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Propaganda in China
Spectators in front of a large sign on Nixon
Large sign featuring a propaganda slogan in 1972: "Long Live the Great, Glorious, and Correct Communist Party of China!"
Simplified Chinese中华人民共和国宣传活动
Traditional Chinese中華人民共和國宣傳活動

Propaganda in China refers to the use of propaganda by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or (historically) the Kuomintang (KMT) to sway domestic and international opinion in favor of its policies.[1][2] Domestically, this includes censorship of proscribed views and an active promotion of views that favor the government. Propaganda is considered central to the operation of the CCP government.[3] The term xuanchuan (Chinese: 宣傳 "propaganda; publicity") can have either a neutral connotation in official government contexts or a pejorative connotation in informal contexts.[4] Some xuanchuan collocations usually refer to "propaganda" (e.g., xuānchuánzhàn 宣传战 "propaganda war"), others to "publicity" (xuānchuán méijiè 宣傳媒介 "mass media; means of publicity"), and still others are ambiguous (xuānchuányuán 宣传员 "propagandist; publicist").[5]

Aspects of propaganda can be traced back to the earliest periods of Chinese history, but propaganda has been most effective in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries owing to mass media and an authoritarian government.[3] The earliest Chinese propaganda tool also was an important tool in legitimizing the Kuomintang controlled Republic of China government that retreated from Mainland China to Taiwan in 1949. Since the CCP took power in China, propaganda during the Mao era is known for its constant use of mass campaigns to legitimize the party and the policies of leaders. It was the first time the CCP successfully made use of modern mass propaganda techniques, adapting them to the needs of a country which had a largely rural and illiterate population.[3]

Today, propaganda in China is usually depicted through cultivation of the economy and Chinese nationalism.[6]

History

Republican era

Further information: Propaganda in the Republic of China

A Kuomintang propaganda poster celebrating the birthday of Republic of China President Chiang Kai-shek, "Long Live the President"
A Kuomintang propaganda poster celebrating the birthday of Republic of China President Chiang Kai-shek, "Long Live the President"

Because the national government of this time was weak, it was difficult for any censorship or propagandistic measures to be carried out effectively. However, a bureau was set up to control the production and release of film in China. Also, newspapers unfavorable to the central government could be harassed at will. After the Northern Expedition, the power of the central government increased significantly, and propaganda campaigns became more effective. Propaganda during the Chinese Civil War was directed against the CCP and the Japanese.[7][page needed]

Mao era

Chinese enlistment poster to volunteer in the Korean War with the grave of an American soldier
Chinese enlistment poster to volunteer in the Korean War with the grave of an American soldier

The origins of the CCP propaganda system can be traced to Yan'an Rectification Movement and the rectification movements carried out there.[8] Following which it became a key mechanism in the Party's campaigns.[2][9] Mao explicitly laid out the political role of culture in his 1942 "Talks at the Yan'an Forum on Art and Literature". The propaganda system, considered a central part of CCP's "control system",[2][10] drew much from Soviet, Nazi and other totalitarian states' propaganda methods.[2] It represented a quintessential Leninist "transmission belt" for indoctrination and mass mobilization.[2] David Shambaugh observes that propaganda and indoctrination are considered to have been a hallmark of the Maoist China;[2][8][10] the CCP employed a variety of "thought control" techniques, including incarceration for "thought reform," construction of role models to be emulated, mass mobilization campaigns, the creation of ideological monitors and propaganda teams for indoctrination purposes, enactment of articles to be memorized, control of the educational system and media, a nationwide system of loudspeakers, among other methods.[2] While ostensibly aspiring to a "Communist utopia," often had a negative focus on constantly searching for enemies among the people. The means of persuasion was often extremely violent, "a literal acting out of class struggle."[11]

According to Anne-Marie Brady, an associate professor at the University of Canterbury's School of Political Science and Communication, CCP propaganda and thought work (sīxiǎng gōngzuò 思想工作) traditionally had a much broader notion of the public sphere than is usually defined by media specialists.[11] Chinese propagandists used every possible means of communication available in China after 1949, including electronic media such as film and television, educational curriculum and research, print media such as newspapers and posters, cultural arts such as plays and music, oral media such as memorizing Mao quotes, as well as thought reform and political study classes.[11]

China Central Television (CCTV) has traditionally served as a major national conduit for televised propaganda, while the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, has served as a medium for print propaganda. During the Mao era, a distinctive feature of propaganda and thought work was "rule by editorial," according to Brady. Political campaigns would be launched through editorials and leading articles in People's Daily, which would be followed by other papers.[11] Work units and other organizational political study groups utilized these articles as a source for political study, and reading newspapers in China was "a political obligation". Mao used Lenin's model for the media, which had it function as a tool of mass propaganda, agitation, and organization.[11]

A series of posters from the Cultural Revolution, one of which depicts CCP Chairman Mao Zedong over a mass rally
A series of posters from the Cultural Revolution, one of which depicts CCP Chairman Mao Zedong over a mass rally

During the Cultural Revolution, CCP propaganda was crucial to intensification of Mao Zedong's cult of personality, as well as mobilizing popular participation in national campaigns.[12] Past propaganda also encouraged the Chinese people to emulate government approved model workers and soldiers, such as Lei Feng, Chinese Civil War hero Dong Cunrui, Korean War hero Yang Gensi, and Dr. Norman Bethune, a Canadian doctor who assisted the CCP Eighth Route Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. It also praised Third World revolutionaries and close foreign allies such as Albania and North Korea while vilifying both the American "imperialists" and the Soviet "revisionists" (the latter of whom was seen as having betrayed Marxism–Leninism following the Sino-Soviet split).

According to Barbara Mittler, Mao propaganda left memories of violence and slander upon many Chinese, and their psychological strains drove many to madness and death.[13] Today, Mao propaganda is no longer used by the CCP, and are largely commercialized for the purposes of nostalgia.[14]

Modern era

Propaganda sign in Xiamen, China facing Kinmen, Republic of China. Sign says "Peaceful Unification. One country two systems".
Propaganda sign in Xiamen, China facing Kinmen, Republic of China. Sign says "Peaceful Unification. One country two systems".

Following the death of Chairman Mao in 1976, propaganda was used to blacken the character of the Gang of Four, which was blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. During the era of economic reform and modernization that was initiated by Deng Xiaoping, propaganda promoting "socialism with Chinese characteristics" was distributed. The first post-Mao campaign was in 1983 which saw the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign.

The 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre were an indication to many elders in the CCP that liberalization in the propaganda sector had gone too far, and that the Party must re-establish its control over ideology and the propaganda system.[11]

Brady writes that propaganda and thought work have become the "life blood" of the Party-State since the post-1989 period, and one of the key means for guaranteeing the CCP's continued legitimacy and hold on power.[11]

In the 1990s, propaganda theorists described the challenges to China's propaganda and thought work as "blind spots"; mass communication was advocated as the antidote. From the early 1990s, selective concepts from mass communications theory, public relations, advertising, social psychology, patriotic education and other areas of modern mass persuasion were introduced into China's propaganda system for the purpose of creating a modern propaganda model.[11]

Kurlantzick and Link noted that through cultivating economic growth and Chinese nationalism, the CCP has modernized authoritarianism to maintain their political control.[6] They asserted that elite business leaders, who have benefited from China's economic growth, have accepted the CCP's authoritarian control as a result, largely preventing the new rich and emerging middle class from challenging their rule. Fenby argues that the latter, rather than accepting the system per se, have learnt to use it to their advantage. Kurlantzick and Link also noted that dissent still largely exists in the Chinese populace in regards to government policies on the economy, environment and society, particularly in rural areas, as they are becoming more aware of their constitutional rights. A recent poll in 2007 showed that 70% of Chinese consider the new rich to be corrupt and unworthy of respect.[15]

Recent developments

Giant poster listing the twelve Core Socialist Values of the Chinese Communist Party (2017).
Giant poster listing the twelve Core Socialist Values of the Chinese Communist Party (2017).

In early 2009, the CCP embarked on a multibillion-dollar global media expansion, including a 24-hour English-language news channel in the style of Western news agencies. According to Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, it was part of CCP general secretary Hu Jintao's plan to "go global" and make "the voice of China better heard in international affairs", by strengthening their foreign-language services, and being less political in their broadcasting. Bequelin notes that their function is to channel a specific view of China to an international audience, and their fundamental premise remains the same; that all information broadcast must reflect the government's views. The Chinese government encouraged the adaption of Western style media marketing in their news agencies due to internal competition with national commercial media.[16]

The 2008 Summer Olympics were portrayed by the Chinese government as a symbol of China's pride and place in the world,[17] and seem to have bolstered some domestic support for the Chinese government, and support for the policies of the CCP, giving rise to concerns that the state will possibly have more leverage to disperse dissent.[18]

In the lead-up to the Olympics, the government allegedly issued guidelines to the local media for their reporting during the Games: most political issues not directly related to the games were to be downplayed; topics such as pro-Tibetan independence and East Turkestan movements were not to be reported on, as were food safety issues such as "cancer-causing mineral water."[19] As the 2008 Chinese milk scandal broke in September 2008, there was widespread speculation that China's desire for a perfect Games may have been a factor contributing towards the delayed recall of contaminated infant formula.[20][21]

In 2011, then Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai and the city's Propaganda Department initiated a 'Red Songs campaign' that demanded every district, government departments and commercial corporations, universities and schools, state radio and TV stations to begin singing "red songs", praising the achievements of the CCP and PRC. Bo said the aim was "to reinvigorate the city with the Marxist ideals of his father's comrade-in-arms Mao Zedong"; although academic Ding Xueliang of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology suspected the campaign's aim was to further his political standing within the country's leadership.[22][23][24][25] During Bo Xilai's career in Chongqing, he also sent out mass text messages mostly of his favorite quotations from chairman Mao. On 8 November 2013, Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the CCP, said that the historical period after reform and opening up cannot be used to deny the historical period before reform and opening up, neither can the period before reform and opening up be used to deny the historical period after reform and opening up.[26] This is called "Two cannot denies" rule. According to this rule, the Chinese government revised the history textbook for the high school "Chinese History", deleting the chapter "Ten Years of the Cultural Revolution", placing the Culture Revolution under the chapter of "Achievements in Hard Exploration and Construction".

In 2020, CCP general secretary Xi Jinping and the rest of the CCP began propagating the idea of "winning a battle against America" in containing the coronavirus pandemic. The numbers are notably misrepresented by Chinese authorities, but the CCP has continued to take to the media, pointing out "the failures of America", even though the numbers are manipulated. The now former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the CCP of spreading disinformation on 17 March. Chinese officials in Japan have referred to the disease as the "Japanese coronavirus", even though there is no such evidence it originated there. The CCP has also used transmitting "positive energy" to promote itself.[27][28][29] After Mike Pompeo's accusation that the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, which Anthony Fauci denied on 5 May, Chinese officials launched a smear campaign on the same day against him with multiple propaganda outlets calling him a liar.[30][31] During the George Floyd protests, the CCP criticized the US for failing to address racial equality. On 30 May 2020, Morgan Ortagus urged on Twitter for "freedom loving people" to hold the CCP to impose plans on Hong Kong for national security legislation. Her counterpart, Hua Chunying, responded back with "I can't breathe", obviously a reference to Floyd's last words. Some people responded with "I can't tweet" and some have accused the government of using the same police brutality tactics that killed Floyd, with Chinese censors simply deleting the complaints. Later, state media took to social media to gloat about Hua's retort.[32][33] Recently, in Wuhan, where the outbreak first emerged, television shows and documentaries portrayed the response positively, as a heroic success taken care of by "warriors in white coats".[34] Alexander Kekulé's theory of coronavirus-disease 2019 coming from Italy instead of Wuhan which was taken out of context has sparked Chinese propaganda newspapers following the narrative, with even one headline saying, "China is Innocent!" Kekulé himself says it is pure propaganda.[35] State-owned outlets such as Xinhua and the People's Daily have blamed elderly deaths in Norway and Germany on COVID-19 vaccines, even though there is no scientific evidence, and have accused English media of downplaying it.[36] Chinese officials ordered videos of Uyghur men and women saying that they deny the U.S. charges that China that is committing human rights violations, despite that not being the case with thousands of Uyghur people being brainwashed in the Xinjiang internment camps.[37]

In 2021 the state orchestrated a propaganda and information control campaign to bolster the 100th Anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.[38] Chinese state owned media claimed without evidence that the CIA was recruiting Chinese-speaking spies, an assertion which went viral in the Chinese internet.[39] In 2021, the Ministry of Education of China announced that CCP general secretary Xi Jinping's socio-political policies and ideas would be included in the curriculum from primary school up to university level.[40] The 4-volume Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era textbooks for primary, secondary and tertiary school students were subsequently introduced in the new school year in 2021,[41] educators were instructed to "plant the seeds of loving the party, the country and socialism in young hearts".[40] This has led to comparisons of the cults of personality cultivated by Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong.[42][41][43]

During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Chinese diplomats, government agencies, and state-controlled media in China have adopted a sympathetic view of Russia, while emphasizing that the war was caused by the United States and NATO.[44][45][46] On the eve of the attack, Shimian, a digital outlet owned by newspaper Beijing News, accidentally posted an internal memo of the Chinese Cybersecurity Agency to media outlets. The outlets were told to "publish neither information favorable to the United States nor critiques of Russia", the media were also tasked to censor user comments and trend hashtags released by the three state-owned media, the Xinhua news agency, CCTV and the People’s Daily.[47][48][49] In the midst of the invasion, China state television network China Global Television Network (CGTN) interviewed Denis Pushilin, a Ukrainian separatist leader, who claimed that the "vast majority of citizens want to be as close to Russia as possible".[50] Besides official state media channels, private Chinese tech giants such as Tencent, Sina Weibo and ByteDance[51] also amplified conspiracy theories created by Russian state media, such as the false claims of nefarious US biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine[52][53] and propagating the notion that Ukrainian government consists of neo-Nazis[54][55] and that the Ukrainian army were sabotaging their own nuclear plant.[56] Xinhua News, China Central Television (CCTV) and Global Times, often posted unverified news from Russian state-controlled network RT, that were later proven to be erroneous; examples of which were when Global Times posted a video saying that a large number of Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered, or when CCTV reported that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had fled Kyiv during the initial stages of the war.[57][50][58] China Central Television also censored the live speech of Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Paralympics held in Beijing, as he condemned the war and called for diplomacy.[59] Chinese streaming platform iQiyi also cancelled the broadcast of the English Premiere League to avoid showing the football teams' support for Ukraine.[60] There were also numerous reports of censorship of the anti-war comments by Chinese academics, celebrities and micro-influencers on social media.[61][55]

Terminology

See also: Xuanchuan

While the English word usually has a pejorative connotation, the Chinese word xuānchuán (宣传 "propaganda; publicity") can have either a neutral connotation in official PRC contexts or a pejorative one in informal contexts.[62]

Xuānchuán first appeared in the 3rd-century historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms meaning "to announce or convey information", and was chosen to translate the Marxist-Leninist concept of Russian propagánda пропаганда in the early 20th-century China. Some xuanchuan collocations usually refer to "propaganda" (e.g., xuānchuánzhàn 宣传战 "propaganda war"), others to "publicity" (xuānchuán méijiè 宣传媒介 "mass media; means of publicity"), and still others are ambiguous (xuānchuányuán 宣传员 "propagandist; publicist").[5]

Mechanics

Control of media

Media operations and content are tightly controlled,[63][64] and the CCP determines what appears in news reports. Controlling media content allows the CCP to disseminate propaganda supportive of government policies, censor controversial news stories, and have reports published criticizing political adversaries, including advocates of religious freedom and democracy, supporters of Taiwanese and Tibetan independence, and representatives of the United States government.[63] In 2005, Reporters Without Borders published a report about the state-run news agency Xinhua News Agency, calling it "the world's biggest propaganda agency".[65]

While in the past the CCP's Central Propaganda Department and its local branches sent faxes to all media throughout the country with instructions indicating subjects that the media should stress or avoid entirely, directives are now imparted to ranking media managers or editors during phone conversations—a move designed to reduce the paper trail.[63] Media in China faces few restrictions on content that is not deemed to be politically damaging.[63]

Wu Xuecan, a former editor of the People's Daily overseas edition,[66] reports that through control of the "ideological domain, material means and living necessities," editors and reporters are conditioned to keep news and reports aligned with the interests of the CCP.[66] Wu further reports that, political study sessions ensures that editors first practice self-censorship.[66] He Qinglian writes that long years of media control have bred in Chinese journalists a habit of "self-discipline," and that most Chinese journalists resign themselves to playing the role of "Party mouthpieces."[64] Control is also directed at sources of information, as ordinary people are restricted from providing news to Chinese media, and more so to foreign media.[64]

In 2016, on an inspection tour of state media outlets, CCP general secretary Xi Jinping emphasises on the media's absolute loyalty to the party, stating "the media must have the party as their family name" (党媒姓党). This draws criticism from outspoken real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang and retired professor of Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party Cai Xia.[67]

In 2020, propaganda from China has been controlled by state media and CCP-run outlets such as the nationalistic tabloid Global Times, which portray the handling of COVID-19 as a success.[68] On 11 June 2020, Twitter announced that they deleted over 170,000 accounts tied to a Chinese-state linked operation because they were spreading false information about the COVID-19 pandemic.[69] On 22 June 2020, the United States Department of State designated several Chinese state media outlets as foreign missions.[70] In December 2020, an investigation by The New York Times and ProPublica revealed leaked internal documents showing the state's instructions to local media regarding the death of Li Wenliang. The documents address news organizations and social media platforms, ordering them to stop using push notifications, make no comment on the situation and control any discussion of the event happening in online spaces. The documents also address “local propaganda workers”, demanding they steer online discussions away from anything that “seriously damages party and government credibility and attacks the political system”.[71]

Thought reform

Main article: Thought reform in China

Propaganda and thought work in the Maoist era had a number of distinctive features, according to Brady, such as "ideological remolding" or "thought reform" (思想改造), ideological purges, ritual humiliation of ideological opponents, an emphasis on political study to raise levels of awareness of the current line, and targeting high-profile individuals as symbols of negative tendencies which must be eradicated.[11]

The experiences of propaganda and thought work in the Cultural Revolution provided the CCP with a "profound lesson," according to Brady. Virtually all post-Mao era CCP leaders had been under attack during that time, and drew two seemingly contradictory lessons: the rejection of mass movements and thought reform as means of transforming China, and the recognition of the "vital role of propaganda and thought work in China's political control." The administration of propaganda and thought work was plagued by these issues through the 1980s, and up to the events of 4 June 1989.[11]

Biderman and Meyers wrote in 1968 that while some kind of thought reform is characteristic of all totalitarian regimes, the CCP "set about it more purposefully, more massively, and more intensively than have other ruling groups," including through employing known techniques in new ways. They note the presence of such techniques in Maoist political campaigns, such as daily meetings for criticism and self-criticism; surveillance and sanctions were connected with education to find and correct deficiencies in personal conducts. In the military, political leaders attacked all personal connections between soldiers that were not based on political conviction, thus exploiting social pressures and personal anxieties to build a sense of conformity.[72]

In terms of intensity and scope, spiritual control has been reinforced under the CCP's rule, and has become a basic feature of citizens' daily life, according to Victor Shaw.[73] To an extent, the "freedom of silence" cherished by some older Chinese scholars was not even possible for an illiterate peasant in a remote area under the CCP mass propaganda.[73]

According to Shaw, the CCP utilizes propaganda to spread its policies, build social consensus, and mobilize the population for social programs. Ideological tensions result in mass movements, and the resulting spiritual control legitimizes the political establishment.[73] "Political studies, legal education, heroic models, and thought reform provide the CCP with effective weapons to propagandize rules and legal codes, normalize individual behaviour, and rehabilitate deviants in labor camps."[73]

Kurlantzick and Link stated that the CCP uses the technique of "thoughtwork" (sixiang gongzuo) to maintain popular obedience, dating back to the Mao Zedong era.[6] They noted that while Mao-era campaigns are aimed at transforming the Chinese society and people's natures, the modern approach to thoughtwork are more subtle and only focuses on issues important to the CCP's rule. According to Kurlantzick and Link, it consists largely of cultivating pro-government views in the media and other influential people in Chinese society, and as such complaints against the government becomes distracted with pro-government propaganda. The government also attempts to distance itself from local issues by blaming them on corrupt local officials, says Kurlantzick and Link.

Spin doctors

Further information: Chinese information operations and information warfare

According to Anne-Marie Brady, the Foreign Ministry first set up a system of designated officials to give information in times of crisis in 1983, and greatly expanded the system to lower levels in the mid-1990s. China's spin had been directed only at foreigners, but in the 1990s leaders realised that managing public crises was useful for domestic politics; this included setting up provincial level "News Coordinator Groups," and inviting foreign PR firms to give seminars.[11]

Brady writes that Chinese foreign propaganda officials took cues from the Blair government's spin doctoring during the mad cow disease crisis of 2000–2001, and the Bush government's use of the U.S. media after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. According to her, the Blair model allows for a certain amount of negative coverage to be shown during a crisis, which is believed to help release some of the "social tension" surrounding it. She believes information managers in China used this approach during coal mining disasters of 2005.[11]

According to Brady, trained official spokespeople are now available on call in every central government ministry, as well as in local governments, to deal with emerging crises; these spin doctors are coordinated and trained by the Office of Foreign Propaganda/State Council Information Office.[11]

During the July 2009 Ürümqi riots, CCP officials moved swiftly in a public relations campaign. According to Newsweek, CCP officials felt that the recent riots risked tarnishing China's global image, and underwent a public relations program involving quickly getting out the government's official version of the events, as well as transporting foreign journalists to riot affected areas. The growth in new technologies, such as email and SMS, forced the CCP's hand into taking up spin.

Instead of attempting a media blackout as with the 2008 Tibetan unrest, the CCP has adopted a series of more advanced techniques to influence the information leaving China. The day after violence in Ürümqi, the State Council Information Office set up a Xinjiang Information Office in Ürümqi to assist foreign reporters. It invited foreign media to Xinjiang to tour the riot zones, visit hospitals, and look at the aftermath themselves. Journalists were also given CDs with photos and TV clips. "They try to control the foreign journalists as much as possible by using this more sophisticated PR work rather than ban[ning] them," according to Professor Xiao Qiang, quoted by Newsweek.[74]

Structure and mechanics

According to David Shambaugh, professor of political science and international affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs[75] and a fellow of the Brookings Institution,[76] the CCP's propaganda system extends itself as a sprawling bureaucratic establishment, into virtually every medium concerned with the dissemination of information.[2] Shambaugh notes that according to the CCP publication Zhongguo Gongchandang jianshe dazidian.[2][77] numerous public places, such as media and news organizations, educational institutions, literature and art centers, and cultural exhibitions come under CCP's propaganda oversight. Shambaugh believes that this expansive definition implies that every conceivable medium which transmits and conveys information to the people of China falls under bureaucratic purview of the CCP Propaganda Department (CCPPD).[2] Shambaugh states that the writ of the CCPPD has remained unchanged since the Maoist era, although the mechanics of oversight and active censorship have undergone considerable evolution.[2]

According to official government reports in 2003, channels of propaganda dissemination of the CCPPD included 2,262 television stations (of which 2,248 were "local"), 2,119 newspapers, 9,074 periodicals and 1,123 publishing houses,[2][78] in addition to internal circulation papers and local gazetteers, approximately 68 million internet accounts with more than 100 million users, and more than 300 million mobile phone users who fall under the system's purview.[79]

According to Brady, propaganda work by the CCP has been historically divided into two categories: directed towards Chinese people (internal or duinei) and directed towards foreigners and the outside world (external or duiwai) as well as four types: political, economic, cultural and social.[1] The Central Propaganda Department oversees internal propaganda, and, the closely linked bureaucracy, The Office of Foreign Propaganda matters relating to external propaganda.[1]

Shambaugh states that the propaganda system, including the Central Propaganda Department, are highly secret and does not appear in officially published diagrams of the Chinese Bureaucratic System, whether in Chinese or in other languages.[1][2] The Office of Foreign Propaganda itself is more commonly known as 'Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China', under the dual nameplate system, according to Brady.[1] The chief of Chinese propaganda, Li Changchun, was named as nineteenth most powerful person in the world by Forbes magazine in 2009.[80]

Propaganda on the Internet

Main article: Internet in China

Traditionally, the CCP propaganda apparatus had been based around suppressing news and information, but this often meant the Party found itself in a reactive posture, according to Chinese media expert David Bandurski.[81] In later years the Internet played a key role in the spread of propaganda to Chinese diaspora. PRC-based Internet sites remain a leading source of Chinese-language and China-related news for overseas Chinese. The Internet is an extremely effective tool for guiding and organizing overseas Chinese public opinion, according to Anne-Marie Brady.[82]

Brady cites an example of the role of the Internet in organizing popular protests by overseas Chinese, its usage by the state against a perceived bias of the Western media in its coverage of 2008 Tibetan unrest and, a month later, in organizing a series of worldwide demonstrations in support of China during the Olympic torch relay.[82]

Brady noted that these protests were genuine and popular, demonstrating the effectiveness of China's efforts to rebuild positive public opinion within the Chinese overseas diaspora, but the demonstrations nevertheless received official support both symbolically and in practice.[82] While there was no compulsion for overseas Chinese to attend the rallies, those who did were given free T-shirts, souvenirs, transport, and accommodation, donated by local embassy officials and China-based donors.[82]

On 29 April 2020, an animated video was posted on Twitter and YouTube, called Once Upon a Virus, used Lego figures to represent China through hospital workers and Lady Liberty representing America, was posted by Xinhua News Agency. The Lego Group, for their part, said they had nothing to do with the video in question. In the video, the hospital worker repeatedly warns the US about the outbreak, but they dismiss them, talking about lockdowns being a violation of human rights, or paywalls. By that point, Lady Liberty is hooked up to an IV and looks severely ill, and at the end, the US says "We are always correct, even when we contradict ourselves", and China responds with "That's what I love best about you Americans, your consistency". Like any piece of propaganda, it ignores the facts; the Chinese delaying warning the public about the outbreak, but doctors tried to warn people via social media. The Associated Press reports "China's rigid controls on information, bureaucratic hurdles and a reluctance to send bad news up the chain of command muffled early warnings".[83]

50 Cent Party

Main article: 50 Cent Party

See also: Internet Water Army

The Chinese government regularly uses fake social media accounts and posts to attempt to shape online dialogue and steer discussions away from sensitive topics.[84] This is done by specially trained internet users who comment on blogs, public forums, or wikis, to shift the debate in favor of the CCP and influence public opinion.[81] They are sometime called the "50-cent party" – named so because they are allegedly paid 50 Chinese cents for each comment supporting the CCP they make,[85] though some speculate that they are probably not paid anything for the posts, instead being required to do so as a part of their official Party duties.[84]

An internal government document released by the BBC outlines the requirements for those employed as online posters, which include having "relatively good political and professional qualities, and have a pioneering and enterprising spirit", being able to react quickly, etc.[85]

It is believed that such government-sponsored Internet commentators have now become widespread and their numbers could be in the tens of thousands;[85] Bandurski suggests the number may be up to 280,000[81] while The Guardian puts the estimate as 300,000.[86] According to The Guardian, the growth in popularity of such astroturfing owes to the ease with which web 2.0 technologies such as Twitter, Wikipedia and YouTube can be employed to sway public opinion. The BBC reports that special centres have been set up to train China's 'army of internet spin doctors'.[85] Data analysis of social media activity and leaked government emails by a team led by Gary King at Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Science showed that the Chinese government generates over 440 million posts every year through such accounts.[87][84]

Domestic propaganda

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Within the doctrine of China's peaceful rise resorting to Peace Journalism has been analyzed as a growing trend in China's strategy for domestic propaganda, in particular in covering news from Xinjiang.[88] After Zbigniew Brzezinski's having termed Central Asia the "Global Balkans"[89] Idriss Aberkane has argued the resorting to unilateral, state-endorsed Peace Journalism could be a way for China to "de-balkanize" Xinjiang. This he has called "coercive Peace Journalism".

Peace journalism does not sell well because it typically proscribes the coverage of a conflict by news eliciting strong emotional reactions. Man becomes easily addicted to strong emotions and this has played a central role in peace journalism's failure at being adopted by mainstream media. On the other hand, mainstream media badly need (and compete with each other) to provide the strongest emotional value to their audience and this has become a vital part of their business model. Yet in China the media industry is not driven by returns on financial investments but by returns on political interests. Thus paradoxically promoting Peace Journalism is much easier for the PRC than say for countries of the European Union as in promoting a political agenda the former can afford to broadcast news with low emotional weight, especially in a non-competitive environment for its media industry.[88]

The Chinese government has used its public evaluations of historical, public figures as a means of communicating to the Chinese public the traits and political goals that it considers desirable and undesirable. The Chinese government has historically tended towards evaluating public figures either as villains or heroes, leaving little room for interpretation and making it clear whether the traits and goals of individual figures should be emulated or despised. The public image of some figures, including Peng Dehuai, have undergone radical reverses throughout the history of the PRC, as required by CCP propagandists: Peng was portrayed as a subhuman villain during the Cultural Revolution; but, since 1978, has been evaluated as a nearly perfect Marxist, general, and public official.[90]

By examining the qualities associated with public figures whose images have been manipulated to make those figures either exaggeratedly positive or exaggeratedly negative symbols, scholars have developed a number of assumptions about the traits and political goals generally desired by various PRC governments. Figures whose images have been manipulated to make them positive symbols will be portrayed as: coming from proletarian or semi-proletarian backgrounds; being courageous, fair, straightforward, and honest in their treatment of subordinates and superiors; leading a simple and frugal life; demonstrating great concern for the "masses"; achieving outstanding professional success; and, being impeccably loyal to the CCP and to the communist cause. Figures whose images have been manipulated to make them negative symbols will be portrayed as: coming from backgrounds which have exposed them to "bourgeoise" thoughts and attitudes; adhering to all or most historical attempts to oppose political figures in the PRC who later became powerful, which are also vilified; being professionally inept, only succeeding temporarily or appearing to succeed through trickery or deception; participating in "conspiracies" against the correct leadership of the Party; cooperating with "foreign countries" (historically either the Soviet Union or the United States, depending on which is more threatening at the time); and, having numerous negative traits, such as opportunism or corruption. Usually, public figures will provide considerable examples of either positive or negative qualities, but will be made to fit either a positive or negative stereotype through exaggerating qualities which support the interpretation desired by the Party, and by omitting from the historical narrative qualities which contradict the Party's intended interpretation.[90]

Xinjiang

Further information: Uyghur genocide and Xinjiang internment camps

The Chinese government has engaged in a propaganda campaign to defend its actions in Xinjiang.[91][92][93][94] China initially denied the existence of the Xinjiang internment camps and attempted to cover-up their existence.[95] In 2018, after being forced to admit by widespread reporting that the Xinjiang internment camps exist, the Chinese government initiated a propaganda campaign to portray the camps as humane and to deny human rights abuses occur in Xinjiang.[96] In 2020 and 2021 they expanded the propaganda campaign due to international backlash against government policies in Xinjiang[97] and worries that the Chinese government no longer had control of the narrative.[95]

The Chinese government has used social media as a part of its extensive propaganda campaign.[92][98][99][100] Douyin, the mainland Chinese sister app to ByteDance-owned social media app TikTok, presents users with significant amounts of Chinese state propaganda pertaining to the human rights abuses in Xinjiang.[98][101][102]

Chinese government propaganda attacks have targeted international journalists covering human rights abuses in Xinjiang.[103][104][105] After providing coverage critical of Chinese government abuses in Xinjiang, BBC News reporter John Sudworth was subjected to a campaign of propaganda and harassment by Chinese state-affiliated and CCP-affiliated media.[103][106][107] The public attacks resulted in Sudworth and his wife Yvonne Murray, who reports for Raidió Teilifís Éireann, fleeing China for Taiwan for fear of their safety.[106][108]

In April 2021, the Chinese government released propaganda videos titled, "Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land", and produced a musical titled "The Wings of Songs" in order to portray Xinjiang as harmonious and peaceful.[91][109][93] The Wings of Songs portrays an idyllic rural landscape with a cohesive ethnic population notably devoid of repression, surveillance, and Islam.[110] It is near impossible to get accurate information about the situation in Xinjiang domestically in China,[111] concerns within the domestic audience are also downplayed because many aspects of the abuse such as forced labor are seen as commonplace by many Chinese citizens.[112]

Critics have said that government propaganda plays into existing colonial and racist tropes about the Uyghurs by depicting them as dangerous or backwards. Domestic propaganda has increased since the international community began considering designating the abuses against the Uyghurs as a genocide. Domestic pushback against the genocide label is also emotional and follows a similar pattern of denial to the genocide committed against the Native Americans.[112]

External propaganda

See also: Overseas censorship of Chinese issues

The Chinese state refers to all media work abroad as wai xuan, or "external propaganda."[16] Through its external propaganda operations, frequently directed by the CCP's United Front Work Department, China seeks to shape international perception of the Chinese government and its policies to "allay concerns about China's economic rise, military build-up and increasing political and diplomatic influence."[113] Specifically by:

  1. Reducing fears that China is a threat to neighboring countries. China seeks to change its image within the region from that of a growing threat and aggressor to that of a benefactor and potential partner.[114]: 5  Beijing is working to "diminish fears of China's future military power, or concerns that China's massive economic growth would divert trade and foreign investment from other nations."[114]: 40 
  2. Securing access to resources and energy. As China's economy continues to grow at a rapid pace, the need for resources and energy has become more pressing. To protect its access to these resources, China is working to gain the trust of foreign states that possess oil, gas, and other materials.[114]: 41 
  3. Building alliances and weaken Taiwan's relationship with the international community. In 1994, China announced that it would "use all economic and diplomatic resources to reward countries that are willing to isolate Taiwan."[115] Through propaganda as well as economic incentives, China seeks to convince any nation that still recognizes Taiwan to switch their loyalty to Beijing and formally declare that Taiwan is part of China.[116]
  4. Promoting a multipolar world and constrain U.S. global power.[117] China seeks to slowly diminish the United States' influence in Asia, and create its own sphere of influence in Southeast Asia.[118]

In a 2008 report, the U.S. State Department's International Security Advisory Board declared that China was in the midst of a "comprehensive strategic deception campaign," which was said to include "Psychological Warfare (propaganda, deception, and coercion), Media Warfare (manipulation of public opinion domestically and internationally), and Legal Warfare (use of 'legal regimes' to handicap the opponent in fields favorable to him)."[119] On its official Chinese Web site, CCTV describes itself as "the mouthpiece of the Party and the government," and lists its main operations under the heading "propaganda situation," referring to new foreign-language channels as "reaching a new stage in external propaganda."[16]

Common CCP propaganda themes

See also: Ideology of the Chinese Communist Party and Socialism with Chinese characteristics

Former CCP leader Deng Xiaoping advised Chinese leadership to "hide your capabilities, and bide your time."[120] Most modern Chinese foreign propaganda seeks to pursue China's strategic goals while adhering to this advice. The following were common themes found in China's foreign propaganda prior to Xi Jinping:

Instruments

The PRC uses many tactics and techniques to disseminate its propaganda themes abroad. China uses its news and media outlets, which are directly influenced by various state organizations (and ultimately the Central Propaganda Department of the CCP),[122] to relay news stories consistent with these themes to foreign audiences. In 2009, reports emerged that China intends to invest US$6.6 billion to expand its foreign language news service. This includes plans for a 24-hour English-language news network to discuss world affairs from Beijing's point of view.[123]

Several Chinese state-controlled news outlets include:

On 13 August 2020, the United States Department of State designated Confucius Institutes in the U.S. as a foreign mission of China, after previously doing the same for Xinhua, CRI, CGTN, and the companies responsible for distributing China Daily and the People's Daily.[124][125] On 21 October, the Department of State also designated six other China-based media, including Yicai Global, Jiefang Daily, Xinmin Evening News, Social Sciences in China Press, Beijing Review, and Economic Daily, as Chinese foreign missions, with spokesperson Morgan Ortagus stating that these six entities were effectively controlled by the government of China.[126]

Between July 2019 and early August 2019, the CCP-owned tabloid Global Times paid Twitter to promote tweets that deny that the Chinese government is committing human rights abuses in Xinjiang; Twitter later banned advertising from state-controlled media outlets on 19 August after removing large numbers of pro-Beijing bots from the social network.[127][128]

China has spent heavily to purchase Facebook advertisements in order to spread propaganda designed to incite doubt on the existence and scope of human rights violations occurring within Xinjiang.[92][100][129]

Soft power initiative

Further information: Soft power of China

Since 2005, CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao has promoted a "soft power initiative"[130] aimed at increasing China's influence overseas through cultural and language programs. These trends have been identified by the American Council of Foreign Relations, which describes that "Beijing is trying to convince the world of its peaceful intentions, secure the resources it needs to continue its soaring economic growth, and isolate Taiwan."[130] The article points out that adverse effects of soft power, that "China has the potential to become the 600-pound gorilla in the room," and that "Chinese influence may begin to breed resentment."[130]

The CCP Politburo Standing Committee members Li Changchun and Liu Yunshan have repeatedly stressed that Chinese propaganda should be equally spread both domestically and internationally, and Li Changchun stated that the Confucius Institutes are "an important channel to glorify Chinese culture, to help Chinese culture spread to the world", which is "part of China's foreign propaganda strategy".[131]

The Economist noted that Confucius Institutes are used to project China's soft power and win the support of an external audience, and Confucius was specifically chosen to cast an image of peace and harmony. Such centers are partially sponsored by the Chinese government, with a hands-off approach to management, its directors being directly appointed by their attached universities.[132]

In 2009, Chinese state media launched the English-language version of the Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid under the auspices of the People's Daily. It was described as a part of a larger push by the Chinese government to have a greater say in international media, as well as supplanting what it considers to be biased Western media sources.[133]

In 2009, Chinese Communist Party general secretary Hu Jintao initiated the "Grand External Propaganda Strategy", (宏大的對外宣傳格局, short: 大外宣 Dà Wàixuān), a government propaganda project budgeted at RMB 45 billion Yuan. The aim of the project is to "Seize the initiative, gain the right to speak, maintain an active role, and grasp the power to raise the appeal of our positions in public opinion and in international broadcasting."[134]

In early 2011, the Chinese government launched a million dollar advertising campaign, which was aimed to improve the "incomplete understandings" the American public has about China. A 60-second ad was shown at New York's Times Square, which featured Chinese personalities such as scientist Sun Jiadong, singer Liu Huan and news anchor Jing Yidan, ending with the message of "Chinese Friendship". Newsweek noted the ad's great production values, but criticized it as confusing and explaining little about the featured Chinese identities.[135]

Propaganda in the arts

An old propaganda painting in Guangzhou promoting family planning
An old propaganda painting in Guangzhou promoting family planning

As in the Soviet Union, the CCP under Mao Zedong took socialist realism as its basis for art, making clear its goal was the 'education' of the people in communist ideology. This included, as during the Cultural Revolution, transforming literature and art to serve these ends. Pre-revolutionary songs[136] and operas[137] were banned as a poisonous legacy of the past. Middle and high schools were targeted by one campaign because the students circulated romance and love stories among themselves.[138]

Maoist propaganda art has been remade and modernized for almost two decades, and old Cultural Revolution era propaganda productions have appeared in new formats such as DVDs and karaoke versions. They appear in rock and pop versions of revolutionary songs in praise of Mao, as well as T-shirts, watches, porcelain, and other memorabilia.[13] The works of propaganda from the Cultural Revolution have been selling extremely well in recent years, largely for nostalgia, social, patriotic or entertainment purposes.[13][14]

Propaganda songs and music, such as guoyue and revolutionary opera, have a long and storied history in the PRC, featuring prominently in the popular culture of the 1950s to the 1970s. Many of these songs were collected and performed as modern rock adaptations for several albums that were released during the 1990s, including Red Rock and Red Sun: Mao Zedong Praise Songs New Revolutionary Medley. The latter sold 6–10 million copies in China.[139] Most of the older songs praise Mao, the CCP, the 1949 revolution, the Chinese Red Army and the People's Liberation Army, the unity of the ethnic groups of China, and the various ethnic groups' devotion to Mao and the CCP.

In recent times, films and documentaries such as Silent Contest, Amazing China, The Founding of a Party, Republic and Army has become the new staple of Chinese propaganda.[140]

Famous propaganda works

Novel

Red Crag, a famous 1961 Chinese novel featuring underground CCP agents fighting an espionage battle against the Kuomintang.

Sculpture

Rent Collection Courtyard, a 1965 sculpture depicting former landlord Liu Wencai as an evil landlord collecting rent from poor, although this depiction has been disputed by modern accounts.

Films and plays

The Red Detachment of Women

Songs

Main page: Category:Chinese patriotic songs

The titles of some of the more well-known propaganda songs are as follows:[citation needed]

Most of the songs listed above are no longer used as propaganda by the CCP, but are exhibited in China as a means of reviving popular nostalgia for the "old times".[citation needed]

Influence operations in the United States

Main article: China Lobby

Through a combination of overt and covert activities, China has sought to gain strategic political influence within the American government in order to affect policies and the political process. In the U.S., China employs efforts to "influence U.S. academics, journalists, think tank personnel and other shapers of public opinion..."[142] China also aims to influence businessmen and politicians.

Agents of influence

Further information: Chinese espionage in the United States and Cox Report

Using a variety of methods, the PRC has recruited American agents of influence to advocate for Chinese interests in the United States. While many of these agents of influence serve China unwittingly, they can be very effective. A 1999 Congressional report found that "the Chinese Government continues to seek influence in Congress through various means, including inviting Congressional members to visit the PRC, lobbying ethnic Chinese voters and prominent U.S. citizens, and engaging U.S. business interests to weigh in on issues of mutual concern."[143] Junkets were also effectively used by the Soviet Union as part of active measures to co-opt Western politicians, journalists, and academics.

China also uses its vast market as leverage in order to persuade American companies to lobby for Chinese interests. This is especially true of companies that deal in high technology or dual-use technology, as there are significant export controls placed on such technology. According to the 1999 Cox Report, "Executives wishing to do business in the PRC share a mutual commercial interest with the PRC in minimizing export controls on dual-use and military-related technologies. The PRC has displayed a willingness to exploit this mutuality of interest in several notoriously public cases by inducing VIPs from large U.S. companies to lobby on behalf of initiatives, such as export liberalization, on which they are aligned with the PRC."[144]

U.S. elections

See also: 1996 United States campaign finance controversy

Through its agents in America, the PRC has financed a number of political candidates. Katrina Leung, a Chinese spy, contributed $10,000 to the campaign of Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles. When he lost his primary to Bill Simon Jr., Leung contributed $4,200 to Simon's campaign. At the direction of her Chinese handlers, Leung also contributed to the 1992 campaign of George H. W. Bush. It is estimated that Leung donated around $27,000 to politicians in the 1990s on behalf of the PRC.[145]

A 2012 report by the Government Accountability Institute[146] cites other examples: It was discovered that officers from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. "sought to direct contributions from foreign sources to the Democratic National Committee before the 1996 presidential campaign."[147] While these allegations have been denied by the PRC, "Secret communications between Beijing and the Chinese Embassy in Washington establish that the influence-buying plan was 'government sanctioned...'"[148]

In 1996, People's Liberation Army intelligence officer Gen. Ji Shengde provided Johnny Chung, a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, with $300,000 to donate towards President Bill Clinton's reelection. Chung visited the White House over fifty times during the 1996 presidential campaign, and was responsible for over $400,000 of contributions to the DNC.[149] This money was returned after the election.

China Media Group

According to a report published by Bloomberg News in early 2018, the Chinese government approved the creation of a new broadcasting holding called China Media Group, also known as the "Voice of China", mirroring the Voice of America operated by the US.[150] China Central Television (including China Global Television Network), China Radio International and China National Radio were poised to fold into one operation, with the objective to improve and project China's image abroad.[150]

See also

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