China’s Press Czar vs. Authors of Censored Books, Chapter II

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Government must keep hands off courts, respecting law allowing citizens sue censorship authorities for damage

(Beijing, April 26, 2007) – Chinese citizens made another effort, without success, to put China’s press control authority on trial. The author of the banned book Bygone Peking Opera Masters (《伶人往事》), Ms. Zhang Yihe, filed an administrative lawsuit with the Beijing Municipal High Court today asking for repealing an administrative order from the PRC Press and Publication Administration to forbid the circulation of her book. Court officials refused to accept the lawsuit, acknowledging that the court “is in every way restricted by the government” and that “there are many factors that restrict any administrative lawsuits brought by citizens against the government.” Bygone Peking Opera Masters was banned, together with seven books by other authors, when the deputy director of the Press and Publication Administration (PPA), Wu Shulin, called the books “unfit for publication” at an official meeting, “Briefing on the Situation of Special Themes in Publications,” on January 11, 2007.

Ms. Zhang and her lawyer Pu Zhiqiang brought the lawsuit to the Beijing Municipal High Court today, April 26, after the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court failed to respond to the initial suit filed on April 18. Courts are permitted seven days to decide whether or not to accept a suit. According to the PRC Administrative Procedure Law and the PRC Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law, after the 7-day period expires, the plaintiff may take the lawsuit to a higher-level court if the lower court refuses to hear a case or give an answer.

When Ms. Zhang and her lawyers reached the office for filing lawsuits at the high court, officials on duty refused to look at the files, accept the lawsuit, or keep any records about the submission. In their explanation, the officials confessed that “such lawsuits [brought against a government agency] are un-operable,” in other words, impossible to be put through the judicial process.

“By refusing to file the case, the court violated Ms. Zhang’s legal right to sue for damages” to her right to free expression and government officials were responsible for such damages, Ms. Zhang’s lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, told the high court officials.

CHRD believes Ms. Zhang’s case demonstrates yet again the government-controlled judiciary’s lack of the autonomy and authority necessary to allow citizens to take legal action against China’s press czar. Once again, the courts effectively sheltered the Press and Publication Administration, a powerful office backed by the Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department, from the embarrassment of cross-examination and exposure in court.

Only last month, as CHRD reported in “China’s Press Czar vs. Authors of Banned Books, I,” the same Beijing court exposed its lack of backbone when it refused to accept a lawsuit brought against China’s press and publication authority by veteran journalist Dai Huang, the author of another banned book,. ( The PPA refused to allow printing of Mr. Dai’s memoir, Nine Deaths and One Life – My Experiences as a “Rightist,”. The court refused to accept Mr. Dai’s lawsuit, citing a “legal” technicality that presumably disqualified him from suing.

CHRD reiterates its support for the legal actions initiated by Dai Huang and Zhang Yihe, which challenge PRC censorship through rule-of-law procedures. Although efforts such as theirs have little chance of success, pressing on with such law suits helps raise public rights awareness and testifies to the urgent need in China for judicial independence and rule of law reform.

“The court’s refusal to accept Ms. Zhang’s lawsuit deals yet another blow to press freedom. It further contradicts China’s desire to dress up Beijing as an open and green city, fit for hosting the 2008 Olympics,” said Renee Xia, CHRD international coordinator.

CHRD urges Liu Binjie, the newly appointed head of the PPA, who took office on April 25, to push for abolition of state censorship. “He should turn the PPA from the menacing tiger it is into a goddess of free expression,” said Pu Zhiqiang.

For more information, please see:

Zhang Yihe’s Administrative Complaint to the Beijing High Court (in Chinese):

Pu Zhiqiang: The Experience of Filling Zhang Yihe’s Administrative Lawsuit against the PPA at the Beijing High Court (in Chinese)


CRD is a non-political, non-government network of grassroots and international activists working to advance human rights protection in the PRC. Its objective is to build NGO capacity, to monitor government adherence to its international and constitutional obligations and to aid victims of rights abuses and assist them in seeking redress. CRD encourages efforts to achieve these objectives through democratization and rule of law reform. CRD activities include consultation, dissemination of information, building international solidarity, supporting a program of small grants to those working in China, research assistance, and other services.

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