As the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party approaches, promotional messages about the glories of the Party’s past and present have become nearly ubiquitous online and offline, splashed across banners and billboards. But the leadership has also been keen to ensure that promotion of the event conforms to the Party’s rules — and does not subject its image to the indignities of excessive commercialism.
Last month, the Party’s Central Office issued a blueprint offering guidance on how promotion of the anniversary should happen, including a pre-approved master list of slogans. And this week, market regulation authorities released a list of “classic cases” to warn for-profit businesses against misusing the glories of the anniversary for commercial campaigns.
In its notice on Wednesday, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) outlined eight offensive acts that have recently been investigated in order to create an environment for commemoration of the anniversary that is “festive and warm” and yet “serious and solemn.” The cases outlined by SAMR, which are no doubt just the tip of the iceberg, offer an interesting glimpse into how some have sought to exploit the 100th anniversary.
One of the cases involved Beijing Haoso Finishing Touch Technology (北京好搜点睛科技有限公司), which operates the advertising business for the 360 Search platform (so.com) under Qihoo 360, the Chinese internet security company. Beijing Haoso is accused in the notice of having “failed to review the content of the relevant advertisements, and to prevent others from releasing illegal advertisements with the help of the platform.” This included advertising content that “appropriated the images of staff at government organs,” and that apparently offered collectibles related to the Party’s 100th anniversary.
For these violations of the Advertising Law of the People’s Republic of China, the company was charged an administrative penalty of 170,000 yuan. A related case, placed at the top of the SAMR list, implicated the Henan regional agent for 360 Search, a company called Henan 360 Information Technology (河南三百六信息技术有限公司). The company was accused of publishing advertisements themed on the 100th anniversary that even made the claim that they were “officially approved for release by authoritative departments.” For these violations, local market authorities in Henan reportedly confiscated 8,800 yuan in ill-gotten advertising fees, equivalent to just under 1,400 dollars, but fined the company 945,000 yuan, a far more substantial sum.
One of the more colorful violators on the SAMR list was China Brewing (Beijing) Cultural Development, a distributor of Chinese wines and spirits. The company apparently created a standalone website to promote the 100th anniversary and its own commercial products, and invited visitors to participate and become “the chief designer of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Party,” by choosing from among 100 different commemorative images that included the Chinese Communist Party emblem.
SAMR said in its notice that it “hopes that the majority of market players take these cases as a warning, effectively enhancing their legal awareness and consciously complying with the law.” The department said it would “ continue to crack down on commercial speculation in the name of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Party.”
Officials in China announced yesterday that an investigation is now underway into the death of 21 runners over the weekend as they took part in a 62-mile race across rugged terrain in the northwest province of Gansu, amid freezing temperatures and inclement weather. Accounts repeated across Chinese media in the past two days have suggested that freak weather was the cause of the tragedy – an explanation that has been reinforced in some international media reporting of the story.
In the wake of disasters of this kind in China, discussion often centers on two words. On the one hand, there is the “natural disaster,” or tianzai (天灾), the act of God, suggesting that outcomes were beyond human control. On the other hand, there is the “human disaster,” or renhuo (人祸), the tragedy in which human negligence and perhaps corruption are major contributing factors. Historically, in the event of tragedy, the authorities and state media tend to lay the emphasis on natural, inescapable factors, thereby throwing off any hint of government responsibility.
A report on the tragedy in Gansu from the official Xinhua News Agency, posted on Sunday, poses the question directly: “Was this a natural disaster or a human tragedy?” It goes on to discuss various aspects of safety and preparation. Quoted at the end of the story, sports official Li Shengxin (李圣鑫) mentions the importance of safety preparation and concludes that the inability of rescue teams to reach competitors quickly in this case was an important reason for the serious loss of life. This seems to place the Gansu tragedy somewhere on the scale between the tianzai and the renhuo. Perhaps not enough was done to prepare for freak weather.
But in an article posted to WeChat today, Chu Chaoxin (褚朝新), a former journalist for Southern Weekly and The Beijing News, takes issue with the entire premise that unusual weather patterns were a primary factor behind the Gansu tragedy. He cites as evidence the inconsistencies in reporting in the Chinese media of the account given by a single source, the local herder who managed to save the lives of six athletes participating in the event.
Chu’s doubts about the official narrative on the marathon tragedy, which is now tending toward the emphasis on natural factors exacerbated by poor preparation, center on a very basic question – is dangerous weather in this area of Gansu extraordinary, or in fact quite ordinary?
I’ve managed all along not to say anything, but finally I feel I must say something – seeing as so many people have died. The reason I’ve said nothing these past few days is that I had no idea what to say. I am really very, very at a loss as to how 21 people can die just running a marathon.
But as information has proliferated [in this case] I’ve come to notice something really strange, and I feel it should be said.
At around 9AM on May 22, the Fourth Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon kicked off in Jingtai County, Baiyin City, Gansu. Officials in Baiyin have disclosed that the event was sponsored by the Baiyin Municipal Party Committee and Municipal Government, and hosted by the Baiyin Sports Bureau, Jingtai County Party Committee and Jingtai County Government, with Shengjing Sports and Culture Development (晟景体育文化发展有限公司) responsible for running the event.
It is truly unbelievable that it was at such a tournament, sponsored by the municipal government and hosted by the municipal sports bureau and the county government, that 21 people died.
Some have said that extreme weather was encountered and that was a disaster of natural causes. Other participants have said that this event, the fourth of its kind, was actually better organized than the previous three, making it seem even more a natural event.
Then there is the sheep herder who managed to rescue six runners and has received extensive media attention. In a report in The Beijing News on May 24 called, “The Shepherd Who Rescued Six Cross-Country Runners”(这名牧羊人，连救六名山地越野赛选手), the shepherd was revealed as saying that the weather that day was really bad, that there was rain and hail and that even cotton jackets did not suffice – that it was still really cold.
But then he told the reporter from The Beijing News that “this kind of bad weather is quite common.”
If this sort of bad weather is quite common, then the fact that this time people have died suggests that this area is really not suited to this kind of long-distance race. The fact that no one died during any of the first three events can only be regarded as extremely lucky. To run this kind long-distance wilderness race in a place where this kind of inclement weather occurs frequently is really tempting fate, and to have people die was simply a question of when.
If this sort of bad weather is quite common, then why did the hosts wish to have this sort of competition? Was it because they didn’t realize that people might die, or because they underestimated just how lethal inclement weather in the area could be? Whatever the reason, so long as we can determine that this sort of weather is common in the area, then we can say that the tragic death of these 21 people is a man-made disaster (人祸) rather than a natural disaster.
This morning the May 25 edition of China Central Television’s “Morning News” (朝闻天下) also reported that it had interviewed the herder. This time, however, the herder’s statement had changed. This time he was quoted as saying: “Weather like that on the day of the accident is something we don’t see very often.” And, “Weather of this kind is truly very rare, very rare.”
So did the reporter from The Beijing News get this wrong?
When I went online to search for myself, I found that in separate interviews with other media on both the 23rd and the 24th, the herder said that this sort of weather is quite common. When he was interviewed by Xi’an Business (西安商报), for example, that is what he said, and there is video to support this.
It seems then that The Beijing News was not wrong in its reporting, but the herder who saved these six competitors has changed his statement. Why would he change his story?
Media have reported the herder as saying that he felt saving lives was just a casual act, and a big deal has been made of this online — that he feels this is something very common, something one should just do. Why would a simple herder so openly alter his statement and lie? Why would a good and kind shepherd offer the media two completely opposed versions of the same story?
With this kind of contradictory statement, there is most definitely someone at work behind the scenes, and he was most definitely asked to change his story. Someone is trying to transform a human disaster into a natural disaster.
Several surviving runners have reported that in one section of the course it was impossible even for motorcycles to get through. At the third checkpoint in the race, no supplies were available at all, to say nothing of preparation for rescue. This detail further suggests that the organizers of the race lacked sufficient scientific knowledge of the wilderness course. They did not even anticipate bad weather and made no preparations for rescue.
This was not a sports competition organized by the local Party and government — it was simply a real test of wilderness survival in which no allowances whatsoever were made for rescue. What is heartbreaking is that 21 challengers died in this real version of wilderness survival.
Some people have spoken out online accusing the participants of being ill-prepared, while others have accused the players of risking their lives for prize money. Comrades, gentlemen, this was a competition organized by the municipal government of a prefectural-level city, and hosted by the municipal sports bureau and the local county government. Even if the players were not adequately prepared, there was no reason whatsoever that the participants should die.
To say that this accident that killed 21 people was an act of God is stupid if not malicious. For so many people to die competing in a marathon, no-one, not the hosts and not the organizers, can be exempted from responsibility. There is no way this matter can be put to rest with a simple apology from one mayor.
This week the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s chief internet regulator and censor, held a meeting in the city of Wenzhou at which participants spent two full days discussing the construction of a “comprehensive cyber governance system” (网络综合治理体系). But what exactly is this system? A set of technical censorship solutions? Administrative guidelines and laws? A nationwide team of internet content enforcers?
The answer is all of the above. Building a “comprehensive cyber governance system” is about ensuring that the Chinese Communist Party has the necessary laws and regulations in place governing internet content; that technical systems for internet control, including at digital platforms, are adequate to ensure compliance; and that the CAC has sufficient staffing at all levels nationwide to ensure that the Party’s internet guidelines can be strictly and properly enforced.
The idea of a “comprehensive cyber governance system” was first introduced in Xi Jinping’s political report to the 19th National Congress of the CCP in 2017. Lest one loses sight of the overarching goal in the niggling details, the phrase appears in a section on “tightly grasping leadership of ideological work” (牢牢掌握意识形态工作领导权), the first clue that this system is not primarily about data privacy or security, or protecting the population from such ills as online fraud. This is fundamentally about ensuring regime security through the ideological control of cyberspace. The same section of the political report talks about “creating a clear online space” (营造清朗的网络空间), a CCP euphemism for ensuring that online content is positive and uncritical.
On the issue of administrative enforcement, Wang Sixin (王四新) of the Communication University of China emphasized in the Legal Daily discussion the importance of the CAC and its local offices across the country in enforcing cyber governance. “While the CAC plays the leading role, we must also focus on the role of local internet information offices in local management,” he said. But he also noted that the national network of CAC offices remained insufficient, a further key aspect of the building of a “comprehensive cyber governance system.” “We also want to create a comprehensive, coordinated law enforcement governance system with the CAC as the axis,” he said. “But at the county and city levels, many areas still do not have a dedicated CAC offices and CAC teams. Of course some places have begun to make efforts in this area, such as Tianjin and Jiangsu, which have added paid official positions for CAC offices. The problem, however, is that these personnel are new recruits, and they lack some understanding of the work of the CAC and its rules.”
Another crucial aspect of the “comprehensive cyber governance system” is the involvement of internet platforms, including private enterprises, which are often the first line of defense against sensitive information. Their primary role, said Wang, is “governing illegal and harmful content on the internet.”
We encourage internet enterprises to build their own internal systems, strengthening platform responsibility. For example, with strengthening their complaint and reporting mechanisms, and in accepting the supervision of government departments and the public.
Wang Sixin, Communication University of China
All of these are regarded by Chinese authorities as integral to the overall goal of creating a “comprehensive cyber governance system.” And according to the release from this week’s Wenzhou meeting, this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the CCP, has been designated as a critical year in the building of this vast political, technical, legal and human system of internet control.
Media relations between China and the West now seem to be a regular theme at the regular press conferences held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). At a press conference yesterday, spokesperson Hua Chunying was asked by the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper to comment on a news report from the Wall Street Journal that sought to “play up” concerns, according to the reporter, about whether the Chinese-developed Sinopharm vaccine was adequately protecting those vaccinated in the Seychelles.
Broadly accusing Western media of “disinformation,” Hua responded: “I noticed relevant reports. Indeed, certain Western media outlets are obsessed with smearing the safety and effectiveness of Chinese vaccines. This is not the first time they spread disinformation against China. It once again exposes their unhealthy mindset of denigrating China at every turn.”
Using a phrase, “positive energy,” or zhengnengliang (正能量), that has been a centerpiece of Xi Jinping policy on the media, referring to an emphasis on uplifting messages over criticism, Hua added: “I hope media organizations can follow the principles of authenticity, objectivity and justice, report on the epidemic and vaccines in an impartial and fact-based manner, and use their voice to inject more positive energy to promote vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries.”
Asked by the South China Morning Post to comment on remarks she made one day earlier about Chinese journalists being forced to leave the United States, Hua alleged that the US “has used every possible means to suppress Chinese media.” She referred to a February 2020 order from the US State Department requiring five Chinese state-run media outlets to register as “foreign missions,” and a March 2020 order that limited the number of Chinese journalists for state-run media outlets who could work in the US. Hua referred to this second action as an “expulsion,” though the March rules from the State Department did not amount to outright expulsion of the journalists.
Restrictions against foreign journalists, and intimidation in the midst of their work, are well-documented. But Hua sought to portray China’s treatment of journalists as humane in contrast to the US:
As reporters, you can easily imagine how you will feel if your press card is subjected to revocation at any time, or its validity will expire in just a few days after having a hard time getting the application approved, leaving you no choice but to immediately apply for a renewal for another three months.
Even though China has been doing its best to provide conveniences to foreign correspondents in both their life and work, some may still worry that they may encounter some trouble returning to China from their home country against the backdrop of COVID-19. The Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been accommodating their concerns and providing conveniences. I suggest that you put yourself in the shoes of Chinese journalists working in the US. For US journalists, I hope you may inform your government that most of you have visas valid for a year, and that we haven’t taken any countermeasures for US moves to restrict Chinese journalists’ visa validity to a maximum of 90 days.
At a press conference today, Hua Chunying was asked by a Bloomberg reporter to comment further on the departure of Chinese state media journalists from the US, which the day before she had called “politically-motivated suppression.” As Hua responded, she suggested that the majority of foreign journalists working in China are granted one-year visas, a statement that does not accord with the experience of many journalists. In September last year, China refused to the press credentials of at least five journalists working for US news media in China, and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China voiced concern that more foreign journalists might face the “constant threat of expulsion.”
Here is Hua’s exchange with the Bloomberg reporter, according to the Chinese-language MOFA transcript:
Hua:As I have said in recent days, the US expelled 60 Chinese journalists in March of last year, and in May last year it reduced the visa validity of all Chinese media reporters in the US, without exceptions, to less than three months. Chinese journalists in the US now have to reapply for visas every three months, and often they must start the next round of applications as soon as their extensions are approved. This leaves the lives and work of Chinese journalists in the US in great uncertainty. A reporter from Xinhua News Agency submitted an application in November last year that was never approved, and they were forced to stop working in February this year, and had to return to China on May 1. A number of other journalists are waiting for approval from the US side. As a Bloomberg reporter you should understand that even under the circumstances of epidemic prevention and control, the Chinese side has still done its best to facilitate the work of foreign journalists in China, including American journalists.
Reporter:I may have misunderstood. Can you tell us more about the 90-day visa validity for US journalists in China? Because I have colleagues whose visas are valid for only 90 days. I want to make sure I didn’t misunderstand you.
Hua:You are saying that you have colleagues in China whose resident press cards are valid for three months, right? The validity of your press card should be one year. The resident press cards of more than 95 percent of foreign journalists have validity for one year.
Reporter:Yes, but I’m actually going to the immigration hall tomorrow to get a three-month visa extension.
Hua:But you are sitting here very freely, which means that your work is not affected.
At a regular press conference yesterday, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) responded at length to a research report to be released today by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Brussels-based federation of journalism unions, that looks broadly at China’s attempts to push its official media messaging across the world in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a preview by the New York Times, the IFJ report, written by Australia-based scholars Louisa Lim, Julia Bergin and Johan Lidberg, sought out journalists in 54 countries, based on the IFJ network, to canvass their views on Chinese influence tactics. “As the pandemic started to spread, Beijing used its media infrastructure globally to seed positive narratives about China in national media,” the report says, “as well as mobilizing more novel tactics such as disinformation.”
Hua’s one-two-three rebuttal of the IFJ report yesterday (she actually makes five points neatly in succession) suggests she was clearly prepared for the question, a softball lobbed by a reporter from Hong Kong’s China Review News Agency (CNRTT). The report from the New York Times might offer a clue as to why she might have been so prepared. In his report, Ben Smith notes that he reached out for comment to Zhao Lijian (赵立坚), deputy director general of the Information Department at MOFA. Briefed by Smith on the contents of the IFJ report, Zhao responded: “The accusation on China is what the U.S. has been doing all along.”
In her rebuttal yesterday, Hua continued with Zhao’s line of reasoning, suggesting that China has merely responded to tactics employed by the United States. She noted in particular the “Strategic Competition Act of 2021,” which in Subtitle D, “Countering Chinese Communist Party Influence,” allocates 300 million dollars for a Chinese Influence Fund to “counter the malign influence” of the CCP globally.
Accusing the US of “naked hegemony in public opinion or discourse” and arguing that media in the West, beholden to their capitalist masters, serve a conspiracy to disparage China, Hua suggests that Party-state media “uphold the principle of objectivity and truthfulness in news reporting, and do not fabricate or disseminate false information against other countries.”
Chinese diplomats and state media voiced similar claims to “objectivity” back in February as they objected to a decision by the UK’s Office of Communications (Ofcom), the government regulator for broadcasting and telecoms, to withdraw the UK broadcast license for China Global Television Network (CGTN). However, anyone looking closely, even fleetingly, at Chinese official discourse on the role of the media, will understand that they are obliged to serve the interests of the Party-state. In his speech on media policy at the People’s Daily in 2016, Xi Jinping emphasized that media “must be surnamed Party” (必须姓党), and that they must love, serve and protect the CCP.
Hua also repeats the notion, introduced by Xi Jinping in August 2013, that China must tell its own story. While Hua portrays this policy, which now underpins the “external propaganda” of the CCP, as merely about diversity of views globally, it should be borne in mind that this Chinese “voice” is conceived at the policy level as a managed voice, and it assumes restrictions on speech within China that have grown more severe in the past 10 years.
A translation of Hua Chunying’s remarks follows:
I also saw this New York Times article. The report it cites is not yet available, so I can’t comment in detail. However, I see that the report claims that it finds that China is increasing dissemination of positive narratives about China around the world. To me, this feels like an affirmation of the work of our Chinese journalists.
I can start with some preliminary responses based on the relevant elements of the New York Times report you just mentioned.
First, the world is inherently rich and pluralistic, and in the field of media, there should not be only CNN and BBC, but all countries should have their own voices. As a country with 1.4 billion people, accounting for nearly one-fifth of the world’s population, with 5,000 years of continuous civilization, and with the world’s second-largest economy and being the largest developing country, China certainly deserves to have its own place in the international public opinion landscape.
Secondly, the US side, on the one hand, abuses its hegemony of discourse to unscrupulously attack China with disinformation under the guise of “freedom.” On the other hand, it places ideology above the principle of objectivity and truthfulness. It rationalizes its political operations by smearing and suppressing Chinese media. This is a naked hegemony of public opinion or discourse. In the face of such wanton smear attacks and rumors and lies against China, China certainly must make its voice heard and must state the truth on a range of important issues involving the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving behind an objective and truthful collective human narrative and memory. This is the genuinely responsible attitude of a responsible country.
Third, we Chinese preach that no one can stand without trust, that no endeavor can prosper without trust, and that we must treat others as we would like to be treated. Chinese media uphold the principles of objectivity and truthfulness in news reporting, and do not fabricate or disseminate false information against other countries. I have seen the “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” passed by the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, which proposes to spend 300 million dollars a year to disseminate negative information that smears China. The New York Times report mentions that China sometimes provides some anti-epidemic materials to media in certain countries. This means nothing whatsoever, and has nothing to do with influence, infiltration or propaganda.
Fourth, the systems of each country are different, and how media operate will naturally vary. To evaluate the professionalism of media, the most important thing is whether they adhere to the ethics of journalistic professionalism, and whether they can report objectively and fairly. Xinhua is an internationally renowned news agency with a history of nearly 90 years, providing authoritative and professional news and information to its various users around the world in accordance with the common operating rules of news agencies. I think Xinhua’s cooperation with other national news agencies is no different from the cooperation between the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Kyodo News Agency and other news agencies around the world. Just because Xinhua comes from China, a socialist country, does not mean you can deny Xinhua and other Chinese media the right to exchange and cooperate with one another. To accuse Xinhua and other Chinese media when they carry out normal news and information exchanges and cooperation with news agencies in other countries shows ideological bias and political discrimination.
On April 7, Jizhou Studio (极昼工作室), a narrative non-fiction account at Sohu News, published a story called “The Man In Search of a Corpse” (寻找尸体的人). Written by Li Xiaofang (李晓芳) and Chen Kaiyue (陈锴跃), the story gave a chilling account, based on police records released in January, of the murder on March 1, 2017, of Lin Shaoren (林少仁), who was forcibly inebriated and then nailed inside a coffin.
The absurd cultural roots of the crime, and the possible involvement of local officials, made the story an instant hit on WeChat and other social media platforms, and the original post was quickly removed – though it remains at a number of locations, including The Paper (and archived at CDT). The gist of the story is that in order to skirt around local laws since 2012 in the city of Shanwei (汕尾市) mandating cremations and prohibiting burials, one wealthy local family paid a huge sum to secure a corpse that could be cremated in the place of a deceased family member, Old Huang, who had died of lung cancer. The deadly scam allowed the Huang family to retain Old Huang’s corpse for internment in the family burial plot. The unfortunate choice for the corpse was the very much alive Lin Shaoren, an intellectually disabled man dear to his family who spent his days collecting plastic bottles and idling outside a local convenience store.
One of the men possibly involved in the scam, which perhaps points to a local black market in corpses to circumvent cremation regulations in a region where ancestral rites are still taken very seriously, was the former deputy director of the Party and Government Office in Guangdong’s Hudong Township, who had also been in charge of the local funeral register.
On April 8, the day after the story was published, there was a flurry of discussion in chatrooms on WeChat as Li Xiaofang, the chief author, reported urgently that the parents of her co-author, Chen Kaiyue – a university student from the Shanwei area who had helped conduct interviews in the local dialect – were being harassed by local police and other officials demanding their son return to face investigation.
It soon emerged that Chen Kaiyue is a current student in the journalism program at Guangdong’s Shantou University. According to the discussion online, Chen had been urged by local authorities in Shanwei to return home immediately and face investigation, otherwise the police would “enter the university and arrest him.”
Hong Kong’s Apple Dailyreported that Chen’s classmates had appealed for help, saying that police officers from Jieshi Township, which is under the jurisdiction of Shanwei, had paid a visit to Chen’s parents to “verify the situation,” and that the local Party secretary had phoned Chen urging him to “write a document in order to eliminate the negative impact of the incident.” This likely refers to a demand that Chen essentially sign a formal statement with wording provided by authorities, retracting the story and admitting guilt for having disturbed social order through its publication.
In the comments section below a post to Weibo by journalist and former CMP fellow Tang Jianguang (唐建光), readers expressed the hope that the young journalism student could be protected from retaliation by local officials. “I hope the internet can protect this young person who has not done anything wrong,” said one user. “In the way they avoid pursuing the root causes and instead deal with the people who uncovered the problem,” another wrote, “one can suppose the worst possible motives here. How many of them were buyers themselves in this racket and hidden [from responsibility]? How powerful is crony capitalism!”
The original story is well worth a read, an interesting look at some of the stronger journalism and non-fiction writing being pursued in China despite much tighter controls on reporting in recent years under Xi Jinping. We offer an inferior, excerpted translation below.
The story’s arguable shortcomings should be acknowledged as well. For example, it is only much further down in the piece that Lin Shaoren, the victim, is actually identified by name (real names are used only for Lin and his brother). Instead, the murdered man is called repeatedly “the fool son of the Lin family” (林家的傻儿子), or just “the fool son.” The constant reference to “the fool” is painful to read, and the insensitivity to those with intellectual disabilities rattles in translation. It is noteworthy that in reporting on the censoring of the Jizhou Studio story, Hong Kong’s Apple Daily referred instead to the murder of an “intellectually disabled man” (智障男子), better according with professional consensus on how to refer to people with disabilities. In the excerpt below, we have taken liberties with the translation of these unfortunate references to “the fool son.”
The Man Who Sought a Corpse
Everyone in the village knew that the intellectually disabled son of the Lin family had disappeared. For two and a half years, no one could say whether he was dead or alive. The Lin family had reported his disappearance to police, and the whole department had gone out searching for months, though fruitlessly.
The day after the disappearance, the owner of the small convenience store at the entrance to the village had gone over to ask the Lin brothers: “Where has that one in your family gone?” The son had been mild-mannered. And though mentally not too bright, he had gotten on well with people. Often, intellectually disabled people from their village and other villages around had gathered outside the village entrance, out in front of the convenience store. At their most lively, there might be three or four of them crouching in a row, their eyes casting about, and no one knew what they were thinking.
The Lin family imagined all sorts of worst-case scenarios. Lin Zailong (林再龙), 28, the family’s youngest son, said: “I wondered whether my second brother might have walked out that night and accidentally fallen into the pond.” Rumors spread around the countryside that some elderly and homeless people who wandered about and seemed to have no one to rely on were sometimes carted off and their organs sold. After Lin Zailong heard this, he worried that perhaps this fate was what had befallen his brother as well.
The Lin family’s disabled son was born in 1981, the second of six brothers. When he was just six months old, his mother, Chen Xiangmei (陈香妹), noticed that the child was a bit different, his expression blank. When he was old enough to speak, he seemed unable to speak a word, and when adults spoke he couldn’t understand. Chen Xiangmei felt in her heart that the child’s mind might be defective, that he was a fool.
If he’s a fool, Chen Xiangmei thought, then he’s a fool. So long as he learns to say ‘eat’ when he’s hungry. Her second son grew well to his 30th birthday, with a fleshy round face, small eyes, his height just under 1.6 meters, his body strong. He was almost never sick. She taught him on her own from childhood, though still his speech was speech was obscure and others could not understand. But he could express himself over the simple demands of life — eating, bathing, sleeping. And he could get on with life. He remembered his own name, and their home address. For Chen Xiangmei this was enough.
68 years old now, the whites of Chen’s eyes are clouded as with a layer of fog. Speaking of her disabled son, raised with such great difficulty, she can’t stop crying. “When I think of him, it’s like a knife is twisting into my heart.”
On the day of his disappearance, her son woke around noon. He said he planned to go out after lunch to collect plastic bottles, which he exchanged for money to buy cigarettes and snacks. All his life he had lived in the town of Jinxiang, in Guangdong’s Lufeng City. He was familiar with the roads crisscrossing several villages in the town. He would go out every day to collect scrap and watch games. He would generally return home at night without incident.
That day, he had put on a military cap patterned with desert camouflage and gone out, stopping first at his brother Lin Zailong’s house. Lin Zailong had just gotten married that year, and he had new baby. He enjoyed his white and tender little nephew, and from time to time he would go over to have a peak, cooing and playing with the baby, laughing happily. After sitting for a while, he picked up his woven snakeskin bag and said he was going out to collect bottles. That was the last memory his brother had of him.
Six o’clock that evening, Chen Xiangmei felt a bit panicked. Her disabled son had not yet come home. Usually, as mealtime approached, he would arrive home just before. She called over to her youngest son, Lin Zailong: “Your brother hasn’t come home since one o’clock.” Lin Zailong reassured her. Surely, he would come back later.
A mother always seems able to sense when things are wrong. That night, Chen Xiangmei was unable to sleep. She lay awake in bed, tossing and turning. It was midnight, and still she did not hear the familiar voice calling out from the door, sticky as though with a mouthful of sugar. Chen Xiangmei got up and called her third son. The third son, who was off working in Wukan, answered her cal and drove back to Lufeng overnight. At dawn, the family went out searching through several villages in Jinxiang. But there was no trace, like a raindrop lost in the sea.
The Lin family’s disabled son had disappeared in March 2017. It was another two and a half years before the family received a call, in November 2019, from the town’s police station. Only then did they learn that he had died on the day he had disappeared. A criminal ruling made public in early January this year  on the website China Judicial Documents (中国裁判文书网), describes in detail what happened on that day.
After leaving Lin Zailong’s rented house, the Lin’s disabled son walked another two or three hundred meters and turned onto the village’s main road, a busy village road always bustling with traffic. There are two public garbage bins on the side of the road. As the Lin’s disabled son was bending over to fish out plastic bottles from the garbage cans, a white van pulled up beside him. A chubby middle-aged man got out of the car and exchanged a few words with him. Then, determining that he was intellectually disabled, the man pushed and shoved him into the van and drove away from Jinxiang.
On the way, the middle-aged man bought six bottles of red rice wine, more than 30 proof, and made sure the Lin’s disabled son drank them all. Then, he stuffed him into a coffin he had prepared in advance and sealed it up with nails, killing him.
The reason for this killing was absurd. A local man in his 50s had died, and had asked before his death that he not be cremated. Instead, he wanted to be buried. Someone was willing to pay the money, and someone was willing to help make it happen. And so, the Lin family’s disabled son became the substitute. He was killed and sent to the funeral home as a substitute for the crematorium.
. . . . .
[The article follows with a section on Chen Fengbin (陈丰斌), the local man who was later found to have kidnapped the Lin’s son.]
According to a criminal ruling released in early January 2021, Chen Fengbin’s work after the crash included transporting caskets for people. He met an older brother surnamed Wen, who often helped the funeral home by driving bodies or delivering people to the funeral home. When he was too busy, Wen would ask Chen Fengbin to help, the cost of transporting a casket is 200 yuan.
[Later section on the family wishing to have a burial and avoid cremation]
In February 2017, Old Huang, a resident of Lufeng’s Hudong Township, was suffering from advanced lung cancer. On his deathbed, he voiced his last wish to his brother Huang Qingbai (黄庆柏): That he not be cremated. As early as 2012, the city of Shanwei under which Lufeng belongs began implementing an “All In One Stroke” (一刀切) policy banning burials and the sale of burial coffins. Huang Qingbai approached a friend and asked if there was any way for him to realize the last wish of his beloved brother? The friend gave him the phone number of someone working at a funeral home.Huang Qingbai reached the funeral home contact, Liang Chenglong (梁成龙), then 58 years old, who was the former deputy director of the Hudong Township Party and Government Office as well as the funeral registrar. In a later confession, Liang Chenglong claimed that Huang Qingbai wanted the phone number of the funeral home driver, so he provided Huang with the contact information for Old Wen, and claimed he did not know about the Huang family’s transfer of the body to avoid cremation. However, it is noted in the transfer for examination and prosecution from the Lufeng City Public Security Bureau that: Liang Chenglong agreed the matter of the body transfer with Lao Wen, and asked that received 10,000 yuan once the matter was resolved.
The People’s Daily reports prominently on its front page today that the Central Office of the Chinese Communist Party has released a notice providing guidance for propaganda and education in the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the CCP. The notice, which outlines general “arrangements and outlays” (安排部署) for the carrying out of a comprehensive national propaganda campaign through the July anniversary and to the end of the year, specifies the guiding theme: “Forever Following the Party” (永远跟党走).
According to the People’s Daily, the notice says that a “diverse and content-rich” campaign for the anniversary should “vigorously sing the main theme of the times, the goodness of the Chinese Communist Party, the goodness of socialism, the goodness of reform and opening, the goodness of the great motherland, and the goodness of the people of all ethnic groups.”
The notice makes clear that the “thematic propaganda and education campaign” (主题宣传教育活动) will unfold in two phases. The first phase, extending through this month, will focus on the Fifth Plenum and the 14th Five-Year Plan, the recent National People’s Congress, and the February conference declaring victory in eliminating extreme poverty. The gist will be to publicize the “great prospects for development during the 14th Five-Year Plan period.”
The second phase, unfolding from May through to the end of the year, “cresting in June and July” according to the People’s Daily report, will focus on the “spirit” of the “important speech” to be delivered by Xi Jinping at the official ceremony to commemorate the Party’s 100th anniversary, and on China’s building of a moderately prosperous society. The notice outlines a broad propaganda strategy along seven key points, including widespread grassroots events involving oath-taking by Party members, including new initiates, and the active use old revolutionary sites, revolutionary memorials, martyrs’ cemeteries and other so-called “red resources” (红色资源).
The People’s Daily report closes by noting that the notice “also issued propaganda slogans for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.” In recent days, a list of 80 propaganda slogans has circulated. The lists includes phrases like the following:
Ardently celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP! (热烈庆祝中国共产党成立100周年!) A journey of a hundred years, a hundred years our original intention has remained strong! (百年征程波澜壮阔，百年初心历久弥坚!) Long live the Chinese Communist Party! (伟大的中国共产党万岁!) Long live the Chinese people! (伟大的中国人民万岁!) Long live the People’s Republic of China! (伟大的中华人民共和国万岁!) Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era is the guide of action for the whole Party and the whole nation as they strive for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation! (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想是全党全国人民为实现中华民族伟大复兴而奋斗的行动指南) Closely uniting around the Central Party Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, seizing a new victory in the comprehensive building of a modern socialist state! （紧密团结在以习近平同志为核心的党中央周围，夺取全面建设社会主义现代化国家新胜利!) Unity is strength, only with unity can we move forward! (团结就是力量、团结才能前进!)
Though an indelible feature of PRC politics under Mao Zedong, the top-down release of such slogans for broad national propaganda campaigns was unseen in post-reform China before 2019. In May of that year, a similar notice was issued for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC. That notice was also reported on the front page of the People’s Daily just below the masthead.
In a report yesterday, CMP noted the release by the Central Office of the CCP of a propaganda blueprint for the promotion of the 100th anniversary of the Party this year. The “Notice,” which was reported on the front page of the People’s Daily, defines the key propaganda themes that will likely dominate the Chinese media in 2021.
Along with the CCP notice, propaganda authorities released a list of 80 propaganda slogans to be used in this year’s campaign. Such a top-down national release of propaganda slogans was unprecedented in the reform era before 2019, when a list of 70 propaganda slogans was issued for the 70th anniversary of the PRC.
Below is our brief analysis of six key points gleaned from the list of 80 slogans.
There are a total of 80 entries, each ending with an exclamation point. The slogans toward the end of the list appear to intensify in terms of emotional charge.
Only 4 of the 80 slogans mention Xi Jinping. Those phrases are:
“Adhering to Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important idea of the “Three Represents,” the Scientific View of Development and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for the New Era as the guide!” (坚持以马克思列宁主义、毛泽东思想、邓小平理论、“三个代表”重要思想、科学发展观、习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想为指导!)
“Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for the New Era is the guide of action in the struggle toward realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people!”( 习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想是全党全国人民为实现中华民族伟大复兴而奋斗的行动指南！)
“Strengthening the ‘Four Consciousnesses,’ remaining firm in the ‘Four Confidences,’ and achieving the ‘Two Protections’!’” (增强“四个意识”、坚定“四个自信”、做到“两个维护”!)
“Uniting closely around the Central Committee of the CCP with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, seizing new victories in the comprehensive building of a modern socialist nation!” (紧密团结在以习近平同志为核心的党中央周围，夺取全面建设社会主义现代化国家新胜利！)
The first two phrases above include Xi Jinping’s so-called “banner term” (旗帜语), the phrase that is meant to encompass his ideas and legacy. One question to continue watching is whether or not this lengthy phrase will be formally shortened in the coming months within the CCP discourse, making it “Xi Jinping Thought” (习近平思想).
The third phrase above is what is known in shorthand as the “442 formula,” which is now used to signal loyalty to Xi Jinping and his leadership of the CCP. The “Two Protections” in that formula are: 1) protecting the core status of General Secretary Xi Jinping, and 2) protecting the central, unified leadership of the Central Committee of the CCP.
But there are a number of other slogans attributed to Xi and closely associated with him, including these two phrases about sustainable development:
“Not relaxing in our insistence on the green mountains, placing our feet solidly on the ground and working hard!” (咬定青山不放松，脚踏实地加油干！)
“Green waters and green mountains are gold mountains and silver mountains” (绿水青山就是金山银山)
In a previous article, CMP dug a bit deeper into the second phrase above, which despite characterization as a Xi invention in state media propaganda was not originated by Xi.
The “spirit” of the Chinese Communist Party is one of the main focuses in propaganda for the centennial of the Party, and related slogans include: 1) “promoting the great spirit of fighting the epidemic” (弘扬伟大抗疫精神); 2) “promoting the great spirit of the war on poverty” (弘扬脱贫攻坚精神); 3) “the spirit of reform and innovation” (改革创新精神); 4) “the China spirit” (中国精神).
Additionally there is one phrase along these lines that seems to have been chosen because the 100th anniversary of the CCP falls in the Year of the Ox: “carrying forward the spirit of serving the people as the ox calf, of innovation and development as the pioneering ox, and ardent struggle as the old yellow ox” (发扬为民服务孺子牛、创新发展拓荒牛、艰苦奋斗老黄牛的精神).
There is strong emphasis on “unity” in many of the phrases on the list of 80. The word “unity” itself appears 6 times, with phrases mentioning unity among various ethnicities and unity around the CCP Central Committee with Xi Jinping as the core. There is also strong mention of the notion of a “New Era,” which appears 5 times, of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” which appears 15 times, and “the people” (人民), which appears 37 times.
The propaganda slogans include a number of references to the international situation, with indirect reference to the United States. For example:
“Making overall strategic planning for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and great changes such as the world has not seen in a century!” (统筹中华民族伟大复兴战略全局和世界百年未有之大变局!)
“No person and no force can stop the march of the Chinese people toward better lives!” (任何人任何势力都不能阻挡中国人民实现更加美好生活的前进步伐!)
Interestingly, there are no references among the slogans to “Belt and Road” or to a “community of common destiny for mankind,” both key aspects of so-called “Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy” (not mentioned either). However, there is mention of a “Chinese national community” (中华民族共同体), which appears in the phrase: “Firmly casting a consciousness of the Chinese national community, promoting the common unity and struggle of all ethnic groups, and common prosperity and development!” (铸牢中华民族共同体意识，促进各民族共同团结奋斗、共同繁荣发展!”).
The three phrases at the tail end of the propaganda slogan list are a shout-out to 14 categories of people. They include: workers, farmers, intellectuals, the People’s Liberation Army, the compatriots from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, and people from various countries who are friendly with the Chinese people. For example, the following slogans:
“We offer tribute to the vast workers, farmers, intellectuals, various democratic parties, various people’s groups, patriots from all walks of life, to the commanders of the People’s Liberation Army, to the officers and soldiers of the People’s Armed Police, to public security officers!” (向全国广大工人、农民、知识分子，向各民主党派、各人民团体、各界爱国人士，向人民解放军指战员、武警部队官兵、公安民警，致以崇高的敬意!)
“To our compatriots in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the Macao Special Administrative Region and Taiwan, as well as to our overseas Chinese compatriots, we send our sincere greetings!” (向香港特别行政区同胞、澳门特别行政区同胞和台湾同胞以及广大侨胞，致以诚挚的问候!)
“To all the people and friends of all countries who live in friendship with the Chinese people and care for and support the cause of Chinese revolution, construction and reform, we extend our heartfelt gratitude!” (向一切同中国人民友好相处，关心和支持中国革命、建设、改革事业的各国人民和朋友，致以衷心的谢意!)
China’s progress in fighting poverty has been a major theme in China’s domestic politics of late. In his government work report to the National People’s Congress, delivered one week ago, Premier Li Keqiang listed the “comprehensive victory in the battle against poverty” as one of four major achievements over the past year — the others being the “major strategic victory” against Covid-19, the building of a “fully prosperous society,” and China’s distinction in 2020 of being the only economy in the world to achieve positive economic growth. Last week, NPC delegates discussed ways of shoring up this “victory,” including the establishment of a “dynamic monitoring and assistance system to forestall a large-scale re-emergence of poverty.”
China’s bold claims on poverty eradication do not stand up to basic scrutiny, and many have questioned the government’s metrics as well as its clear political interest in leveraging this “historic leap” as a means of elevating Xi Jinping. Just how much of this is real, and how much power politics, domestic and global? Premier Li himself hinted at last year’s NPC that 600 million people in China, nearly half the population, live on the razor’s edge of poverty.
China’s leadership is determined to push right past the facts to promote the grand narrative of its anti-poverty victory – an “earthly miracle, written across the wide land of China.” This narrative has also now become a core part of the CCP’s external propaganda strategy and its foreign policy. China is fashioning itself as a global model of poverty eradication, claiming that it holds the secret codes necessary to reach the UN goal of ending poverty by 2030.
Foreign praise for China’s achievements on poverty has been regularly featured lately in the Chinese media. Earlier this week, on March 10, a report that UN Secretary General António Guterres had sent a congratulatory letter to Xi Jinping commending him for this “complete victory” (全面胜利) over poverty was given pride of position just to the right of the masthead of the official People’s Daily.
It was not clear, however, what Guterres had actually said. While the Global Times also suggested Guterres had praised China for “scoring a ‘complete victory’”, the letter was not available on the UN site or apparently anywhere else, and it was therefore not clear whether this was the secretary general’s own language or merely wish-fulfillment by Chinese propaganda officials.
Yesterday, Xinhua News Agency ran what it called an “exclusive interview” with Thai Ambassador to China Arthayudh Srisamoot in which he was reported to have showered praise on China’s anti-poverty achievements. But the “interview” offered few direct quotes from the ambassador, instead resorting to paraphrases closely in line with the CCP’s own narrative. “He highly praised China’s achievements in the field of poverty alleviation and said that China’s experience in targeted poverty alleviation should be learned by many countries,” said the report.
Meanwhile, Chinese diplomats have actively gone into selling mode, portraying China’s anti-poverty efforts as a model in media across the globe.
On March 5, Li Yang (李杨), China’s Consul General in Rio de Janeiro, wrote in Brazil’s Opinião: “As the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party approaches, General Secretary Xi Jinping has solemnly proclaimed that China has achieved a comprehensive victory in the battle against poverty. This is a miracle in the history of human development! This great victory is not only a glorious achievement for the Chinese people, but also has extremely significant world significance.”
On March 7, Ni Jian (倪坚), China’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, wrote in the Khaleej Times that “China has met the poverty eradication target set out by the UN 10 years ahead of schedule, contributing to over 70 per cent of the global reduction in poverty over the period.” Ni added: “China’s accomplishment is a miracle in the millennia-long human history of fighting against poverty, and rings an upbeat note at this dark moment for humanity.” A former official in Xinjiang’s Hotan prefecture, Ni also praised the Party’s efforts to fight poverty in the region, saying in the commentary that GDP growth in Xinjiang from 2014 to 2019 had reached 7.2 percent, and that the Uygur population had grown by 25 percent.
On March 9, Chinese Ambassador to Mexico Zhu Qingqiao (祝青桥) published a piece in the national newspaper Milenio called, “China’s Experience Supports Global Poverty Alleviation.” Once again, Zhu used the term “earthly miracle” (人间奇迹) to describe China’s achievements, and suggested that China was in possession of a secret formula:
China’s battle against poverty has achieved a comprehensive victory, and the Chinese nation has fulfilled its long-cherished dream of eliminating absolute poverty. Behind this earthly miracle, which has made a mark in history, are a series of original and unique China poverty reduction codes (中国减贫密码). They are not only valuable assets for China, but also provide new perspectives and new ideas for poverty reduction governance in other countries and regions in the world.
On March 10, Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian (肖千) wrote a commentary in Media Indonesia called, “The Chinese Code for the Human Poverty Reduction Miracle,” which “shared the valuable experience of China’s comprehensive victory in poverty eradication, introducing China’s positive contribution to the cause of poverty reduction in the world.”
The articles above are just the tip of the iceberg. Here is another in Qatar’s Gulf Times — “China: A Miracle in History of Poverty Alleviation.” In Canada — “China Creates a Miracle in World Poverty Reduction.” Yet another in the UAE, this time in print — “‘China Miracle’ in the History of World Poverty Alleviation.” In Kazakhstan. In Russia and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and Turkmenistan (source).
public diplomacy today centers on a phrase introduced by Xi Jinping at the National
Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference back on August 19, 2013. That phrase, “telling China’s story well” (讲好中国故事), expresses the ruling Party’s hope that it can
better influence global public opinion on China, countering critical views and
policies and bolstering its “comprehensive national power.”
Though superficially softer in tone, and perhaps more subtle in approach, than the old notion the “external propaganda” (外宣), “telling China’s story well” is part of the same general playbook updated for the 21st centuy. As Xi said in his 2013 speech: “[We] must meticulously and properly conduct external propaganda, innovating external propaganda methods, working hard to create new concepts, new categories and new expressions that integrate the Chinese and the foreign, telling China’s story well, communicating China’s voice well.”
And now, you too can be part of this story.
Earlier this week, on February 22, “Chongqing Releases”
(重庆发布), an official
channel operated across a number of platforms by the Information Office of the municipal
government in Chongqing, put out
a call for conscientious English-proficient candidates to help operate its “iChongqing”
overseas communication platform, including management of related accounts on
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn.
The ad itself provides a fascinating inside look at
how regional and local governments across China are also rising to the
challenge of “telling China’s story well,” scrambling to establish their own
channels of external communication and parroting the external propaganda
language of the leadership.
The “iChongqing” platform looking to expand its overseas staff is operated by the Chongqing Daily (重庆日报), the official CCP mouthpiece for the Chongqing municipality. The platform’s website is mostly dedicated to highlighting the cultural richness of Chongqing and its merits as a business destination. But the “news” section of the site also demonstrates how official positions and themes from Chinese-language propaganda — such as China’s claimed victories in fighting poverty, and self-praise about the 14th Five-Year Plan — translate awkwardly into English-language news stories.
Positions being hired for by “iChongqing” include two deputy editors, two foreign reporters, and a foreign social media manager. A translation of the first section of the notice follows.
Hiring Globally! Looking for a You Who Can Use English to Tell China’s Story Well
A High Starting Position / Great Benefits / Good Room for Advancement
Pioneering, communicative and creative – If you want to tell the story of Chongqing, don’t miss [this opportunity].
The Chongqing International Communication Center（Chongqing City International Cultural Exchange Center） is a professional overseas media organization operated by the Chongqing Daily Newspaper Group, responsible for building and operating the “iChongqing” overseas communication platform matrix to tell Chongqing’s story well to overseas users, and to communicate China’s voice, expanding the influence of Chongqing overseas.
Since the official website of “iChongqing” was launched in August 2018, we have operated official “iChongqing” accounts on overseas mainstream social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Linkedin, developing a “1+N” overseas media matrix of online communication, creating the “Eight Directions SmartHub” (智汇八方) online news service platform. In order to strengthen and enlarge the “iChongqing” overseas communication platform, we are now hiring top talent overseas. The signup deadline is February 28, 2021.