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The party line is clearly drawn.

Doug Young, "The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China," John Wiley & Sons Singapore Pte, Ltd., Singapore, 2013, 256 pages, $24.95.


Doug Young teaches at the Journalism School of Fudan University in Shanghai, China. Before that, he worked years for Reuters writing about Chinese companies. He updates personal blog Young's China Business Blog on a daily basis and also writes blogs for the South China Morning Post.

In The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China, Young discloses how the Communist Party of China (CPC) sets the agenda for the media and greatly affects what kind of news Chinese people receive. Young chooses some historical events to show how the media were manipulated by the Party for propagandizing its policies and maintaining social harmony.

Young distills the essence of the Party and media's relationship, which is that the press is expected to disseminate the Party's agenda to China and the world. This is why Chinese media are often referred to as the "throat and tongue" (houshe) of the Party. And this sets the tone for the evolution of Chinese media since the founding of the People's Republic of China and the legacy that lasts today. In this process, the Ministry of Propaganda downplays negative news from the public. In the same vein, it manipulates the media to project a China where consensus dominates and uses it to instill nationalism that helps consolidate the rule of the Party.

Guanxi, or social connections, a key feature of the Chinese society, is examined as it affects Chinese media's coverage. The Ministry of Propaganda is at the center of guanxi networks that connect media organizations, journalists and officials. This guanxi web makes negative coverage more difficult since it may disgrace the performance of some officials or even jeopardize their positions.

Different from their foreign peers, Chinese reporters, considering Chinese media are taken as the "throat and tongue," are expected to be the "eyes and ears" helping the Party keep abreast of the latest events. They collect information and write investigative reports that may only be published on neican, or news for internal consideration, available only to top-level administrators. Social responsibilities such as this not only empower news outlets but also make journalism a respectful profession.

Young examines Chinese media's coverage of momentous events such as the Korean War, the Cultural Revolution, Nixon's visit to China, the Tiananmen Square movement the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and anti-Japanese protests, SARS and the Beijing Olympics. Such examples help readers understand why Chinese media favor positive reports and Western media are conceived of as degrading China with negative coverage. The author presents media approaches such as guerilla reporting, half-truths reporting and laundry list reporting to show how journalists have been used to fan nationalism.

After a historic overview, Young concludes with Google, the Internet and censorship. The Internet has posed a great challenge to the Party line as a good-news-only strategy is no longer feasible.

Negative news, as in the Wenzhou high-speed train collision case, would be hard to be blocked since a multitude of information is being generated every day by users with smartphones. The fast penetration of mobile Internet and the affordability of low-end smartphones make information exchange and sharing even more instantaneous and ubiquitous. Even if traditional media may turn a deaf ear to discordant Pary-line tones, social media are rapidly becoming the hub where such information is disseminated.

On the other hand, ideological control becomes increasingly intensive. At an October 2014 art forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a speech, calling artists to serve the people and represent core socialist values with their art. Xi's talk echoed Mao Zedong, who spoke at the Yan'an Forum of Art in 1942, which laid the bedrock for the Party's propagandistic use of arts. The most recent example is Xi's visit to three leading Chinese news organizations--the People's Daily, Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television in February, in which Xi instructed media outlets to stay loyal to the Party, guide the public and focus on positive coverage. Xi emphasized making good use of new media. His speeches made clear the responsibilities and mission of Chinese media, which are expected to help realize the Chinese dream, tell the Chinese stories well and make China's voice heard. Thus, the Party is intensifying its use of the media for political and ideological purposes. A case in point would be a propagandistic song publicizing China's 13th Five-Year Plan (Shisanwu), an economic and social development blueprint. The video which went viral online in late 2015 features animated characters of different complexions urging, "if you wanna know what China's gonna do, best pay attention to the Shisanwu", with American accents.

Young's years of working as a foreign journalist in several bureaus in China help him develop his insight of Chinese media and their interconnection with the social backdrop. His interviews of many Chinese journalists make the book more convincing. The Party Line is recommended reading for those interested in China and its media and for researchers examining China's media system and censorship.
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Author:Fu, Tao
Publication:Gateway Journalism Review
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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