CCTV provides more laughs than insights into meaning of patriotism

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 October, 2013, 3:43pm

CCTV's vox pop last week on what it meant to be patriotic received hilarious responses - just like the last one it did, on happiness, a year ago.

During the National Day holiday, CCTV reporters asked some 2,000 people from all walks of life about their ideas on patriotism.

"Am I happy?" people asked as soon as reporters approached, remembering last year's survey on happiness that generated some famous answers. Most memorable was "my name is Zeng" from a migrant worker who misheard the question "are you happy" as "is your name Fu?"

Video: China state-run television asks Chinese citizens the meaning of patriotism

Both questions sound similar in Putonghua.

People of different age groups and occupations gave varying definitions of patriotism. For most old people, their strongest feelings were associated with historic struggles against the Japanese, the Kuomintang and colonial invaders. One interviewee, who had just visited the Old Summer Palace site destroyed in the second opium war, even cried.

But younger people and those from rural areas were nonchalant, saying that "minding their own business" was their way of being patriotic. When asked if they ever expressed patriotic feelings in public, most said it would be embarrassing.

In one clip, upon being approached by a reporter, a watermelon farmer out in his field turned around and said: "I thought you came to buy melons". In another clip, when asked whom he considered to be a patriot, a university student in Beijing answered "missile" before rushing away on his bike, referring to the Patriot missiles used by the US military.

Some internet users said such answers proved the questions were ridiculous and accused CCTV of forcing people to "fake patriotism" a year after forcing them to "fake happiness".

"CCTV going around asking people 'do you love the country or not' is like a young girl asking a boyfriend 'do you love me or not'," wrote one Weibo user.

But it was hard to tell if people's laughable answers were deliberate sarcasm. Zhan Jiang , a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said it was also hard to tell if CCTV had also gone for laughs.

"One shouldn't take the questions and answers too seriously; it's entertainment," Zhan said. "Surveys like this serve dual purposes for CCTV - fulfilling political tasks and attracting eyeballs."

Patriotism, Zhan pointed out, has been mixed with nationalism and loaded with ideology since Mao's time, but in contemporary China, which he called a "post-totalitarian state", ideology was trickier: "Japan is sometimes an enemy, and sometimes not."

That many respondents linked patriotism with the Japanese invasion showed how ideology in public discourse lagged behind that in foreign policy.

But Dr Benson Wong Wai-kwok, assistant professor in the department of government and international Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, said people do not always believe what they say on camera.

"They know it is only propaganda," Wong said. "Patriotism is a big illusion in the media. There is a big contrast between how officials promote patriotism and their actual behaviour - such as obtaining foreign passports."

Outspoken property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang wrote on his microblog that CCTV censored his answer. "I said that a patriot 'tried to criticise the government for all its mistakes in order to bring the nation better lives, and more rights and freedom'."