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China Targets Western “Cultural Threats”

People's Liberation Army senior colonel Gong Fangbin.

People’s Liberation Army senior colonel Gong Fangbin (Source: PLA Youth).

Western “cultural threats” will be among several types of “unconventional security threats” targeted by China’s new National Security Committee, according to an article by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) senior colonel Gong Fangbin (公方彬). Additional “threats” the committee will target include extremist groups, cybersecurity threats, and online dissent. The article follows a familiar recent pattern of anti-Western propaganda and calls for tighter media control aimed at protecting the Communist Party’s hold on power under conditions of rapid social change in China.

Colonel Gong’s article on “security management” under the new National Security Committee (国家安全委员会设立后的安全管理), was first published by the Central Party School‘s newspaper Study Times on Jan. 13. Disseminated widely in Chinese on national and local Communist Party websites and on mainland Chinese news sites, Gong’s statements were reported in English by the South China Morning Post and China Digital Times. A professor at the National Defense University, Gong is a prominent figure in the Communist Party’s “ideological work” directed at Chinese youth. As in many similar statements recently by Chinese officials, Gong singled out the United States as an especially dangerous source of negative cultural influence on Chinese youth. Hollywood movies and online communities, according to Gong, are among the means America and the West employ to impose Western cultural values on China, Westernize the thinking of Chinese youth, and turn Chinese young people against the party and government.

Fear of Western cultural influence, particularly on young people in China, has been a running theme in Communist Party propaganda for the past several years, and echoes the campaign against Western “spiritual pollution” (清除精神污染运动) of the early 1980s. This fear was expressed by former president Hu Jintao in late 2011. “We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of Westernizing and dividing China, and ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of their long-term infiltration,” Hu wrote in an essay published in Communist Party policy magazine Qiushi (求是, “Seeking Truth”), “We should deeply understand the seriousness and complexity of the ideological struggle, always sound the alarms and remain vigilant, and take forceful measures to be on guard and respond.”

This campaign against Western cultural “infiltration” has continued under China’s current leadership headed by president Xi Jinping. In a May 2013 newspaper editorial, PLA general Zhu Heping (朱和平) warned against the influence of Western “cultural colonialism,” particularly on Chinese youth. “Western cultural infiltration techniques are very clever in their deception and hidden nature,” Zhu wrote in state-run Guangming Daily (光明日报), “Western hostile forces seize every opportunity to sneak attacks against us, and they are pressing harder and harder.”

Accusations of Western cultural “infiltration” surfaced again in October 2013 in a propaganda film (Silent Contest, 较量无声) co-produced by the PLA and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). Identified in the film as instruments for “America’s cultural invasion” of China were Hollywood movies as well as U.S. educational programs and organizations including the Fulbright program, the Ford Foundation, the Asia Foundation, and the Carter Center. The fear expressed in the film is that these organizations seek to undermine Communist Party rule, brainwash Chinese citizens, and impose American cultural values on China. A previous (2012) party statement from the CASS Institute of Marxism likewise identified the Fulbright program, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation in addition to Hollywood movies and major U.S. news organizations as threats to “Chinese culture”and to Communist Party rule.

As China’s leadership battles Western cultural influence it has also launched a crusade against the political influence of Western democratic ideas in China. A leaked party memo issued in April 2013 titled “Briefing on the Present Ideological Situation” (关于当前意识形态领域情况的通报) but commonly known as “Document No. 9” (中办发 [2013] 9号) outlined a list of ideological “perils” including constitutional democracy, universal values of human rights, press freedom, and complaints on the undisclosed personal wealth and financial ties of government officials. “Western anti-China forces and internal ‘dissidents’ are still actively trying to infiltrate China’s ideological sphere,” the memo reads in the party’s characteristic paranoid style, and “have made a fuss over asset disclosure by officials, fighting corruption with the Internet, media supervision of government, and other sensitive hot-button issues, all of which stoke dissatisfaction with the Party and government.”

Colonel Gong Fangbin’s comments on Western “cultural threats” and the West’s use of online communities and online dissent against China closely echo the “perils” outlined in Document No. 9. Regarding the targeting of online communities, China Digital Times also points to a 2012 article in People’s Daily warning that the United States would use “rights lawyers, underground religious activities, dissidents, internet leaders and vulnerable groups” online to undermine Communist Party rule and impose a policy of containment on China. Under the banner of “internet freedom,” the article says, America will incite these groups to “attack ‘top down’ governance in order to push forward the traditional model of liberal democracy” and to “push for a ‘bottom-up’ approach to Chinese governance from the grassroots to lay a foundation for changing China.”

The Chinese government clearly wants Western money, knowledge, and technology, but is terrified of the Western cultural and political influence that comes with these. If there truly is a battle underway for the “hearts and minds” of the Chinese people, the Communist Party appears to be in fear of losing that battle.



Mark C. Eades

Mark C. Eades is an Asia-based writer, educator, and independent researcher. Located in Shanghai, China from 2009 to 2015, he now splits his time between the United States and various locations in Asia. He has spent a total of seven years in China since his first visit in 1991, and has taught at Fudan University, Shanghai International Studies University, and in the private sector in Shanghai. He is also widely traveled throughout East and Southeast Asia. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Social Science and a Master of Arts in Humanities from San Francisco State University with extensive coursework in Asia-Pacific studies. His previous publications include articles on China and Sino-US relations in U.S. News & World Report, Asia Times, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and Atlantic Community. Twitter: @MC_Eades