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.
Thus far, four films, dubbed “The Glory and the Dream — Our Chinese Dream,” began airing before all movies on July 1st. These propaganda films, dubbed “PSAs” by authorities “are aimed at helping the public better understand and accept the policies and visions of the Party,” explains the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, which championed the new project.
The titles of these first four short films are the “Chinese Dream,” the “Core Values of Socialism,” the “Four Comprehensives,” and the “Five-in-one Overall Arrangement.”
“Beijing seems determined to exercise ever greater control, injecting itself even into entertainment,” said Kevin Carrico, a lecturer of Chinese studies in Macquarie University. “This grows out of the very simplistic and antiquarian nature of Beijing’s propaganda [and] media system in contrast to the complexity of contemporary Chinese society.”
A number of Chinese celebrities are signed on to create these films, all at no charge, though the most prominent name in the group may be familiar to some of SOFREP’s subscribers, Jackie Chan.
“Only when the country and the nation fare well, will everybody fare well,” a smiling Chan says to the camera in front of a grey backdrop. “Only when everyone fights for a beautiful dream, can they come together with the tremendous power to realize the Chinese dream,” he continues.
Of course, whether or not such an overt attempt at shaping opinion can be successful in the modern world of media saturation is far from certain. This form of propaganda had its hey-day in World War II, but the media climate and average viewer’s manipulation literacy is far different today.
“There is some degree of sophistication to this latest propaganda salvo,” says Willy Lam, a longtime China observer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The fact that the Chinese dream-related slogans are spoken by well-known movie and cultural personalities might attract the attention of a part of the audience.”
However, Lam remains unconvinced that this project will work out for China the way they hope.
“Most Chinese, especially young people, are very fed up with in-your-face state propaganda. It’s doubtful whether cinema-goers will actually pay any attention to the slogans.”
You can see one of these short videos (in Chinese) below:
Image courtesy of YouTube