China’s Southern Metropolitan Post has fired an editor who juxtaposed a recent order by President Xi Jinping calling for “absolute loyalty” from the press as a headline over a routine obituary notice. The editorial error is widely viewed as a protest against new Chinese press rules.

The newspaper announced on March 1 that Liu Yuxia, an editor of the paper, was fired to shoulder responsibility for the incident. In addition, Wang Haijun, a deputy chief editor of the paper, was also “administratively punished” with what was termed a “dismerit mark.” The punishments were doled out under an internal disciplinary system run by the Chinese Communist Party.

Screenshot of offending newspaper headline
Screenshot of offending newspaper headline

The apparent headline protest and firings follow a whirlwind visit that Xi made to the country’s three flagship state-run media outlets on Feb. 19 in which he demanded “absolute loyalty” from journalists. The three media units included the party newspaper People’s Daily, the state-run news agency Xinhua, and state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV).

The headline juxtaposition was made in the Shenzhen edition of the Southern Metropolitan Post, a relatively outspoken newspaper based in southern Guangdong province.

Using juxtaposition as a way to subtly express dissent is not uncommon in China. Many analysts speculate the newspaper was trying to slip in a bit of commentary through such stark headline juxtaposition.

The Internet edition of the Southern Metropolitan Post with its controversial headline was removed a few hours after it appeared.

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