Same propaganda, different media for Xi Dada’s US trip
Techniques may be more sophisticated than in the Red China of Mao’s day, but the ultimate messages and goals remain identical
Xi Jinping is a “very humble”, “powerful”, “wise and resolute” leader. He is “handsome”, a “gentleman”, has “nice manners and is very well educated”.
These are words from the mouths of a dozen foreign students interviewed in Beijing for a three-minute video “Who is Xi Dada? [Uncle Xi]” on the People’s Daily channel on YouTube this week.
Watch: Who is Xi Dada?
“Handsome, yah, he is super charismatic,” says a blonde Californian, fluttering her eyelashes. “If my future husband is like him, I would have happiness”, says a Korean. “He is not just a leader, he is like part of your family,” says a Kenyan. “Like an uncle,” adds a Frenchman.
If you’re still in doubt about what kind of person Xi is, just see how the world’s superpower is wooing him as he visits the United States this week.
“Thirty years ago, a Chinese young man as handsome as ‘Professor Du’ embarked on a work trip in the United States,” says a voice-over in an animated video “Trailer: Xi Dada’s seven day US trip”, likening Xi to a heartthrob in a Korean soap opera. “Thirty years later, as the president [of China], Xi Dada accepted an invitation from the US president for a state visit.”
The cartoon, by Xinhua news agency, explains that a state visit involves a red carpet welcome, a guard of honour and gun salutes, so is more prestigious than other forms of visit. “Dada’s US trip is highly important – it’s gao [highbrow], da [grand], shang [superior],” it says.
Elsewhere, feel-good stories abound: Americans interviewed by China Central Television hope Xi’s trip will boost relations. A video titled “When China met Carolina” on YouTube features Americans praising how Chinese investment has improved their lives. The People’s Daily and other newspapers report how pupils at a high school near Seattle rehearsed Chinese songs in preparation for Xi’s visit.
Nowadays, the state propaganda machine uses sophisticated skills to promote the leadership. In addition to traditional media such as newspapers and television, it is using new media to appeal to a younger and larger audience.
But the content of its messages and its goal of projecting a charismatic image of its leaders remain the same, aimed at encouraging a cult of personality.
In the era of Red China, Mao Zedong was portrayed as a God-like figure, the “great helmsman” who led his people out of poverty and stood up to foreign imperialist forces.
Back then, China was cut off from the outside world. Anyone who expressed scepticism in the great leader could land in jail.
Although China appears to have come a long way since the Mao era, with its gleaming skyscrapers, high-speed trains, 667 million internet users, and a growing middle class who can afford cars, computers and smartphones, information is still not free.
Critical opinions on the internet that deviate from the official line are routinely deleted by censors. Writers and activists are often jailed for criticising the leadership.
In the absence of the freedom of information, the state propaganda machine remains a powerful influence on public opinion.
For Xi, boosting his domestic image during this US trip is as important as the deals to be done with US President Barack Obama. His reputation at home has taken a beating due to the slowing economy and the stock market plunge, and people are beginning to question whether the government can continue to deliver economic growth.
So it is not surprising that the party propaganda authorities are pulling out all the stops to shore up Xi’s image, to portray him as a strong and competent leader that even a superpower like the US must court.
And the strategy seems to be working.
“Xi Dada is mighty and powerful,” said one comment on the Xinhua video. “[You’re] the pride and hope of Chinese people. Go, Xi Dada!,” said another.