Minitrue: Beware of “Overly Effusive Comments” on Late Premier Li Keqiang

The following censorship instructions, issued by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.

(Compilation) Forwarding the City Propaganda Bureau announcement:

1. All media outlets (including departmental and neighborhood public WeChat pages!) that republish news related to Li Keqiang’s death must exclusively use copy from mainstream central outlets (Xinhua, CCTV, People’s Daily). Afterwards, mourning activities will be conducted in accordance with standards for national leaders. Stand by for a forthcoming announcement.

2. Comment sections must be well-managed. Pay particular attention to overly effusive comments and assessments.

Furthermore, when republishing make sure to avoid any entertainment-style news appearing in the same frame. Please communicate any upcoming entertainment or commercial activities/events to the relevant departments, as they may need to be temporarily suspended (i.e. activities such as “Autumn Colors” and “Kung Fu Movie Week”). (October 27, 23) [Chinese]

Former Premier Li Keqiang died from a heart attack early on Friday morning. The death of any former PRC leader is a politically sensitive occasion, particularly given the role of former CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang’s death in fueling protests in 1989. The above instructions were compiled for internal use by a censorship department/media organization based on higher-level directives. In several respects, such as the emphasis on standardization and muting of entertainment content, they resemble more extensive sets of instructions leaked after the death of former General Secretary Jiang Zemin in November 2022.

The warning against "overly effusive comments" about Li partly reflects general caution about "high-level black" remarks which "offer exaggerated praise on the surface in what is actually an act of criticism." In Li’s case, effusive praise is additionally barbed by implicit contrast with Xi Jinping, who effectively sidelined Li and his reformist, institutionalist inclinations. Censors previously highlighted this tension in 2018, when Li’s comments about allowing the public to "comprehensively supervise government conduct" were expunged from official records of a speech on "clean governance." Since his death, online comments have already appeared memorializing Li with quotes such as "the Yangtze and Yellow River won’t flow backwards," widely interpreted as a veiled criticism of retrogressive aspects of Xi’s rule. Some universities have reportedly asked students not to comment on Li’s death online, and forbidden collective memorial activities.

While Li’s death will likely intensify the tendency to view him as symbolizing an alternative path for China, his own legacy was not without controversy. A directive issued in November 2018 ordered "All websites [to] immediately delete the article ‘Li Keqiang Gave Important Instructions on Strengthening AIDS Prevention Work.’" Li’s repeated and ostensibly benign calls for more effective and scientific work in this area were a magnet for criticism in light of his tenure as governor and then Party Secretary of Henan between 1998 and 2004, when he aggressively "handled" the aftermath of a wave of HIV infections from government-backed blood-selling schemes.

Alexander Boyd contributed to this post.

真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.

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