How to spot the issues that really matter to China’s Communist Party

The byline Ren Zhongping, as seen in a glowing commentary on Hong Kong since the handover, is a signal we’re seeing something that’s important to Beijing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 6:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 6:26pm

Two days ahead of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China, the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper People’s Daily published a lengthy commentary on the city under the byline Ren Zhongping, cheering the “huge success” of the “one country, two systems” model in Hong Kong’s development.

As a mouthpiece for the Communist Party, People’s Daily is an indispensable tool for tea-leaf reading the changing political winds and policy directions of the party, given the opaque nature of its political system and decision making process.

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Bylined commentaries under well-known pseudonyms such as Ren Zhongping hold an especially important place in setting the official tone on major policies and current affairs, and presenting the current consensus to cadres.

What does it mean when I see the byline Ren Zhongping, and who is the actual writer?

The byline is a signal that the commentary is important. Because of this, the editorials written under the pseudonym are actually the work of a team of reporters, editors and managers from different departments.

The team usually has about 10 people and often changes, but it is led by a top editor. The former head of People’s Daily, Zhang Yannong, lead the task force during his tenure at the paper.

Each commentary is carefully crafted and has to go through numerous rounds of revision before publishing.

When did it first appear?

The byline first appeared in People’s Daily in 1993, with a 4,500 word commentary on the progress of China’s economic reform since it kicked off in 1978.

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Since then, more than 80 commentaries of more than 4,000 words on major issues concerning the country’s development and reforms have appeared under the name Ren Zhongping.

A 2014 book collated 80 articles with the byline.

Which topics have been covered under the pseudonym?

The topics covered a wide range of political and policy matters and current affairs, including the SARS outbreak in 2003, the devastating Sichuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, as well as major anniversaries, such as the founding of the party and the People’s Republic of China.

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Apart from political commentaries, Ren Zhongping also writes about the economy. Ahead of the Central Economic Work Conference in 2015 – a key annual closed-door party conclave that lays out the economic blueprint for the coming year – an 8,000-word commentary published under the byline offered Beijing’s assessment of the country’s economic outlook.

What other pseudonyms are used in People’s Daily?

Zhong Zuwen is used for commentaries written in the name of the Organisation Department of the party’s Central Committee. These editorials often discuss ideology and party building and personnel issues.

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Guo Jiping can be seen as shorthand for commentaries about Beijing’s stance on international issues.

Zhong Sheng is a play on the Chinese characters for “the voice of China”, and is also a signal that we are hearing Beijing’s voice on global issues, written by journalists from the People’s Daily international desk.