China Tries to Cover up Exposé

China watchers and many Chinese themselves have been wondering what’s going on. Since a key Communist party meeting in late October, official media – including the People’s Daily newspaper – have treated readers to a barrage of commentary on why China mustn’t adopt Western democracy. Instead, political reform must be gradual, a free press will lead to chaos, and the party must manage public opinion.

One key point of contention is how authoritative the People’s Daily articles are, and whether they signal an internal power struggle. In other words, who wrote them?

Sohu, China’s second-largest online news portal, tried to shed some light on the issue on Wednesday with a special page introducing the people and structures behind the peculiar campaign. Zheng Qingyuan, the name under which the articles were published, is not an individual but a new term for a group of propagandists, said one article.

“In mainland China, the writers groups once used to lead public opinion,” the special argued. It went on to introduce eight different teams of propaganda writers, explain the ideological battles they triggered and the pseudonyms they used especially during the Cultural Revolution, a violent political campaign Mao Zedong used to destroy political rivals.

“The writing groups are still there, but the people are no longer the same,” Sohu said, adding:

‘Zheng Qingyuan’ is still telling people what to do, where to go, but the people whose world view is no longer that simple, whose horizon is no longer that narrow, are making their own choices following their own feelings and comparisons. The right of choice is gradually moving into the hands of every ordinary person.

For the Communist party, that was obviously too much. The special, which had attracted hundreds of comments, was taken down within hours.

That’s hardly surprising. China uses a wide array of technical and human efforts to censor the media and the internet and ‘guide’ public opinion in increasingly sophisticated ways. Nothing could be less welcome than a public debate on the nature of these manipulations and whether and how public opinion can free itself from that.



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