Saturday, July 2, 2016

Quotable: Three scholars on the departure of China’s internet czar


Friday, July 1st 2016

image (not from entry) from
The Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party is “secretive and vast,” reported The Economist in a June 25, 2016, article, “Who Draws the Line? Xi Jinping sends his spin doctors spinning,” occasioned by the appointment of a new chief by Chairman Xi Jinping.  Here are some key quotes:

  • In English, the Propaganda Department calls itself the Publicity Department (it adopted this translation in the 1990s, realising how bad the literal one sounded).

  • It is both secretive and vast. It is now at the centre of attempts by Xi Jinping, China’s president, to increase his control over the party, media and universities. It is also at the heart of factional infighting involving Mr Xi, his anti-corruption chief and allies of his two predecessors as president.

  • The Publicity Department sounds like the home of spin doctors, spokesmen and censors, and the scope of such activity is indeed vast.

  • With the help of various government agencies, the department supervises 3,300-odd television stations, almost 2,000 newspapers and nearly 10,000 periodicals.

  • The chief editors of these outfits meet regularly at the Publicity Department to receive their instructions.

  • It spends around $10 billion a year trying to get the Chinese government’s opinions into foreign media outlets.

  • According to researchers at Harvard University, propagandists help churn out 488m pro-government tweets a year.

  • Another crucial function is to steer the government machinery. The country is too large to be governed through a bureaucratic chain of command alone. So the department also sends out signals from on high: Mr Xi’s speeches, and directives given by leaders during their visits to provinces or factories. Such messages tell lower-level officials what the high command is thinking and what is required of them.

  • The Publicity Department is the chief signals office. It decides which speeches to print and how much to push a new campaign.

  • To this end it has authority over various government bodies (such as the Ministry of Culture and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), runs party-only newspapers (not for public consumption) and influences thousands of training schools for party officials. Every province, county and state-owned enterprise also has its own propagandists.

  • The department is at the centre of things again because Mr Xi puts so much emphasis on the work it does. He has launched a string of ideological campaigns aimed at making party members better Marxists and more honest officials. He has insisted that universities pay more attention to teaching Marxism and less to other wicked foreign influences.

  • . . . the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the party body responsible for fighting graft and enforcing loyalty, . . . . said the department “lacked depth in its research into developing contemporary Chinese Marxism”. He said “news propaganda” (a revealing phrase) was “not targeted and effective enough”; he claimed the department was “not forceful enough in co-ordinating ideological and political work at universities” and had failed online “to implement the principle of the party managing the media”. It is unusual for such an attack to be made public.

  • Like media organisations everywhere, the Publicity Department is struggling to keep pace with changing consumer demands. Unlike most such organisations, it is also having to keep pace with the changing political requirements of its boss, Mr Xi. As an institution, these have made it more important than it was. But its current leaders might prefer a quieter life.

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