Yearbook 2016: Control

Cover of the China Story Yearbook 2016 Artwork: CRE8IVE, Canberra

‘More cosmopolitan, more lively, more global’ is how the China Daily summed up the year 2016 in China.

It was also a year of more control. The Chinese Communist Party laid down strict new rules of conduct for its members, continued to assert its dominance over everything from the Internet to the South China Sea and announced a new Five-Year Plan that Greenpeace called ‘quite possibly the most important document in the world in setting the pace of acting on climate change’.

The China Story Yearbook 2016: Control surveys the year in China’s economy, population planning, law enforcement and reform, environment, Internet, medicine, religion, education, historiography, foreign affairs, and culture, as well as developments in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Yearbook 2016: Control can be downloaded on the website of the ANU Press as a PDF, ebook.

You can also read or download individual chapters of the Yearbook below.

Introduction: Fifty Shades of Red

by Jane Golley and Linda Jaivin

The year 2016 was the Year of the Monkey, and no monkey is more iconic in China than Sun Wukong 孙悟空, the mischievous and beloved Monkey King of Chinese mythology. A central character in the sixteenth-century classic Journey to the West 西游记, ‘Monkey’ was born from a stone, and enjoys tremendous powers thanks to Taoist practices and a magical staff. When he creates havoc in the Jade Emperor’s heavenly palace, the Buddha sends Monkey on a journey across the seemingly infinite expanse of his palm, finally trapping him under a mountain, where he remains for five hundred years. The Buddha promises Monkey his freedom if he agrees to protect the monk Xuanzang 玄奘 on his journey to collect the Buddhist classics from India and bring them back to China. But knowing Monkey’s capacity for mischief, the Buddha gives Xuanzang a headband that once placed on Monkey’s head can never be taken off, teaching him a magical incantation that enables the monk to painfully tighten the headband. The pain — or the threat of it — keeps Monkey under control throughout the long journey.

Chapter 1 - What's the Plan?

by Luigi Tomba

WITH GREAT FANFARE BUT FEW SURPRISES, the Chinese government launched its Thirteenth Five-Year Plan at the March 2016 annual plenary session of the National People’s Congress, China’s national parliament. Since 1953, five-year plans, a Soviet-style planning tool, have laid out China’s major economic development objectives, as well as setting out the indicators of social and cultural progress that define the nation’s priorities for development. The 2016 plan was two years in the making. In line with the new look of Chinese propaganda, it was accompanied by a social media storm aimed at both domestic and international audiences. This included an animated musical video on YouTube featuring two Americans proudly making fun of their accent in Chinese while elaborating on the goals of the plan in song.1 As always, China used the plan to tell a new story about itself — but this time with popular appeal.

Chapter 2 - Control By Law

by Susan Trevaskes and Elisa Nesossi

When Xi Jinping was installed as leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in late 2012, he began to develop a political platform called ‘governing the nation in accord with the Law’ — yifa zhiguo 依法治国. The term yifa zhiguo had already entered public discourse under President Jiang Zemin in 1996 and was enshrined into the Constitution in 1999. The Xi leadership has infused it with fresh ideological qualities, creating a more intimate relationship between law and politics than was the case when the phrase first came into use twenty years ago.

Chapter 4 - The Language of Discipline

by Gloria Davies

'Strict enforcement of Party discipline' 严明党的纪律 has been a catchcry of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since Xi Jinping became its General Secretary in November 2012. In speeches and articles, Xi, other Party leaders, and Party theorists have repeatedly stressed the urgent importance of strengthening Party discipline for the Party’s future. Articles appearing in the state media call it an essential corollary to the Anti-Corruption Campaign that Xi’s administration has been vigorously prosecuting since 2013.

Chapter 5 - Culture: In and Out of Control

by Linda Jaivin

Fifty years ago, Mao launched the decade-long, ultra-violent Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution 无产阶级文化大革命. (See Forum ‘Dreaded Anniversaries: The Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong’, pp.135–137.) The Cultural Revolution gave extreme expression to his view, first articulated in Yan’an in 1942, that the arts must take ideological direction from the Party and that artists must devote themselves to advancing its policies.

Chapter 6 - 'Nailing Jello to a Wall'

by Lorand Laskai

There is no corner of the Chinese Internet that is free of control. Buying broadband requires a government ID. Think you’ll use café WiFi? That now requires a phone number verification, which is linked to your ID. Or join a large group — one with more than 100 people — on WeChat 微信, China’s ubiquitous messaging app? You first have to register a bank account on WeChat to make doubly sure you are who you say you are. Want to post on an online forum? Don’t think you can hide behind your made-up username. They’ll want real name verification. And be careful — what you post, or even re-post, may have legal consequences.

Chapter 7 - Policing the Borders: Hong Kong Conundrums

by Carolyn Cartier

Three seemingly separate events in 2016 demonstrated China’s territorial strategies for control and governance over people and places. One was an unruly vote over supplementary funding for an Express Rail Link between Hong Kong and Shenzhen that brought chaos to the Hong Kong Legislative Council. Another was the revelation by one of a group of detained Hong Kong booksellers (see the China Story Yearbook 2015: Pollution, Information Window ‘The Causeway Books Incident’, p.xxiii) of the real facts of his detention. Finally, there was the overturning of a thirty-year ban on Hong Kong democrats entering the mainland. Together, these events illustrate how the Party-state tailors its governing strategies to suit local conditions in sub-national territories — including provinces and cities as well as Special Administrative Regions such as Hong Kong and Macau.

Chapter 8 - Making the World Safe (For China)

by Gerry Groot

The year 2016 was notable for the visibility of China’s international ascendance: in addition to military and diplomatic assertiveness in the South China Seas, it invested billions of dollars in Hollywood’s film industry, foreign-based media, academic, and financial institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Despite international concerns about Chinese government kidnappings of dissidents abroad, meanwhile, for the first time a Chinese official has been elected head of Interpol.

Chapter 9 - Strategic Control

A central tenet of China's foreign policy under Xi Jinping, according to his speeches, is improving relations with its neighbours. China has fourteen land neighbours: more than any other country, and with some — India, Vietnam, and Russia for example — their history is complicated. Others, particularly North Korea, pose direct and complex challenges. Its maritime neighbours, meanwhile, include Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the Philippines — US allies with which China has tricky relationships. If Xi Jinping is to achieve his stated goal of turning China into a ‘moderately prosperous society’, and maintaining Communist Party rule, a benign external environment will support domestic progress. But claims of a ‘peaceful foreign policy’ and pursuing better relations with its neighbours sit awkwardly with some of China’s other policies, such as that of building islands on land features claimed by other countries, and even on their continental shelves.


The following outline chronology covers some of the key events discussed in this book.