This week we have a wide range of stories to pick from in China’s media, dealing with everything from dramatic falls from official grace to odd official appointments that expose the opacity of official appointment to begin with.

To start with, we have the sentencing of former cyber czar Lu Wei, a key architect of the reengineering of the internet controls (and media regulation) around the Cyberspace Administration of China, to 14 years in jail, quite a hefty sentence. Unsurprisingly, official reports say Lu has decided not to appeal the decision — as though he has any real decision-making power in the case. The sentence brings to an end the saga of one of the most flamboyant officials to make his way through the propaganda system in recent decades.

In another sign of just how sensitive the political climate is in 2019, with its raft of historical anniversaries, we have news this week that law professor Xu Zhangrun was suspended from teaching and other duties at Tsinghua University after writing a series of critical articles over the past year warning against a return to Cultural Revolution-style thinking in China.

We have a local hospital chief in Hunan appointed suddenly as the head of the local TV station — a decision leaving internet users scratching their heads (and local officials defending their actions). And finally, we have the emergence of a brief discussion around the apparent designation by local governments of “families having lost an only child” as problems of social instability that need to be eliminated — a language scandal somewhat resembling the 2017 wave of anger over the “low-end population.”

 

THIS WEEK IN CHINA’S MEDIA
March 23-29, 2019

Tsinghua suspends law professor for writings on present-day politics and the Cultural Revolution
Propaganda officials emphasize strengthened controls at 2019 Media Oversight Work Conference
Problem of “lost child families” mentioned in anti-crime campaign
Hunan hospital chief promoted to post at head of TV station, and web users scratch their heads
➢ Former cyber chief Lu Wei sentenced to 14 years in jail

[1] Tsinghua suspends law professor for writings on present-day politics and the Cultural Revolution

Xu Zhangrun (许章润), a professor in the School of Law at Tsinghua University, posted a message to social media saying he had received the following disciplinary decision from the university: “On these problems [concerning your writings], investigative procedures are being carried out, and we await the results of the investigation; in the meantime, your classes are suspended, your research activities are suspended, your recruitment of students is suspended, and you are relieved of all duties:

对其问题启动调查程序,等待调查结果;在此期间,停课、停止科研活动、停止招生,免除一切职务。

Xu Zhangrun has posted numerous articles in recent years that have cautioned against the return of a Cultural Revolution mindset in China, including “The Fear and Expectation Facing Us” (我们当下的恐惧与期待), “Preserving ‘Reform and Opening'” (保卫“改革开放”), “Bow Your Head in Devotion, Heaven and Earth Have No Boundary” (低头致意,天地无边), and “Revisiting the Republic, This Grand Idea” (重申共和国这一伟大理念). In an article on March 28 suggesting that international media had exaggerated Xu’s case, the Global Times newspaper said: “Especially since last year, he has written a number of articles that are quite extreme politically, making him stick out instantly among dissidents domestically.”

Peking University law professor Zhang Qianfan (张千帆) responded to the storm surrounding Xu by saying that he felt the university leadership at Tsinghua were making this move, going after a “scholar of conscience” (良心学者), to protect themselves politically in a tense political climate.

KEY SOURCES:
FT Chinese (FT中文网): 哪有学者不表达?(郭于华)
AND: 清华应善待自己的优秀学者(张千帆)
Global Times (环球时报): 搞批评应守住三个原则,实现建设性

[2] Propaganda officials emphasize strengthened controls at 2019 Media Oversight Work Conference

On March 21, the 2019 Media Oversight Work Conference (传媒监管工作会议) was held in Beijing. The meeting was chaired by Li Hongkui (李宏葵) the deputy head of the Media Oversight Office (传媒监管局) of the Central Propaganda Department (中宣部), and focussed discussion on planning for “media oversight work” in 2019. The meeting suggested that “publishing resource deployment policies” (出版资源配置政策) in 2019 should “suppress volume, control scale and raise quality” (压数量、控规模、提质量), all rather oblique references to the need to cool down publishing activities during the year and ensure published materials are in line with political objectives.

In terms of news media oversight priorities for the year, the meeting emphasized the need to “strengthen the management of local offices of news units” and “tighten approvals and issuance of press cards” (严格新闻记者证审核发放), to “strengthen monitoring of illegal news and information” (加强新闻违法信息监测), and to “strengthen the monitoring and oversight of personnel and newspapers and magazines” (强化对报刊所办媒体及从业人员监督管理). Strengthening management of new media (新兴媒体) through “reform and innovation of oversight mechanisms” (改革创新监管机制) was also emphasized as a priority.

KEY SOURCES:
China News Publishing and Broadcast Web (中国新闻出版广电网): 2019年传媒监管工作会议召开 努力开创传媒监管工作新局面

[3] Problem of “lost child families” mentioned in anti-crime campaign

On March 26, images circulated online in China of a number of social welfare announcements from Xiangtan in Hunan province that dealt with “10 Priorities in Sweeping Away Black and Eliminating Evil.” This phrase, to “sweep away black and eliminate evil,” or saohei chu’e (扫黑除恶), is often used in the context of policing and social management to refer to negative social influences. But this particular list caught the attention of internet users because included on the list was the category “members of families that have lost an only child” (失独家庭人员). The text in full was: “Members of families who have lost an only child, serious cases of mental illness and other priority targets of oversight.”

Image from Baidu.com depicts the phenomenon of the “family with a lost only child,” a very serious social issue in China in the wake of the One Child Policy.

Soon after the images made the rounds on the internet, media reported that the prefectural-level city of Xinzhou in Shanxi province had also entered “families that have lost an only child” on their list of targets in “sweep away black” campaigns. They shared an article from September 19, 2018, called “Carried Out Black Sweeps to Eliminate Chaos, Protecting the Normal Operation of Healthcare” (开展扫黑除恶治乱,维护正常医疗秩序) that had been posted to the WeChat public account of the central blood bank in Xinzhou, which mentioned “families that have lost an only child” on the list of priority targets.

A commentary in The Beijing News suggested on March 28 that the “black sweep” lists issues by these local governments were highly inappropriate, and that they highlighted serious problems in the way some local governments deal as a matter of public policy with the psychological problems and the subsistence issues associated with the loss of children by Chinese families under the legacy of the One Child Policy. Many Chinese of around 50 years of age and older who have unexpectedly lost an only child face the prospect of having no one to look after them in old age, and many can suffer serious psychological trauma as a result of the loss.

Another commentary in China Youth Daily argued that while preserving social stability is naturally a key priority for local governments, they must at the same time ensure standards of social justice (社会正义) and act in a humanitarian spirit (人道主义).

KEY SOURCES:
The Paper (澎湃新闻网): 湘潭一社区将失独家庭列入扫黑对象?回应:内容不妥已撤下
The Beijing News (新京报): 失独家庭需要关怀而不是防备
WeChat public account “Beijing News Commentary” (新京报评论): 将“失独家庭”列入扫黑除恶对象,怎么想的?|新京报快评
China Youth Daily (中国青年报): 失独家庭成“扫黑对象”不是简单的失误

[4] Hunan hospital chief promoted to post at head of TV station, and web users scratch their heads

On March 20, “Wei Ba Ling” (微巴陵), the official WeChat public account of the local propaganda office in the city of Yueyang in Hunan province, made a post announcing new appointments and terminations in which it revealed that Yu Xinya (喻新亚), the director of the Yueyang People’s Hospital, had been relieved of the post and promoted as Party secretary and director of Yueyang’s county-level television broadcaster.

Web users seized on this bit of news to criticize the move and indirectly cast light on the appointments process in China. “Letting a cadre who had completely no media experience become director of a television station is without a doubt a thorough change in profession,” wrote one web user. “These two professions are both highly technical in nature, and the gap between them couldn’t be wider.”

Responding to these questions online, the Yueyang county propaganda chief, Li Yuezheng (李月争), said that the appointment had been carried out according to the spirit of discussions with superior cadres (“按照上级干部交流的精神执行”) and that it met with requirements and was considered a normal move.

KEY SOURCES:
People’s Daily Online (人民网): 湖南一医院院长调任电视台台长引争议 官方回应
WeChat public account “Wei Ba Ling” (微巴陵): 我县召开机构改革干部任前集体谈话会

[5] Former cyber chief Lu Wei sentenced to 14 years in jail

Lu Wei (鲁炜), the former head of the powerful Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), an agency whose role he helped to shape after its formation in 2014 under the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission (中央网络安全和信息化领导小组), was sentenced today to 14 years in jail for bribery. The sentence, which according to a brief official release from China News Agency, Lu Wei said in court that he would not appeal, marks an ignominious end to Lu’s long career as a propaganda official.

The real factors and events behind Lu’s fall from grace remain unclear, but today’s news release suggested Lu had engaged in corruption through roughly 15 years in senior positions of power, from 2002 to 2017.

The release said Lu had “used the convenience of his positions as a member of the Party Committee, and as secretary and deputy director at Xinhua News Agency, as a member of the Standing Committee of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee, as [Beijing’s] minister of propaganda, as Beijing deputy mayor, as director of the Cyberspace Administration of China and as director of the Office of the the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission” to illegally exact around 32 million yuan in bribes.

The language of the release, though vague, suggests that Lu is accused essentially of monetizing his position of power within the propaganda system by offering related assistance to companies and individuals. It said that he had leveraged the above-mentioned positions to “offer help to relevant companies and individuals in such areas as internet regulation (网络管理), corporate business (企业经营), job promotion (职务晋升) and work reassignment.”

Photos from the courtroom were posted today through the official Weibo account of the Ningbo People’s Intermediate Court (宁波市中级人民法院).

KEY SOURCES:
Xinhua Daily Telegraph (新华每日电讯): 鲁炜受贿案一审宣判
WeChat public account “Political Knowledge” (政知道): 中宣部原副部长鲁炜获刑14年