Born in 1947, Liu Yunshan, currently the CPC propaganda chief, comes from more humble origins than many of his contemporaries on the PSC. After graduating from Jinin Normal School, Liu went off to Inner Mongolia to serve as a teacher, which he largely continued doing on top of the farming assignments he received during the Cultural Revolution. After joining the CCP in 1971, Liu began working as a clerk in Inner Mongolia’s publicity and propaganda office. From there he gained a position at Xinhua News Agency in Inner Mongolia, working as a journalist for Xinhua’s “Agricultural and Animal Husbandry” section. He was later made the deputy chief.
Based on his success in these capacities, Liu became the deputy secretary of the Communist Youth League in Inner Mongolia. He rose through the CYL apparatus throughout the 1980s and 1990s, eventually becoming deputy party secretary of Inner Mongolia. Before then, however, during the 1980s Liu served in a number of publicity roles for Inner Mongolia’s CPC Central Committee.
It was through his work in the Inner Mongolia CYL that Liu first met and then became close with Hu Jintao, who also rose to power through the CYL. Because of his relationship with Hu, Liu was called to Beijing in 1993 to serve as the deputy head of the Central Party’s Publicity Department. When Hu took over power from Jiang in 2002, Liu was chosen to head the Publicity Department. He has served in this role ever since.
Since Liu, unlike most of his colleagues on the PSC, lacks any strong family ties to the CCP, his advancement through the Party has largely been due to his own diligence and the connections he forged during his time working at the CYL. Not surprisingly, he is widely believed to be a protégé of Hu’s, and one of the leaders of the CYL faction.
As propaganda chief over the last decade, Liu has become a polarizing figure within China and the CCP due to his alleged support for some of the more conservative and anti-democratic currents in China. For instance, many civil society activists and liberals in China, such as Dai Qing, a journalist and long-time friend of Liu Xiaobo, have suggested that Liu Yunshan is more than partly responsible for the continued imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo and his wife’s house arrest. When asked about the possibility that Liu Yunshan might be given a spot on the PSC, Dai said, “If that is the case, and if it is he who will oversee ideology, there will no longer be any hope. China will enter a period of darkness.” The activist journalist, who has been imprisoned for her dissent in the past, also recently compared Liu Yunshan to Kang Sheng, Mao’s close associate and the much feared head of the security and intelligence apparatus during the Cultural Revolution. Liu Yunshan has also taken an active interest in China’s ethnic minorities, including visiting Xinjiang Province in October to implore local propaganda officials to redouble their work ahead of the 18th Party Congress in order to “showcase the well-being of the people of all ethnic groups resulting from the efforts of the party and government to improve their livelihood.”
Liu is also a polarizing figure within the CCP. Despite his relationship with Hu, Liu is widely believed to have been close to Bo Xilai, and supported the latter’s propaganda campaigns and crackdowns on independent media outlets during his time in Chongqing. Liu is also seen as having pressured domestic media outlets to strictly limit their coverage of Bo’s fallout over the past year. Almost certainly because of this, Liu became one of the two explicit targets of a widely circulated letter written by retired CCP leaders that called for the removal of Bo Xilai’s supporters within the CCP leadership.
Given that his prior work experience is almost entirely in publicity departments, Liu is almost certain to be given the propaganda portfolio on the PSC. If this is the case, expect the government to further restrict media outlets in the country and attempt to strengthen its censorship of emerging new media platforms like Weibo.