Tag Archives: propaganda

Chinese press stays on message in Yunnan quake coverage

Line 21 Project coordinator, Nicholas Dynon, recently provided insights to Agence France-Presse (AFP) on the Chinese media’s coverage of the devastating earthquake that shook Yunnan province earlier this month.

The example set by the People’s Daily, commented Dynon, shows us that Chinese media coverage of the quake has followed a thematic pattern we would expect of disaster reportage out of China.

“The state-sponsored press has adhered largely to officially sanctioned themes, including the responsiveness of the central government and military, swiftness and professionalism of rescue and recovery efforts, accounts of death and destruction, stories of survival, and solidarity in grief”, he stated. “These themes reinforce the key messages that authorities have reacted appropriately and that the nation is united in its support.”

The report, carried by Yahoo!7, can be read here


Civilisation-State: Modernising the Past to Civilise the Future in Jiang Zemin’s China

This research article by Nicholas Dynon in this April’s issue of the peer-reviewed China: an International Journal analyses the largely overlooked role of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in the promotion of “socialist spiritual civilisation” in contemporising the exemplary role of the Chinese state and in informing the state’s efforts to rehabilitate China’s cultural traditions.

Drawing material from handbooks, newspaper articles and posters published between 1996 and 2002, it may be argued that the ability of the Party to reclaim the achievement of “civilisation” as an ultimate goal in Chinese history has a direct impact on its continuing pursuit to underwrite its long-term legitimacy. The article departs from the existing scholarship to locate the CPC’s civilising discourses within an historical context that predates the apotheosis of the CPC itself and links them to the sacred mission of maintaining the Chinese civilisation-state.

Available here at Project Muse


[Creating a civilised community – propaganda poster in a residential compound in Shawo, Beijing]

Shanghai 2010 World Expo at Street Level: The Local Dimensions of a Public Diplomacy Spectacle

Internationally, the 2010 Shanghai World Expo was a major tourism and branding draw card for its host city. Domestically, the Expo constituted a major source of national pride and a key vehicle for the promotion of official messages reinforcing traditional state propaganda themes. Like the Beijing Olympics two years prior, the Shanghai World Expo was an opportunity for the state to cross-brand its messages with the fervor and prestige surrounding a world-class event.

This essay’s seven photographs explore the domestic cross-branding of the World Expo with traditional propaganda messaging as it appeared in advertising posters/billboards throughout downtown Shanghai during the Expo. Although not all constitute direct political advertising, they all nevertheless perform a definite ideological role in reinforcing key propaganda themes.

The public relations machinery of the Chinese state has emerged as a formidable force in the production of messages in what some have referred to as a post-communist era. As these photographs suggest, this is due largely to an adaptation of Chinese Communist Party signs and symbols to the new advertising industry and media of the reform era and, importantly, to their increasingly decentralized and commercialized production. Read more at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy blog


[Go Shanghai! – street-side poster propaganda in downtown Shanghai during the 2010 World Expo]


Season’s Greetings from the Line 21 Project


Thank you to our supporters for a great 2013. Wishing everyone a safe and prosperous 2014!

Chinese Public Diplomacy: Winning hearts and minds abroad or at home?

Nicholas Dynon’s first post for the USC Center for Public Diplomacy CPD blog asks whether Beijing’s public diplomacy efforts are actually targeted at a domestic rather than foreign audience… Read it and contribute to the discussion


[Shanghai 2010 World Expo poster from the Line 21 Project collection.]

Xi Jinping’s recurring Chinese dream

According to a recent Qiushi opinion piece, “The Chinese dream has been nurtured and has grown from the sediments in the collective memory and history of our entire nation, humiliation and suffering are its soil, and that is why it is so profound, why it moves the people’s hearts so, and shakes people’s minds so.”

Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese Dream’ reprises a particularly Chinese nationalist rhetoric of rejuvenation, renaissance and historical redemption. It was the dream of reformers of the new Chinese republic a century ago; it was the dream of revolutionary communists a half century hence. It is the recurring dream that just maybe a new galvanizing ideology and enlightened leadership can steer China out of a largely humiliating modern history towards reclaiming its place as a great world power.

Living in the Past

It is widely held that the traditional Chinese view of history is a cyclical one, of timelessness and proximity to the past.

In dynastic China system of dating which was based on the year of an Emperor’s reign, for example, reinforced an historical consciousness devoid of a sense of change over the longue duree. In the popular and “high” cultures of pre-twentieth century China, writes William Jenner, “there is little sense of secular development or change, unless as a decline from imagined golden and silver ages of remote, pre-dynastic antiquity”.[1]

If the Chinese were to put their faith in any historical locality, it was the past, not the future, that was idealized. “In traditional China”, claims Vera Schwarcz, “history took the place of religion”.[2]  A strong attachment to the past, she claims, was a “sacred commitment”, and references to the past became a major source of moral value. The past was regarded as a repository of everything good, an exemplification of virtue.

Throughout Chinese history, the past was held aloft as a normative symbol, a goal of history, an example of the way things ought to be. Even the great iconoclast, Mao Zedong, was a man embedded within an intense interest of and deference to the past. Crucially, Jiang Zemin’s leadership saw cultural nationalism take a prominent place within Chinese socialist ideology.

The ability to draw lineage from the established moral tradition and cosmological order, and to equate its ambitions with deep historical imperatives, has formed the bedrock of the Chinese Communist Party’s political legitimacy – despite its various attacks on tradition.

Living for the future

Flanked by charisma and a glamorous wife, Xi Jinping has been viewed outside of China as something of a redux himself, evoking comparisons with JFK.

According to the Financial Times, Mr Xi’s Chinese dream evokes the saccharine sentimentality and social mobility of the Kennedy era. “The American dream may have had a bad 50 years since JFK’s untimely demise but Mr Xi seems to think it is ripe for reinvention now, halfway across the world in China.”

Notwithstanding such comparisons, the Chinese dream is a message of hope that captures and harnesses the domestic optimism welcoming new leadership. In this way, perhaps a more apt and recent American comparison might be found in the messaging of hope that had framed President Obama during – and for a time following – his initial race to the White House. Ultimately, however, for Obama and for any object of great expectations, hope fades.


[Caption: public service advertising posters surrounding a construction site at a busy Beijing street corner promotes an ideal future. Photographed by author.]

The obvious challenge for a fledgling leadership is to start turning the rhetoric of hope into action… for Xi Jinping to turn his Chinese dreams into reality. The state of international affairs suggests, however, that China’s new president is playing on a pitch more favorable to that faced by his modern predecessors. China, it appears, is now steaming inevitably towards a future in which its national power will eclipse even that of the US. The country’s already well-documented rapid rise may well prove Mr Xi’s dream rhetoric to be something more of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Banking on historical redemption makes sure-fire sense when history is on your side. The rhetorical device of the Chinese dream is one that resonates with the collective Chinese memory, and its narrative of redemption resonates with what will be China’s likely future. In this sense, as a byline of the fledgling Xi Jinping administration, the Chinese dream makes for an effective weapon in the arsenal of what is being increasingly referred to in Chinese bureaucratic speak as ‘internal soft power’.

[1] W J F Jenner, The Tyranny of History [1992] London, Penguin, 1994. p.8.

[2] Vera Schwarcz, No Solace from Lethe: History, Memory and Cultural Identity in Twentieth Century China, in Tu Wei-ming (ed) The Living Tree: The Changing Meaning of Being Chinese Today Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1991. pp.76-77.