Chinese propaganda faces stiff competition from celebrities

Chinese women walk past advertisement featuring teen idol Lu Han, also known as China’s Justin Bieber in Beijing, China. (AP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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Chinese propaganda faces stiff competition from celebrities

HONG KONG: When the propaganda film, “The Founding of an Army,” hit theaters in China recently, the reaction was not quite what the ruling Communist Party might have hoped for.
Instead of inspiring an outpouring of nationalism and self-sacrifice for the state, it was roundly mocked for trying to lure a younger audience by casting teen idols as revolutionary party leaders.
Viewers more used to seeing the idols play love interests in light-hearted soap operas responded to the film by projecting “modern-day romantic narratives on the founding fathers of the nation,” said Hung Huang, a well-known social commentator based in Beijing. “It was hilarious.”
While China’s resurgent Communist Party once pushed its policies on an unquestioning public, it now struggles to compete for attention with the country’s booming entertainment industry and the celebrity culture it has spawned.
“Chinese people are increasingly ignoring party propaganda and are much more interested in movie stars, who represent a new lifestyle and more exciting aspirations,” said Willy Lam, an expert on Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
President Xi Jinping, who will cement his authority with his expected endorsement to a second five-year term at this week’s national party congress, has placed a priority on stamping out too much Western influence in Chinese society in part so the party can dictate the values the youth should embrace.
Authorities have responded by taking aim at everything from gossip websites to soap opera story lines to celebrity salaries. Instead of selfish, rich stars, the state is promoting performers who are all about patriotism, purity and other values that support the party’s legitimacy.
The results have at best been mixed and at worst ham-fisted and out of touch.
One problem is that the party’s values often clash with what young Chinese want to watch, according to Hung. Among the more popular shows watched by Chinese youth are those that center on palace intrigue, martial arts fantasies, high school romances or single, independent women.
“While the government could once dictate to young people what they should value and how they should lead their lives, they find themselves completely without the tools to do that now,” she said.
In the 1970s, the state was able to promote people seen as paragons of youthful devotion and selflessness, but Hung said that no longer works because young Chinese — like their counterparts in the West — now prefer to follow celebrity gossip and have the tools with which to do so.


Europe, Japan send spacecraft on 7-year journey to Mercury

Updated 20 October 2018
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Europe, Japan send spacecraft on 7-year journey to Mercury

  • Once the spacecraft arrives in late 2025, it will release two probes that will independently investigate the planet

TOKYO: European and Japanese space agencies say an Ariane 5 rocket has successfully lifted a spacecraft into orbit for a joint mission to Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.
The European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency say the BepiColombo spacecraft successfully separated and was sent into orbit from French Guiana early Saturday to begin a seven-year journey to Mercury.
The mission is complicated by the intense gravity pull of the sun, forcing the spacecraft to take an elliptical path that involves two fly-bys of Venus and six of Mercury itself.
Once the spacecraft arrives in late 2025, it will release two probes that will independently investigate the surface and magnetic field of Mercury.