China’s Formidable Propaganda System

Photo by Alejandra Luengo
Written by Ranbir Negi

Propaganda has been extensively used in contemporary times—both to manipulate and reinforce consensus within a country. Today propaganda is widely used by several nations to guide public opinion and to support their positions in the international arena. While propaganda is rampant in several of the world’s largest nations, one place where it is prolific is in China.

Propaganda has always been a strength of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which is a sprawling bureaucratic establishment, extending into virtually every medium which transmits and conveys information. Newspapers, magazines, film and television programs, beauty pageants, textbooks, amusement parks, schools, universities, libraries, and museums are all subject to its scrutiny.

As Anne-Marie Brady elaborates in Guiding Hand: The Role of the CCP Central Propaganda Department in the Current Era, China’s propaganda work has been historically divided into two categories: internal, directed towards the Chinese people, and external, directed towards the outside world and foreigners. The CCP also establishes four pillars of propaganda: political, economic, cultural, and social.

The role of propaganda has seen a decline since the Maoist era, although it continues to remain an imperative part of Chinese culture and politics. Several scholars have also argued that either technology or commercialization would overcome the Chinese propaganda system, however, it has not seen a decline but rather a rebirth. Through its numerous implementations of outmoded and modern techniques, China paves its way towards the global arena to crystalize its propaganda system.


The Building and Internal Propaganda

The internal division responsible for the ideology-related work, as well as information dissemination, is overseen by the CCP Propaganda Department (hereafter CCPPD). The CCPPD offices are spread out throughout the nation. Although what is intriguing is the headquarter building in the capital city. Evan Osnos in his book titled Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China provides a vivid and perplexing description of the CCPPD headquarter:

Facing the Avenue of Eternal Peace, next door to China’s equivalent of the White House, was a modern, three-story green office block with a pagoda roof that perched on top like a toupee. What impressed me was that the building did not, on paper at least, exist. It had no address, no sign, and it appeared on no public charts of the Party-structure. The first time I asked what it was, the guard said, “I can’t tell you that. It’s a government organ.”

After scouring the internet on various image platforms, inputting the address and coordinates on Google Earth, going on a virtual journey through Street View, there was not a single image available on the internet as described by Osnos. This anonymity and strict confidentially reiterates the CCPPD’s more vital and assertive role: thriving to infuse its propaganda system into Chinese society in the modern era.

On the streets of China, one of the simplest strategies implemented by the Party is through putting up massive vibrant posters in the cities featuring none other than President Xi Jinping. These posters illuminate the core values like patriotism, prosperity, dedication, integrity, friendship, and most importantly the encapsulation of the ambiguous “Chinese Dream.”

China’s population, consisting of the largest number of internet users, viewed the internet as a vibrant political space, a safe place to voice their opinions. However, Mr. Xi sought to counter this by engendering a sophisticated online censorship, outputting an internet world of its own. Internet censorship in China is infamous for censoring several words whenever it sees fit, and also known for its so-called “Great Firewall.” The Communist Party carefully monitors and manages the internet, devoting more resources to controlling content online. Furthermore, the Party strives to impose the same political values, ideals, and standards—both in the virtual and real world.

The Party has also made a massive push by investing in the development of a smartphone application. Xuexi Qiangguo, which translates to “Study Powerful Country,” is the most downloaded item in China’s Apple App Store. This app is a slick technique for teaching “Xi Jinping Thought” as the Party’s new campaign calls on its cadres to immerse in political doctrines. Released by the CCPPD in January, 2019, Xuexi Quangguo acts as an aggregation platform for news, articles, video clips, documentaries, etc., all pertaining to the Xi’s political philosophy.

Apart from implementing techniques that predominantly target the urban tech-savvy population, China fixates on the rural population as well. The Party has revived the loudspeakers which were initially installed and operated during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The loudspeakers, usually present in the rural population in northern China’s Hubei province, broadcast Communist propaganda to farmers. Radio programs under the ‘New Village Loudspeaker Project’ has covered 3,760 villages so far. The loudspeakers blast announcements three times a day at 7 am, 12 pm and 6 pm sharp daily for 20-minutes relating to propaganda, news, music, and updates on government policies.


External Propaganda

The external division responsible for propaganda is the Office of Foreign Propaganda. This division and the CCPPD work together and are closely linked and coordinated.

China faces several hurdles with its image internationally. Their plans like the “Chinese Dream” or “Study Powerful Country” do not sell abroad, at least in the developed nations. Henceforth, the CCP incorporates significant efforts into improving its image internationally, and this is where state run media plays a vital part.

In March 2018, China announced its plan of the creation of the “Voice of China,” which is a merger of China Central Television (CCTV), China National Radio and China Radio International, all under a single network. This platform aims to “publicize the Party’s theory and line policies . . . guide social hot spots, strengthen and improve public opinion supervision, promote the development of multimedia integration, and strengthen international building communication capacity and telling Chinese stories” according to Xinhua, the state news agency.

Another compelling aspect that parallels the Party’s external propaganda is its so called “partnerships” with international news companies. In December 2018, Xinhua announced its partnership with the U.S-based news organization Associated Press (AP). This partnership drew congressional concern and information was sought. While it has been stated earlier how Xinhua is a state-run news agency, what is even more important to note is that Xinhua is directly guided by the CCPPD to promote its agenda. What makes Congress more worried is the possibility of this partnership having insidious effects and becoming a tool for Chinese propaganda. Chris Walker, senior vice president at the National Endowment of Democracy stresses the fact that “Such partnerships can invite critical risks to the integrity of independent media institutions, which may not fully appreciate their own vulnerabilities. As media outlets in Australia and elsewhere have found, engagement with Chinese state media can induce self-censorship on certain issues or the unwitting carrying of CCP propaganda lines.” Along with this partnership, an article by The Guardian also elaborates on how the CCP supplements its propaganda by expending to make it appear in several respected international publications like The Washington Post.

In the past several years, China has taken audacious steps to push its propaganda in the modern era, both internally and beyond its borders. The CCP has revitalized its propaganda apparatus and remains fully capable of controlling the content of information that reaches the public. It is difficult to comprehend the increasingly suppressive and omnipresent propaganda that features in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people, with the aftermath giving rise to a formidable essence to China.

About the author

Ranbir Negi

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