Chinese Society

Some praise, while others deride CCTV's series on nation's happiness

Snippets of propaganda ahead of party congress draw fire, but some also laud their light touch

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2012, 6:12pm

China Central Television (CCTV) has come in for both ridicule and praise after broadcasting a series of surveys about China's "gross national happiness" last week.

The nine episodes of A Happiness Survey of China's Grass Roots Ahead of the 18th Party Congress, each 3½ minutes long and featuring about a dozen people, were produced by the state broadcaster's 70 camera crews, CCTV said in the last episode, broadcast last Sunday. More than 3,500 Chinese at home and overseas were interviewed for the series.

Reporters used small microphones to record brief interviews with a wide range of people, including young children, octogenarian People's Liberation Army veterans, scavengers, street acrobats, scientists, overseas Chinese living in the US and Britain and Chinese workers in Kenya.

"Are you feeling good?" a reporter asked a 73-year-old scavenger collecting plastic bottles along Qiantang River, in Haining, Zhejiang, in the first episode.

The old man, who was deaf, replied: "One bottle costs 10 cents today." When the reporter asked him how many bottles he had picked up, he replied: "I am 73. The government offers me a subsistence allowance, which is 630 yuan every month."

His answer sparked an outcry, with one internet user asking: "Would you feel happy if you had to collect bottles to improve your livelihood when you are 73?" Another accused CCTV of forcing people to "fake happiness".

But the series also received some praise for not cutting out interesting or humorous answers that came close to reflecting the public's real views.

With the pronunciation of "are you happy" in Putonghua - ni xingfu ma - sounding similar to "is Fu your surname", one busy migrant worker in Taiyuan, Shanxi, answered impatiently: "My name is Zeng."

In Chengdu, Sichuan, a street artist asked a CCTV reporter to pay him for an interview. "I am not happy because I don't have enough renminbi," he told the reporter.

In the last episode, the series' producer, Zhang Yujun, said her aim had been to get "some subconscious answers" which would remind people of the "pure definition of happiness in our lives".

To Yiu-Ming, an assistant professor of journalism at Hong Kong's Baptist University, said the programme showed that CCTV was trying to improve its propaganda skills and drive up ratings.

"The happiness series is something closer to people's real lives, but it is just a snack, not a main course," he said.

"CCTV will not change its key political style because it belongs to the party, not the people. The main course still tastes terrible although it sometimes looks nicer being decorated with snacks."