QIAO Mu, an instructor at Beijing Foreign Language University, wrote a post on his blog describing his search for and impressions of the enigmatic Central Propaganda Department. (Translated by Don Weinland)
Because I coordinate the Beijing Foreign Language University’s international news broadcast master’s training, I am sometimes summoned to the Central Propaganda Department and Central Education Department for meetings with five other test colleges. In the past, due to business trips, not being of an adequate status and other inconveniences, I didn’t attend a Central Propaganda Department meeting. On Nov. 25 I was again notified to attend a meeting. The notice gave the topic of discussion and the time, but didn’t give the location of the Central Propaganda Department. It said only what floor and what room in the department. The notice requested the name of the attendee and the number of their car be reported to a contact in advance.
Because my leader was busy, the responsibility to go fell on me alone. I didn’t dare request a car from my work unit. I was reluctant to spend money on a taxi and unwilling to drive my own car (worried about getting lost and not finding a parking space). So only the option of taking a public transportation was left.
But where was the Central Propaganda Department? This place – other than on American satellite images – cannot be found on a Chinese map. I knew it was close to the Party Central Committee, or even itself is the very “Central.” But I didn’t know the exact location or what street it was on. The number I had been called from in the past appeared as eight zeros on my phone. Was this to be mysterious, or just secretive?
I fearfully called the contact number on the notification. “Where’s the Central Propaganda Department?” I got an answer telling me how to get there by car. Fearful again, I said I had no car and that I was preparing to take the public transportation. There was an obvious and dumbfounded silence followed by low, hesitant instructions on which route to take and how to proceed.
The metro arrived in a prosperous Beijing commercial district. I knew the Central Propaganda Department was near, but no matter how I looked I couldn’t find it. I asked several people but they were unsure. I had no choice but to call the contact again and timidly ask for directions. Following the directions, I walked to an unmarked gate. Seeing the armed police post, I figure this was it. Entry was granted only with reception from someone within. Our Party had been the underground party for so many years, only to become the current ruling party. Yet it has maintained the exceptional tradition of its underground secret workings. Even the omnipotent internet is helpless in dealing with this China’s most powerful, influential and longstanding institution.
I went directly to a great meeting hall. The interior was spacious and bright, decorated exquisitely and housing state-of-the-art equipment. I need not say more. I jotted down the large slogan on the wall:
“Responsibility heavy as a mountain; Diligent as an ox; Meticulous as a hair; With lips sealed like a bottle; United as one.”
I won’t go on with the other similes. But with sealed lips, how to go about uniting as one?
Because we must keep our lips sealed, I won’t speak of the meeting’s content. The meeting dispersed before long. Although we went to a restaurant, I was positive we wouldn’t be treated to a meal. Prior meetings with the Central Education Department had been like this. In Chinese officialdom, when the superiors inspect the inferiors, the inferiors will certainly prepare lavish eating and drinking, even paying tribute with gifts upon parting. When the inferiors visit the top, especially when working with departments, the saying goes “your entry is difficult, your face ugly, your words unpleasant.” If you are granted a seat and glass of water, the emperor has bestowed unto you his vast beneficence. There is no possibility of staying for a meal. This is a reduction of eating and drinking on public funds. It’s obvious China’s anti-corruption movement has achieved great results.
Imagine these teachers and leaders from Fudan University [in Shanghai] fly all the way here every time just for a one to two hour meeting at the Ministry of Education and the Department of Propaganda, and then take the spirit of the meeting back to implement.
Exiting the meeting, I observed the courtyard’s grand atmosphere and synthesis of Chinese and Western architecture. Many Audis and other luxury cars were parked there. Although I knew this was not the police bureau, nor the Ministry of defense, nearly all of them sported military license plates or the character for Beijing Municipality followed by zeros. Could they be rip-offs so they can make traffic violations, run red lights and drive in the police lane?
I passed through a great hall on my way out. There were many precious items from various different places on display. I only care to mention an incomparably large slab of marble from Dali, Yunnan. Patterns of natural color resembling clouds and mountain ranges ran across the stone. Sitting there, it looked like a traditional Chinese painting of mountains and lakes. It produced a dreamy feeling of relaxation.
I won’t mention the rest of the treasures, but each and every one was magnificent. Because we must keep our “lips sealed,” I’ll stop here.
An endless stream of traffic met me upon leaving the ministry. Those who go with the flow will flourish. Those who go against it will perish.
For more about the work of the Central Propaganda Department and its local branches, see CDT’s series on Directives from the Ministry of Truth.
UPDATE1: The original post has been deleted from blog.sina.com.cn since this translation published. CDT saved the Chinese text here.
UPDATE2: Anne-Marie, a reader of this article made the following comment:
“For those whose curiosity is piqued by Du’s blog and want to include the CPD in their next tour of Beijing, the location is: 5 Chang’an Boulevarde, and the Organisation Dep’t and United Front Bureau are nearby.”