For China’s Communist Party leaders, political catchphrases, or tifa (提法), are an important means of communicating general political ideas, moods and orientations. They are the way new leaders, like current president Xi Jinping (习近平), try to articulate and imprint their leadership values.
But in this era of information chaos, when the Party can no longer hold all of the puppet strings of public opinion at once, the meaning of the political catchphrase can slip in interesting and even fatal ways.
When Hu Jintao introduced his political vision of the “harmonious society” (和谐社会) at the National People’s Congress in 2005, his stated objective was to build a “well-off society,” one “that puts people first.” The idea of “harmony” rapidly became synonymous, however, with rigorous censorship and violent “stability preservation.” [SEE ALSO "Hu's Decade of 'Failed Power'"].
[ABOVE: This cartoon by artist Kuang Biao speaks perhaps most emotively and directly to the slippage experienced by Hu Jintao's 2005 political buzzword "harmonious society." Two "river crabs," or hexie, a common web slang playing on Hu's notion of "harmony" and synonymous with censorship and repression, joust for dominance, one representing money the other power: Background from CMP here.]
Over the next few years, as President Xi Jinping’s own political catchphrases are defined, elaborated and disseminated, what kind of slippages of meaning will we witness?
At a forum held in Beijing on April 16, the All-China Journalists Association and representatives from 25 official state media did their best to infuse Xi Jinping’s notion of the “China Dream” (中国梦) with the imperative of press control. The ACJA and the Party press are reminding us all that Xi’s vision of prosperity and “national rejuvenation” can only come through the continued restriction of information freedoms. (The English release, for foreign audiences, emphasises “truth” and “credibility”).
At the April 16 meeting, state media and the ACJA issued a formal pledge, or changyishu (倡议书), called “Applying Positive Energy with a Fierce Sense of Social Responsibility to Realize the China Dream” (以强烈社会责任感为实现中国梦传递正能量). The document makes it clear that “social responsibility” equals the media’s responsibility to the Chinese Communist Party.
The document emphasizes, for example, the need for state media to sing the “main theme,” or zhuxuanlu (主旋律), a term referring to the Party line. It speaks of “strengthening the mainstream public opinion field” (主流舆论场), in a political culture where “mainstream” refers explicitly to alignment with Party interests (“mainstream media” = Party media).
Can we look forward, in the months ahead, to interesting new slips of meaning whereby the “China Dream” becomes synonymous with censorship?
Alas, I’m too late it seems. The process has already begun.
In the following post, one user asks if another post has just been “harmonized,” to which someone responds: “This doesn’t suit the times. Shouldn’t it be ‘done away with by a dream’ (被梦做掉了) or ‘to be dreamed’ (被做梦了)?”
No, a third user says, providing the definitive solution: “It was dreamed away!” (被梦掉).
That’s it. The time may come when we are all “dreamed away.” 我们都被梦掉了.
A partial translation of the pledge by state media follows, including a list of the media who signed up on April 16. Items 1 and 2 are followed by two further items emphasizing the need for “truth and impartiality” (which is trumped by item 2 about the “Party nature of the news”) and for “social efficacy” (社会效果).
Bearing the social responsibility of drumming and shouting for the realization of the China Dream is the great trust placed on the news media by the Party and the people, it is the noble pursuit of news workers, and it offers key support for the Chinese people in building the China Dream. The great masses of news workers must conscientiously carry out this mission, in order to provide the spiritual motivation and ideological assurance needed to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people. To this end, we propose the following:
1. [That we will] sing loudly the China Dream as the strongest voice of the era. [That we will] sing loudly the main theme (主旋律) of the era, and pass on positive social energy, strengthening the mainstream public opinion field (主流舆论场). . .
2. [We will be] faithful to the role and mission of the news worker. We will conscientiously accept the leadership of the Party, adhere to [notion that] the interests of the motherland and the people are higher than all else, thoroughly upholding the Party nature of news work (新闻工作的党性原则), abiding by the Constitution and the law, and fully adhering to correct guidance of public opinion . . .
Units Jointly Issuing the Pledge (26 in all):
The All-China Journalists Association (中华全国新闻工作者协会), the People’s Daily (人民日报), Xinhua News Agency, Seeking Truth (求是), People’s Liberation Army Daily (解放军报), Guangming Daily (光明日报), Economic Daily (经济日报), China National Radio (中央人民广播电台), China Central Television (中央电视台), China Radio International (中国国际广播电台), China Daily (中国日报), Science & Technology Daily (科技日报), Zhongguo Jijian Jiancha Bao (中国纪检监察报), Worker’s Daily (工人日报), China Youth Daily (中国青年报), China Womens Daily (中国妇女报), Farmer’s Daily (农民日报), Legal Daily (法制日报), China News Service (中国新闻社), People’s Daily Online (人民网), Xinhua Online (新华网), CNTV (中国网络电视台), Beijing TV (北京电视台), Beijing Evening News (北京晚报), Beijing Youth Daily (北京青年报), the Beijing Times (京华时报).