Reshuffles at propaganda organs underscore their importance to party

From Mao's time to the present day, People's Daily and Qiushi, and their executives, have wielded great influence

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 May, 2014, 3:35am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 May, 2014, 3:35am

Mao Zedong said political power comes from the barrel of a gun. The late leader also said that control of information and media is as important as control of the gun, as they are the two pillars of Communist Party power. Despite dramatic economic and social changes since the late 1970s, all of China's leaders, Mao's successors, have embraced his credo.

That is why party ideologues and propagandists and the media outlets they control continue to enjoy a status parallel to or even greater than other powerful branches of government, such as the military and security services.

In the past few weeks, the official Xinhua news agency has reported on a series of personnel changes at People's Daily and Qiushi, or "Seeking Truth", the country's two most influential party propaganda organs. The reshuffles involved the replacement of senior executives and editors, as well as their deputies, at both publications.

To put such significant changes into perspective, it should be noted that every state-run media outlet and major news website on the mainland was expected to republish the Xinhua report verbatim, giving it prominent placement in the publication or website.

Analysis or commentary on the reshuffle was forbidden.

Since their founding, the bi-monthly journal and official newspaper have served as the voice of the top leadership and are under the direct control of the party's most senior leaders. Mao wrote commentary for both publications. Important editorials are previewed by Politburo Standing Committee members with ideological and party portfolios.

The publications' paramount authority is well illustrated by their handling of the 1989 pro-democracy movement. A People's Daily editorial on April 26 of that year defined the student movement as an anti-party revolt that should be resolutely opposed. That conclusion was the result of a standing committee meeting at the residence of Deng Xiaoping , the paramount leader at the time, on April 25.

During the Cultural Revolution, Mao and his followers - the "Gang of Four" - used the two publications, as well as the PLA Daily, to steer the nationwide movement at a time when government, at various levels, was almost paralysed.

In the nomenclature of the time, the editorial trio was referred to as the "Two Newspapers and One Journal" - shorthand for People's Daily, PLA Daily, and Red Flag Journal - the predecessor of Qiushi. Every party member, government arm, work unit and citizen was expected to adhere strictly to the party line espoused in these authoritative organs.

Looking at the publications' histories, the top executives have all been influential power brokers and party leaders in their own right. A partial roll call of past Qiushi editors proves the point, with party stalwarts such as Chen Boda , Yao Wenyuan , Deng Liqun and Wang Renzhi represented.

Chen was the editor of Red Flag between 1958 and1970, even after his promotion to the standing committee. Chen became head of the Cultural Revolution Group, a body that for a period superseded the standing committee as the penultimate governing council.

Yao Wenyuan, a key member of the "Gang of Four" who sat on the Politburo, served as a deputy and later as editor of the journal between 1968 and 1976.

Deng Liqun and Wang Renzhi also held deputy editorships at the journal before rising to become the party's propaganda chief and chief theoretician respectively.

President Xi Jinping began his term with an ideological campaign to promote Maoist socialist values. China watchers will closely scrutinise the party leadership for shifts following the recent reshuffle at its most important ideological bases. Some might say it has consolidated Xi's control of the "holder of the pen" after he established control of the "barrel of the gun".