Xi Jinping
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President Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping rallies party for propaganda war on internet

President's battle cry against 'rumour-mongers' in speech last month is revealed, with call for a 'strong army to seize ground of new media'

Xi Jinping

President Xi Jinping has issued a call to arms against the country's unruly internet, ordering the Communist Party's propaganda machine to build "a strong army" to "seize the ground of new media".

Xi's remarks, made during a national meeting of propaganda chiefs in Beijing last month, came just as the central government was stepping up its campaign against internet "rumours" and reining in influential online celebrities who can command millions of followers.

The August 19 speech was reported the next day by the state agency Xinhua, but it is only in recent days that some of Xi's more combative remarks have come to light.

The comments were confirmed by senior media sources who were summoned to internal briefings on the keynote speech in the past week.

"The wording of his speech relayed in internal briefings is far stronger," said a source. "The most impressive [point] is that Xi said the Communist Party should be combative, instead of being passive, and it should wage a war to win over public opinion. Xi also ordered the propaganda apparatus to form a strong internet army to seize the ground of new media," he said.

The speech laid the ground for recent events that shook the new-media world.

On August 20, Beijing police detained several people connected with Beijing Erma Interactive Marketing and Planning, including internet celebrity Qin Huohuo , on suspicion of rumour-mongering.

On August 23, Chinese-American businessman Charles Xue Biqun , better known to his 12 million Sina Weibo followers as Xue Manzi , was detained on suspicion of soliciting prostitutes.

For the past two weeks, state media have rolled out one commentary after another warning "big V" internet celebrities - people whose identities have been verified by social media companies - not to misuse their influence by spreading rumours. Media sources said Xi's August 19 speech ordered officials to "unite all intellectuals". The remark was interpreted as meaning mustering as many intellectuals as possible to back the party's agenda.

"It is a continuation of the style during the Maoist era to set intellectuals apart from the public," one senior state television journalist said. Another media source said Xi also highlighted the ban on the media spreading the "universal values of the West", because there are "no such things as universal values".

Mainland universities have been banned from teaching "universal values", such as press freedom and civil rights, since March.

Xi also called for the revival of an "ideological purification" campaign initiated by late leader Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s by upholding "four cardinal principles", said a website of the publicity department of the party's Central Committee.

The principles call for the upholding of the people's democratic dictatorship, the socialist path, the party leadership and Marxism-Leninism and "Mao Zedong thought".

"It shows the controls will get stricter and the room for media will dwindle further," the second media source said.


This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Xi rallies party for propaganda war on internet