Xi Jinping’s power grab and China’s media politics

China‘s ruling Communist Party has recently proposed to abolish term limits on the presidency, paving the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in office as long as the party is willing to keep him there.

The reaction online was instant and critical, but those posts were quickly censored and none of the criticism made it into China’s mainstream media.

State-owned outlets, which make up the bulk of the news landscape in China, swung into propaganda mode, praising Xi and stressing the importance of his leadership to the nation.

“In traditional Chinese culture, there is a need for a guiding voice, a leading will,” explains Wang Yiwei, professor of International Relations at Renmin University of China. “So the official press has to convey the significance behind the amendments to the constitution.”

In traditional Chinese culture, there is a need for a guiding voice, a leading will. So the official press has to convey the significance behind the amendments to the constitution.

Wang Yiwei, professor of international relations, Renmin University of China

The Chinese media space has a recent history of opening up slightly, only to close again, based on events.

Prior to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, journalists had enjoyed a period of relative freedom which ended in the aftermath of the crackdown. Restrictions were loosened again prior to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, then tightened again once the foreign media contingents had gone home.

Five years later, Xi Jinping took power, having marketed himself as an anti-corruption champion. By the time he toured China’s top three state-owned news outlets…

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