Gu Suhua writes from Beijing: Spare a thought for Lu Wei. Who is he, you might wonder. Well, he is actually the head of propaganda in the city of Beijing. What sort of propaganda? Telling the good citizens of the city and the country as a whole that the Communist Party of China is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
A tough assignment by all standards. Comrade Lu has gone on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, to inform the 60,000 Party propagandists in the capital that there are another two million out there praising the Party as well. That adds up to about one in ten of the population of the capital.
As a result Weibo was soon regaled with messages ridiculing this type of propaganda. Apparently Comrade Lu pays writers 50p a day to write nice things about his beloved Communist Party. Not once but ten times a day. You can imagine the sort of stuff that appears on Weibo: ‘Forward to the victory of socialism in China!’ ‘Let us fulfil and overfulfil the goals of the Five Year Plan!’ ‘Our glorious leader, Xi Jinping, is the saviour of the nation. Without his wise leadership we would all be lost.’ ‘Hold high the banner of socialism in the face of Yankee imperialism.’
All you have to do is to think up ten of these exciting slogans and repeat them every day. Money for old rope. It could also look good on your CV when you want to enter university to say that you have put 11.7 million blogs on the internet expressing citizens’ adoration of the Communist Party. Based, of course, on face to face interviews.
But poor Comrade Lu must still be desperate if he has to resort to such methods of keeping the adoration of the masses for the communist ideal alive. Still, you can see the logic. About half the population of China is on Weibo. So if you want to get a message across it has to be on Weibo. How did Comrade Lu cope with all the abusive mail that his message brought forth? By ordering the censors to remove every mention of it.
So we now have a situation in China where the Party propagandists acknowledge that the Internet is the most powerful tool for influencing public opinion. This is where the action is. Debate about corruption, poor construction methods, poor health facilities, the absurdly skewed distribution of wealth in the country where 1 per cent of the population owns almost half the Gross Domestic Product, unemployment and its social cost and the like is vigorous and mobilises people. When it becomes too popular the censors step in and delete all references. This is a good guide to what the Party fears: open discussion.
In China the rule of thumb is that nobody believes the official media. It is automatically assumed that some self-serving official is doctoring the truth. However people believe what they read on Weibo. If the message is blatantly partisan – praising the authorities – the suspicion is that a Party official wrote it. It is then ignored.
The problem for the Party leadership is that the youth of the country see them as hopelessly out of touch. They live in a different world and are fed information which confirms their own beliefs. Corruption scandals are now everyday occurrences and weaken the legitimacy of the Party.
The story of Lu Wei reveals how desperate the Party is becoming. Just make up stories about support for the Party and you will be shredded by the bloggers. Tough times for the comrades whose job it is to boost the image of the Party which rules the Middle Kingdom.