China Goes on Propaganda Offensive With ‘Positive’ Coronavirus Response Stories

China Goes on Propaganda Offensive With ‘Positive’ Coronavirus Response Stories
A woman wearing a plastic face cover and a mask travels on a subway train Shanghai, China on March 5, 2020. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Nicole Hao

Chinese authorities are ramping up propaganda that portrays their efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in a positive light.

As censors aggressively monitor and delete posts critical of officials’ handling of the outbreak, the Chinese regime is hyping its capability to contain the disease. The central government recently declared 113 medical teams and 506 medical staffers as “model citizens” for their participation in the outbreak response.

The goal is to “promote government policies,” “monitor public opinion online,” “discover exemplary models among the frontlines of epidemic control work,” and “create a strong atmosphere of people united in working together,” according to an internal document from Shanghai authorities that was obtained by The Epoch Times.

Positive Propaganda

Among the honored medical staff, 34 of them have died, some after contracting the virus themselves. The majority of them died of sudden cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases—likely due to exhaustion. Most were staff working in the epicenter of the outbreak, in Hubei province, and doctors in remote areas of the country.

The Chinese regime published stories about their deaths to promote them as paragons of sacrifice for the country.

For example, Bao Changming was a disabled doctor from a village in Inner Mongolia. He had a deformed spine and was the only doctor in the village. On Jan. 22, local authorities mandated that doctors in all villages visit each household and screen the body temperatures of those who recently traveled to other cities.

While on the way to visit a family for temperature screening on Jan. 26, Bao fell. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage on Jan. 27, at the age of 50.

The Shanghai government also created its own list of “model citizens,” according to internal documents obtained by The Epoch Times. Within three days, Shanghai authorities found 415 individuals whose stories could be part of the propaganda.

Lawyers at 17 law firms in Minhang district (a locale within Shanghai) were honored for promoting state media articles on their social media platforms.

The articles were reports about recent speeches by Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the country’s virus containment measures, according to the document.

“Lawyers in Minhang district actively guided people to say only the words that benefit social stability and work related to disease control, and to only perform actions that maintain social stability,” the report said. “Maintaining social stability” is an oft-used euphemism for stifling dissent.

Other individuals named as “model citizens” include medical staff who treated coronavirus patients, government staff, and ordinary people who donated their belongings or savings to the government for disease prevention.

For example, Mr. Huang lives in Gucun township, in the Baoshan district of Shanghai. Huang’s family is poor, but he donated his life savings—300,000 yuan (about $43,190)—to Wuhan, where the outbreak first emerged.

‘A War’

Minhang district convened an internal meeting with all local officials and Party leaders on Feb. 28 to discuss guiding principles in spreading propaganda.

“We must build a defense line online and offline, to win the war against the coronavirus epidemic,” the district’s Communist Party boss Ni Yaoming said, according to an internal copy of his speech at the meeting.

The “war” online includes “strictly controlling online information,” while offline, officials should “design and compose a series of literary and artistic works that can inspire people’s fighting spirit,” Ni said.

The Minhang district Party committee notified all local Party organizations—which are set up within companies and government agencies—to collect “model” stories.

In addition, Party members are being encouraged to write their own stories of helping to combat the coronavirus. The district committee will then choose the best stories for dissemination in its Party-published magazine and social media.

“The model citizens should hand in their photos. One should be a photo without wearing masks or protective suits. Other photos should be related to the coronavirus, but the photos must look real, not like posing for a photo,” according to the district notice.

Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.
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