China’s military is amidst a period of expansion and reorganization, which has drawn quite a bit of attention in areas like the South China Sea, but less focus has been placed on China’s growing propaganda efforts, particularly in the realm of cinema.

China has rapidly become the second, or arguably even the first, most important market for movie executives clamoring to launch the next multi-billion-dollar franchise.  The Chinese market can account for hundreds of millions of dollars per movie, even saving films that would have once been considered bombs for failing to court a substantial U.S. box office gross.  Movies like Michael Bay’s “Transformers” series have the Asian market to thank for their large returns, and Blizzard’s “Warcraft” was not only saved by a big Chinese opening, it prompted Jackie Chan to predict the end of America’s grip on the blockbuster market.

However, unlike in the United States, China’s government exerts a great deal of control over the media it permits in its theaters.  This influence has resulted in dramatic changes to movies produced here in the United States.  The 2012 remake of “Red Dawn” depicted the Chinese as America’s invaders, but they were forced to go back and change all of the flags to North Korean ones in post-production when China declared they wouldn’t allow its release.  Adam Sandler’s disappointment “Pixels” was also forced to remove a scene that showed the destruction of the Great Wall of China, and Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” had to change the nationality of “the ancient one” to avoid making any mention of Tibet, again, in order to secure China’s approval.

This propaganda effort seeks returns from two distinct markets: China hopes to manage perceptions of itself in foreign markets, while also shifting beliefs within their own borders.  Movies like last year’s “Kung Fu Yoga” have been accused of overtly inserting propaganda aimed at Indian audiences regarding China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) connectivity project, but even simply exerting control and influence over the content depicted in films seems to fall short of accomplishing China’s larger propaganda goals, so now, all movies shown in China will be accompanied by brief films of their favorite actors and actresses singing the praises of China’s government.