Disturbing Study Suggests China Is Becoming Way More Repressive

MaoREUTERS/David GreyAn image of Mao

A new analysis of Chinese media suggests the country is becoming more hostile to democratic ideas, despite hopes that recently announced reformsindicated a path towards greater openness and progress.

Over the last year, Chinese media — consisting of state-run outlets and independent outlets monitored by the government — have increased attacks on democratic concepts, according to an analysis by Qian Gang at the China Media Project. Meanwhile these outlets have started using more party propaganda language, that analysis found.

The trend indicates an intensifying anti-reformist political climate and suggests there may be increased censorship and editorial intervention by the Communist Party.

To perform the analysis, Gang used the Chinese search engine Baidu to graph the presence of key political terms in Chinese news and media articles. Gang divided the terms into “red” and “blue” groups, to distinguish between those the Communist Party agrees with and uses (red) and those that are either more sensitive or outright banned by the party (blue).

“Red” terms included “political civilisation,” “intra-party democracy,” and “Mao Zedong Thought” (a phrase used by the party and media to refer to ideology of the Communist revolutionary Mao Zedong). “Blue” terms included “separation of powers,” “privatization of the military,” “constitutionalism,” and “universal values.”

Gang found that, in 2013, there had been a huge increase in positive stories that tout red terms and in negative stories that reference blue terms.

Here’s what the difference from 2012 to 2013 looks like for the blue term “universal values,” a term one Chinese article described as a uniquely Western notion. The red in this graph indicates negative stories, while blue indicates positive stories:

Q1China Media ProjectAppearances of ‘universal values’ in Chinese news headlines.

In 2012, there were 150 news articles that used the term “universal values,” in the headline. Gang found 78% of those stories presented the term in a positive light. Then, in 2013, there were 500 articles that used the term in a headline, 84% of which were negative.

A similar phenomenon can be seen with the term “constitutionalism.”

China graphChina Media ProjectAppearances of ‘constitutionalism’ in Chinese news headlines.

In 2012, there were 400 articles referencing “constitutionalism,” all positive. In 2013, there were 1200 articles referencing the term, 86% of which were negative.

These drastic year-over-year changes signal a shift in the political climate. It’s not hard to guess who is leading the charge. Veteran China journalist Paul Mooney clued us in to the changing climate in November, which came with the official election in March of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Under Xi Jinping, there has been a huge backlash against constitutionalism,” Mooney previously told us. “We see frequent commentaries and comments from officials condemning constitutionalism.”

Fearing a destabilization, the party has moved to strengthen its grip on public discourse. On October 17, the People’s Daily, the official organ of the party, published an essay that criticised any concept of universal values and constitutional democracy. While this might seem like old hat, the article went on to attack China’s reforms — a clear jab at any who think China is headed for further openness.

The party has even begun to resurrect long-since retired terms from the Maoist era. The phrase “Mao Zedong Thought,” which Gang calls a measuring stick for Chinese politics, has skyrocketed in use over the last year. Prior to Jinping’s ascension, Maoist ideology had fallen out of favour. It appears Maoism is making a comeback under Jinping in some capacity.

Q3China Media ProjectAppearances of ‘Mao Zedong Thought’ in Chinese news headlines.

If the changes in the media are any indication, China may get even more hostile to Western ideas in the future.

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