China’s communist authorities have for months been in the thick of an aggressive, ideologically charged, and sometimes violent campaign against free voices on the Internet. Now joining the fray is a top general who once studied English, wrote novels, and taught at Stanford University.
“The Internet today has become the primary battlefront for ideological struggle. Hostile Western forces are trying in vain to use this variable to topple China,” declared Gen. Liu Yazhou in an article first published in the People’s Liberation Army daily before being set loose on the broader Internet—including prominent placement on the major Web portals and Party mouthpiece websites.
Gen. Liu has in the past been known for his relatively mild and liberal-leaning calls for political reform. The Oct. 16 volley, with its combative, Party-infused jargon, was a sharp change in tone.
‘The Enemy Attacks’
“The overall state of the ideological sphere today is that the West is strong and we are weak. The enemy attacks and we defend. Our opponents set up the bounds of discourse, make trouble, and tire us to slacken our vigilance,” Liu wrote, before launching into an explanation of why Party members need to strengthen their faith in communism.
The solution? Take control of the Internet. “The battle of ideology is in fact the battle of the power to speak,” he said. “Nowadays whoever controls the Internet, especially Weibo [a Twitter-like social media platform in China] and blogs, has the most discourse power.”
Liu said that voices and rumors on the Internet that were “against the ideological mainstream” were a kind of “chicken soup for the soul,” and bewitching to the people of China. He added, “In order to fight for the power to speak, we must pay great attention to the trend of public opinion and the media, and must develop creative methods to control it. Otherwise, without using the new methods, and the old methods not working … we’ll be in extreme danger.”
To some observers, however, Liu’s speech smacked of nothing more than the “old methods” of Party control.
“The Chinese Communist Party doesn’t have any way of controlling public opinion on the Internet, so it goes back to Mao Zedong’s language to attack these views, like universal values and constitutionalism,” said Chen Kuide, the editor of the overseas Chinese-language website China In Perspective. http://www.chinainperspective.com/
“In order to protect its rule, and not collapse like the Soviet Union, they’re adopting Maoist discourse. But this style of communication was criticized by the Party itself and society at large by the 1980s. People resent it, and laugh at it,” Chen said in a telephone interview.
Zenos_shiyin, a Weibo user, remarked: “It looks like the Party is extremely panicked and jittery. If you’re so scared, you might as well just turn the Internet off and crawl into bed.”
In Party Line
Whatever the persuasiveness of Liu’s remarks to the plugged-in Internet generation, they would have found a welcome ear to the Party leadership at the present time, because they coincide very closely with the recent remarks and political line of Party leader Xi Jinping.
“Resolutely persist in the Party controlling the media; persist in politicians running newspapers, magazines, TV stations, and news websites. Whatever you persist in, oppose, say, or do, all must comply with the requirements of the Party,” Xi said in unusually stark comments at a National Ideological and Propaganda Work conference recently, according to People’s Daily.
‘Ardent Lives of Masses’
Liu’s Oct. 15 opinion article was followed up on Oct. 16 by another report in People’s Daily that got more specific on what the role of the media should be in China. For example, instead of reporting on negative issues to do with Chinese society and the regime: “The main target of news propaganda must be the masses, and there should be more propaganda reports on the grand struggle and ardent lives of the masses. There should be more propaganda on the advanced, model deeds and touching stories of the people.”
The terms “advanced” and “model” typically refer to behaviors that accord with Communist Party propaganda.
Along with the direction for media and propaganda being determined from up high, the authorities in China are also setting up committees across the country that will monitor and ensure compliance at the local level.
These “news morality and self-discipline committees” are now in five cities and provinces; their purpose is to avoid paid news, false reports, and “make clean newspapers,” according to an official report. Each committee will have 20 members, one-third drawn from the media world, the other two-thirds from Party-affiliated bodies.
The idea of the Chinese Communist Party defining what is moral in news reporting struck some as galling. “It’s impossible to maintain morality in media under communist rule!” yelled Zhu Xinxin, a former editor at Hebei People’s Radio Station, in an interview with Sound of Hope Radio.
“The Party destroys the conscience of journalists. Journalists who truly have morality and conscience can’t survive in the official media. They are suppressed and persecuted in China. Also, there is no legal basis for defining what is untruthful and what is a rumor. The Party uses politics to suppress the media.”