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Tea Leaf Nation
The Chinese Communist Party Just Opened a WeChat Account
An eclectic social media debut for the world's largest political organization.
HONG KONG — It’s a growth story that would make many Silicon Valley venture capitalists swoon: a once-tiny, secretive group of 13 members blooming into a network of around 86 million, plus a killer app that no other competitor can replicate — near absolute political domination. The organization in question is the Chinese Communist Party, one that has recently decided to take its members, and messages, into the age of the social Internet.
In late August, an internal document of the Organization Department of the party’s central committee — a key organ that serves as the human resources arm of this party apparatus to manage member intake, assignment, and personnel issues — surfaced on Chinese social media. Dated July 24, the document "urges the vast number of party member to subscribe to the official public accounts called ‘Communist Party Members’ on WeChat and Yixin," two of China’s most popular mobile messaging apps with hundreds of millions of users between them. Chinese organizations, companies, and many independent "self-media" groups use so-called public accounts on these apps to push out articles and contents to users that choose to subscribe to them.
The goal of establishing these two accounts, according to the document, was in part to "open up a new front in party member education." Perhaps mindful of the fact that many party members are not tech-savvy, the document orders local departments to "hold meetings and seminars" to teach members how to use the accounts.
The welcome message of the party’s new account, opened August 11, promises to "help [readers] understand party members from a new point of view." The collection of articles pushed out to followers has thus far been decidedly eclectic: on August 22, the top article was a snoozer taken straight out of party moutpiece People’s Daily about the propaganda czar’s edict to "deepening the understanding of Deng Xiaoping Theory and solidify our strong spiritual force to realize the Chinese Dream." But on August 25, one of the chosen articles waxed poetic about how one should "not to lead life as if it were a cup of instant coffee" and exhorted readers, "If at some point, you want to sit in the sun and listen to the sound of flowers blossoming, go ahead and do it." Meanwhile, the sign-off for new members –"Dear, please come visit me often" — sounds like the type of Internet slang a teenage girl might use to address her friends.
The strange combination of propaganda and historical anecdote with web lingo and self-help tips marks another step in the party’s attempt to jostle for a place in China’s clamorous social media. On August 18, surely aware that censorship alone has been insufficient to bring the blogosphere to heel, Party Secretary Xi Jinping called for "new style" media organizations that integrate old and new platforms to form "strong, influential, and credible" voices that speak for the party. Time will tell whether this latest effort to give propaganda a Web 2.0 spin will reach beyond those already disposed to believe what they read.