.

  • Written by Joyce Y.M. Nip, Senior lecturer, Department of Media and Communications; Department of Chinese Studies, University of Sydney
When protesters took to the streets in Hong Kong, China's state media had several tactics for how to describe it: some outlets ignored it, while others railed against 'extremists'. Jerome Favre/AAP

As China grows more powerful and influential, our New Superpower series looks at what this means for the world – how China maintains its power, how it wields its power and how its power might be threatened. Read the rest of the series here.


China is known for the strict control it exercises on information, especially online. Discussion of events that might reflect unfavourably on the government is often censored, or framed in such a way that it becomes pro-government propaganda.

That’s why so many Chinese citizens remain unaware of, for example, the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Online discussion of the recent protests in Hong Kong against a now-suspended extradition bill was no different. But this was also a rare occasion when China’s news propaganda machine was mobilised to simultaneously target several audiences both inside and outside China.

China’s propaganda network is made up of a constellation of domestic and international news outlets. They span social media, mobile apps, websites and traditional media.

The news is tailored to particular audiences according to different agendas. Everything, however, comes under the direction of the Central Publicity (formerly translated as “Propaganda”) Department of the Chinese Communist Party.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen the China extradition bill elevated from a local Hong Kong controversy to a story of international concern following the protesters’ lobbying campaign targeted at the G20 summit.

As events escalated from peaceful rallies focused on a single issue to at times violent confrontations seeking a range of demands, including the resignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the agendas of several spheres of China’s propaganda converged.

Here’s how it unfolded.

China’s de-facto media and new media allies in Hong Kong

The first day protesters took to the streets was March 31. That was two days after the extradition bill was published in the Gazette, the official publication of the Hong Kong government.

The same day, two Chinese-language newspapers that have long acted as de-facto official media of the Chinese government in Hong Kong (but not openly declared as such) swung into action.

Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao both used either the entire or the majority of the second pages in the news sections to proclaim the merits of the bill. They also, to a lesser extent, attacked the bill’s opponents.


Read more: Pressure builds with more protests in Hong Kong, but what's the end game?


These outlets are on the semi-periphery of China’s propaganda machine, targeting a local audience in Hong Kong. They cannot ignore negative news about China or the Beijing-endorsed Hong Kong government, despite the fact China has co-opted most traditional media outlets in Hong Kong in recent decades. They seek instead to counter it with a positive spin while discrediting opposing voices.

Their messages were reinforced by relatively new digital media outlets in Hong Kong that are supportive of the Chinese regime. These outlets form the periphery of China’s propaganda in the city and focus a great deal of coverage on bashing the government’s perceived enemies.

After the extradition bill was published, outlets like the Silent Majority of Hong Kong and Hong Kong G Pao pumped out positive propaganda stories about it and the Hong Kong police and negative propaganda about the opponents of the bill.

One of the three articles, published by the Silent Majority of Hong Kong on May 31, for example, attacked the publisher of the Apple Daily Newspaper, one of few media outlets in Hong Kong that is openly critical of Beijing, for the “nonsense” he expressed that the bill would harm press freedom.

The articles employed the outlet’s usual tactics: singling out individuals and pitching them against the interests of society. Silent Majority also encourage readers to “like” their stories, forming supportive public opinion while helping the news to spread.

China’s central media outlets followed suit

The core news propaganda outlets of the Chinese state, such as People’s Daily, and CCTV, didn’t address the Hong Kong protests until April 17, more than two weeks later.

These outlets target the domestic audience inside mainland China, and as such, tend to ignore stories like this on sensitive subjects or those that paint the party in a bad light.

The mission of core state media is to foster a positive image of China, either for a domestic or international audience. Usually this involves reporting on China’s achievements. When China comes under pressure, the core media attempt to justify the government’s actions as reasonable.


Read more: How a cyber attack hampered Hong Kong protesters


The establishment of a group in Hong Kong that supported the extradition bill gave the online edition of the People’s Daily an opportunity for positive propaganda on April 17. One story read, in part:

The group calls on citizens to participate in a signature petition organised by it to support the passage of the amendment bill, so as to improve the legal system and demonstrate justice and avoid Hong Kong becoming a place for criminals to evade legal responsibility.

Targeting an international audience, the English-language China Daily dismissed concerns about the bill in an editorial on April 29, the day after the second protest against it. Part of it read:

…the opposition camp and its foreign backers have gone to great lengths to present scary scenarios the amendments could lead to in order to garner support for their own political agenda.

On June 12, protesters encircled Hong Kong’s legislative chamber and clashed with police. The following day, China’s national news agency, Xinhua, published a story claiming that the majority of the Hong Kong public supported the bill.

Then, on July 1, a group of protesters occupied Hong Kong’s legislative chamber. The action drew strong and extensive statements of condemnation from China’s core propaganda outlets in the following days.

The rule of law in Hong Kong cannot be challenged.

Resolutely support the SAR Government in pursuing serious violations of the law.

Attack on HK legislature a ‘political act’ with ‘hidden agenda’.

Why language matters in coverage, too

These three layers of propaganda target different audiences and operate in different information environments. They follow different tactics.

This involves using different language. The news about the extradition bill in China’s core propaganda outlets is full of statements from official state agencies and other organisations that are supportive of the bill. The language is formal and repeats stock phrases, including:

  • violence
  • rule of law
  • extremists
  • stability and prosperity
  • one country, two systems
  • foreign interference
  • national security.

Read more: The world has a hard time trusting China. But does it really care?


The same stock phrases are supplemented by more accusatory words in the semi-peripheral layer of China’s news propaganda, including:

  • riot
  • terrorism
  • mob
  • independentist
  • colour revolution.

Some of the digital-only outlets on the periphery, operating in the clickbait-driven online environment, show little restraint in using abusive, colloquial language, such as by calling opposition politicians “scoundrels.” They sometimes also fake facts and doctor images to attack opponents. This differentiates them from the traditional news media, which follow journalistic principles more closely.

Studying China’s core state media alone overlooks the complementary way each layer of the propaganda machine works with the others. Using different communication tactics in different spheres, each outlet reinforces the others to create a coherent world view.

What they have in common, though, is an adherence to the main party line – and with this, the party hopes to control the message on the Hong Kong protests, even as it struggles to control the streets.


Hiu-long Chu, a Masters student of Social Work at the Australian College of Applied Psychology, contributed to this report.

Joyce Y.M. Nip does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Joyce Y.M. Nip, Senior lecturer, Department of Media and Communications; Department of Chinese Studies, University of Sydney

Read more http://theconversation.com/extremist-mobs-how-chinas-propaganda-machine-tried-to-control-the-message-in-the-hong-kong-protests-119646

Plants are going extinct up to 350 times faster than the historical norm

Plant extinctions have skyrocketed, driven in large part by land clearing and climate change. Graphic Node/Unsplash, CC BY-SAEarth is seeing an unprecedented loss of species, which some ecologists are...

Jaco Le Roux, Associate Professor, Macquarie University - avatar Jaco Le Roux, Associate Professor, Macquarie University

Vital Signs: economically, Australia is at risk of becoming Germany, and not in a good way

Once, emulating Germany would be something to be proud of. Not at the moment. ShutterstockIt’s four years since then Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned Australia had been heading to “a Gree...

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW - avatar Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

'What is wrong with me? I'm never happy and I hate school'

Remember, there is always someone to talk to about these things. Wes Mountain Hi, I was just wondering if something’s wrong with me because I’m never happy and never want to do anything a...

Louise Remond, Clinical Psychologist, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Louise Remond, Clinical Psychologist, University of Technology Sydney

Friday essay: how a Bengali book in Broken Hill sheds new light on Australian history

The large book bearing a handwritten English label, 'The Holy Koran', was not a Quran, but a 500-page volume of Bengali Sufi poetry. Samia KhatunSome 1,000 kilometres inland from Sydney, over the Blu...

Samia Khatun, Senior Lecturer, SOAS, University of London - avatar Samia Khatun, Senior Lecturer, SOAS, University of London

Unlawful strip searches are on the rise in NSW and police aren’t being held accountable

Being strip searched by the police can be intrusive, humiliating and harmful. Typically, strip searches involve being required to strip naked in front of police officers, who often give the direction ...

Vicki Sentas, Senior Lecturer, UNSW Law, UNSW - avatar Vicki Sentas, Senior Lecturer, UNSW Law, UNSW

How to make good arguments at school (and everywhere else)

There are more important things than winning an argument – like making everyone feel valued. www.shutterstock.comFrom as early as Grade 3 teachers start teaching children how to put across thei...

Luke Zaphir, Researcher for the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project; and Online Teacher at Education Queensland's IMPACT Centre, The University of Queensland - avatar Luke Zaphir, Researcher for the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project; and Online Teacher at Education Queensland's IMPACT Centre, The University of Queensland

GM crops: to ban or not to ban? That's not the question

The South Australian government recently announced its intention to lift the long-standing statewide moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops, following a statutory six-week consultation period. ...

Rachel A. Ankeny, Professor of History and Philosophy, and Deputy Dean Research (Faculty of Arts), University of Adelaide - avatar Rachel A. Ankeny, Professor of History and Philosophy, and Deputy Dean Research (Faculty of Arts), University of Adelaide

Grattan on Friday: Courting 'quiet Australians' from 'bubble central', it's been a remarkable first year for Scott Morrison

Can Scott Morrison maintain the image of separation from the Canberra elite, given he's its most powerful member? AAP/The ConversationEven Scott Morrison, with his abundant self-belief, couldn’t...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Trust Me, I’m An Expert: Why the Hong Kong protesters feel they have nothing to lose

Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of people again took to the streets in Hong Kong to protest against the government – the 11th straight weekend of demonstrations that began in June over a pro...

Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling - avatar Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling

We need a national renewables approach, or some states – like NSW – will miss out

In the absence of federal policy, states are pursing their own renewable targets. Karsten Würth/UnsplashAustralia’s primary federal renewable energy target – to have 33 terawatts of r...

Scott Hamilton, Strategic Advisory Panel Member, Australian-German Energy Transition Hub, University of Melbourne - avatar Scott Hamilton, Strategic Advisory Panel Member, Australian-German Energy Transition Hub, University of Melbourne

A Hippocratic Oath for data science? We’ll settle for a little more data literacy

Bias in, bias out: many algorithms have inherent design problems. Vintage Tone/Shutterstock I swear by Hypatia, by Lovelace, by Turing, by Fisher (and/or Bayes), and by all the statisticians and data ...

Lewis Mitchell, Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, University of Adelaide - avatar Lewis Mitchell, Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, University of Adelaide

Australia's latest military commitment should spark assessment of how well we use our defence forces

Just when we thought Australia was getting serious about shifting priorities away from the Middle East to its own neighbourhood, the prime minister has announced another Middle East step up. Australia...

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University - avatar John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

Australia bans video games for things you'd see in movies. But gamers can access them anyway

A screenshot from survival videogame DayZ. Bohemia InteractiveIn the last three months, the Australian Classification Board has “refused classification” for at least four video games &ndas...

Brendan Keogh, ARC DECRA Fellow, Queensland University of Technology - avatar Brendan Keogh, ARC DECRA Fellow, Queensland University of Technology

Victorian changes to gender on birth certificate will not increase sexual violence. Here's why

Under the proposed changes, TGD people in Victoria can change the gender on their birth certificate without having to undergo medical intervention. ShutterstockThe Victorian government is considering ...

Bianca Fileborn, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Melbourne - avatar Bianca Fileborn, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Melbourne

What kind of state values a freeway's heritage above the heritage of our oldest living culture?

The government intends to destroy Djab Wurrung sacred trees and sites to upgrade the Western Highway at the same time as it seeks heritage status for the Eastern Freeway. Allies Decolonising/gofundmeT...

Libby Porter, Professor of Urban Planning, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University - avatar Libby Porter, Professor of Urban Planning, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

Why full-fat milk is now OK if you're healthy, but reduced-fat dairy is still best if you're not

The Heart Foundation now backs full-fat milk if you're healthy. But it still recommends reduced-fat milk if you have high blood pressure or heart disease. from www.shutterstock.comThe Heart Foundation...

Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle - avatar Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle

Tim Fischer – a man of courage and loyalty – dies from cancer

Tim Fischer aboard a one-off passenger train last month to raise money for the Albury Wodonga Cancer Centre trust fund. Sally Evans/ Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre Trust FundFormer deputy prime...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

The Strait of Hormuz is the most important oil choke point in the world. Use our interactive map to explore it

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-NDAfter months of increasing tension between Iran and the US, on Tuesday the Morrison government committed a warship, surveillance aircraft and about 200 troops t...

Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor - avatar Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor

Greenland isn't Denmark's to sell: some essential reading for Trump on colonialism

The coast of Greenland is not for sale. ShutterstockDonald Trump is not the first US President to make an offer of buying Greenland from Denmark – but he might be the last. Home of some 56,00...

Felicity Jensz, Research associate professor, University of Münster - avatar Felicity Jensz, Research associate professor, University of Münster

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

A Guide for Tenants

The cost of purchasing a home has been increasing, and the size of deposits needed, make buying pr...

Top ways for men to look after their skin

According to Jack Simmons, from Aboutmen, more and more men are taking pride in their appearance a...

Top 10 Caravan Storage Tips & Tricks

Taking caravan trips is a popular Aussie pastime, but if you have spent more than a few days in ...

5 Meaningful Gifts Your Mother Would Simply Love

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to amaze the person who loves you the most with a thoughtful gift? Why ...