Read between the lines of the CCP’s Centennial Propaganda Blitz – The Diplomat
As the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary on July 1, Beijing’s propaganda and information control apparatus is fully deployed to ensure that the party – and the “leader leader “Xi Jinping – receive uniform praise for being” great, glorious and correct. Many of his initiatives illustrate how successful the CCP has been in reusing key features of capitalism – social media, e-commerce and tourism , for example – with an ideological twist that serves the political interests of the Leninist regime.
Despite the hype and marketing innovations, the campaign seems steeped in insecurity. Indeed, its insistent and stern tone is tantamount to acknowledging that the Chinese people and the world at large are not fully convinced by the CCP’s claim to be the only legitimate and desirable source of leadership for China.
Old and new propaganda
Messages, merchandise, and activities promoting the CCP have long been a part of daily life in China. But before the anniversary, they became more widespread, exceeding the usual level of slogans. Some efforts are part of the formats one might expect before an important date: opening of new museums, film releases in cinemas and festivals, resurgence of “red tourism” on sites deemed significant for history. of the CCP and sales of “red clothes” on e-commerce sites. National state media publish congratulatory remarks from a mishmash of foreign politicians, including Communist Party counterparts in countries like the UK, Spain and South Africa. Embassies and consulates have also started to organize events and pilgrimages to “red” sites overseas.
But these traditional exercises have been complemented by new elements that seem to aim to saturate public consciousness and people’s conversations, while strengthening Xi’s position as the supreme leader of the country. A massive public education campaign focused on the history of the CCP was launched in February. It included the publication of 80 national propaganda slogans – several with Xi at the center – a scale that the China Media Project described as “unprecedented in the era of reform.”
Particular energy has been devoted to ensuring that the younger generations “inherit the red genes”. For example, propaganda officials launched 200 social media accounts designed to influence college students, and the party developed various interactive educational materials such as web portals, television knowledge contests, and animated short films. A new history academy founded in 2019 has posted hard-hitting updates to Chinese social media platforms and used online marketing tactics alongside more staid college-style posts. A hip-hop brand released a rap video in which 100 artists, including several famous artists, joined forces to praise the CCP’s achievements.
By infusing reminders of the CCP’s domination in virtually every facet of Chinese society and daily life, from history and culture to popular entertainment, the regime advances one of the central goals of these campaigns: reinforce the perception that China as a nation is indistinguishable from the Chinese Communist Party.
Skepticism and censorship
While many people in China seem to be getting into the spirit of the anniversary celebrations, others have been less enthusiastic. Internet users’ reactions to the rap video were surprisingly outspoken, with critics saying it was just “bad” and calling the rappers “100 slaves.”
These online reviews were quickly removed. According to the South China Morning Post, more than 7,000 comments on the video on the NetEase Cloud platform quickly dropped to just 35. The government has also taken preventative measures to suppress negative responses to its larger campaign. China’s Cyberspace Administration (CAC) launched a hotline in April for internet users to report other social media users who “twist” the party’s history or attack its leadership, and in May, the CAC claimed order the deletion of at least 2 million messages. to promote “historical nihilism” and “insult the martyrs”.
Even in official publications, the space to admit the CCP’s past mistakes seems to have narrowed. New version of “A Brief History of the Chinese Communist Party”, an official account for the general public, removed previously authorized references to the Great Leap Forward famine as a “bitter historical lesson” and to Mao Zedong’s mistakes during the Cultural Revolution.
Physical restrictions supplemented the censorship and propaganda measures. The media reported a massive security deployment in Beijing to deter and resolve any unforeseen incidents, and several known dissidents were sent on a forced “vacation” out of the city during the weeks surrounding the anniversary date. Maoists from Shandong Province have also reportedly been detained since mid-May, underscoring the CCP’s mistrust even of those who might express dissent within its own ideological camp.
What is not said
The insecurity involved in official party messages and actions contrasts starkly with such displays of power. Slogans such as “Listen to the party, enjoy the party, follow the party” sound more like the urgent and frustrated demands of an obedient parent of a finicky child than the triumphant cheers of a genuinely confident and powerful ruling party. revered.
Likewise, in the international arena, recent speeches by Xi and other senior officials have called for greater innovation to reach global audiences more effectively, including obscuring the source of pro-Beijing messages by disseminating them through apparently unaffiliated influencers. These suggest an understanding that despite billions of dollars spent on propaganda abroad, the Chinese state media lacks credibility. Xi’s statement that party propagandists should make China and the CCP more “lovable” also highlights the limits of the regime’s authoritarian style to this day, and its failure to cultivate genuine goodwill through attraction and persuasion. of “soft power”.
The fundamental problem facing the CCP’s propaganda apparatus is that the reality of the party’s history is far less commendable than the leaders are willing to admit. It includes disastrous policies that claimed the lives of tens of millions of Chinese during Mao’s time, as well as more contemporary crackdowns on student protesters, human rights lawyers, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Christians and Falun Gong followers – not to mention the daily abuse and indignities. suffered by victims of corruption, clumsy development programs, population controls and mind-numbing political campaigns like the one now underway.
The fact that the anniversary of the CCP coincides with the anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover from the UK to China is a poignant reminder of how the party has been unable to win “hearts and minds.” Hong Kong people over the past 24 years. Instead, by enforcing a new national security law, he used an iron fist to crush the territory’s political rights and freedom of expression.
Xi and the CCP leadership have refused to change course on their nefarious policies, which weaken their legitimacy with a large, albeit silenced, contingent of the country’s population and many audiences abroad. They simply redouble their coercion, flood the information space with hollow slogans, and invest in new ways to expand the party’s control over what can and cannot be said in its history.
As the CCP enters its second century, only time will tell whether such intransigence guarantees the political survival of the party or sows the seeds of its eventual demise.