By David Bandurski – CMP noted recently that there had so far been no news of the annual national meeting of propaganda ministers, out of which we would expect some indication post-17th of any changes to the media policies of China’s central leadership. Yesterday, at last, we had news of a meeting. But instead of a run-of-the-mill gathering of ministers this was a “national propaganda work conference” headed up by none other than President Hu Jintao.


[ABOVE: Screenshot of Xinhua News Agency online coverage of Hu Jintao’s speech to national propaganda ministers on January 22.]

“National propaganda work” conferences, or quanguo xuanchuan sixiang hui yi (全国宣传思想工作会议) are held on an ad hoc basis in China, as top leaders perceive the need to send a strong message on ideology and media control. In this case, Hu Jintao apparently made no changes to existing policy, but rather cranked up the volume — by virtue of his presence, mind you — on “correct guidance,” pushing “scientific development“, etcetera.
Hu’s appearance was most probably timed to send a strong message at the outset of China’s Olympic year about the need to control the press and public opinion, and manage China’s image overseas.
The last time such a conference was called was on December 5, 2003, in the aftermath of SARS and the Sun Zhigang Case. That conference was held nearly one year after the first meeting of propaganda ministers, or xuanchuan buzhang huiyi (宣传部长会议), following the 16th National Congress, at which top propaganda leader Li Changchun (李长春) announced Hu’s new policy of the “Three Closenesses.”
This year’s conference, moderated by Li Changchun, apparently subsumed the meeting of propaganda ministers (Li emphasized to top provincial propaganda chiefs and ministers that Hu’s speech was a “programmatic document”, or 纲领性文献).
Also attending the event was recent politburo standing committee entry Xi Jinping (习近平).
The content of the conference was replayed today in the lead editorial of the official People’s Daily.
Hu Jintao told ministers that “propaganda work is a key, integral part of the work of the party and government,” and said propaganda work had maintained a “favorable state of health and vitality” (积极健康、蓬勃向上的良好态势) over the last year thanks to the “laying out of a series of guideline policies” (方针政策) and a series of major actions taken by ministries.
Hu urged those in attendance to study and implement the “spirit of the 17th National Congress, and hold high the banner of Socialism with Chinese characteristics,” all with a mind to “overall interests.”
Right. And those would be? . . .

Centering on overall interests (围绕大局) means we must conscientiously carry out the decisions of the central party, firmly encompassing the core of economic construction, upholding correct guidance (正确导向), placing social effects (社会效益) first, grasping prosperity in one hand, grasping control in the other, energetically pushed forward with scientific development, promoting social harmony, creating a strong ideological guarantee and creating a favorable public opinion environment for economic reforms and socialist modernization.

Aside from the annual meeting of propaganda ministers and these so-called “national propaganda work” conferences, the media-related meetings of greatest significance are full politburo sessions, or zhongyang quanhui (中央全会), devoted specifically to ideology. The last politburo sessions of this kind were in 1983 (when Deng Xiaoping and others voted to uphold the party’s opposition to “bourgeois liberalization”, much to the delight of Leftists in the party) and 1996.
[Posted January 24, 2008, 5pm HK]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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