What a Chinese Scholar’s View Tells Us About Beijing’s Internal Propaganda

June 17, 2021 Updated: June 18, 2021

Commentary

On May 31, the 25-member Politburo, comprised of the highest-ranking Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials, held a “study session” summoned by Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The main topic was about strengthening China’s international propaganda and renowned scholar Zhang Weiwei was invited to give a speech.

Xi emphasized the importance of “telling the China story well” and building a more “lovable” image. So why is Zhang useful in this regard? Zhang is the director of the China Institute of Fudan University and a leading political scholar on promoting the Chinese regime’s model of development, its ideology, and narratives, according to the China Institute website. Zhang is popular in China—he has been invited as a keynote speaker at high-level government meetings on various occasions, owns his own video channels, and has published several books. Zhang’s recent appearance at the Politburo meeting could also indicate that the CCP seeks to strengthen its internal propaganda campaign.

So what does the Chinese regime tells its own people about the CCP and the West? The following narratives were concocted by Zhang.

Zhang: Chinese People Should ‘Be More Confident’

Since 2014, Zhang has been giving speeches and publishing books urging the Chinese people to “be more confident”—meaning confidence in the CCP’s rule. Zhang claims to have visited over 100 countries, and from what he has seen, the CCP’s China is on the rise and the West is on the decline. Therefore, he asks Chinese people to have confidence in the CCP’s governing model.

Zhang believes the COVID-19 pandemic is a test for political systems and governing models around the world. He compared the number of deaths from the CCP virus in the United States and in China. “By Nov. 28, [2020], the number of deaths in the United States was 56 times the number of deaths in China; China’s population is 4.2 times the U.S. population. Thus the Chinese people should feel 235 times safer than Americans,” Zhang said in a speech in December last year. He concluded that “the CCP’s governing model is far superior.”

Zhang is the author of a series of books praising the CCP’s political system, which brought about the “rise of China.” He argues that China’s rise is “challenging many Western assumptions about the virtues of liberal democracy.” Xi had even recommended Zhang’s book to Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, when he visited China in 2011.

Zhang: The West Should ‘Learn the China Model’

Xi has been talking about “telling the China story well” since early 2013. In the Politburo study session, he re-emphasized the importance of making the world understand the CCP’s superiority.

Immediately after lecturing the Politburo, Zhang was interviewed by state-run media People’s Daily. In the video, he urged the West to “have the courage to learn the China model.”

Epoch Times Photo
A  farmer ties a bunch of firewood as her son watches outside their home in Hutou village on Pingtan island, China, in this undated photo. (Goh Chai Hin/AFP/Getty Images)

Zhang blamed the West for not understanding the CCP. “The China story has not been told very well, especially in a way that foreigners can understand. Yet I think it’s mainly a problem on the part of the West because the rise of China is so unexpected. They could not believe in a so-called communist country, a socialist country, so they have a lot of ideological and cultural obstacles to get over in order to grasp the real meaning and essence of the rise of China.”

The video of Zhang speaking in English was posted online with Chinese subtitles. The format by itself creates an illusion for the people inside China that Zhang is credible.

Zhang: ‘Internet Firewall Is Governing Wisdom’

“If there was no internet firewall in China,” Zhang said in a forum hosted by the media company Wenhui Bao in 2019, “Western entities with stronger soft power such as BBC, CNN, and Google could be inside China steering the public opinion of 1.4 billion Chinese; businesses like Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba, WeChat would not have existed; Amazon and Facebook alike would dominate; American financial companies would have access to our sensitive financial information.”

Epoch Times Photo
Shooting over the Great Firewall of China, which refers to China’s censorship apparatus. (Screenshot via blog.xuite.net)

“In my view, the internet firewall is a type of governing wisdom,” Zhang stated, “because less than 5 percent of the population in China is interested in politics and the firewall helps keep it that way. The firewall has prevented the Western hostile forces from politicizing everything, just like how they did it in Hong Kong. … The firewall can prevent people from becoming political.”

Zhang believes that Chinese people are better off being preoccupied with non-political posts from their own circle of friends.

With regards to the one person per vote election system, Zhang believes that social media poses challenges. “On open social media platforms, with the help of big data and artificial intelligence, it is very easy to identify a user’s political view. Consequently, it is possible to sway their political views, and manipulating the votes of the general public is entirely possible.”

Through Zhang’s views, the West should not be surprised by the kind of narratives that are promoted inside China by the CCP.

Yi Song has been a China scholar since 2010. Having lived many years in both the United States and China, she writes about the connections between the two countries.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Yi Song
Yi Song
Yi Song has been a China scholar since 2010. Having lived many years in both the United States and China, she writes about the connections between the two countries.