Chinese journalists fed up with censorship have staged what may be the first walkout of its kind since the Tiananmen crackdown of 1989.
The strike marks a major escalation of a rebellion that was ignited last week at one of China's most credible and reader-oriented newspapers, Southern Weekend, by the ham-fisted intervention from propaganda officials.
It poses an early test of China's direction under the new leadership of Xi Jinping, who has made strong and seemingly contradictory calls for the country to press forward with reform while also returning to the revolutionary legacy of its Maoist past.
“Everybody knows that the system stands naked and that the system is aware that the public knows that it is naked,” said political commentator Zhang Lifan, who is close to several liberal-leaning “princeling” children of revolutionary leaders.
“The question is whether it wants to put on clothes, or not,” he said.
The propaganda chief of Guangdong province, Tuo Zhen, stands accused of axing the newspaper's New Year's editorial, which called for the protection of individual rights, and replacing it with his own poorly-written and error-riddled paean to Communist Party power. Chinese journalists are calling it the “rape of Southern Weekend".
Tensions grew when Southern Weekend journalists published open letters that revealed a combustible environment where more than 1,000 stories had been censored or scrapped since Mr Tuo took up his propaganda post a year earlier.
It became a newsroom mutiny late on Sunday night, when editorial staff accused propaganda officials – including the one who Mr Tuo had appointed as editor-in-chief – of hijacking the newspaper's microblog, and credibility, to push out a story that misleadingly blamed reporters for the editorial.
"The statement does not represent the opinion of the editorial staff,” said editorial staff via a different microblog.
"The editorial staff will fight against the falsified statement . . . Until the issue is resolved, we will not do any editorial work."
Strikes are effectively banned in China, exceptions being when they have been orchestrated by the party against foreign-owned firms.
And almost all Chinese news media outlets are owned, controlled and tightly trameled by the state and explicitly seen as a tool for “guiding” public opinion to uphold party rule.
Chinese journalists are, nevertheless, increasingly judging themselves and each other by the professional standards of journalism.
The newsroom rebellion is spreading as hundreds of intellectuals, students, lawyers and other journalists sign petitions and pledge support.
“We have been loyal readers of Southern Weekend,” said Zhou Ze, one of several lawyers who has pledged to defend the striking journalists.
“We share the concerns expressed by its journalists and editors that it is becoming more like the People's Daily.”
Students at Guangdong's leading university signed a petition on Sunday saying their years of silence had delivered nothing but “untempered intrusion and infiltration of rights by power".
Leading public intellectuals released a separate petition on Sunday night saying Mr Tuo must be sacked to preserve the place of Southern Weekend and Guangdong province at the vanguard of China's opening and reform.
Separately, the website of one of China's most boundary-pushing magazines, Yanhuang Chunqiu, was taken offline on Friday after it published a petition for the party to uphold its own constitution.
The decision to tolerate or crackdown on the striking journalists presents a major test of Mr Xi, his premier-in-waiting, Li Keqiang, and the new Guangdong Party boss, Hu Chunhua, who is a frontrunner to take over from Mr Xi in ten years' time.
"The reaction will speak volumes about their sincerity in deepening reform and opening up,” said Liu Yawei, head of the China Program at the Carter Centre.
Mr Liu said it was the first journalists' walkout he had heard of since 1989.
Mr Zhang, the commentator, says Mr Xi has been backed into a corner before he is ready to show his true colours, whatever they may be.
The expected premier, Li Keqiang, and other members of the State Council will not be appointed until March.
The new leadership line-up was brokered by a motley crew of former leaders and powerful families who are divided on whether the party should overcome its sagging credibility by returning to the party's revolutionary legacy or pressing forward with reform.