As with American news, Chinese media is divided into both straight news outlets and their social media counterparts. And perhaps reflective of a growing trend in the USA, a large proportion is devoted to propagandizing and prompting public outrage. The question on everyone’s lips is whether the Chinese Fourth Estate has chosen a candidate? And if so, is it Joe Biden or President Trump?
Before delving into what the journalists and bloggers of China are saying, it is worth examining precisely what the role of the press actually is in the Middle Kingdom. In 2016, President Xi Jinping carried out a whistlestop tour of the major newsrooms to ensure journalists and editors would remain supportive of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He said of those who work in the media:
“They must love the party, protect the party, and closely align themselves with the party leadership in thought, politics, and action.”
So when examining what news organs in China are saying, it is worth remembering that these outlets are “obliged” to follow the Party in thought and word. The same is true of those who have large blogs; without Party support, they will soon be shut down. Many of the more widely-read blogs are directly connected to the CCP.
The Official China Opinion
Websites in the Middle Kingdom come in two forms: domestic consumption and those for foreigners … the difference between these two opposing worlds is often quite stark. The “official” position of China’s media is impartiality to the U.S. election; state media organs aimed at an overseas audience closely resemble that of the American left-leaning outlets with scathing fact-check articles outweighing explicitly opinion-based stories. However, the sites for domestic consumption tell a somewhat different tale.
The China Military website, chinamil.com.cn (“Sponsored by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army”), reads like a busybody aunt moralizing on the inadequacies of America and her leadership:
“Humanitarian intervention, the defense of human rights, the imposing of ultra-liberal ideas, and the defiance of national sovereignty—the United States is backed by all these norms. This has also led to the discredited, declining reputation and impoverishment of American diplomacy.”
And when it comes to the candidates in the 2020 election, a certain amount of vitriol is reserved for President Trump while at the same time expecting more of the same “stupidity” from what they see as a sure-to-be successful Joe Biden:
“Experts have long been talking about the 21st century will be the era of Sino-US confrontation. This is not due to Donald Trump’s stupidity, nor will it end with Joe Biden’s victory in the November election. Because the two parties in the United States have a consensus on China, the Democrats will also try to ‘contain China.’”
On the official Ministry of Defense site, more scorn is reserved for the Trump administration. When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at the Nixon Library, saying that the CCP is not the Chinese people, the Chinese MOD labeled his assertion “a mouthful of lies.” The site says that Pompeo was:
“… maliciously attacking the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and China’s political system, instigating the ties between the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people, and making groundless accusations on China’s domestic and foreign policies. Spreading the ‘China Threat Theory’ in an attempt to provoke the piecemeal international anti-China alliance to contain China’s development.”
The piece offers a damning indictment, saying, “Pompeo’s remarks ignore history and reality, and are full of strong ideological prejudice and Cold War mentality.”
One blogger, of a decidedly anti-Trump bent, said that the likely high turn-out in this year’s election comes from a division in the country and that the differing opinions prevent intergenerational harmony. He wrote:
“The political enthusiasm of American voters is so high, which fully shows that the two parties have become incompatible. Many families in the United States can no longer talk about politics, a bit like the current situation in Hong Kong. Parents and children can no longer live together under the same roof. If they talk about politics, their voices immediately rise by a few decibels. Because most of their children chose to support the Democratic Party and became ‘strangers’ on two paths.”
This is of key cultural importance. In China, one should not argue with elders, especially those within the family. The blogger appears to be saying that having two opposing political parties leads to the break up of the home and familial relationships. By referencing Hong Kong, this could be aimed at a more domestic audience.
Another social media user on Weibo, going by the name “Eight Merchants,” explained how President Trump is hypnotizing the American public. He wrote:
“(Trump’s) countdown is a type of hypnosis: a constant reminder of the urgency of voting, trying to get rednecks to completely forget the Coronavirus that is rebounding. Does this countdown also indicate that he (Trump) is also not far from entering prison? While hypnotizing others, why not numb yourself and escape from reality?”
Part of the culture of China is always to maintain “face.” In personal relations, this is undoubtedly a good thing … it means that you will always retain your family and friends’ respect. But when it comes to international relations, the idea of “saving face” has come to mean something else entirely: It implies strength and superiority.
The CCP rules partly through its strength, but more so through its projection of power. If that means denigrating other nations, then that is what occurs. To create that projection requires the use of media outlets and journalists. David Bandurski of the University of Hong Kong described what it means to be a journalist in China; he said, “You work for the Party, the Party’s agenda is supreme, and everyone needs to fall in line.”
Does this seem so different from how the left-leaning media in America reacts to President Trump and his foreign and domestic adventures? In aligning themselves so closely with the Biden campaign, they present a “face” to differentiate themselves from the last four years of American politics and claim this as a strength.
Present-day China and America appear to be following Mao Zedong’s adage regarding the power of the state and the press when working in concert: “Revolution relies on pens and guns.” Perhaps revolution is what these supposed bastions of media integrity are hoping to achieve.
*All quotes in this article were sourced and translated from Mandarin Chinese by the author who spent more than a decade living and working in China.
Read more from Mark Angelides.