BEIJING — Hundreds of people gathered outside the headquarters of a newspaper office in southern China on Monday to show their support for journalists who had declared a strike to protest what they called overbearing censorship by provincial propaganda officials.
The journalists, who work for Southern Weekend, a relatively liberal newspaper that has come under increasing pressure from officials, also received support on the Internet from celebrities and well-known commentators.
‘‘Hoping for a spring in this harsh winter,’’ Li Bingbing, an actress, said to her 19 million followers on a microblog account.
Yao Chen, an actress with more than 31 million followers, cited a quotation by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian Nobel laureate and dissident: ‘‘One word of truth outweighs the whole world.’’
Many of the people who showed up Monday at the newspaper offices in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, carried banners with slogans and white and yellow chrysanthemums, a flower that symbolizes mourning. One banner read: ‘‘Get rid of censorship. The Chinese people want freedom.’’ Police officers watched the protesters without immediately taking any harsh actions.
The angry journalists at Southern Weekend have been calling for the removal of Tuo Zhen, the top propaganda official in Guangdong, whom the journalists blame for overseeing a change in a New Year’s editorial that ran last week and was supposed to have called for greater respect for rights enshrined in the constitution under the headline ‘‘China’s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism,’’ according to the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong.
The editorial went through layers of changes and ultimately became one praising the current political system, in which the Communist Party exercises authority over all aspects of governance.
A well-known entrepreneur, Hung Huang, said on her microblog that the actions of a local official had ‘‘destroyed, overnight, all the credibility the country’s top leadership had labored to re-establish since the 18th Party Congress,’’ the November gathering in Beijing that was the climax of the leadership transition.
One Southern Weekend journalist said Monday afternoon that negotiations between the various parties had been scheduled later in the day, but there were no results from any talks as of Monday evening.
It was unclear how many employees in the newsroom had heeded the calls for a strike.
It appeared Sunday that many of Southern Weekend’s reporters had declared themselves on strike. A local journalist who went by the newspaper’s Beijing office Monday said the building appeared to be open but quiet. One employee told the journalist that the people there were not on strike.
The conflict was exacerbated Sunday night by top editors at the newspaper, who posted a message on the publication’s official microblog saying that the New Year’s editorial had been written with the consent of editors at the newspaper.