In the following essay from the most recent edition of the official CCP journal Study Times, published by the Central Party School, Gao Xinmin (高新民) discusses the ways the Internet and other new media have brought subtle but important changes to China’s political culture.
The opportunities and challenges of new media for the Party
By Gao Xinmin (高新民)
Study Times (学习时报)
Over the past few years, linking up the process of Party building (党的建设) with new media of which the Internet is most representative form, has become an important trend in Party building. There have been many cases of leaders interacting online with with Web users. The provincial propaganda office of Guangdong province has cooperated with Guangdong China Mobile to launch “Online Study World” (网络学习天地), [a platform dedicated to the study of the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics]. Guangdong’s Zhanjiang City (湛江市) has reported live on reports on the work and progress of top Party leaders at the county level through television and Internet TV, allowing the public to directly monitor the ruling Party. The relationship between new media and Party building has drawn attention again and again.
In his speech to the 17th Party Congress, President Hu Jintao said: “The ever-increasing level of information networking today has presented challenges as well as opportunities to Party building.” New media, including the Internet, mobile phones as newly emerging forms of propagation media (传播介质), have not only changed the way people communicate, but have also changed the way people live and work, bringing a total transformation that directly raises a whole range of serious tests for Party building.
For example, against the background of a diversity of social values, new media have already become collection and distribution centers for thought, culture and information, and tools for the amplification of public opinion in society. They are a direct challenge to the Party’s thought leadership and to traditional methods of channeling public opinion. Traditional thought and education originates at the upper levels, with the representatives of organizations, but in the Internet age anyone can voice their views and influence others.
With traditional print and broadcast media, censorship of content and the use of specific organizational methods to channel and influence topics of communication is understandable. But the topics of Internet communication are far more diverse, and it is difficult to ensure that “organizational methods” are effective with all people. The times have changed, and this demands that the Party and government accommodate the times, channeling public opinion in ways that suit mainstream social demands, values and concepts and that people can welcome.
For example, the Internet has already become a channel by which the people express their own interests and demands, a platform for participation and discussion of state affairs. The presents a challenge to traditional modes of communication. In traditional communication the organs of the Party-state were the principal channel, and the flow was from top to bottom in a one-dimensional fashion, with the decisions at higher levels transmitted down layer after layer . . . But Internet communication means that any ordinary Party member or member of the public can communicate their own opinions and views at any time and in any place . . . Channels of communication for the people have been expanded to an unprecedented extent. The times demand forms of communication that are two-dimensional, combining top to bottom and bottom to top, a mechanism of mutual consultation. And the Internet provide the best means for this.
We can also see that the Internet demands much more in terms of the conduct and character of our leaders. Many factual instances of mass incidents are pushed by waves of public opinion online, and in many cases careless remarks from leaders precipitate a backlash of public opinion. The question of how to deal with online public opinion, and the complex question of how to deal with media is a comprehensive test of the human rights consciousness, democratic consciousness, rule of law consciousness and work ability of our leaders.
However, new media also present new opportunities for Party building.
These opportunities are manifested in diverse ways. First, [new media] can be tools for the propagation and channeling of the Party’s ideas and theories. Aside from the above-mentioned examples in Guangdong, I have been on a research tour to Tongzi County (桐梓县) in Guizhou province, where they have built an online study platform for Party cadres. All Party cadres, including businesspeople and migrant workers [who are Party members] can use this Party building platform to participate in all sorts of study sessions. Which is to say that while the Internet can lead to the expression of diverse values, it can also become a means to channel mainstream thought and ideology.