Beijing bans 'Rolling Stone' after only three weeks on sale

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The Chinese edition of Rolling Stone magazine ground to a halt after China's media watchdogs stopped publication of the recently launched Mandarin version, blaming a legal technicality.

The ban came three weeks after the first copies hit the newsstands to widespread acclaim. An initial print run of 125,000 quickly sold out.

The Shanghai bureau of the Government Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP), which keeps a close eye on new magazines for signs of dissent, said Rolling Stone had not fulfilled all the procedures to publish.

In recent months, government censors have clamped down on free expression in newspapers, magazines, websites and weblogs. Without being explicit, the watchdog hinted there was more to the decision to stop publication than a technicality. "It's not simply a matter of procedure because, even if they handed in the right application, whether we would approve it remains a question," said Liu Jianquan, a spokesman for GAPP. "So we have issued them a warning and told them to stop their illegal action."

It is a far cry from the optimism of three weeks ago when the editor-in-chief, Hao Fang, wrote in aRolling Stone foreword: "From today onward, let us summon our readers that we in the East may also create a miracle worthy of this era."

The challenge for the magazine, as for many others setting up in China, is to appeal to readers looking for hard stories while appeasing the propaganda overlords of the Communist Party who brook no dissent.

The inaugural edition bore the craggy features of Cui Jian, China's Bruce Springsteen, glaring in lurid red and gold from the front page. Also mentioned on the cover was Muzimei, a mainland writer whose steamy online sex diary earned her infamy and saw her weblog banned.

Putting Cui Jian on the cover was a daring choice. The throaty protest singer is best known for "Nothing to My Name", a song widely seen as referring to the crackdown in 1989 on democracy activists in Beijing. He has only recently been rehabilitated by the government. In September last year he played his first concert in 12 years to fans in Beijing's Workers' Stadium.

The interview inside avoided touching on political subjects, something Mr Hao insisted the magazine would do during its lifetime.

Foreign titles have been lured to China by the country's booming advertising market. Western glossies already there include Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Elle and FHM.