Almost a year ago, the weibo accounts of property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang were deleted after he challenged Xi Jinping’s call for media organizations to “take ‘Party’ as their surname.” Now, South China Morning Post’s Nectar Gan reports, municipal Party disciplinary authorities in Beijing have cited Ren’s case as one of their key victories in 2016. From SCMP:
Beijing’s municipal disciplinary and anticorruption watchdog has boasted in its annual report that its investigation into the outspoken property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang was one of its main achievements last year.
Ren, a Communist Party member known as the Big Cannon for his outspoken views, was placed on a year’s probation last May for criticising President Xi Jinping’s demand that the media must show absolute loyalty to the party.
[…] Ren social media account on Weibo, which had 37 million followers, was shut down and the tycoon was forced to shut up.
The annual work report, delivered by Beijing’s municipal disciplinary chief Zhang Fushuo, said the “stern investigation and punishment of Ren Zhiqiang’s public voicing of wrong remarks” was a highlight last year in terms of punishing those who violate “political disciplines and political rules”. [Source]
Although the fight against corruption has been one of Xi’s flagship policies, many commentators have noted a shift in the focus of the disciplinary apparatus ahead of a mid-generational leadership shuffle at the 19th Party Congress. The University of Hong Kong law professor Fu Hualing told The Financial Times last month, for example, after the annual number of graft prosecutions fell for the first time under Xi’s rule, “by and large the campaign that we have witnessed against corruption is coming to an end. Now it’s really about political discipline.”
Ren’s banishment from social media came soon after new Party regulations forbade “improper discussion” of central government policies. The outspoken tycoon was far from the last to fall. In January alone, a think tank founded by liberal economist Mao Yushi, whose staff includes several other former researchers from the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was stripped of its websites and social media accounts. Mao’s own Sina Weibo account has also been closed. A swiftly deleted Global Times editorial commented that “all the liberals must learn the lesson that openly playing on opposition or [being] a denialist will not work in China.” Earlier in the month, the deputy director of the Shijiazhuang Bureau of Culture, Radio, Film, TV, Press and Publication was fired for labeling Mao Zedong a “devil” on Weibo, and denouncing celebration of his birthday as “the world’s largest cult activity.” A lecturer at a Shandong agricultural college was sacked on similar grounds. Meanwhile, a Party directive ordered “judicial and law enforcement professionals [to] follow the correct political direction and stay absolutely loyal to the party,” while new rules for the media and education sectors made similar demands.
Against this background, official social media accounts helped circulate a list of tips on harmonious online activity for Party members and officials. From Sixth Tone’s Lin Qiqing:
Party members should see messaging app WeChat’s as a public place and will get punished if they “groundlessly criticize” major policies, an article shared on WeChat by Party mouthpiece People’s Daily warned on Sunday.
[…] The listicle, also republished by dangjian.cn, a website affiliated with the Party’s central publicity department, originates from a WeChat account called “Keep Up With the Party.” The account, which has nearly 100,000 subscribers, was started in February 2016 by Wang Xiaolian, a 32-year-old doctor from Beijing.
[…] The article about WeChat was written by a contributor, a 23-year-old university student and Party member. “[The article] aims to clarify some obscure knowledge, remind people to use WeChat Moments properly, and promote positive energy,” Wang said, using a Party buzzword.
The guidelines also urge Party members to educate those who distribute “negative energy” on Moments by “taking red faith as the most powerful weapon for resisting the penetration of Western ideologies.” It also warned candidates running for public office against using WeChat to win support. [Source]
The online activities of lower-level authorities and officials are not only monitored for political orthodoxy. Sixth Tone reported this week that for the first time, the State Council has disciplined an official for his department’s failure to keep its website up to date. The body started inspecting official sites in 2014, and closed 20,000 substandard ones last year.