As the world marks World Press Freedom day, President Xi Jinping has stepped up warnings to members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to make their loyalties clear in public and not to allow "western" ideas to seep into their thinking.
Xi's ideological campaign, which intensified earlier this year with his tour of the country's leading state media outlets, is sending out a strong message that public debate must be shaped by the Communist Party and not by "hostile foreign forces" peddling values like democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
The president warned in a recent speech of "careerists and conspirators," "cabals and cliques" in party ranks who should be eliminated, state media reported on Tuesday.
"There are careerists and conspirators existing in our party and undermining the party's governance," Xi was quoted as saying the state news agency Xinhua.
"We should not bury our heads in the sand and spare these members but must make a resolute response to eliminate the problem and deter further violations," the agency and party mouthpiece the People's Daily quoted Xi as saying in a January speech.
The speech was published a day after the party announced disciplinary action against freewheeling "big V" tweeter and property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang for his attacks on party propaganda.
Ren, whose tweets had earned him the nickname "Cannon," had hit out at the use of taxpayers' money to fund party campaigns on his now-deleted social media accounts, which had boasted some 37 million followers.
Xi was quoted in the party publication Qiushi on Tuesday, however, as saying that the huge volume of online content means that the party must exert stronger, not weaker, ideological control.
Echoing his recent warnings to the country's media, Xi said schools training party cadres should also "take the party's surname, or there is no reason for them to exist."
He accused some people of "promoting western capitalist values and world views," and called on party members to be vigilant for "hostile forces both in China and overseas," the magazine said.
Such forces are trying to get the Chinese Communist Party to change its spots, and fly another banner, Xi warned.
Hold that thought
Germany-based journalist Chang Ping said Xi's warnings come as the party continues a nationwide campaign to control all forms of public expression.
"The Chinese Communist Party is stepping up its political controls, and controls on freedom of expression are a very important part of that," Chang told RFA.
"They are using persecution and suppression, both within party ranks and outside the party, as well as every possible excuse to try and sentence rights activists and lawyers, as well as journalists and citizen journalists, just for expressing an opinion in public," he said.
"Either that, or they are subjected to police harassment and house arrest; all of this has become much worse during the past year," he said.
Meanwhile, Hebei-based veteran journalist Zhu Xinxin said Xi appears to be employing similar tactics to late supreme leader Mao Zedong, in rallying party members against "conspirators."
"We really should take a lesson from history now ... and recognize the harm that was done by the Communist Party," Zhu said.
"Those of us who live in China can see the gradual collapse of everything around us, but we have no way of stopping it; the whole system is sick to the core," he said.
U.S.-based rights activist Liu Nianchun agreed, saying that it was such conspiracy theories that prompted Mao to launch a decade of political violence and turmoil on the nation from 1966-1976.
"Xi Jinping's world view was formed in the Mao era," Liu said. "But nobody believes in such utopian ideas as communism anymore."
"It's all an illusion," he said.
Reported by Xin Lin and Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.