The role of overseas Internet companies in complying with Chinese police seized the moral imagination of the US Congress in hearings last week. The most serious cases relate to Yahoo's help in helping identify and convict journalist Shi Tao to 10 years in jail. Two weeks ago, a new case appeared to put Yahoo in cahoots with state security forces regarding Li Zhi, who got eight years in jail for trying to query and join a democracy group from his home in Sichuan.
Since December, the editor of a relatively feisty new tabloid, Beijing News, was fired after stories on why it took 11 days for Chinese officials to acknowledge a major benzene spill in a river flowing through northeast China to Russia. The firing hit the staff hard, bringing one of the first collective protests in memory at a state-run media outlet.
Last week, Chen Jieren, editor of the small Public Interest Times, was sacked. he went public this week in a 10,000-word essay after his employer said he was fired for poor management skills. Chen said he was ousted over stories investigating corruption, among others. The journal aimed to "report the truth with a conscience," he wrote.
Li, a party member, had been editor of Freezing Point for 11 years. He represents a liberal intellectual tradition in contemporary China that was crushed during the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. That event was a watershed that put China on its path of aggressive economic reform - while disallowing political change. Prior to the "June 4 incident," China was peppered with liberals, including leaders Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. Today, they are a tiny, fragile minority.