Propaganda in the Xi era

Too long to post in its entirety, here’s a taste of an interesting and detailed article on propaganda in the era of Xi Jinping.–Kirk

Source: Marco Polo (9/12/18)
In Xi We Trust: How Propaganda Might Be Working in the New Era
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In Xi We Trust: How Propaganda Might Be Working in the New Era

On November 29, 2012, the newly selected Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping visited the “Road to Rejuvenation” exhibit at the National Museum in Beijing. With the previous Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) in tow, Xi unveiled his vision of the “Chinese Dream” (中国梦)—the simple idea that the CCP’s collective mission to rejuvenate the nation also advances the myriad individual ambitions of Chinese citizens. Political theater aside, Xi used the occasion to clearly articulate what amounts to a mission statement: under his leadership, the CCP will lead China’s return as a global power.

Many foreign observers at the time dismissed the Chinese Dream as unoriginal, a lifting of a distinctively American idea to capture a similar sentiment among upwardly mobile middle-class Chinese. But such analyses mostly missed the point. Xi’s speech, in fact, marked the start of a major campaign to reorient domestic policy and to overhaul propaganda work to support this new agenda. That Xi chose to launch a conceptual idea, rather than economic targets or policies, in his first important speech as General Secretary is significant. Not only did it distinguish him from previous leaders, it also spoke volumes about the problem Xi inherited.

That problem was the CCP itself. Most Chinese were well aware that the Party had drifted toward crony capitalism, as corruption swelled within its rank-and-file. The CCP brand reached its nadir when the Bo Xilai crisis—in which the populist and ambitious leader of Chongqing was purged and jailed after his wife murdered a British national—exploded in early 2012, reinforcing the growing cynicism the Chinese public held toward its government.

The crisis shook the CCP just before Xi took the reins of the world’s largest political party. Xi’s urgent task, then, which likely had consensus approval from other senior leaders, was to strengthen a weakened Party through a massive anti-corruption campaign and a reimagined Party narrative to win the hearts and minds of Chinese people.

These twin efforts were of equal importance to Xi’s goals and were mutually reinforcing in their implementation. From the CCP’s vantage point, faltering public trust was as much an existential threat to its legitimacy as a potential economic collapse. The Party understood that it must stand for something beyond perpetuating its own power and its cadres’ self-enrichment. Indeed, the CCP had to fill its platform with more compelling ideas—or face a credibility crisis of monumental proportions. In this context, Xi’s Chinese Dream set the stage for the elevation of ideological work to a level perhaps not seen since the Mao era.

Propaganda often gets short shrift in mainstream coverage of Chinese politics, possibly because the propaganda apparatus is frustratingly opaque and its effectiveness hard to measure. But the CCP, as a Leninist ruling party that demands political unity among its 89 million members and public compliance with its dictates from nearly 1.4 billion Chinese citizens, invests enormous resources in the promulgation of official ideologies, media management, and public opinion guidance.

Propaganda work is so instrumental to the political system that the Central Propaganda Department (CPD), established in 1924, is almost as old as the CCP itself, which was founded three years earlier in 1921. Since 1992, the propaganda system has been overseen by a PBSC member, who heads the Central Leading Small Group on Propaganda and Thought Work (CLSGPTW). This system is responsible for all Party publicity and for the supervision of all information domains in China and, to the extent possible, abroad. That it was so important for Xi to be the first top leader since Deng Xiaoping to enshrine his name in the Party Constitution—under the aegis of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”—is a testament to the tight control and crucial role of political expression under CCP rule.

In this analysis, we seek to make sense of what we have dubbed “Propaganda in the New Era,” examining what has changed (or not) during Xi’s tenure across several dimensions: bureaucracy, funding, content, and effectiveness. We mainly focus on propaganda work aimed at domestic audiences rather than on efforts to project China’s soft power externally. Combining a range of data and qualitative analysis, we present as best an assessment as we can of how CCP propaganda under Xi (1) has been increasingly controlled by Party rather than state bureaucracies; (2) has received increased funding; (3) has markedly improved content quality; and (4) has shown effectiveness in raising levels of public trust in the Chinese government. . . [read the full article here]

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