If proximity to power is a sign of strength, then the propaganda department is strong indeed: its offices, at 5 West Chang’an Ave., are located near the senior party leaders’ compound known as Zhongnanhai, the Chinese equivalent of the White House.
“No one in Beijing actually knows that the building is home to the propaganda department,” says Li.
“Only some people in the media know – there’s no sign marking it. It’s as though they’re acting like an underground party – it’s like a joke. Such an enormous party and yet all of its departments are kept secret.”
At the meetings, usually held Fridays, 20 to 30 editors make the pilgrimage and are told which stories they must emphasize, which must be downplayed and what topics are off-limits.
They are also told which outlets have been found guilty of breaking regulations.
In addition, editors-in-chief regularly receive a stream of specific instructions via email: not only on what to write, but how much, how stories should be laid out and what articles must be removed from websites.
Those who flout the system can be fired.