Chinese Social Media Giants Launch New Campaign Against “Historical Nihilism”

Several of China’s major social media companies have launched a campaign to clean up “historical nihilism” on their platforms. The push comes on the heels of an April 20 essay published in Study Times by the head of the Cyberspace Administration of China, the national internet watchdog, on strengthening the Party’s control of the internet. CAC Party Secretary Zhuang Rongwen declared the Party must “dare to brandish the sword” in the struggle to suppress heterodox history. Days later, Douban, Douyin, Toutiao, and Weibo announced efforts to encourage users to report others for posts tainted with historical nihilism, a catch-all term for accounts of the history of the People’s Republic of China and the Communist movement that engage with the less-than-glorious aspects of either. The CAC’s previous moves to combat the phenomenon include the curious publication last August of what might be termed a Terrible Ten list of historically nihilist rumors, which CDT posted in translation together with some at times bewildered expert commentary.

The relatively liberal site Douban, which has been gradually muzzled by the CAC, issued a shorter statement warning of harmful historical nihilism and noting that it had established a number of avenues for users to report such posts when they see them. Douban’s announcement coincided with newly instituted barriers to foreigners’ registration on the platform. The moves may be a response to increased government scrutiny. In March, the Beijing office of the Cyberspace Administration of China sent a steering group to Douban’s headquarters to more closely monitor the company’s censorship efforts. 

Other sites posted similar warnings. Weibo issued a notice urging users to post “positive, value-oriented content” and report historical nihilism. The platform subsequently announced that it had shuttered 76 accounts and deleted 3,368 posts after an “inspection tour” discovered users were exploiting trending topics and discussions of historical personages to post historically nihilist content. Bytedance subsidiaries Douyin, the domestic counterpart to TikTok, and Toutiao, a news aggregator, issued identically-worded statements that said users were using Party, national, and military history to spread rumors about “sensitive issues.” The statements also railed against attacks on Marxism, Mao Zedong Thought, and Deng Xiaoping Theory, though they made no mention of similar assaults on Xi Jinping’s eponymous “Thought”.  

Since at least December of last year, the Party has been running an internal education campaign about historical nihilism. Cadres have been required to attend screenings of a “revealingly odd” documentary, “Historical Nihilism and the Soviet Collapse”. At The New York Times early this month, Chris Buckley reported on how Chinese Party members are indoctrinated with a fear of Western ideological infiltration

“The most powerful weapon possessed by the West is, aside from nuclear weapons, the methods they use in ideological struggle,” says the documentary’s stern-voiced narrator, citing a Russian scholar. The documentary was marked for internal viewing — that is, for audiences chosen by party officials and not for general public release — but the video and script have recently surfaced online in China.

[…] The documentary attributes the decline of the Soviet Union to political liberalization, especially what Beijing calls “historical nihilism,” or emphasizing the Communist Party’s mistakes and misdeeds. It accuses historians critical of the Soviet revolution of fabricating estimated death tolls by many millions for Stalin’s purges.

“They’ve taken only one lesson from all of this, and that is you do not allow any freedom of expression,” said Sergey Radchenko, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies who studies Chinese and Soviet history, “because this kind of freedom inevitably leads to loss of political control and that creates chaos.” [Source]

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