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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid