Liu Yunshan is a holdover on the Politburo Standing Committee, having joined this top Party organ in 2007 and then staying on for a second term in 2012. He was placed there through the influence of Jiang Zemin, and he has served Jiang’s interests since 2002 by keeping tight control over the Party’s propaganda apparatus.
One sign indicating a diminished role for Liu is the scheduling of meetings following the 4th Plenum of the Central Committee. The custom in the CCP after the annual Central Committee conclave is for different state and Party departments to have meetings that promote the Central Committee’s essential message.
This year on Oct. 23, the day after the 4th Plenum ended, the Central Internet Security and Information Leading Group held its workshop to relay the spirit of the meeting. The National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference also hosted similarly themed workshops on the day.
The Propaganda Department controlled by Liu Yunshan did not host its meeting on “Implementing the Spirit of the 4th Plenum” until Oct. 25. For China watchers who carefully read the CCP’s tea leaves, the delay in the meeting time was considered significant, indicating lower status for the Propaganda Department’s meeting.
In addition, the director of the Internet Security and Information Office, Lu Wei, did not attend the Propaganda Department meeting, even though the Internet is an important part of the propaganda apparatus. Instead, Lu hosted a separate workshop for the Internet security group on the previous day.
Lu’s absence from the Propaganda Department meeting implies that the Internet Security and Information Office is no longer under the control of Liu Yunshan.
This office was previously titled “State Internet Information Office” and reported to the State Council General Office. On Feb. 27, 2014 Party head Xi Jinping took over the leadership of the group, renamed it, and turned it into a central Party organization.
Although Jiang Zemin was succeeded in 2002 by Hu Jintao as Party head, Jiang maintained the ability to heavily influence events during Hu’s 10-year-term. Controlling the Propaganda Department was one means Jiang used to limit Hu’s power.
From before the time Xi Jinping took power in November 2012, Jiang Zemin and the faction loyal to him have sought to limit Xi’s power or even to displace Xi. Liu Yunshan has constantly made trouble for Xi by censoring and misinterpreting his speeches.
For instance, the 2013 New Year’s edition of the newspaper Southern Weekly originally ran an editorial with the title “Dream of China, Dream of Constitutionalism,” which called for the Chinese Constitution guaranteeing rights. At the order of Tuo Zhen, the propaganda chief for Guangdong Province (Southern Weekly is published there), the editorial was replaced with one praising the CCP.
The idea of the “Dream of Constitutionalism” editorial was based on a speech given by Xi on Dec. 4, 2012 promoting the authority of the Constitution and the rule of law. “A country ruled by law should be first ruled by the Constitution, and the lawful governance should be based on the Constitution,” Xi said.
Another example of Liu’s meddling occurred on Oct. 15, 2014. Xi’s younger brother, Xi Yuanping, published a memorial article with stories of his father and other family members and with a photo of Yuanping and his mother and wife, on Shenzhen Daily.
The report was widely reproduced on the websites of the Party mouthpiece media—Xinhua, People’s Daily, and China News. However, all the articles were pulled off the internet in a few hours.
A two-hour long speech given on Oct. 15 by Xi that raised many issues regarding China’s literary and artistic creation has been widely considered to be Xi pushing back against the propaganda system under Liu.
With translation and additional research by Lu Chen.