The key take away from Chinese propaganda is, rather intuitively, in the messages propagated. This blog post examines the four most common themes: communist party events, morality, prosperity, and Chairman Xi Jinping.
Honestly, I have an unhealthy fascination with Chinese propaganda due to two reasons. First, most foreigners don’t speak Chinese and are unable to differentiate propaganda from normal marketing advertisements. Second, propaganda in China is everywhere. Let’s look at a few examples.
In 2017 I lived east of Beijing proper in the Tongzhou District (Google maps link). This blog post’s photos were taken in Beijing around that time.
The picture above is an average street in Tongzhou and is indicative of how most tier two cities appear. The posters covering the walls are separate propaganda pieces. How many propaganda posters can you count? This scene, streets lined with propaganda, is a common occurrence in China, and mass volume of propaganda isn’t limited to print. Electronic billboards are used in the center of the city to spread propaganda messages. Note the dozen red backed electronic billboards below (also note the air pollution).
Some propaganda is used to herald Communist Party events. The above signs reads, “喜迎十九大 创造新辉煌” or “Happily greet the 19th Party Congress. Bring about new glory.” Perhaps what is most impressive about Chinese propaganda is how much the size of medium being used varies to fit into available public space. Propaganda posters are often posted on walls and are the size of standard movie posters found in theaters across the world. Walled off construction sites present a larger space to fill.
中国梦 安全梦 抓好安全生产 建好‘北京城市副中心
Chinese dream – Peaceful dream – Successfully create safety – Build Beijing
中华圆梦 万马奔腾 – Realizing China’s Dream – Full steam ahead
These large posters, again usually lining the walls of construction sites, have always been the most fascinating. This medium has the most room and is much more likely to advertise morality. The left most piece of propaganda in the picture above lists the 12 Socialist Core Values, a topic I will discuss later.
Operate honestly, Speak the truth and be good-hearted
The large, perhaps 18 foot, poster above is fascinating. The moral message is simple: be honest. The bowling ball is labeled “honesty.” The bowling pins are labeled foreign trade scams, pyramid schemes, illegal advertising, fakes, and illegal fund raising.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the 12 Socialist Core Values (Wikipedia link). The values include prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity, and friendship. The poster below has three separate advertisements, all of which list the 12 Socialist Core Values, i.e the characters of the three posters are exactly the same.
In the above photo, again on a large 18ft wall, we can see two propaganda pieces. The left piece lists the Socialist Core Values. The right piece is hard to see clearly. I can clearly infer the characters “邻里守望” or “community watch” across the top. One has to admire fitting a message of morality and call to action for the communist party so casually into daily life.
Most Chinese propaganda isn’t explicitly violent. In fact, the most common message or repeated noun I see is “safety” or “安全” in Chinese. The key to safety, always implicitly, is communist party guidance. The ICBM and dove images above are painted on a community wall. The wall depicts China’s advancements in flight technology, starting at the kite and ending in satellites. These types of images, again, are not common. On a side note, police were called when a Chinese man saw me taking photos of this wall. Community watch indeed.
The last propaganda that I will outline today is Chairman Xi Jinping propaganda. It is constant. The red banner above reads, “紧密团结在以习近平同志为核心的党中央周围不断开创中国特色社会主义事业新时” or “Closely unite around the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core and continue to pioneer socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.” The Chinese digital landscape is absolutely saturated in quotes extolling Chairman Xi. Here are three news sources that I searched today. I have highlighted the Chairman Xi Jinping news section in green. It is always the top section extolling the same qualities and prowess.
I’m constantly amazed at Chairman Xi propaganda that borders on idol worship:
今年我和习近平握过手 This year I shook hands with Xi Jinping
Before closing, I think it is important to point out that much of the propaganda above is focused on legitimizing the communist party and creating a narrative of national success and optimism. China, through the lens of its propaganda, is unstoppable. It is wholly responsible for all economic prosperity and safety. It is a path, a legacy to be fulfilled. Legacy is not built upon change. Propaganda posters with red heroes stoically facing challenges does not hearken to a government capable of addressing 21st century challenges. As China enters a new era of change, these propaganda posters and the legacy they claim looms large in my mind.
Thanks for reading.