Censors of social media in China have hampered the distribution of an article by former Premier Wen Jiabao reportedly seen as being critical of President Xi Jinping, although it is about Wen's mother and no direct mention is made of the president. Radio Free Asia (RFA) published the following translation of the eyebrow-raising conclusion of the four-part article:

"In my mind, china should be a country full of fairness and justice, always with respect for the will of the people, humanity, and human nature."

A different, longer translation of the final paragraph was published by the Financial Times.

The British newspaper said exiled Chinese dissidents had seen those words as a subtle criticism of President Xi.

Blocked from being shared or reposted

RFA, a U.S.-funded broadcaster, noted that the four-part article first appeared in the Macau Herald and was then posted on WeChat, China's most popular social media platform, during the April 17-18 weekend. The Financial Times said that the original posts were still accessible, but they could not be shared or reposted. The newspaper also pointed out that the former Portuguese colony of Macau, where Wen's article had been published, had a freer press than mainland China.

An activist at GreatFire.org, which keeps an eye on censorship in China, told the Financial Times that the popularity of Wen's article among dissidents had probably brought the writing to the attention of the censors.

Censorship ahead of Communist Party's centenary

RFA said the blocking of Wen's article coincided with the Chinese Communist Party's "all-out propaganda offensive to sanitize and take control of public narratives about its own history" on the eve of the party's 100th anniversary on July 1, 2021.

Wen served as the premier from 2003 to 2013.

The Financial Times noted that WeChat and other social media platforms had their own in-house censors, but they would not have gone so far as to censor such a senior statesman without high-level approval from the party. "This is a former national leader... and they have blocked even a moderate article like this one," Wu Zuolai, an academic living in the US, told RFA.

He said this was an indication that party leaders would not permit "any articles that could be seen as offering veiled criticisms."

Self-censorship was not enough

Wen's article had probably come under self-censorship before being published in Macau, scholar and dissident Cai Xia told RFA. "This shows just how much the totalitarian regime in mainland China fears democracy and the rule of law," said Cai, a former professor at the Central Party School in Beijing and current resident of the US.

'My Mother'

The Financial Times noted that the former premier's article had been entitled "My Mother." The paper said the retired statesman had told of the hardships experienced by his parents, but he had omitted any mention of the wealth accumulated by his mother during his time in office.

RFA recalled that in 2010 Wen had told CNN that eventually, the Chinese would crave democracy and freedom of speech.