BEIJING (REUTERS) - Chinese internet firms blocked users from sharing a lengthy article written by former Premier Wen Jiabao in tribute to his late mother, censoring a senior member of the ruling Communist Party, possibly because he spoke out of line.
The obituary-style article written by Mr Wen about his mother, who died recently, appeared in a small weekly newspaper called the Macau Herald on Friday (April 16) and was posted on a public account on Chinese chat app WeChat on Saturday, but was swiftly restricted.
The heartfelt tribute includes details of Mr Wen’s mother’s struggle during periods of upheaval in China, including the second Sino-Japanese War and the political purges of the Cultural Revolution.
“In my mind, China should be a country full of fairness and justice, always with a respect for the will of the people, humanity, and human nature,” said Mr Wen’s article, which did not directly discuss China’s current political environment.
China’s ruling Communist Party (CCP) has sought to tighten control over how netizens discuss history on the country’s heavily controlled internet in the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the party’s founding, in July.
Under President Xi Jinping, the space for dissent in China has narrowed, while censorship has expanded.
Mr Wu Qiang, an independent political analyst in Beijing, said the article represented an “alternative voice from within the party” that is out of step with efforts of the last few years to stifle dissent.
“The power of this article by Wen is that it challenges that, and this is the main reason why it has been banned from being shared,” he said, noting the party’s sensitivity around its anniversary.
Last week, an arm of China’s cyber regulator launched a hotline for netizens to report “illegal” comments that “distorted” the Party’s historical achievements and attacked the country’s leadership.
When users tried to share Mr Wen’s article, a notice appeared saying that the content went against WeChat’s regulations and could not be shared, a common censorship measure in China that is one step below purging articles completely.
On Weibo, the Chinese social media site similar to Twitter, there was scant mention of the article, and comments and sharing functions had been disabled. Links to articles on Mr Wen’s tribute posted on Weibo returned “404” messages on Tuesday morning, indicating they had been deleted.
The operators of WeChat and Weibo, as well as China’s internet regulator, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Former Chinese leaders and high-profile politicians rarely cultivate public personas or share detailed biographical information in their retirement, and are expected to slip gracefully from the limelight.
Since assuming power in 2012, Mr Xi’s signature policies have been cemented in the party constitution and term limits abolished, putting him almost on par with Communist China’s founder Mao Zedong in the pantheon of its leaders.
Mr Wen, who was premier under former Chinese leader Hu Jintao, was a leading figure behind the country’s economic policies in the 2000s, and left office in 2013 when he was succeeded by current Premier Li Keqiang.