Rising resentment at the mass campaign to spread red songs
One can never underestimate the ability of mainland propaganda officials to amuse.
Some of their old tricks, unused for more than three decades, are being recycled amid an ongoing mass campaign to encourage the singing of red (revolutionary) songs.
The red-song campaign originated in Chongqing , led by the city's Communist Party boss, Bo Xilai .
But as it spread, bizarre reports began to circulate. Red songs were sung for special school pupils unable to hear or speak. Cancer patients who sang red songs while undergoing radiotherapy reported feeling much better.
Some cities even decided to change the alert sounded by water-spraying trucks in the streets to red-song tunes, described in a commentary on the Sichuan - based news portal Newssc.org as a 'typical act to just follow the herd'.
China Business Journal ran a commentary on Thursday saying that, with all local governments joining in, the red-song campaign was about to engender nationwide aesthetic fatigue.
It was published as a commentary on reports that a hacker attacked a red-song website, built by some students for 300,000 yuan (HK$361,000). The hacker even left a note on the site: 'Haven't people said singing red songs can cure diseases? Why don't you show me that they can also help you ward against hackers?'
The attack was an example of rising resentment at the energy wasted performing empty rituals - 'formalism' in the mainland political lexicon.
'We are no longer living in the 1950s,' the commentary said. 'But official propaganda remains the same - from the way news is written to the way it is read for broadcast.'
The party recently promised that it would 'progress with the times', but the commentary said that up to now people had seen no trace of the promised progress 'from some media and some artists'.
Why must there be a red-song competition in every city? Why must they be held in large public sports facilities, involving so many people? Why must some headlines highlight '100,000 people braving the rain' while singing red songs?
The column pointed out other ridiculous reports: children refusing to attend a parent's funeral in order to go to a red-song concert; and childless married couples becoming fertile after singing some red songs.
'These reports are unscientific and inhumane,' it said.
'Is it meant to help the Communist Party or to destroy it?' the column asked.
Misgivings are spreading. A search for 'red songs and formalism' on Baidu.com returned some 3 million results, including harsh criticisms.
On the financial news portal Hexun.com, one column said that local officials should be careful about their work methods. Organising mass red-song festivals could not yield practical solutions to any of the problems they faced and they should stay away from the propaganda methods of the Cultural Revolution.
In the meantime, cynicism is on the rise, a phenomenon that China can also remember from Mao Zedong's last years.
Can singing red songs help Beijing fight official corruption, control inflation and distribute housing more equally, internet users asked.
The red-song campaign is just a mass entertainment programme rather than a serious brainwashing effort, according to a commentator with Phoenix TV, which is based in Hong Kong but targets a mainland audience. The commentator quoted a professor with the China University of Political Science and Law as saying: 'Yes, you're welcome to sing revolutionary songs. But you are not welcome to stage another revolution.
'You are welcome to watch the movie The Founding of a Party (about how the Communist Party was formed in 1921). But you're not welcome to try founding your own party.'