The protests were triggered after the newspaper Southern Weekend's New Year’s editorial was censored and rewritten by a provincial propaganda department. The notice was leaked on Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo[zh] on the evening of Jan 7, 2013 although some of the reposts had been censored. The notice reads [zh]:
Party committees and media at all levels must be clear on three points related to this matter:
(1) Party control of the media is an unshakable basic principle;
(2) This incident has nothing to do with Guangdong Propaganda Department Head Tuo Zhen
(3) This incident’s development has something to do with the meddling of external hostile forces. Every work unit must demand that its department’s editors, reporters, and staff stop voicing their support for Southern Weekend online. Starting from tomorrow, all media outlets and websites must prominently republish the Global Times editorial: Southern Weekly’s ‘Message to Readers’ Is Thought-provoking Indeed.”
The Global Time's piece[zh], published on the moring of Jan 7, is in coherence with the notice from the Central Propaganda Department, the conclusion of the piece reads:
Whether these people[journalists and protesters] are willing to accept it or not, this is common sense: given China’s social and political realities, the kind of “free media” that these people dream of simply cannot exist. All of China's media can develop only to the extent China does, and media reform is part of China's overall reform, and the media absolutely will not become a “political special zone” of China…Even in the West, the mainstream media does not choose to openly oppose the government.
The interesting part of the notice is that it attributed “meddling foreign forces” to the incidents that sparked the protests a poor excuse that doesn't seem to stand for itself. The word “foreign forces” triggered a lot of discussion on Sina Weibo, it was among the top 10 most searched[zh] word on on Jan 8.
Online personality and famous blogger Li Chengpeng's ironic comment[zh] found resonance online:
These foreign forces are evil, they live in the affluent area of the United States but brutally interfere with China's internal affairs, they steal a lot of money from Chinese people and keep it in Swiss banks.Their children, driving Ferraris, never care about the school bus tragedy in China. The most detestable is that they actually manipulate Chinese media. Once they find out that Chinese citizens who advocate for a constitution, which was once advocated by Mao Zedong, they call these citizens traitors, and send them to labor camps … let's hunt these foreign forces down!
Professor Xie Youping[zh] at Fudan University echoed:
On one hand, the label “foreign force” politicizes domestic conflicts and deliberately demonizes the Western political system. On the other hand, they make no secret of sending their children and grandchildren to study in the countries where “foreign forces” are from. This is perhaps the most inexplicable and contradictory phenomenon.
Writer Wei Ke wrote[zh]:
所谓“境外势力”， 就是想打棍子时给你扣上的万能帽子，就是想把人往死里整的借口。我们这些土老百姓连去国外的机会都没有，就是在微博上呼吁几句公平正义，为民众说几句话， 咋就成了境外势力了？难道中国不是中国而是境外？谁把我们驱赶出了中国？谁让我们在自己的祖国却被流放般无家可归、流离失所？
The so-called “foreign forces” is applicable everywhere, an excuse to control people. We common people don't even have chances to go abroad, we just say a few words online, appealing for justice, are we becoming the “foreign forces”? Is China not China, but actually overseas? Who kicked us out of China? Who made us homeless in our own country, as if we were exiled?
Lawyer Zhou Ze[zh] posed a question:
[Government's] style has been the same for many years. Once a leader said to me: Your point and motivation are good, but keep in mind that you can be easily used by hostile forces outside. I really don't understand, if everyone does things with a good purpose and motivation, how can it lead to unfavorable consequences for our country?….. Who are the hostile forces? I'm confused.
Veteran Journalist Peng Xiaoyu[zh] commented:
Don't you find these “foreign forces” childish, ridiculous and weak? Whenever there's a sign of trouble, foreign forces would stare at us, so what? Because you practise “Chinese characteristics”. The key question is not about foreign forces or not, but that the delay of the problem is slow suicide. I do not agree with an overnight revolution, but we cannot go backwards, which is the bottom line, but we have been going backwards for the past decade.