China’s slick new game show aims to get millennials studying Xi Jinping
Prime-time quiz programme on one of the country’s popular television channels features futuristic themes and sleek graphics to win hearts and minds
When young Chinese workers and students returned home on the eve of the week-long National Day holiday, an unlikely prime-time entertainment was waiting for them on one of their favourite television channels: a quiz show dedicated to the political doctrine of President Xi Jinping.
The show, titled Studying Xi in the New Era, is part of the ruling Communist Party’s latest – and sometimes clunky – effort to shape the minds of the country’s millennials, who have grown up with more influence from foreign pop culture than orthodox socialist teachings.
The five-episode show has, since Sunday, taken the evening prime-time slot on Hunan TV, the country’s second most watched channel, which is wildly popular among the younger generation for its entertainment shows and idol dramas.
In what could have been a scene out of a science-fiction animation, its first episode opened with a sleek spaceship named Studying Xi gliding past the moon and thrusting into outer space.
From its command room, a beaming host in futuristic-style dress welcomed a live audience of 100 applauding young 20-somethings, drawn from the country’s companies, universities, rural villages, urban communities, the government, the military and the online sphere.
“General Secretary Xi Jinping has called for the whole party to launch a great study campaign,” said the host, referring to Xi’s title at the helm of the party.
The show, she claimed, was the country’s first such quiz programme to promote the study of Xi Jinping Thought – and was aired just before the one-year anniversary of the party's 19th congress.
The key meeting last October kick-started Xi’s second term in power and enshrined his eponymous theory in the party’s constitution – a symbolic laurel that no previous leader was able to achieve while in office other than the late Chairman Mao Zedong.
Five months later, the theory was added to the state constitution – an amendment that also threw out the presidential term limits which would have required Xi to step down as president in 2023.
In the meantime, a wave of campaigns to study Xi’s ideology has been rolled out across the country, with party members frequently summoned to attend group study sessions and exchange their reflections.
In schools and universities, where the party under Xi has significantly tightened its grip on ideology, the thought is required to “go into textbooks, into classes, and into the minds of students”. At least a dozen universities across China have set up research institutes to study and teach Xi’s thinking.
But to the party leadership, this is not enough. At a high-level conference on propaganda and ideology work in August, Xi demanded party officials explore creative ways to not only promote, but also to let the general public truly understand, his ideology so that it could “fly into the homes of ordinary families.”
Studying Xi in the New Era appears to be an answer to that call. In the first round of the quiz, contestants were required to answer questions ranging from basic facts about Marxism and party theories to things Xi has done and said.
This was followed by a second round featuring sound bites from Xi’s speeches over the years. Finally, the candidates were asked to give a 100-second speech on their understanding of Xi’s thought.
The dry and dense content was accompanied by flashing 3D visual effects created by the backdrop of a large LED screen, and cheerful music. All the questions were asked by a floating robot numbered “2050” which said it had travelled in time from a “rejuvenated China” of the future.
Apart from all the theories and ideologies, Studying Xi in the New Era spent much time burnishing Xi’s personal image – an element of the propaganda drive which has been so ubiquitous that some critics have warned against the building up of a personality cult around Xi.
A section of the first episode, for instance, centred on Xi’s journey from his youth in an impoverished village during the Cultural Revolution to his time in the more prosperous coastal provinces.
“General Secretary Xi said he went from Beijing to Liangjiahe in northern Shaanxi to become a farmer when he was barely 16. During those days, the young Xi was so hungry for knowledge that he would carry a book with him when herding the sheep on the hills,” read the host off a script.
“He was even willing to walk 30 Chinese miles [15 kilometres] of mountain roads just to borrow a book,” she continued, before asking the robot to reveal the question: which was the book that Xi borrowed?
It did not take the contestant – a student from a Hunan university – a second to press the button and give the correct answer: Faust, the tragic play by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
The quiz show is the second season of Hunan TV’s ideological education programme, Socialism is Kind of Trendy. Season one, a talk show, was aired in October last year, a week before the party congress.
Another slickly produced talk show, Marx Got It Right, aired on state broadcaster CCTV in May this year, ahead of the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth.
The party has doubled down on propaganda efforts due to concerns about a loss of faith and morale among the young. It hopes to rally the apathetic, indifferent and motivation-lacking millennials around Xi’s call for a “China dream” of national rejuvenation.
At the same time, authorities have cracked down hard on what they perceive as “vulgar” content that runs counter to the orthodox socialist values they are struggling to instil in the younger generation, while promoting “positive energy” on the online sphere.