Sept. 24, 2018
New Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) chief Zhuang Rongwen last week published a lengthy commentary in Qiushi, the Party’s theoretical and ideological journal. The essay, translated in full by DigiChina below, extolls Party Secretary Xi Jinping’s vision for how the Party should exert full control over the information flowing over China’s portion of the Internet. In his first major statement as CAC head, Zhuang lays out an ambitious program for the Party to do even more to control new social media, generate “positive energy,” and cultivate and online environment compatible with Party objectives.
Many of Zhuang’s themes are not new, but the essay brings together the key elements of Xi’s canonical speeches related to Internet governance into an edifice of integrated Party control, and exhorts a unified, centralized, top-down, and bottom-up effort to further facilitate the Party’s exercise of control over what he terms the most important information dissemination medium operational in today’s society.
Zhuang also calls for better using technology itself to address challenges posed by emerging technologies and information dissemination applications. One interesting and relatively novel formulation Zhuang uses is calling for “upholding the integration of putting the main forces on the main battlefield and fighting a people’s war for the governance of the online environment.” This martial call signals an all-hands-on-deck effort to ensure that Party priorities reign in the Chinese portion of cyberspace. The essay also explicitly renews the Chinese government’s calls for “cyber sovereignty” alongside an emphasis on displaying “a real, three-dimensional, and complete China to the world.”
This essay echoes a much broader piece in the same journal that DigiChina translated and analyzed prior to the 19th Party Congress last year. That piece, issued by a previously unknown Theoretical Studies Center Group within CAC, the organization Zhuang now leads, that focused on the concept of building China into a cyber superpower. This new essay emphasizes propaganda and public opinion work without commenting significantly on the agency’s other responsibilities, for instance in digital economy regulation and cybersecurity. Nonetheless, this clear and strong statement of determination to maintain control is important reading for officials, companies, and citizens from home and abroad who interact in any way with the Internet in China.
Scientifically Understanding the Natural Laws of Online Communication, Striving to Boost the Level of Internet Use and Network Governance
September 16, 2018
By Zhuang Rongwen
General Secretary Xi Jinping's important speech at the National Propaganda Work Conference (全国宣传思想工作会议) deeply analyzed the new terrain and new tasks facing online propaganda and public opinion work; emphasized the need to scientifically understand the Internet's natural laws of communication (传播规律); accurately grasped the evolutionary mechanisms of online public opinion; ceaselessly advanced innovation in work concepts, methods, channels, and mechanisms; raised the level of Internet use and network governance; to make the Internet, this biggest of variables, have the greatest incremental impact on the undertaking of development. These important expositions—from a strategically advantageous position, involving profound thought, grasping the fundamentals, and cutting to the core of the matter—indicate the direction for progress and provide fundamental guidance for our online propaganda and public opinion work.
In the current era, the Internet has already become the main channel for producing, disseminating, and obtaining information. Its ability to mobilize society is ever greater, increasingly becoming a transmitter and amplifier of all kinds of risks. Whoever masters the Internet holds the initiative of the era, and whoever does not take the Internet seriously will be cast aside by the times. A new technological revolution represented by information technology has deeply influenced and seriously affected traditional dissemination patterns. More broadly, the Internet's rapid development promotes dissemination and sharing of ideology, culture, and information. Media patterns and the public opinion environment are being thoroughly reshaped, already presenting new opportunities and new challenges for propaganda work.
In terms of the propagation of theory, for instance, different, varied, and changing social thinking trends are communicated and disseminated through the Internet, and this constitutes an attack on ideological theory propagation patterns and mainstream ideology. This has created major difficulties for the Party ideological departments’ uniform leadership over ideology and theory propagation, and it has become increasingly arduous to implement the “Two Consolidations” tasks.* In terms of positive propaganda, new media have emerged rapidly. With each passing day, they are becoming a more important channel and important platform for information communication. Hence it is difficult to avoid new media becoming an assault on the communication power and influence of traditional mainstream media, and how to effectively use new media to consolidate and expand positive propaganda has become a major question. In the area of news reporting, the broad spread of the Internet and smartphones [smart terminals]; the repeated upgrading of new media, new technologies, and new applications; and the reality that “everyone has a microphone” have overturned the media management method centered on news-gathering and editing authority. Hence all kinds of information are seeing explosive growth and varied methods of dissemination, and the task of raising news reporting’s communication power, leadership power, influence, and credibility is arduous. In the area of social public opinion, online public opinion has cast off the constraints of real time and space; its influence on society is manifested in an unprecedented manner; a variety of forces are competing in speaking out online, characterized by suddenness, diversity, interactivity, contradiction, anonymity, etc.; and there is the risk of public sentiment being extremely easy to expand and propagate, creating momentum. In the area of knowledge dissemination, the Internet lets information be broadly gathered and freely communicated on a global scale in digital form. Search engines, online encyclopedias, smart payments, Q&A communities, and other such new models are surpassing interpersonal teaching and the circulation of print materials. They are becoming new knowledge dissemination methods, but large amounts of vulgar information, false information, and social rumors, etc., are also mixed in and spreading and propagating. In the area of online culture, the Internet powerfully stimulates cultural creativity and vitality, while online literature, online music, online film, and online games are developing rapidly. Online streaming, short clips, etc., are emerging rapidly, but many problems also exist, such as an excess of base styles, vulgar and tawdry products, and the dispelling of the Socialist core value view. In the area of online social media, China now has over 800 million netizens, the number of instant messaging users has reached 756 million, and online chatting, online friendships, and online sharing, etc., have become major channels for people’s daily exchanges and interactions. Social media platforms have scooped up massive quantities of user information, and their social mobilization function is constantly strengthening. In the area of the online environment, cyberspace is becoming a spiritual garden shared by hundreds of millions of people, and how to give play to the characteristics and superiorities of the Internet in communicating the Socialist core value view, how to build a beneficial online environment, and how to create a clear and crisp cyberspace for the majority of Internet users, especially the young, has become a major and urgent task set in front of us.
In implementing the spirit of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important speeches, scientifically understanding the natural laws of online communications, and diligently raising the level of cyber governance, the most fundamental matter is that we must profoundly study the important arrangements in the 19th Party Congress Report concerning “firmly grasping leadership power in ideological work” and “strengthening the construction of Internet content, establishing an integrated cyber governance system, and forging a cool and bright (清朗) cyberspace”; realistically accelerate the construction of an integrated cyber governance system; improve comprehensive cyber governance capabilities; and push online propaganda and public opinion work in this new era to another new stage.
Upholding the unity of ideological leadership and political leadership. In bolstering online propaganda and public opinion work levels in the new era, theoretical weaponry is the foundation, and political leadership is the guarantee. Fully give rein to the role of the Internet in ideological leadership, realistically strengthen and improve online propaganda concerning Xi Jinping’s thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era, innovate ways and methods, conduct targeted explanations, promote study and implementation work to go deeper, become more authentic, and go to the core. Consciously arm minds, guide practice and promote work, promote the entire Party and the entire society to make studying Xi Jinping’s thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era into a backbone and a yardstick. Broadly bring together the entire Party and people of all ethnicities in the entire country into an ideological unified and intelligent force to realize the goals of the “Two Centenaries” struggle.** Firmly grasp the political orientation of online propaganda and public opinion work, educate and guide the broad Party members and cadres in strengthening the “Four Awarenesses,”*** and firmly establishing the “Four Self-confidences.”**** Firmly safeguard the core position of General Secretary Xi Jinping in the Party Center and the entire Party, firmly safeguard the authority and concentrated uniform leadership of the Party Center, maintain a high degree of consistency with the Party Center with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core in politics and actions, and truly ensure loyalty to the core, support for the core, safeguarding of the core and following of the core. Unwaveringly uphold the fact that the Party manages the Internet; comprehensively strengthen the Party’s concentrated and uniform leadership over online propaganda and public opinion work; promote all departments in all localities to uphold the correct political orientation, public opinion orientation, and value orientation throughout; earnestly implement the Party Committee (Party Group) online ideology work responsibility system; give rein to their advantages, grasp joint management, set out guidance, manage positions, prevent risks, and strengthen the team; and, online and offline, ensure consistency of goals, consistency of orientation, consistency of standards, resonance of frequencies, and going forward in step, to create synergy.
Upholding the unification of carrying forward positive energy and restraining negative factors. In raising online propaganda and public opinion levels for the new era, positive energy is the overall requirement, and keeping things under control is the last word, hence we must firmly use Marxism to occupy the online position (网上阵地), and firmly grasp leadership power in online ideology work. Forcefully carry forward positive energy, strengthen and improve online positive propaganda, deepen propaganda and education on Socialism with Chinese characteristics and the Chinese Dream, vigorously foster and practice the Socialist core value view, foster a vigorous and healthy, upward and benevolent online culture, use mainstream social ideological values and moral culture to cultivate people’s hearts and enrich society. Be adept at seeing things from the point of view of netizens in planning positive online propaganda; enhance innovation in online propaganda ideas, content, forms, methods, techniques, etc.; deeply cultivate information content; pay attention to user experience; guard against the “fake” and strive for the “real”; ensure that the majority of Internet users are willing to listen and willing to see, and love to see and love to listen; let the Party’s standpoints be as a timely rain in a spring breeze, silently moistening all things. Strive to restrain negative factors, establish and complete online risk prevention mechanisms, appropriately control public sentiment concerning hot social issues, sensitive events, and sudden incidents etc. Promptly refute mistaken online thinking trends; resolutely control harmful political information that distorts Party history, the nation’s history, and military history, or rejects the Party’s leadership and the Socialist system, attacks the Party’s line, principles and policies, or distorts the thoughts and images of Party leaders; and completely clean up online rumors, terrorist videos, and other such harmful information. Effectively take an online mass line, give rein to the superiority of online communication in terms of “interactivity, reflection, and sharing,” listen to the people’s will, enrich the people’s welfare, and dissolve the people’s fears. Let the Internet become a new platform for us to exchange and communicate with the masses; become a new path for understanding the masses, sticking close to the masses, and eliminating the masses’ fears and difficulties; and become a new channel for giving rein to the people’s democracy and receiving supervision from the people. Adhere to the integration of flowing and blocking, we cannot deal with the people’s correctly expressed opinions and suggestions or even fierce criticism in a simplified manner. Instead we must analyze, judge and guide these in a focused manner, we must accept constructive opinions in a timely manner, assist where there are difficulties in a timely manner, provide propaganda and explanation where the situation is not understood in a timely manner, clear up muddled understandings in a timely manner, dissolve grievances and complaints in a timely manner, and guide and correct mistaken viewpoints in a timely manner.
Upholding the unification of localized management and integrated management. The Internet is one network, and online propaganda and public opinion work is one chessboard. We must comprehensively deal with the relationship between localized management and national integrated management; strive to promote innovation of mechanisms and systems; realize new breakthroughs in building a cybersecurity and informatization management work system with unified leadership, hierarchically divided responsibilities, consistent authorities and responsibilities, and effective supervision; and comprehensively raise the systematicity, integrity, and coordination of cybersecurity and informatization work. On the one hand, improve localized management responsibilities, innovate localized management models, explore giving provincial-level cybersecurity and informatization departments powers and responsibilities in the area of online content management, and simultaneously strengthen supervision over all localities’ cybersecurity and informatization departments’ operational authority powers, to guarantee the standardized operation of network management and network governance authorities. Firm up Internet enterprises’ primary responsibilities, persist in getting there first to solve problems and managing matters at the source, lay down “the first line of defense” in content management. On the other hand, break through regional limitations, deeply research and accelerate the establishment of a national integrated online public sentiment emergency response management command system, tying together key Internet enterprises and platforms, that forms a work pattern where leadership is strong, command is smooth, and action is efficient. Persist in simultaneously taking charge and jointly administering and strengthening collaborative governance, improving the construction of network governance regional coordination mechanisms with cybersecurity and informatization departments in the lead; implement the management responsibilities of departments starting from the various areas and elements of the Internet; accelerate comprehensive planning and coordination strength under the leadership of propaganda departments, and have the competent departments perform their duties in close cooperation; and increase coordination and collaboration, with management departments for industry and information technology, public security, state security, culture, market supervision, and radio and television, with each playing their role and cooperating closely, to strengthen joint management synergy.
Upholding the integration of technical management of the Internet and cyber governance according to the law. In the face of the grave challenges posed to online propaganda and public opinion work by the constant emergence of new Internet technologies and new business models, we must stand on the strategic commanding heights of network use and governance under conditions of informatization. Hence technological management is crucial, and cyber governance according to the law is the guarantee. Grasp targeting technology with technology and managing technology with technology, and let it penetrate the entire process of online propaganda and public opinion work; be adept at using new technology to improve and innovate online communication forms, perfect communication result assessment systems, constantly enhance the landing rates, readership rates, and “like” rates of online positive propaganda; explore the construction and perfection of forward-looking high-level Internet public sentiment advance warning and analysis systems, discover online sensitive hot points and public sentiment in a timely manner; constantly upgrade research, assessment and analysis of online phenomena and incidents; and summarize model public sentiment and communication laws. Research and develop key management technologies for individualized recommendation algorithms, short videos, online streaming, social media groups and other similar areas, and firmly eliminate all kinds of illegal information. The Internet is not a domain outside the law. We must completely promote the process of bringing cyberspace under the rule of law; make management according to the law into a basic strategy in using and governing the network; accelerate the construction of legal systems for cybersecurity and informatization; complete and perfect laws and regulations in the Internet domain; strengthen online law enforcement systems and capacity building; ever more greatly reflect the requirement that the Party manages the Internet through rule of law methods; use cyber governance rules to adjust and deal with online contradictions; rely on rule of law channels to dissolve online risks; and promote network management according to the law, network operations according to the law, and network use according to the law; to ensure that the healthy operation of the Internet along the track of the rule of law.
Upholding the integration of putting the main forces on the main battlefield and fighting a people’s war for the governance of the online environment. The Internet has become a main battlefield, main battleground, and most forward position in propaganda and public opinion work. To grasp leadership authority in online ideological work, we must not only give full rein to the main force role of Party members, cadres, and mainstream media editors, pushing the main forces onto the main battlefield; we must also give full rein to the dominant role of the majority of Internet users, and fight a people’s war for the governance of the online environment. We must vigorously promote the development of media convergence, give rein to the respective advantages of traditional media and new media, ensure optimized integration and profound convergence, forge elite communication forces, let forces that are scattered offline join the ranks as quickly as possible online, train ever more mainstream media editors and journalists to become online “Big Vs,” resolve the problem that their main force role is given insufficient play, launch good focused and segmented communication, all to win even more audience. Constantly promote the sharing and convergence of information content, technological applications, platforms and terminals, talent and teams, and management and services, lean toward mobile terminals; and forge a set of strongly influential and competitive new mainstream media. Netizens are the core of the network; they are fundamental forces who have used and governed the Internet most broadly, most profoundly, for the longest time, and most creatively. Persist in vigorously serving netizens, broadly mobilizing netizens; and closely relying on netizens, muster the forces of the majority of Internet users, truly ensure that the majority of Internet users become the creators, disseminators, and leaders of positive energy; let netizens influence netizens, let netizens educate netizens, guide netizens to consciously standardize online behavior and clean up the online environment, and ensure the Internet is used in a lawful, civilized, sincere, and safe manner.
Upholding the integration of external openness and safeguarding cyber sovereignty and security. Information dissemination knows no national boundaries, but sovereignty exists in cyberspace. General Secretary Xi Jinping has stressed that China’s great gates of openness to the outside world will not close; they can only be opened ever more. To raise online propaganda and public opinion work levels, we must both vigorously broaden openness to the outside world, and promote online information flows that are lawful, free, and orderly; and we must also persist in safeguarding national cyber sovereignty, and realistically protect national security and the people’s interest. We must give full play to the role of the network in linking China with the outside and letting the world communicate; actively propagate Xi Jinping’s thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era; take the initiative in properly telling the story of the Chinese Communist Party governing the country, the story of the Chinese people striving for a dream, and the story of China persisting in peaceful development, cooperation, and win-win, to let the world understand China ever better. We must strengthen the construction of international dissemination capabilities, innovating promotional ideas, operational mechanisms, discourse systems, and ways of expression; be adept at using online media and social media platforms; meticulously bring up topics; actively communicate information; strengthen the dissolution of doubts and ambiguities; realistically ensure that people are persuaded by reason and people are moved by emotion; and display a real, three-dimensional, and complete China to the world. Deepen international exchange and cooperation in online propaganda and public opinion work; let the Internet become a new bridge for the Chinese people and the people of all countries to enhance their friendship, a new node for cultural exchange, and a new space for information sharing. Respect for cyber sovereignty and guaranteeing national security are basic preconditions for persisting in openness and cooperation. We must respect that all countries have the right to autonomously choose their Internet development path, Internet management model, and Internet public policies, and to equally participate in international cyberspace governance; strictly respect all countries’ laws and regulations; refrain from engaging in cyber hegemony; refrain from intervening in other countries’ internal affairs; not engage in, tolerate or support online acts harming other countries’ national security; jointly build a peaceful, secure, open, and collaborative cyberspace; and assist in the construction of a community of common destiny for humankind by building a community of common destiny in cyberspace.
(The author is Vice Minister of the Central Propaganda Department, and Director of the Central Cybersecurity and Informatization Office and State Internet Information Office [Cyberspace Administration of China]).
* Two Consolidations: Put forward by Xi Jinping at the 2013 National Propaganda Work Conference. One, consolidate the guiding position of Marxism in the field of ideology, and two, consolidate the common ideological basis for the united struggle of the entire Party and the people of the whole country.
** The Two Centenaries refers to the Communist Party’s goals successfully complete the process of 1) building a moderately well-off society, and 2) accelerating socialist modernization..]
*** Four Awarenesses: Willingly maintain political integrity, think in big picture terms, uphold the leadership core, and keep in alignment.
**** Four Self-Confidences: Self-confidence in the path of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, self-confidence in theory, self-confidence in the system, and self-confidence in culture.