Witnesses said up to 200 people converged outside the Guangzhou newsroom of the Southern Weekend newspaper demanding an end to the stifling censorship of their country's media.
Photographs posted on social media showed demonstrators carrying signs calling for "free press, constitutional government and democracy."
The protest, which ended peacefully, was triggered by an acrimonious dispute between government officials and journalists from the Southern Weekend newspaper who claim censors have been conducting an increasingly aggressive clampdown on their work since last year.
The crisis exploded into the open on New Year's Day after Southern Weekend reporters accused Tuo Zhen, Guangdong province's propaganda chief, of transforming a lengthy newspaper editorial calling for political reform into a gushing homage to China's Communist Party.
According to an analysis by the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project, the original version argued Chinese citizens should be allowed to "voice their criticisms of power loudly and confidently." The altered text, however, was less critical and was published under the headline: 'We Are Now Closer to Our Dream Than Ever Before'.
David Bandurski, the China Media Project editor, said Mr Tuo's "in your face [and] offensive" intervention had proved the final straw for many of the newspaper's censorship-weary staff, who reportedly decided to go on strike on Sunday.
The newspaper's journalists believed propaganda officials had broken "a gentleman's code of how you do and don't control the media," Mr Bandurski added. "If they don't push back what will be left of their paper?"
The crisis escalated last Friday when journalists publically slammed Mr Tuo's "brutal", "ignorant" and "catastrophic" intervention.
Dozens of leading academics then followed suit, using an open letter to call on Guangdong's new party chief, Hu Chunhua, to sack Mr Tuo for his "overbearing actions." He Weifang, a legal expert from Peking University and one of the letter's signatories, said the incident was a "challenge to the new central leadership." "So far they have not displayed their stance on political reform. This time, public anger may well test the new leadership." On Monday, one week after the adulterated editorial was published, protestors took to the streets outside the newspaper's Guangzhou HQ.
In an apparent allusion to the death of press freedom, several carried yellow chrysanthemums.
One protestor, Ah Qiang, told the Daily Telegraph the crisis was about more than newspapers.
"This involves not just one media outlet - Southern Weekend - but everyone. It is everyone's business. [It is about] everyone's rights," he said.
Mr Bandurski, from the China Media Project, said the controversy now posed serious questions of the direction China was likely to move in under incoming president Xi Jinping.
"It is not just a media story anymore. It is about what direction China is heading in," he said.
"Ever since the 18th Communist Party Congress [Xi] has touted himself and the new top seven leaders as representing a new style of leadership and this has been pushed very heavily by the state media." But while media reports had painted Xi as a "Spartan, no-nonsense and more open" leader, the so-called "New Year's Greeting" episode had led many to doubt that.
"These are signs that look right now like steps backwards not steps forward," Mr Bandurski said.
Mr He, from Peking University, said it was too early to say if Mr Tuo would be sacked or what consequences the newspaper's journalists might face.
But the central government's reaction would give an early indication of what ordinary Chinese could expect from their government over the coming decade, he added.
Shi Anbin, a professor of media studies from Beijing's Tsinghua University, said the incident underlined the "ever-growing tension" between Chinese journalists and their government.
But the crisis, coming as China's new leadership took power, could provide "an opportunity of initiating genuine press reform in China", he added.
So far Beijing has sought to play down the incident. "There is no censorship of the media in China," a foreign affairs spokesman said last week.
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