Judy POLUMBAUM

Southern Weekend’s editorial liberalism and the free-market orientation of its business reporting often contrast with the positions of its parent, Southern Daily, the official publication of the Communist party in Guangzhou. Southern Weekend is internationally known for its investigative reporting on topics such as health, environment, and corruption.

Appearing first in 1984 as a weekly culture supplement to Southern Daily, the Communist Party’s official daily paper in Guangdong Province, Southern Weekend developed into a free-wheeling, commercially-oriented subsidiary with a nationwide circulation and an international reputation as a pacesetter in investigative reporting.

Also called Southern Weekly—the English translation added to the nameplate after a redesign in 2006—this broadsheet paper is one of more than a dozen publications of the Southern Daily Press Group that has a history of ups and downs that exemplify both the opportunities and pitfalls of operating under the umbrella of an official party organ. While the parent Southern Daily retained the role of authoritative propaganda mouthpiece, Southern Weekend emphasized a market-driven business philosophy along with a professional approach to journalism that allowed for aggressive reporting on controversial subjects.

With savvy editorial leadership sustained by networks of influence in the relatively open atmosphere of Guangdong and further buoyed by outstanding commercial returns, Southern Weekly tended to avoid direct criticism of officials in its home base of Guangzhou by focusing its toughest reporting elsewhere. Through the 1990s, it gained acclaim for investigations of public health problems such as AIDS and SARS, stories about environmental degradation, and exposés of corruption and police brutality. Foreign media accounts described the paper as “outspoken,” “semi-independent,” and China’s “most probing major newspaper.”

After the late 1990s, increased government interference and dismissal of several cohorts of senior editors—with several imprisoned on flimsy corruption charges themselves—put a damper on critical reports and commentaries, even as sports, business, entertainment, and lifestyle coverage remained vigorous and the paper’s editorial philosophy remained adamantly liberal and free-market oriented.

Southern Weekend continued to survive in China’s competitive media mix and to draw attention for its reporting contributions to major stories, including the 2007 discovery of forced labor at Shanxi Province brick kilns and revelations about shoddy construction of schools that collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Through blogs and leaks to foreign media, its editors and reporters periodically have divulged political pressures to suppress stories, including information about tainted milk and suspicions about corruption in a government-backed charity. The paper’s popular website also sometimes provides previews of stories that fail to make it into print.

As of 2005, Southern Weekend claimed a national circulation of 1.3 million, although periodical circulation figures in China are notoriously unreliable. In 2008, during a period of declining ad revenues after a two-decade boom, it still was a desirable venue for national and multinational advertisers, with a listed rate of RMB¥500,000 (US$73,000) for a quarter-page color ad. The paper drew criticism in late 2008 for running two pages of content about the producer of Maotai, China’s most famous brand of grain alcohol, that appeared to be a corporate “advertorial,” or advertisement in news format.

More so than perhaps any other periodical, Southern Weekend embodies and reflects the real and active trends of modernism and capitalism in Chinese society today.

Further Reading

Esarey, A. (2007). Cornering the market: State strategies for controlling China’s commercial media. In D. L. Yang (Ed.), Discontented miracle: Growth, conflict, and institutional adaptations in China (pp. 1–47). Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific.

French, H. W. (2004, April 15). China tries again to curb independent press in south. The New York Times, p. A14.

He, Q. (2008). A prickly rosebud cut off at the root. In The fog of censorship: Media control in China (pp. 125–139). New York: Human Rights in China.

Zhao Yuezhi. (2008). Communication in China: Political economy, power, and conflict. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

A honeyed mouth hides a daggered heart.

口蜜腹剑

Kǒu mì fù jiàn

Source: Polumbaum, Judy. (2009). Southern Weekend. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2066–2067. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Southern Weekend (Nánfāng Zhōumò南方周末)|Nánfāng Zhōumò南方周末 (Southern Weekend)

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