Censors Quash Discussion of Xi’s Unanimous Re-Election as President

On March 10, China’s National People’s Congress, a rubber-stamp body that meets in full session once annually, re-elected Xi Jinping to a third five-year term as President. (His third term as General Secretary was already confirmed last October at the 20th Party Congress.) The vote was 2952 for, none against, none abstaining. His appointment to an unprecedented third term was made possible by 2018 revisions to the constitution that repealed term limits adopted after the Cultural Revolution. At The New York Times, Chris Buckley and Keith Bradsher reported on Xi’s victory in China’s legislature

The unanimous vote on the presidency by the Communist Party-controlled legislature formalized Mr. Xi’s continued dominance of Chinese politics after he had already claimed a fresh term as party leader in October. He will keep holding the three main crowns of power in China — party, military and state — with no rivals or potential successors vying for attention.

[…] “This period is going to be an important one for seeing whether Xi is repentant or unbowed. I wouldn’t expect him to change a lot of the essentials,” Christopher K. Johnson, a former C.I.A. analyst who is a senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center for China Analysis, said in an interview. “Xi is not on a ‘charm offensive’ where he is looking to correct the error of his ways.”

[…] The congress in Beijing has been stage-managed to show support for Mr. Xi’s domestic and foreign policies. The 2,952 congress delegates — selected for their loyalty to the party — stood to applaud Mr. Xi after they had all voted to keep him as president. As the voting progressed, Mr. Xi sat on the podium chatting at length with his No. 2, the incoming Chinese premier, Li Qiang, who is expected to focus on growth. [Source]

Online discussion of the unanimous vote was tightly censored. Searches for the hashtag #2952#, the number of votes Xi won, returned the following message: “According to the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the page is not found.” On Sunday evening, searches for “2952” only returned results from verified state- and Party-affiliated accounts, colloquially known as “Blue V’s.” Searches for the term, “the People’s choice,” which Party outlets used to celebrate Xi’s election, similarly only returned results from Blue V accounts. Party mouthpiece People’s Daily censored its own 2011 essay in which it warned: “If the people’s will continues to be hijacked through ‘unanimous elections,’ it will fuel public resentment.” In 2003, Xi Jinping himself warned against the unanimous election of cadres. And just yesterday, one netizen’s attempt to turn an image of Xi’s unanimous re-election as President and chairman of the Central Military Commission into a graphic design for a t-shirt landed them in hot water. The Taobao retailer they contacted to produce the shirt said it was “not possible to print,” and the netizen later discovered that their Alipay account had been suspended. 

Censors also targeted essays about the pivotal early 20th century political figure Yuan Shikai. March 10 marked the 111th anniversary of Yuan Shikai’s election as the president of the Republic of China, an election Beijing-based historian Zhang Lifan called “a serious drama worthy of the name; [this year’s election] is a farce.” Geremie Barmé, who translated Zhang’s commentary, added that Yuan’s own rule quickly devolved. Netizens have been drawing comparisons between Yuan Shikai and Xi Jinping since at least 2018. The comparison has given birth to the pun “the second-coming of Yuan Shikai” (二次袁 èrcìyuán) which is a homophone for “Anime, Comics, and Games” (二次元 èrcìyuán). WeChat articles intimating a comparison between Xi and Yuan are tightly censored. Even a “this day in history” article on Yuan’s 1912 election that made no overt or implicit reference to the current era was censored after it was published to WeChat. Despite such tight controls, some Yuan Shikai comparisons flew under censors’ radar. In the aftermath of Xi’s unanimous election, netizens began sharing a 2018 essay from Shanxi Television’s WeChat account on Yuan Shikai’s fondness for Tianjin’s famed Goubili “A Dog Wouldn’t Touch ‘Em” steamed buns. “Steamed Bun Xi” is perhaps the longest enduring of Xi’s many censored nicknames

Even state-produced content about Xi was not exempt from censorship. At What’s on Weibo, Manya Koetse documented how the mass-production of Xi-themed propaganda seems to have accidentally triggered Xi’s name to become unsearchable on Weibo:

On Friday, Xi Jinping’s third term went top trending on Weibo, where one related topic received over 800 million views. A day later the hashtag had over 1.2 billion clicks (#习近平当选中华人民共和国主席#​). 

While refreshing and searching on the Weibo platform, some comment sections were closing and opening, some videos went online and offline, and even Xi’s own name was temporarily unsearchable on the Weibo site, suggesting that online control systems were going into overdrive. [Source]


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