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China's media censorship rattling world image

The deposing of an editor is part of a two-year campaign to control public debate.

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We feel that a legal state of resistance is the only normal approach to take.... Our activities may have no direct benefit to ourselves, but we feel that advocating freedom of press pushes things along, helps our history as Chinese. Thanks to international press and to those of us in China who are trying to raise questions, the times we are living in move ahead.

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I've received many hundred e-mails, mostly supportive.... We feel we are on the high moral ground, we feel the heart of the people is with us. Chinese have traditionally trusted the leader, the emperor, to rule. All rules, good or bad, must come from the ruler. But these times are gone. We feel every person should ... think for themselves.

You say the propaganda department acted illegally to shut down Freezing Point.

The attempt of the propaganda department to exercise unlimited power has no ground in any legal document.... The constitution entrusts every citizen with the right to speak freely. And freedom of press. The constitution is empty paper but needs to be hard reality. We have legal ground in the constitution, but we have no way to enforce laws. The constitution is like a heaven, but we have no ladder to heaven now. The propaganda department has the power. It is a party organ. We can sue a government office. But we can't sue the party. The party has no legal status... and you can't pull it into the legal system. The party is above the law....

The party's legitimacy must now be followed all the way to the writing of official history. But ... huge parts of the past [are] missing. Between 1959 and 1962 we had an epic famine. There is nothing about that in the history books, to speak of....

The power to write history, until this moment, has been kept ... within the party. The moment this right is taken, the moment other versions of history are allowed, the legitimacy of the party will be questioned. The first question will be: What government could allow 40 million people to starve and die, never tell about it, but still survive? The main issue is - who holds the ... authority to say what history really means.

How many Chinese agree with such liberal views?

Among intellectuals, the vast majority are for greater freedom of press and speech. A poll last year among local officials suggests that 60 percent think the problem in China is a lack of political reform. Among ordinary people, the understanding is weak.... However, we have seen again and again that when their interests are violated, they want the political system to change, and to provide channels to defend their interests.

A big issue is that peasants are not allowed to organize into any group that would allow resistance, or defend their own rights. Because it's forbidden, eventually the government will have to face illegal groups that will form to defend themselves.

What about official fear of instability?

I'm not saying we don't want stability. We do. But our understanding of stability is very different from communist officials. We want a calm river of society that continually flows. The part officials' idea of stability is a dead body of water. Eventually it starts to stink.

A generation like mine, we may resist and rebel once, in Tiananmen, and see how it is. But we are rational. There is no way we are going to the streets. But what we will do is conduct a nonstop debate. Debate is the heart of our approach; it will not stop.

There is hope. Ten years ago, Freezing Point would stay closed. I would be expelled from the party, kicked out of the newspaper. Now I'm not allowed to publish, but I keep a salary. For us to gain press freedom, if the truth is told, it will change things. The Berlin Wall looked like a very real wall, but it collapsed and disappeared quickly.