Li Keqiang cartoon character released in a break from party protocol
First Xi; now Li: China's top state leaders get cartoon versions of themselves in a sign that propaganda officers may be adapting to media changes and getting in touch with youth
The Chinese government published the first official cartoon of Premier Li Keqiang late on Wednesday evening, one week after releasing that of President Xi Jinping – in a break from a state taboo that bans caricaturing leaders, for fear of weakening their image.
In an illustration explaining Wednesday’s State Council executive meeting, the official website of the central government (gov.cn) published a cartoon image of Li that was jointly created by the website and the Xinhua Net Multimedia Products Centre.
The illustration shows the bespectacled Li, in a dark blue suit and light blue tie, pointing up at a line of banner text and flashing a small smile. The image closely mirrors Li’s facial expression when he appears on television.
It is usually taboo for official media to represent Chinese leaders in cartoons, as propaganda officials are concerned they may dilute the leaders’ authoritative image.
However, recent moves by state-owned media outlets show a seeming change of heart among propaganda officials, who are using new approaches to adapt to the changing media landscape and engage the younger generation.
Last year, a Beijing-based animation studio's clip, featuring smiling, animated versions of China's leaders (including Xi) and explaining sociopolitical issues in China, became a big hit on Chinese social media. It signalled in part that, far from viewing their leaders as weak after watching the cartoon, citizens tended to view their leaders as more accessible.
In a surprising move earlier this month, Qianlong.com, a news website affiliated with the Beijing municipal government, published a cartoon on February 19 to respond to a rhetorical question by Xi: “Where has my time gone?”
Xi’s quote was from a Russian TV interview during the Sochi Olympics, where he quickly answered his own question by saying most of his time was devoted to work, according to the People’s Daily.
The Qianlong illustration of Xi was praised by many online users.
However, the Li cartoon seemed not as eye-catching, generating only a few comments from netizens as of Thursday.