Spring has arrived in the People’s Daily, and the 2020 propaganda themes leaders had originally envisioned to dominate starting back in January are now in full bloom, having survived the frost of the coronavirus epidemic. Chief among these are the themes of eliminating poverty and achieving a so-called “all-round moderately prosperous” society – 2020 having been designated back in 2013, at the start of Xi Jinping’s rule, as the year China would achieve both. [Image Above: An online poster in Party-run media advertises China’s “decisive war against poverty.”]

As CMP co-director Qian Gang wrote back in February, the People’s Daily stuck stubbornly to these pre-established propaganda themes through much of January, even as the spread of the coronavirus was of most immediate concern. By February and March, however, the epidemic had finally come to be reported more prominently in the Party’s flagship newspaper.

On the front page of today’s People’s Daily, the top three items all deal in some way with the war on poverty.

The first, placed directly under the masthead, is part of a series of community profiles in the “decisive war against poverty.” It talks about policies implemented in a poor county in Ningxia, and ends with the determined words of a local official: “Working together to overcome difficulties, we will not relax our efforts in overcoming poverty.”

Right beside this profile, text accompanying the main image on the front page is about the creation in one township in Jiangsu province of a nursery devoted to the selection and cultivation of seedlings. The text claims that the project, undertaken “in order to win the battle of poverty alleviation,” has “brought more than 50 low-income rural households out of poverty.”

The article immediately to the right of the masthead is a report on Xi Jinping’s recent trip to Shaanxi province, planned as part of the 2020 propaganda push on anti-poverty goals. While there is some suggestion that the global COVID-19 epidemic is a downward pressure on growth objectives, the determination to stay on theme is unchanged. The report concludes:

No matter how the external environment changes, it will not stop China from continuing to move forward. We must comprehensively implement the Central Committee’s decisions and deployments, adhere to the overall tone of steady progress, adhere to new development concepts, strive to overcome the adverse effects of the coronavirus epidemic, and strive to achieve higher quality, more efficient, fairer and more sustainable development, ensuring completion of the decisive battle and the goal of overcoming poverty, and building an all-round moderately prosperous society.

The report at the bottom right of the front page deals with Wang Yang’s inspection tour of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. Coverage again stays with the central theme: “Wang Yang, member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the CCP and chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, recently investigated poverty alleviation efforts in Yunnan and Guizhou.”

There is much talk, even in the headline of the Wang Yang report, of the importance of “alleviating poverty as scheduled” (如期脱贫), suggesting that the leadership’s “decisive victory” in the war on poverty is a goal that cannot be compromised, even in the face of a sharp economic downturn and an ongoing global pandemic. Even those articles on the front page that appear to deal more directly with the coronavirus epidemic are cast in the mold of the anti-poverty campaign.

Directly below the series profile under the masthead is an editorial by “this newspaper’s commentator,” signaling that it was written by the paper’s editors. Called, “People First, Life First,” the editorial is advertised as “the second thought on our great deeds in the fight against epidemic disease.” Emphasizing the “heroism” of the people as they stand with the CCP, the piece speaks of the “great efforts China has made in the struggle against the coronavirus,” but ultimately circles back to the theme of anti-poverty: “Insisting on the principle that everything is for the people and relies on the people, we will work together to overcome difficulties, ensuring completion of the decisive battle to overcome poverty, and building an all-round moderately prosperous society.”