China rolls out TV series eulogising Xi Jinping ahead of key congress

Ten documentaries on president’s reform policies to air on prime-time TV, with more propaganda to come before the Communist Party congress this autumn

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 11:12pm

A documentary series extolling President Xi Jinping’s ideas and achievements in pushing for reforms is airing on state-run TV in China as the country’s propaganda apparatus steps up efforts to burnish his image ahead of a key Communist Party congress this autumn.

The 10-episode series, Carrying Reform through to the End, started airing at 8pm on the state broadcaster CCTV on Monday. The programmes will also be replayed on local TV channels the following day and streamed on online media platforms.

The series debut came after China’s broadcast regulator banned TV stations from airing programmes such as costume dramas during the “major propaganda period” ahead of the party congress.

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The state broadcaster said the documentary series would focus on the spirit of Xi’s important speeches and his governing ideas and reflect how his administration “made solid progress on the comprehensive deepening of reforms”.

The episodes will cover the president’s ideas and achievements made on the economy, politics, social management, culture, the environment, the army and the party’s self-governance.

The party’s 19th national congress, to be held in the last quarter of this year, is expected to see Xi’s political theory written into the party’s constitution as part of its “guiding ideology”. A formal report will also give an official verdict on Xi’s first term in office.

“Comprehensively deepening reform” was one of Xi’s main slogans during his first term in power, along with a sweeping campaign against deep-rooted corruption that has seen some 1.2 million officials punished.

Xi was eulogised in Monday’s programme as a great reformer who inherited and further developed the “opening up and reform” policies of the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

Xi was seen visiting Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan and Guangzhou three weeks after he ascended to the helm of the party in late 2012, following in the footsteps of of Deng’s famous southern tour in 1992.

The programme also featured Xi setting up a central leading group on deepening reforms at the party’s third plenum in 2013 where he pledged to give market competition a “decisive role” in the economy and to strengthen judicial independence in a vaguely worded reform blueprint.

Wu Qiang, a former lecturer in politics at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, said the documentary was clearly aimed at strengthening the personal cult around Xi to pave way for the autumn congress.

He said the scale and extent of propaganda appeared to exceed the presidencies of Xi’s two predecessors.

“In the era of Jiang Zemin, there were also similar documentaries introducing his “three representatives” theory, but never so direct [in praise of the leader],” he said.

“Hu Jintao is widely seen as a weak leader and he could never have done something like this to build his own authority,” he added.

The documentary is likely to dominate the prime-time TV schedules in the coming weeks, but Chinese TV viewers will find their choice of soap operas and other entertainment programmes increasingly limited in the lead up to the autumn congress.

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The country’s broadcast regulator has banned CCTV and provincial TV stations from airing entertainment shows such as costume dramas during the period ahead of the 19th party congress and the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army on August 1.

Stations were told to prioritise the purchase and broadcast of a list of “recommended” propaganda TV shows, most of which portray positive images of the PLA, police, firefighters or other civil servants.

The notice, issued by the television department of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television on June 27, circulating online in early July, triggered strong criticism among internet users, many of whom resorted to sarcasm to vent their anger over the changes.