲上线,继而把问题扩大化:奥运以后,新闻怎么办?

Last Friday, Yu Huafeng got out. Caijing's report read: “At last, a page has turned in the series of Southern Metropolis Daily cases which triggered controversy in China's media, financial and legal circles.” I spent half the day reading it, but what I still don't understand is how “a page has turned”. Is the guy gonna pick up and carry on where he left off, and are we supposed to go down and crack the champagne with him? As someone who spent a year doing menial work at Southern Metropolis Daily, and even if I was just “the monk who sweeps the floor of Shaolin temple,” I still feel I have to say a word or two here on my blog, even if people despise it.

What I want to point out is that I didn't even learn of this news first from domestic media, but from the Reporters Without Borders website during my lunch break. I didn't have class in the afternoon, so I stayed and did a bit of “googling”, and I found the related news on the Guardian website. Where it differed from mainland news is that the English person hinted it was recent pressure that International PEN had levied on the Beijing government alone that secured Old Yu's release. But the real reason, as everyone knows, rests with the Olympics. The article reads: “The campaigning for the release of other prisoners…must be stepped up before the Olympic Games,” but the way I see it, it'd be more appropriate if “before” were just changed to “only because of”. Which raises the next question; just like Mr. Ibsen asked, “What will happen after Nora leaves?,” we are also (madly) asking the same question: now that Old Yu is out of prison, what now? Or more practically, and to expand the issue: after the Olympics, what's News going to do?

On February 8, exiled activist Liu Xiaobo, who writes often of the struggle for press freedom in China, published a statement, ‘Yu Huafeng's Release and the Olympic Year’:


As soon as Yu Huafeng was released, Cheng Yizhong called out: “I enthusiastically welcome Yu Huafeng's glorious return! But with the reduction in sentence, this is in fact just the normal release now that the sentence has been served; it is not a vindication of justice, and it is not a wrong put right. Which is why I do not praise the official side. The ‘Southern Case’ symbolic incident of how for some time now, the shift of ideas has seized, and how reforms are being reversed; it's a stray off Guangdong's course of opening up and reform, and a scar on China's harmonious society. I strongly call upon Guangdong's new ‘thought liberation’ movement to start with vindication in the Southern Metropolis Daily case!”



这种严控与放松最具戏剧性的对比发生在春节前的2月5日。在这一天,因“间谍罪”获刑五年的香港新闻人程翔提前二年多假释,而浙江异见人士吕耿松被控“煽动颠覆罪”判刑四年。中共当局在宣判吕耿松的同一天释放程翔,显然顾忌到奥运年的政府形象,是为了冲淡吕耿松案的负面影响。果然,当日境外媒体对两案的报道,大都把程翔获释放在吕耿松案的前面。尽管中共政权在口头上最反对“奥运政治”,但在行为上却最想玩好“奥运政治”,他们根据自己对国内外局势的主观评估,挖空心思地玩弄“抓放”、“松紧”的游戏。“抓” 和“紧”是为了震慑和控制,以确保奥运年的政治稳定;“放”和“松”是为了政权的脸面,以争取在奥运年赢得政治开明的美誉.

As the Beijing Olympics draw closer day by day, domestic and foreign calls for the Olympic promise to be honored continue to grow. The Hu-Wen regime, though, seeks to tighten control in some of the most sensitive areas, to ensure political stability during the Olympic Games, as it loosens control in others, to present an enlightened image, and reduce foreign pressure. Tightened, mainly for political dissidents, well-known rights activists, and independent civil groups, evidenced by things such as Lu Gengsong's recent sentencing to four years and Hu Jia's arrest. Loosened, mainly for domestic and foreign media, dissenting views in non-political fields, for defense of rights and public debate. These kinds of loosening began in the second half of 2006, not only represented through the large-scale relaxation of limits place on foreign media, but also in those placed on domestic debate. Precisely because of these kinds of relaxations, have we seen such things as “the most awesome nailhouse”, “the black brick kilns,” “the Nie Shubin case”, “the Pengshui poetry case”, “the Wei Wenhua case”, the “recommendation to abolish labor reform” and many other floods in public discussion, the reason 2007 is being called “Year of the Public Incident” and “The Year of Popular Will”.

The most dramatic contrast between this kind of loosening and tightening of controls took place just before the Lunar New Year on February 5. On this one day, after being sentenced to five years for “spying,” Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong was given a conditional release more than two years early, and Zhejiang dissenter Lu Gengsong was sentenced to four years for the crime of “inciting subversion”. CCP authorities’ delivery of Lu Gengsong's verdict on the very same day Ching Cheong was released was obviously in consideration of the Olympic image, seeking to water down the negative impact of Lu Gengsong's case. Sure enough, foreign media reports that day compared the two cases, with most of them putting Ching Cheong's release ahead of Lu's case.

MediaView blogger zany posts the part of the above-mentioned Caijing magazine article which lists the early developments in Yu's case, and ends with an old photo of a historical moment, the first printing of another highly-respected newspaper:


Caption: On the evening of November 10, 2003, The Beijing News‘ vice editor-in-chief Yang Bin, managing director Yu Huafeng, editor-in-chief Cheng Yizhong and newspaper president Dai Zigeng are seen reading the first printing run of The Beijing News; the following day, The Beijing News was formally on the streets.

Indie blogger Wang Junyu also writes on Caijing coverage of Yu's case:

我记得军训的最后一个晚上收到短信说, 程益中无罪. 那时候我很高兴. 但是喻华峰仍然获罪, 程益中也仍然被开除了党籍, 于是仍然如鲠在喉. 如今喻华峰也终于获释, 看着 “财经” 网站上喻华峰和妻儿团聚喜气洋洋的照片, 突然想起当年读过喻华峰之妻向丽的文字, 说到只能欺骗儿子说 “爸爸出国工作”, 不禁唏嘘不已.

新年之际看到这样的消息, 我很高兴, “财经” 也可以高兴地宣布南都案 “翻过新的一页”. 个体的自由可贵, 自由的获得让我们高兴, 即使这样的自由或多或少是被赐予的.
程翔也于年前假释了. 这两天香港电视台新闻被遮盖的部分, 大部分是讲这个的.

I remember back on the last night of my military training, I received a text message which said that Cheng Yizhong had been ruled innocent, and I was very happy to hear it. But Yu Huafeng had still not proven his innocence, and Cheng Yizhong was still expelled from The Party, which left a lump in my throat. Now Yu Huafeng has finally been released and I see joyous, merry photos of Yu with his wife and son in Caijing magazine, and I'm suddenly reminded of what Yu's wife Xiang Li wrote at the time, that she could only lie to her son and keep saying “daddy's out of the country for work,” and I can no longer hold back the sobs.

I was happy to hear his news while ringing in the new year, just as Caijing was happy to announce “a new page had been turned” in the Southern case. Individual freedom is something precious, and the regaining of freedom makes me happy, even if it has more or less granted.
Ching Cheong has also been given early release. Parts of the Hong Kong TV News have been snipped these last two days, I guess most of it was talking about him.

Call Me Ishmael also expands on the Caijing story in Ishmael's Feb. 9 post, ‘Editor-in-Chief of ‘Panyu Prison Post‘ has been dismissed’:


Caijing also put pictures of Yu Huafeng returning home and being welcomed by his wife and son on its website.
The report goes on to reveal that during his four years of imprisonment, Yu not only kept his spirits up, but read heavily of the Arts, studied English, and also served as managing editor of the Panyu Prison Post.
Very few people will have read this newspaper, but this is one dismissal that one is happy to hear of.
Years ago, I did interviews in many prisons and detention centers around the country, including Guangdong province, and that's why I believe that Mr. Yu received the best treatment that the prison was able to provide.
For the past number of years, led by Southern Group, media have filed many reports on the new look of Panyu Prison, and the group even has “the first media in Guangdong province to supply prison inmates with both newspapers and reading racks.”

And, Netease blogger Round Yao on the evening of Feb. 11 published a pre-prison interview with Yu that was allegedly never allowed to be published but has been making the rounds online ever since, in which Yu talks about the business strategy and philosophy that helped him make Southern Metropolis Daily into what many consider remains today one of the most successful and respected newspapers in the country.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices!

Submitted addresses will be confirmed by email, and used only to keep you up to date about Global Voices and our mission. See our Privacy Policy for details.

Newsletter powered by Mailchimp (Privacy Policy and Terms).

* = required field
Email Frequency

No thanks, show me the site