Beijing graft-buster pats itself on back for muzzling outspoken tycoon ‘Big Cannon’
Party discipline watchdog says investigation into Ren Zhiqiang, who criticised president’s comments on media loyalty, was one of its highlights last year
Beijing’s municipal disciplinary and anticorruption watchdog has boasted in its annual report that its investigation into the outspoken property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang was one of its main achievements last year.
Ren, a Communist Party member known as the Big Cannon for his outspoken views, was placed on a year’s probation last May for criticising President Xi Jinping’s demand that the media must show absolute loyalty to the party.
Ren’s remarks came at a sensitive time as Xi demanded loyalty from the media as he consolidated his grip on power ahead of the National Party Congress last March.
Ren’s open challenge to Xi’s remarks prompted a strong response from the authorities.
Ren social media account on Weibo, which had 37 million followers, was shut down and the tycoon was forced to shut up.
The annual work report, delivered by Beijing’s municipal disciplinary chief Zhang Fushuo, said the “stern investigation and punishment of Ren Zhiqiang’s public voicing of wrong remarks” was a highlight last year in terms of punishing those who violate “political disciplines and political rules”.
Ren, known for his sharp-tongued comments, openly criticised the government’s policies to control the property market for years and his comments often spread to broader political and social issues.
He came under fire last February after questioning Xi’s media policies on his microblog.
Xi said during a tour of leading state media outlets that month that all news media run by the party must embody the party’s will and protect its authority and unity.
Ren, however, disagreed.
“When did the people’s government turn into the party’s government? [Are the media] funded by party membership dues? Don’t waste taxpayers’ money on things that do not provide them with ¬services,” Ren wrote on his social media account.
His comments were soon removed by censors and several state-run media outlets quickly denounced Ren.
One news site affiliated to the Beijing municipal party committee accused him of “completely losing his party spirit” and spreading “anti-Communist Party” thought.
China has tightened its grip on the internet, the media and control of ideology since Xi took power in 2012.
Many outspoken critics of the party and liberal intellectuals have been silenced as part of a wider push to bolster the party’s rule.
Deng Xiangchao, a communications professor at Shandong Jianzhu University, was forced to retire last month after criticising Mao Zedong publicly on the eve of the anniversary of the late leader’s birth.
Also in January, the website and social media accounts of the Unirule Institute of Economics, a prominent private think tank lead by the liberal economist Mao Yushi, were shutdown for “disseminating news without a proper licence”.
Chinese media administrators last year sacked Du Daozheng, an influential former cadre known as a reform thinker, from Yanhuang Chunqiu, an outspoken political magazine he founded that often featured articles critical of the party’s history, including the Cultural Revolution.