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Popular literary magazine forced to pack up for apparent satire on Xi Jinping

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(, Dec10’23) – Following online chatter that its Dec 23 cover art was an oblique criticism of China’s Party chief and state president Xi Jinping, a popular periodical featuring essays and nonfiction writing has announced that it was suspending operations after 35 years, reported Dec 8.

Xi is sometimes sarcastically referred to as the “Compass in Chief” for his frequent pronouncements “pointing the way forward” on issues as niche as the marine economy and as grandiose as the progress of human society, the report noted.

The latest (and last) cover of Selected Essays (Záwén Xuǎnkān) seems to reference that oft-censored appellation. The cover features a suit-wearing arm pointing the way forward. Miniature faceless masses sprint along the arm only to plunge over the end of the index finger into darkness, the report said.

At China Heritage, Geremie Barmé has published the cover art with a short note: “The cover of the Dec 2023 issue of Selected Essays features a pen-and-ink illustration of colorful, faceless human figures sprinting along a giant suit-clad arm, and leaping off the index figure into the abyss below.”

The report noted that one of Xi’s many sobriquets is ‘Emperor Indicator’ (zhǐmíng dì). State media frequently uses the expression ‘[he] shows us the way’ (zhǐmíng fāngxiàng) when referring to his latest policy directives.

The magazine, which was published by Jilin People’s Press (Jílín Rénmín Chūbǎnshè) has given no explanation for its suspension of operations. In a cryptic message to readers, editors have written: “The mountains are high, and the rivers are long. Take care.”

The choice of words is taken to imply that the suspension was not the editors’ choice. Journalists for Anhui’s Dawan News have reported that the magazine headquarters’ phone line had already been disconnected.

The report noted that on Weibo, many speculated that the magazine’s sudden closure was related to Xi’s nickname. Underneath a post sharing news of the closure, one user had commented: “Where Marshal Kim points, I follow,” with a sarcastic husky emoji. On WeChat, many essayists have lamented the magazine’s closure. One blogger, reflecting on the reason for the shuttering of Selected Essays, has written:

“Of course, everyone already knows the true reason. True writers cannot stand to write insipid essays. Those who pen hagiography are not true writers. The greatest intellectuals should be critics of society, but this often conflicts with [political] reality. If the [political] environment is inhospitable to great intellectuals, a magazine focused on essay will naturally wither too.”

Noting that anything related to Xi Jinping is subject to even stricter scrutiny, the report said that a leaked list of 546 nicknames for Xi Jinping created by censors at the Instagram-like social media platform Xiaohongshu included references to “pointing the way.” It seems possible that Selected Essays ran afoul of that taboo, even unwittingly, it added.


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