In Social Media Battle, Real Estate Mogul Takes On Chinese Government : Parallels China's Internet authorities have shut down all social media accounts of Ren Zhiqiang, a sharp-tongued real estate mogul compared by some in China to Donald Trump.
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In Social Media Battle, Real Estate Mogul Takes On Chinese Government

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In Social Media Battle, Real Estate Mogul Takes On Chinese Government

In Social Media Battle, Real Estate Mogul Takes On Chinese Government

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And in China, a real estate tycoon often compared to Donald Trump has been challenging the communist establishment. He's triggered a debate about media and freedom of speech. He had 37 million followers on China's equivalent of Twitter until authorities recently shut down all his social media accounts and threatened more punishment. Here's NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: On February 19, President Xi Jinping paid visits to China's top three official media outlets in a bid to cement his control over the media and the message. He told crowds of cheering journalists that all content in all of China's media has to reflect the ruling Communist Party's point of view. That's when tycoon Ren Zhiqiang piped up. He suggested in a microblog posting that if the Communist Party wants to promote its propaganda, it should pay for it with party dues, not taxpayer money. Ren had previously called China's state television broadcaster the dumbest pig on earth and gotten away with it. But Beijing Foreign Studies University media expert Qiao Mu says this time is different.

QIAO MU: (Foreign language spoken).

KUHN: "If he had just criticized the system abstractly, he might have been okay," he says. "But because he expressed an opinion different from the top leaders, he got in trouble." Party pundits and other commentators pounced on Ren and anyone who came to his defense. Down with conspirators, adventurists and capitalist plotters, shrieked one official media headline. This sort of shrill jargon harks back to the political violence of China's Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and '70s. Beijing-based media scholar Zhan Jiang says that although media may use this language, most Chinese agree that there's no going back.

ZHAN JIANG: (Through interpreter) The language takes this form, but there's no content to it. People are certainly worried about a return to the Cultural Revolution, but I think that will be very difficult.

KUHN: Qiao Mu notes that Ren Zhiqiang remains influential in China's business community. And so far, authorities have given him little more than a rap on the knuckles.

MU: (Foreign language spoken).

KUHN: "Deleting your posts and accounts is all too common," he says. "I've had a dozen or so accounts deleted over the past decade. I just create new ones." Qiao says that at worst, Ren Zhiqiang may be kicked out of the Communist Party. He adds that many people share Ren's views, even if their comments are quickly scrubbed away. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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