You’ve packed away your Christmas tree. You’ve broken your New Year’s resolution. Now it’s time to get down to business. You have an entire year of censorship and propaganda to work out.
Such, in any case, would be your lot if you worked inside China’s vast information control apparatus. January is the month of national meetings, events where the gears are greased with unctuous injunctions from “the center” — with phrases like “raising high the banner” and “unifying thought and action with the demands of the CCP leadership.”
The General Administration of Press Publications Radio Film and Television holds its annual meeting in Beijing January 5-6, 2015.
On January 5, politburo standing committee member Liu Yunshan (刘云山), who served as propaganda minister from 2002 to 2012, addressed the National Propaganda Ministers Meeting. Liu talked about the “strategic deployment” of the “Four Comprehensives” (四个全面): 1)grasping correct guidance of public opinion; 2) strengthening propaganda and explanation [of the Party’s policies]; 3) creating a favorable atmosphere; and 4) promoting the implementation of the central leadership’s decisions and deployments.
Liu Yunshan’s equation, essentially, is this:
Censorship of news media and the internet (and all other forms of culture) in line with the Party’s interests PLUS active propaganda to convince the public that the Party’s position, views and actions alone are correct EQUALS a smooth and untroubled public opinion environment that allows the Party to maintain its dominance and accomplish what it sets out to do.
This formula, with its prevailing notion of “public opinion guidance,” is hardly news. “Guidance” has reigned supreme for more than a quarter century, ever since the violent crackdown on democracy demonstrations in June 1989.
But it is imperative, in the view of top leaders, to remind Party officials that the control of information and public opinion is imperative. And so the Propaganda Ministers Meeting makes the front page of the official People’s Daily (just left of the photo of the Chinese search vessel “Nanhai Jiu 101“).
Also held earlier this month was the National Internet Propaganda Management Work Meeting (全国网络宣传管理工作会议). For reasons still unclear, however, little has been reported at all of this session in Beijing. In fact, there was no news that it had been held at all until local media in Shaanxi province reported on January 9 that provincial internet authorities had held their own meeting to “transmit the important official instructions on internet work made by General Secretary Xi Jinping, and the spirit of the National Internet Propaganda Management Work Meeting.”
A number of links to coverage of the Shaanxi meeting, some giving headline treatment to what the local report revealed about the national meeting, have already been taken down — like these from Phoenix Online and from the news portal operated by the official China News Service.
More is available, though little still revealed, about a third national meeting on censorship and propaganda — the two-day National Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television Work Conference (全国新闻出版广播影视工作会议), which opened in Beijing on January 5, the same day as the Propaganda Ministers Meeting.
Presiding over the event was Cao Fuchao (蔡赴朝), deputy minister of the Central Propaganda Department and Party chairman of the government office with China’s most ill-conceived acronym, the General Administration of Press Publications Radio Film and Television (GAPPRFT) — which, spoken properly, should sound like blowing a raspberry.
In reviewing work in 2014, Cai Fuchao pointed out that over the past year, the front line [forces] in news, publishing, radio, film and television had raised the banner high, firm in their faith [in the socialist cause], deeply studying and implementing the spirit of the series of important speeches by General Secretary Xi Jinping, ensuring that various work initiatives developed in a healthy manner along a correct path; they dared to take up [their work], overcoming difficulties, solidly advancing the deepening of reform . . .
The men and women on the front lines of Chinese propaganda were, in other words, good soldiers. They fought the hard fight for public opinion control. And, through and through, they “adhered to the center” and “achieved new results in serving the overall situation.”
Cai Fuchao outlined for his colleagues nine key aspects of propaganda work, from the “deepening of reform” to “strengthening rule of law thinking” (the subject of the recent Fourth Plenum).
But the core sense was encapsulated in item one:
1. To further deepen the study and implementation of the series of important speeches by Xi Jinping, keeping a firm grasp on guidance of public opinion (牢牢把握正确舆论导向), consolidating and expanding the main public opinion position (巩固壮大舆论主阵地) . . . [and again] under the command of the spirit of the series of important speeches by General Secretary Xi Jinping, to do a bigger and stronger job of positive propaganda (做大做强正面宣传). To put in effort on “propaganda capability” (会宣传), raising the capacity and level of public opinion channeling (提高舆论引导能力和水平). To implement the principle of the Party’s control of ideology (落实党管意识形态原则), and maintain strict propaganda discipline in the news (严明新闻宣传纪律).
All of these terms are familiar. They suggest that the dominant discourse of information control in China — at least that refracted through the Central Propaganda Department and GAPPRFT — is unchanged, save for the important fact that these control imperatives are now made to orbit around the “spirit of the series of important speeches by General Secretary Xi Jinping.”
Is there anything new? Answering that question may depend on what was said at the mysterious National Internet Propaganda Management Work Meeting. What were those “important written comments” by Xi Jinping?
As I’ve argued elsewhere, the internet and social media are now the heart of information control in China, and it is possible that both the Central Propaganda Department and GAPPRFT are now being marginalized in favor of the Cyberspace Administration and its chief, Lu Wei (鲁炜).
Concerning Cai Fuchao’s list of nine key aspects, we might also wish to note number seven, which deals with the international dimension of propaganda. This concerns, says Cai, the “thorough implementation of the central leadership’s expansion and deepening of new requirements and new deployments in the strategic layouts of diplomacy.”
That’s a mouthful, but it essentially means China’s leaders want to continue to develop China’s “international communication capacity” (国际传播能力), its ability to get its own message out — by which of course Cai Fuchao means the message as narrowed through the lens of Item 1 on the agenda, “guidance” and bigger and better “positive propaganda.”
The key, Cai says, is to “tell China’s story well” (讲好中国故事), and “transmit China’s voice” (传播中国声音).
Interestingly, Cai mentions a few specific initiatives by name, the first three quite new attempts at public diplomacy. Get your notebooks ready, reporters. Here they are: 1. The Silk Road Film Bridge Project (丝绸之路影视桥工程), an initiative that includes the Silk Road International Film Festival (丝绸之路国际电影节). This news, I’ll confess, escaped me, though apparently the first festival was held this past October in Xi’an. It is hosted by GAPPRFT. 2. The Silk Road Book Project (丝路书香工程), which focusses on the publishing, translation and promotion of Chinese language books in and about the Silk Road region. The project was formally announced in December last year, just over a month ago. 3. The China-Africa Film Cooperation Project (中非影视合作工程), apparently started back in 2013, with an annual budget, according to this Sina article, of 50 million yuan. Every year the project takes 10 domestic Chinese television dramas and 52 films and translates them into six African languages for distribution. 4. The Classic China International Publishing Project (经典中国国际出版工程), a GAPPRFT initiative that since October 2009 has translated Chinese books into foreign languages for distribution.