The Chinese Communist Party has always regarded the media, and culture more generally, as an important tool through which to conduct propaganda and shape the views of the public, bringing peoples’ ideas in line with the CCP’s prevailing ideas and policies and thereby manufacturing legitimacy. For this reason, the notion of the “mainstream,” or zhuliu (主流), as something that arises naturally from popular interests and ideas irrespective of the Party is unacceptable. The bottom line is that the Party must define convention.
In the realm of the media, therefore, the sense of the “mainstream media,” or MSM, as generally found in the West, denoting media outlets that are traditional or established — as opposed to alternative, fringe and so on — does not apply. The term “mainstream media” in China refers to a set of central Party-state media, as well as regional official outlets, that are regarded as being core to the CCP’s goal of maintaining “correct public opinion guidance” (正确舆论导向), which is all about the leadership’s capacity to mold and shape social and political views. In other words, the goal of such media is to manufacture “mainstream” ideas and attitudes that are defined by and accord with those of the Party.
In his speech to Party media in February 2016, in which he outlined the CCP’s media policies, Xi Jinping emphasized that Party media must be “surnamed Party” (姓党), remaining loyal to its principles and objectives, and he urged the need to ensure that “the mainstream media have strong communication power, guiding power, influence and credibility, so that all people are united in ideals, beliefs and moral values, and so that positive energy is strengthened and the main theme is elevated.” “Positive energy,” or zhengnengliang (正能量), refers to the need, under Xi-era media policy, to emphasize positive and uplifting messages over critical ones. The reference to the “main theme” is about the CCP’s main ideological line.
Clearly underscoring the role of central and regional Party-state media in shaping the “mainstream” to accommodate the Party’s objectives, Xi also said that media needed to “do their utmost to consolidate and strengthen mainstream ideology and public opinion.”
China’s core group of “mainstream media” includes 18 outlets as follows: the People’s Daily (人民日报), Xinhua News Agency (新华社), Seeking Truth (求是), the People’s Liberation Army Daily (解放军报), Guangming Daily (光明日报), Economic Daily (经济日报), China Daily (中国日报), China National Radio (中央人民广播电台), China Central Television (中央电视台), China Radio International (中国国际广播电台), Science and Technology Daily (科技日报), China Procuratorate Daily (中国纪检监察报), Worker’s Daily (工人日报), China Youth Daily (中国青年报), China Women’s News (中国妇女报), Farmers’ Daily (农民日报), Legal Daily (法制日报) and China News Service (中国新闻社).
There are also “regional mainstream media” (地方主流媒体), which include the various “dailies” overseen by the CCP at the provincial and city levels, as well as local broadcasters. And leaders and pundits now talk frequently about “new mainstream media” (新型主流媒体), meaning the migration and transformation of official Party-state outlets in the digital age, as they move to assert the Party’s mainstream ideology through social media platforms and other channels.