Author: CMP Staff

The CCP’s 2021 Propaganda Blueprint

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.

CCP Slogans for 2021

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!)

Selling China’s Anti-Poverty Model

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

The front page of the People’s Daily on March 10, 2021, reporting praise from UN Secretary General António Guterres of China’s anti-poverty efforts.

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. 

There have been other such interviews since February, including this one with Pakistan’s ambassador.

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.”

A commentary on China’s anti-poverty campaign by China’s Consul General in Rio de Janeiro appears in Brazil’s Opinião.

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.

A commentary on China’s anti-poverty campaign by Chinese Ambassador to Mexico Zhu Qingqiao appears in the Milenio newspaper.

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.”

A commentary on China’s anti-poverty campaign by Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian appears in Media Indonesia.

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).

The earthly miracles truly abound.

Chongqing Hires Globally for China’s Voice

China’s 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.

Top portion of an advertisement shared on online social media channels for “iChongqing” on February 22, 2021.

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.

Revisiting China's Media Policy

Earlier this month, CMP looked at criticism in the Chinese media of the decision by the UK broadcast regulator Ofcom to withdraw the UK broadcast license for China Global Television Network (CGTN), China’s state-run English-language satellite news channel. Among the criticisms was a commentary in the People’s Daily attributed to “Zhong Sheng” (钟声), a pen name used for important pieces on international affairs, which called the Ofcom move “a brutal suppression of Chinese media,“ and added: “Chinese media abide by journalistic ethics, and uphold the principles of objectivity, impartiality, truth and accuracy, carrying out ordinary news reporting in various parts of the world, including the UK.”

Referencing China’s own official language on the role of the media, CMP pointed to obvious inconsistencies in the attacks on the UK that followed in the wake of the Ofcom ruling. In concluding that CGTN, controlled by the state-run CCTV, was a “body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature and/or is controlled by a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature,” Ofcom seemed only to be stating the painfully obvious? Why all the fuss?

Over the past week, with apparently no sense of irony over the recent blow-up following the Ofcom ruling, China’s Party-state media have been back on message when it comes to their “objects.” Last Friday, February 19, marked the five-year anniversary of Xi Jinping’s official visit to the People’s Daily and CCTV, and his important speech on “news and public opinion work” (新闻舆论工作).  It was time for retrospectives, summaries – and of course, tributes.

Here is a tribute written by Hu Min (胡敏) of the Central Party School, posted to the website of the Cyberspace Administration of China. Here is another tribute written by Hong Xianghua (洪向华), also from the Central Party School. Here, at China Workers, is a summary of the “five key points” in Xi’s 2016 speech. And here is Xinhua News Agency’s look back on the highlights of Xi’s speech, a piece that was reprised at, at the Shanghai Observer, at China Daily, at China News Service, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Are CCTV and CGTN “controlled by a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature”? Here are a few translated snapshots from the recent Xinhua summary of the 2016 speech, a reminder to all just where the Party stands on objectivity, impartiality, truth and accuracy.

Talking About the Party’s Leadership of News and Public Opinion Work

“The Party’s news and public opinion wok adheres to the principle of Party spirit, and the most fundamental [aspect of this] is the Party’s leadership of news and public opinion work. The media operated by the Party and the government are the propaganda positions of the Party and the government, and the must be surnamed Party.”

  • February 19, 2016, Speech to the Party Forum on News and Public Opinion Work

“All of the work of the Party’s news and public opinion media must embody the will of the Party, reflect the position of the Party, defend the authority of the CCP Central Committee, defend the unity of the Party, achieving love of the Party, protection of the Party and service of the Party; all must strengthen their consciousness of following the line (看齐意识), maintaining a high level of uniformity with the Party in terms of their ideas, their politics and their actions . . . . “

  • February 19, 2016, Speech to the Party Forum on News and Public Opinion Work

Talking About the Self-Building of News and Public Opinion Workers

“One’s view of journalism (新闻观)is the soul of news and public opinion work. [We] must deeply carry out education in the Marxist View of Journalism, leading the masses of news and public opinion workers in serving as the propagators of the Party’s policies and position, as chroniclers of the times, as promoters of social progress, as defenders of fairness and justice.”

  • February 19, 2016, Speech to the Party Forum on News and Public Opinion Work

“First, [journalists] must adhere to the correct political direction, maintaining a high level of uniformity with the CCP Central Committee, adhering to the Marxist View of Journalism, steadfastly upholding the position of the Party and the people, adhering to socialism with Chinese characteristics, being news workers who are firm in their politics. Second, they must adhere to correct guidance of public opinion, deeply propagating the theories, path, guidelines and policies of the Party, deeply propagating the achievement of the ‘two centenary goals’ . . . . . In a sentence, they must be journalists that the Party and the people can trust.”

  • February 19, 2016, Speech to the Party Forum on News and Public Opinion Work

Rules Target Journalists on Social Media

Released this week, new procedures in China for the verification of journalism credentials will assess not just the “statutory license conditions” of news reporters – meaning their basic eligibility as employees of licensed media engaged in reporting work – but will also seek to determine whether they opened social media accounts as journalists “without permission,” or released other information about their work on the job.  

The new verification rules, with assessments covering the period from December 2, 2019 to January 1, 2021, appear to be aimed at further reigning in the social media activity of working journalists by making approval for the “press cards” (记者证) necessary to legally conduct news reporting in China contingent on compliance online. The process of verification will proceed from January 20, 2021 to March 19, 2021.

The new rules were released earlier this week, on January 19, by China’s National Press and Publication Administration (NPAA), the office under the State Council charged with supervising the press and the publishing sector.

Screenshot of the “Notice on Conducting Verification of News Reporter Certification in 2020” as it appeared on the NPAA website on January 20, with visuals of the Chinese press card and verification process.

The section in the January 19 “Notice” under “compliance status” specifies the scope of verification as follows:

  • Whether there are such problems as engagement in paid services, intermediary activities or part-time jobs related to the position of a reporter;
  • Whether there are such problems as the establishing of or participating in advertising companies;
  • Whether there are such problems as the opening of Weibo, WeChat and other private media as a reporter without authorization, and publishing information on conduct on the job without authorization;
  • Whether [the person under assessment] participated in relevant training in accordance with regulations;
  • Whether there are issues such as news extortion (新闻敲诈), paid-for news (有偿新闻), and other issues involving “using the media for personal gain” (以媒谋私) and fabricating or disseminating fake news (虚假新闻).

On EU Deal, The Word is “Win-Win”

The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), agreed on December 30, and characterized by the European Commission as “the most ambitious agreement that China has ever concluded with a third country,” has unleashed a wave of criticism in Europe.

The agreement has yet to be signed, and a number of European parliamentarians have pledged to oppose it. Reinhard Bütikofer, MEP for the German Green party and leader of its China delegation – who wrote on December 29 that “[it] is already clear that the outcome of the negotiations misses an essential criterion set by the European Parliament” – suggested a tough fight ahead: “There is no deal until the European Parliament says it is a deal,” he said.  

While the text of the agreement has not yet been published — and it is unclear when this will happen — many European experts have said already that the agreement is a strategic win for China. Writing in The Diplomat, Theresa Fallon, director of the Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies (CREAS) in Brussels, said that the CAI “will legitimize the regime in the eyes of domestic and international public opinion (despite recent behavior in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and elsewhere).”

MEP Reinhard Bütikofer shares a photo on Twitter on December 31, 2020, showing Xi Jinping in the strategic center as the CAI is agreed. The photo was distributed by China’s Xinhua News Agency.

Noah Barkin, a senior visiting fellow in the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, characterized the decision to rush through the CAI as a case of one step forward and two steps backward in EU policy toward China, and said it risked “upsetting the geopolitical landscape only weeks before Joe Biden enters the White House.” “China seems to be the only country that is crystal clear about what just happened,” Barkin wrote. “After a year in which it showed a disturbing face to the world with its COVID-19 cover-up, its security crackdown in Hong Kong, its Xinjiang denial, and the bullying of too many countries to count, it has been given the biggest Christmas gift of all.”

Deepening the sense that the CAI deprives the EU of its teeth in terms of a tougher strategy toward China on a range of key issues, Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) referred directly to the EU’s 2019 strategy paper on China when he said in an interview with the official Xinhua News Agency that, “The two sides are comprehensive strategic partners, not systemic rivals” (双方是全面战略伙伴,不是制度性对手). The labelling of China as a “systemic rival” in the 2019 paper apparently signaled greater wariness in the EU about China’s ambitions in the region and in the world.

How has the conclusion of negotiations for the CAI been portrayed inside China?

Official Reactions

Much of the coverage of the CAI in China’s official state media has harped on the essential themes conveyed by Xi Jinping during the video call with European leaders – that China is committed to economic globalization, free trade and creating “win-win” opportunities that will ultimately help to stabilize a flailing global economy.

Here is the summary from the official Xinhua News Agency:

Xi Jinping pointed out that 2020 was a special year for the world, and for both China and Europe. The global pandemic of Covid-19 has come with profound changes such as have not been seen in a century, and factors of instability and uncertainty are on the rise. Against this backdrop, China and the EU have risen to these challenges, working together to promote fruitful progress in China-EU relations. The two sides achieved the expected goal of completing negotiations for the CAI within the year, as scheduled, and the result was a balanced, high-level, mutually beneficial and win-win investment agreement, demonstrating China’s determination and confidence in promoting high-level opening up. This will provide greater opportunities for mutual investment between China and the EU, a more mature business environment (更高水平的营商环境), stronger institutional guarantees, and brighter prospects for cooperation. This in turn will provide a strong stimulus for the recovery of the world economy in the post-pandemic period, and will strengthen the international community’s confidence in economic globalization and free trade – and important contribution made by China and Europe to the building of the world economy.

Along these themes, an article on page six of the CCP’s official People’s Daily on December 31, 2020, the day after negotiations were concluded, bore a bold headline stacked with official buzzwords denoting fairness and “win-win:” “A Balanced, High-Level, Mutually Beneficial and Win-Win Investment Agreement”  (平衡高水平互利共赢的投资协定). An article directly below this one had a virtually identical headline, again touting the “balanced,” “high-level,” “mutually beneficial and win-win” nature of the agreement – and precisely again in that order.

A pair of page six articles in the People’s Daily on December 31, 2020, tout the CAI as “mutually beneficial and win-win,” with nearly identical headlines.

As an official from the Ministry of Commerce addressed the CAI on December 31, the buzzwords trailed along in exactly the same order. The agreement was 1) “balanced,” 2) “high-level,”and, you guessed it, 3) “mutually beneficial and win-win.”

Asked by the Xinhua reporter to reflect on the “character” of the CAI, the official said, and Xinhua paraphrased (quotes and paraphrasing often overlapping in the Chinese media): “The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) is a balanced, high-level, mutually beneficial and win-win agreement that is based on international high-level economic and trade rules and focuses on institutional openness.”

Each of these three aspects was then broken down, not exactly with specifics, but with enough verbiage to give us a better sense of what China officially understands by these terminologies.

The balanced [nature] is chiefly reflected in the fact that the two parties placed great priority in retaining the necessary regulatory powers while making commitments to openness. Secondly, both parties focused on promoting bilateral investment cooperation and emphasizing that investment needs to be conducive to sustainable development.    

The high-level [nature] is chiefly reflected in the fact that both parties are committed to promoting investment liberalization and facilitation, and reached a high-level of negotiation results. The scope of the agreement goes far beyond traditional bilateral investment agreements, and the results of these negotiations cover four aspects: market access commitments, fair competition rules, sustainable development and dispute settlement.    

The mutually beneficial and win-win [nature] is chiefly reflected in the high-level and mutually beneficial market access commitments made by both parties, and in the fact that all rules apply in both directions, which will create a level playing field for companies, benefitting Chinese and European companies and even global companies.

Those who wish to know more about the official Chinese view of the CAI, or other expert views, will find little of value on the “high-level of negotiation results” emerging on December 30. Meaningful discussions seem essentially not to be had — at least not openly — on a matter of such strategic importance to China.

Over at the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which is behind China’s European think-tank based in Budapest, the China-CEE Institute, researcher Huang Ping (黄平) responded to a single question from the Shanghai-based online outlet Guancha Syndicate (观察者网), asking for his input on the significance of the CAI.

In his response, essentially an article framed as an odd Q&A, Huang’s logic essentially follows the official position outlined above, that the CAI – and China’s role generally across the world – is “mutually beneficial and win-win” (互利双赢), and that China’s vital economy raises up other economies facing a host of challenges, demonstrating China’s global leadership.

A translation of the first portion of Huang’s interview-essay follows:

Did China Give Up Too Much to the EU? Integrating with the World Accords With China’s Development Interests

Guancha Syndicate: Can you talk about the impact, significance and possible future developments now that negotiations for the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) have been concluded?

Huang Ping: Without a doubt,the conclusion of negotiations for the CAI are mutually beneficial and win-win for both sides. In terms of economic strength, Britain’s exit from the EU notwithstanding, the EU is now one of the largest economies in the world, and to complete investment negotiations with such a strong and highly development economy shows a mutual understanding and consensus between China and Europe. And in terms of the scope of the agreement, the CAI can be said to be one of the most comprehensive investment agreements negotiated by China to date.

This is significant not only for China and the EU, for the deepening of China-EU cooperation and for China’s greater opening up, but it is also a positive development given current uncertainties for the world economy. Since 2007 and 2008, the world economy has been shrouded in growing uncertainties of all kinds. In 2020, we experienced the Covid-19 pandemic, and over the past four years the United States, the world’s largest economy, has continued to advocate withdrawal and “decoupling” (脱钩). In this context, the significance of the completion of the negotiations for the CAI goes beyond the level of bilateral cooperation.

It can be said that after conclusion [in November 2020] of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), this is another stabilizer injection (一针信心稳定剂) into the world economy, lending a bit of hope for certainty amid many lingering uncertainties.

Although the European Parliament and various national parliaments still must approve the agreement before it can be formally signed, the completion of the agreement at last, after seven years of effort, is already itself an historic event.

We can anticipate that there will be a great deal of follow-up to the agreement in 2021, including the process of approval within EU member states. Germany ended its rotating presidency of the EU on December 31, 2020, and the CAI must still be signed. We cannot rule out that it will take another full year, up to the time that France assumes the rotating presidency in 2022, to formally sign the agreement, and that would be great.

Regarding the economic difficulties and challenges facing Europe in recent years, we can say that the CAI is for Europe like a delivery of coal in the harshness of winter (雪中送炭). In 2020, China was the only major economy in the world to achieve positive growth. Moreover, the negative economic growth experienced by Europe was not just about Covid-19. Europe has for some time already been trapped by weak economic growth. Speaking of the concluded negotiations on the CAI, the first sentence of the EU’s own information release [on the agreement] said that China is the world’s largest market, and that it has the largest number of consumers in the world. And so, economically speaking, the negotiation of the agreement has direct and positive significance for the EU.

Scanning for Privacy Concerns

The key message to emerge from the most recent “collective study session” of the CCP Politburo was a simple one: security. At the session, held on December 12, Xi Jinping stressed that a renewed emphasis on security was mandated by “the historical position of our country’s development and the situation and tasks facing national security.” This, he said, followed the “Decision” released by the Fifth Plenum in October, which marked the first time that “integrating development and security” (统筹发展和安全) had been included in a five-year plan for economic development.

The Chinese Communist Party has long been obsessed with security, and all forms of security are closely tied to maintaining the stability and legitimacy of the regime itself. But we seem, midway through Xi Jinping’s second term, to be in the midst of a heightened period of security consciousness.  

Among the burst of security related catchphrases emerging from the December 12 session, we find “building a big security structure” (构建大安全格局), “adhering to the organic unity of political security, people’s security, and the supremacy of national interests” (坚持政治安全, 人民安全, 国家利益至上有机统一), and “fully using the national security policy toolbox” (用好国家安全政策工具箱). Taken together, they suggest that Chinese leaders are viewing policy concerns across the board in China through the lens of national security – premised, perhaps, on a deepening sense of insecurity.

As the leadership pursues its broadening definition of national security, one integral part of the security toolbox is certainly the use of big data and technology, including such tools as facial recognition. But this renewed emphasis on security also comes at a moment when there has been more engagement with the issue of personal data security within Chinese society.

A landmark case in November, coming just two months after the “largely overlooked” release in September of a new Draft Data Security Law, ruled that it was illegal for the zoo in the city of Hangzhou to collect facial biometric data from visitors without their consent. And there has recently been an uptick in stories from Chinese media about the widespread and unwarranted application of technologies like facial recognition. The news in late November that real estate companies had secretly been collecting information on clients using facial recognition sparked widespread anger.

Several cities, including Tianjin and Nanjing, have already ordered curbs on public applications of facial recognition technology, responding to growing public concern. In a survey released a year ago by Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper, more than 70 percent of respondents expressed concern that personal biometric data gathered through facial recognition technology in public places could be leaked and abused.

One of the most absurd recent cases to gain attention in the Chinese media recently was a viral video posted earlier this month in which a man enters a real estate exhibition wearing a motorcycle helmet with a visor in order to evade facial recognition cameras. But the discussion over security and the application of new technologies reached new heights of absurdity this past week as a number of Chinese media reported that facial recognition technology is being used even to regulate the use of toilet paper in public toilets across the country – in train stations, in malls, and at tourist attractions.

Interestingly, one of the key suppliers nationally of facial recognition toilet paper dispensers is SoLine Technologies Co., Ltd., a “high-tech enterprise specializing in biometrics” that is now selling its sixth-generation facial recognition toilet paper dispenser – but is based in Tianjin, a city that recently introduced restrictions on such uses.

Screenshot of the “Products” section of the Soline website.

As new technologies have been integral to CCP thinking about a range of issues concerning regime security, including the adoption of “convergence” to reconsolidate controls over the media, the intersection of security objectives and data privacy concerns in China will be a key issue to continue watching.

In the meantime, the following is CMP’s translation of a recent report on facial recognition toilet dispensers from the Qianjiang Evening News (钱江晚报), a spin-off of Zhejiang’s official Zhejiang Daily. Similar reports across China have provoked a response, and the city of Dongguan recently announced that it was ending use of the machines.


Facial Recognition Also Used for Toilet Paper in Public Toilets? Hangzhou East Railway Station Responds: [Data] Deleted Automatically After 10 Minutes

December 17, 2020

Facial recognition is already being widely used in our lives. From the level of smart cities (智慧城市) down to the level of unlocking our mobile phones, we readily see the shadow of facial recognition technology.

However, while this new product of the internet era brings people convenience, it also prompts new uneasiness – there are more channels by which users’ faces, physical movement and other sensitive information can be leaked.

Recently, owing to the fact that some property owners were using facial recognition for [residential] community access, there was a great deal of attention in society [to the issue of privacy], and this became a hot topic. Subsequently, reporters for the News Hour column at Qianjiang Evening News carried out investigations and visits on the application of facial recognition technology in many contexts in the city of Hangzhou – including over the question of whether there might be risks in the storage and management of facial recognition data in the back-end of these applications.

Over the past two days, many netizens have reported to News Hour: “It’s not only out in the community,” [they have said.] “Now, you even have to submit to a facial scan to use toilet paper!”

The photo sent by one netizen showed a “facial recognition toilet paper dispenser” (人脸识别供纸机) at the entrance to the public toilet at Hangzhou East Railway Station. The Qianjiang Evening News reporter decided to head to the scene to find out more.

The Reporter’s Observations

At the entrance to many public toilets at the Hangzhou East Railway Station, the reporter saw the “facial recognition toilet paper dispensers” to which the netizen had referred.

These machines were generally placed in less conspicuous positions on the walls outside the entrances to public toilets.

The reporter observed that there were only a small number of people who came by to use the machines. Waiting near one of these machines for about 15 minutes, there were just two people who came up to use them – and it should be understood that the public toilets in the Hangzhou East Railway Station are get very high use.

The process of getting toilet paper is quite easy. Users show their face to the screen on the machine, standing still for three seconds, and a ribbon of tissue from 60 to 100 cm in length, about 8-10 squares, is dispensed from the machine. According to design, if the same user attempts within a few minutes to scan their face again, the toilet tissue will not be dispensed.

This is the a core feature of the machine – that it can save on the amount of paper dispensed within a short period of time, and in this way conserve paper.

One woman who went through the facial scan and received her toilet tissue told the reporter: “I do have this question of whether my facial information, once its inside, will somehow be misused.”

But there are also other voices.

Among the cleaning ladies working in the station, quite a few say they use the facial recognition dispenser to get toilet paper. One of them said to the reporter: “This is really convenient! Where is my facial information? I don’t know, but I don’t really care!”

Mr. Liu, a traveller, said he was not eager to try out the machine: “Where does the facial recognition data go?” he asked. “Will it be stolen?”

East Railway Station Employee: The Original Idea Came from a Netizen, and Was Intended to Save Paper

Next, the reporter interviewed an employee for the East Railway Station.

The employee told the reporter that these facial recognition toilet paper dispensers were installed two years ago with the renovation of public toilets in the station.

Why were they installed? This was the process . . .

Originally, Hangzhou East Railway Station provided toilet tissue free of charge. After this approach was implemented for a time, the station discovered that the tissue was being used at an astonishing rate, in some cases a large roll of tissue not lasting more than 10 minutes before it was “entirely used up.” In many cases, the paper was not just used in the toilet, but was carried away by people. Moreover, there was no way for the station to stop the practice, considering that [the tissue] was taken from toilet stalls.

However, if the station chose not to provide toilet tissue, this might be a great inconvenience to travellers.

So finally, on Weibo, one traveller made a suggestion to Hangzhou East Railway Station, that they might install coin-operated toilet tissue dispensers. After considering this, the station felt that as their role was to serve everyone, this approach using a coin-pay system was too commercial. Another suggestion was to use the facial recognition machines instead.

The facial recognition toilet paper dispensers currently installed in Hangzhou East Railway Station are all manufactured by Tianjin’s Soline (天津首联). Station staff told the reporter that Soline said the machines did not collect facial information, and the information collected was not connected to the internet.

Product Manufacturer: Facial Recognition Dispensers Use ‘Short-Term Recognition’, and Deletion is Made Within a Limited Period

Immediately, the reporter contacted Soline. Staff there said that the capture of facial information by their machines works by recognition only of a few facial points. Once the scan is made, [the data] is stored in memory for a short time. When a user scans their face again, the machine compares these data points, and if repetition is found the machine will not dispense paper again within 9 minutes (a factory setting).    After 10 minutes the machine will delete previously stored facial data. Moreover, the company also pledges that it will not consider storing the personal facial data of users in the future.

Staff at the company said Soline had entered Hangzhou in 2018, first installing its machines in public toilets around Lingyin. To date, in addition to public toilets in scenic areas and railway stations, the company’s facial recognition machines can be found in shopping malls.

The reporter was also able to locate the inspection report from the Ministry of Public Security that Hangzhou East Railway Station had mentioned.

The inspection report issued by the Ministry of Public Security’s Electronic Product Quality Inspection Center for the toilet tissue dispenser noted that the prototype had a facial data collection function and could automatically delete data storage within a set time. The inspection result found that the machine met requirements.

Despite this, when it comes to the collection of bioinformation, the law clearly stipulates that this adhere to the principles of legality, propriety and necessity.

How do you view the use of facial recognition for toilet paper dispense?  You’re welcome to scan the QR code and join the conversation at News Hour.

China Growls Over “Clean Network” Plan

In April this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the launch of the “Clean Network” program, which he called “the Trump Administration’s comprehensive approach to guarding our citizens’ privacy and our companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).” The announcement followed months of strong lobbying by Pompeo and other US officials for allies in Europe and elsewhere to exclude “high-risk actors” from their 5G networks. Translation: Out with Huawei.

In September, China responded in kind with its “Global Initiative on Data Security,” a program Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) portrayed as more multilateral than the US approach, taking into account the views of other countries. “Some individual countries are aggressively pursuing unilateralism, throwing dirty water on other countries under the pretext of ‘cleanliness,’ and conducting global hunts on leading companies of other countries under the pretext of security,” Wang said, implying but not openly mentioning the US. “This is naked bullying and should be opposed and rejected.”

As Rebecca Arcesati, an analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, has observed, the timing of China’s announcement of its “Global Initiative on Data Security,” coming on the eve of the first High-Level Digital Dialogue between the EU and China, suggests it is keen to “present China as a trusted partner for the EU,” where the debate over China, 5G and network security continues unabated.

So far, however, there is little indication in global coverage of the Chinese initiative, including from Chinese state-run media, that it is gaining support.

Just two countries, Pakistan and Syria, seem to have voiced support for the “Global Initiative on Data Security.” Pakistan announced its support on September 15, The Nation newspaper quoting Foreign Office spokesperson Zahif Hafeez Chaudhri as saying that the proposal is “both relevant and timely.” Chinese state media enthusiastically relayed the news, reporting Pakistan’s DNA News Agency as saying that “Pakistan stands solidly with Iron Brother China after Beijing announced the Global Initiative on Data Security.” In late September, official outlets including Xinhua News Agency, the China Daily newspaper and CGTN reported that the Syrian government had “expressed support for the China-proposed Global Initiative on Data Security.” The news was also carried in the English-language Syria Times, affiliated with Syria’s Ministry of Information.  

Support for the initiative from two other countries, Cambodia and Laos, has been reported only by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on its official website, in strikingly identical accounts of visits by Wang Yi to both countries. The Cambodia-related release reads: “Cambodia appreciates and supports the Global Initiative on Data Security proposed by China, and will continue to cooperate with China in international affairs, and jointly maintain common interests, and safeguard regional and global peace and stability.” Meanwhile, the release on Wang’s visit to Laos noted simply: “Laos also supports the Global Initiative on Data Security proposed by China.”

Today, the face-off between the US “Clean Network” program and China’s “Global Initiative on Data Security” makes page three of the CCP’s official People’s Daily newspaper. The editorial is written by Lu Chuanying (鲁传颖), secretary-general and researcher at the Cyberspace International Governance Research Center (网络空间国际治理研究中心) of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS), one of China’s most important government-affiliated think tanks on foreign policy. As David Shambaugh has explained, SIIS, like many government institutions dealing with international affairs, performs a “dual function,” both projecting Chinese talking points (as part of a general “soft power” push) and “[collecting] views and intelligence from foreign experts and officials.”

The Cyberspace International Governance Research Center is a relatively recent addition to the SIIS family, having been formed in 2018, its role apparently to respond on international policy issues related to cyber-governance and cybersecurity.

In his editorial, Lu suggests that the “Clean Network” program proposed by the United States is a naked attempt to “carry out ‘cyber surveillance’ in the name of network security.” Raising the issue of past revelations of US-conducted surveillance, including the “Prism” program, Lu suggests that “Clean Network” would make global cyberspace a less secure place – the implication being that China’s proposal is the only means to a multilateral cybersecurity solution.

“The initiative demonstrates that China is open and candid on the question of cybersecurity, and that it prioritizes maintaining the cybersecurity of all countries, this being in stark contrast to the hypocrisy of the United States and its so-called ‘Clean Network’ plan,” Lu writes.

A full translation of Lu Chuanying’s page three article in the People’s Daily follows.

The ‘Clean Network” Plan Damages Cybersecurity (“清洁网络”计划危害网络安全)

By Lu Chuanying

For some time now, the United States has everywhere trumpeted and peddled its so-called “Clean Network” plan, seeking to discredit Chinese Internet companies without any foundation in fact. The so-called US “Clean Network” is a discriminatory, exclusive and politicized “filthy network,” and it cannot enjoy popular support. Even as the US continues to issue threat and promises to other countries, demanding they support this so-called “Clean Network” plan, this hyper-politicized and hyper-securitized plan poses a serious threat to the stability and development of cyberspace – and the international community has registered strong concern and opposition.

The essence of the US government’s so-called “Clean Network” plan is to carry out “cyber surveillance” in the name of network security. Chinese internet companies have always strictly abided by local laws and regulations when conducting business around the world, and they have prioritized the concerns of [local] governments and users when it comes to network security. This has been widely recognized by the international community. Chinese internet companies are in support of a more secure development model, benefiting the independence of countries in terms of cybersecurity. American internet companies, on the other hand, are often complicit in large-scale global surveillance conducted by US intelligence agencies, seriously endangering the national security of all countries.

The June 2019 edition of China’s Cyberspace Strategy Forum features an article from Lu Chuanying. In the article Lu argues that the US “attack” on Huawei is solely about challenging Chinese 5G dominance and winning the “Sino-US technology Cold War.”

The US government has built a powerful cyber surveillance apparatus, with agencies such as the National Security Agency at its core. As incidents such as “Prism Gate” have demonstrated, these institutions use various cracking methods to continuously monitor data in global cyberspace. Not long ago, the reprehensible actions of US intelligence agencies in using control of a Swiss encryption company to obtain encrypted information from other countries was exposed, prompting the unanimous condemnation of the international community. Recently, the media revealed that “Five Eyes” countries demanded that companies set up “backdoors” in encrypted applications. These [cases] demonstrate that the United States is the only real “Matrix.” The so-called “Clean Network” plan is about perpetuating the control of global cyberspace and preventing Chinese companies from obstructing US global surveillance – thereby aiding US intelligence agencies in the continued theft of online information and endangerment of cybersecurity in other countries.

The so-called “Clean Network” plan endangers the stability of global cyberspace and imperils the development of the global digital economy, goals that are fundamentally difficult to achieve. The question of whether to use Chinese network products and equipment concerns the cyber-sovereignty of all nations, and governments have a right to make their own decisions, and also the capability to determine whether or not the network products they use are safe and reliable.

In order to maintain global data security, promote the development and cooperation of the digital economy, and build a community of common destiny in cyberspace (网络空间命运共同体), the Chinese government has launched its “Global Data Security Initiative” (全球数据安全倡议) and advanced a series of measures and proposals for maintaining global network and data security. For example, the initiative clearly opposes the use of information technology to damage the critical infrastructure of other countries or steal important data, or its use to engage in acts endangering the national security or public interest of other countries. It opposes the abuse of information technology to engage in large-scale surveillance against other countries or illegally collect the personal data of individual citizen  in other countries. [The initiative] emphasizes that all countries should require companies to strictly abide by the laws of the countries in which they operate (所在国法律), and must not force domestic companies to store data generated or collected overseas in their own country. The initiative demonstrates that China is open and candid on the question of cybersecurity, and that it prioritizes maintaining the cybersecurity of all countries – this being in stark contrast to the hypocrisy of the United States and its so-called “Clean Network” plan.

As soon as the “Global Data Security Initiative” was announced it attracted widespread attention from the international community, and many countries welcomed and supported the initiative. We can see clearly from this that only a proposition that genuinely cares about and preserves global cybersecurity will gain the support of the international community, and the so-called “Clean Network” plan, which conducts “network surveillance” in the name of cybersecurity, will inevitably meet resistance from the international community.

The Impossible Balance

Despite the strong political and ideological controls placed upon them, social media platforms in China can provide valuable space for the discussion of a range of issues. Last week, Tsinghua Law Professor Lao Dongyan (劳东燕), who serves as deputy director of the Legal Policy Research Office of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, posted an article to her WeChat public account exploring the enormous pressures facing women in China under social norms that stress both traditional roles centered on the family and modern ideas of professional achievement.

Lao’s post has so far attracted hundreds of thousands of views, underscoring the resonance of the points she raises. The post is derived from a video talk she previously delivered at the “Light Stone Law School,” a legal studies platform that regularly hosts teaching videos and lectures at Bilibili, a Chinese video-sharing website based in Shanghai – though Lao makes clear at the outset of the post that it underwent “substantial revision.”

Screenshot of Lao Dongyan’s video chat at Bilibili. The slide deals with the two competing roles defined for women, the “traditional female role” and the “modern female role.”

Interestingly, despite Lao’s extensive legal expertise, she does not grapple directly in her article with the implications of laws and policies, including China’s Marriage Law, which leaves women at a distinct disadvantage. These issues are laid out in some detail in this recent article by feminist scholar Joan Lee. Instead, Lao focusses on the “social mores” and attitudes that persist in China, and present women with impossible choices.

On balancing career and family, Lao writes: “The answer is that these are impossible to balance. If you invest more in your career, this necessarily means investing less in your family. And if you must invest in both, then you will ultimately be exhausted and anxious. After all, women are not made of iron.”

A translation of the first section of Lao’s post follows.

“On Modern Women: The Challenge of Balancing Career and Family” (关于现代女性:事业与家庭难以平衡)

By Lao Dongyan (劳东燕)

In traditional society, the role of females is to be a good wife and a loving mother. For a woman, the most important identity was to be a wife to someone, and a mother to someone, not to exist as an independent individual. Even down to the present day, there are certain social norms for women that stubbornly cling [to these ideas].

In most families, if both husband and wife are busy with work, one of them must make sacrifices for the sake of raising children. And in China it is essentially women to make this sacrifice to take care of the family. Such sacrifices are often seen as having been voluntary on the part of the woman, but in how many cases is it actually so? In most cases, they are either compelled or simply accept it.  

In modern society, therefore, requirements such as good wives and mothers remain the primary expectations in society and in families for the role of women. These expectations create immense pressure for women. If these role expectations are not met, these women will possibly face condemnation from their families and society.

Through long immersion in this social environment, as external expectations become internalized, women can easily tend to have an attitude of self-blame. When they focus on  work, they are bound to feel that they are inadequate as mothers and wives.

At the same time, under the influence of individualism in modern society, there is a sense among women and in society that they should be independent, that they should support themselves, that they should have their own careers.

And so the ideal modern woman in people’s minds must not only achieve in her own career, but must also be capable of caring for her family. To paraphrase the popular expression, she must be as beautiful as a flower, able to make money to support the family, and also must be able to work and raise a child.

For ordinary women, however, this is fundamentally a difficult task to achieve. Even in a modern society, then, there is a rather sizable gap between the ideal woman and the real woman. And the position for women at the bottom of society is even more difficult.

The requirements for women in our society at present are: on the one hand, to work hard to achieve in one’s own career; on the other hand, to be a good wife and mother, able to take care wholeheartedly for your children, running your family with color and vibrance. This is the reason why professional women are constantly asked the question: How do you balance family and career? Have men ever been asked such a question in the workplace?

The answer is that these are impossible to balance. If you invest more in your career, this necessarily means investing less in your family. And if you must invest in both, then you will ultimately be exhausted and anxious. After all, women are not made of iron. The expression, “Women are weak, but the mother is strong,” is chiefly used to kidnap women psychologically. I can’t stand expressions like this, which on the surface purport to support women, praising their glory and selflessness, but which actually suppress women and transfer pressure onto their backs.  

When all is said and done, there is no way to balance career and family. The more time and energy is invested in one’s career, the less it can be invested in one’s family. Many families choose to have their women give in unconditionally and relinquish their normal social intercourse for the sake of the family – something that is greatly unfair to women. This is not to say that they shouldn’t invest in their families, but just to ask: Why is it always the woman who must sacrifice?

When women must sacrifice themselves, they are not the only ones who pay the price. We often ignore the fact that the poor condition facing women means that the effect they have on children, on the family and on society is counter-productive. A woman’s wholesale return to the family not only narrows her world substantially, but so-called ‘widowed parenting’ (丧偶式的育儿) – is disadvantageous to the raising of children. The father’s relative  absence in the development of the child notwithstanding, how can a woman surviving in a narrow world cultivate children with broader visions [of the world]? In such a situation, we can suppose that it is difficult to ensure the physical and mental health of children is difficult to achieve.

. . . .

In family life, both partners need to make concessions or negotiate. At some stage, one party may invest more in the upkeep of the family, while at another stage, the other steps in, taking on more or sharing the family responsibilities together. Women should not be required to devote their full effort [to their families], or to invest more [than their partners].