The Chinese economy this year is having quite a bit of headwinds, to say the least—so much so that debates are heating up
about whether Chinese President Xi Jinping is losing his grip on power and whether the party’s more pragmatic faction, led by Premier Li Keqiang, could steer the economy to a different direction. That makes a great time to take stock of the Chinese propaganda front and assess whether any talks of change are detected by our machine algorithm.
Old wine in an old bottle. Last quarter, we talked about Xi’s not altering the trajectory of his heavy-handed economic management. As we update the PCI-China to the first quarter of 2022
, where spikes indicate changes in propaganda (and potential changes in policy) and labels show actual policy moves, the lack of change is even more pronounced. The index is now at its lowest since 2014, the year after Xi came to power. The “common prosperity” last quarter may be old wine in a new bottle—without deviating from the existing policy—but there’s no new bottle this time around.
Figure: PCI-China, 1951 Q1 to 2022 Q1
Note: The PCI-China predicts if and when the Chinese government will change its policy priorities. A spike in the indicator signals a policy change, while a vertical bar marks the occurrence of a policy change labeled by the event.
What lies ahead? Granted, this update is based on the data up to the end of March and, hence, doesn’t include what has transpired in the second quarter like the disastrous Covid lockdowns in Shanghai and other major cities. But if Li and his pragmatic underlings are having a meaningful comeback, it will likely show in China’s propaganda apparatus. We’ll continue to keep tabs on that front and look forward to the next update after the end of June.
PCI: The Origin Story
The PCI project is more than three years old now, but we hadn’t told the story about its origin until recently. Weifeng Zhong wrote in the Washington Examiner about the shock of his life when he learned about the Tiananmen Square massacre only after leaving mainland China for Hong Kong in 2006—17 years after the fact. It’s China’s propaganda apparatus that kept the truth from so many for so long, which inspired us to develop tools that can help us better analyze Chinese propaganda and understand the decision-making in such an otherwise opaque regime.
This month marks the 33rd anniversary of the tragic killing of freedom-lovers in Tiananmen Square. It’s important to remember history; it tells us much more than we think.
The open-sourced PCI projects are meant to crack a window to otherwise opaque political systems like China’s, so everyone can look inside—for free. You can find out more about our projects on the PCI website. Don’t hesitate to reach out!
Edited by Weifeng Zhong and Julian TszKin Chan.
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