Is Chinese President Xi amassing power? Media reporting with drama instead of facts.

Is Chinese President Xi amassing power? Media reporting with drama instead of facts.

October 25, 2017

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

Chinese Communist Party amends constitution, ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ guidelines added

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) amended its constitution on Tuesday to include “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” as a guide for policy. Chinese President Xi Jinping presented the charter and a report of the changes at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. The change, approved by the 2,300 members at the 19th National Congress of the CCP, amends the previous constitution.

The previous version of the constitution, most recently from 2012, included “Mao Zedong Thought” and “Deng Xiaoping Theory.” Mao established the People’s Republic of China after he led the communist revolution in 1949, and his “Thought” was incorporated into the party constitution during his life. Deng, who led China in the late 1970s, had his theory added to the CCP charter after his death.

Chinese President Xi Jinping first outlined his thinking in a three and a half hour speech at the opening of the congress last week, without calling it “Xi Jinping Thought.” Then on Tuesday, he expanded on his thinking when he delivered a report at the congress on behalf of the CCP Central Committee, outlining how the party would “uphold and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.”

The report presented 14 policy points, including a commitment to a “people-centered approach,” upholding “core socialist values,” improving living standards and ensuring “harmony” with nature. Xi also called on the party to “uphold the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ and promote national reunification.” This principle refers to its sovereignty over Hong Kong as part of China, while Hong Kong maintains its own semi-autonomous political system. The CPP report said “all our members must fully implement” the policy “so as to steer the development of the Party and the people’s cause.”

Xi’s report also says China will “keep to the path of peaceful development” and promote international cooperation through the “Belt and Road Initiative,” which is a policy aimed at rebuilding a trade and infrastructure network in over 60 countries throughout Africa, Europe and Asia.

On Wednesday at the party congress, Xi presented a five-year plan and new CCP leadership. New members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee include Li Keqiang, Li Shanshu, Wang Yang, Want Huning, Zhao Leji and Han Zheng. Jinping, 64, was recently reelected as general secretary of the Central Committee of the CCP for five more years.

Distortion Highlights

  • Media coverage uses subjective descriptions to portray Xi as amassing power and the Communist Party as gaining more control.
  • When the party amended its constitution, it didn’t specify exactly what each change meant, yet the media used sensationalism and speculation to fill in the gaps.
  • It would better inform the public for media to present facts when they’re available and acknowledge when they aren’t.

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The Numbers

See how the articles rate in spin, slant and logic when held against objective standards.

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The Distortion

The Knife’s analysis of how news outlets distort information. (This section may contain opinion.)

Top Spin Words

  • Godlike

    For all his power, Mr. Xi does not have the almost godlike presence that Mao once had. (The New York Times)

  • Exalted

    The Chinese Communist Party wrote Xi Jinping’s name and ideas into its constitution on Tuesday, elevating him at the end of his first five-year term to the same exalted status as the nation’s founding father, Mao Zedong. (The New York Times)

  • Most Powerful

    Xi Jinping Becomes China’s Most Powerful Leader Since Mao Zedong (TIME)

    The historic decision bolsters President Xi’s political position as China’s most powerful leader in decades, and makes it harder for rivals to challenge him and his policies. (The New York Times)

    This included putting his imprint on two of China’s most powerful institutions, the party and the military, which he did using a sweeping anti-corruption drive. (The New York Times)

  • Mount Olympus

    But Xi has not only joined Mao on Mount Olympus — he does so at a time when China boasts the world’s second biggest economy and is extending its influence across the globe. (TIME)

  • Double-edged Sword

    Other analysts said its inclusion could be a double-edged sword that adds pressure for the initiative, which remains broadly defined and leaves much to interpretation, to succeed. (Reuters)

  • Mouthful

    The full title of Mr. Xi’s philosophy is a mouthful. (Wall Street Journal)

  • Hallowed

    Approved by a party congress in Beijing, the change adds a clunky new phrase — “Xi Jinping Thought for the New Era of Socialism With Chinese Special Characteristics” — alongside the hallowed names of Mao and Deng Xiaoping. (The New York Times)

  • Heresy

    The elevation of “Xi Jinping Thought” will send a clear signal to officials, who take such shifts in doctrine seriously, that challenging Mr. Xi and his policies would now amount to ideological heresy. (The New York Times)

  • Pantheon

    Upon having his personal philosophy etched into the national constitution — as Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era — the 64-year-old now joins Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in the pantheon of modern China’s most powerful leaders. (TIME)

The CCP changed its constitution, and media coverage used sensational language and selective quotes portraying President Xi and the party as amassing more power. However, only some outlets include specifics about what might change after this policy shift, which is more informative. Still, this data may be colored by the sensationalist tone throughout.

Sensational language

Here are examples of the dramatic, alarmist, or subjective language (marked in red) that’s used to describe Xi’s policy change:

“The historic decision bolsters President Xi’s political position as China’s most powerful leader in decades, and makes it harder for rivals to challenge him and his policies.” (The New York Times)

“‘It’s the coronation of Emperor Xi,’ says Prof. Nick Bisley, an Asia expert at Australia’s La Trobe University. ‘He is without question the paramount leader and one with a remarkably ambitious vision for China.’” (TIME)

“With President Xi Jinping’s contribution to the Chinese Communist Party’s ideological canon now enshrined in the party’s constitution, the nation can expect waves of expositions on their leader’s philosophy.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“The party congress saw Xi cement his power ahead of a second five-year term and put him in the same company as the founder of modern China, Mao Zedong…” (Reuters)

Not if, but how

Ideally media would report the effects of the policy changes through neutral, fact-based explanations. Only a few outlets give any specifics on how Xi’s power would be “cemented.” For example, The New York Times reports that Xi Thought will likely now be taught in schools and in Chinese news and government agencies. The Wall Street Journal says that it will be added to school textbooks and state media essays. The other outlets don’t mention this.

Additionally, the media says it’s hard to challenge Xi and that CCP “delegates are carefully chosen for loyalty,” but don’t say how or what that means. A video embedded in TIME’s article shows that the change to the constitution was adopted unanimously ­– meaning there were no “against” votes out of 2,300 delegates. Pointing to this fact would be more concrete and informative than using sensational language to imply the party is powerful.

Granted, there are limitations to what the CCP discloses publicly, so not all information is available. However, media could also acknowledge this, and the possible implications, in a neutral way, without the drama.

It’s useful for news outlets to show that the changes to the constitution may actually increase Xi’s and the party’s power. Yet, providing facts without sensationalism would be more informative and less alarmist.

Is it fact or fiction? Which outlet presents the most spin?

  • 43% Spun

  • 59% Spun

  • 59% Spun

  • 82% Spun

Fact Comparison

  • Facts in only 1 source
  • Facts in 2 sources
  • Facts in 3 sources
  • Facts in all sources

Xi had his personal philosophy etched into the national constitution as Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era. (TIME)

TIME’s article inaccurately states that Xi’s message was added to the “national” constitution rather than the Communist party’s constitution, which may misrepresent Tuesday’s proceedings and the actions of China’s government.

As stated by The New York Times, the Chinese Communist Party has its own constitution, or charter, which is different from China’s national constitution.


An article’s headline can direct how the news is understood. Compare and contrast how different outlets present the story through their headlines.

Doesn’t say where China “enshrines” the Thought.

It would be more precise to say Xi Thought was added to the CCP constitution.

Equates Xi and Mao to gods on the same “level.”

The word pantheon refers to a temple of gods, so saying Xi is elevated to the level of Mao in the “Communist pantheon” could give the impression they are seen more like deities than men.

Doesn’t say how Xi’s status change is “lifted” or how he’ll tighten his “grip”

The CPP constitution has only had one other leader mentioned by name during his lifetime – Mao Zedong. So adding Xi Thought could be seen as a “lift” in Xi’s status, but AP’s headline doesn’t specify this. We’re left with guesswork.


Get the full picture! Don’t buy into cherry-picked information.

The media’s slant:
  • Xi is becoming very powerful – the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, who led the Communist party from from 1949 to 1976.
  • Under Xi’s “new era,” China is going to have greater global influence and move “closer to center stage” in the world.
  • It will be easy for Xi to enforce his initiatives after the changes to the constitution, because having his policies “enshrined” there may mean that challenges could be “considered seditious.”
What the media doesn’t explore:
  • There is no agreed standard for measuring and evaluating power, so it is difficult to compare China’s leaders to each other or to leaders of other nations. Xi’s power may be better assessed after he implements his plans and achieves measurable results.
  • Predictions are guesswork. Whether Xi’s “new era” will produce a more influential China is something that will only unfold over time.
  • Protests are common in China, The Daily Beast reported, and might be interpreted as challenging existing government authority (although they aren’t always political). Financial Times reports that protests and strikes rose 20 percent in the first half of 2016. While it’s possible that protests could be deemed “seditious,” that might not affect the number or intensity of protests or political activism.


Access information and historical data that provides a more comprehensive understanding of the story.

What is President Xi Jinping’s Message?

The Chinese Communist Party described Xi’s “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” as a continuation and development of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Theory of Three Represents, and the Scientific Outlook on Development. Party officials are preparing to elaborate on Xi’s speeches from the Congress to summarize “Xi Jinping Thought,” The Wall Street Journal reported.  

Party delegates agreed to add the following statements to the constitution, based on Xi’s ideology. The announcement did not outline specifics or details to help define what these measures may mean for the country. Here are the changes:

  • We shall give play to the decisive role of market forces in resource allocation and ensure the government plays its role better.
  • Advance supply-side structural reform.
  • Establish a system of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics.
  • Advance extensive, multilevel, and institutionalized development of consultative democracy.
  • Nurture and practice core socialist values.
  • Promote the creative evolution and development of fine traditional Chinese culture.
  • Carry forward our revolutionary culture.
  • Develop an advanced socialist culture.
  • Enhance our country’s cultural soft power.
  • Hold firmly the leading position in ideological work.
  • Help our people gain an increasingly stronger sense of fulfillment.
  • Strengthen and develop new approaches to social governance.
  • Pursue a holistic approach to national security.
  • Fully understand that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets.

Party delegates also agreed to implement Xi’s “thinking” on strengthening the military and to pursue the “Belt and Road” initiative, among others. The “Belt and Road” initiative, named for the old Silk Road, involves a network of sea and land transportation routes along “core” cities, and aims to develop “policy co-ordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and people-to-people bonds.” Routes cover more than 60 countries accounting for 31 percent of global GDP. In a 2013 speech, Xi said the “Belt and Road” initiative was aimed at increasing trade and investment with other countries.

What does this change mean for China?

Since Xi is also the Chinese Communist Party’s leader, changes made to the party’s constitution affect the government’s actions. It doesn’t affect the country’s national constitution. The Times notes that Xi’s ideology will now be promoted in the Chinese media, government agencies and schools. The Wall Street Journal reported that it will be added to school textbooks.

Upon announcing the change, the Party said Xi’s message should be “a guide to action” for the Party and all Chinese people “to strive for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” The announcement also said Xi’s message must be upheld for the long term and be “constantly developed.”

The Party says the addition of Xi’s ideology will help ensure the Party’s “absolute leadership” over the people’s military, modernize the country’s national defense system, promote “ethnic unity,” and develop an “open economy of higher standards.”

How are changes to the party charter made?

The Chinese Communist Party’s constitution establishes rules and guidelines for party members. It also holds a record of the party’s history by defining and reiterating its founding principles, such as Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, and outlines future goals for the country. The Party’s previous constitution was updated in 2012.

The party’s delegates can decide to change the constitution during one of its congresses, or party meetings, every five years. According to The Times, the party has about 2,300 delegates.