China Power

Big Vs, New Media, and China’s ‘United Front’

Recent Features

China Power

Big Vs, New Media, and China’s ‘United Front’

Forming a “united front” shouldn’t mean eradicating China’s new media voices.

Big Vs, New Media, and China’s ‘United Front’
Credit: Sina Weibo image via Gil C /

President Xi Jinping recently gave a significant speech at the Central United Front Work Conference, in which he outlined the roles of non-Party intellectuals, overseas students, and representatives of the new media. These points, especially the last, have become hot topics on the internet.

Xi urged the central government to “learn how to make contacts with non-Party intellectuals, especially those skilled at ideological and political work.” He said that “there needs to be a strengthened relationship with well-known representatives of new media, setting up regular contact and interaction both online and offline, encouraging them to make contributions to purifying cyberspace.” He also emphasized that the central government “shall fully promote democracy, respect and embrace differences and, as far as possible, carefully and patiently seek out the greatest common divisor.”

Xi’s speech has received rave reviews on the Internet. Even in WeChat groups featuring opinion leaders and “Big Vs” [influential opinion leaders with verified social media accounts], positive opinions have far outweighed skeptical voices. We keep hearing that the spring of Big Vs is coming, that the central government has changed its Internet policies, that the government is seeking conciliation instead of suppression. And I myself am optimistic. Actually, over the past few years, I have proposed more than once that the central government should adjust its policies and practices when dealing with new media, opinion leaders, and Big Vs.

New media has broken the restrictions and fetters of traditional media. Opinion leaders and Big Vs have found a platform where they can directly express their opinions without being edited. Although we can’t avoid having a very few people use this unprecedented freedom to break the law or seek personal gain, the vast majority of representatives of the new media and Big Vs that I know are rare patriots, concerned about society and citizens.

Some may say that these people are pandering to the masses and trying to become famous. To which I reply, in an age where you can become famous just by taking off your clothes, what sort of idiot would try to earn fame by braving the danger of criticizing society and the government?

Although new media and some of their representatives pose challenges to government management, which has inevitably caused a certain degree of social chaos, these issues are insignificant when compared with the positive energy new media and their leading figures have brought to our country and society. A good government should know how to take the good and leave the bad — and should not simply interpret “positive energy” to mean flattery and exaggerated praise!

I myself can also be regarded as a figure of new media. I’ve been hard at work on the Internet for many years, writing millions of words. Yes, many of my articles were deleted and even my accounts have been closed. But looking back, I can see that many suggestions and opinions in my articles have been adopted by the authorities. Maybe in the end they had no choice.

So maybe I’m more “positive” than the so-called “positive energy” spread by those praising the Bo Xilais and Zhou Yongkangs who are in power. As they’re working for the people – and for the “Chinese Dream” — the authorities should realize that this point doesn’t only concern the leaders’ reputation, but the fate of the entire country.

Sadly, over the past years, government policies toward the representatives of new media and Internet activists have been contradictory: on the one hand, pay attention to the criticism and opinions these voices propose; on the other hand, suppress them both overtly and covertly. Thanks to this policy, some netizens who truly want to help the government solve China’s problems have lost hope or been pushed toward greater confrontation, having a negative impact on China’s rulers both domestically and abroad.

As a Big V who used to be part of China’s government, I feel that the Big Vs and opinion leaders online are much more concerned about national stability, economic development, and society’s well-being than the top officials and leaders in the system. If this sort of person can’t be part of a “united front” and can’t find common ground with the government, then maybe they’re not the problem. Maybe the authorities should look to themselves!

Xi’s speech was inspiring and exciting. However, as a responsible member of the new media – maybe not a representative one, but a Big V nonetheless – I’d like to remind others to soberly understand Xi’s speech. We should persist in our own ideas and pursuits, and not wait to be brought into the “united front” – to be offered amnesty over a fancy dinner, after which we hurriedly join the chorus of mainstream media. We should preserve the features of new media and opinion leaders and display our positive energy through correction, criticism, and supervision as we always have. This isn’t just our own stubbornness, but something that’s good for the whole nation!

Meanwhile, I want to take this opportunity to remind the authorities that it is not so easy to earnestly implement the spirit of Xi’s speech. Over the past years, after an inspiring speech or policy came out, we’ve often seen the spirit of the policy be distorted in the process of implementation.

Take Xi’s speech for example. He’d hardly finished his speech when some departments began to take action. But I’m a little worried about possible misunderstandings of Xi’s speech. Some departments may interpret the speech to mean that they can make use of various resources and methods to solicit the new media and their representatives. Then these figures will be made to give up the features of new media and will lose the unique nature of network opinion leaders and Big Vs. They will be shut up when they want to express their opinions, instead made to join the praise of the mainstream media. Finally, the government will make them into well-fed, well-clothed members of some powerful interest groups. This is not a successful “united front” based on the highest common factor. Instead, it’s the transformation and eradication of new media representatives who play a positive role for the country and society.

Such a path isn’t what Xi meant in his speech, and it won’t be good for China.

This piece originally appeared in Chinese on Yang Hengjun’s blog. The original post can be found here.