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Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao Form New Propaganda Strategy

From December 17 to 19, 2004, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held a national conference for propaganda chiefs. Although Hu Jintao did not attend the meeting, he oversaw the entire preparation of the conference. Either he directly approved all of the documents distributed at the meeting, after discussion with the Politburo, or they were distributed following his directions. Therefore, his absence is not an indication of lack of interest. On the contrary, the conference revealed the determination and framework of Hu and Wen in their effort to renew the CCP’s propaganda campaign.

The CCP has broadened the scope of its domestic propaganda. In addition to the traditional and newly developed news media, the communists for the first time publicly included college classrooms in their propaganda scope. The Party urged universities to screen their professors using a political standard and to “enhance teachers’ ethic development.” The Party policy dictates colleges to remove professors from the classroom if they are found teaching students anything deviating from the textbooks. The propaganda departments’ territory includes books, newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations, the Internet, and short cell phone messages. In addition, all kinds of seminars, discussion meetings, special topic meetings, lectures and any other forums where ideas are expressed and viewpoints exchanged also fall under the propaganda departments’ purview.

During 2003 when SARS was spreading in China, the Internet played an important role in exposing the facts, which drew a high alert from the CCP’s propaganda apparatus. Hu Jintao himself repeatedly issued instructions, pressuring for tighter control of Internet messages. The Internet helped in the spreading of some bad publicity for the CCP: the beating death of Sun Zhigang [1], reversing the death sentence of Chinese mafia godfather Liu Yong in Shenyang, fake lottery tickets in Xi’An and the infamous case in which a BMW ran over people in Harbin are just a few examples [2, 3]. After the BMW case, the CCP’s Central Propaganda Ministry (CPM) ordered a ban on “creating a disturbance on the Internet.” They issued a statement to ban “stirring up chaos in legal cases with vicious intention.” They also banned online petitions to pressure justice departments and other government agencies. To comply with these new requirements, radio and TV stations normally are not to have any call-in programs. For near-real-time programs (10 minutes after real time), strict screening is required. The CPM also re-emphasized that no one is allowed to install a satellite antenna at home to receive overseas programs. The propaganda officials are also told to watch and intercept printed materials through the post office and e-mails from outside the country.

Of course, the most essential element in Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao’s new framework is their “promoting overseas propaganda strategy.” According to Hu, China’s image in the international community doesn’t match China’s strength by a wide margin; therefore, China should beef up its propaganda to improve its image. To address that issue, the CPM established the “stepping out” strategy: pushing for CCTV’s overseas channel and English channel’s operation in foreign countries, taking advantage of foreign media’s desire to enter China’s market, and “landing” China’s broadcasting programs on foreign soil with existing infrastructure, broadening China’s influence in the world. In addition to a continued effort by the State Council’s News Research Group to publish articles on an overseas Internet site using the pen name “Xian Yan,” the Internet departments of CPM and the State Council News Office should jointly organize a “thousand people Internet army” to “occupy the Internet discussion front” in China. State Council Internet department staff will be responsible for posting some domestic Internet postings to overseas’ BBS. Recently, the CPM organized a criticism campaign against Beijing University Professor Jiao Guobiao. The campaign was initiated by the “Internet army” and managed by the State Council’s News Office Internet department. This way, the CCP not only criticized what it considered to be an unfriendly theory, but also prevented a threatening viewpoint from spreading further. This is considered “one stone kills two birds.”

In this year’s conference of propaganda chiefs, the organizer repeatedly told the directors of propaganda at different levels to clarify “roles and responsibilities,” emphasizing, “whoever is assigned in whatever area is in charge.” In reality, after Jiao Guobiao published his “Declaration of War to the CPM” [4] and Lu Yuegang published his “Open Letter,” [5] all levels of propaganda chiefs felt increased pressure. Recently in their weekly meeting, the CPM organizer told the propaganda bosses in charge of all media not to reveal who chaired the weekly conference to their subordinates like before. From this we can see the pressure felt by CPM officials. This phenomenon can be viewed as part of the delayed effects of the Jiao Guobiao and Lu Yuegang incidents.


[1] Sun Zhigang, a university graduate from Wuhan, was beaten to death at the Guangzhou Temporary Custody Center. The exposure of Sun’s case resulted in the abolition of the detention and repatriation policy of migrants.

[2] The recipients of the awards were not chosen randomly, but were friends of those who ran the lottery.
[3] On October 16, 2003, Su Xiuwen, a family member of a high-ranking official in Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province, purposely struck down a rural woman with her BMW after the woman’s vegetable cart accidentally scratched the BMW’s sideview mirror. Su accused the rural woman, Liu Zhongxia, of scratching her car. After a heated argument Su got back in her car and drove into the crowd, killing Liu and injuring 12 bystanders. She then left the scene. Pictures taken by witnesses were posted on the Internet and there were many heated discussions on the Internet. (See “In the Culture of the CCP, ‘Public Servant’ Takes on a New and Sinister Meaning,” in Chinascope Issue February/March,2005, page 36 for further details.)
[4] Jiao Guobiao has been outspoken in his attack on China’s censorship. He has called for the abolition of the state’s propaganda machinery, which he says shields corrupt officials and whitewashes the country’s darkest moments.
[5] Lu Yuegang, is the deputy director of the news center in China Youth Daily. On May 24, 2004, Zhao Yong, Secretary of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League, addressed the middle-level cadres at the China Youth Daily in a meeting and demanded “proper conduct” from the paper. Lu’s response letter criticized the CCP’s media control saying, “The China Youth Daily can be a rubbish bin for the League central committee, but the paper itself must absolutely not be turned into rubbish.” He further wrote that the Maoist dictum that the Party must control both “the barrel of the gun and the barrel of the pen” was hopelessly unsuited to modern China’s needs. The letter was leaked to the outside world and circulated widely.