BEIJING — A prominent liberal journal whose publisher and top editors were dismissed or demoted this week said on Friday it was fighting back with a lawsuit.
On Tuesday, the Chinese National Academy of Arts, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Culture and oversees the monthly journal, announced on the publication’s website that it was removing Du Daozheng, the founding publisher of Yanhuang Chunqiu, because Mr. Du, 93, is “in his advanced years.” He would be replaced by Jia Leilei, a deputy director of the academy.
The academy also decided to demote the journal’s chief editor, Xu Qingquan, to deputy editor and to fill the position with Hao Qingjun, a deputy researcher on literature at the academy. Another four people from the academy were assigned to top editorial positions.
Calls to the academy went unanswered.
In response to the reshuffle, Yanhuang Chunqiu issued two announcements. The first, released on Thursday, said the academy had violated a 2014 agreement that gave the journal control over personnel issues. The second, on Friday, said several academy staff members had moved into the newsroom. “Eating meals and sleeping at the office day and night have disrupted our work,” it said.
The magazine also said that the password for managing its official website had been changed, and that it had been unable to publish its announcements there. It called on readers via WeChat to help spread word that they had hired lawyers to file a lawsuit against the academy.
Mr. Du, who was in a hospital, signed the legal complaint Friday morning, according to Shang Baojun, a lawyer who is helping two colleagues hired by the journal.
Yanhuang Chunqiu, which roughly translates as China Annals, was founded in 1991 by Mr. Du, former chief of the General Administration of Press and Publication of China, which regulates print news media. The journal is supported by many retired Communist Party officials who have advocated a more liberal political system. It has won a wide readership for publishing articles on recent history that challenge the official narratives about tumultuous periods like the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward and subsequent famine.
“The people Yanhuang Chunqiu depends on, their power and ideas are waning within the party,” said Wu Si, a former chief editor of the journal. “Meanwhile, ideological controls have become tighter in the past year or two.” Mr. Wu resigned in December 2014, shortly after the academy took charge of the publication.
The academy had taken over as Yanhuang Chunqui’s sponsoring institution from the nongovernmental association set up by liberal-minded retired cadres that had overseen the journal for the previous two decades. At the time, an agreement was reached with the party’s Central Propaganda Department, which initiated the takeover, that the academy would not interfere with the journal’s staffing and editorial decisions.
But this year, conflicts broke out over three issues the journal tried to publish, according to Wu Wei, who joined the magazine last month as an executive editor.
“The magazine’s articles and its publishing principles don’t please everyone” Mr. Wu said in a telephone interview. “So some people — conservatives and those on the extreme left and right of the political spectrum — adopt measures at a convenient time to alter it.”
“The existence of this magazine at least shows that inside the Chinese Communist Party, there is one publication that advocates the restoration of historical truth, to let it illuminate the future,” said Mr. Wu, who was a member of the central government’s political overhaul team in the 1980s. “This publication, though it has experienced difficulties, has hung in there for 25 years. But now, maybe it can’t go on.”
Wu Si, the chief editor who resigned in 2014, said the academy and the journal’s editors had clashed several times, when the academy tried to prevent the magazine from publishing articles that deviated from the official historical narrative or on other politically delicate issues.
“The clashes were pretty serious on several occasions, to the extent that they went to the printing factory to try to stop publication,” he said. “Now, after this blow, it will probably be difficult to adhere to the magazine’s original principles. Reformists, liberals and those who support moderate democracy are losing yet another citadel. It’s a big setback.”
At the top of the journal’s official Sina Weibo account on Friday was a post from a year ago. It read: “Yanhuang Chunqiu writes truth without fear or favor, and it takes history as a mirror. This is our enduring value.”
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