A newspaper vendor looks out from her booth on a street in Shanghai in January 2013. After a year in which Chinese media tested the government's restrictions, the Party is now requiring journalists to pass a Marxism exam in order to keep working.
Credit: Peter Parks

HONG KONG — Journalists across China are now boning up on Marxist terminology like the “labor theory of value” and “commodity fetishism.”

The United States “is bent on undermining China” — that’s a “fact” they’re committing to memory.

Their jobs depend on it.

Thanks to a new regulation promulgated last fall, all 250,000 of China’s journalists and editors will have to pass an exam on the “Marxist view of journalism” in January or February of 2014. In the several months leading up to the exam, the government has mandated that reporters take weekly classes to ensure “political consistency” with the Communist Party line.

“Some reporter[s] who lack ethics still have not surfaced,” one Marxist educator told the state-run Global Times. “We urgently need to educate media circles with the Marxist view of journalism. Such education can't be loosened and should be conducted in a long term.”

Other exam topics are said to include:

  •  education in “the leading role of the Party in publicity” and the nature of media as a “field and weapon to address the Party's thinking and political ideas;”
  •  guidance on writing critically about Japan, especially the “right-leaning” administration of  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe;
  •  instructions to critique those who advocate human rights, democracy, or the freedom of the press, as enemies “bent on attacking the teachings of the Communist Party;”
  • precepts such as, “the relationship between the Party and the news media is one of leader and the led;”
  • topics in “journalistic ethics” and techniques for “preventing rumors.”

Journalists wishing for more detail for the exam can buy a 700-page textbook compiled by the government’s propaganda office and offered for sale in bookstores across China.

The exam is another clear sign of Xi Jinping’s desire to bring the media to heel. Under Xi’s administration Beijing has increasingly tightened controls on social media and the press.

In October, the political commissar of China’s National Defense University declared that “the internet has become the main battlefield in the fight for public opinion,” and that “journalism and propaganda have greater responsibility” to help the government in that ideological fight.

Particularly in the more liberal south of China, some newspapers have gained a reputation for brave, independent reporting on everything from official corruption to public health scandals. Reporters at Southern Weekend, one of the most famous such publications, went on strike in early 2013 after censors rewrote a New Year’s editorial calling for political reforms.

One reporter at a southern publication who spoke to Global Post on condition of anonymity described the new mandatory Marxist training as “ridiculous” and “an absurd waste of resources.”

“Perhaps the basic purpose of the test is to ‘unify people’s thoughts,’ and avoid ‘muddled thinking.’ But using this means to do it absolutely cannot achieve their goal.  That is because from the bottom to the top, from the experts to ordinary people, everybody knows that everything is muddled,” the journalist said.

“For example, we often use the phrases ‘primary stage of socialism,’ and ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics.’ But where exactly do you limit the definition of ‘Chinese characteristics’? Or ‘primary stage’? Everybody avoids these essential questions. Look at the style of the exam: it’s all force-fed cramming and rote memorization in order to produce standardized answers.”

The Marxist classes cap a year filled with new restrictions and setbacks for freedom of information in China.

In August, police arrested a prominent Chinese-American investor and social-media celebrity, Charles Xue, in what was widely seen as an attempt to intimidate and silence online critics of the government. Xue later made a confession on national TV saying that his online following made him feel like an “emperor of the internet.”

In September, China’s top court issued guidelines stating that anyone who posts information that is defamatory or “harms the national interest” could go to prison for up to three years.

In October, a reporter for Modern Express was arrested for “causing trouble” after he publicly demanded that a high-ranking official at the State Administration for Industry and Commerce be investigated for corruption.

By December 2013, more than 30 Chinese reporters were in jail for their work, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. China ranks third in the world for the number of journalists held in prison.

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