Beijing to Push Ideology Online

Netizens are unlikely to buy into an effort by China's propaganda chiefs to modernize communist ideology.

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china-internet-305.jpg People use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing, June 3, 2009.

China has launched a new website dedicated to ideological work on behalf of the ruling Communist Party and boosting its leadership in local government and major state-owned enterprises, official media reported.

"Ideological WorkNet will play an important part in ... furthering ideological work in local governments and industry, and re-establishing ideological work at a grassroots level," wrote Liu Yunshan, head of the powerful yet secret, Central Propaganda Department, in a inaugural letter.

Liu said the site would also broaden the influence of the official think tank, the China Ideological Work Research Institute.

The site, at, has a sober, black and white design like a newspaper, and includes lunar calendar dates popular in rural areas in its masthead, in contrast to the anti-traditionalist stance of extreme left-wingers.

The front page carries articles with such dense titles as "Marxism and Cultural Construction in Contemporary China," and, perhaps more reassuringly for the country's newly wealthy urbanites, "Once Again, We Recognize the Progress Brought by the Rise of the Middle Class."

But experts said the site was unlikely to strike much of a chord in today's China.

'Putting on a show'

A Chinese online writer who declined to be identified said there was scant belief in any of the ideological themes peddled by officials nowadays.

"Now, in these so-called ideological work sessions, if the leaders stand on the podium and talk, in reality, even they don't believe in what they're saying," he said.

"They know that the people down there in the audience don't believe in it, either. All in all, everyone is just putting on a show and going through the motions."

According to Sun Yanjun, a former psychology professor with the Beijing Normal University, political ideological work was once a useful tool for the Party to hang on to power.

But he said the method was ill-suited to modern life.

"There was a time when it was extremely effective, especially around the time of the civil war and the few years that came after it," Sun said.

"But it doesn't really have much meaning left in it after all these years."

Post-Tiananmen apathy

He traced the tide of popular cynicism and political apathy back to the military crackdown on the 1989 student-led demonstrations, which opposed growing official corruption and called for the rule of law.

"Ordinary people have known what it's really about ever since the 1989 student movement," Sun said. "If they were to hold political study classes now, I don't think anyone would show up."

He said officials themselves were cynical about socialist political ideology, in stark contrast to the shining-eyed idealists who joined the Party in droves in the early years of the People's Republic.

"Ordinary Chinese people don't believe in it," Sun said. "The officials themselves aren't sincere ... But they have to play along and speak as if their political power will continue."

This sort of doublethink, Sun said, was to be found even in the highest echelons of leadership, in spite of the appearance of sites like Ideological WorkNet.

"Actually the central leadership of the Party knows that most people don't believe in this stuff," he said. "But they have to carry on pretending."

"This is one of the ways in which they keep the lie going."

Reported by Shi Shan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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