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China’s ruling party expels Beijing official for possessing banned books, journals

Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)
July 02, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Chinese Communist Party investigators have expelled a high-ranking official in the Beijing city government for possession of banned political books and journals, as the authorities continue to purge unapproved content and replace it with official propaganda that sticks to the party line.

The Beijing branch of the party’s disciplinary arm, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, announced on June 25 it had expelled former state assets supervisory official Zhang Guilin for “serious violations of discipline and law,” paving the way for a criminal prosecution.

“The investigation found that Zhang Guilin’s political awareness was weak, and he kept and read books and periodicals with serious political issues,” the commission said in a statement reported by state news agency Xinhua, which didn’t elaborate on the nature of Zhang’s chosen reading material.

Government censors already routinely remove dissenting opinions and criticism of the government from social media and other online platforms, but the party now appears to be targeting a quieter, slower way to transmit information – books and journals that can slip into the country under the official radar, or be ordered from overseas publishers.

According to Xinhua, Zhang had also accepted favors and failed to disclose “sexual transactions,” with disciplinary officials calling for “stern punishment.” Zhang’s case has been handed over to the state prosecutor’s office for prosecution, it added.

Zhang is the latest in a long line of high-ranking Chinese officials to be accused of secretly keeping and reading books “with serious political issues.”

Authorities in Shanghai announced earlier this month that former editor-in-chief Xu Shiping had been expelled from the Communist Party after accusations of “hiding and reading prohibited books,” as well as misuse of public funds and abuse of official power.

In recent years, former Changsha deputy mayor Chen Zehui, former Huainan deputy mayor Li Zhong, former Chongqing state security police officer Li Bin have all been expelled from the party and removed from their posts for bringing banned books into the country.

‘Serious political issues’

Chinese Communist Party rules define “books and periodicals with serious political issues” as reading matter that opposes government policy, undermines party unity and “smears the image of the party and the country” or “insults party and government leaders.”

Earlier this month, Shanghai dissident Ji Xiaolong stood trial for criticizing premier Li Qiang’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic while he was party secretary, something the court viewed as “insulting the country’s leaders.”

Books and articles that “distort the history of the party and the military” are also forbidden, according to Articles 45 and 46 of the “Regulations on Disciplinary Action in the Chinese Communist Party.”

China already has laws protecting the reputation of its revolutionary heroes and martyrs, and has jailed people for questioning the official view of history.

Former party school professor Deng Yuwen, who now lives in the United States, said party officials have always kept and passed around banned books and journals, however.

“Even during the extreme era of the Cultural Revolution, they didn’t manage to ban them completely, and it’s even less likely they can do that now,” Deng told Radio Free Asia. “I believe that all of the senior cadres in the party likely have such books.”

“It’s fine until [a political power play] happens, then it’s considered a violation of party rules,” Deng said.

According to Deng, the key factor affecting party officials’ careers is the degree to which they can demonstrate their absolute political loyalty to supreme leader Xi Jinping.

Key tool for purges

Wang Ruiqin, a former member of the Qinghai branch of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, agreed.

“The private possession and reading of books and periodicals with serious political issues is very common,” Wang said. “Especially among the younger officials … who have enjoyed the benefits of the economic reform era [that began in 1979].”

“This political accusation is likely to be an important tool for the purging of dissenting opinions in internal power struggles,” she said. “It will also have a ‘chilling effect’ on other party members and officials.”

As the ruling party moves to ensure that only the official narrative is read, heard or seen by its citizens, the works of Xi Jinping and the party charter have moved to the top five sales slots during the past two months, calling to mind the era of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book.

Out of the top 20 highest-selling publications in May and June, 7 are writings or speeches by Xi Jinping.

In top place is Volume 2 of “Selected Readings from Xi Jinping’s Works, while Volume 1 ranks second.

In third place is the party charter, or constitution, while Xi’s report to the 20th party congress in October is in fourth spot.

Fifth and sixth places are taken up by Xi’s writings on governance and a study outline of Xi’s thinking “in the new era.”

‘Politics by decree’

Zhejiang-based scholar Jiang Yi said the last time a leader’s writings took up all of the top spots in book sales rankings was under late supreme leader Mao Zedong, whose Little Red Book of selected works became a huge nationwide bestseller.

“A supreme Chinese leader is once more dominating book sales rankings, and the era of politics by decree has returned,” Jiang said.

He said the rankings were likely the result of a massive system-wide orchestration that involves mass orders by government departments and state-owned enterprises and compulsory orders using party or government funds.

“Political books like that are actually pretty boring, so it’s quite a tough call to have Xi Jinping’s writings dominate half of the sales rankings, given the huge variety of books available,” Jiang said.

Former 1989 student leader and current affairs commentator Ji Feng said China is currently living through the Cultural Revolution 2.0.

“These books have all been funded by the taxpayer, and have nothing to do with the market economy,” Ji said. “It’s all about propaganda and political correctness, just as it was with Mao Zedong’s anthologies.”

Feng Chongyi, a professor at the Sydney University of Technology in Australia, said the move is a mistake, however.

“How can they regress to such a point all of a sudden?” Feng said. “This is an insult to the intelligence of regular citizens, not to mention the publishing industry, professors, and scholars.”

“It’s the restoration of totalitarianism, and it’s a tragedy for the whole nation,” he said.