BEIJING – Following its pledge to control media more tightly, Chinese authorities shut down microblogging accounts belonging to a real estate mogul and frequent government critic after he lambasted state media for swearing fealty to the ruling Communist Party.
The Cyberspace Administration of China published on its website Sunday remarks by a spokesman saying Ren Zhiqiang had published illegal information that harbored “evil influence” and urged other online celebrities to behave as “role models who follow laws and regulations.”
Known among his more than 30 million online fans as “Cannon Ren” due to his tendency to shoot off on topics ranging from neoliberal economics to housing policy, the 65-year-old stood out in recent years as a high-profile persona who dared to challenge the party leadership in a political environment increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices.
Ren was again a prominent critical voice last week, when he lambasted state media outlets for hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping, who had urged journalists in newsroom visits to focus on “positive news” and to “love the party, protect the party and act in the interest of the party.”
Ren questioned whether taxpayer money should fund outlets that serve to promote the Communist Party rather than the public, drawing applause as well as a backlash. One news site affiliated with the Beijing municipal party blasted the mogul as a booster for capitalism who sought to topple Communist rule.
The tycoon, a party member and People’s Liberation Army veteran, may have crossed the line when he then followed up with a vague post likening China to a company that is responsible to its shareholders rather than its board of directors. His name was promptly censored on social media, although it became a hotly searched term.
The cyberspace administration, which reports to a Communist Party group headed by Xi, said in its statement Sunday that all Internet users must be aware and not cross the “baseline” when it comes to discussing matters regarding the socialist way of governance, the national interest, public order or morality.
Huayuan Group, Ren’s Beijing-based real estate firm, did not respond to a fax seeking comment outside regular business hours on Sunday.