Recently, China’s ruling party, the Communist Party of China (CPC), issued a strict new rule to regulate party members’ online behavior.
According to China Daily, the number of CPC members exceeded 80 million in 2011, which means that there is approximately one party member out of every 16 Chinese people. From the CPC’s perspective, it has become a necessity to strictly regulate its 80 million party members’ behaviors online, as cybersecurity has been raised to the level of national security and the online opinion market is regarded as a battlefield by Chinese authorities.
The new cyber-rule was jointly issued by three CPC departments — the CPC Central Committee Propaganda Department, the CPC Central Organization Department (essentially the Party’s human resources department) and the Central Network Office — in June and widely circulated recently.
The rule requires all party members to “resolutely safeguard the authority of the Party Central Committee and always maintain in line with the Party Central Committee with the core of Comrade Xi Jinping.”
Then, the rule bans a series of online behaviors for party members:
- Publishing articles or statements that are contrary to the party’s basic line or fundamental policies;
- Circulating articles that deface the image of the party, the country, the party and state leaders, national martyrs and heroic models, or distort the history or the party or state;
- Spreading rumors, political rumors in particular;
- Distributing, publishing, or buying illegal publications;
- Promoting feudal superstition or obscene pornography;
- Producing or circulating any other online products that have serious problems;
- Organizing or participating in opposition party online forums, groups, live-broadcasting, or other events;
- Establishing a political party or organizing assembly online;
- Participating in or mobilizing any unlawful activities online;
- Participating in online religious activities or supporting religious extremist forces’ activities;
- Revealing state or party secrets online;
- Browsing or visiting illegal or reactionary websites.
The activities banned under the rule are so broad and comprehensive, yet extremely vague, that any online activities could be categorized as against the rule. Even the traditionally safest way to use the internet — to quietly read online content without uttering a word — isn’t safe anymore for party members, since no one knows for sure what websites are “illegal” or “ reactionary.”
To make the matter worse, the rule even demands that all party member “fulfill the obligation to report.” It said that once any party member see any information online that is illegal or against any regulation, they should immediately report it to related departments and actively provide sources.
With a total of more than 80 million party members, it’s highly doubtful whether the rule could really be put into action. However, it is undoubtedly a new form of deterrence to discourage people from exercising free speech in China, against the background of an overall clampdown on the internet.