Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China

Chinese media have changed since the gray days of Maoism. There are now nearly 2,000 newspapers, 10,000 periodicals, and hundreds of radio and TV stations with a wide variety of styles and features. All but a few have to support themselves with advertising and subscriptions, spurring fierce competition for readers and listeners. But contrary to the conventional wisdom, Stockmann argues that media commercialization has strengthened, rather than weakened, the Communist Party’s rule. Today’s media cover fashion, sports, business, and a host of other subjects in a wide range of styles, which enables them to attract more readers and listeners. Audiences place greater trust in outlets they select for themselves than they did in the more tightly controlled, less diverse media of the past. Meanwhile, the Communist Party still has the power to shape the message whenever it feels the need to, including by firing reporters who get too far out of line. Stockmann finds that the Propaganda Department more often uses its authority to tamp down, rather than ramp up, nationalist sentiment against the United States and Japan, lest popular anger turn against the party itself. By reporting more aggressively, the media give the leadership better information about what the public thinks than they did in the past, which helps the government address problems that might otherwise lead to unrest.

Latest Commentary & News analysis