Shao Piaop­ing’s Pek­ing Gazette

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Su Yi­long, edited by Mark Zuiderveld

This true story fol­lows Shao Piaop­ing, founder of the Pek­ing Gazette, who spared no ef­fort in his fight for jus­tice through jour­nal­ism, and was even­tu­ally be­trayed and ex­e­cuted.

On the morn­ing of April 26, 1926, on the ex­e­cu­tion grounds east of Bei­jing Tian­qiao Bridge in Xuanwu District, Shao Piaop­ing, founder of the Pek­ing Gazette, was ex­e­cuted at the age of 40.

Be­trayed by friends, fruit­less plead­ing, shot by ex­e­cu­tion, fear­lessly fac­ing death—all of th­ese dra­matic plots were quickly staged. Just two days be­fore, a chance for sur­vival was still pos­si­ble, no mat­ter how slim.

On April 24, driven by per­sonal in­ter­ests, Zhang Hanju, the pro­pri­etor of China Press, eas­ily tricked Shao Piaop­ing out from the In­ter­na­tional Pri­vate Ho­tel of Bei­jing Le­ga­tion Quar­ter where he was seek­ing asy­lum. Zhang said war­lord Zhang Zuolin wouldn't kill Shao and the Pek­ing Gazette would con­tinue to be pub­lished. Shao Piaop­ing re­turned to the news­pa­per of­fice that he cared about, only to be ar­rested in an hour's time. The Pek­ing Gazette was sub­se­quently shut down.

On April 25, af­ter news that the news­pa­per of­fice of Pek­ing Gazette had been shut down, peo­ple went around spread­ing the news and or­gan­ised res­cue mis­sion. They failed.

On the flagi­tious charge of “con­spir­ing with Red Rus­sia (Rus­sia af­ter the Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion) and pub­li­cis­ing rev­o­lu­tion­i­sa­tion,” and un­der cruel in­ter­ro­ga­tion, Shao Piaop­ing was tor­tured. Af­ter his ex­e­cu­tion, his friends, who suf­fered nu­mer­ous threats, such as Pek­ing Opera per­former Ma Lian­liang, was re­luc­tantly buried by the side of Tian­ning Tem­ple out­side Guang'an­men.

In­de­pen­dent Spirit

Shao Piaop­ing loved the Pek­ing Gazette so much that he was will­ing to sacri­fice his life for it, and the literati read it.

Weiran Hu­tong was lo­cated in Bei­jing's Xicheng, run­ning from Nan­liu Xiang in the north to Luo­mashi Da­jie in the south. Wei Zhongx­ian sup­pos­edly used to live here dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644). Its orig­i­nal name was “Weiyan Hu­tong,” and the name was changed into the cur­rent name in the late Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911). No.30, Weiran Hu­tong is the for­mer site of the Pek­ing Gazette's news­pa­per of­fice. Euro­pean-style pil­lars stand on both sides of the gate­way of this two-sto­ried grey build­ing. Above the front door of the build­ing are large char­ac­ters “the News­pa­per Of­fice of Pek­ing Gazette” in­scribed by Shao Piaop­ing in his own hand­writ­ing. Above the char­ac­ters and in the mid­dle of the sec­ond storey is a strik­ing bal­cony in a Western style. This build­ing is a com­bi­na­tion of Chi­nese and Western el­e­ments.

Shao Piaop­ing's for­mer res­i­dence was lo­cated on the first floor of this build­ing, the south for his res­i­dence, and the north for of­fice work, which has a con­ve­nient ar­range­ment. But now this build­ing, a quiet spot in a noisy neigh­bour­hood, is di­lap­i­dated. Glory of those days can only be re­called from mot­tled pil­lars and an­ti­quated win­dow bars. “Three gen­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing my fa­ther, my­self and my son were all born in this small court­yard.” Dur­ing the Tom­bSweep­ing Fes­ti­val, the el­dest son and grand­son who have en­tered their 70s will also re­turn here and give the old house a thor­ough sweep­ing.

It was in this place where Shao Piaop­ing made a prom­ise: “We must make the gov­ern­ment lis­ten to the gen­eral public.”

“Don't cling to the pow­er­ful and wealthy, but de­liver only truth to the public, present opin­ions in­de­pen­dently, and re­flect the public's voice.” Shao Piaop­ing soon re­alised an ideal and in­de­pen­dent con­cept for run­ning a news­pa­per. In Oc­to­ber 1918, an in­de­pen­dent news­pa­per, the Pek­ing Gazette, was founded by 32-year-old Shao Piaop­ing, which he in­de­pen­dently ran and funded on his own.

On the day Pek­ing Gazette was founded, Shao Piaop­ing wrote “Iron shoul­ders, Crit­i­cal Hands” in the editorial of­fice to en­cour­age his col­leagues. He rewrote the line from Yang Jiaoshan, an im­pe­rial cen­sor of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644), which showed his great as­pi­ra­tion and de­ter­mi­na­tion of de­fy­ing the up­per classes.

How­ever, since the Ming Dy­nasty, this line which was rewrit­ten with one dif­fer­ent word seemed to in­di­cate that Shao may share ex­actly the same fate with Yang Jiaoshan, who was killed by the traitor min­is­ter Yan Song. The line was like a prophecy of Shao Piaop­ing's fi­nal mis­er­able end­ing.

The news­pa­per ad­vo­cated free­dom of speech, soon be­came pop­u­lar among read­ers. The Pek­ing Gazette rep­re­sented ob­jec­tive facts and truth, tak­ing “seek­ing facts and not de­ceiv­ing read­ers” as its pri­mary fo­cus.

The news­pa­per had a great in­flu­ence on read­ers. Pub­lished only for a few months, the Pek­ing Gazette fol­lowed the trend of world progress and guided for peace and fair­ness, got the ap­proval from all cir­cles at home and abroad. In just six months, the Pek­ing Gazette de­vel­oped rapidly, and es­tab­lished ac­cred­i­ta­tion of­fices in many places across the coun­try such as Shan­dong, Henan, Zhe­jiang, and three north­east prov­inces, be­com­ing a na­tion­wide news­pa­per.

Lead­ing a Team of Jour­nal­ism Stu­dents

In Oc­to­ber 1918, Shao Piaop­ing founded the Jour­nal­ism Study So­ci­ety of Pek­ing Univer­sity. Mao Ze­dong, Gao Junyu, Chen Gongbo, Yang Hui, Tan Zhi­tang, Ou Sheng­bai, fu­ture celebri­ties of the press, all stud­ied here. Some de­voted to jour­nal­ism be­came a dom­i­nant force, among whom some be­came many early stage lead­ers of the Com­mu­nist Party of China.

“I am Shao Piaop­ing's stu­dent.” In the sum­mer of 1936, in a cave in Bao'an, north of Shaanxi, Mao Ze­dong told of his ex­pe­ri­ence to fa­mous Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist

Edgar Snow. “Shao Piaop­ing helped me a lot. He was a lec­turer of the Jour­nal­ism Study So­ci­ety, a lib­er­al­ist, an en­thu­si­as­tic per­son with dreams and ad­mirable qual­i­ties.”

As a men­tor of the Jour­nal­ism Study So­ci­ety, Shao Piaop­ing not only lec­tured on jour­nal­ism, cul­ti­vated out­stand­ing stu­dents, but also left two of the ear­li­est jour­nal­is­tic writ­ings for later gen­er­a­tions: Shiji ying­yong xin­wenxue (“prac­ti­cal ap­plied jour­nal­ism”) and Xin­wenxue zonglun (“jour­nal­ism pan­dect”), which likely marked the be­gin­ning of Chi­nese jour­nal­ism ed­u­ca­tion.

Shao Piaop­ing es­tab­lished a stan­dard for jour­nal­ists. He also con­veyed through the Pek­ing Gazette, which had in­de­pen­dent judge­ment and insight, that a news­pa­per shouldn't only su­per­vise the gov­ern­ment, but also awaken the public. It was this idea that ini­ti­ated in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ism of China in the 20th cen­tury.

Jour­nal­ist Skills

Scoops, po­lit­i­cal se­crets, funny stories of the time—th­ese proved no is­sue for Shao Piaop­ing. He was an ex­cel­lent jour­nal­ist. With years of prac­tice, he man­aged to ac­quire skills and ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Born in Dongyang of Zhe­jiang Province, Shao Piaop­ing be­came the first ac­cred­ited jour­nal­ist of Shun

Pao sta­tioned in Bei­jing at the age of 30, which proved his abil­i­ties. “In the news­pa­per in­dus­try, in­ter­views were the most im­por­tant, be­cause the only vi­tal source of news­pa­pers was news, and you can only get news from an in­ter­view,” Shao said.

At the be­gin­ning of an in­ter­view, the most com­mon prob­lem is re­jec­tion from po­ten­tial in­ter­vie­wees. But Shao had his way of con­vinc­ing them. When it comes to phone calls, he said in his Shiji ying­yong xin­wenxue, “If a bu­reau­crat re­fuses to pick up the phone, we re­sort to des­per­ate mea­sures, but only in des­per­ate times and with good rea­son. By des­per­ate mea­sures I mean speak­ing di­rectly to the po­ten­tial in­ter­vie­wee at their house or speak­ing on be­half of a par­tic­u­lar or­gan­i­sa­tion… When we have a re­sponse, we can iden­tify our­selves and say, ‘I'm sorry to bother you, but I do it for se­cu­rity be­cause other jour­nal­ists may hear this…'”

Jour­nal­ism was dif­fi­cult and some­times re­quired pre­tence. For a ded­i­cated jour­nal­ist like Shao Piaop­ing who al­ways wanted to get the in­side scoop, pre­tend­ing wasn't an is­sue. Open en­quiries were com­ple­mented by pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

One day in March 1937, Shao Piaop­ing, an ac­cred­ited jour­nal­ist of Shun Pao at that time, was deal­ing with of­fi­cial busi­ness in the of­fice of the State Coun­cil. The of­fice was next door to the of­fice where pre­mier Duan Qirui worked. Shao over­heard the sec­re­tary's call to the Amer­i­can coun­sel­lor stat­ing that pre­mier Duan was go­ing to visit the Amer­i­can em­bassy that af­ter­noon. This ex­cited Shao Piaop­ing.

At that time, the U.S. and Ger­many sev­ered di­plo­matic re­la­tion­ships. In or­der to iso­late Ger­many and re­place its po­si­tion in China, Amer­ica was try­ing to win China over in hopes that the two coun­tries could reach an agree­ment. When Shao thought about the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, he re­alised that this visit was likely about China-ger­many re­la­tions. With his ex­pe­ri­ence, he de­cided to deal with this mat­ter by run­ning to the Amer­i­can em­bassy.

In the face of the Amer­i­can coun­sel­lor, Shao re­it­er­ated that he was an in­sider, and he asked about the pur­pose of the visit be­tween lead­ers on two sides. He also claimed that he wanted noth­ing more than con­firm­ing the truth. Af­ter he learned of the em­bassy's in­struc­tions from the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment, he rushed

back to the State Coun­cil for an in­ter­view, and again claimed to be an in­sider and only wanted to know the ex­act date of Amer­ica and Ger­many sev­er­ing di­plo­matic re­la­tion­ships. With all the pre­tence, he man­aged to get in­for­ma­tion about the U.S. and Ger­many sev­er­ing ties, and was soon to pub­lish break­ing news.

Dur­ing the time when he worked for Shun Pao, Shao Piaop­ing iden­ti­fied and stole the scoops with his sen­si­tive nose as a jour­nal­ist and deep insight of the sit­u­a­tion. Ev­ery day, he would pub­lish two to three thou­sand words by tele­gram. With his pen as the weapon, he ruth­lessly re­vealed the deep­est and dark­est se­crets of the Beiyang gov­ern­ment, and helped Shun Pao be­come pop­u­lar across the coun­try in the process.

Pop­u­lar with Friends

As a ver­sa­tile jour­nal­ist, Shao Piaop­ing was not only tal­ented, but also a man with a cir­cle of friends—from the pres­i­dent and pre­mier to a com­mon man. Peo­ple with dif­fer­ent back­grounds liked him as a friend. His un­matched abil­ity to deal with peo­ple of dif­fer­ent so­cial sta­tus nat­u­rally al­lowed him to get more leads on news and in­ter­view peo­ple on cer­tain top­ics. Shao Piaop­ing had con­nec­tions with so­cial mem­bers at all lev­els, some who had known him for years. That was how he man­aged to get the news he wanted.

Shao Piaop­ing was gen­er­ous, straight­for­ward, good at dis­play, and pop­u­lar with friends. He often in­vited bu­reau­crats and politi­cians to have a ban­quet. They were all ex­cited and kept talk­ing while drink­ing, by which he got valu­able news or clues. For ex­am­ple, once Shao in­vited cabi­net mem­bers of the pre­mier's of­fice to a feast in Bei­jing Ho­tel. They were all ex­cited and kept talk­ing. What they did not know was that Shao had al­ready ar­ranged peo­ple with tele­gram forms next door, wait­ing to pub­lish the news as soon as it got out; out­side the ho­tel were two bi­cy­cles wait­ing for the news too. Be­fore the feast was over, the news had reached the editorial of­fice and was sent to Shang­hai. How fast that was!

Amid the feasts and temp­ta­tion of fame and money, Shao Piaop­ing held fast to his prin­ci­ples of jour­nal­ism—think­ing in­de­pen­dently and see­ing peo­ple not as a par­tic­u­lar class, friends or en­e­mies, but only as rel­e­vant or ir­rel­e­vant sources of news. News was the most im­por­tant thing, and he had his own mea­sures to tell the news the way he wanted.

Per­son­al­ity de­cides destiny, and destiny in turn makes per­son­al­ity. Per­haps due to his im­pov­er­ished up­bring­ing, Shao Piaop­ing was pas­sion­ate yet hum­ble, and cared more about ac­tors and ac­tresses who were treated as “work­ers of the basest pro­fes­sion.” In wel­com­ing his friends, Shao loved to lis­ten to Ma Lian­liang's singing. His love for Pek­ing Opera also gave him the idea to open a spe­cial sup­ple­ment on lit­er­a­ture and opera crit­ics in the Pek­ing Gazette.

He also wrote “Mas­ter of the el­derly char­ac­ter and unique in style” to Ma Xian­liang as en­cour­age­ment. Ma vis­ited him and the two talked a lot and be­came good friends. That was why, when Shao was per­se­cuted and then ex­e­cuted, Ma in­sisted on bury­ing Shao and let­ting him rest in peace, de­spite Ma him­self was in dan­ger be­ing sus­pected to be one of the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and his friends tried to stop him from do­ing this.

Re­fusal to ‘Mind His Own Busi­ness’

Shao Piaop­ing spared no ef­fort to fight against the cor­rupt and dic­ta­to­rial Beiyang gov­ern­ment.

In the Shang­hai di­alect, “A” has a mean­ing of ques­tion­ing and “Ping” means jus­tice. So “A Ping” means “Jus­tice or not?” In his early years as a jour­nal­ist, Shao Piaop­ing used this sar­cas­tic pseu­do­nym to satirise and re­veal the crime of Yuan Shikai as ruler, which led to Shao's im­pris­on­ment.

From Yuan Shikai to Duan Qirui and Zhang Zuolin, Shao re­mained bold in crit­i­cis­ing the war­lords and the Beiyang gov­ern­ment for years. Since he grad­u­ated in 1911 from Zhe­jiang Ad­vanced Col­lege (now Zhe­jiang Univer­sity), he be­gan his 15-year ca­reer as a jour­nal­ist in the Han­min Daily. He never lost sight of his dream to “save the coun­try with jour­nal­ism.” Shin­ing too bright, led to his death.

In 1919, the Pek­ing Gazette was shut down for pub­li­cis­ing the May 4 Move­ment, and Shao fled to Ja­pan. One year later, the Duan Qirui ad­min­is­tra­tion was top­pled and Shao re­turned to Bei­jing to re­open the Pek­ing Gazette.

In late 1925, the Pek­ing Gazette used large sec­tions to re­veal crimes com­mit­ted by Zhang Zuolin, and Zhang quickly sent a man with 300,000 yuan in an at­tempt to bribe Shao Piaop­ing and set­tle the prob­lem. “Zhang Zuolin would pay 300,000 yuan, but I don't want any of it, even if it im­plies death!” Shao's wife Tang Xi­uhui sighed as she re­called this mo­ment. Her hus­band gave back all the money and re­lent­lessly crit­i­cised “the great com­man­der” with­out giv­ing him any face.

Zhang Zuolin was so out­raged by Shao's re­sponse that he put a bounty on Shao's head.

Shao Piaop­ing pub­lished his last ar­ti­cle Mes­sage from Shaop­ing on his Pek­ing Gazette four days be­fore his death. It read: “To­day, any­one who's had a his­tory with me would call me a com­mu­nist and take this as an op­por­tu­nity for re­venge.” Af­ter ex­pos­ing sev­eral “crimes of the worst peo­ple,” Shao said, “I hope my friends can en­joy this mes­sage and spread it around. Thank you.” With th­ese words, Shao crit­i­cised evil with hu­mour, and bade his farewell to the world.

The edi­tion of Shun Pao on May 5, 1919

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