Propaganda and the Chinese Dream

When we hear the word “propaganda” our minds automatically drag up images from a bygone era. Posters of Lord Kitchener pointing out at the public, or of Rosie the Riveter flexing her biceps, immediately spring to mind. Indeed the idea of the propaganda poster is so closely entwined with the past, of wars both hot and cold, that the thought of a country using it in today’s digital world seems almost laughable, but, believe it or not that’s exactly what’s happening in Mainland China. kitchener-rosieHistorically the Communist Party has successfully utilised various methods of propaganda as a way to strengthen its hold over the population. When we look at the focus of older propaganda posters used across China the contents vary drastically; many sought to establish Chairman Mao as the next natural Communist successor, painting him alongside the profiles of Engels, Marx, Lenin and Stalin. Other posters demonised the US, with images of evil, scheming US Presidents using Taiwan as a way to overthrow Beijing. Other posters still, looked to motivate the Chinese population, to push them to try and meet the ludicrously high production targets set by the Party during the Great Leap Forward.62204e99t7bfe1824d353690(“Destined to fail” – US & Taiwan: “If we work together we can take back China”)pc-1968-l-005(Marxist-Leninist Mao Ze Dong Thought Forever!)

As time has moved on the messages and posters have evolved. Following the death of Chairman Mao, the Party, under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership, looked to distance itself from its founder. With Deng at the helm the posters of old were destroyed and the new posters shifted their focus towards encouraging the modernisation of China and the opening up of the economy.

Nowadays, under China’s current leader, President Xi Jinping, the focus of the posters has changed yet again. In China today we’ve got an interesting combination of both old and new messages coming through from the leadership. On the one hand there’re billboards and advertising spaces reminding the population of the relatively new “Chinese Dream.” On the other hand, we’re still being bombarded with messages about the importance of the Party and how citizens should listen to and obey the messages coming out of Beijing. 

The “Chinese Dream” is the brainchild of Xi Jinping and was launched shortly after he was appointed in 2012. The media-friendly concept promises the Party is looking to rejuvinate China, to focus on establishing a strong, harmonious, civilised, beautiful China of the future. Unlike his predecessor, Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping has proved himself to be a formidable political force, someone determined to leave his mark on China. As a result, the Chinese public has steadily seen an increase in the number of “Chinese Dream” messages being distributed across the country. In Shanghai it’s now impossible to go more than a single day without seeing one of these messages, unless of course you stay at home and refuse to turn on the TV and radio.©2015 Dan Entwistle(The Core Values Of A Socialist Society: Thriving and Strong, Democratic, Polite, Harmonious, Free, Equal, A System of Justice, Governed by Law, A Love for One’s Country, Dedication to One’s Work, Friendly to Others)

The above poster encapsualtes the core values the government is trying to propagate through its “Chinese Dream” message. Obviously you may look at some of these, scoff and think “Democratic, free, and governed by law are not adjectives i’d use to describe China,” and you’d be right. A quick look back over recent news stories highlights huge flaws in these core values. The Occupy Central Movement in Hong Kong highlights the Party’s resistance to true democracy. Similarly last year’s white paper on Hong Kong, demanding that the city’s judges be “patriotic,” suggests Beijing is also not serious about a fair justice system. 

However, Beijing could also counter and say China is democratic. Technically they’re allowing Hong Kong to choose its Chief Executive from 2017 (even though Beijing selects the candidates). Similarly local village elections have been going on across China for several years now. Technically the country also has a judiciary, which has been highlighted in the western press recently after the conviction of former Party member, Bo Xilai, or more famously, the conviction of Jackie Chan’s son, Jaycee Chan. Although, given that we’re seeing a greater use of Mao-era style televised confessions from defendents before they actually set foot in the courtroom, we can yet again question the impartiality of this judiciary. Nevertheless no one said these values had to actually stand up to scrutiny. Provided the less-educated majority believe the party is acting with their interests in mind President Xi will continue to consolidate his power faster than any other Chinese leader in recent history.©2015 Dan Entwistle(Through the establishment of the Chinese Dream we can establish a civilised city.)

The above poster focuses on using the “Chinese Dream” to establish a civilised Shanghai. As one of the world’s largest and seemingly most developed cities, with nicknames such as “The Pearl of the Orient” and “The Paris of the East,” some of you may be wondering how Shanghai could possibly become more civilised. Actually, once you look past Pudong’s bright lights and towering skyscrapers Shanghai actually faces a wealth of issues that need to be addressed. As a by-product of its rapid growth and the vast sums of money pumped into the city by the Party, Shanghai has a huge wealth gap between the rich and poor. Whilst one minute you can be walking through a neighbourhood filled with shops like Gucci and Louis Vuitton a short ten minute taxi ride can take you into a neighbourhood filled with families of four sharing a single room.

Similarly the influx of money has led to a burgeoning class of uneducated, entitled nouveau riche(土豪)who lack a basic understanding of manners and social-etiquette. I’ve no doubt many of you have read or heard about stories of Chinese tourists opening the emergency exits on planes, or carving their names into ancient Egyptian temples. Whilst the wealth gap is obviously one of the biggest issues the Party will need to resolve if it’s to maintain its strong control of the country, it’s also investing serious time into educating Chinese people, especially Chinese tourists, on the correct way to behave in public.©2015 Dan Entwistle(Follow Lei Feng’s example – Helping others will bring you happiness)

Here we see another example of the government trying to improve the way Chinese people behave towards each other, looking to undo the everyone-for-themselves mentality that appears to be prominent in the minds of many older Chinese people today. The mindset appears to have originated under Mao and his Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. Under Mao’s leadership the Chinese people were subject to numerous hardships including, but not limited to, food shortages and public witch-hunts, where citizens were expected to report on each other for being “counter-revolutionaries.” As a result of these hardships a lack of trust, and a mindset ensuring the individual did what was necessary to survive began to develop across the country. 

Similarly in the period immediately following the 1989 Tiananmen event the government shifted its focus towards enabling the Chinese masses to get rich. In the years following 1989 China’s economy opened up and individuals became concerned with making money no matter the cost. This self-centered mindset can be viewed on a large scale today in Chinese industry where factory owners focus on turning a profit and not on environmentally friendly operations or on ensuring safe working conditions for their staff.

Lei Feng (pronounced Lay Fong) is being used in the poster as an example of what the population should strive to emulate. Lei Feng was a soldier in the PLA who died aged 21. Since Mao’s time until today he has been used by the party as an example of the model Chinese citizen. Whilst most historians refute the legendary stories about his selflessness, attributing them instead to state propaganda, they are still taught to children in school today and it’s almost impossible to find a Chinese person who doesn’t know who Lei Feng is.©2015 Dan Entwistle(“Follow the Communist Party of China and build our Chinese Dream” – Underneath the Soviet flag we see the same core values mentioned in the first poster)

Here we have another variation on the previous “Chinese Dream” poster. What’s interesting about this one is the obvious link between the Party and China. Since seizing control of the country from the Kuomintang and establishing the People’s Republic in 1949 the Party has worked hard to establish the idea that the Party and China are one, that China couldn’t exist without the Party. In this poster the people are clearly being told that only by working together with the Party can China move towards the modern China of tomorrow.©2015 Dan Entwistle(Without the Communist Party There Would Be No New China)

This poster is based on the lyrics of a famous Communist song of the same name released in 1943. The song was originally released in response to the Kuomintang’s propaganda message of “Without the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) there would be no China.” Here we have an example of the Party using old messages to remind people of the importance of following the Party and listening to its message.

For those of you interested the lyrics of the original song are:

Without the Communist Party, there would be no new China

Without the Communist Party, there would be no new China

The Communist Party has worked hard for the nation

The Communist Party of one mind has saved China

It pointed to the road of liberation for the people

It led China towards the light

It supported the War of Resistance for more than eight years

It has improved people’s lives

It built a base behind enemy lines

It practiced democracy, bringing many advantages

Without the Communist Party, there would be no new China

Without the Communist Party, there would be no new China

©2015 Dan Entwistle

©2015 Dan Entwistle(By listening to the Communist Party you can win battles and build excellent work ethic)

The above billboard features fairly prominently on top of the People’s Liberation Army’s 85 Hospital (中国人民解放军第八五医院) near the centre of Shanghai – yes that’s the hospital’s real name and no it’s not just for soldiers, anyone can use it. The quote on the poster was originally used by President Xi to describe his vision for the army – which in recent years has not always listened to the directions of the Party leadership – but has been adapted here to be used as a Party directive for the people. The poster clearly shows President Xi wearing a traditional Mao suit standing in front of the Chinese flag and the Great Wall. The message itself is once again clearly designed to establish the idea in people’s minds that only by listening to the Party can both the individual and the Chinese state continue to grow and improve.

These are just a few examples of the posters residents of the PRC are exposed to everyday. Each city has different posters different councils within each city produce their own “Chinese Dream” messages based on the instructions of the Party leadership. Whilst the Chinese people I’ve spoken to about the posters tend to ignore them, dismissing them as 红色标语 or “red slogans,” almost all of them were able to recite at least one of the messages or core values in the posters I’ve included in this post, suggesting that, even if you’re not deliberately paying attention to and reading the posters the messages are still getting through to and potentially influencing the population today.


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