On January 5, China’s official Xinhua News Agency issued a brief news item reporting that the annual meeting of the country’s top ministers of propaganda, the officials charged with controlling the Party’s message in a vast and growing media industry, had closed in Beijing. Full stop. But the report, accompanied by a photo of China’s two top propaganda apparatchiks and another mystery man, in fact said a great deal more.
The clipped Xinhua story included the following photo of three leaders, noting in two simple lines of text: “On January 5, the National Meeting of Propaganda Ministers closed in Beijing. CCP Central Politburo Standing Committee Member Li Changchun (李长春) led the meeting, and CCP Central Politburo Member, Member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee and Central Propaganda Department Minister Liu Yunshan (刘云山) gave the keynote speech.”
Li Changchun is the leader pictured at center, and that’s the propaganda minister, Liu Yunshan, on the far right. But who’s the official on the left? The man is Chen Kuiyuan (陈奎元), and his role in this story is more important than meets the eye.
A vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and dean of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Chen Kuiyuan is strongly associated with China’s hardline left, and his presence in the official news photo from Xinhua is for media insiders in China a tangible sign — a flesh-and-blood cautionary note about the need for media to fall into line in 2011.
It was this same Chen Kuiyuan who wrote an influential essay in the People’s Daily in August 2004 arguing that the greatest legacy left by Deng Xiaoping (邓小平), the architect of China’s opening and reform policy, was not reform itself but the so-called “Four Basic Principles, or si xiang jiben yuanze (四项基本原则). A favored political buzzword of China’s conservative left, the Four Basic Principles — sometimes referred to as the “Four Cardinal Principles” — are as follows:
1. We must cleave to the road of socialism
2. We must uphold the dictatorship of the proletariat
3. We must uphold the leadership of the Communist Party
4. We must uphold Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought
In his People’s Daily article, “Adhering to the Four Basic Principles was Deng Xiaoping’s Greatest Achievement for the Project of Socialism in China,” published on August 21, 2004, Chen Kuiyuan attacked proponents of so-called “bourgeois liberalization” and praised Deng Xiaoping for slapping them down in the wake of the Tiananmen protests:
After the political turmoil of 1989, bourgeois liberalization did not manifest as the direct incitement to social unrest, but rather applied its energies to the ideological sphere. In order to conceal its true face, it often resorted to the slogan of “emancipation of thought” (解放思想). Deng Xiaoping rebutted them, saying “emancipation of thought” cannot deviate from the path of the Four Basic Principles, because “emancipation of thought” that deviates from the Four Basic Principles actually means placing oneself in direct opposition to the Party and the people. In order to pass fish eyes off as pearls, they also wore the mask of correcting [the errors of] the “left,” and Deng Xiaoping rebutted them, saying that if the Four Basic Principles were not adhered to, correcting the “left” would become “correcting” [the wrongs of] Marxism-Leninism and “correcting” [the wrongs of] socialism. Deng Xiaoping sharply pointed out that they essentially sought to take China down the road of using capitalism to steer the country by waving the flag of protecting economic reform and opening.
In a year-end address to cadres at CASS in 2004, Chen Kuiyuan spoke of adherence to the Four Basic Principles as the most basic requirement of intellectuals in China, particularly those selected for key positions:
The front line of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences holds an important position in the ideological sphere, and in assessing [scholarly] talent we must first emphasize through and through their political and ideological positions and their academic orientations. Currently in the ideological sphere there is still a struggle over whether or not to support the Four Basic Principles. In assessing and selecting [scholarly] talent we must adhere to political standards, and we cannot select for important positions those who oppose the Four Basic Principles. Adherence to the Four Basic Principles is a most basic requirement, and for the vast majority of scholars it is not a difficult standard to reach, but rather is a basic character and quality with which they should be vested.
The prominent presence of Chen Kuiyuan lends additional credence to the suggestion that the recent national meeting of top propaganda ministers was meant to send a stronger signal to Chinese news media and local Party-governments that they must adhere strictly to “propaganda discipline” (宣传纪律), avoiding coverage of sensitive stories and issues.
Last week, Cao Guoxing (曹国星), a Shanghai-based reporter for the Chinese-language Radio France Internationale (RFI), reported the existence of a ten-points bulletin coming out of the recent ministers’ meeting including specific directives from the Central Propaganda Department. We have not yet confirmed this list with our own sources, but we have learned independently about a number of the orders listed in the bulletin, which supports its authenticity.
Here is a translation of the ten-points bulletin as reported by RFI:
1. Create a favorable public opinion climate for the two holidays [including Spring Festival] and “two meetings” (NPC and CPPCC). Do a conscientious job of channeling [public opinion] on such hot topics as income distribution, the stock market and property market, employment and social security, education and public health and sanitation, and safe manufacturing, explaining the issues and dissolving tensions.
2. Strictly control reporting of disasters, accidents and extreme events, and extra-territorial reporting and monitoring is not permitted for these types of stories. For major disaster and accident reports the central news media will report on developments. No [live] reporting [via reporters from other local media on the scene] (不连线) or direct broadcasting [of such stories] is permitted. [Events in which] less than 10 people die, central media will not issue reports. These are to be reported by local media, and media outside the area where the incident occurs are not to carry out extra-territorial reporting. For general accidents not reported by central media, local media can carry out a reasonable degree of reporting, and media outside the area may not do their own reporting.
3. Reports on demolition and removal [of residents to make way for development projects] must be “grasped safely and reliably”, and [media] “must not cast doubt on” normal demolitions and removals done according to laws and regulations. No public opinion support must be given to exorbitant [property] prices, and not reports must be made of “suicides, self-immolations or public incidents” occurring in the course of violent demolitions and removals. Extreme isolated cases must not be built up [with reporting and editorial treatment], and concentrated or serial reporting cannot be done [for such cases].
4. The Central Propaganda Department orders that various regional online news portals and commercial websites must not without exception (一律不得) hold various national-scale selections of [top influential] news stories or [top influential] news journalists. An awards event held for eight years by Guangzhou’s Southern Weekend has been stopped as a direct result of this order.
5. In the case of reporting of regular mass incidents (群体性事件), central media and media outside the region where the event occurs will not report, and “management” of metro city newspapers must be strengthened. In the case of mass incidents the pointing of blame at the Party and government must be prevented.
6. The Central Propaganda Department orders that [in reporting of] cases of anti-corruption, the trend of “vulgarization” must be stopped. Content may not discuss, debate or question on the issue of political system reforms (政治体制改革), the term “civil society” may not be used, and standing on the opposite side of the government is “strictly prohibited.” The use of media opinions to “replace and interfere with” the opinions of the masses is not permitted.
7. A fully adequate job must be done of carrying out public opinion channeling concerning the property market. Questionnaires on high property prices and online surveys must not be done. [Media] must not make assessments about property price trends on the basis of changes in “any given time and place” (一时一地), and they must not build up extreme examples.
8. No reports whatsoever are permitted on exchange of hukou [or "household registration"] by [residents of] the residential areas of collectively-held villages [in urban areas or urban fringes], or concerning the exchange of contracted land (承包地) for social insurance. No reports are permitted concerning questions being internally discussed, or of research essays by experts or scholars [on these and related issues].
9. Reports on the [annual] Spring Festival migration must be positive. Do not report on problems existing during the Spring Festival, such as “hard-to-get tickets.”
10. The document, “Opinions Concerning the Further Strengthening and Improvement of News Reports on Criminal Cases,” sent down recently by the Central Propaganda Department and the Political and Judiciary Commission (中央政法委), divides [criminal] cases into “significantly grievous” (重大恶性), “grievous” (恶性), “routine” (常发) and “special” (特殊), and makes a clear demand on how cases at various levels are to be reported and grasped [in terms of guidance, or control]. [These stipulations] deal with the problem among metro city newspapers of reports being “too frequent and too careless.”