According to different reports, the CCP Central Committee recently issued a document named “Circular concerning the Present Situation in the Ideological Area”. This document is highly secret, to the extent that it seems to occur that paper copies issued for study purposes may not be kept or taken home by cadres. No version is available on the Internet, and many blog posts or forum discussions referring to this documents have been taken down.
Nonetheless, a number of local newspapers have reported on study sessions on implementing the spirit of this document, through which it is possible to glean at least some information about what it might say. One article, about a meeting organized by the Urban Development Committee in Chongqing, is particularly informative. It indicates that the Circular contains seven points for attention in the current ideological environment. While these points are not listed individually, the article mentions the main points of the Circular, as
strengthening work in the ideological area, fully understanding the harm of viewpoints and theories propagated by the West, fully understanding the importance of forcefully propagating “standing up”, “becoming rich” and “becoming strong”, and fully understanding the urgency of using scientific theory and advanced culture to educate Party members and cadres.
Furthermore, the article provides three lines of action seemingly proposed by the Circular: (1) strengthening leadership and implementing responsibilities; (2) doing guidance work well and distinguishing right and wrong; and (3) sticking to the battlefield and strengthening management. These terms have been key indications in CCP propaganda directives throughout, and, as such, there is nothing new about them.
However, this news comes in the wake of a number of other indications that political correctness and ideological control are strengthening under the new administration. Last week, it was reported that universities were instructed to not mention seven topics, universal values, freedom of the press, civil society, civic rights, historical mistakes of the Communist Party, elite cronyism, and judicial independence. It may be a coincidence that this is the same number mentioned in reports about the Circular, but it certainly seems that they are branches of the same root. Furthermore, there is the recent campaign to rectify online news and the order prohibiting journalists from using foreign source material. It seems to become clear that early hopes that the Xi leadership would bring greater openness to China’s public communications sector can now definitively be put to rest. Conversely, the increasing focus on public communication seems to indicate a growing anxiety within the leadership about the erosion of public support for the regime, as indicated by a – quickly deleted – People’s Daily survey. The conclusion is a clear one to reach: further stability and development must be built on real outcomes, rather than PR about the ‘Chinese Dream’. At the same time, however, that will mean a wrenching transformation for a Party that is now often held together by the well-understood self-interest of those enjoying the privileges that membership confers.
Importantly for foreign observers, this Circular seems to renew the focus on foreign hostile powers who are supposed to have an obsession with Westernizing and dividing China. In fact, some of the terms used in reporting about the Circular seem to be derived from an article published in the Party magazine Dangjian (党建) in July of last year. As a relatively high-profile official Party publication, under the direct control of the Central Propaganda Department, it can be assumed that Dangjian content accurately reflects the positions of the CPD – which seems to have become increasingly powerful over the last few years.
The thrust of this article is that the ideological control that the CCP needs to fulfill its historical mission, is besieged by different factors, but in particular by Western hostile powers who are looking to culturally infiltrate China through a number of channels, including the media, cultural products, high-profile scholarship programmes, Internet technology, but also false social theory (Daniel Bell – the other one – and Francis Fukuyama are mentioned). The objective for this is presumably that the Western hostile powers in question are bent to curb China’s development. References to hostile powers have never been completely absent from China’s propaganda policy documents, but again, it seems that the CPD worldview finds more traction with the central leadership than it perhaps did in the past. Furthermore, while it is not clear to which extent the CPD is involved in China’s foreign affairs, it certainly is very much involved in shaping the domestic public opinion which, in turn, constrains China’s foreign policy options. Ironically, it is also in charge of foreign propaganda – soft power – efforts aimed at creating a more positive image of China abroad. It is perhaps this tension that has the most fundamental pernicious influence on those soft power efforts: China wants to be treated as a trustworthy and friendly power by a world it doesn’t trust and regards with enmity. This can only make those efforts come across as insincere and constrain possibilities for true, equal and deep engagement at different levels. Conversely, this view also has a strong impact on diplomatic positioning and other relationships vis-à-vis China: how to convince the counterpart on the other side of the table that, just perhaps, there might be a bit more nuance to policy.
Hold High the Banner, Be Firmly Confident, Determinedly Maintain High Consistency Levels with the Party Centre
On 8 May 2013, the Chongqing Municipal Urban and Rural Construction Committee convened a broad Central Group study meeting, for the special purpose of studying the Notice of the CCP Central Committee Secretariat on Issuing the “Circular concerning the Present Situation in the Ideological Area” (hereafter simply named “Circular”). The Meeting was chaired by Comrade Cheng Zhiyi, Party Group Secretary and Director of the Committee. Committee leaders and responsible persons from work units and organs subordinate to the Committee attended the Meeting. At the Meeting, the full text of the “Circular” was studied from beginning to end, understandings and insights were exchanged, and implementation measures researched.
The Meeting believes that the Party Centre’s understanding of the mainstream tendencies in the present ideological sphere are objective, and theory orientation is correct, since the 18th Party Congress, and under the firm leadership of the Party Centre with Comrade Xi Jinping as General Secretary, all Party and State work matters have begun well, the Party and government work style atmosphere is renewed daily, the cohesion and centripetal force of the nation is further strengthened, self-confidence about the path, self-confidence about theory and self-confidence about the system are further firmed up, and mainstream ideology is positive, healthy and upward. At the same time, the Centre’s analysis of seven prominent issues in the ideological area that merit attention is deep, its attitude is firm, and they have an even more sober understanding of the acuity and complexity of struggles in the ideological sphere.
The Meeting requires that all levels’ Party Committees (branches) must fully perceive the importance of strengthening work in the ideological area, fully understand the harm of viewpoints and theories propagated by the West, fully understand the importance of forcefully propagating “standing up”, “becoming rich” and “becoming strong”, and fully understand the urgency of using scientific theory and advanced culture to educate Party members and cadres. First, strengthening leadership and implementing responsibilities. All Party Committees (branches) in the Committee system must put ideological work on the important matters agenda, regularly analyse, discuss and determine new situations and new tendencies in the ideological area, timely and effectively respond to them, prevent and deal with all sorts of contradictions and issues in the ideological area. Second, do guidance well, clearly distinguish right and wrong. Expand education and teaching strength concerning the theoretical structure of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, maintain theoretical soberness and political firmness from beginning to end. Party cadres in the Committee System must have a clear banner and a firm attitude in regards to major political principles and issues of great rights and wrongs, and as to what they support and what they oppose, they also must maintain a high level of consistency with the Party Centre with Comrade Xi Jinping as General Secretary. Third, sticking to the battlefield and strengthening management. The Party Committee system persists in the principle of who manages is responsible, and localized management, one level is to grasp one level, all levels are to grasp implementation. Strengthen management of the propaganda and culture battlefield, incessantly perfect and incessantly implement management systems, cut off and dissemination channels for mistaken thinking trends and speech at the source. Strengthen network management, strengthen public opinion guidance, clean up the network environment, do not give any opportunity to lawbreakers that they may take advantage of.
The meeting stresses the necessity to cautiously do information collection, situation discussion and determination, rapid response and effective handling work well, and especially the necessity to pay close attention to the issue of housing construction, housing guarantee and housing delivery in the area of the people’s livelihood, the issue of quality and security in construction work, and the issue of network public sentiment in the area of construction, strictly handling matters according to the law, guaranteeing that political issues do not occur, and sparing no effort to make contributions to the general task of “enriching the people, renewing Chongqing and scientific development”.
At the Meeting, relevant Municipal Committee documents and the spirit of the meeting were also transmitted and studied, and security and stability work tasks were deployed.