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

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid