Shao Piaoping’s Peking Gazette
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.
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.
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