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Be Vigilant about “Pan-Liberalism” in Self-Media

{Editor’s Notes: Red Flag Manuscript published an article discussing the use of “Pan-Liberalism” {1} and other non-mainstream expressions over the Internet. The article warned that “self-media,” such as Weibo and WeChat where people can create and post news and comments on their own, create a more “free” environment to challenge the government’s discourse power. It then suggested ways to impose stronger government control over those areas, including shutting down the violator’s sites.

The following is a translation of the article.} {2}

Be Vigilant about “Pan-Liberalization” in Self-Media

October 23, 2017 Source: Red Flag Manuscript

After the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party in 2012, when faced with a complicated situation in the field of ideology, General Secretary Xi Jinping issued a series of important speeches that profoundly expounded on a series of major theoretical and practical issues related to ideology work. These speeches have enhanced the party’s leading role and discourse power in the field of ideology and have also made it even clearer that Marxism is the guiding principle in ideology. However, it should also be noted that the rapid development of the Internet and, in particular, the widespread application of “Weibo” and “WeChat,” has not only provided a more convenient and faster channel for information dissemination and public exchange, but also provided a “freer” space for non-mainstream ideological discourse. The trend of “Pan-Liberalism” has broken the dominance of the traditional media in public discourse and has posed a serious challenge to mainstream ideology. Therefore we must analyze and criticize it.

I. The Trend of “Pan-Liberalism” in Self-media’s Expression of Non-mainstream Ideological Discourse

A. Negating the party’s leadership through “historical nihilism”

For some time, historical nihilists have used a number of different means to reinterpret history, despising and negating the history and culture of our revolution, economic development, and reform. They have disregarded the innate laws of historical progress, replacing mainstream with non-mainstream explanations. They have used individual or local phenomena to replace the overall picture and isolate the stages in the course of history; and they have taken a few mistakes in history and, based on their own subjective needs, blown them up as if they were the whole picture. The real intent was to negate the leadership role of the party by opposing the guiding principle of Marxism and denying the historical inevitability of China’s progress toward socialism. In recent years, as a result of the speedy development of self-media, social trends of this type of thought have spread even more rapidly.

One prominent manifestation of the historical nihilists approach is to disparage the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and arbitrarily exaggerate the mistakes that were made in the party’s history. They have criticized and negated the party’s dominant position in leading the Chinese people in the process of the new democratic revolution and socialist development, and denigrated and denied the socialist path that China chose and the tremendous achievements that it has made. For example, they denied the historical status of Mao Zedong during the process of the development of socialism, distorted and vilified the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership role in the nation’s revolution and in the progress of its development and further criticized the Chinese people’s revolutionary or reform efforts to fight for national independence and self-reliance in modern history.

Moreover, as a powerful antisocial trend in the non-mainstream ideology, historical nihilists have often spoken with mixed messages on major historical events or mass incidents, with the goal of eventually negating the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Some self-media made up erroneous rumors that are completely incompatible with history. For example, “The victory in China’s resistance war against Japanese aggression was pure luck.” “Huang Jiguang blocking gun fire with his body and sacrificing his life was simply fabricated.”{3} “The Long March was only 6000 Chinese miles”{4} “The Red Army soldiers used Maotai wine to wash their feet.”{5}

B. Demeaning the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics and its future

Socialism with Chinese characteristics did not fall from the sky. It was the arduous exploration and countless efforts of the Chinese people under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party that made it possible. It was an inevitable choice of history. Since the establishment of communist China, especially since the reform and opening up, tremendous changes have taken place in our country and tremendous achievements have been made. However, in self-media, we can often see tendencies to make fallacious remarks that denigrate and negate the social development made in China, negate the socialist system, and question the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. These erroneous statements can be summed up as follows:

First, they deny the historical inevitability of China’s choice of a socialist path, disregard the historical background and conditions for China to embark on the socialist path, and disseminate statements that capitalism fits China and socialism will inevitably fail in China. They attempt to destabilize the common ideal of the Chinese people and destroy the great cause of independence, prosperity, and national independence that the Chinese people have been working hard to pursue since the start of the modern era.

Second, they put Mao Zedong Thought in opposition to the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics in an obscure way and create the illusion that only one of the two could be chosen. The confusion it has caused in society has shaken the foundation of the party’s rule and created political turmoil.

Third, they beautify the western democratic system and magnify its appeal, leading public opinion to destroy people’s confidence in the socialist path with Chinese characteristics. The most common tactic is “covering up their shortcomings and our own strength, and using their strength to attack our weakness.” They compare the imperfections in China’s development with the better aspects of the West, deliberately minimizing the merits of China’s development and the deficiencies in Western development.

Fourth, they spread the message that it is a historic inevitability for the world to move towards a free and democratic Western system. In some self-media, the theories of “the end of communism and socialism” have emerged in different forms and culminated in the theory that free democracy in the West is the ultimate “goal of ideological development and the last form of rule for mankind.” The development of human society is a “universal history of mankind progressing toward a free and democratic system.” On the one hand, such a remark is very derogatory to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics and its fundamental institutions; on the other hand, touting and beautifying the West’s freedom and democracy sounds tempting and encouraging.

C. Improperly discussing China’s economic system and economic achievements

China has risen from a poor and backward agricultural country to today where it is the world’s second largest economy. However, in the process of rapid economic development, there were prominent problems such as inadequacies and imbalances in its development. In the area of people’s livelihood, there are still many shortfalls including the large gap between urban and rural development and the disparity in income distribution. It takes time to fix these problems. However, in recent years, some non-mainstream ideological remarks on the self-media have blatantly blamed China’s economic achievements and economic system:

First, they disassociated the relationship between the 30-year period prior to the reform and opening (gaige kaifang) policy from the next 30-year period after that. Some people used the “first 30 years” to deny the “latter 30 years.” They believe that the reform and opening up have deviated from the direction of socialism and have attributed the current problems to the reform and opening up policy. Meanwhile some people have fully acknowledged the economic achievements in the “latter 30 years” of reform and opening up. They believe that the development of China today fully benefited from the reform and opening up. They not only deny the arduous efforts made in laying the economic foundation in the “first 30 years” but have also concluded that period of history was “wasted.” Both of these views have unilaterally fragmented the history of China’s economic and social development and do not provide an objective view.

Second, they obscured the socialist nature of China’s economic system. The socialist market economy should be considered China’s great pioneer work and innovation in theory and practice; it is also a notable feature of the economic system after the reform and opening up. However, some opinion makers in self-media named this economic system “capitalism with Chinese characteristics,” “authoritarian capitalism,” and “state capitalism.” This not only contradicts the essential nature of China’s socialist market economy but also attempts to destabilize the Chinese people’s firm confidence and expectation in the development of socialism.

Third, they deliberately amplified the negative issues in the process of China’s economic development and looked at them with a one-sided view. For instance, they only focused on the negative impact that arose in the fields of environment, food, air, medicine, poverty and so on, failing to see the great achievements that have already been made and the measures that the party and the government have taken and will take to solve these problems.

Fourth, they come up with expressions that misinterpret measures used in China’s economic reform. For example, regarding the ongoing fiscal revenue and redistribution reform, those with ulterior motives concocted terms in self-media such as “robbing the rich and helping the poor.” They intend to slow down the reform process by misinterpreting the new round of reform policies and intensifying confrontation and contradictions between the rich and the disadvantaged groups.

D. Promoting values that are contrary to the core values of socialism

With the continuous progress of reform and opening up and the exchange and clash of civilizations between China and the world, many different viewpoints from the West have begun to flow in continuously. These ideas from both domestic and foreign fronts have greatly impacted the mainstream ideology at home. The unconstrained and idiosyncratic nature of self-media has provided a platform for the dissemination of these values:

First, promotion of the West’s “universal values.” For a long time, Western countries have neither stopped nor relaxed their conspiracy to implement “peaceful evolution” in our country. The ideological and cultural fields are the key areas for their long-term infiltration effort. Through domestic “spokespersons” on self-media, they introduced the achievements, livelihood, and values of Western society in many forms; they have advocated the so-called “universal values” by over-hyping such issues as freedom, democracy, human rights, ethnicity, and religion. All of these are especially inflammatory to young and inexperienced Internet users.

Second, the prevalence of consumerism, hedonism, and money worship. In order to satisfy the desires that have constantly been created and stimulated, these non-mainstream ideological values have penetrated every corner of society under the so-called market operations of “pushing hands” (online promoters). In this “market,” not only goods and materials, but personal fame, sentiment, privacy, and other non-material things can be used for speculation and consumed as long as they attract attention and bring benefits. Some people pursue “happiness above everything” and “amusing oneself to death.”

Third, the pursuit of extreme individualism. This is an era of diverse ideals. There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of individuality. However, in the self-media, a phenomenon of pursuing extreme individualism has become an ever intensifying trend. In order to seek fame and fortune, a number of vulgar expressions and publicity stunts contrary to the traditional socialist moral concepts have emerged one after another. They are constantly challenging the bottom line of society’s moral standard.

II. Analysis of the Cause of “Pan-Liberalization” in Non-Mainstream Self-Media

A. The rapid change in the social environment and the diversification of values have weakened the dominance of mainstream ideology.

At present, our country is in a crucial period of comprehensive deepening of reform, while different conflicts are even more prominent. Some erroneous social ideological trends have also spread rapidly through the self-media platform. They have triggered a negative mentality among the general public. As a result, some people have wavered in their faith in the mainstream ideology.

On a number of self-media platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, and discussion forums, almost every individual social incident brings about a noticeable ideological debate. Be it the strategic decision-making issues that concern the future and destiny of the nation or the little things in daily life, an online dispute is always elevated to a matter that concerns the superiority of socialism versus capitalism or the path China should take, constantly shaping society’s psychology. In this process, a common practice has been to take advantage of freedom of speech to play the “edge ball” (switching the issue so the reader is led away from the real direction and toward the writer’s viewpoint), globalizing a local and isolated problem, expanding a simple issue into a complicated one, or redefining a general social problem into a political one. Some even attribute the issue to the disadvantage of the nature of socialism or the fundamental social system, pointing a finger at the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and Socialism.

B. The characteristics of how self-media communication takes place provide the space for the “pan-liberalization” of non-mainstream ideological discourse.

Since self-media first emerged, everyone has had the potential to become the focal point of the general public. It provides room for the freedom of expression in non-mainstream ideological discourse:

First, it is instantaneous and interactive. Since space and time do not constrain self-media platforms, everyone can run his own “media.” Information can be disseminated rapidly and its promptness is greatly improved. The speed and efficiency are something that traditional television, newspapers, and other media cannot match.

Second, it is fragmented and decentralized. In the traditional media, the mode of ideological discourse features lengthy narratives, while self-media features fragmented words and sentences. At the same time, with the “de-centralization” of self-media, the disseminators can spread unfiltered information freely at the fastest speed. It can instantly generate a strong “wave of public opinion” and have a huge impact on public affairs.

Third, it is for common and ordinary people and for the population at large. For the traditional media such as television and newspapers, the operation of the media is undoubtedly an extremely complicated matter. It takes a lot of manpower and financial resources to maintain it. However, the self-media users only need to go through a simple registration process and follow the module that the service provider arranges in cyberspace. Afterwards, they can, through the interface management tool, publish text, music, pictures, videos, and other online information and create their own “media.” In other words, the self-media has provided ordinary people with the best place to showcase their individuality and express themselves.

C. The transmission mechanism of self-media has impeded the spread of mainstream ideology.

For a long time, mainstream ideology has used traditional media as the main front for propaganda. However, with the rapid development of new media, especially self-media, the content published and the presentation style on these platforms are no longer subject to strict screening. The result is that non-mainstream ideologies directly impact the spread of mainstream ideology.

The party and the government are the main body for the spread of mainstream ideology. As the source of information, they guide public opinion to maintain the dominant position of mainstream ideology while the general public is the recipient of the information. The two of them (the party and government versus the general public) are positioned at two ends of the information stream. However, this relationship has gradually weakened with the widespread use of self-media. Self-media is different from professional media organizations in how it disseminates information, as the general public controls how information is disseminated. Each person is both the receiver and the publisher of the information. During the process of receiving and transmitting information, they also accept and disseminate different ideologies. The ideological trends in mainstream and non-mainstream ideology are thus competing with each other for the audience base.

The “Nuclear fission style” communication effects of self-media have crowded out the space for mainstream ideology. Different from the point-to-point mode of traditional media, the self-media’s communication presents an “explosive” effect, similar to cell division. When some social events or unexpected events occur, they react much faster than the mainstream, triggering concerns and discussions that affect public opinion. Through the “magnifying glass” of the Internet, their negative impact multiplies exponentially. They have seriously taken over the space of mainstream ideology and threaten the dominant position of mainstream ideology.

The “decentralized” pattern of communication has made it more difficult for the mainstream ideology to regulate it. As an important medium for ideologies, self-media is different from the traditional media which has high entry barriers and strict screening. Multiple self-media, their providers, and their users do not have strict entry barriers. They can easily disseminate false information, mislead the general public, affect public opinion and weaken the regulatory power of mainstream ideology. The diversified sources of information and communication channels have greatly increased the difficulty of government regulation. It has become very difficult to adapt to the need to regulate emerging media and to rely on traditional propaganda and regulatory measures, methods, and models.

III. Main Options for Strengthening the Development of the Mainstream Ideological Discourse in Self-media

An analysis of the current complicated and serious ideological conflict with self-media will better strengthen the domination of mainstream ideological discourse and defend the leading position of socialist ideology. In a nutshell, one can start with the following.

First, hold steady to the domination of mainstream ideology. Marxist theory is the theoretical foundation of our mainstream ideology. We must follow Marxism as the guide, have a clear attitude on principal issues, dare to “draw the sword (take strong and decisive action)” and ensure the authority of the mainstream ideology.

Second, use new media to seize the public opinion battlefield. The mainstream ideology can no longer be satisfied with control over the public opinion space of traditional media. Instead, it should fully recognize the development and future of self-media, proactively conform to the general trend of the convergence of different media types, be innovative in the communication methods of mainstream ideology, and make full use of new technologies and new applications. Through deep integration in contents, channels, platforms, operation and management, try to recognize “wherever the readers and the audiences are, that is where the tentacles of mainstream ideology communication will reach.” Adapt to the dissemination characteristics of self-media. While promoting mainstream ideology, abandon the past method of indoctrination, but use the formats that the public likes and finds easy to accept. Communicate in a manner that is not only authoritative and accurate, but also timely and relevant to the audience.

Third, further strengthen the supervision of self-media. On the one hand, reinforce the regulation of operators of self-media and make sure they act responsibly. For example, if statements that seriously deviate from the mainstream ideology are promptly found, (the authority) can enforce their closure. On the other hand, increase the efficiency of supervision, and adopt advanced network management technology. At the same time, stipulate corresponding legal penalties for such violations.

Finally, maintain the authority to interpret the mainstream ideology. When the general public faces questions, misinterpretations and defamation, they are also eager to hear the clarification and explanation from the authoritative mainstream ideological discourse. Therefore, on the one hand, the timeliness of the mainstream media should be improved. Society is evolving constantly, therefore the expression of the mainstream ideological discourse should adapt to the dynamic development of society. As for the hot topics and doubts from the public, the mainstream media should be the first to publish authoritative information in self-media to eliminate the public’s speculation and doubts and to guide mainstream public opinion. When the wrong message has already been spread, intervene immediately with analysis and criticism to stop its further fermentation and dissemination. On the other hand, the mainstream media should elevate its ability to clear up ambiguities. The work should be done in two ways. The first is to explain “why,” that is, to clarify clearly and carefully the new features, the relations between different interest groups, the contradictory relations between different groups that emerged in the process of social progress, as well as the innate laws of historical progress and the path of social progress. The second is to clarify “how,” that is to put forward reasonable and feasible solutions so as to arrive at a consensus among the people in society.

Author: Senior Editor, Theoretical Department, Guangming Daily

{1} The author uses Pan-Liberalism to apply to those who freely express their thoughts through self-media on the Internet.
{2} Red Flag Manuscript, “Be Vigilant about ‘Pan-Liberalization’ from Non-Main Stream Ideological Expressions in Self-Media,” October 23, 2017.
{3} Huang Jiguang (Chinese: 黄继光) was a Chinese soldier during the Korean War. He was highly decorated by the Chinese government. After joining the war, Huang became a runner and was later awarded the Meritorious Service, Third Class for his bravery. At the Battle of Triangle Hill in October 1952, Huang’s unit was tasked with destroying an enemy blockhouse. According to official accounts, Huang hurled himself against a machine gun slit on the blockhouse after running out of ammunition, sacrificing his life in order to block the enemy’s fire. As a result of his heroism, the Chinese forces overran the position while annihilating a significant number of enemy soldiers. However, people have cast doubts on whether Huang’s story was true.
{4} In the official history text book, the Long March was 25,000 Chinese miles, equivalent to 7400 miles.
{5} Maotai is a famous and expensive Chinese liquor.