Speaking Politics 讲政治

There was a time in the Chinese language when “speaking politics,” or jiang zhengzhi (讲政治), meant simply to “discuss politics” (谈论政治). Over time, however, the word “talk” has slipped away from the colloquial notion of discussion and become a verb with deep and far-ranging meaning within the official discourse of the Chinese Communist Party.

Officials can now say things like: “We need not only to talk politics, but also to talk art” (不光要讲政治, 也要讲艺术) — which means, in the context of ideological policy in the arts, that works of art must have artistic merit even as they maintain the political standards set by the Party leadership.
The word “talk” can also suggest “doing” or “participating.” In 1957, in the midst of the Hundred Flowers Movement, some criticized the Chinese Communist Party, saying that “speaking politics is fine, but speaking science is not.” The implication here being that the Party should confine itself to political matters and not presume to meddle in the sciences.

But it was not until November 25, 1995, that the phrase “speaking politics” first appeared in a headline in the official People’s Daily newspaper.

In that headline there were three different “talks,” known collectively as the “Three Talks” (三讲) of President Jiang Zemin. They were: “speaking study” (讲学习), “speaking politics (讲政治) and “speaking rectitude” (讲正气). As the People’s Daily explained the first of these:

Speaking politics includes political orientation (政治方向), political standpoint (政治立场), political viewpoint (政治观点), political discipline (政治纪律), political discernment (政治鉴别力) and political sensitivity (政治敏锐性). . . . Leading cadres at various levels must maintain politically clear-headed and resolute, maintaining a high level of uniformity in their ideology and politics with the CCP Central Committee with Comrade Jiang Zemin as the core.

Clearly, things like “political standpoint” and “political discernment” were not matters of personal conviction but of unity and cohesion with the Party leadership. The need was to emphasize the Party’s politics and pay them special mind. There was nothing to discuss.

By the time the above piece appeared in the People’s Daily, Deng Xiaoping was already old and frail, a little more than a year away from his death. In order to firm up his political position,Jiang Zemin had already purged key figures like Yang Shangkun (杨尚昆) and Yang Baibing (杨白冰) from the Party and the military. So the ultimate meaning of “speaking politics” in this context was tied up with the idea of validating and affirming Jiang’s own “core” status.

This, in fact, is a use of the phrase that has made a comeback today, more than 20 years later. In its special section devoted to the study of Party buzzwords (关键词), People’s Daily Online noted that President Xi Jinping had used the phrase “speaking politics” 67 times — which is to say in 67 separate contexts or speeches — since coming to office.

At the Propaganda and Ideology Work Conference in August 2018, “speaking politics” reared its head again. Here is a passage from a recent commentary in the People’s Daily:

Propaganda and ideology work is political work, and [correct] politics is imperative in matters large and small. The strengthening of the Party’s comprehensive leadership of propaganda and thought work should be led by political building (政治建设), firmly establishing the “Four Consciousnesses” (四个意识), firmly defending the core status of General Secretary Xi Jinping, firmly defending the authority of the Central Party and its central, unified leadership, maintaining a high level of unity with the Central Party in terms of political positions (政治立场), political orientation (政治方向), political principles (政治原则) and political path (政治道路). The decisions of the Central Party must be carried out to the letter (不折不扣贯彻落实), and propaganda and ideology departments at all levels must . . . regularly synchronize themselves with the demands of the Central Party. [The Party] must maintain clear heads (保持清醒头脑), raising political sensitivity (政治敏锐性) and [the power of] political discernment (政治鉴别力), not allowing interference by static and noise (杂音噪音), not being tempted by erroneous ideas. [The Party] must strictly maintain the Party’s political discipline and political practices, taking the speaking of politics (讲政治) as a primary demand, and taking loyalty and reliability as the first standard, acting throughout as a person who understands politics (政治上的明白人) and is trustworthy [in their politics].

When it comes to “speaking politics,” that passage is a mouthful. But despite appearances, the language could scarcely be clearer: Xi Jinping is politics, and Xi Jinping’s power and status is the greatest politics possible. “Speaking politics” means firmly heeding what he has to say, and following his lead.

Deleted Posts on the Beijing Bomb

The detonation of a bomb this afternoon outside the US Embassy in Beijing was understandably the topic of feverish social media activity, rapidly dominating WeChat groups. Many people in the area posted photos and video in the immediate aftermath of the incident. And predictably, the authorities moved quickly to contain comment and speculation — though certainly with limited success. As one user remarked: “WeChat groups are swamped!”

Screenshot of video posted online showing smoke engulfing the area around the US Embassy in Beijing.
Below we have a selection of Weibo posts about the explosion that were deleted from the platform. We have arranged them in order of appearance, the first happening at 1:30PM Beijing time, 20 minutes or so after the explosion.
A search on Weibo for “embassy” (大使馆) now turns up an array of official responses to the explosion, including information from the official Weibo account of the Beijing police, and the response from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as reported by the Global Times. Said MOFA spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽): “I want to say that this incident which happened at Tianze Road and Anjialou Road is an isolated security incident, and the Chinese police have already swiftly and appropriately dealt with it.”
The bomb was reportedly detonated by a single attacker, who has been identified as a 26-year-old man from Inner Mongolia surnamed Jiang. Other than the attacker, no one was injured in the attack.
If you want to understand how sensitive the sharing of eyewitness material can be in China, definitely watch this thread from AFP correspondent Becky Davis.

2018-07-26 13:30:46 | An explosion at the US Embassy . . . Huh?
2018-07-26 13:30:46 | 美国大使馆爆炸。。。呃 ?
2018-07-26 13:43:11 | What’s up with the US Embassy?  http://t.cn/Rp7gR9V ​
2018-07-26 13:43:11 | 美国大使馆怎么了? http://t.cn/Rp7gR9V ​
2018-07-26 13:47:04 | At the US Embassy, a video provided by a web user http://t.cn/ReygA33
2018-07-26 13:47:04 | 美国大使馆,视频来自网友提供。 http://t.cn/ReygA33
2018-07-26 13:47:45 | 【Explosion Occurs at US Embassy in Beijing】According to numerous internet users, it’s possible that an explosion occurred just now in the area of the US Embassy in Beijing. There is already a police line around the area of the embassy. from Sohu News http://t.cn/ReyrNxx
2018-07-26 13:47:45 | 【美国驻华大使馆附近疑似发生爆炸】据多名网友爆料,刚刚,在位于北京的美国驻华大使馆附近疑似发生爆炸。使馆附近已经拉起了警戒线。 via.搜狐新闻 http://t.cn/ReyrNxx
2018-07-26 13:49:20 | What’s going on at the US Embassy? ​
2018-07-26 13:49:20 | 美國大使館怎麼啦? ​
2018-07-26 13:50:34 | Is Trump secretly visiting China? http://t.cn/Reyez3i ​
2018-07-26 13:50:34 | 特朗普沒私下訪華吧? http://t.cn/Reyez3i ​
2018-07-26 13:51:40 | Hong Kong Media: An explosion has occurred outside the US Embassy in Beijing. It is suspected that a petitioner caused the explosion. http://t.cn/ReyeiqX ​
2018-07-26 13:51:40 | 港媒:北京美国驻华大使馆外发生爆炸 疑似访民引爆炸药http://t.cn/ReyeiqX ​
2018-07-26 13:59:46 | Explosion at the US Embassy in Beijing
2018-07-26 13:59:46 | 美国大使馆发生爆炸 ​
2018-07-26 14:10:44 | An explosion outside the gate to the US Embassy [SURPRISE] [SURPRISE] It is said that there was someone self-immolating. How scary ……. http://t.cn/Rp7gR9V http://t.cn/ReUvEkR ​
2018-07-26 14:10:44 | 美国使馆门口爆炸了[吃惊][吃惊][吃惊]据说有人自焚,好吓人…… http://t.cn/Rp7gR9V http://t.cn/ReUvEkR ​
2018-07-26 14:15:52 | Video from the scene of the US Embassy explosion [SAD], I hope this is not another Sarajevo Incident [NOTE: This refers to the assassination on June 28, 1914, of Archduke Franz Ferdinand] [MOURNING] http://t.cn/ReUhbKT ​
2018-07-26 14:15:52 | 美国大使馆爆炸现场视频[伤心],希这不是第二起萨拉热窝事件[衰] http://t.cn/ReUhbKT ​
2018-07-26 14:17:04 | WeChat groups are swamped! [There is news of an] explosion in front of the US Embassy. http://t.cn/ReUhNU3 ​
2018-07-26 14:17:04 | 朋友圈刷屏了,美国大使馆前发生爆炸 http://t.cn/ReUhNU3 ​
2018-07-26 14:18:21 | There’s been an explosion near the US Embassy. This is too scary! [MOURNING] http://t.cn/ReUhdsN ​
2018-07-26 14:18:21 | 美国大使馆附近爆炸了,这个也太恐怖了吧![衰] http://t.cn/ReUhdsN ​
2018-07-26 14:22:12 | #suddenbreaking #according to @CGTN news, and explosion has occurred near the US Embassy in Beijing. An explosion was reported near the US Embassy in Beijing on Thursday, Reuters reported. ​
2018-07-26 14:22:12 | #突发#据@CGTN 消息,美国驻华大使馆附近疑似发生爆炸。An explosion was reported near the US Embassy in Beijing on Thursday, Reuters reported. ​
2018-07-26 14:26:22 | News flash: Explosion occurs at the US Embassy. What a scene. So someone truly goes to the US Embassy to commit an act of terrorism. Beijing isn’t Beirut. http://t.cn/ReUZLkF ​
2018-07-26 14:26:22 | 快讯:美国大使馆发生爆炸 好热闹 真有人去美国大使馆搞恐怖袭击了 北京不是贝鲁特http://t.cn/ReUZLkF ​ ​
2018-07-26 14:50:28 | 【News Brief】- US Embassy in Beijing: An explosion has occurred outside the US Embassy in Beijing, caused by one person with a bomb. Aside from this person with the bomb, so far no one else is injured.
2018-07-26 14:50:28 | 【快讯】- 美国驻华大使馆:位于北京的美国驻华大使馆外发生炸弹爆炸,一人引爆炸弹导致爆炸发生;除了引爆炸弹的此人之外,尚无其他人受伤。 ​
2018-07-26 14:56:16 | 【Reports Say Explosion Happened Near US Embassy】- Many sources have reported that on Thursday an explosion occurred outside the US Embassy in Beijing. Video shared on social media shows emergency personnel on the scene and smoke everywhere. This area has many other embassies, including the Indian embassy. The incident happened around 1PM local time. According to reports from Reuters and the Associated Press and official Chinese media . . . [Full article]:  http://m.weibo.cn/1649159940/4266046372763082 ​
2018-07-26 14:56:16 | 【美国驻华大使馆附近据报发生爆炸】- 多个消息源报道称,周四在北京的美国驻华大使馆外发生了一起爆炸事件。社交媒体上的视频显示,现场有紧急救援人员,烟雾弥漫。该地区还有其他多个国家的驻华使馆,包括印度使馆。这起事件发生于当地时间下午1点左右。据路透社和美联社报道,中国官方媒体称,事发…全文: http://m.weibo.cn/1649159940/4266046372763082 ​
2018-07-26 15:02:08 | @USEmbassyinChina What did you guys do? Who did you do wrong to? Did you go the wrong road when it came to that person who planned the bombing?  http://t.cn/ReUqcb1 ​
2018-07-26 15:02:08 | @美国驻华大使馆 你们那咋啦?得罪谁啦?搞爆炸的那人,你是不是走错路了? http://t.cn/ReUqcb1 ​


Second-generation Reds 红二代

From their very first days in the classroom, this generation of children were taught to shout, “Long live Mao Zedong!” Steeped in the politics of class struggle, many of these youth also became red guards mobilized at the outset of the Cultural Revolution. In a report ahead of the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2011, Guangzhou’s Yangcheng Evening News reported that at least 30 prominent people might be characterized as “second-generation reds” – including Zhou Binghe (周秉和), the nephew of Zhou Enlai (周恩来), the first premier of the People’s Republic of China and Hu Deping (胡德平), the son of former premier Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦). However, the term can be applied to any son or daughter of a Party leader, local or national, serving before or during the Cultural Revolution.

While the term, which emerged in the 1990s, has been used more readily online, it is rarely ever found in the traditional Party media. It has appeared just twice in the CCP’s official People’s Daily newspaper (to March 2021), both times in the Xi era. The first was an article on July 25, 2016, written by Zhang Fu (章夫), a member of the All-China Writers Association. In it, Zhang said: “Last November, I went with writer Gao Hong to visit the descendants of the Red Army in Zoige County, and I was lucky enough to meet a ‘second-generation red’ from Yilong during the interview.”

A reference to “second-generation reds” appears in the July 25, 2016, editing of the People’s Daily, in an article by Zhang Fu (top left).

In an article in the paper just a few days later, He Jiesheng (贺捷生), PLA general and the daughter of revolutionary and commander He Long (贺龙), wrote in the paper: “When I arrived in Chengdu, I was greeted by such second-generation reds as the daughters of my cousin, [Red Army commander] He Wendai (贺文岱) — He Nanan (贺南南), He Jinnan (贺锦南) and He Rongnan (贺蓉南) — and also the sons of my father’s favourite general He Bingyan (贺炳炎), He Leisheng (贺雷生) and He Lingsheng (贺陵生), and many other third-generation reds whose names I could and couldn’t say. All were smiling.”

Guidance of Public Opinion 舆论导向

The following is an excerpt from “Major Events,” an item appearing in China Comment, a magazine published internally by the Central Propaganda Department:

In the afternoon, Zhao Ziyang speaks with officials from the Propaganda Bureau and others responsible for the ideological work of the Party. “Open things up just a bit. Make the news a bit more open. There’s no big danger in that,” he says, adding. “By facing the wishes of the people, by facing the tide of global progress, we can only make things better.” Once Zhao’s words are conveyed to news media through comrades Hu Qili and Rui Xingwen, support for the student movement rapidly seizes public opinion and wrongly pushes matters in the direction of chaos. Several large newspapers, television and broadcast stations in the capital offer constant coverage of the students’ wishes. Subsequently, movements nationwide begin to gather strength, and the numbers of participants swell. Headlines and slogans attacking and deriding the Party also multiply in papers of all sizes, the content becoming more and more reactionary in nature.

China Comment (半月谈), June 1989

In a series of dictates following the events of June 4, the Central Propaganda Department stated in no uncertain terms that news media must “uphold correct guidance of public opinion.” During 1994’s National Working Conference on Propaganda Thought, propaganda officials said the press must “arm the people with scientific principles, guide the people with correct public opinion, mould the people with a noble spirit, and invigorate the people with excellent works”. “The political tumult of 1989, and the severe missteps in the leading of public opinion taught everyone in the Party an important lesson,” Jiang Zemin said in a meeting with propaganda ministers on January 24, 1996.

In a speech on September 26 of the same year, Jiang Zemin said after paying an inspection visit to the People’s Daily that correct guidance of public opinion was good for both the Party and the people, and incorrect guidance potentially calamitous for both. Jiang emphasized that “control of news and public opinion had to be placed firmly in the hands of those who had a deep respect for Marxism, for the Party and for the people.” “Those units responsible for news and public opinion must place firm and correct political bearings above all other priorities,” he said, “thereby upholding correct guidance of public opinion.”

The particular aspects of “guidance of public opinion” have generally been defined as follows: 1. Major Party media must not print or broadcast content that in policy or spirit is at odds with the Party; 2. Media should actively promote the policies of the Party and facilitate public understanding of these policies; 3. If public opinion differs from the Party on any matters, the media are responsible for sufficiently guiding the public so as to bring their opinions in line with the Party spirit; 4. If news reports or propaganda appear concealing certain trends at odds with the aims of the Party, the media must act to prevent the possible spread of these trends; 5. News that is not in the interest of the Party must be rejected, and media must not be so bold as to publicize such news; 6. The media must ensure correct and unerring guidance of public opinion by thoroughly respecting the Party’s discipline of propaganda; 7. The media must provide journalists with a foundation of expert knowledge and research in propaganda techniques in order to improve the results of propaganda guidance.

Guidance Today

“Guidance of public opinion” is still routinely found in CCP guidelines today, and increasingly under Xi Jinping has found its way also into national laws relating broadly to the media. In his February 2016 speech outlining his media policy, Xi reiterated that media needed to “firmly adhere to correct guidance of public opinion” (牢牢坚持正确舆论导向). In the same speech he stressed that media operated by the Party-state must all be “surnamed Party” (姓党), upholding the ‘Party nature”(党性).

As digital transformation has re-defined the media landscape in China, however, adhering to “correct guidance of public opinion” is no longer strictly a matter for traditional media and its editors, managers and (licensed) journalists. As hundreds of millions of internet users are actively involved in the sharing and creation of content, including chats, they are all, for the CCP, important nodes of “guidance.”

Regulations released in September 2017 by the Cyberspace Administration of China on the management of chat groups on social media services such as WeChat, QQ and Baidu Post Bar specified (emphasis added) that “providers of information services through internet chat groups on the internet, and users, must adhere to correct guidance, promoting socialist core values, fostering a positive and healthy online culture, and protecting a favorable online ecology.”

Value Bombs

In the weeks following a speech on ideology given by Chinese President Xi Jinping in August 2013, a new hardline term emerged to characterize the CCP’s bid for dominance over public opinion. That term, “public opinion struggle,” or yulun douzheng (舆论斗争), had hardline leftist overtones, and seemed to hearken back to an earlier era of Party rule. A series of strongly worded editorials in August spoke of the dangers posed to Party rule by such ideas as constitutionalism. As mainstream Party media, including the People’s Daily, formally joined the attack in September, many officials used militaristic metaphors to describe the Party’s “struggle” for ideological dominance. Arguments were no longer just arguments, but “value bombs” contending against one another in a life-or-death “struggle.”

Power Progeny 官二代

The Chinese term guan er’dai (官二代) could be translated numerous ways into English, and possibilities might include “sons and daughters of government officials” or “official offspring.” Whatever the translation, the Chinese term is used with increasing frequency to refer to the children of standing or former Party or government officials who are afforded special privileges and opportunities by virtue of the power and privilege enjoyed by their parents. The term is often used in conjunction with the term fu er’dai (富二代), or “progeny of prosperity,” which refers to the sons and daughters of powerful business leaders, who are similarly afforded great opportunity. Both terms are backgrounded by growing inequality of both wealth and opportunity in China, which has come as social and political reforms have lagged behind economic reforms, putting wealth and power in the hands of a relative few.

Naked Official 裸体做官

Emerging in the 2000s as a term preferred by internet users to refer to corrupt officials who had already located their family members overseas, “naked official” began entering the more formal media discourse of anti-corruption in 2010. On February 22, 2010, the Ministry of Supervision issued a document called “Highlights of the Work of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau in 2010” (国家预防腐败局2010年工作要点), the first government document to make supervision of so-called “naked officials” a priority.

On March 5, 2011, Ma Ma (马馼), deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, said China would begin a registry for “naked officials” that year. In a media interview in 2016, Ma stressed that, “I personally believe that under reform and opening officials and citizens are the same, and sending sons and daughters overseas should not be a special right officials have.” Asked to estimate how many “naked officials” there were in China, Ma said: “I’m afraid we can’t arrive at these numbers right now.”

In 2017, the profile of the term “naked official” was further raised as it appeared in the Chinese TV drama “In the Name of the People” (人民的名义), a series based on the online novel written by Zhou Meisen (周梅森) that tells the story of a prosecutor who works to uncover corruption in a fictional Chinese city.

Ministry of Truth 真理部

Internet controls in China are now handled primarily through the powerful Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), created in 2014 as the umbrella organization concentrating and overseeing cybersecurity and internet policy under the Central Leading Group for Cybersecurity and Informatization, directly under the leadership of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping. In 2018, the leading group was formally upgraded to a commission, called the Central Commission for Cybersecurity and Informatization.
Before the Xi era, internet controls involved a dizzying array of party and government bodies, notably the Information Office of the State Council (SCIO), the office established in January 1991 as China faced international sanctions in the wake of the June 4, 1989, crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations. The role of the office was to “explain China to foreign countries,” and the centering of internet policy there in the late 1990s demonstrates how the internet was seen as something foreign and external. By the 2000s, the Information Office was the most active agent of controls for the internet, its Internet Affairs Office regularly sending out directives to online news sites about sensitive content.
It was sometime in the late 2000s that the term “Ministry of Truth” emerged among Chinese internet users as Chinese neologism to describe the system of controls on internet content. The term is a reference to the department described in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, where speech is subjected to all-encompassing control by Big Brother, the totalitarian leader of the fictional Oceania. The term has often been trucked out by Chinese journalists and internet writers since the late 2000s to refer collectively to the various agencies involved in propaganda controls.

Buried Alive

On January 11 this year, dissident Chinese writer Yu Jie (余杰) arrived in the United States with his wife and family for a self-imposed exile. At a press conference in Washington DC on January 18, Yu said he had been seriously beaten in 2010, the year he released his book China’s Best Actor: Wen Jiabao (《中国影帝温家宝》), which was highly critical of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) and China’s government. At the press conference, Yu described how plainclothes security police had stripped him naked and subjected him to abuse. Yu said the men threatened him by saying: “If the order comes from above, we can dig a pit to bury you alive in half an hour, and no one on earth would know.”
In the weeks that followed Yu Jie’s press conference in the United States, his words were shared inside China through social media platforms such as Sina Weibo, and a new online catchphrase was born: “buried alive.”
For many social media users, the term has now become synonymous with courage of conviction — and with the unfortunate consequences such conviction can bring in a society that does not tolerate dissent. The term can also refer to acts of courage and dissent in speech.
Chinese novelist Ah Ding (阿丁), who resides overseas, wrote on Sina Weibo on January 19, the day after Yu’s Washington press conference”Happy New Year! May you make the bury alive list!”

On February 1, the official Weibo of Caijing magazine reported a Xinhua News Agency story about Premier Wen Jiabao encouraging the people to criticize the government. One user responded: “Of course after everyone’s voiced their criticism they will all be buried alive.”

Stake it on Daddy

Two decades of economic growth have certainly made China richer. But uneven growth and lagging political reforms have also contributed to a sharp widening of the gap between rich and poor in the country. As social gaps grow more distinct, some Chinese say there is a growing consciousness among young Chinese of gaps in opportunity between those who have access the power, money and connections and those who do not. The term “stake it on daddy,” or pin die (拼爹) — a shortened form of bipin laodie (比拼老爹) — is a popular modern slang in China for the practice among young people (and many not so young) of comparing one’s own parents and connections with those of others in terms of economic wealth and social or political status. Behind this term is the idea (how broadly it is held is difficult to say) that in China having ability is not as important in the real world as having a father who is connected and/or wealthy. The Li Gang Case of 2010 could be regarded as a classic manifestation of the ping die social mentality. In this case, the son of an influential police official struck and killed a female college student with his luxury sedan and dared witnesses to turn him in, shouting “My father is Li Gang.”