In China’s highly centralised system of discourse deployment, we can think of the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party as the country’s pronouncer-in-chief. Whatever consensus has massed within the CCP — through a process less centralised and far messier — emanates like heavenly light from the man at the top.
To parse this political discourse, we must observe the light as it gleams down — from Party congress and plenum reports, from the People’s Daily, China Central Television and other core Party media, and from the “important speeches” of the general secretary himself.
But we can also observe how the light, how political discourse, is reflected back from the lower echelons of power. We may see a fresh buzzword, slogan or phrase emerge at the apex. But has it trickled down? Has it become institutionalized to the extent that Party inferiors must pay it lip service?
When it comes to political discourse in China, Xi Jinping is pronouncer-in-chief. Image by Day Donaldson, available at Flickr.com under Creative Commons license.
In a series of posts over the past seven months, we’ve followed “positive energy,” or zhengnengliang (正能量), as a favoured new phrase in the sphere of news, culture and propaganda in China.
The term is now regularly in use among Party officials at all levels of the bureaucracy, suggesting it is a term of currency in China’s political discourse. When it comes to media policy, Xi Jinping is Mr. Positive.
We can look, for example, at a recent front-page story in Liaoning Daily, the official Party mouthpiece of Liaoning’s provincial leadership, to see how the term is deployed and with which other familiar faces from the realm of news and ideology. At one point in the piece, Liaoning’s top leader, Wang Min (王珉), who is on a media inspection tour, notes Hu Jintao’s concept of the “Three Closenesses,” which dates back to 2002-2003. But in the articles crowning paragraph, we have three terms packed altogether: “guidance of public opinion” (舆论导向), which has been central to media control since 1989; the “main theme” (主旋律), a reference to CCP orthodoxy; and “transmitting positive energy” (传播正能量).
Wang Min makes clear that the media must uphold these principles “for the sake of revitalizing development.” This fits with how “guidance of public opinion,” and media control in general, have been conceived in the past — as maintaining stability, which sets the stage for development. But there seems also to be a new urgency under Xi Jinping to the idea that the message must be controlled, and refracted through the prism of positivity, in order to ease China through this period of economic transition he has repeatedly referred to as the “new normal.”
It seems for the moment that “positive energy” is here to stay.
A translation of the Liaoning Daily piece on Wang Min’s media visit follows:
“Firmly Grasping the Correct Direction and Public Opinion Direction in Order to Promote the Theme of Revitalization and Development and Cohere Positive Energy“
April 29, 2015 Liaoning Daily
On April 28, Wang Min (王珉), provincial Party secretary and chairman of the standing committee of the provincial people’s congress, visited publishing and broadcasting units in the province to conduct a special investigation on how to adequately handle cultural propaganda and public opinion guidance under the new situation (新形势), in order to vigorously develop a positive and healthy climate for public opinion and ideology
During his tour, Wang Min first arrived at Liaoning Television, going deep into the control center for programming (深入电视节目播控中心), the HD news studio and the No. 1 Studio for on-the-spot observation. Television, he said, reaches the multitudes, with wide-reaching audiences and huge influence. Relying on the richness of our historical and cultural resources, and upholding the [concept of] “content as king,” [we must] work hard to create excellent programs and products that stand out for their special character and which [people] love to see and hear — and we must push the integration of old and new media, so that multiple screen platforms [or devices] work together. [We must] further accelerate technological upgrades, accommodating and leading deeper changes to the media ecology (媒体格局), and we must fully inspire and motivate people in order to raise the propagation force, credibility and influence of traditional media, at the same time serving the [positive] image of Liaoning.
Entering the office building of the Liaoning Newspaper and Media Group (辽宁报业传媒集团), Wang Min came to the newspaper history museum and editing platform, learning in depth about the history and development of Liaoning Daily as well as its editorial copy flow process (采编流程). To those comrades working on the front lines of news and editorial, Wang Min expressed his thanks, urging everyone to carry on the great traditions of the older generation of news workers, constantly raising their political consciousness (政治意识) [i.e., of the Party line], their consciousness of the overall situation (大局意识) and their sense of responsibility [to the Party]. [They must] mind the major events of the moment, reach down to the grassroots, and report more on the practical results of reform and innovation and on topics of immediate interest to people’s lives, ensuring that news and propaganda are ever closer to actuality, to
life and to the masses [NOTE: This is Hu Jintao’s “Three Closenesses” formula]. In terms of content, channels and platforms, [the media must] deeply promote the integration and development of the media, actively holding the “high ground” (制高点) in online public opinion [NOTE: The “high ground” here refers directly to control, or strategic dominance, as in a military situation].
. . .
The front page of the April 29, 2015, edition of the official Liaoning Daily runs a piece of propaganda policy above the fold.
Wang Min pointed out during his visit that this year is a critical year in the deepening of reforms, the opening year of promoting rule of the country in accord with the law (依法治国), and also an important year in implementing the first round of promoting the revitalised development of industrial bases. The situation is encouraging, but the tasks are immense, [he said]. The question of whether or not the broadcasting and publishing units on the ideological front lines could properly carry out the work of public opinion channeling (舆论引导) concerns the path and direction [of the Party and the nation], concerns human minds and spirits, concerns the center and the overall situation [politically], and it is the core and basis of all types of work. Various news units must deeply study and implement the spirit of the 18th National Congress of the CCP, the Third and Fourth Plenums and the series of important speeches made by General Secretary Xi Jinping, energetically publicising and promoting social core values. [They must], around the strategic deployments of the provincial Party leadership and government, firmly grasp the correct political direction and [correct] guidance of public opinion, even more energetically and effectively carrying forward the main theme (主旋律) and transmitting positive energy (传播正能量) for the sake of revitalizing development.