by intern of China Post
Just a short while ago, May 5th 2018 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx. It was celebrated across the world in many different ways – speeches regaling the impact he had on political and intellectual history, unveiling a statue in his hometown, and a TV show shot in his name to make socialist ideals relatable to Chinese youth.
“Marx Got It Right” (馬克思是對的) is a new feature show that aired last month on China’s state-sponsored China Central Television channel. It’s portrayed as an informative talk show, but also doubles as an indoctrination tool, bringing core Communist ideals such as those introduced by Marx back into the attention of China’s youth. The first episode is opened by a very enthusiastic host stating that, “For some, Marx is just an image of someone who always has a big beard, and Marxism is just a bunch of concepts or a few exam questions.” They then continue in the next episodes, 5 in total, to thoroughly acquaint the audience with Karl Marx and his ideologies, all while trying to maintain the light atmosphere of a TV studio. This television feature was indeed “produced with help from propaganda officials” and means much more than just praising Marx.
This is an intentional effort by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials, aimed towards the “millennial” generation in China. It seems the higher-ups of the CCP are worried about the communist indoctrination of its youth, this generation having received less of an intense education of party ideals than those of the past – there’s no comparable Little Red Book carried around today.
Another multi-part television program similar to Marx Got It Right is called “Socialism is a Bit Hip” (社會主義有點潮). The name exactly encompasses what the program is aiming to do: make abstract ideas such as socialism cool and relatable again, in keeping with the party stance. This word “潮” (chao2) colloquially means “cool,” “swag,” or “dope.” Yet the use of this young, modern word paired with the much more serious, academic “socialism” sounds rather awkward, a little forced. But this use is intentional – it seems the goal is to make these words sound not ill-suited when used with each other, spreading the message that liking and understanding socialism is a “cool” or “dope” thing to do.
This theme is also prevalent in recent state-sponsored pop music groups writing and performing patriotic songs. Some bands such as TianFu ShiBian and TFBOYS have explicit ties with CCP propaganda officials, collaborating to create the correct message to then be transmitted to and absorbed by these musicians’ extensive youth fan bases. They use popular slang and sometimes expletives to get their point across, singing about potent political topics such as Taiwan’s resistance or international presence in the China-claimed South China Sea.
Electronic and social media are not the only avenues the Chinese government is exploring with these goals in mind. Allowing Chinese tourists to go abroad can present a threat to the party ideology the current class of CCP officials is trying so hard to enforce. Take travel to Taiwan for example – the number of mainland visitors is restricted largely because of the difference in belief and value systems between the two governments, particularly after the election of the current president, Tsai Ing-Wen.
In order to diminish the amount of mental and ideological straying of its citizens, there is an alternative vacation opportunity presented to citizens in China: “Red Tourism” (紅色旅遊). Red Tourism promotes travel to places of communist historical significance, in order to “rekindle their long-lost sense of class struggle and proletarian principles.” Popular sites include Yan’An, a city in Shaanxi province that was the original Red Army stronghold for Mao Zedong and his early comrades. Though these tourist hotspots are advertised as historical landmarks, they are devoid of many objective historical facts: only Mao’s successes and positive relationships are listed, with his failures or victims of his purges absent from view.
In fact, Marx’s hometown of Trier where the new (Chinese-sponsored) statue was revealed on his birthday anniversary was actually featured as a highlight of these red tour groups.
The immediate outcome of these trips and media stunts is to keep these communist ideals and accomplishments fresh in citizens’ minds. But the end goal is, as always, to keep the Chinese Communist Party in power. The CCP knows it needs to be adaptable to stay relevant and in control; perhaps these examples are just the beginning of its modern evolution.