Figments of wild imaginations

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2012, 12:00am


Propaganda is information used to promote a point of view or political cause.

The word first took this meaning in the first world war. In those days, it was a neutral term. It referred to information that was generally helpful with no political objective. These days the word has negative connotations.

Propaganda is usually seen as information that presents only one side of an issue, thus promoting a biased view of a situation.

Propaganda is especially popular for governments during war time. During the second world war, in particular, there were some very famous examples of propaganda posters. They encouraged citizens to sacrifice themselves for their countries and distrust people from other countries.

Lei Feng

Lei Feng is a popular propaganda figure on the mainland. He was a soldier of the People's Liberation Army. He was born in 1940 in Hunan province. Soon after his birth, he was orphaned and adopted by the country's Communist Party.

Lei died when he was just 22 years old. He was hit by a telephone pole, which was pushed over by a reversing truck.

After his death in 1962, Lei became the subject of a nationwide propaganda poster campaign.

He was portrayed as a humble, selfless and modest person who sacrificed himself to the people by following Chairman Mao Zedong's words.

His influence

A series of posters showed Lei doing good deeds. For example, he was said to have loved mending torn and worn-out clothes for other party members.

He was also shown telling stories about Mao to children and reading Mao's books. Some stories about him even said Lei would help wash other soldiers' feet after a long day of marching.

According to another tale, he once gave his hard-earned savings to his friends' parents who were affected by floods.

After his death, the Communist Party released Lei's diary.

The diary mainly records his experiences of helping others. It also contains Lei's 'aha' moments after reflecting on Mao's words.

His diary was full of praise for Mao for helping his country and inspiring the spirit of revolution.

The government praised the 22-year-old comrade for his actions. Propaganda painted him as a role model for every good Chinese citizen.

The party officially launched its Learn from Lei Feng campaign in 1963, a year after Lei's death. The government encouraged citizens to read his diary and follow his example.

March 5 was even named 'Learn From Lei Feng Day' for people to remember Lei's good deeds.

But many sceptics doubt that Lei Feng ever existed. They believe he was an imaginary person created by communist propagandists to control citizens.

They challenge the authenticity of Lei's photos because many of them were shot unnaturally, with Lei posing in front of the camera.

People also questioned why anyone would have wanted to take a picture of Lei in such unlikely scenes as washing a car in the first place - especially as he did not become famous until after his death.

Ran Yun-fei, a famous Chinese democracy activist, told The New York Times a lot of people knew Lei was a fictional character.

Other people believe that even if Lei did live once, the famous stories from his life were all made up.

Kim Jong-il

If you believe North Korean propaganda, Kim Jong-il had multiple talents besides being a great ruler. He wrote award-winning poetry, screenplays and songs. During his university years, he wrote more than 1,500 books.

He was also possibly the best golfer in the world: he scored more than 11 holes-in-one the very first time he played golf. The Dear Leader also had more than 50 titles, including Brilliant Leader and the Great Sun of the 21st Century.

If that is not remarkable enough, here is something else about him. He also had supernatural abilities. The nation's propagandists told North Koreans that Kim could change the weather by changing his mood. And he never needed to go to the toilet.

His mind was more scientific than anyone else's: he invented 'double breads with meat' for students and teachers so that they could get better nutrients for their teaching and studies. Rumours in the Western world suggested Kim had simply taken the idea of an American burger.

Kim was meant to be a great leader from day one. During his birth, a double rainbow appeared in the sky and a new star emerged in the heavens. It remains unknown, though, which new star appeared in the heavens.

Kim's official biographies are full of such great signs and miracles.

Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un has just been crowned North Korea's new Supreme Leader. Because he has only been in the public eye for a short while, not much is known about him yet.

Yet the country's propaganda machine is busy promoting his image. It is already comparing him to his famous father and grandfather, the Dear Leader and the Great Leader.

Foreign observers say Kim may have gained more weight just to look more like them. Some even suspect Kim has undergone plastic surgeries for that reason.

North Korean propaganda has painted the country's previous leaders as saint-like figures with superhuman abilities. They worked tirelessly for the good of their people.

So now Kim has big shoes to fill. He is young and inexperienced, but is already said to be just like his father.

Vladimir Putin

The Soviet Union was once big on propaganda as well. Those times are mostly gone. But Russian propaganda is now all about Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin.

Putin may not be a saint, but he is certainly an interesting character. Before his rise in Russian politics, he used to be a spy for the KGB - a fact he does not hide.

He is depicted as a masculine and capable man, who alone can rule Russia with authority and power.

To help that image, Putin often takes his shirt off to show off his muscular body. He is an expert at judo and cultivates a tough-guy image. He is often shown taking part in extreme sport or spending time with dangerous wild animals.

According to one story in the Russian media, Putin once calmed a tiger that went berserk by shooting it with a tranquiliser.

An environmental organisation later claimed that the tiger episode had been a set-up to make Putin look good.