Author: CMP Staff

Colorless Tributes for Jiang Zemin

As the news came this afternoon of the death of China’s former top leader Jiang Zemin (江泽民) at the age of 96, the treatment of the story in the country’s online media was a study in color contrasts.

Jiang’s death was reported after 4 PM in the form of a pair of official Xinhua News Agency items — the first a letter of notice to the country, the second the “committee list” for Jiang’s funeral arrangements. After announcing Jiang’s passing to the Party, the military, and the country, the first release listed the former leader’s honorifics:

Comrade Jiang Zemin was an outstanding leader who had the utmost respect of our Party, our military, and the various peoples of our nation; a great Marxist, a great proletarian revolutionary, politician, military expert, and diplomat; a tried and tested communist fighter, an outstanding leader of the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics; the core of the third generation of the Party’s collective leadership; and the main founder of the important thought of the ‘Three Represents.’

The honorifics bestowed on CCP leaders after their death are not an incidental matter. They are considered carefully in the light of history and internal Party politics. For more on this issue, readers can turn to David Bandurski’s 2017 article, “The Politics of Passing On.”

The phrase “great proletarian revolutionary” used here, for example, is far more elevated that the usual “outstanding proletarian revolutionary” — putting Jiang, not so surprisingly, in the company of a short-list of greats including Deng Xiaoping, Ye Jianying, Chen Yun, Yang Shangkun, and Hu Yaobang.

As this pair of Xinhua releases went out through CCP media across the country, those directly under the leadership of Party committees and propaganda departments, site designs went black.

At People’s Daily Online, the letter of notice was carried across the top of the image slider. The website’s banner remained a link to a collection of “important speeches” from Xi Jinping, but the backdrop, usually bright CCP red, was drained of its color. All images and advertisements across the site’s homepage, including the digital version of today’s edition of the People’s Daily print edition, were black or chalky grey.

The homepage of People’s Daily online at around 5 PM on November 30, 2022.

The text immediately under the main headline read, simply:

Our beloved Comrade Jiang Zemin, suffering from leukemia combined with multiple organ failure, could not be resuscitated and passed away in Shanghai at 12:13 PM on November 30, 2022, at the age of 96.

The lower sections of the website, all the way down to the footer, were darkened to black, including advertisements for Dell Technologies and other companies.

The middle section of People’s Daily Online at around 5PM on November 30, 2022.

The treatment at the website of the Global Times, a sister publication of the People’s Daily, was nearly identical. The same headlines for the same Xinhua releases. And propaganda feature buttons for campaigns such as studying the “spirit” of the 20th National Congress of the CCP were again all in black.

The website of the Global Times at around 5PM on November 30, 2022.

China Youth Online, the website of China Youth Daily, a newspaper under the Chinese Communist Youth League, also flipped the switch this afternoon.

China Youth Online goes all black on November 30, 2022, to mark the passing of Jiang Zemin.

And here is the same treatment at Tianshan Online (ts.cn), the official website of the Xinjiang region, under the control of its propaganda department.

Tianshan Online on the afternoon of November 30, 2022.

At Chongqing News Online, a site under the control of the propaganda department of the Chongqing Municipal CCP Committee and its official Chongqing Daily newspaper, the flipping of the switch, sending the site into black and white, created more than the usual visual confusion. The propaganda banners generally populating the top of the site were all there — about Xi Jinping’s inspirational ideas and new paths of struggle in the “New Era.”

But in black and white, they formed a thick and unbroken layer of rhetorical stratigraphy separating visitors from the news down below: “Letter of Notice of the Whole Party, the Whole Army, and the People of the Nation / Funeral Committee List for Comrade Jiang Zemin.”

Chongqing News Online at around 5PM on November 30, 2022

But while all media and websites were likely under explicit instructions to run the official Xinhua notices about Jiang’s death, more commercially-minded outlets and private internet portals were apparently not under orders to go black, and they took hybrid approaches.

The Beijing News, for example, the paper’s logo on the site banner maintained its characteristic deep red, and a propaganda banner further down announced in deep red the publication of a recent speech by Xi Jinping in the official CCP journal Seeking Truth. Links to the newspaper’s WeChat and Weibo accounts were also in full color.

Only then came the Xinhua announcement of Jiang Zemin’s death, along with black-and-white news items of the releases on the officials set to prepare and attend the former leader’s funeral.

The website of The Beijing News on November 30, 2022, with Xinhua notices on Jiang Zemin’s death in prominent position, but color still used on the site.

A newspaper with a deep tradition of professionalism from its founding in 2003, at the dawn of the Hu Jintao era, The Beijing News was brought under the management of the Beijing municipal propaganda department in September 2011, a clear attempt to bring it to heel.

The Paper, an online portal launched in July 2014 under the state-run Shanghai United Media Group, remained full color this afternoon, choosing to include the official releases about Jiang’s death and the list of funeral attendees along with other propaganda items, including the same Xi Jinping speech printed in Seeking Truth.

Shanghai’s The Paper runs the official Xinhua releases on Jiang Zemin’s death, but without going black or special treatment.

There was no effort in The Paper to accentuate the news about Jiang’s death and featured images and advertisements remained in color.

At private internet sites too, like Sina and Phoenix Online, the color remained.

Sina.com and iFeng (Phoenix Online) run the official Xinhua News Agency releases on Jiang’s death, probably under orders to do so. But colors remain on the sites.

A Sina Weibo, where full color remained except for individual posts from Party-run media, the pair of Xinhua News Agency releases topped the list of most popular posts, listed as “exploding.” Slipping under these trending stories were several other hashtags about how Covid measures were being “optimized and refined.”

The Good Journalist

Today is the 23rd annual China Journalists’ Day. And in a nod of respect to the profession, the hashtag for a special themed page was pinned to the top of the hot searches roster on the popular Weibo platform: “#GoodJournalistsTellGoodStories” (#好记者讲好故事).

If you are a journalist working in China today, what does it mean to tell a “good story”?

In an address to top officials in charge of ideology in August 2013, Xi Jinping, the country’s top leader, said that “telling China’s story well” was essential to shaping a favorable global image of China — what the Chinese Communist Party calls “external propaganda work.” The phrase has since come to describe more broadly the fundamental mission of the Chinese journalist in the New Era, whether at home or abroad.

The hashtag “#GoodJournalistsTellGoodStories” appears at the top-right of Weibo today.

Telling China’s story well means focusing on the positives, ensuring that your work as a journalist helps to shape a favorable public view of China. And the most important aspect of this act of proper telling — as CCP scholars have clearly laid out — is the primary goodness of the Party itself.

Not One Minute Outside the Line

To fully understand how the Party sees the role of the journalist today, one of the best sources we can turn to is the recent remarks made on domestic and international propaganda by Fu Hua (傅华), who back in June this year was appointed head of the official Xinhua News Agency.

In an article written back in September for the journal China Cyberspace (中国网信), Fu stressed that the “intrinsic political nature of the media cannot be changed,” and that the policy must remain an “emphasis on positive propaganda” (正面宣传为主) — the latter being a decades-old phrase that has signaled a hardline view on the media.

But for Fu, this was not quite hard enough. His language soared as he spoke of the sacred duty of Xinhua as the vanguard of the Party press — a “strategic town” that had to be held against incursion. “As a strategic town of the CCP’s press and public opinion work, Xinhua News Agency must clearly speak politics, [and] persistently strengthen online propaganda on Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era, taking this [Xi’s banner phrase] as the logical starting point of news coverage,” he wrote.

Xinhua, said Fu, must “always write the main melody,” and must “transmit positive energy.” All of these are references to the Party’s control of the press and manipulation of public opinion in order to maintain the stability of the regime — explained in greater detail in our CMP Dictionary.

Still, Fu had not sufficiently conveyed the sense of obedience to Xi Jinping and the central leadership that he sought to instill at the country’s largest news agency.

We must achieve, he said, “not standing even for a single minute outside the Party line, not deviating even for a single minute from the direction as guided by General Secretary Xi Jinping , and not departing even for a single minute the from the vision of General Secretary Xi Jinping and the CCP Central Committee.”

Today, as media across the country celebrate Chinese Journalists’ Day, there can be no question who China’s journalists are meant to serve.

A New Slogan Rises from the Past

As Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the CCP, delivered his quinquennial political report in the Great Hall of the People on October 16, 2022, he began by outlining the key themes of the congress, including the “comprehensive implementation” of his own governing concept, “[Xi Jinping] Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era.” Immediately after, he defined the necessary character of all Party members as the country faced the road ahead. He said:

Our responsibility is unmatched in importance, and our mission is glorious beyond compare. It is imperative that all of us in the Party never forget our original aspiration and founding mission, that we always stay modest, prudent, and hard-working, and that we have the courage and ability to carry on our fight. We must remain confident in our history, exhibit greater historical initiative, and write an even more magnificent chapter for socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.

This phrase outlined the basic points of what subsequently has been touted in the Party-run media as the “Three Imperatives,” or sange wubi ((三个务必), which broadly set out what is demanded of CCP officials and Party members over the coming years.

  1. It is imperative that the original aspiration and founding mission not be forgotten. This is the idea, in other words, that the legitimacy of the CCP arises from its service to the people.
  2. It is imperative that Party members remain humble, prudent, and hardworking (谦虚谨慎, 艰苦奋斗). This plays to the idea of clean governance, and the fear that corruption and extravagance might undermine the CCP’s legitimacy.  
  3. It is imperative that Party members “dare to struggle, and are adept at struggling” (敢于斗争、善于斗争). This arises from the idea that tough times are ahead for the country and for the Party, and meeting challenges — and no doubt maintaining unity and keeping down dissent — will require resolute and forceful leadership and decision-making.

In October and November 2022, the use of the “Three Imperatives” rose rapidly in the official Chinese media, with many officials and scholars writing to praise the concept and its timeliness (something always expected after the introduction of new terms to the official lexicon), and explain its meaning.

On November 7, 2022, a piece on page three of the People’s Daily newspaper spoke of the “Three Imperatives” as the essential guide for the Party in tackling challenges ahead. The piece was written under the pen name “Zhong Yin” (仲音), a homophone for “sound of China,” marking the piece as an official work, likely by a commentary group within the People’s Daily, meant to represent the view from the center of the leadership.

An official commentary in the People’s Daily, top right, discusses the importance of Xi’s “Three Imperatives.”

On the first imperative, remembering the “original aspiration,” the commentary stressed that this aspiration was to “breathe together with the people, sharing a single destiny, and remaining heart-to-heart.” So long as the CCP could maintain its political and ideological leadership power, it said, this “will certainly ensure the Party is always the reliable backbone of the Chinese people.”

On the second imperative, the commentary painted a portrait of the self-effacing and hardworking official, laboring without a mind to his own comforts. In colorful language, it said that “Red rice, pumpkin soup, and wild root vegetables provide sustenance too” — suggesting officials should not insist on privilege. It also noted the observations made by the American reporter Edgar Snow in his book Red Star Over China, who “saw Mao Zedong living in a simple cave dwelling, wearing patched clothes, and eating millet rice and shredded potatoes with chili.”

The second imperative fits well with the nostalgic attitude toward the CCP’s past that Xi Jinping has cultivated since coming to power in late 2012, emphasizing the traditions of the Party and its “red genes” as a source of both legitimacy and cultural identity.

On the third imperative, the People’s Daily commentary resorted largely to hyperbole and very mixed metaphors, speaking of mountains scaled, and concluding that “it is because of the spirit of perseverance and struggle that the Chinese Communists have been able to engrave the miracle on the wheel of time without fearing the wind and rain.” Translation: The CCP is in the midst of a new “revolution,” which Xi Jinping has called a “self-revolution” within the Party, and in a period of new uncertainty, and this will require all within the Party to steel themselves.

The “Two Imperatives”

On October 20, an explanatory piece in China Newsweekly (中国新闻周刊) addressed the “Three Imperatives” by explaining their echo in the depths of CCP history. It was at the Second Plenum of the CCP’s 7th National Congress in March 1949, months ahead of the decisive victory in the Chinese Civil War, that Mao Zedong prepared for what would be an important new phase for the Party, with a shift in focus, by introducing his “Two Imperatives” (两个务必).

Victory in the Civil War and the founding of the People’s Republic of China would mean a shift from work in the countryside to work in the cities, and governance in place of revolution. Mao Zedong stressed that “while the revolution in China has been great, the distance that follows the revolution is even greater, and the work is greater and more arduous.” As such, Mao said, it was imperative that Party comrades 1) continue to keep a style of humility and hard work, and 2) that they maintain an attitude of struggle against hardships. Mao Zedong’s “Two Imperatives” essentially meant: stay clean and don’t go soft.

An official CCP historian, Luo Pinghan (罗平汉), told China Newsweekly that Xi’s “Three Imperatives” had been built “on the foundation of the ‘Two Imperatives,’ according to the new situation and tasks faced by the Party.” CCP members needed first, in other words, to remember the original mission set by Mao’s Party, to stand with the people, and then they needed to meet the challenges of the New Era with the same attitude Mao defined on the eve of the nation’s founding.

Five Firm Grasps for the World

On the front page of the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper yesterday, a new buzzword was born. Introducing the “Five Firm Grasps” (五个牢牢把握). Appearing in a prominent headline to the right of the masthead in the People’s Daily, the phrase was meant to condense the “spirit” of the 20th National Congress of the CCP, conveying to Party members the essentials they were meant to take away.  

Those essentials are the need to:

Firmly grasp the major significance of the work of the past 5 years and the great transformation of the 10 years of the New Era (要牢牢把握过去5年工作和新时代10年伟大变革的重大意义)

Firmly grasp the world view and methodology of the Thought of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era (牢牢把握新时代中国特色社会主义思想的世界观和方法论)

Firmly grasp the mission and task of promoting the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people through Chinese-style modernization (牢牢把握以中国式现代化推进中华民族伟大复兴的使命任务)

Firmly grasp the important demand of leading a great social revolution through a great self-revolution (牢牢把握以伟大自我革命引领伟大社会革命的重要要求)

Firmly grasp unity and struggle as the requirements of the times (牢牢把握团结奋斗的时代要求)

Two things immediately jump out in this five-point formulation. First, while the 20th National Congress should be broadly about charting China’s course for the next five years, the point topping the “Five Firm Grasps” list is focused entirely backward — with the doctrinaire demand that CCP members fall into line and succumb to wide-eyed wonder at the greatness of the Xi era to date.

An article on the front page of yesterday’s People’s Daily instructs Party members to understand the “spirit” of the 20th Congress through the concept of the “Five Firm Grasps.”

Second, we can see an elevation in point two of Xi Jinping’s banner phrase, “[Xi Jinping] Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era,” which is referred to not merely as a banner phrase to lead the work of the CCP, but as a “world view” — something that has been emphasized only since the end of July this year, during a meeting of top provincial CCP leaders.

Never before this ten-week window was the notion promoted that “Xi Jinping Thought ____” is a “world view,” which suggests that the vision of Xi’s banner phrase transcends domestic Party politics and has global relevance.

Notably, we see this prominently again today in the lead commentary promoted on the front page of the People’s Daily and rolled out on page four. It is called: “Uniting in Struggle, Writing a More Splendid Chapter of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era.”

The front page of today’s edition of the People’s Daily, with an official commentary in red in the lower right-hand corner.

The commentary includes the phrase, in use since July, “We must have a proper hold on the world view and methodology of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” (我们要把握好习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想的世界观和方法论).

While study commentaries in the People’s Daily over the past two months have made reference to Xi’s banner term as a “world view” and “methodology,” Xi Jinping is reported by Xinhua to have emphasized this point to delegates on October 19, which suggests that it is now the orthodoxy of the moment.

What does this mean?

In part, it is simple and raw, about the continued attempt to elevate the importance of Xi’s ideas, condensed into his banner phrase as a symbol of his power and position within the CCP. Again and again over the past year, speeches and state media coverage have emphasized the “Two Establishes,” the phrase that argues that 1) Xi Jinping himself is the unassailable “core” of the Party, and 2) that his ideas are the spiritual direction of the Party.

Adding to this signaling the vision of Xi’s thought as a “world view” and “methodology” sends the additional message that the general secretary’s ideas are a formula, a toolbox, that should be used to grapple with the challenges in the decade to come — whether in China or in the world.

The Long and Short of the CCP Congress

Today, October 16, CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping opened the 20th National Congress by delivering his political report, or zhengzhi baogao (政治報告), in which he praised the leadership of the Party and outlined key priorities for the next five years.

The entire process of reading the report lasted for nearly two hours, during which the hundreds of delegates present dutifully scribbled on their copies and, when prompted, offered waves of applause.

But in fact, this version of the political report was at least one-third shorter than the full report, as commentators on state media revealed shortly after the broadcast. Reading the full report would have required perhaps another hour of performance by Xi Jinping, which planners possibly felt would have been too taxing on the country’s top leader, now 69.

Instead, Xi did what is called “picking out the key points,” or tiao zhongdian (挑重点). At points during his delivery, Xi paused to clear his throat, cough, or take short drinks of tea or water, the cup clinking as he returned it to the saucer.

The last time that there was such a substantial difference between the delivered report and the full-text report was back at the 16th National Congress of the CCP in 2002, when the political report was delivered by Jiang Zemin, then 76.

Jiang Zemin delivers the political report to the 16th National Congress of the CCP in November 2002.

For the convenience of those wishing to study the full-text version of the 2022 political report more closely, we offer the following copies for download — the short version (delivered by Xi today) followed by the longer version.

“Xiplomacy” Gets Rare Stage Time

“Great eras produce great ideas,” China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi (王毅), said in July 2020 as he inaugurated a special studies center on “Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy” (习近平外交思想), the buzzword meant to coalesce the Chinese Communist Party’s current thinking on foreign affairs.

But under the CCP, great ideas must also be made with great hype. And that hype was on display last Friday as “Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy” was given top billing in the Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper, in a lengthy article right under the masthead. It was a rare center-stage performance for a phrase that has languished in China’s official discourse throughout 2022.

The front-page article, “Destiny and the Path to Common Action” (命运与共行大道), was sprawled across three pages of the paper. It offered a summary and reaffirmation of Xi Jinping’s supposed successes in handling foreign affairs during his first 10 years as China’s top leader. It marveled at how, in 2019, Xi made four trips outside of China, to five countries and six cities, appearing at 90 different events. This, it said, had “created a new record in the history of Chinese diplomacy in the New China.” And when Xi Jinping was not traveling, or could not, he was busy with “telephone diplomacy.”

A telephone. You don’t say?

The article rattled off related foreign policy terms, like “major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics” (中国特色大国外交), “harmony” (和衷共济), and “co-existence” (和合共生).  

According to the soaring tribute, the world has marveled at the CCP’s great “strategic wisdom” (战略智慧) in transforming global risks into global opportunities. The world has wondered about the genius of China’s “Belt and Road” (一带一路), for example, asking how China has managed to appeal to so many partners. “It is the spirit of mutual respect,” it concludes.

Small Banners

But articles like Friday’s tribute are less important for their policy content than for what they claim about the greatness of Xi’s governing concept, or banner phrase (旗帜语), which during the upcoming 20th National Congress of the CCP is likely to reemerge as the shortened and potent “Xi Jinping Thought” (习近平思想).

“Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy” is one of the five permutations of Xi’s banner phrase dealing with five key policy areas: the economy; national security; rule of law (domestic security); foreign affairs; and the environment. In recent months, these phrases have been among the key terminologies through which to observe the gradual transformation of Xi Jinping’s long-winded banner phrase, “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想). They are components of what is being claimed in CCP propaganda as a comprehensive system of ideas that is profound, historic, and necessary — justifying Xi’s continuation as the Party’s “core” and insuperable boss.

So how have these terms fared this year?

The following graph plots the number of occurrences of the five permutations in the People’s Daily on the monthly basis since the start of 2022.

SOURCE: The People’s Daily

As the graph above shows, the top-performing permutations of Xi’s banner phrase this year have been “Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization,” the term corresponding to policy-making on the environmental front, and “Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law,” which deals with issues of law and order. Slightly behind is “Xi Jinping Thought on a Strong Military,” the phrase dealing with national defense.

These three policy areas have been relatively non-sensitive, and are therefore areas in which Xi Jinping and his acolytes can feel freer in pushing the association of supposed successes with his governing concepts. With the approach of the 20th National Congress, we see the national defense banner holding steady in August and September, while the banners for ecological civilization and rule of law rose sharply.

For the relatively sensitive areas of the economy and foreign policy, however, it is a different story.

While there was some drum-beating in July and August over Xi’s successes in dealing with the economy, often accompanied by the cautious phrase “seeking progress in stability” (稳中求进), this banner permutation has lagged throughout 2022, corresponding with a generally weak economic picture and controversy internally over the impact of continued Covid-19 lockdowns under “zero Covid.”

In six out of nine months this year, “Xi Jinping Economic Thought” has been the weakest of the five permutations. It plummeted again in September, meeting up with the other lackluster performer, “Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy.”

Since July, Xi Jinping’s diplomacy-related banner permutation has remained at the bottom of the pack, with less than five articles in the People’s Daily mentioning the phrase on a monthly basis. Just as for the economy, these are tough times for China’s foreign policy, with a “plummeting global image,” by some estimates, and soft power efforts largely unsuccessful.

A rise for “Xi Jinping Thought” generally in the midst of the upcoming 20th National Congress is likely to pull the foreign policy banner along with the rest. But these are touchy times for the diplomatic approach that state media have enthusiastically called “Xiplomacy.”

For now, the policy might prompt caution as much as bullish optimism. Great ideas, like all ideas, can fail.

When Laws Fail for Policies

A fatal bus accident involving positive Covid cases being transported long-distance to quarantine facilities in China’s southwest Guizhou province has infuriated many Chinese, once again bringing the government’s inflexible pandemic prevention policies under harsh scrutiny.

So far, 27 people are reported to have died in the crash, which occurred after midnight yesterday along a stretch of highway in the countryside outside of the provincial capital of Guiyang. A further 20 people are now being treated for injuries. Those are sobering numbers against just two deaths from Covid that the province has recorded since the pandemic began more than two years ago.

Authorities in Guizhou have urged the setup of a special team to investigate the causes of the accident, and have pledged to hold those responsible to account. But some of the most basic facts of the accident already point to the key role played by unyielding top-down Covid mandates in China, which have caused local authorities in many cases to ignore basic safety rules in the pursuit of “zero Covid.”  

In a post to WeChat yesterday, law expert Nie Riming (聂日明), a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law (上海金融与法律研究院), reflected on the Guizhou accident and some of the basic legal issues that point to elementary questions of responsibility.

In his post, Nie is direct in saying that local authorities in Guizhou violated several key points of law, and he likens the decisions involved ahead of this weekend’s accident to other Covid-related measures taken across the country in 2022 that involved the suspension of other basic safety considerations in the single-minded focus on Covid numbers: the placing of barricades across main roads; the welding closed of entrance doors; the erection of steel cages around doors, and so on.

“In recent decades, China has established a basically sound safety management system, and every provision of laws, rules and regulations is a price paid in blood, a requirement written with the lessons of history,” Nie writes. “Guizhou has been the most strictly governed region for long-distance buses traveling at night, and the question we have to ask is why this strictly enforced policy has failed here when it comes to the transfer of people involved in epidemics.”

CMP has translated the first section of Nie’s post, which follows:   

____________

The Guizhou Bus Accident is Definitely Not a Simply Traffic Accident

(贵州大巴车侧翻事件,绝不是什么简单的交通事故)

According to information provided by the Public Security Bureau in Guizhou’s Sandu County (三都县), a passenger bus turned over in the early morning hours of September 18 along the in Sandu County K31 highway section in Qiannan [Buyi and Miao Autonomous] Prefecture in Guizhou while traveling in the direction of Libo County. There were 47 people on the bus at the time of the accident. As of today at 12PM, 27 people had died in the accident and 20 others were injured and undergoing treatment.

There are quite a number of suspicious points in the occurrence of this accident.

First is the fact that the bus overturned after midnight, and according to a report by the Weibo account “China Roads Network” (中国路网), the specific time [of the accident] was around 2:40 AM. The period after midnight is the red-eye period (红眼时段), during which drivers find it very difficult to fulfill their obligations with respect to safe driving, and Article 38 of the Code of Safety Management for Road Passenger Transportation Enterprises (道路旅客运输企业安全管理规范), which was revised in 2018, makes clear that long-distance passenger vehicles should cease operations or apply shuttle transportation (接驳运输) between the hours of 2 AM and 5 AM [Note: This refers to the use of reserve drivers who can get on the bus and relieve tired drivers].

Guizhou is a mountainous province and its roads are dangerous. Guizhou is also one of the strictest provinces in the country in terms of safety management for passenger transport companies. As early at 2012, when the State Council passed a document demanding that “the conditions be created to actively encourage long-distance passenger vehicles to cease operations between 2 AM and 5 AM or use shuttle transportation,” Guizhou province directly and strictly applied this policy, demanding that all passenger transport cease between 2 AM and 5 AM. On the 200-kilometer stretch of highway between Guiyang and the site of the accident, during that particular time, there should not have been any passenger transport vehicles whatsoever.

Second, since this month the epidemic situation in Guiyang has been tense, and in order to strengthen epidemic prevention and control measures, Guizhou province designated a large area of temporary highway toll stations and traffic junctions in order to establish a strong “first line of defense,” in which “every person must be checked and every vehicle must be checked. Non-essential people and vehicles have been prevented from entering or leaving, and “temporary static management” has been implemented at scale. Transportation is permitted only to ensure the basic operation of the city, and vehicles must be on a health code “white list” to pass through.

Clearly, buses leaving Guiyang at such a time cannot possibly be ordinary transport vehicles. According to the report in Guiyang Daily (贵阳日报), this particular transport vehicle was a quarantine transfer vehicle for people involved in the epidemic in Guiyang.

Why would transport occur after midnight? Yesterday (September 17) afternoon, the [authorities in] Guiyang held a press conference on epidemic prevention and control, and Wang Jie (汪杰), deputy head of the isolation and transfer team of the Joint Provincial and City Prevention and Control Command Center, specially introduced the “Guiyang City Work Plan for the Large-Scale Off-Site Transfer of High-Risk Covid Persons” (贵阳市新冠肺炎疫情高风险人员大规模异地转运工作方案). [The reasoning was that] because hotels in Guiyang cannot accommodate [Covid cases], some would need to be transferred for quarantine to other cities within the province. At the time of the press conference, 7,396 transfers had already been made, and 2,900 people were being processed for transfer.

The large-scale transfer of high-risk persons to other areas is something that the city of Xi’an first pioneered. In order to reach the target of zero Covid, residents at the subdivision level who were positive cases were all transported to areas hundreds of kilometers away, which made it possible for city districts to obtain so-called “zero social transmission” (社会面清零).

Since Xi’an started the trend, in 2022 we have seen similar policies carried out in Hangzhou, Tianjin, Shanghai and so on. The forced and mandatory nature of the transfers, the relocation to other areas, and the varying conditions of isolation have all naturally been a source of anger.

Since 2022, the majority of transport for positive cases and their close contacts has happened after 10 PM. There are many reasons for the choice of this time. For one thing, it takes time to coordinate transport, and generally tabulating numbers and making arrangements happens during the daytime, and it’s only at night that there are clear name lists and plans. So if transfer needs to happen right away, then it naturally happens at night.

 Another aspect is that personnel carrying out transport are mostly decked out in white protective gear, and they are obvious to spot, so that if transport happens during the day and the vehicle is parked in the residential area, then this will cause residents to start talking and discussing [what’s happening]. So nighttime is deliberately chosen as a strategy to avoid public attention. This strategy is used on a large scale in cities across the country when transferring patients for quarantine.

Guiyang has followed the same example only to make a “major news story” through [an accident involving] a vehicle with 47 people onboard, with 27 dead and 20 others still being treated. In the classification scheme for safety accidents, this is considered a “major accident” (defined as 10-30 deaths), which is second only to a “particularly major accident” (30 or more deaths).

The transports in Guiyang violate the law on several counts. First, they directly violate the Code of Safety Management for Road Passenger Transportation Enterprises, which prohibits passenger transport between 2 AM and 5 AM. Second, photographs have been shared around showing that the driver was wearing full protective gear, including a protective head shield. This would necessarily result in discomfort for the driver, and as a result, would impact the driver’s concentration. Considering the transport was happening at night, these two conditions would have been direct factors resulting in this major accident.

Third, if the transport is seen as “coerced” (强制), which is to say that residents were not willing themselves to be quarantined in other areas, but instead were forced to do so under the demands of epidemic control personnel, then Article 43 of the Administrative Enforcement Law applies, which says that “administrative organs may not carry out administrative enforcement at night or during legally designated holidays.” While the regulations says that there are “exceptions in emergency situations,” this generally refers to cases where “enforcement cannot happen subsequently, or subsequent enforcement will damage the public interest.” If the concern was that a delay in transport would lead to the spread of the epidemic, then the fact that nighttime transport might also lead to a safety incident should also have been a concern. Apparently, the enforcement organs did not even consider this aspect.

Compared to the hotel collapse in Quanzhou in March 2020, the Guiyang transport accident is far more egregious, and the subjective intent of various responsible personnel in violating current safety management policies is far more evident.

First, there is the fact that long-distance transport cannot happen between 2 and 5 AM, and so of course vehicles cannot take to the highway. So why was this passenger transport vehicle permitted onto the highway by checkpoints? Second, if passenger vehicles are operating on the highway after midnight, there will be records of their GPS, and [government] transport departments will receive this information. So why did transport departments not step in and prevent it? Finally, epidemic control authorities were carrying out this transport, and Article 38 of the Code of Safety Management for Road Passenger Transportation Enterprises clearly stipulates that “transport companies must not demand that transport drivers operate vehicles in violation of regulations concerning driving times and rest times and other regulations.” This is clearly a responsibility that the epidemic control authorities arranging the transport must bear.

And so this accident is not a simple traffic accident. It is an accident that could have been avoided had any of the departments involved simply abided by the law in exercising their authority.

Good Will and Hostility

Over the weekend, the US Embassy in Beijing posted a video on Weibo in which Ambassador Nicholas Burns and members of his embassy staff extended wishes to China for a happy Mid-Autumn Festival by reciting lines from “Water Melody” (水调歌头), a poem by the 11th-century intellectual Su Shi (苏轼). The post met with a torrent of criticism in the comment section, as well as messages of support.

“The greatest joy would be for the US not to come and cause hostile destruction,” wrote one user, alluding to the phrase “hostile forces” (敌对势力), often used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to suggest that foreign elements and those sympathetic to them are working to undermine political stability in China.

“The US dog politicians are madly barking again,” said another poster. “First wash your dog brains clean, and replace your dirty dog hearts.”

A selection of comments under a September 10 Weibo post on the official Weibo account of the US Embassy in Beijing.

Others attacked the United States for its criticism of China on human rights grounds. “China has cared about human feeling since ancient times, so much loftier than the human rights you promote,” said one user.

A selection of comments under a September 10 Weibo post on the official Weibo account of the US Embassy in Beijing.

But other users jumped to the defense of the embassy, or expressed well wishes for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

“Others wish you prosperity and you return it with insults,” said one user, apparently addressing other recent comments. “Only people with twisted hearts would say such things.”

“I came especially today to see the comments here,” said another user on Sunday, after the embassy post had gone viral. “Friendship between China and the US is the mainstream, and I thank Mr. Ambassador for his efforts.”

A notice at Sohu.com under the link for an article about the comment row under the US Embassy in Beijing post reads: “The page you are visiting is missing!”

Early on Sunday, a post syndicated across several major internet portal sites, including Sina, Sohu and Netease, reported on the US Embassy video and the resulting furor in the comment section. By afternoon the post had been expunged from the internet, though it lingered on at the question-and-answer site Zhihu.

Pelosi in the People’s Daily

More than three weeks after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi touched down in Taipei, prompting a show of fury from Beijing that included more than a week of military drills, the CCP’s flagship newspaper continues its editorial onslaught against the congresswoman’s actions. In a piece sprawling across two pages, the newspaper outlines 11 “facts” that reiterate China’s official position.

The article, on pages 17 and 18 of the People’s Daily, is called “Some Facts About Pelosi’s Visit to Taiwan” (佩洛西窜台的若干事实). A slightly abridged version is also available in English. It seems to have undergone extensive preparation, and includes a torrent of accusations: The US “seriously violates China’s sovereignty and security”; it “spreads fake news internationally”; it “violates its own political commitments, and seriously breaks prohibitions in international law against estoppel” [more here]; it is guilty of “bad behavior sabotaging cooperation.”

China’s “11 Facts” notice on Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan appears across pages 17 and 18 of the People’s Daily today.

One of the key points in the piece regarding Pelosi’s visit is the assertion in “Fact 2” that any visit to Taiwan by a member of the US Congress — something that has continued for decades and happened again only recently — is a violation of the Three Joint Communiques between the US and China.

Fortunately, there is a glossary at the outset of the article that lays out the 11 “facts,” as follows.

  • Fact 1:  The one China principle is the political foundation of U.S.-China relations, and its meaning is clear and unambiguous.
  • Fact 2: Congress is an integral part of the US government, and visits by members of Congress to Taiwan violate the one China principle and the three Joint Communiqués between the US and China.
  • Fact 3: Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has nothing to do with democracy, but rather is a political show and a serious provocation that violates China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and challenges the consensus on one China in the international community.
  • Fact 4: It is the US and the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces that have changed the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and provoked a crisis.
  • Fact 5: Pelosi’s “scurrying” to Taiwan was planned and provoked by the United States. It was the US and Taiwan that first colluded to provoke, and China defended itself only afterward. China’s counter-measures are firm, strong, and proportionate, in line with domestic and international laws.
  • Fact 6: It is legal and reasonable for the Chinese military to conduct military exercises and training activities in the waters near China’s island of Taiwan. The source of the trouble is the US “using Taiwan to control China,” which undermines peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and globally.
  • Fact 7: The vast majority of countries adhere to the one China principle, and it is the United States and a very few countries that are isolated on the issue.
  • Fact 8: The Taiwan issue is fundamentally different from the Ukraine issue, and there is no comparison between the two.
  • Fact 9: China’s sanctions against Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan are reasonable and legitimate, and are the due rights of a sovereign country.
  • Fact 10: Pelosi’s “scurrying” to Taiwan has seriously damaged the political foundation of US-China relations and created obstacles to exchange and cooperation between the two sides, for which the US side must bear full responsibility.
  • Fact 11: The responsibility for the suspension of climate change talks between China and the United States lies with the US side. On climate change and other global environmental governance issues, China will continue to be committed to international cooperation, and its words will be honored and its deeds will be done.

Pelosi has appeared in more than 70 articles in the People’s Daily so far in August, and could top 80 appearances by the end of the month. This is stratospheric by the standards of the CCP’s flagship newspaper. To put the number in context, consider that the top foreign leader in the People’s Daily in July was US President Joe Biden, who appeared in nine articles. Pelosi is sure to outpace — and by a wide margin — all other foreign political figures in August, a reflection of just how much her visit has infuriated and concerned China.

Hot Words Heat Up for Xi

We are just under one-third the way through the month of August, but key terms in the official discourse of the Chinese Communist Party are heating up fast – and they point once again to efforts to shore up the position of the country’s top leader, Xi Jinping.

One of the key phrases to watch in the coming weeks is the so-called “Two Establishes,” or liangge queli (两个确立), which emerged in the wake of the Sixth Plenum last November. The phase is essentially a giftbox of loyalty to Xi, establishing him as 1) the unquestionable “core” leader of the CCP, and 2) his ideas as the bedrock of China’s future under the CCP.

Unpacked, the “Two Establishes” is a claim to the legitimacy of Xi Jinping’s rule, and a challenge to any who might oppose him. As such, the phrase is an important part of the process of “loyalty signaling,” or biaotai (表态), the registering of support for the top leader. 

So what are we seeing right now?

According to CMP’s preliminary analysis, the “Two Establishes” phrase has appeared already in 33 articles in the Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper this month. That compares to 47 articles using the phrase for the whole of July 2022, when the phrase reached a broiling Tier 2 on CMP’s discourse scale, which defines a six-tier system based on a historical analysis of keywords appearing in the China Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily.

Note: Tier rankings are based on the discourse scale developed by CMP in 2016. The above table shows monthly levels, calculated as the total number of articles including a term.

This means it is likely that the “Two Establishes” will climb into to Tier 2 for August by mid-month, and surpass last month’s total by a healthy margin.

How is this phrase actually used? Looking at page two of the People’s Daily today, we find the phrase in an article called, “Hebei Strives to Deliver Excellent Results on the Road to the New Test” (河北努力在新的赶考之路上交出优异成绩单). This article, part of a series called “China These 10 Years,” quotes Hebei’s top leader, Ni Yuefeng (倪岳峰), as saying that his province is “using real actions to greet the opening of the Party’s 20th National Congress.” This tells us that the article should be understood in the context of the upcoming congress, which will likely bring a third term for Xi Jinping and the further elevation of his leading ideology as “Xi Jinping Thought” (习近平思想).

The opening of the article makes clear its role in signaling support for Xi Jinping and his banner ideology, and it’s here that we find our phrase:

Since the 18th National Congress of the CCP, Hebei has persisted in taking as its guide Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era, deeply studying and implementing the important instructions of General Secretary Xi Jinping and the decisions and deployments of the CCP Central Committee, deeply comprehending the decisive meaning of the “Two Establishments” . . . .

Twice, at the beginning and the end, the article raises the need to follow Xi Jinping’s “important instructions” (重要指示), a concrete term that since at least 2015 has been used exclusively to emphasize Xi’s leading role over the rest of the Politburo Standing Committee (who must content themselves with “written comments”).

The more Xi Jinping’s hot words heat up in the coming weeks, the more we should be able to visualize his stratospheric rise far above the heads of the PSC.