News / Asia

China's Media Blackout on Leadership Change Sharply Contrasts US Election Transparency

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Aug. 29, 2012.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Aug. 29, 2012.
VOA News
— Most Chinese people know that in just a few days, Xi Jinping is expected to be promoted to the country's highest seat of power. This is despite the fact that no newspaper in China has reported on the widely anticipated succession.

The media blackout stands in stark contrast to the election in the United States where the policies and chances of the candidates have been analyzed and discussed for months in China’s state-backed media.

This may seem odd for a country with a multi-billion-dollar media industry, but Li Datong, a prominent Beijing journalist, says it’s what people expect.

“There is no need to report on this,” Li says. “The common people already know, and they have guessed who it would be from Xi Jinping's unusual promotions.”

State media have detailed the rapid political rise of Xi Jinping throughout the years, as well as that of other politicians whose promotion at this week's Communist Party congress is less certain.

Looking for 'subtle cues'

In a country where the political system remains highly opaque, newsreaders rely on subtle cues such as repeated key terms to figure out not only who the next leaders will be, but also what their policies might look like.

Qian Gang, a research fellow at Hong Kong University's China Media Project, studies political slogans as they are published on Chinese news outlets. He believes that in the absence of a more transparent political debate, those slogans help Chinese understand the temperature and direction of the country’s politics.

“Political change in China over the past 60 years has been attended by change in the meaning and frequency of political watchwords,” Qian writes on his China Media Project blog. “Some terms, like 'class struggle,' have faded into the past. Others, like 'political reform,' have run hot and cold.”

According to Qian Gang's research, "reform of the political system" was an important catchphrase during the 1980s when high-ranking leaders like Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang attempted to relax the party's grip on people's freedoms. But after the heavy crackdown on mass demonstrations in 1989, the phrase lost its prominence in Chinese newspapers, signaling that the leadership had chosen deepening economic reforms over political change.

Starting around the year 2007, Premier Wen Jiabao revived the term when he started advocating for "zhengzhi gaige" as the expression "political reform" reads in Chinese, and the phrase’s appearance surged again in Chinese newspapers.

“He wants history to remember him as someone who advocated for political reform and for universal values,” says Li Datong, “he knows that his time is up, and that he did not do anything [concrete] on political reform.”

Hu has his own slogans

Outgoing President Hu Jintao may be remembered for his insistence on “stability preservation” and the promotion of what is called a "harmonious society."

Ever since the turmoil of the cultural revolution, Chinese leaders have stressed the need for social cohesion with slogans like “stability above everything else,” but Hu Jintao shortened the expression into a two character word: weiwen, or stability preservation.

“This is a political word for cadres at all levels, and it means that nothing can be done, that no reform can be attempted,” Li says.

Li was fired from his job as managing editor of the state-backed newspaper China Youth Daily in 2007 after he denounced the extent of censorship over his work. He calls ‘stability preservation’  a “dead kind of social stability” similar to a stagnant pond.

Expected leader Xi Jinping has so far refrained from expressing independent policy views before his appointment as Communist Party chief. Li Datong says this is common for new leaders, and in fact repeating the most common slogans may be a key requirement for politicians with ambition to rise to the top.

“In China there are many old sayings that express one concept, that you are safe when you are like everyone else,” Li says. “If you are exceptional you cannot become a leader.”

However, in 2010 when Xi was already assumed to be Hu Jintao's successor, Chinese media reported on a comment he made during a meeting of the party congress. “The power is given by the people,” he said, “and it is used by the people.”

Xi was elaborating on an earlier slogan by Hu Jintao that called on party cadres to consider the people's interests when exercising their power. The implications of Xi's addendum, that the party's legitimacy comes from citizens, has led to speculation that the next group of rulers may be more interested in pursuing reform.

Li Datong cautions against that reading however, saying that most times in China political words do not mean action.

“One of the characteristics of the Communist Party in China is that they speak beautiful words, even more beautiful than the president of the United States, but in reality they do not do anything,” he said.

Ultimately, Li says that China’s leaders will be judged by the more universal political standard of evaluating their legacy based on what they do, not what they say.

You May Like

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid