The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) likes to project an aura of superiority and invincibility, along with trumpeting the historic inevitability of China’s — read the party’s — rise as a major international force.
However, its paranoia and insecurities continue to overshadow, if not undermine, its propaganda efforts, both at home and abroad.
Censorship has always gone fist in glove with the party’s rule, but would a confident and secure government feel the need to ban television programs that are “too entertaining” two months ahead of its national day?
The Chinese State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television on Thursday issued a list of 86 patriotic programs that TV channels should broadcast, as they show the “great struggle of the Chinese nation as its people have stood up and become richer and stronger.”
It specifically banned “entertainment-driven” historical dramas or celebrity-focused shows.
Guess the CCP never got the memo that the whole raison d’etre for television’s popularity over the decades since it was invented — and became widely affordable — was for entertainment, just like movies.
Of course, one of Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) tenets was that culture should serve the polity, something that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has made a keystone of his censorship policy.
The ban harkens back to edicts of the Cultural Revolution days, when basically the only Chinese operas, movies and ballets allowed were the yangbanxi (樣板戲), or eight model operas favored by Mao’s wife Jiang Qing (江青), such as The White Haired Girl (白毛女), that centered around brave peasants working together to defeat evil landlords, the Japanese or other enemies.
International wire agency reports have noted that the TV ban comes in a sensitive year for the CCP in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1.
Some have said that this year is extra sensitive due to the protests in Hong Kong, or the international criticism of Beijing’s concentration camps in Xinjiang and the backlash to its expansionist policies in the South China Sea.
Yet is there ever a time that is not sensitive for the CCP?
The Chinese government clamps down annually ahead of the National People’s Congress session in Beijing, and ever since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, it clamps down ahead of June 4. Then there is Oct. 1, with more repression needed.
This brings to mind the international media’s concern about Beijing’s nerves in their coverage of Taiwan, be it Taiwanese elections, the nation’s relations with the US, Japan or other countries, or visits by the president to diplomatic allies: No matter what the event, wire stories inevitably contain the phrase “it is sure to anger Beijing.”
Given all this concern, the CCP comes off not as a strong, confident authority, but more like a delicate maiden prone to the vapors and swooning who needs to be cosseted and protected, with smelling salts always close at hand.
Just like the Beijing Daily’s criticism in January of five popular historical television dramas centering on imperial palace intrigues — that they were having a “negative effect” on society — the question is whether that negative impact is that too many people might see the scheming by the characters as too much like what goes on in present-day Chinese politics.
The CCP and China can cast big shadows, but the reality is that the actual figures are much smaller — and not as all-powerful — than they want others to believe.
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