Wed, Aug 01, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Digital propaganda

The Chinese Communist Party has turned to social media and video games to boost its ideological message. But are China’s tech-savvy microbloggers and gamers interested?

Bloomberg, Beijing

Comrade Lei

Other efforts rely on another staple of Chinese propaganda: Lei Feng (雷鋒), a soldier who died at age 21 in 1962 and is brandished by older generations as a symbol of selflessness.

In November 2011, the Youth League Central Committee released a 26-episode cartoon series dubbed The Bugle featuring party history, including well-known Chinese slogans such as “A spark can kindle a great fire” and “Learn From Comrade Lei Feng.”

Even as government censors block Facebook, Twitter and other Internet content, party officials have also taken to blogging. It’s fertile ground: Of China’s 538 million Internet users at the end of June, 57 percent — about the population of the entire US — were under 30 years old.

“They’re trying to do more and going on the offensive and not let young people sit there passively to receive information only from the West,” said Wang Feng (王豐), director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy in Beijing. “Both the current outgoing leadership and incoming leadership are keenly aware of the need to establish political legitimacy.”

Populist Appeal

The second most popular government official on Sina Corp’s Weibo microblog service is Wu Hao, a former Xinhua News Agency journalist who is now a propaganda official in Yunnan Province and has more than 1.8 million Weibo followers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Wu has posted about 12,000 times since Dec. 1, 2009, boasting about his frugality and preference for 10-yuan ($1.57) cigarettes, a contrast to other party members spied wearing designer clothes at the National People’s Congress in March.

“I never wear big brands, I eat very simple foods, I stay at home after work and smoke cheap cigarettes,” he wrote. “I think that’s a normal life.”

Guangdong Province Communist Party Secretary Wang Yang said in an online chat — itself a sign of change — that he surfs Weibo “every day, and I usually see people criticizing me.”

Out of Touch

Employing new methods of publicizing the party’s old messages may not go far enough to buttress public legitimacy in a country lacking elections for national office.

“The modernization effort has very limited impacts — the games for iPhone and iPad can only lure simple-minded middle school and college students,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “It’s very easy to see that the government is using a new package to get on with its old propaganda program. It won’t have any effect on anyone who is capable of independent thinking.”

The state-run People’s Daily hinted last year that some leaders may be getting the message.

“An important project lies in front of the party 90 years after its founding,” the newspaper said at the time. “That is, how to make the new generation who grew up in the Internet era with pop music and Hollywood movies to be happy to accept and learn ‘red history?’ Obviously, the traditional rigid propaganda preaching gets nowhere.”

Public Disconnect

The new-media outreach coincides with signs of public discontent with the outsized wealth and influence of some party members, exemplified by ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai (薄熙來), whose wife has been accused of involvement in the murder of a UK citizen with whom she had business ties.

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