We must strengthen the construction of information infrastructure, strengthen the in-depth integration of information resources, and open the ‘information aorta’ of economic and social development.


Rogier Creemers, “Speech at the Work Conference for Cybersecurity and Informatization,” China Copyright and Media, April 26, 2016

The “language” of Digital China is designed to educate party cadre and Chinese citizens and be efficient in doing so. Using figurative language to express a complex party concept works. I find the language of Digital China to be especially creative, interesting, and useful, but sometimes confusing – just like the narrative pools built to support other major party programs. I’ll use this space now and then to highlight a new Digital China turn of phrase, or sometimes to replay an old standard.

Today, let’s spend a few minutes on a phrase that now appears regularly in Party commentaries, huge educational graphics, and even Xi Jinping speaks to it. The phrase is “the information aorta of economic and social development 经济社会发展的信息大动脉.” It refers to New Type Infrastructure.

It’s easy to miss. You might see it as simply the “information aorta 信息大动脉” or even just the the “aorta 大动脉.” It can appear seemingly out of context, in an article on social or economic development, or village governance, or elementary schools. But it’s never out of context. Party cadre all know what it means.

One of the best known Party commentaries on “the information aorta” was penned in 2017 by Zheng Bijian, a long time senior advisor to the party leadership and a brilliant thinker. I had the opportunity to sit in a graduate seminar with Zheng back in the 1980s and observe first hand just how wide this man’s thinking is. I bring it up because, and it is just a hunch, the grand party narrative surrounding New Type Infrastructure smacks of Zheng to me, and Zheng had a large role in the development of the party’s digital/cyber strategies at their start. Zheng uses his 2017 commentary to do just what a good senior advisor is expected to do – point to the boss.

Yep, you already guessed it, the concept was created by General Secretary Xi Jinping himself. It’s part of the party’s historical narrative on Digital China. Some of that narrative is true, some of it less true, some of it is false. I bring up Zheng Bijian and “the information aorta” because I’m still pulling that thread.

But this story now begins with Xi Jinping’s famous speech (famous in China) from April 19, 2016 at the Cybersecurity and Informatization Work Conference (网络安全和信息化工作座谈会).  The speech (now known simply as the “4.19 speech”) provides the first public reference (according to public party history) of the term “information aorta.” In his speech, Xi Jinping helps us understand clearly what the term means: “We must strengthen the construction of information infrastructure, strengthen the in-depth integration of information resources, and open the ‘information aorta’ of economic and social development.”

In 2016, the Communist Party was already moving to revise Marx’s Labor Theory of Value to designate “data” as the newest and most valuable “factor of production” in China’s developing digital economy. But to be successful, data would require a digital infrastructure program of massive proportions to carry it. New Type Infrastructure would become the “information aorta” for China’s economic and social development in the digital era.

Four years after Xi Jinping’s 2016 speech, almost to the day (and I don’t think this was a coincidence), the National Development and Reform Commission would designate both “Information Infrastructure” and “Integrated Infrastructure” (see the quote above) as two of the three “main directions” of New Type Infrastructure.

And as the Party would say, the rest is history…