Walk through the recent ideology bugle call that accumulated in CCP General Office’s Document No. 9 in late April, and observe the mindset of Chinese leaders and their frantic effort to take control of public expression, with Beijing-based independent journalist and commentator Gao Yu (高瑜).
The “Five Nos” (五不搞) refer to what Wu Bangguo, then the chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, avowed in the 2011 NPC session.They are “no multi-party election, no diversification of guiding principles, no separation of powers, no federal system, and no privatization.”
This is a translation of a revised copy made available to SRIC. The original can be read here. Translated by Jack and Yaxue.
The day after the Southern Weekend incident broke on January 3rd of this year, which stirred waves in China and beyond, a national conference of propaganda chiefs was held. Liu Yunshan (刘云山), the member of the Politburo Standing Committee in charge of propaganda and secretary of the Secretariat of the CCP Central Committee, attended the meeting and gave a speech. The Chinese media didn’t elaborate on it probably because Xi Jinping and none of the other standing committee members attended it. The Xinhua news agency had a short release, mentioning Liu Yuanshan’s speech and not much else.
Liu Yunshan’s Speech, “The Piercing Tip of a Wrapped Awl”
This propaganda tsar from Inner Mongolia was the head of the CCP’s propaganda department for the entire tenure of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao’s ten-year reign. He is known for his talks of party platitude, and has not produced anything that could be called a signature speech.
Inside the system, the first denunciation of universal values came from Chen Kuiyuan (陈奎元), the president and party chief of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in a speech he delivered during the academy’s reform seminar held on July 26, 2008. Five months later, the first issue in 2009 of the party’s Qiushi magazine (《求是》, or Seeking Truth) published Liu Yunshan’s speech “Looking Back and Looking Forward,” delivered on December 25, 2008 during a forum of the heads of the CCP’s national-level propaganda and cultural units. It was a “study and discuss” session for Hu Jintao’s speech during a conference commemorating the 30th anniversary of the third session of the 11th Central Committee of the CCP. In this speech, Liu Yunshan required the propaganda chiefs to “steadily push forward the construction of the socialist core value system, to better pull together spirit and qi, and to strengthen the foundations and roots.” “The socialist core value system,” he said, “is the essential embodiment of the socialist ideology and is the pillar of the contemporary Chinese people.” Liu’s highlighting the so-called “socialist core value system” was seen by many as a refrain of Chen Kuiyuan’s speech against universal values.
Now, six months into Xi Jinping’s “new reign,” what Liu Yunshan said before, by comparison, was nothing nearly as alarming as what he has been up to currently.
This year’s national conference of propaganda chiefs marks an ideological turning point from Hu’s time to Xi’s. Liu’s speech during that conference has not been published, but from the increasingly harsh media grip and internet censorship, we can feel Liu’s speech the way we can see “the piercing tip of an awl hidden in a bag.”
“Erecting Political Awareness” and “Three Loves”
According to Xinhua News’s report on the January conference, Liu Yunshan emphasized that, “to engage in propaganda of thoughts and culture in an environment of diverse social ideas and profoundly changed media landscape, [we] must erect political awareness, we must have the right stand, clear views, and firm attitude with regard to the party’s basic political path, issues of principles, and important guidelines and policies.”
What does “erecting political awareness” entail? Is it the same as “keeping in lock step with the Central Leadership” that we used to hear a lot during the Jiang Zemin era and the Hu Jintao era?
After the Two Sessions, the CCP Propaganda Department circulated, only orally, the main points of the national conference of the propaganda chiefs to national and regional media organizations across China. In an article appearing on a website called “Chinese Mainstream Culture Website”(中华主流文化网), an attendee leaked the five main points of the conference:
1. Uphold the mouthpiece theory [i. e. the media must be the mouthpiece of the Party];
2. Uphold Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong thought, and the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics as guiding principles;
3. From now on, no anti-Marxism, anti-Leninism or anti-Mao Zedong thought are allowed to appear in media. The propaganda system will cleanse itself of “new three antis” personnel¹, or those who are anti-party, anti-state and anti-nationality[ 1] . These people will be removed if they don’t change their stand;
4. Strengthen the management of the media. Media practitioners must have clear-cut political stands, must have clear political brain, must uphold the principle of objectivity and truthfulness, and must be responsible to the society. Media cannot report negative news everyday all over their pages while ignoring the positive things; and
5. Strengthen the party’s leadership over the media. This has to start from the education of media practitioners, and those with “new three anti” tendencies are not allowed to teach journalism in universities.
Once leaked, these five points shocked many and invited heated argument online. Overjoyed Maoist websites re-posted the article, while liberals roundly condemned them.
On April 10th, the CCP’s two Hong Kong-based newspapers, Ta Kun Pao and Wen Wei Po, came out together to deny “rumors”: there had never been a “CCP propaganda work meeting,” and the so-called “new three antis” was a baseless rumor.
The next day though, on April 11th, the Red Flag Journal (《红旗文稿》), a subordinate publication of Seeking Truth magazine, published an article entitled Comprehensively Manage the Two Media Fields to Unite Positive Social Energy (read a complete translation here) by Ren Xianliang (任贤良), a deputy director of the Shaanxi Provincial CCP Propaganda Department and also a vice-chairman of the All-China Journalists Association (中国记协).The article belligerently called for tightened management of new media and occupying new fronts of public opinions, and was widely re-posted by Xinhua, People’s Daily and major gateway sites.
Ren Xianliang defined the internet-based new media and traditional state-owned media in terms of enemy vs. us. He believes that the emergence of blogs, microblogs and other forms of self-media has in effect demolished the Chinese government’s prohibition of private media and its ban on media exposé of events out of regional boundaries, and opened up a “micro-era” where everyone is a journalist. Personal media are “unfettered” and “uninhibited,” he argued, and they can exert influence as powerfully as a newspaper or a news agency. They not only challenge the fundamental principle that the party alone runs the media, he opined, they also lead to class divide and confrontation and damage the credibility of the government. Some forces “manipulate” online opinions, fabricate political “rumors,” viciously denigrate the image of the party and the state, and dismantle the foundation on which the party governs. He describes the Southern Weekend incident as “flagrantly challenging the party’s news media management system.” He called for internet censors to rein in more stringently those well-known online leakers, “Big V” Weibo accounts (verified accounts with a large number of followers), “warning them when warning is due, shutting them up when they should be shut up, and closing them down when it is called for.” Meanwhile, he proposed to “transform, sponsor and cultivate” a large number of opinion leaders who understand, recognize and support the guidelines and policies of the party and the state, and to influence and lead public opinions through them.
Ren Xianliang’s article in a way confirmed the existence of the “new three antis,” and it brought about another torrent of online backlash. Beginning from April 12, in an effort to silence the discussion, accounts were frozen or deleted, not just those of the critics, but also those of Ren Xianliang and Zhang Hongliang (张宏良, a Maoist intellectual). Phrases like “new three antis” and “traitor to the Han people” were censored.
The year of 2012 [with the saga of Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun] was a year when “rumors forced the truth out.” This time, the CCP’s Propaganda Department came out to “clarify” that there had been no such thing as the “new three antis.” Instead, it said that it had only talked about “three loves”: love the party, love the country, and love the nationality, and by “erecting political awareness,” Liu Yunshan meant the “three loves.” But the question is, how about those who are not adhering to the “three loves?” Do the three loves not in effect evidence the existence of the “new three antis?”
A big name from the People’s Daily revealed that the leadership of the paper had been informed of the key points of the national conference of propaganda chiefs which indeed included the phrase “new three antis,” an invention of China’s propaganda tsar.
On April 19, the world media was flabbergasted to learn that the Ta Kun Pao, the CCP’s paper in Hong Kong known for “quashing rumors” about mainland politics, had fabricated the false story of Xi Jinping riding Beijing taxi.
The Duowei website appealed in what sounds like an invocation: “Under the circumstances, it’s time for Xi Jinping to take action to transcend the boundaries of the left and right!”
In late April, the General Office of the Communist Party issued Document No. 9 to the county/military division level across the country. The document is called the Minutes of the 2013 National Conference of Propaganda Chiefs — Briefing on the Current Situation in the Field of Ideology with Liu Yunshan’s speech, in its entirety, attached to it. Documents of the CCP General Office are only second to those of the Central Committee, and they must be signed by the entire Standing Committee. So this is not just about Liu Yunshan anymore.
Document No. 9 is divided into three parts: 1) Situation, 2) Problems, and 3) Countermeasures.
The “situation” section summarized new achievements in the fields of propaganda, ideology and culture, such as “successfully promoting the spirit of the 18th Party Congress;” “promoting and reporting the new central leaders, with comrade Xi Jinping as the general secretary, who are collectively showing a high level of responsibility-bearing spirit to the nationality, the country, and the people; while working hard to rejuvenate the nation, empty talk will only lead the nation astray; showing the good work style and image of being vigorous and resolute, realistic and pragmatic, and making every effort to govern the nation well;” “receiving waves of praise from inside and outside of the party, making the masses and the cadres inspired with enthusiasm;” and “promoting the ‘Chinese Dream’ with great force.”
According to the Xinhua News Agency, Liu Yunshan proposed in his speech that “we must establish an awareness of problems, and ‘problems are the sound of the times.’ We must be good at discovering problems, bringing forth problems, facing problems directly, studying problems, and answering problems, positively setting into motion resolutions for the problems, and gathering the positive energy to propel development.”
So, what problems did the national conference of propaganda chiefs actually raise and directly face? It turns out they are even more startling than what was leaked online:
- The Concepts of Democracy and Constitutional Government: The goal of this is to overthrow the leadership of the Communist Party and subvert the political power of the state. The Southern Weekend incident was a brazen provocation.
- Universal Values: The core of this is to dispel the leadership of the party and force the party to make concessions.
- Civil Society: The main purpose of this is to establish new political forces outside of the party’s grass roots units.
- Neoliberalism: This is against the state exerting macroeconomic controls.
- Western Ideas of the Press: These ideas are against the “mouthpiece theory” that the party has consistently held fast to. They want (the press) to break free from the party’s leadership over the media and open things up, creating havoc for the party and society by stirring up public opinions.
- Historical Nihilism: This takes issue with the historical problems under the party leadership and disputes facts that have already been widely accepted. The most noted example is that it makes a great effort to disparage and attack Mao Zedong and Mao Zedong thought, negating the historical role that the CCP played during the period of Mao Zedong’s leadership. The goal is to whittle down, even overthrow, the legitimacy of the party’s leadership.
- Distortion of Opening and Reform: This criticizes the emergence of a bureaucratic bourgeoisie and state capitalism. It believes that that China’s reform is not thorough, and that only by carrying out political reform can economic reform be implemented.
The third section of Document No. 9 presents countermeasures:
1. Consolidate and strengthen positive, healthy, and progressive mainstream thinking and public opinions, spread the voice of the party and government, display the mainstream of the current society and reflect the aspirations of the people and the masses.
2. Educate everyone. Launch publicity education on socialism with Chinese characteristics, guide the whole party and whole society to further strengthen confidence in our path, confidence in our theory, and confidence in our system, and strive to realize the “Chinese dream” on this path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
3. Strengthen the party’s leadership over the media, improve the compartmentalized accountability system, and be able to track down the individuals who are responsible for problems when they arise.
The Xi Era is Regressing Further than “Five Nos”
During the Hu Jintao administration, what received the most criticism was the “Five Nos” that Wu Bangguo avowed in 2011. There is little hope for political reform to occur in China, and there will be no economic reform either because political reform is a bottleneck for all reforms. Reforms by Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang in the 1980’s started from letting go of power and yielding on interests in all domains, but Xi Jinping not only wants to maintain stability, he also wants to strengthen the party’s leadership in all domains. The result of this can only be running in the opposite direction of reform. Single-mindedly seeking GDP increase and doubling growth will not reduce social frictions and environmental degradation; instead it will continue to worsen toward a tipping point. Domestic population dividends and the dividends of peace since the end of the cold war are rapidly disappearing, the price of raw materials is rapidly rising, and as the sociologist Sun Liping said, “the age of development with low costs has already passed, and we must welcome an age of development with high costs.”
The most serious issue with Document No. 9 is its outdated concepts. It is not a small, but a long regression from the Hu and Wen era. Hu and Wen at least kept in line with the third plenary session of the 11th CCP Central Committee that marked China’s opening-up more than thirty years ago. A leader without modern ideas cannot possibly have the vision required to lead. How is he going to cope in an age of development with high cost?
Alas, what a pity for China!
¹The “three antis campaign”: The anti-corruption, anti-waste and anti-bureaucracy campaign in early 1950s was one of a long string of political campaigns in China that targeted communist cadres who had become too close to capitalists from the previous era.