(De)Revolutionizing Information: Information Control and Media Politics in Communist China (1945-1976)
2: Identifying and Dispelling "Disinformation:" The Politics of Rumormongering in Early Maoist China (1949–1954)
Thursday, March 24, 2022
12:30pm – 2:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Columbia University, United States
Soon after the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as the Communist Party-state launched a series of political campaigns and economic initiatives for power consolidation and social transformation, it also encountered a surge of rumor. At the time, the journalists of the state-run Xinhua News Agency identified and collected numerous rumors in daily news bulletins for the leadership’s reference, and the state propaganda apparatus accordingly played a key role in dispelling widespread rumor among the masses. As this paper argues, the state-involved action of identifying and dispelling rumor showed how the Party-state strengthened its informational authority and normative control over the society by stigmatizing the word “rumor” (yaoyan) and recast its meaning. In the context of early socialist China, the meaning of the word “rumor” was reconfigured as subversive and groundless “disinformation” that was intentionally created by enemies of the new government. Examined closely, most state-identified rumors instead denoted a diverse body of common people’s casual talks and moods, which were anything but “disinformation.” As the Party-state continued labeling people’s statements and moods “rumor” with inconsistent and contradictory criteria, the word “rumor” became the state’s discursive weapon to mark and suppress a wide range of alternative understandings of the reality that departed from the state-prescribed narrative. Dispelling rumors therefore was not waging a war on disinformation but realigning Chinese people’s beliefs and sentiments with the state-prescribed narrative.