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There are few independent news outlets left in China. Under nearly seven decades of Communist rule, it's been hard for journalists to investigate stories. Those who've tried have sometimes paid a high price for reporting the truth. Now an independent magazine that survived for 25 years is under siege. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Journalists and lawyers recently met at a Beijing hotel to discuss how to defend the magazine The Annals of the Chinese Nation, or Yanhuang Chunqiu in Chinese. The magazine has often called for political reform and questioned the Communist Party's version of history. It has a monthly circulation of around a hundred and ninety thousand copies. Deputy editor-in-chief Wang Yanjun says the magazine has survived previous attempts to silence it, but this time is different.
WANG YANJUN: (Through interpreter) Before it was a question of whether we were managed strictly or leniently. Now it's a question of whether we can even exist.
KUHN: In China, every media outlet is under the supervision of an official organization. None are completely independent. In the case of The Annals of the Chinese Nation, that organization is a group under the Ministry of Culture called the National Academy of Arts. Wang says that last month, the academy took over the magazine, occupied its offices and installed its own editors. Wang describes their behavior as barbaric.
WANG: (Through interpreter) Some folks commented that for an arts academy, they didn't seem very artistic at all. Unless, of course, it was some kind of performance art.
KUHN: The ousted editors suspended the magazine's publication. They tried to sue the academy, but the court rejected the case. Mo Shaoping is one of China's leading human rights lawyers and one of the few left, he jokes nervously, who have not been arrested in an ongoing crackdown. He says that the ousted editors are considering suing higher levels of the government.
MO SHAOPING: (Through interpreter) If the academy puts out a magazine under the name of The Annals of the Chinese Nation without the consent of the editorial board or its advisers, that's a violation of our rights which we can resolve through a lawsuit.
KUHN: None of the editors or advisors knows exactly who is behind the assault on their magazine or why they're doing it. Veteran jurist Li Buyun admits that conservatives do not like The Annals of the Chinese Nation because it is the standard bearer of liberal intellectuals within the party, like himself.
LI BUYUN: (Through interpreter) The magazine's specialty is speaking the truth, especially about history, so that people may learn from it. There is no other motivation. We are not trying to smear the party.
KUHN: Earlier this year, President Xi Jinping demanded obedience from state media. Last month, the government shut down a slew of political columns on major internet portals in a bid to enforce a ban on independent political reporting. Editor Wang Yanjun ticks off a list of media voices which have fallen silent.
WANG: (Through interpreter) They've killed off one outlet after another, leaving The Annals of the Chinese Nation as the last bastion. And readers cherish our magazine. Some have even taken it as a sign that there is still hope for China.
KUHN: As the editors feared, the National Academy of Arts this week put out what appears to be the August edition of their journal. The ousted editors have called it a pirated edition, but they say they're having difficulty making their voices heard. The government has banned other media from reporting the controversy surrounding the magazine. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.