Over the past weekend, reports have been circulating on social media about several military-run newspapers publishing their last editions as part of the ongoing reform of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
The newspapers were run by China's seven regional commands, respectively headquartered in Shenyang, Beijing, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Lanzhou.
President Xi Jinping, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), said in November that the seven regional commands would be regrouped into so-called battle zone commands directly supervised by the CMC. The move is aimed at enhancing the efficiency of the command system and ensuring the absolute leadership of the Communist Party of China over the armed forces.
While the authorities have not announced the exact details of the reform, scattered reports have indicated that the closure of the newspapers run by the regional commands signals the official end of the commands.
Bye bye broadsheets
A screen grab shared by the WeChat account run by Guangming Daily's military channel appears to be an announcement on the website of the Shenyang Military Area Command's newspaper Qianjin Bao (March Daily), which said that its last edition would come out on January 15.
"As the military command system reform goes deeper, the Shenyang Military Area Command … is going to wrap up its historic missions and became history," the statement said. "Qianjin Bao, as a regional command Party committee organ, will also end its mission," it said.
Lü Yongyan, whose Weibo describes him as a writer who graduated from the PLA Academy of Art, posted a story he wrote for the last edition of Qianjin Bao, headlined: "All tears as I wave farewell to Qianjin Bao."
People's Frontline, the Party organ of the area command of Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province, also ran its last issue on Friday.
On its front page, it ran an editorial titled "Clarion forever," which looked back at its 68 years of history, and said, "The waves of reform to strengthen the military roll on, everything is being reshaped. Like many other military organizations, the People's Frontline has also finished its historical mission with honor. It will resolutely follow the orders for the larger interest of the reforms."
Actually, the reshuffle of the regional commands' papers has been going on for a while.
The PLA Daily's Chengdu Military Area Command bureau ran a story on January 7 on its WeChat account, saluting all regional command newspapers.
"For a long time, each military regional command has had a Party organ newspaper. These newspapers have done a great job in promoting the decisions made by regional command Party committees as well as publicizing the highlights of the regional commands," it read.
The article then introduced the history of each of the newspapers.
During an event commemorating the 100th birthday of deceased general Fu Chongbi on Sunday, a Beijing Military Area Command official said the command has fulfilled its historical role and will be changed into China's central battle zone command, according to Guangming Daily's website.
According to a report published in the Southern Weekend, these newspapers were division-level units. Each newspaper's newsroom had about 40 to 50 people, and the editors-in-chief are of mostly at the regimental or vice-divisional rank.
These newspapers were published for more than six decades, and many of them were founded around the time that the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, or a few years earlier.
There are no reports about how the authorities will reassign the newspapers' editors and reporters, or whether some of these newspapers may re-emerge under other titles or in other forms.
The Southern Weekend quoted insiders as saying that an adjustment plan may be released in February, and probably a bigger adjustment of the regional military newspapers will be announced in May or June.
Other sources disclosed that the mouthpieces of the military regional commands will all be transferred to the newly established land forces headquarters. The PLA is expected to set up a special "News and Cultural Center" for military news reports. Whether the new battle zone commands will keep the officers in charge of news reporting in similar roles remains to be seen, the Southern Weekend said.
Whatever the future adjustment will be, one thing is sure, that the CPC will continue to make use of the media to consolidate its military.
When Prisident Xi inspected the PLA Daily on December 25, he emphasized that the newspaper belongs to the Party and needs to provide solid support for the reform drive to build a strong army.