Is Chinese commentary writer ‘Guo Ping’ really a pseudonym for those close to the president?

A newspaper stand in Beijing on July 30, 2014. Since the Hong Kong protests began on Sept 28, Chinese Communist Party media outlets have published at least one commentary a day without fail by "Guo Ping". On some days, "Guo Ping" wrote two commentari
A newspaper stand in Beijing on July 30, 2014. Since the Hong Kong protests began on Sept 28, Chinese Communist Party media outlets have published at least one commentary a day without fail by "Guo Ping". On some days, "Guo Ping" wrote two commentaries published in different publications, making it unlikely that they are the work of one person alone.-- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

Amid the Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong, one Chinese commentator “Guo Ping” has been most prolific in outlining Beijing’s stance and defending its actions in connection with the demonstrations through commentaries published in party and state media.

But many observers believe Guo Ping is not the name of a real person and is instead a pseudonym much in the tradition in which top leaders or officials use pseudonyms for articles making a stand or pushing their agenda.

This time, however, it is believed by some that Guo Ping is the pseudonym of not one person but a group of senior officials close to President Xi Jinping, writing to articulate his views on key issues.

There are several reasons why observers believe so.

First, Guo and Ping mean “national” and “peace” respectively, so the pseudonym is being seen as a message from the Chinese Communist Party that it desires to preserve national peace amid the political turmoil in Hong Kong.

Also, the word “comment”, although written differently, is also read as “ping” in Chinese, leading some to say Guo Ping was coined to tell readers the commentaries - published in papers like the CCP broadsheet People’s Daily - should be viewed seriously as “national-level commentary”.

“There are signs the pseudonym refers to a group of writers close to Xi Jinping and that its articles should be seen as the most authoritative,” said Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam.

“It may be confusing to outsiders because party media are already supposed to represent the views of the top leaders. But within the official media, there are different voices representing different factions.”

One example is the rare open disagreement in the past two weeks between two CCP publications over whether “class struggle” still exists in China.

The Red Flag Manuscript, a bi-weekly publication under the CCP’s Qiushi journal, has published articles by academics arguing that the leftist theory still exists and justifies China’s current political system of “people’s democratic dictatorship”.

But the Study Times, the publication of the Central Party School, the CCP’s elite training institution, has run a commentary countering that China has been able to open up to the world and reform since 1978 after abandoning class struggle.

Another clue that Guo Ping may be the product of pro-Xi officials is that its commentaries have covered topics close to his heart.

Guo Ping’s first-ever commentary published on July 10 was on Sino-US relations, making the point that Mr Xi’s much-touted “new model of major-power relationship” between China and the United States reflects “political wisdom”.

Other topics include Sino-Japanese ties which have reportedly come under Mr Xi’s charge through a newly created CCP taskforce; and China’s anti-graft drive that has seen the President launch unprecedented investigations against top leaders like retired security czar Zhou Yongkang.

In all, Guo Ping has penned more than 30 commentaries, among which slightly over 20 are on the Hong Kong protests.

Since the protests began on Sept 28, CCP media outlets have published at least one commentary a day without fail by Guo Ping. On some days, Guo Ping wrote two commentaries published in different publications, making it unlikely that they are the work of one person alone.

Lastly, observers say it is the first time that a pseudonym in party media has carried the word Guo, which is a decision that can only be made by CCP agencies, like its propaganda department, or even higher.

A check on past pseudonyms shows that the word Guo has never been used. Instead, most pseudonyms are phonetic or creative twists on the names of organisations or individual leaders.

For instance, Mr Liu Yunshan, currently the fifth-ranking member in the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, used a pseudonym Yun Shan (using a different Chinese word that also reads as “shan”) in a 2010 article praising the work of a county chief in northern Shanxi province.

Late strongman Mao Zedong’s pseudonym in articles written in the 1910s was “er shi ba hua sheng”, which means the “man of 28 writing strokes”, in reference to the number of strokes in his name.

Mr Xi himself used the pseudonym "Zhe Xin" in more than 200 articles he penned from 2003 to 2007 as coastal Zhejiang province’s party secretary.

The two words "Zhe" and "Xin" mean philosophy and joy, but they are seen as a hidden message from him for Zhejiang to “create something new”. "Zhe" sounds like the first word in Zhejiang’s name and the word “new” is also read as Xin in Chinese.

Mainland author Su Xiaoling, who is former editor-in-chief of the now-defunct socio-political website Impact China, said the pseudonym tradition stems from an aversion among Chinese officials from standing out too much, especially when writing about their personal views.

Prof Lam said a pseudonym is also used when the works under it are not those of a single official but of a group. 

For instance, one well-known pseudonym is "Zhong Zuwen", which is used for articles that originate from the CCP’s Organisation Department that decides on the deployment of party cadres. The pen name is a creative combination of the department’s shortened name "Zhong Zu Bu" and the word "Wen", meaning “article”.

“There is also the hope on the part of Chinese officials that the pseudonym would lower the attention on the writer and allow readers to assess the commentaries more on the strengths of their content,” added Prof Lam.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg