The Propaganda Film “Amazing China” is Amusing!

by    /  July 3, 2018  / No comments

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“All the world’s a stage”– how true is Shakespeare with this phrase. The best actors on the stage are always politicians. At the moment, the champion & co. belong to Donald Trump and his buddy, Kim Jong-Un. The runner-up is no doubt Xi Jinping, the superstar. While Trump creates havoc with the leaders from Europe and the rest of the world, Xi fools around with his Chinese subjects. Trump Twitters like a teenager, changing his opinion frequently like he’s modeling clothes in a fashion show, while Xi keeps his mouth shut but lets things happen.

On March 2, there was the official release of the documentary film, “Amazing, China” (Lihai le, wode guo, Wordly: Amazing, My Country). It is a newborn of the state-run China Central Television (CCTV) and China Film Co. The cinemas and theaters in China have received notice from the National Broadcasting and Television Bureau that they should screen the film daily within a reasonable time range, i.e. in the morning and in the afternoon, not in the ghost time at midnight. For some state companies and organizations, it’s mandatory for the employees to watch the film. Thus, within merely weeks, the cinema boxes have been filled with billions of dollars, a miracle in the Chinese film industry that is practically record-breaking.

  1. Blind Chess, a column by Tienchi Martin-Liao
  2. During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example stayed in prison until he died in 2017; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
  3. Tienchi Martin-Liao
  4. Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners, and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

Are the people in the audience really so passionate and patriotic so as to applause to a documentary film that presents China’s “brilliant” achievements in science, technology, railways, air space, engineering, infrastructure and even in the military? Do the images of poverty, miserable migrant workers, shabby coal miners, grief petitioners, barefoot school children, belong to the past? Has China really risen up as the 12-part documentary television series, “The Rise of the Great Powers” (produced by CCTV in 2006– again, these damn documentaries!) indicates?

“Family shames must not be spread out to others” is a typical Chinese way of thinking; the communist ruling party knows too well that “family shame must not be spread among the people.” The purpose of such a propaganda film, is to enhance the holy image of the newly crowned “emperor” Xi Jinping. The assigned film director wants to accumulate the hard power and the sharp power of China, to display all the bombastic bridges, crossings of sea and desert railways, of grandiose canals and dams, paradigm shifts of high tech weapons, just to let all the people understand that these are the great achievements of Xi, since he took the leadership of China five years ago. Yet there are some schizophrenic phenomena: The high-speed railway technology is originally German, the proud J-20 fighters, made in China, are somehow similar to the US and Russian fighters, and the superior Liaoning aircraft carrier reminds one of the Ukraine product. Are these first-class high-tech show-off objects really Chinese inventions? Or are they just better-developed copies of the Western models? Couldn’t this documentary be seen as evidence of stealing and plagiarism?

After six weeks of euphoria, the film has been taken down from all the cinemas in China, and the authority has again released an order on April 19– “Thou shall not watch it!” No reason has been given, because this is a command from the high level. This is China, isn’t it? People and the media are used to receiving orders and they’re not supposed to ask why. Immediately, the rumor was spread out like a wildfire. Is the apotheosis overdue with Xi? Unfortunately the Trump government was launching a trade war with China at the same time. The telecommunication Corporation ZTE received a ban on American chips, and the company was threatened to collapse. The timing collided with the self-satisfactory propaganda of the Xi administration. Xi and his chief adviser, Wang Huning, wanted to boast about Xi’s heroic deeds, yet even though people have short memories, most Chinese people can still recall that some projects had already begun in the periods of Xi’s predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Although Xi’s narcissism matches that of his American colleague, Xi still did not want to tickle Trump’s nerve by saying that America’s first dream is disillusioned. That could also be one of the reasons that the film has been withdrawn from both the domestic and international public platforms.

Xi Jinping has been talking about his “Chinese dream” ever since he became the party chief and president of the country in late 2012. He wants to play the role of great savior; “The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” whatever that might be, is his goal. He launched the propaganda campaign to tell his people how close he is to becoming their savior. What a Midsummer Night’s dream! First he boasts his great deeds, which do not belong to him, then he retreats back to a corner and doesn’t allow people to see or talk to him, nor to mention or discuss or criticize him. This kind of embarrassing scenery happens too often in Chinese politics and society. People are so immune to fake news, fake information, and fake government, that they become cynical. If they could survive Mao Zedong, then there is no reason that they can’t survive the cloned Mao, Xi Jinping.

About the Author

Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

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