Nathan Lee | Chinascope
The Preface and Part 1 of this series explained that former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Jiang Zemin left two legacies to China: a system of corruption and the persecution of Falun Gong. To prevent being charged and held accountable, Jiang and his followers tried to hold onto their power after Jiang retired. They even plotted coups against the current leader Xi Jinping, who is not part of Jiang’s faction.
Xi Jinping, with the strong support of his close ally Wang Qishan, inaugurated an anti-corruption campaign to fight back
In the past three years, Xi has taken the power that had accrued to some of those in key positions back into his own hands. He took down Zhou Yongkang, former head of the Political and Legal Affairs Committee (PLAC) who was also known as “China’s security tsar,” because the PLAC was “out of control.” He took down both former Vice Chairmen of the Central Military Commission (CMC) Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong to prevent the military from being disloyal to him. Last year, Xi announced a major reform of the army to further strengthen his control of the military.
The CCP has traditionally held a strong grip on two critical power bases to maintain its rule of the “gun” (military) and the “pen” (literary works and propaganda).
This year, as the battle over the “gun” was nearly over, the battle over the “pen” between Xi Jinping and Jiang Zemin’s faction intensified.
One key battleground is media control, over which several offices in the CCP’s system have authority.
Two agencies under the State Council directly regulate and supervise the media. The State Internet Information Office of the State Council Information Office (SCIO) regulates the Internet. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television administers and supervises the media companies engaged in the publication, television, radio, and film industries.
The CCP Central Propaganda Department is the Party organ that oversees and controls everything, including managing these two State agencies.
A member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee is in charge of all work in the literary and propaganda areas. Other Politburo Standing Committee members, including the General Secretary, normally do not interfere with his work.
The CCP’s election process is to elect the Politburo members first, then to elect the Politburo Standing Committee members out of those in the Politburo, and then to elect the General Secretary of the Politburo Standing Committee. In practice, all these three levels of officials are determined around the same time and the election process is held as a formality.
When Xi Jinping was elected as the General Secretary of the CCP in 2012, he was given a package that he himself had not chosen: The Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee.
Liu Yunshan (刘云山) was one of the Politburo Standing Committee members who Jiang Zemin’s faction gave to Xi. Liu’s responsibility was to oversee the literary and propaganda work.
Because Liu is not on the same boat as Xi Jinping, the voice of China’s media has, from time to time, been different from Xi’s.
For example, Xi held a Literary Work Forum and gave a lengthy speech on October 15, 2014, but his speech was not published in any major media in China until a whole year later.
Chinese Central Television (CCTV) produces a Chinese New Year’s Gala every year. The 2016 show was full of praises of Xi Jinping and the CCP. It was dramatically different from the previous shows in which the level of its propaganda contents had been tolerable. As a result, the public flooded the Internet with criticism of the show. Many people thought that the Central Propaganda Department (under Liu Yunshan) had set Xi up.
Earlier this year, the battle for media control between Xi and Liu intensified.
I. The Trigger
On February 19, Xi Jinping visited three of the most authoritative central state-controlled media: Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily, and CCTV. CCTV displayed a running banner stating “CCTV is loyal to the Party; absolutely loyal; please inspect us.” 
It is important to give some background here. As Xi gradually took power back from Jiang’s faction, officials began to align themselves with Xi. Starting this year, officials said they would “look up to [Xi].” The military pledged that it would follow the direction of the CMC, especially the CMC Chairman (Xi is the Chairman). Others frequently used the terms “following the Party Central Committee” or “being loyal to the Party” (Xi is the General Secretary of the Party).
Therefore, the “loyal to the Party” in CCTV’s banner was likely CCTV’s vow of loyalty to Xi Jinping; it may not necessarily have meant much about the CCP.
II. The Battle – Round One
The expression “loyal to the Party” annoyed Ren Zhiqiang who was known as “Cannon Ren” for daring to say things that crossed the line.
On February 19, the day of Xi’s media visits, Ren took the expression (“The state media is loyal to the CCP”) at face value and posted two messages on the Sina website, arguing that the state media should be loyal to the state and the people, but not the Party. 
In his first posting, Ren asked, “Since when did the people’s government become the Party’s government? Is [the government] funded by the Party’s money?” “[The ownership of the government] cannot be changed at will!” “Don’t spend the taxpayer’s money on things that do not serve the taxpayer.”
In the second posting, Ren stated, “When the media are loyalty first to the Party and do not represent the interest of the people, the people are thrown into a corner of ‘forever forgotten.’”
These two blogs were soon removed from the Sina website, due to the Party’s media control.
Ren is a real estate tycoon. His outspoken reputation has earned him 37 million followers on his microblog site on Sina.
Ren was from a powerful family. His father Ren Quansheng served as the Deputy Minister of Commerce. Ren said that Wang Qishan was once the political counselor of his class in high school, that he has since maintained close contact with Wang, and that sometimes Wang even called him late at late night for a long chat.
This time, the connection to Wang Qishan didn’t help Ren from getting into trouble. Many Party websites and state media fired bullets or even cannon balls at Ren Zhiqiang.
The Qianlong website, the official site of the Beijing Party Propaganda Department, fired the first shot. It published an article accusing Ren of spreading an “anti-Party” ideology. Its article even made an indirect reference to the connection between Ren Zhiqiang and Wang Qishan and asked, “Who gave Ren Zhiqiang the guts to be against the Party?”
The article stated, “Ren Zhiqiang jump this high at the sentence ‘the media is loyal to the Party.’ He even dared to separate human nature from the Party nature [and throw away his Party nature.] He served as the vanguard of certain [anti-China] forces. This shows us an individual who has lost his Party nature.
“We can’t help asking: For a Party member who ignores the Party’s rules, where did he get the guts to be against the Party? For someone (Ren Zhiqiang) who likes to make phone calls to [some] official late at night, who gave him the ‘courage’ to jump out [to attack the Party]?
“The capitalist ‘revolution’ group, which Ren represents here, has grabbed a large amount of capital resources. It attempts to use its capital to control power and switch to the West’s Constitutionalism system. … How did the former Soviet Union fall? It started with the fall of the media. If the media are no longer loyal to the Party, they might all become loyal to the Capitalists.”
In the following few days, many official media published articles denouncing Ren and questioning his motives in “placing the Party against the people.” Some suggested that Ren should be expelled from the Party.
Xinhua published an article titled, “Where is Ren Zhiqiang’s ‘Party Nature?’” The People’s Daily website’s post was titled, “Comrade Ren Zhiqiang, You Are Playing an Opportunistic Farce.” Guangzhou Daily called Ren “worse than beasts” and suggested to “expel Ren from the Party.”
The Jiangsu Party Committee’s website jschina.com.cn called Ren “the shame of the 80 million Party members.” It said that Ren “bit the hand [of the Party] that fed him” as he “frequently discredited the Party and slandered the Party.”
III. The Battle – Round Two
As bullets and cannon balls kept flying toward Ren Zhiqiang, Cai Xia, a professor at the Central Party School, stood up to defend Ren.
On February 25, the China Digital Times website published Cai Xia’s lengthy opinion article. She stated that Ren, as a Party member, had the right to express his opinion to the Party.
Cai quoted three areas in which many Party rules allow Party members to speak: Party members’ rights to express opinions; how different opinions within the Party should be handled; and how Party members can participate in discussions and express their opinions.
Cai also quoted a statement of Xi Jinping to support her position, “The CCP should tolerate criticism. … Those who are non-Party members should be bold enough to speak up to reflect the true voice of the people…”
Cai concluded that how Ren is treated is directly related to whether 80 million Party members’ rights are protected.
Soon, however, the state media bombarded Cai Xia.
On February 27, Guangming rebutted Cai Xia with an article titled, “The Party School Should Be Loyal to the Party; Cai Xia, Where Is Your Party Nature?”
The article made many personal attacks on Cai, “You defend a person who made a public anti-Party statement. Professor Cai of the Party School, where is your Party nature?” “It looks like Cai Xia, deep in her bones, is the same kind of person as Ren Zhiqiang.” “The Party School’s lecture podium is occupied by this kind of ‘professor.’ To which place will she mislead the party cadres?”
On February 28, the spokesperson Jiang Jun from the State Internet Information Office made a statement, “Cyberspace is not a land that is out of the reach of law. No person is allowed to use the Internet to spread an illegal message.” “According to a netizens’ report, Ren Zhiqiang’s Weibo account has continuously published illegal messages and has created adverse effects. … The State Internet Information Office has thus ordered Sina and Tencent (the company that owns the popular social networking sites of QQ and WeChat) to shut down Ren Zhiqiang’s accounts.”
Voice of America reported that the Beijing Xicheng District Party Committee, of which Ren Zhiqiang is a member, was working on a reprimand of Ren Zhiqiang. The party committee issued a “Notice on Correctly Understanding Ren Zhiqiang’s Severe Violation of Party Discipline.”
The notice said, “As a Party member, Ren Zhiqiang has continuously published illegal messages and wrongful statements and has caused adverse effects. He has caused great damage to the Party’s image. The district Party committee will follow the Chinese Communist Party Disciplinary Regulations in order to give serious punishment to Ren Zhiqiang.”
VOA quoted an analysts’ opinion that, since the notice said “severe violation” and didn’t address Ren Zhiqiang as “comrade,” Ren was likely to face being expelled from the Party.
IV. The Battle – Round Three
While people were waiting for the Beijing Xicheng District Party Committee’s knockout punch to Ren Zhiqiang, Ren Zhiqiang’s reinforcements entered the fray.
Wang Qishan’s CCP Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI) published an article on its website on March 1 to stress the importance of having an environment in which people could give criticism.
The article was titled “A Thousand People’s ‘Yes’ Is Not As Good As One Gentleman’s ‘No.’” This sentence was a quote from a speech that Xi Jinping gave at a Hebei Provincial Party Committee meeting.
The article stated, “Our Party’s basic response to criticism given to it is to focus on the facts but not on the people [who were either involved or who gave the criticism]. It is most dangerous to handle criticism from the angle of past favor or hatred, gain or loss, or closeness or remoteness to the criticizer. That will push criticism and different views to the opposite side.”
On March 3, People’s Daily published an article “Consultation, China’s Wisdom on Democracy.”
It stated, “Some officials, afraid of losing their high status, do not want to sit at the same level with the public; some, afraid of losing face, do not want to listen to criticism; and some, afraid of facing public response, do not want to share information with the public. All these thoughts and ways of doing things are wrong.”
Xinhua republished this article with a new title, “People’s Daily: Some Officials, Afraid of Losing Face, Do Not Want to Listen to Criticism.”
The article was published when both the 12th People’s Political Consultative Conference (PPCC) and the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC) were taking place in Beijing. So, on the surface it was to encourage representatives of the two Congresses to give suggestions or even to criticize the government.
As Cai Xia, in round two of the battle, defended Ren Zhiqiang from the angle of giving criticism, this article can also be viewed as defending Ren.
If that was the case, it meant that someone had changed the state media’s position from attacking Ren Zhiqiang to defending him.
Boxun reported that, according its source in Beijing, Xi Jinping personally instructed the media to stop the attack on Ren Zhiqiang. He viewed it as a Cultural Revolution-styled “Great Criticism Movement.”
“Somehow, a report appeared indicating that Xi Jinping had become angry about this development. He felt that certain offices had done an ‘extremely stupid’ thing by stirring up this ‘criticism over Ren Zhiqiang’ right before the PPCC and NPC.” “[Their attacking Ren Zhiqiang] was not to defend Xi Jinping, but rather to set Xi up as a bad guy.”
The debate over Ren Zhiqiang then quieted down for a while.
On May 2, 2016, Beijing Xicheng District Party Committee announced the reprimand of Ren Zhiqiang: one year probation within the Party.
Some netizens hoping for freedom of speech were upset that Ren was still punished for his words. Some diehard Party loyalists felt that the punishment was far from being sincere – it was like “lifting the stick up high, but putting it down gently.”
V. The Battle – Round Four
In the middle of the battle over Ren Zhiqiang, a new battle over a PPCC member’s right of free speech started.
It involved Jiang Hong, a professor at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics and a member of the 12th PPCC. In an interview with Caixin on March 2 about the upcoming PPCC, Jiang said that the authorities should be open to criticism.
“The PPCC and the NPC are supposed to discuss the bigger issues for the nation and offer constructive suggestions. However, due to a certain event, the public is confused and tries to speak less.” Though Jiang didn’t specify what the “certain event” was, people could easily link it to the Ren Zhiqiang case.
Jiang Hong also said, “People have been saying that the NPC is just a rubber stamp and the PPCC is just a flower vase for the purpose of show. I have experienced something similar myself [while serving as a PPCC member] in the past. However, [I] will speak out what I should speak out. Actually speaking out is to fulfill my responsibility. Otherwise, I would feel I am a fool – what am I doing here?”
Caixin published the interview on its website (http://topics.caixin.com/2016-03-03/100915459.html).
However, the article was blocked shortly thereafter.
The same Caixin reporter interviewed Jiang Hong again and published a new article on March 5. The article was titled “PPCC Member Jiang Hong: It Is Too Scary to Be Accused of Violating the Law or Regulations Because of My Speech.”
In the second interview, Jiang Hong said that when he tried to access his previous interview on WeChat (a web-based social networking application), he got a prompt: “This page contains contents that are in violation of the law or in violation of the regulations. Many people have reported it. To protect the ‘green’ Internet environment, this page can no longer be visited.”
“I only stressed a principle in my interview and didn’t specify any particular event to comment on,” Jiang Hong rebutted, “The article title (‘Citizen’s Rights to Express Opinions Must Be Protected’) also reflected my opinion. Now this basic right has been marked as violating the law or regulations. This makes me wonder how many postings, in the past, were blocked though they did not violate the law or any regulations.”
“It is too scary and too surprising. I looked back and forth [at my article] and couldn’t find any content that violated any law or regulation.”
Caixin published this new interview (http://topics.caixin.com/2016-03-05/100916504.html).
Again, it was soon blocked.
Caixin’s English site published another article on March 7. It expressed disagreement with the removal of those two articles and called the State Internet Information Office the “government news censorship organization.” This article was taken down, as well.
Caixin had the guts to make a gesture about the authorities’ censorship because of its relationship with Wang Qishan. Caixin’s Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Hu Shuli, is reported to have a close connection with Wang Qishan.
However, Caixin didn’t win the battle.
VI. A Parallel Battle – A Direct Attack on Xi Jinping
In the meantime, a direct attack against Xi Jinping took place.
On March 4, Watching, a media company based in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region published an open letter, “Requesting Comrade Xi Jinping to Resign from Leadership Positions in the Party and the State.” The article blamed Xi for many negative events in China in the past few years and called for him to step down. It also threatened Xi, asking him to watch out for “your own safety and the safety of your family.”
This article was also removed from the Internet.
Publically criticizing top officials, especially the top leader Xi Jinping, is not just a political accident but rather an open political assault.
Given the strong government censorship over the media and the Internet, as well as the media’s self-discipline regarding its contents, it seems almost impossible for this event to have been an accident.
Watching claimed that a hacker posted this article on its website, but questions exist as to whether that was indeed the case. The State Cyberspace Administration didn’t find any sign of a hacker intrusion.
Some media suspected that Watching published the article purposely. Watching’s website was shut down for several days. The authorities took a few employees away in order to investigate what happened.
Watching was a joint venture between the SEEC Media Group Limited (the parent company of Caijing magazine), the Xinjiang Government, and the Alibaba Group.
Mingjing reported that the investigation showed: some people from the Xinjiang Party Propaganda Department participated in this ‘open letter attack’ on Xi; the open letter was not written by Watching. Someone inside Watching had left the access to its website open to the public and thus someone from outside was able to come in and post the open letter.
The day after the open letter was posted, Watching Chairman Li Wanhui directed CEO Ouyang Hongliang and the technical staff to reformat the computers’ drives, so that no evidence could be found. Li is loyal to Zhang Chunxian, the Xinjiang Party Secretary who was close to Zhou Yongkang. 
Another Mingjing article revealed the officials behind the Watching media:
Jiang Jian’guo, the Deputy Director of the Propaganda Department of the CCP Central Committee: Watching’s CEO Ouyang Hongliang is a confidant of Jiang Jian’guo. Jiang himself approved the application to form Watching. Jiang and Ling Jihua might be connected since both of them got their part-time Master’s degree from Hunan University. Recently, Jiang has closely followed Liu Yunshan.
Zhang Chunxian, the Xinjiang Party Secretary: Zhou Yongkang promoted Zhang to that position. Zhang is connected to Zhou through his wife. Both Zhang’s wife and Zhou’s wife were CCTV colleagues.
Wang Boming, the Chairman of the SEEC Media Group Limited: Wang has a brother, Wang Dongming, who is the former Chairman of the China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) Securities and was forced to resign after many high ranking officers of CITIC Securities were taken down for their malicious involvement in the stock disaster in 2015.
Liu Lefei, Vice Chairman of CITIC Securities: He is the son of Liu Yunshan.
VII. Another Battle – An Indirect Attack on Xi Jinping
On May 2, a performance at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing triggered an ideological confrontation.
The performance, called “On the Field of Hope,” included singing 20 songs. 18 were “red songs” (praising the CCP or its leaders and inspiring people to believe in the CCP’s rule) and the other two praised Xi Jinping.
The opening song was “Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman,” a very popular song during the Cultural Revolution period to build up the cult of personality of Mao Zedong.
During the performance, the backdrop also displayed a Cultural Revolutionary slogan “The People around the World Unite Together to Defeat the U.S. Invaders and All Their Lackeys!”
Ma Xiaoli, a princeling (the daughter of the former Minister of Labor and Vice Chairman of the PPCC Ma Wenrui) felt that it was very inappropriate to hold an event with such a strong message about the Cultural Revolution at the Great Hall. Ma reported this event to Li Zhanshu, Xi Jinping’s Chief of Staff, in charge of the General Office of the CCP Central Committee.
In her interview with Phoenix, Ma Xioali expressed that she personally was not against those “red songs,” but the location, timing, and the backdrops images of the performance sent the wrong message to the public.
The Great Hall is the designated place to host events with highest political status. The performance happened right before the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution (May 16, 1966). The backdrop displayed many Cultural Revolution scenes, including the anti-America slogan.
Ma felt that there was a hidden agenda behind the performance. It was not a simple commercial event for the purpose of making money, but rather a political event to send a message to the public: to commemorate Mao and his Cultural Revolution, while praising Xi Jinping on the side. Actually, its real goal was to set Xi up for public animosity because the majority of Chinese people felt such pain when remembering the cult of personality and the Cultural Revolution.
Ma thought there must have been a strong power behind this show. “For a place like the Great Hall, you cannot get in without a recommendation letter from the Ministry level [or above]. [It had to come from someone who was at] at least the Minister level.”
According to the performance website, the organizers of the performance included the Propaganda Office to Promote Socialist Core Values of the CCP Propaganda Department and the China’s Future Star Program of the Communist Youth League Central Committee.
There was a report that the performance organizer faked the CCP Propaganda Department’s involvement. Ma “didn’t believe that it was fake. Why? First, all these organizers were listed on the performance website. … [Second, the CCP Central Propaganda Department] has the power to get into the Great Hall.”
Xin Ziling, a former chief editor of a magazine at the Defense University of China, agreed with Ma Xiaoli’s analysis. “It is very clear. This [event] was created by the Central Propaganda Department and by Liu Yunshan. Since the CCP projects a uniform image to the outside, [they did it] to make [the Party chief] Xi Jinping carry the blame. This is absolutely a high-skilled defaming work [against Xi].”
Mingjing reported that Xi was angry about the event. He ordered the CCP Central Committee’s General Office (Li Zhanshu) to “seriously investigate and handle” it. The General Office started an investigation into “violating the Party’s decision from the Sixth Plenary Session of the 11th Party Congress” (it declared that the Cultural Revolution was a disastrous internal turmoil) and into “violating the Party’s discipline.” That office is looking into it to see if there was any political agenda behind it and if so, who initiated it.
Li Zhanshu also arranged for People’s Daily to publish Xi Jinping’s speech on January 18, where Xi mentioned the Culture Revolution negatively twice, to show Xi does not support the Cultural Revolution.
In his speech, Xi said, “Due to the [Party’s] mistake under its ‘left’ ideology, we had ten years of the disaster of the Cultural Revolution. …” “We were almost totally isolated from the world during the Cultural Revolution. …”
On May 17, People’s Daily published a commentary on the Cultural Revolution: “It was a mistake for the leader to launch the ‘Cultural Revolution’ which was used by counter-revolutionary groups. It brought a severe disaster of domestic strife to the Party, the State, and the people of all nationalities. The harm it caused was comprehensive and grave. History has fully proved that the ‘Cultural Revolution’ was completely wrong in theory and in practice. It was not and could never be a revolution or social progress in any sense.”
VIII. A Review of the Battles
According to Mingjing, “Jiang Jian’guo ordered the attack on Ren Zhiqiang and the State Internet Information Office carried it out. The State Internet Information Office got the most blame because it made its suppression of Ren Zhiqiang very high-profile it. … But it was actually Jiang Jian’guo who gave the order [to attack Ren].”
“For Xi Jinping, the battle inside the Propaganda Department is an even harder and more complex battle than the battle to take down the people in the PLAC and the military.”
The Hong Kong Magazine Chengming commented on the Ren Zhiqiang’s case, “Liu Yunshan took on Ren Zhiqiang to attack Wang Qishan who has a good relationship with Ren. Wang is Xi Jinping’s close ally.”
“Liu Yunshan has used the media and the propaganda system to dig holes for Xi Jinping. Recently, the battle [between them] has become even more intense. According to people familiar with Beijing’s inside information, the deeper reason for the heated fight was that Liu wanted to disrupt Xi’s plan for the upcoming CCP’s 19th National Congress [in 2017 and by then Liu will have retired from his post].”
There are reports that Jiang Jian’guo is in danger; also Liu Qibao, the head of the Central Propaganda Department may face being taken down as well.
In Ren Zhiqiang’s case, Xi Jinping took on a battle against Liu Yunshan. One interesting thing is that Ren Zhiqiang was promoting the idea that the state media belongs to the state but not to the CCP. That idea is totally against what the Party wants.
Because of that, the Party’s position restricted Xi’s handling of this case.
People may wonder: since Xi decided to help Ren Zhiqiang, does that mean that, deep in Xi’s heart, he is open, or even agreeable, to Ren Zhiqiang’s view? If that’s case, after he wins the battle over ideology and propaganda Xi may be able to accomplish a great deal.
It will be interesting to watch how things play out.