The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.
November 28, 2022
- Today’s China is Definitely Not the China of the May 4th Movement
- The Spread of “Color Revolution” Forces: Riots in Many Places Were Premeditated; “Foreign Forces” Exposed
- In Difficult Times, We Must Stand Firmly with the Party and the Country
- Invisible Battlefield: New Public Opinion War Launched by Western Internet Trolls
The above articles were forwarded by the Propaganda Department. Please disseminate widely. (November 28, 2022) [Chinese]
The above instructions were issued late last month in response to a sudden wave of public protests around China. These gatherings were sparked by a deadly fire in Urumqi whose toll was widely believed to have been first magnified by obstructive pandemic control measures, and then understated by authorities. The directive instructs recipients to boost content to discredit the protests and promote loyalty to the Party state. Selected highlights and summaries of the four listed articles are included below. Three of the four posts emphasize the supposed role of “hostile foreign forces” in plotting the protests, an accusation that was roundly mocked by some protest participants. Sing Tao Daily reporter Rong Xiaoqing skeptically discussed these charges last week at The China Project. Rong cited the second of the posts listed in the directive as an example of the accusations.
A sweeping relaxation of COVID controls last week seemed to concede to some of the frustrations expressed in the protests, but this does not appear to reflect an embrace or rehabilitation of the protests themselves: an unknown number of participants remain in detention and may face criminal prosecution, according to a Wall Street Journal report on Wednesday.
The official response to the protests also included attempts at distraction. Other elements were shown by an earlier trio of leaked directives posted by CDT. One ordered a “clean-up” of censorship circumvention tools such as VPNs. Another declared a “Level I Internet Emergency Response, the highest level of content management,” targeting “content related to public gatherings, people rushing COVID checkpoints, and particularly content related to colleges and universities,” as well as “public opinion about the pandemic in Beijing.” The third suggested that propaganda themes like model deeds by frontline pandemic workers be downplayed, to avoid triggering massed criticism.
The newly posted directive’s first recommended essay, “Today’s China is Definitely Not the China of the May 4th Movement,” was originally published on November 27 by WeChat account Mingshu Zatan (明叔杂谈), or “Uncle Ming Chats.” The author argues, in ten points, that China does not need revolutionary change as it did before the May 4th movement. He defends the Chinese developmental model and gradual, CCP-led solutions; urges teachers and parents to advise their students and children not to participate in direct protests and to engage only in “constructive criticism”; points to Hong Kong as a negative example of the chaos brought by protests; accuses Western countries of abetting the protests with the goal of keeping China down; and strongly condemns “hostile foreign forces” and “color revolution”:
Some short videos taken out of context have been shared on domestic and international social platforms, attracting widespread attention. There have also been demonstrations on several university campuses. But the more complex and sensitive the situation, the more essential it is that we remain clear-headed.
[…] Young people paying attention to major national events and social issues and aspiring to improve our country is a good thing. When young people feel impassioned, they frequently make reference to the “May 4th Movement.” However, we must be clear that today’s China is definitely not the China of the “May 4th Movement” era.
[…] The so-called “blank paper movement” is thoroughly seditious, and will never gain traction in today’s China. [Chinese]
The second post finds similar culprits for the unrest. “The Spread of ‘Color Revolution’ Forces: Riots in Many Places Were Premeditated; ‘Foreign Forces’ Exposed” appeared on Toutiao on November 28 from the account Lang Yanzhi (郎言志). The article accuses foreign forces of involvement in several protests, particularly in Chengdu, where it claims that people were paid 500 yuan per night to take part, and that a supposed foreign agitator was arrested. It claims that some participants spoke with Hong Kong or Taiwanese accents, and identifies writing errors on protest signs supposedly indicative of greater familiarity with traditional rather than simplified characters. (Hong Kongers and Taiwanese would not of course be deemed foreign themselves, but might be considered particularly vulnerable to subversive Western influence.) Others, according to the article, adopted alien mourning iconography such as flowers and candles. At The China Project, Rong pointed out that “flowers and candles are often present at Buddhist memorials,” noting the appearance of similar accusations from the aftermath of 2021’s deadly flooding in Zhengzhou. The precise fee allegedly paid to protestors in Chengdu, she added, also appears to have been recycled from similar accusations against their counterparts in Hong Kong. From the Toutiao piece:
Over the past two days, […] various places have experienced disorderly public protests. The scenes were identical—European- and American-style freedom slogans, expressions of pernicious Hong Kong-style sentiments, young people being incited to join in, and protest “leaders” who did not represent or conform to the characteristics of the local people. Mixed in with the crowds were Hong Kong and Taiwanese accents, Western faces, and no lack of shadowy Western “evangelism.” Their style of riotous expression is a typical “color revolution” tactic.
Their methods are actually very simple—under the guise of organizing protests and expressing opinions, they are in fact disrupting law and order, and assembling mobs in order to create a disturbance. They either manufacture rumors to stir up trouble, or embroider the facts, and with the worst sort of malicious intentions, encourage the participation of groups who are unaware of the truth (particularly university students and the portion of intellectuals whose heads are filled with Western ideas). These bad seeds talk as if they are enlightened, when in fact their minds are filled with “sedition and subversion.” [Chinese]
The third listed article is the relatively straightforward exhortation, “In Difficult Times, We Must Stand Firmly with the Party and the Country,” posted on WeChat by Muzhiye (牧之野) on November 27.
Believe in your country, and always defend and uphold it with truthful action.
No matter how serious a spoken declaration, it may not necessarily signal true, wholehearted agreement. Every Party member and every person under the protection of this nation should feel a deep sense of gratitude. Over the course of a nation’s development, it will not always be possible to satisfy everyone. We must grasp the most fundamental thing: ask yourself, has this country ever treated you unfairly? Ponder that, and then consider how you should behave in the midst of this current turmoil. [Chinese]
The fourth article—“Invisible Battlefield: New Public Opinion War Launched by Western Internet Trolls”—was published well before the others on November 12, when it was posted to the WeChat account of Xinminzhi (新民智), or “New Folk Wisdom.” It details a “three-step process” by which Western online trolls allegedly try to manipulate public opinion in order to undermine China and foment chaos, comparing this to the rumors that sparked a popular rebellion in Liu Cixin’s sci-fi novel The Wandering Earth.
We trust that the government, more than anyone else, hopes that the pandemic will end as soon as possible, and that economically and socially costly pandemic-prevention measures will end as soon as possible, and that our society and economy can return to normal as soon as possible.
[…] At this time, what ordinary Chinese citizens must do is to maintain steadfast confidence. Whether hostile forces are stirring up hype about China moving backwards, or about “running” [mass emigration], or about negative news related to the pandemic, we must learn to weigh these things rationally and to cooperate with the country’s overall strategic policy.
Morale should be boosted, not dampened. Increasingly savage and aggressive behavior by Western trolls just shows how very worried the enemy is. As long as China maintains steadfast confidence and persists in following its own path, it is certain to emerge victorious. [Chinese]
Samuel Wade contributed to this post.
Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.