The Political Background of Purged Internet Czar Lu Wei

On Nov. 21, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection announced that Lu Wei, the former Propaganda Department deputy head, was being investigated for “severe violation of discipline,” a phrase which refers to corruption.

Lu is the first ministerial-level official to be arrested post-19th Party Congress.

Background:

  1. Lu Wei spent most of his career in the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus. He worked at Xinhua News Agency for 14 years before moving to Beijing in 2011 to head Beijing Municipality propaganda department and serve as municipal vice mayor. After the 18th Party Congress, Lu became the director of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and deputy director of the Central Publicity Office and the State Council Information Office. In 2014, he became the deputy director of the Central Propaganda Department and director of the Central Leading Group for Internet Security and Informatization.
  2. As China’s “internet czar,” Lu Wei tightly regulated social media celebrities and the closed systems of Chinese self-media groups like WeChat.
  3. On June 29, 2016, Lu Wei was suddenly relieved as CAC director. His replacement was Xu Lin, a former colleague of Xi Jinping and first-ranking deputy director of the internet oversight body. Various Party factions have exploited the CAC to profit (in the political and economic sense) from deleting internet posts and promoting advertorials.

Our take:

  1. The Jiang Zemin faction has long controlled the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus. Under Politburo Standing Committee member and Jiang faction elite Liu Yunshan, the propaganda apparatus continuously opposed Xi on the sly.
  2. Lu Wei is a Jiang faction member. While he was CAC director, Lu took advantage of Xi’s emphasis on internet work to control the messaging that Xi could receive. In a bid to discredit Xi, Lu also arranged for a notorious internet commentator to attend an arts and literature forum in 2014 that Xi had hosted. 
  3. The Central discipline inspection group likely obtained negative reports about Lu after officially probing Xinhua in October 2016.
  4. With Xi’s allies occupying the leading propaganda positions after the 19th Congress, expect more purges in the upper rungs of the propaganda apparatus going forward.