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

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.

Related story: China’s new media rules see pens as more worrisome than swords

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