Author: David Bandurski

Now director of the CMP, leading the project’s research and partnerships, David joined the team in 2004 after completing his master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He is currently an honorary lecturer at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre. He is the author of Dragons in Diamond Village (Penguin/Melville House), a book of reportage about urbanization and social activism in China, and co-editor of Investigative Journalism in China (HKU Press).

For Hong Kong, Important Instructions

Making headlines on Hong Kong yesterday was news that Xi Jinping had issued a directive to the government in the special administration region urging officials to bring the worsening Covid-19 outbreak there under control. According to front-page reports in both the Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, state-owned newspapers operated under the Chinese government’s Central Liaison Office, Xi urged the Hong Kong government to take “all necessary measures” to contain the territory’s Omicron-fueled outbreak.

In characterizing the directive from Xi, reportedly conveyed to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam by Politburo Standing Committee member Han Zheng (韩正), both papers used the phrase “important instructions,” or zhongyao zhishi (重要指示). Han then urged the Hong Kong government to “implement the spirit” of Xi’s “important instructions,” and he directed Central Government agencies and authorities in neighboring Guangdong to assist the SAR in any way possible, such as through medical supplies and increased testing capacity.

But the odd question about these “important instructions”: Why have they not appeared at all in the mainland Chinese media?

The February 16, 2022, editions of the Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po newspapers.

As we explain in our CMP Dictionary, the phrase “important instructions” in fact denotes a specific decision-making act at the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party. In the Xi Jinping era, that act has become even more specific than in the past, limited to Xi Jinping as the CCP’s “core” and unquestioned leader. While in the Hu Jintao era, “important instructions” could be issued not just by Hu as the top leader, but also by Premier Wen Jiabao and other members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the phrase is now exclusive to Xi.

Given the preeminent status of Xi Jinping within official CCP discourse, we would generally expect anything bearing the label “important instructions” to have pride of place on the front page of the official People’s Daily as well as top provincial CCP papers. But this is not what happened with the directive on Hong Kong. Instead, it has been entirely absent from the mainland media.

For the last headline appearance of “important instructions” from Xi we have to go back nearly a month to  January 22, when Xi addressed the issue of “Party construction” (党的建设), referring to the strengthening of the CCP and its work and theories. In this case, news of Xi’s “important instructions” appeared exactly where we would expect it to in the People’s Daily – at the upper right-hand corner of the front page, just beside the masthead.

Xi’s “important instructions” on Party building appear in the most prominent position in the January 22 edition of the People’s Daily, just to the right of the masthead.

Why would China’s leadership decide to splash Xi Jinping’s most recent “important instructions” across the front pages of local state-run newspapers in Hong Kong, but keep them off all newspaper pages inside China. This is a tough question to answer.  

In an interview with Radio France Internationale (RFI), current affairs commentator Johnny Lau (劉銳紹) speculated that the high-profile reporting of Xi Jinping’s directive by the Hong Kong media was meant to underscore Xi’s overarching control and establish his prestige ahead of the 20th National Congress to be held in the fall. This reasoning, however, does not explain why Xi’s power in this case would not be telegraphed in the same way inside the PRC.

What we can be sure of is that the Chinese government will play an even more active role in tackling the current outbreak in Hong Kong, and that this is likely to be viewed with a measure of unease by many in Hong Kong, who fear further erosion of autonomy. In all likelihood, we will continue to witness also a blurring of lines in the Hong Kong media, and a progressive recasting of their role.

Today’s homepage at InMedia, the oldest digital news outlet in Chinese still operating after the closure this year of both Citizen News and Stand News, may offer a glimpse of things to come. The site’s top headline, bold beneath a group photo of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, reads: “Statement From All Legco Members: Thanks to General Secretary Xi for Making His Important Instructions.”

An Olympic Legacy of Media Control

Responding to calls for diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Winter Olympics, the Chinese government and state-run media have repeatedly opposed what they call the “politicization of sports.” But China’s leaders have closely tied the international sporting event to the broader political goal of burnishing the national image, what Xi Jinping has called “telling the China story” – and official discourse makes clear that the Chinese Communist Party is applying broad controls on information to stave off criticism and ensure that the Games are a public opinion success.

At China’s first Global Media Innovation Forum, held last month in Beijing, the CCP’s propaganda chief, Huang Kunming (黄坤明), said that China had already made preparations for Olympic reporting by “our friends in the global media,” and he hoped that everyone would work together to create “a positive and healthy public opinion environment.” This phrase, a regular centerpiece of the Party’s press control vocabulary, describes an atmosphere where “positive voices” prevail through a process known as “public opinion guidance,” meaning that controls on media and the internet ensure social and political stability.

For China’s leaders, the Beijing Winter OIympics are so much more than a sporting event, and they are supremely political. When Shen Haixiong (慎海雄), a deputy propaganda minister and president of the state media conglomerate China Media Group (CMG), addressed the group’s top Party leaders last week, he spoke of preparations for the Winter Olympics and hopes of new breakthroughs in “guiding international society to a more concrete and profound sense of the credibility, love-ability and respectability of China in the new era.” These words directly invoked Xi Jinping’s remarks in May last year at a collective study session of the CCP’s Politburo, where he addressed China’s external propaganda and messaging.

Such talk of positivity might sound relatable to some observers of the Winter Olympics. After all, why shouldn’t the Chinese government hope for a positive outcome? But it’s important to understand that such positive messages for the world are purchased at the expense of open expression in China. Today, the country faces controls on speech that are more stringent than at any point in the reform era. And when the spirit of “positive and healthy public opinion” is expressed alongside talk of “promoting the Olympic spirit,” as it was in Huang’s speech, we should recognize that this is part of the legacy of these Olympic Games.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the “Cultural Legacy Report” (文化遗产报告) released recently by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (北京2022年冬奥会和冬残奥会组织委员会), which describes the cultural impact that preparations for the Games have had over the past six years. In a section on the media, the report notes that “the authority and influence of domestic mainstream media platforms has been fully utilized to guide public opinion and bring out the mainstream voice.”

There are important shades of meaning here that should be made explicit. While the word “mainstream” refers in a global context to ideas or attitudes that are regarded as normal or conventional in a given society, the word “mainstream,” or zhuliu (主流), refers in the PRC context to the consensus political view as determined by the CCP and by Party-state media. Forming the “mainstream” is a key objective for the leadership, and what is essentially meant by “public opinion guidance.”

The Beijing Organizing Committee makes the process seem so casual — as though this is a simple question of publicity — but when it talks about “guiding public opinion” (引导舆论) and “bringing out the mainstream voice” (发挥主流声音), this is fundamentally about amplifying Party-state voices at the expense of dissenting voices and views.

There has been a good deal of reporting outside China of the restrictions foreign journalists face in China, and that athletes are likely to face during the Winter Olympics, as though the question of press freedom in the country hinges on the extent to which international media are free to report. Without minimizing the importance of such concerns, it is crucial to be mindful of the insurmountable restrictions now facing Chinese journalists, and the complete dominance of the Olympic story by politically trusted Party-state media.

Who are the media reporting the Olympic story? The “Cultural Legacy Report” from the Beijing Organizing Committee names the People’s Daily, the flagship publication of the CCP, Xinhua News Agency, the Party’s official newswire, the gigantic China Media Group and other such “mainstream media.”  And since Beijing is the host city, the report also mentions the Beijing Daily, the official publication of the municipal CCP committee, as well as Beijing Evening News, a commercial spin-off controlled by Beijing Daily. A whole range of domestic platforms will of course offer content on the Games, drawing on material sourced primarily from these “mainstream” sources. But Party-state media will set the tone, what the CCP likes to call the “main theme” (主旋律), and propaganda authorities will be keeping a close eye on print, broadcast and cyberspace to ensure no voices are left to chance.

As the Beijing Winter Olympics are exploited to “tell the China story,” we should remember that there are voices that cannot be heard — and that the suppression of these voices and the amplification of the CCP’s “mainstream” voice is a deeply political act.

Safeguards for Xi’s Stratospheric Rise

The Chinese Communist Party’s obsession with number-based catchphrases can be exacting for the outside observer: Deng Xiaoping’s “Four Basic Principles” and “Four Modernizations,” Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents,” Hu Jintao’s “Three Closenesses.” In the Xi Jinping era, there were “Three Confidences” initially. But before long, a fourth was added to the formula – and soon enough it may expand to five.

But this year we can at least simplify matters by focusing on two crucial catchphrases: the “Two Establishes” (两个确立) and the “Two Safeguards” (两个维护). Taken together their import is simple: Xi Jinping will continue leading China beyond 2022.

Both of these catchphrases — though first appearing in January and April of 2018 respectively — have soared in use since the Sixth Plenum held in November last year, and the Resolution of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on the Major Achievements and Historical Experiences of the Party’s Hundred-Year Struggle (中共中央关于党的百年奋斗重大成就和历史经验的决议). This document, only the third such resolution in the CCP’s history, brought a century of Party experience into focus in the person, power and theoretical genius of Xi Jinping – an act of ideational concentration meant both to symbolize and actualize Xi’s dominance into 2022 and beyond.

That may seem like an awful lot to place on the shoulders of a single document. But the CCP takes the game of language seriously. It was the first resolution on history in April 1945, emerging from the 7th Plenum of the 6th Central Committee, that paved the way for the introduction of “Mao Zedong Thought” at the 7th National Congress of the CCP shortly after, which also brought Mao’s apotheosis as the Party’s chairman (主席). Xi is likely on a similar trajectory, with the full-fledged emergence of “Xi Jinping Thought” to be anticipated at or before the 20th National Congress next fall. It is also conceivable that Xi Jinping could push for a re-instatement of the chairman title, which was abolished in 1982 to prevent the rise of a single, supreme leader.

Mao Zedong addresses the 7th National Congress of the CCP in 1945. Image in the public domain.

Whatever transformations are in store this year, these are fundamentally about maintaining Xi Jinping’s “core” status and ensuring the loyalty of those around him. Which is where the “Two Establishes” and the “Two Safeguards” come in.

To understand these phrases, we can turn back to the November Resolution, which included this important line:

For the Party to establish the status of Comrade Xi Jinping as the core of the Party’s Central Committee and of the whole Party, and to establish the guiding role of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era, expresses the deepest wishes of the whole Party, the whole military, and the peoples of the whole country.

In this passage, Xi Jinping is staking claim to two fundamental and unshakeable principles: 1) that he must be the single, unquestionable leader of a unified CCP and that 2) his ideas, soon enough to be lionized as “Xi Jinping Thought,” are by necessity the bedrock of the Party, its policymaking and its legitimacy for the 21st century.

These are the “Two Establishes.” The “Two Safeguards” are even more elemental. The phrase is a fist-bang on the table that commands Party members, and all others, to fall in line. They are about the need to 1) safeguard the “core” status of Xi Jinping within the CCP, and 2) to safeguard the centralized authority of the Party.

Together, the “Two Establishes” and the “Two Safeguards” lay claim to the basic principles governing China today, centered on Xi himself. And they define the protection of these principles as the chief task of the country.

Just remember this simple formula: 2 + 2 = Xi.

Bow Down to the General Secretary

As might be expected, this pair of Xi-related catchphrases has been mobilized since the Sixth Plenum in November as a means of signaling loyalty, which can be another core function of CCP discourse, or tifa (提法).  

The first headline for the “Two Establishes” in the People’s Daily came on November 26, 2021, two weeks after the close of the Sixth Plenum. The article, appearing on page nine, was written by Ma Jiantang (马建堂), the Party chief of the State Council’s Development Researcher Center, a public institution under the central government that advise the Central Committee on policy-related issues. Pitched as part of a theoretical series on the study of the “spirit” of the recent Sixth Plenum, the article was called: “Profoundly Recognizing the Major Significance of the ‘Two Establishes’”.

Ma’s article, which was widely shared across Party-state media, said (author’s emphasis) that “establishing the status of Comrade Xi Jinping as the core of the Party’s Central Committee and of the whole Party, and establishing the guiding role of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era, is the call of the times, the choice of history, and the direction of the people.”

The first appearance in a People’s Daily headline of the “Two Establishes,” on November 26, 2021.

Note the clear sense of destiny, as though history – including what is to be an historic path forward for the people of China – has condensed in Xi and the genius of his ideas. We could continue to wade through Ma’s stiff Party verbiage, about how Xi’s ideas, for example, are a “great flying leap for the Sinicization of Marxism.” But in essence this is a tribute, a dance of loyalty, an elaborate bow achieved through the Party’s cliquish discourse.

Reading these days through the official Party-state media, one can see a long line of supplicants, all mincing forward to prostrate themselves at Xi’s feet.

Here, for example, is an article published in the People’s Daily on January 25 by Li Jiheng (李纪恒), the head of China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, proudly shared by the ministry on its official Weibo account.

An article by the head of China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs in January 2022 pledges loyalty to Xi Jinping with the “Two Establishes” and “Two Safeguards.”

Referring to the “Two Establishes” as the “most important political result since the 18th National Congress [in 2012],” and the “fundamental guarantee of ever greater victories,” Li writes that Party members throughout the Ministry of Civil Affairs bureaucracy “must deeply understand, resolutely implement and consciously practice” the principle. Li, then, is pledging loyalty not just for himself but for the entire national bureaucracy under his sprawling ministry.

Provincial CCP leaders are also lining up. To offer a taste, here is Liu Qiang (刘强), the top leader of Shandong province, writing a similar tribute using the “Two Establishes” and “Two Safeguards” in the Study Times, the official publication of the CCP’s Central Party School:

Entering the New Era, and following on General Secretary Xi Jinping’s designation as the core of the Party’s Central Committee following the Sixth Plenary Session of the 18th CCP Central Committee, and the establishment of the guiding position of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era at the 19th National Congress, the Resolution [on history] distinctly puts forward the “Two Establishments,” which is the call of the times, the choice of history, and the aspiration of the people. . . .

This passage traces Xi’s progressive aggrandizement within the CCP, from his designation as “core” in 2016 to the enshrining of his banner term in the CCP Charter the next year, to the framing in the November Resolution of the “Two Establishments.”

An article in the Study Times by the top leader of Shandong province, pledging loyalty to Xi Jinping.

But if this is a progression, how do we explain the fact that the “Two Establishments” designate precisely Xi’s “core” status and the centrality of his banner term, both of which are already fait accompli? The answer is that the 20th National Congress of the CCP this year will establish Xi’s core status beyond 2022, his continued leadership, and will also bring the formal emergence of his powerful “Xi Jinping Thought,” putting him on par with Mao Zedong.

The “Two Establishes” are a process that will continue unabated through 2022, the priority around which all other priorities will orbit. So buckle your rhetorical seatbelts.

In closing, I’ll just note that acts of obeisance like that of Liu Qiang can be found everywhere in the Party-state media once one knows what to look for. Here is a partial list of recent tributes to Xi Jinping from top provincial-level CCP leaders:

Shi Taifeng (石泰峰), Inner Mongolia  [Tribute]

Wang Jianjun (王建军), Qinghai [Tribute]

Peng Qinghua (彭清华), Sichuan [Tribute]

Xu Qin (许勤), Heilongjiang [Tribute]

Wang Junzheng (王君正), Tibet [Tribute]

Wu Zhenglong (吴政隆), Jiangsu [Tribute]

Yin Hong (尹弘), Gansu [Tribute]

Wang Ning (王宁), Yunnan [Tribute]

Shen Xiaoming (沈晓明), Hainan [Tribute]

Wang Dongfeng (王东峰), Hebei [Tribute]

Jing Junhai (景俊海), Jilin [Tribute]

Zheng Jiejie (郑栅洁), Anhui [Tribute]

Meta-Propaganda In the Digital Age

In the United States, TikTok has become a lively space for social and political activism, defining a “distinct and wide-ranging audiovisual vernacular” that has been applied to issues from police violence and LGBTQ rights. Back in China, where TikTok was born as “Douyin,” the popular video app created by the Beijing-based internet company Bytedance, collective political expression is strictly off limits. Posts on Douyin and other video-sharing apps focus on e-commerce, influencer networks and those fatuous acts of fleeting self-expression for which TikTok has become known in the West (though Douyin can also give rise to some interesting forms of consumer activism.)

But as the Chinese Communist Party has hammered home the need to develop “convergence” (融合发展) within the Party-dominated media ecosystem, Xi Jinping having stressed back in 2013 that mainstream media must advance and must not be “marginalized,” state media have taken self-innovation seriously. And that has made for interesting – if not always compelling – hybrid forms of propaganda for the TikTok age.

One “convergence” approach recently touted by Xinhua News Agency is called “Learning and Reviewing Xi” (学而时习之). The official CCP newswire claims that this product, whose name is a play on Xi’s surname inspired by a famous line from the Confucian classic The Analects (论语), has “deepened [its] understanding of the principles of the dissemination of core reports on mobile social platforms.” The Confucius reference, used in this political context, suggests that this mobile-based offering, available on Douyin (抖音), Kuaishou (快手) and WeChat Video (微信视频), will encourage the persistent study of Xi Jinping’s ideas.

The logo for Xinhua’s new series on Xi Jinping’s speeches over the past 10 years.

Xinhua claims that “Learning and Reviewing Xi” has been a sensational success, “generating enthusiastic reactions from netizens and constant traffic.” As of January, the new short-video product, with just 30 posts, had generated more than 550 million views, 700,000 shares, 500,000 comments and 24 million “likes.” To put this into perspective, this would mean an average of 18 million views for each “Learning and Reviewing Xi” post. That would make the Xinhua product extremely viral, rivaling many of the strongest trending videos internationally on TikTok – with stiff competitors like stunt-performing cats and baby frog colonies.

So what new and inventive approaches is Xinhua taking? Are they offering video shorts of Xi Jinping’s furry friends (he is rumored to have pet dogs) frolicking through the Zhongnanhai compound? Let’s have a look.

Below is an image of the “Learning and Reviewing Xi” post on January 19, which in fact shares a story from two years earlier, as Xi Jinping was on an inspection tour of Yunnan province and visiting a border defense battalion of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). There, he had a photo op in the canteen kitchen, where he stirred a pot of soup, smiled for the camera and said: “Let the fighters eat well. They are defending our homes and protecting our nation.”

The logo for Xinhua’s new series on Xi Jinping’s speeches over the past 10 years.

Viewers of the “Learning and Reviewing Xi” post are treated to a short video of the scene, with Xi’s quotable words offered in shiny gold characters. They can “like” the post, share it to WeChat or comment. But there is no other magic here. Nothing that distinguishes the content from the thousands of other posts and news stories (and longer video segments already online). The other posts from Xinhua’s “Learning and Reviewing Xi” are equally boilerplate: a segment from a 2019 speech in which he tells provincial leaders they must “step over hardships to find the path”; a segment from a January 2020 speech in which he tells his Party comrades that, “Time belongs to those who strive, and history belongs to those who strive.”

Still, if we are to believe the story dished out by the official website of the All-China Journalists Association (ACJA), this series is a breakthrough, “effectively filling a gap in regular columns of core reporting on mobile social platforms.” Moreover, the series “effectively expands the reach (到达率) and readership (阅读率) of propaganda, so that positive energy (正能量) is transformed into major traffic.”

There is a lot here to be unpackaged. First of all, what does the ACJA piece mean by “core reporting,” or hexin baodao (核心报道)? Core is not about news value in the journalistic sense, but rather about Xi Jinping specifically, about the top leader who since 2016 has been formally designated as the CCP’s leadership “core,” a mark of his concentration of power. This becomes crystal clear when the ACJA piece tells us that the new Xinhua product has “created a new situation for core reports, highlighting the image of the General Secretary as a relatable and respectable leader of the people and a world leader.” As we note in our CMP Dictionary, the term “people’s leader” (人民领袖) is a rare title of praise in China’s political discourse, reminiscent of the personality cult that prevailed during the Mao Zedong era.

Positive energy” is a term, in currency since 2013, that is synonymous with the control of information in order to avoid “negative,” or critical, news coverage and public opinion.

What we can gather from the ACJA article on “Learning and Reviewing Xi” is that the new Xinhua offering is innovative only in the sense that it transfers propaganda to new platforms, building up the image and prestige of Xi Jinping in ways that Mao Zedong could scarcely have dreamed of. As for accommodating the distinct audiovisual vernacular of the short-video platform culture, this is something that cannot so easily be accomplished – because the strictures of the Party-state media culture do not allow for creative departures. The result is familiarly insipid propaganda pitched for the user of mobile social media, but likely to be swiped aside.

Nevertheless, we are to believe that the short videos released through “Learning and Reviewing Xi” have been extraordinarily, stratospherically, popular. The ACJA article shares a selection of the more than 500,000 comments, each more revealing that the last.

“What grounded words,” one user writes. “It’s the New Year and he’s busy at home! Just like us ordinary Chinese.” Translation: Xi Jinping is a man of the people.

“So close to the people,” writes another, bringing the point right to the surface. “I’m so warmed that prosperous China has you!” Translation: Xi Jinping is a man of the people, and all happiness and goodness in the country owe to his solicitude for the masses.  

“Our good leader,” yet another writes. “I’m so very fortunate to have been born in China.”

These are not natural comments, but rather were born of the propaganda system, where the leader must by definition be “close to the people” (亲民), “close to the ground” (接地气) and “warm” (温暖), even if there are no hot-mike moments and every interaction is ceremoniously scripted. Which brings us to the question of impact. When content that is decidedly untransmissible consistently goes viral, this naturally raises questions about whether and how that content is being artificially pushed. One of the most fascinating questions, therefore, is how exactly traditional propaganda outlets like Xinhua are working with commercially operating platforms like Douyin to re-shape their distribution channels and command attention (or its pretense) in cyberspace.

There is a lot of big talk in the ACJA piece on “Learning and Reviewing Xi” about innovation and pushing the envelope. But if Xinhua has made any advances at all in “understanding of the principles of the dissemination” through mobile social platforms in this case, the most that can be said is that it has grasped the elementary fact that short videos must be, well, short. This is nothing to write home about. And yet the ACJA has written thousands of words essentially praising the success of a campaign of praise.

Those who study CCP propaganda will be familiar with such circles of self-realization. Propaganda is deeply imbedded in the governance of the Party, its task to write the success story of every failure. And because propaganda is so essential to the Party’s vision of itself, it follows that propaganda too must be a success. Hence meta-propaganda is born, the story of the success of the story. Circles within circles within circles.  

Xinhua Chief Takes Charge at the ACJA

At a meeting on Monday of the All-China Journalist’s Association (ACJA), former Xinhua News Agency chief He Ping (何平) was formally appointed as the new chairman of the organization, an ostensible “non-governmental organization” that in fact serves as an important layer of exercising CCP control over news organizations and the country’s more than one million registered journalists.

Born in 1957, He Ping has spent his entire career within Xinhua News Agency since graduating from Peking University in 1982, at the outset of the reform and opening period. In 2007, he was appointed editor-in-chief of the agency, and in October 2020 finally became chairman.

In his closing remarks to the meeting, He Ping said that top ACJA officials had met with Xi Jinping and other leaders in the CCP Central Committee, including Huang Kunming (黄坤明), head of the Central Propaganda Department. He Ping told those in attendance that Huang had raised “clear demands” for the work of journalists and the heads of local and regional ACJA chapters. “We must take the concerns of the General Secretary and the CCP Central Committee as a powerful spiritual impetus in better performing the duties and missions entrusted to us by the Party and the people,” said He.

The more concrete instructions for those present, to be conveyed to all journalists working in China, were couched in dense CCP terminologies. He Ping said, for example, that Chinese journalists must enhance their sense of “political nature” (政治性), a reference to maintaining uniformity with the ideology of the Party and the state – including on the Party line and policies, on questions of sovereignty and foreign relations, and so on.

The term “political nature” has been used by the CCP in reference to the obligations of the press since at least since the early 1950s. An article on page two of the People’s Daily on August 26, 1951, criticized the publishing of advertisements in Chinese newspapers that did not follow the Party line, and urged papers across the country to struggle against “lack of political leadership by the editorial board” over advertising decisions.

An article in the People’s Daily in August 1951 criticizes newspaper advertisements that do not follow the CCP line, saying that ads too must have “political nature.”

He Ping also emphasized the need for media to “adhere to correct public opinion guidance” (坚持正确舆论导向), a term that relates directly to CCP control of the media in order to maintain the stability of the regime, and the need for journalists to “serve as disseminators of the Party’s policies and propositions” (做党的政策主张的传播者).

Positive Designs

In the midst of the current outbreak of Covid-19 in Shaanxi, the province’s Chinese Business News (华商报), a leading commercial daily in the locked-down capital city of Xi’an, has drawn national attention for its colorful and creative front page designs – and prompted some nostalgia for the fading era of print media in China.

In a tribute posted on Thursday to its WeChat account, the Media Observer (传媒大观察), a media-related publication run by the state-owned Xinhua Daily Press Group, likened recent pages at Chinese Business News to “a light in the darkness, lighting the way for people in their fight against the epidemic.”

“While paper media are weak, particularly under the serious situation of the epidemic,” the tribute read, “we still see this paper coming out daily with heart and soul.”

The city of Xi’an, with more than 13 million residents, was placed under lockdown in late December following a spike in Covid cases. Within 10 days, the strain on human lives caused by China’s zero-Covid strategy was evident, with residents complaining of inadequate food and other essentials.

But according to the Media Observer, the Chinese Business News has continued to provide inspiration in the midst of desperation.

The post through the Media Observer‘s official WeChat account, “Media Observer Think Tank” (观媒智库), has an undeniable sense of the sentimental about it, focusing on the “positive energy” aspects of the Covid-19 story in Xi’an. Nevertheless, it provides an interesting view of the role of the local newspaper in an era of growing digital dominance.

Here are several of the front-page designs published recently by the Chinese Business News, and singled out for praise by the Media Observer.

HEADLINE: My City, My Xi’an
DATE: December 23, 2020

HEADLINE: Peacefully Waiting in Chang’an
DATE: December 24, 2020

HEADLINE: Lifting the Vegetable Basket
DATE: December 24, 2020

HEADLINE: Hope to Open Hope
DATE: December 27, 2020

DATE: December 30, 2020

HEADLINE: Life is Looking Up!
DATE: January 8, 2022

HEADLINE: We Protect Xi’an Together
DATE: January 10, 2022

HEADLINE: Healing is the Best Form of Healing
DATE: January 12, 2022

The Chinese Business News was launched in 1995, at the start of the heyday of modern metropolitan newspapers (都市类报) in China, which saw the creation of hundreds of new magazines and newspapers catering to a rising middle class.

The paper was originally started in Hong Kong in April 1941 by a trio of journalists and political activists including Hu Zhongchi (胡仲特), the famous editor of Shen Bao (申报) and grandfather of Caixin editor-in-chief Hu Shuli, Zou Taofen (邹韬奋), editor of the celebrated Life Magazine (生活周刊,  and Fan Changjiang (范长江), the Ta Kung Pao stringer and later founder of China’s national journalist’s association for whom the country’s official journalism prizes are now named (and who would also become the chief editor of Xinhua News Agency).

In recent years, print media in China have undergone a dramatic contraction as the industry faces a profound transformation brought about by the dominance of new digital platforms. The closure or transformation of traditional newspapers has itself become regular news. In December 2020, just ahead of the new year, 30 publications announced that they would shut down.  

And Then There Were Five

Confidence seems to be proliferating at the top-most levels of the Chinese Communist Party. When Hu Jintao delivered his political report to the Party’s 18th National Congress back in November 2012, the outgoing leader spoke of three points of self-confidence that were to propel the CCP into the future. “The whole party must firmly uphold confidence in the path, in the theory and in the institutions [of socialism with Chinese characteristics],” Hu said.

As the Xi Jinping era dawned, then, there were just “Three Confidences,” or sange zixin (三个自信), at the heart of what has been termed China’s “confidence doctrine.” By 2014, however, a fourth confidence had crept into the formula. The new buzzword was “cultural confidence,” or wenhua zixin (文化自信). The Party needed to have faith not only in the rightness of its policies, governance and theoretical foundations, but also in its identity – to be found in a combination of 5,000-odd years of Chinese culture (中华文化) and the rich revolutionary legacy of the CCP itself.

The “Four Confidences” were affirmed as an integrated formula in Xi Jinping’s speech to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the CCP in 2016, and at the 19th National Congress the year after they were included in amendments to the Party Charter (党章). The “Four Confidences” have been codified ever since as:

  • “confidence in the path” (道路自信) [of socialism with Chinese characteristics]
  • “confidence in the theory” (理论自信) [of socialism with Chinese characteristics]
  • “confidence in the system” (制度自信) [of socialism with Chinese characteristics]
  • “confidence in the culture” (文化自信) [of socialism with Chinese characteristics]

But this month, confidence has advanced again. The top headline on the front page of the CCP’s official People’s Daily newspaper today included a fifth confidence, marking the further advancement of the confidence doctrine to accommodate this year’s 100th anniversary of the CCP and last month’s Resolution of the Central Committee of the CCP on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century. The new buzzword is “historical confidence,” or lishi zixin (历史自信).

The top half of the front page of today’s People’s Daily, with the phrase “historical confidence” in the main headline highlighted.

This phrase was mentioned by Xi Jinping in his “important speech” (重要讲话) this week to the latest “democratic life meeting” (民主生活会), an event at which members of the CCP Politburo are meant to criticize and assess their own performance. In the speech, promoted in today’s People’s Daily, Xi stressed the importance of “drawing wisdom and strength from the Party’s century-long history.”

The appearance of “historical confidence” in a front-page headline in the People’s Daily signifies its emergence in strength, as a phrase likely to continue to rise in 2022. But the first prominent appearance of the phrase came in mid-November as Huang Kunming (黄坤明), the head of the Central Propaganda Department, used it to convey the “spirit” of the 6th Plenum in a video conference with propaganda leaders across the country. Prior to Huang’s address in November, “historical confidence” had appeared just once in the People’s Daily, in an essay published in July 2016 and written by Huang Yibing (黄一兵), the deputy director of the Third Research Department of the Central Party History Research Office.           

The “Five Confidences” (五个自信) is definitely a phrase to look out for in 2022.

Struggling for Historical Truth

The firing on Thursday of a teacher at a vocational college in Shanghai who, according to state media made the “erroneous remarks” on the number of victims of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, has prompted a fierce struggle online over the right to explore historical truths. But censorship by the authorities has effectively silenced voices in support of the teacher, sending the message that nuance about CCP orthodoxy on history will not be accepted – and that teachers should beware of student informants in the classroom.

The storm began on December 15 as a short video circulated online – apparently shared by a student “informant” – of a lecture in which Song Gengyi (宋庚一) questioned the 300,000 official number given by the Chinese government for the number of victims in the Nanjing Massacre, a tragedy that unfolded on December 13, 1937, as the Imperial Japanese Army captured the capital city of Nanjing during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Song made the remarks during her December 14 “News Interview” (新闻采访) course at Shanghai’s Aurora College, held the day after nationwide commemoration of the massacre’s anniversary.

On the afternoon of Thursday, December 16, the official Weibo account of the People’s Daily, the CCP’s flagship newspaper, weighed in on Song’s remarks. The tone of the post, which called the 300,000 number “iron-clad fact” (铁证如山), was severe. It said that Song was “errant as a teacher” (枉为人师) for “questioning historical truth,” and that she was “errant as a compatriot” (枉为国人) for “forgetting hardships and denying the evil deeds of another country.”

A post to the official Weibo account of the People’s Daily newspaper on December 16, 2021, sharply criticizes Aurora College teacher Song Gengyi.

Within hours news came of Song’s firing. According to a notice issued on Thursday evening by Aurora College, Song, whose position was formally with the college’s Eastern Film Academy (东方电影学院), had “spoken erroneously” (错误言论) during her class on news reporting, and had been fired on the grounds that the incident had been “a major teaching accident generating a serious negative social impact.” She had been fired, the notice said, on the basis of two internal college guidelines, on disciplinary measures for teaching staff and on the “handling of teaching accidents” (教学事故).

A post to the official Weibo account of Shanghai’s Aurora College on December 16, 2021, announces the firing of professor Song Gengyi.

Song is a veteran journalist who has served as the deputy head of the journalism and communication program at Aurora College (震旦学院), a vocational college founded in Shanghai’s French Concession in 1905 by Chinese Jesuit Mao Xiangbao (馬相伯). In addition to teaching, she has published academically on communications, including a 2019 paper on the impact of “network supervision” (网络监督) in calling attention, and sometimes driving remediation, in cases of social injustice.

In her paper, Song concluded that “rational and standardized” network supervision, meaning the posting through social media and other channels of cases of malfeasance and unfairness, “would promote social development and progress.” But she ended the paper with a caution that now seems prescient given her case. “Where network supervision is concerned, online violence cannot be ignored,” she wrote. “In replies to many hot-button issues on the internet, the words of netizens often include violent language such as ‘die’ or ‘kill,’ or employ obscene language. The internet has become an outlet for emotions. Network supervision has become a pressure valve for emotions, lacking rationality, and in some cases has even led to ‘internet trials’ (网络审判) that impact judicial justice.”

An academic paper written by Song Gengyi about “network supervision” in China.

Mirroring the process she describes in her paper, criticism of Song was swift, vicious and retributive. Online nationalists pried into her past, posted her personal information online, and called her a “traitor.” One post over the weekend referred to Song and other “public intellectuals” (公知) as “pests” hiding amongst the people.

But Friday, however, voices in support of Song Gengyi were swelling too. Protests against the injustice of Song’s treatment grew in volume as a full version of the classroom video was circulated, giving her remarks fuller context. It clearly showed Song discussing the verification of historical facts as possible and important, characterizing the 300,000 figure as arising from a particular historical and political context – and making the point that more could probably be discovered, with proper research, about even the specific identities of the victims. Nothing seemed to show Song in any way minimizing the Nanjing Massacre or its historical importance. A number of media veterans in particular voiced their support for Song. Pursuing the facts, they said, was the first rule of journalism, and Song’s attitude showed a strong respect for academic rigor.

Many of these voices were quickly removed from the internet, even as posts and comments attacking Song Gengyi proliferated. Legal experts, meanwhile, took to social media to encourage Song Gengyi to take legal action against Aurora College. Yan Tong (冉彤), a Chinese rights lawyer, told RFA: “Everyone feels that this was a normal way of teaching. It’s just that right now, leftist trends in society are on the rise, and teachers who speak the truth are seen as having problems.”

Several lawyers, Yan said, had tried to reach Song to offer legal representation, but she could not be located – a possible sign, they felt, that she had been detained and was being kept away from the media.

By Friday also, the attacks on Song Gengyi prompted a “human flesh search engine” (人肉搜索) wave counter-attacking the student alleged to have informed on the teacher. Personal information about one suspected student, identified as “Dong Xun,” was posted on social media in China and overseas, calling on others to dig deeper and to “let the world know.” The following post to Twitter, one of hundreds appearing Friday, shared the student’s mobile number and social media account details, calling them “rotten goods” (烂货).

A post to Twitter on Friday, December 17, exposes the student alleged to have informed on Song Gengyi.

Many posts on Twitter were personal attacks on Dong Xun, calling for retribution. At least one post, however, pointed out that the online struggle between the two sides was a distraction from real causes. “Dong Xun directly destroyed a teacher, school leaders indirectly destroyed a teacher, and so we all go and destroy a student together?” one user wrote. “Why don’t we destroy these ruinous rules instead?”

The post shared the screenshot of a text apparently sent to Dong Xun on the student’s now very public personal mobile number:

Why did you inform on a teacher? People going to class is a normal form of academic freedom, and how they speak is their own business. You playing this informing game is so crude, disgusting and shameless. If you don’t agree with her views then you can have a discussion! Why must you inform! This is so immoral!

Screenshot of a message sent to a student accused of informing on Shanghai professor Song Gengyi, with mobile number redacted.

“Dong Xun is a beast, not a human being,” another Chinese user wrote on Twitter.  

In addition to the human flesh search against the student thought to have been behind the campaign against Song Gengyi, a number of prominent academics and journalists apparently reached out to reprimand the student through the mobile number provided online. According to one professor, whose communications were viewed by CMP, they suffered a wave of counter-attacks online, including posting of their own personal information, after sending a text to the student’s number.

“At around 4:50PM I sent a message to the student informing on the Shanghai film academy professor according to the mobile number online, saying they had engaged in shameful bullying,” the professor wrote. “Tonight I’ve been attacked by spammers, getting close to a hundred calls threatening and cursing me, and saying they are reporting me.”

A Chinese university professor from Beijing reports receiving threatening calls after sending a text to the student accused of informing on Shanghai professor Song Gengyi.

Late on Friday, the student accused of informing on Song Gengyi made a post to Weibo in which they attempted to explain their decision to post the video that had kicked up the storm to begin with. They explained that they were an “ordinary student” in Xi’an, and that they had not in fact taken the video in question.

The day before yesterday, I saw the video of Ms. Song in a QQ chat, the full 5:35 [minute] version. And after watching the video, really angry, I posted it to Weibo, hoping that these erroneous remarks [from Ms. Song] could be corrected, hoping to engrave a correct view of history. Afterward, I paid no attention.

Yesterday, the matter started to accelerate, and Aurora College started to investigate, making the decision to handle it. Someone sent me a private message saying they had taken the video, that the school was already handling the matter, and that they hoped I could delete my Weibo post. Out of respect for the video source, that’s what I did, thinking this would end things.

But my mobile started exploding with messages, and at the same time the trolling telephone calls came non-stop, seriously impacting my normal life. But I didn’t realize the seriousness of the matter, and I didn’t realize my privacy had been violated. It was only today, as I received an endless number of disturbing messages and trolling calls, that I realized my privacy had been violated. At the same time, I received a lot of help from many web users who have not forgotten history and who uphold justice. With their help I had the courage to struggle against them. I have already notified the police, and I’m sure with their power this matter will end.

China’s Party-state media, including official public accounts such as that of the People’s Daily, have issued no further response on the Song Gengyi case since last Thursday, despite the fact that a fuller account has emerged, putting the short video in context, and despite that fact that more people have spoken up in support of Song. Meanwhile, voices supporting Song continue to be removed from social media, while accounts of her allegedly “erroneous remarks” are apparently allowed to remain.

The Xi’an student targeted by furious internet users for allegedly informing on Shanghai professor Song Gengyi posts his view of the situation on Friday, December 17.

In post to WeChat about Song’s case on Friday, Wang Yongzhi (王永智), who writes under the penname “Wang Wusi” (王五四), said the current public opinion climate in China was “pandemonium,” and that while “reasonable people dare not speak out at all, unreasonable people constantly point to deer and called them horses, with no reason and no sense of the law.”

The simple words, ‘You are not patriotic,’ can lead to a thousand accusations, and nothing you say makes any difference,” said Wang.

That post too has now been deleted.

A message on WeChat says that a recent post supportive of Song Gengyi by “Wang Wusi” has been removed because it “violates regulations.”

Those interested in learning more about the recent history of students informing on their teachers for political transgressions, and about the formal system of “student informants,” can turn to CMP’s 2018 article, “Informants in the Chinese Classroom.”

Good Bye Hu Xijin

In a lengthy profile this week, The Guardian took an in-depth look at Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin (胡锡进) and his outsized voice overseas, where his “endless stream of quotable insults and invective stands out amid a sea of bland official statements.” Hu, hated or loved, has indeed loomed large as a voice from the nationalistic fringes of China’s official Party-state press, and as a global provocateur constantly bickering with China’s critics. “For now, Hu fights on,” The Guardian profile concluded.

This long-read will likely prove, however, to be one of the first notes of the outspoken editor’s swan song. In a Weibo post at 12:03PM today, Beijing time, Hu confirmed rumors swirling yesterday that his retirement was imminent. Sources tell CMP that Hu was in fact removed for reasons that are not yet clear, perhaps stemming from unhappiness over his highly visible international remarks in recent days or weeks.

A report yesterday in Hong Kong’s Tsingtao Daily News, shared by several other media, announced Hu’s pending retirement and said that the central leadership was keen to “strengthen [the paper’s] political guidance” (政治导向). This language seemed to suggest there might be concerns at the top about Hu, or the Global Times, as loose cannons firing against the discipline coming from above. Could something in his recent spate of posts about tennis star Peng Shuai – which sometimes seemed a clumsy operation run from a back office at the Global Times – have fallen afoul of powerful figures in the Party?

Through yesterday, however, there was no reliable confirmation of any change to Hu’s status at the helm of the pugnacious national tabloid – and Hu had, in any case, faced similar rumors in the past, including a report in Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao back in June reporting that Wu Qimin (吴绮敏), deputy head of the international desk at the paper’s parent People’s Daily, was being prepared for Hu’s post.

In his Weibo post today, Hu Xijin writes that, at 62, “the time has come to retire.” He says that he has already submitted the paperwork for his retirement, and that he will “no longer serve in the position of Global Times editor-in-chief.” He adds, however, that he plans to continue writing for the paper as a “special commentator,” and that he will continue to “do my utmost for the news and public opinion work of the Party.”

Hu Xijin announces his retirement as editor-in-chief of the Global Times today.

As the questions begin about the possible nature of the Global Times after the departure of the “troll king,” it is a good time to look at the two people who are rumored to be Hu’s replacements.

According to some reports, including that at the Tsingtao Daily News, the rumored shake-up at the Global Times will create a new director (社长) position, to be held by Fan Zhengwei (范正伟), currently a deputy head of the commentary department at the People’s Daily. The purpose of this position would presumably be to exercise greater direct control over the editorial line at the Global Times. Although the full situation is yet unclear, something worth emphasizing again, it might be that CCP leaders feel the Global Times is due for more “party spirit” and a bit less Hu Xijin spirit, even though Hu has in many ways been an exemplary servant of Party-state.

Who Is Wu Qimin?

In addition to Fan Zhengwei’s arrival, Hu’s position as editor-in-chief will reportedly be taken on by Wu Qimin, the People’s Daily international desk deputy head who was rumored as a replacement last June. Wu joined the international department at the People’s Daily in 1991, and has since filed hundreds of reports from around the world on wide-ranging issues, from US-China trade to China-Africa relations. She is the author of a 2013 book, published by the People’s Daily, called ​Special Reports on High-Level Diplomacy (大国外交第一现场), which gathers many of her reports.

In one article from August 2018, as Wu reports on the China-Africa Think Tank Forum held in Beijing, her focus is clearly on the issue of “discourse power” (话语权), and the need for China and African nations to strengthen their voices through development. Her writing shows a penchant for florid and overwrought language, and of course (par for the course in Party-state media) hyperbole. Development opportunities as a result of the Belt and Road Initiative are “unlimited,” and “the light of hope shines.”

The adjustment of the world’s discourse system can be called the inevitable result of the adjustment of the world economic landscape. In today’s world, the places where rapid economic development can be most readily seen is in those emerging market countries and developing countries, and particularly in those areas where the “Belt and Road” initiative is providing unlimited opportunity. Among them, China and Africa are both hotbeds of development where the light of hope shines.

Wu concludes that the “new pattern of joint development between China and Africa” indicates that there is “a huge space for both sides to enhance their discourse power.” This is her takeaway from the Beijing forum.

Wu Qimin, deputy head of the international department at the People’s Daily, speaks at the 10+3 Media Cooperation Forum in 2018.

Reports back in June this year cited sources in Beijing as calling Wu “competent,” “rational” and “modest.” The last of these qualities would perhaps set her apart from Hu Xijin, who has in many respects been a noisy self-promoter.

Who Is Fan Zhengwei

A native of the city of Suide (绥德), in Shaanxi province, Fan was born in 1980. Between 1999 and 2006, Fan studied for both his bachelors and masters degrees at Peking University – first in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature and later in the university’s School of Law. According to the WeChat public account “Media Training Camp” (传媒特训营), people in the Chinese media familiar with Fan Zhengwei have described him as “young, handsome, modest and meticulous about his work.”

According to reports from Xinhua News Agency, Fan Zhengwei was among a small number of People’s Daily staff members who personally met with Xi Jinping during his visit to the paper on February 19, 2016, during which the leader clearly outlined his media policy and emphasized the need for all media to “love the Party, protect the Party and serve the Party.”  

Fan Zhengwei appears in a report on China Central Television. Screenshot from “Media Training Camp.”

Fan joined the People’s Daily shortly after his graduation in 2006 (by which time Hu Xijin had been in editor-in-chief of the Global Times for less than a year), and his first bylines as a reporter appear in the flagship CCP newspaper at this time. By 2008, however, Fan was regularly writing commentaries, his first, on May 16, about the spirit of solidarity in the aftermath of the disastrous Sichuan earthquake. “Disaster relief is a battle against time, but also a lasting psychological war,” Fan wrote. “Earthquakes can shake down houses and bridges, but they cannot break our psychological defenses. We believe that with more psychological intervention teams rushing to the disaster area, with the unity of the people and support from all sides, people in the disaster area will be able to get out of the psychological shadow as soon as possible, rebuild a better home, and rebuild a better life.”

In a commentary on March 2, 2009, in what in retrospect seems like a more open period in terms of information policy (See CMP’s interview with Zhan Jiang), Fan wrote about an online dialogue staged between Hu Jintao and Chinese netizens.

“[As the saying goes] ‘What the people worry about, I think about; what the people think about, I do.’ In the face of the most difficult year for the economy in the new century, leading cadres at all levels should pay more attention to the voice of the people, pay attention to the rights and interests of the people, grasp the full range of social and public opinion through various channels, including the internet, and gather strength and overcome difficulties together in the resonance of the national will and the will of the people.”

Through January 2019, covering a period of more than 10 years, Fan’s commentaries, like the one above, frequently appeared in the “People’s Forum” (人民论坛) section on page four of the newspaper. Since his first commentary in 2008, Fan has written 119 personally bylined commentaries in the People’s Daily, though he has certainly been involved in other commentaries written under various official bylines. He is thought to be one of the chief members of the team of editorial writers behind the byline “Ren Zhongping” (任仲平), not a person but a name standing in for key official commentaries from the flagship paper.

Fan’s commentaries have of course closely mirrored, as they must, the political positions at the top of the leadership. In November 2019, Fan was among several journalists from the People’s Daily named as recipients of a “special prize” at the 29th annual China News Awards for a commentary series called, “A Great Change That Made History: Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Reform and Opening.”

One of Fan’s pieces that is perhaps most reflective of the current era and its politics was a commentary appearing on October 20, 2017, right on the heels of the 19th National Congress of the CCP. Called “A New Thought, A Great Power to Change China” (新思想, 改变中国的伟力), it was the second installment in a series called “New Thought(s) to Lead a New Journey” (新思想引领新征程). The piece was not in fact about ideas at all, but rather about a single “Thought” – Xi Jinping’s newly-introduced and rather unwieldly banner term, “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”

If, as we can anticipate, Xi’s banner term is shortened in the coming months to the potent “Xi Jinping Thought,” it could indeed be Fan Zhengwei who is hailing the momentous occasion as director of the Global Times.

The Trouble With Influence

In its latest crackdown on social media influencers, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) announced yesterday that it had shut down around 20,000 “top online influencer accounts” (头部账号), including the account of a well-known former magazine editor who was detained back in October on charges that he had “insulted heroes and martyrs.”

The CAC notice, which was also posted to its social media account “CAC China” (网信中国), cited a range of violations, and emphasized that such accounts must abide by “correct guidance,” a phrase that points to the CCP’s policy of exercising control of the agenda through control of the media, ultimately ensuring the stability of the regime. In the Xi era, the language of “guidance,” which once applied more directly to traditional media, has expanded to apply to all of cyberspace, meaning that individual users are now bound by its mandate. Four years ago new CAC rules on online chat groups explicitly stated that “providers of information services through internet chat groups on the internet, and users, must adhere to correct guidance, promoting socialist core values.”

In the CAC notice, the accounts in question were explicitly accused of having “spread erroneous guidance” (传播错误导向). The notice also mentioned that the accounts have “media properties and a social mobilization function,” language clearly indicating that influence is now a primary criterion in considering disciplinary action against online accounts.

The notice said a number of “top online influencers” had “insulted heroes and martyrs,” a reference a law adopted in 2018 – and designed to promote patriotism and “socialist core values” – that made it a crime to question the authenticity of CCP narratives such as that of the soldier Lei Feng (雷锋), who since the early 1960s has been a poster boy of selfless dedication to the Party.

Among those accounts singled out for censure on these grounds was that of Luo Changping (罗昌平), a former investigative reporter and editor for Caijing magazine who in October was detained by police in Hainan province for a commentary on social media that was critical of The Battle at Lake Changjin, the war epic on Chinese volunteer soldiers fighting in the Korean War. As the news of Luo’s detention was reported in domestic media in October, including the Global Times, his background as a professional journalist was elided, and he was identified only as an “online influencer.”

Other influencers had, according to the notice, “recklessly created and spread rumors, interfering with orderly internet communication.” Still other accounts were shut down due to allegations of tax evasion and “such illegal activity.”

“The internet is not a land outside the law,” the notice said, employing a phrase that has been oft-repeated in the Xi Jinping era, becoming a regular feature of high-level discussions about cyberspace, but which first appeared around 2006 as the Information Office of the State Council discussed ways to “govern the internet according to the law” (依法管网).