Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Newspeak

Parroting stock phrases from the Central Committee is no longer adequate. Even in China, public relations and politics are merging.

Learning to spin
[T]he media landscape has changed completely [in China]. Consumer programmes, investigative reporters and a noisy mix of microbloggers and middle-class NIMBYs are holding the party more to account. The classes at the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP) in Shanghai demonstrate that the leadership has understood what is at stake, even if it is still learning how to deal with it. Some of the party’s biggest recent problems have come from mishandling the newly probing media.

The message of the classes is clear: officials must be more responsive to the press and the public even as they toe the party line…

“In the past we could avoid the press…we could remain silent, but now we can no longer avoid it,” Tan Wenzhu, a lecturer, told a group of 40 officials from Heilongjiang province…

Of the party’s 85m members, many of whom are officials and civil servants, fewer than 100,000 have so far received training from the Shanghai academy… The party’s powerful organisation department arranges classes for senior officials, who must attend 110 hours of training a year at one of the national schools. Local governments also send their officials on courses…

In class, turgid canonical teachings of the party must all be represented: Marx, Mao and “Deng Xiaoping Theory”. But CELAP has a light attachment to doctrine compared with other party schools. Students are taught to “de-politicise” their language in times of crisis, at least in dealing with the public. Charged ideological phrases like “hostile Western forces” will not be helpful at the scene of a domestic disaster. Government jargon should be dropped, too. Liu Ning, a television presenter for Shanghai Media Group, helps coach the officials, telling them to speak in plain language, use humour to deflect tough questions, and refrain from boasting about how good a job the government is doing. That will only invite ridicule, she says…

Instructors repeatedly stressed the importance of watching not just words, but also appearance. Women should wear skin-coloured stockings, not black, and definitely no fishnets. For men, Mr Li said, red ties are acceptable on happy occasions. “But if your boss is wearing a red tie, you should not. Don’t steal the show.”

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