What is Decoding CCP? What is its purpose? What need does it meet?

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Right now, China’s internet – a world unto itself – and official media are praising an online post that seems, from beginning to end, to be an emoji nailing this bitterly angry moment for China.

This one post, endlessly reposted by People’s Daily and Xinhua news agency, is full of the coded keyword jargons in use in China, which so puzzle everyone else.

In an early release of Decoding CCP analysis, here is that furious outburst, plus Decoding CCP contextualisation. The full Decoding CCP will closely examine the keywords embedded in it.

Once in a while a Chinese social media poster nails the zeitgeist so acutely, the post not only goes viral, it is taken up and amplified by official media hailing it as the authentic voice of the masses. Such a moment arose in August 2021 when a high-profile yet anonymous Key Online Leader issued a sustained burst of bile that exemplified the mood of a China aghast at finding itself in conflict with America on almost everything. This WeChat rant managed to include so many of the keywords of this Decoding CCP into a single stream of invective, it is worth quoting to see how keywords connect.

This KOL post seamlessly integrates nationalist chauvinism, male chauvinism, paranoia, and rage: “China is facing an increasingly severe and complex international environment. The United States is implementing increasingly severe military threats, economic and technological blockades, financial strikes, and political and diplomatic encirclement against China, and is waging biological warfare, cyber warfare, public opinion warfare, and space warfare against China, with increasing efforts to launch a colour revolution against China through the fifth column within China. If at this time we still rely on the big capitalists as the main force against imperialism and hegemony, and still cater to the U.S. “tittytainment strategy 奶头乐战略”, and let our young generation lose their toughness and virility, then we will fall first without our friends, just like the Soviet Union did back then, letting the country collapse, letting the country’s wealth be looted, and letting the people fall into a deep disaster. Therefore, the profound changes that are currently taking place in China are precisely to deal with the current severe and complex international situation, and precisely to deal with the savage and ferocious attacks that the United States has begun to launch against China. Each of us can feel that a profound social change has begun, not only in the capital circle but also in the entertainment circle. It is necessary not only to destroy the decadent forces but also to scrape the bones and heal the wounds. It is also necessary to clean the house, freshen the air, make our society healthier so that the main body of society can feel happy.”

This is the warrior call to arms at its’ purest, an imperative demand that all impurities, immoralities, weaknesses, effeminacy be purged urgently, to be wholly ready for battle. It elevates the party-state as the great purifier of mass culture, art, entertainment as well as the army, security state, and the entire economy; all of which must now unite to confront the existential threat of the US deployment of any and all methods to weaken and ruin China. One embedded legacy of the CCP’s revolutionary origins is a reliance on mass mobilisation campaigns. This endlessly reposted demand is for a campaign that punitively disciplines, and mobilises for war, all sectors of society, including big tech, media, corporate giants, celebs, and the party-state. Women, he demands, must stop being frivolous nymphomaniacs.

Many would see this as controlling, warmongering, gaslighting, and punitive; but China has a much older concept: rectification 整改, zhenggai. Rectifying the thinking and behaviour of others is not only possible but essential, in the Confucian hierarchical system that insists on a patriarchal hierarchy, with women and children at the bottom, the emperor at the top. This is a demand that the party-state assert its command of all aspects of society, to rectify ills and sins that have been tolerated for decades. Rectification is the mission of the party-state, for example, its Leading Group on Education and Rectification of the Nation’s Political-Legal Ranks 全国政法队伍教育整顿领导小组

For decades China celebrated celebrity culture, consumer culture, boybands, Key Online Leader influencer culture, mass media objectification of women, gamer culture, cram schooling for exam success, and worship of the super-rich, especially the tech entrepreneurs. Now, all that must stop because it is all part of the American grand strategy to again humiliate China. Implicit in this vision of virility is nostalgia for the national mission of the Mao era when the mission was clear and embraced by all. Today, by comparison, everything is impure, muddled, led by big brands and consumer demand, competition rather than a communal willingness to eat bitterness for the sake of the nation. Manliness must again take command. A puritanical repression of desire is the need of the hour, not endless indulgence.

“Chauvinism is an almost natural product of the national concept insofar as it springs directly from the old idea of the “national mission.” It has a logical affinity with expansion because a nation’s mission might be interpreted precisely as bringing its light to other, less fortunate peoples. It produced that type of men whom one could find scattered in all the colonial services, particularly the British, who would take a fatherly interest in the peoples they were ordered to rule and who would easily assume the role of the dragonslayer, thereby fulfilling in a manly fashion the gallant ideals and dreams of their boyhood. The trouble with the “national mission” is that it implies a holy mission, that it presupposes a kind of divine origin of the people, and that it claims “chosenness.” Since, by its very definition, national divine election can be granted only to one people, this concept destroys the idea of the unity of mankind which, based on the divine origin of man, is inconsistent with any doctrine of the divine origin of peoples. Chauvinism, created by the dissolution of the old trinity of people—-territory—state was the natural though perverted form of their national feelings. Here were masses at hand who had not the slightest idea of the meaning of patria, not the vaguest notion of the responsibility of a common limited community and no experience of political freedom. They indeed were ready for adventure and ripe for imperialist expansion.” [Hannah Arendt, Imperialism, Nationalism, Chauvinism, Review of Politics, 1945, 7, 4,  457-462.]

By amplifying such voices, the CCP propaganda machine risks losing control of the discourse, as it veers into extremes of self-righteous rage. A century after the invention of the CCP, a modernised and prospering China could choose to relax its national mission of redemption a little, but instead is intensifying it.

How to respond to concentrated bursts of rage that go viral? Decoding CCP patiently unpacks the unconscious biases, fears and fury packed into this hugely popular rant. Step by step the keywords are contextualised and decoded, quieting the flames of fury. It takes a dozen entries in Decoding CCP to reveal how they all connect, 12 mini-essays in the resonances of China’s increasingly shrill discourse of mastery or perish. TCHRD’s Decoding CCP is your go-to resource to understand where China is heading right now.

The author, a bored and embittered former editor of an obscure electricity industry newspaper, invokes Mao’s imagery of monkeys and ghosts and is feted as a great literary talent for above all having named the feelings of his overwhelmingly male audience. Li Guangman is 62 but calls himself a reborn teenager, full of teen testosterone spirit. The 1991 Nirvana teen spirit hit song is based on the concept of a high school pep rally that ends in chaos and riot, which is what the CCP most fears.

The chaos and rioting that escalate into revolution are the deepest of party-state fears, so much so that China denounces popular revolts against oppressive regimes, wherever they arise, siding instead with established power and the right of sovereign states to treat their own citizens badly.

This KOL Wechat post by Li Guangman denounces the online influencer culture he is part of and denounces popular revolts as “colour revolutions” fomented by satanic America while urging a revolution in China that purges all that is effeminate, profitable and fun. Although the last thing the CCP wants is another revolution, this post was shared on the websites of eight major Party-state media on August 29, and on scores of commercial sites, all with the same headline: “Everyone Can Sense That a Profound Change is Underway!” 每个人都能感受到, 一场深刻的变革正在进行!

China has come to this. Mao wanted revolution to be not a one-off but permanent. This is a revolutionary call to revert to Cultural Revolution: “a return to the revolutionary spirit, a return to heroism, a return to courage and righteousness. We need to bring all forms of cultural chaos under control and build a vibrant, healthy, virile, intrepid, and people-oriented culture. It is necessary not only to destroy the decadent forces but also to scrape the bones and heal the wounds. It is also necessary to clean the house, freshen the air, make our society healthier so that the main body of society can feel happy.”

When not only social media but official media, including Xinhua and People’s Daily, are intoxicated by this teen spirit we are in for a bumpy ride the party-state might find hard to restrain.