Control, on the shores of China’s dream

In its annual white paper on human rights, released earlier this month, China once again affirmed its citizens’ “right to know and right to be heard.” But the country’s ideological mood has darkened in recent weeks in what seems to reflect growing anxiety in the leadership over potentially destabilizing public opinion.

A recent document insiders say was issued by the central Party leadership urges officials across the country to be “fully alert to the threat posed by the ideas advocated by the West.” Those ideas reportedly include what have been recently termed the “Seven Don’t Speaks” (七不讲). Widely reported in Hong Kong media and confirmed by mainland media insiders (though no one, it must be noted, has seen a reliable document), they are:

1. universal values
2. freedom of speech
3. civil society
4. civil rights
5. the historical errors of the CCP
6. official bourgeoisie
7. judicial independence

Most of these terms have not been particularly sensitive in China in recent years. Here is how CMP director Qian Gang has generally defined China’s ideological spectrum.

The Party’s dominant language is in the LIGHT RED, terms like “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” LIGHT BLUE terms are more liberal ones that are not used by the Party but are not off limits (They might be seen, for example, in commercial newspapers like Southern Metropolis Daily, but not in the People’s Daily, unless there is an important ideological shift). DEEP BLUE terms like “multiparty system” are off limits, hence the vertical red line.

Terms 1-4 and 7 above might all be classified as LIGHT BLUE terms in the prevailing ideological spectrum of roughly the past decade. They are part of a developing (expanding?) liberal discourse in China.

If the “Seven Don’t Speaks” are treated seriously, they mark a clear shift of the DEEP BLUE spectrum to the left, meaning that the liberal discourse is being squeezed.

We can also see this ideological shift in a number of recent pieces in official Party journals railing harder against the DEEP BLUE. One article in Red Flag Journal this week, for example, written by Yang Xiaoqing (杨晓青), a law professor at People’s University of China, argues that “Western” political concepts like multiparty elections and separation of powers are alien and unsuited to China. It discusses the merits of “people’s democracy” (人民民主) — essentially the idea of greater public participation in political affairs controlled and managed by the CCP — over constitutionalism. (Just think of people’s democracy as “self-rule beneficently administered by another,” one for Bierce’s dictionary).

The authorities have also taken more robust action against “Big V” Weibo accounts, which tend to have sizable audiences and can also be unruly gardens of LIGHT BLUE speech.

All of the signs lately point to intensified media control across the board, from more serious talk about strengthening social media constraints to state media pledges to help realize “China’s Dream” by adhering to the Party line and being more “positive.”

“Positive energy” seems to be a recently popular phrase in official discussions of the media’s role. And we see this again in another piece from Red Flag Journal this week. The piece is called, “Media Must Unite to Amass Positive Energy.”

The basic idea of the piece, written by Ke Chu (柯楚), is that China is a great big vessel of civilization sailing off to the bright horizon of the China Dream. Now, as it draws so close to its promised shore, is not the time for people to rock the boat with negativity.

“The Party media and various new media, and the internet masses, must maintain clear heads,” Ke writes. “They must not change directions or banners. The closer we get to the shores of our dream, the easier it is to run aground.”

Western nations (“certain powers,” Ke calls them), with their destabilizing values, are out to sink the “Great Ship.” They “hope to use the internet as a means to bring about the collapse of China.”


[ABOVE: A cartoon posted anonymously to Sina Weibo in 2012 shows greedy government officials cannibalizing the ship of state to build their own escape boats.]

Ke Chu’s piece is an interesting portrait of CCP anxiety over the possibly corrosive effect of technology and broader social change on the Party’s ability to control public opinion and maintain its rule.

The acknowledgements of media change are interesting in and of themselves. The concern that “traditional media audiences have been scattered, their space has been squeezed and their impact weakened.” The concern that “positive propaganda” has become ridiculous and toothless, that it is “generally subjected to satire and ridicule.”

Perhaps most fascinating is the section where Ke Chu attempts to plead the relevance of “Party sponsored and managed media” by suggesting they have always been responsive to problems emerging online. “Most of the reports resulting from problems exposed on the internet have come from Party sponsored and managed media,” he writes.

This is a clever bit of sophistry. In most cases, the Party media as we generally understand them — those newspapers serving as “mouthpieces” of the Party leadership at various levels — do not report stories emerging online first, or usually at all. In almost every case, the commercial media are the first to the punch. But technically, of course, these media are “Party sponsored and managed.” They are spin-offs of the official Party papers [Read our related round-up of how this works HERE].

The most troubling aspect of Ke’s piece — particularly if it can be seen as reflective of thinking at the top (which is unclear) — is the way he lumps together all media, including the commercial press and new media, as “mouthpieces of the Party.” He writes: “Media are not just the mouthpieces of the Party, they are also the eyes and ears of the Party; they are the Party’s primary care physicians.” And soon after: “Other domestic new media must at least serve as the eyes and ears of the Party, and as its primary care physician — the information they release must benefit the health of the body of government.”

Like a new age healer, Ke Chu wants everyone to come together to generate “positive energy.” But no one, apparently, is supposed to tell the body that it is sick or corrupt.

Media Must Unite to Amass Positive Energy” (媒体要凝聚放大正能量)
Red Flag Journal (红旗文稿)
By Ke Chu (柯楚)
May 21, 2013

In China today, two types of media objectively exist. The first type is traditional media, principally newspapers, magazines, radio and television. The second type is new media, founded on the basis of internet technology. These have formed two distinct fields of public opinion (舆论场).

organic integration of these two public opinion fields, combining forces to create cohesion, expanding the positive energy originating from web users, thereby promoting social progress, the enrichment of the people and the strength of the nation.

For a long time, traditional media have taken on the propaganda tasks of the ruling Party, and they have played an irreplaceable role in the uniting of the masses, the inducing and mobilizing the people, and the promoting of forward progress in terms of revolution and development. As the situation [domestically and internationally] has changed, internet-based new media have become an emerging force, traditional media audiences have been scattered, their space has been squeezed and their impact weakened.

These days, there are a great number of young people who do not read newspapers or magazines every day, who do not listen to the radio or watch television. But those who do not go online everyday are few and far between. The positive propaganda carried out by traditional media is generally subjected to satire and ridicule on emerging media [platforms]. Topics elaborately planned [for propaganda purposes] are generally mocked by new media. Examples of positive reporting are generally dissimilated by new media, becoming negative incidents. Responses to negative incidents are routinely pulverized to the point that nothing can possibly be good [NOTE: The writer means to say here that nothing the authorities do is immune from criticism]. The effectiveness of traditional media needs to be raised urgently in order to better bring together, release and promote positive energy for scientific development (科学发展).

In recent years, the development of new media has continued unabated, and this has had a positive impact on development in a number of areas, such as national politics, the economy, culture, technology and military affairs. But problems existing in the communication system (传播秩序) of new media are also rather salient. Some websites distort headlines [NOTE: The writer is referring here to the habit of commercial news websites to highlight certain aspects of news, sensationalize or imply criticism in writing headlines, even for news officially released by the government]. Some posts spoof others. Some Weibos wantonly attack others verbally.

Things are not equal online. False information is common online, and those innocents attacked have not recourse. In Western countries, when media broadcast false information, they face severe punishment, and in some cases are fined to the point of bankruptcy. In any country, including in the West, speech that disrupts or subverts state power and social order is not tolerated. An unfavorable ethos online clearly does not benefit the release and accumulation of positive energy.

Many web users have a clear understanding [of these issues], and many web users have their own very original opinions on specific problems. Top Party leaders at various levels and principal government leaders must go online frequently, taking suggestions on board, listening to opinions, enhancing their understanding for the benefit of government affairs, and improving their work. On this count, web users should respond positively and offer their support, voicing more rational and constructive opinions and suggestions and minimizing irrational recriminations and complaints. [We must work] steadily to expand the frequency and amplitude of positive interaction between web users and the government, and between web users and web users. [We must work] steadily to amass and expand positive energy.

Amassing positive energy does not mean excluding supervision by public opinion (舆论监督). Media are not just the mouthpieces of the Party, they are also the eyes and ears of the Party; they are the Party’s primary care physicians. The Party, the government and the media have never rejected normal supervision by public opinion (正常的舆论监督). Party sponsored and managed media (党办党管的媒体), including traditional media, have often used the issues voiced on new media as sources [for coverage], carrying out their own related news reporting. Most of the reports resulting from problems exposed on the internet came from Party sponsored and managed media. Other domestic new media must at least serve as the eyes and ears of the Party, and as its primary care physician — the information they release must benefit the health of the body of government (有益于政府机体的健康). As for communications that do malicious harm (恶意危害) to the government, no nation on earth will permit these.

Right now, it would be difficult for any country or organization to use economic or military means to check and prevent the great sailing ship of China’s revival. But there are certain powers that hope to use the internet as a means to bring about the collapse of China. The Party media and various new media, and the internet masses, must maintain clear heads — they must not change directions or banners. The closer we get to the shores of our dream, the easier it is to run aground. Over the past 30 years, as our economy has developed rapidly, quite a number of problems and tensions have also accumulated. The actions and determination of the new generation of central Party leaders in alleviating tensions are universally recognized, but time is necessary [if they are to find solutions]. Media as well as the masses of web users must do their utmost to release and amass positive energy, in order to urge on the Great Ship of the Chinese People (中华巨轮).

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