One of the main tools in the arsenal of any oppressive regime is propaganda. China is no different. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has mastered the art of propaganda thanks to complete state control over media, which has kept the public ignorant of the crimes of their government. Over the past decade, Beijing has expanded its propaganda to other nations, trying to subvert public opinion in favor of China.
The Chinese propaganda network
After a series of negative international coverage during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the CCP decided that it needed to create a positive image across the world. As a result, China announced a US$6.6 billion fund whose sole aim was to use international media in a way that reinforces China as a benevolent nation. Africa was chosen as a test bed for the propaganda.
Beijing set up CCTV Africa and approached local journalists to “tell the story of Africa,” with a good dose of Chinese goodwill splattered all across. Later on, China launched CCTV in America and other nations, recruiting highly successful and impactful journalists to work for them. China also started hiring foreign journalists for the state-run Xinhua news agency to give itself an international makeover while ensuring that the journalists continue to parrot CCP propaganda.
“You’ve got to think it’s like creative writing. You’re combining journalism with a kind of creative writing… Their objectives were loud and clear, to push a distinctly Chinese agenda… There’s no clear goal other than to identify cracks in a system and exploit them,” Christian Claye Edwards, a former employee of Xinhua, said to The Guardian.
One of his tasks involved highlighting the unpredictable nature of politics in Australia, a country that saw six prime ministers in eight years, in a bid to send a subversive message that liberal democracies were “chaotic and inferior” to the Chinese regime.
Beijing has also decided to reassign responsibilities of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT) to the Central Propaganda Department. The latter is tasked with implementing CCP’s propaganda guidelines.
“The consolidation of news operations under the Central Propaganda Department means that China plans to have even greater control over everything reported domestically and internationally. It will no longer be news as we know it. It will all be propaganda. This will have [an] impact far beyond just China. Totalitarian regimes learn from each other, especially how to control the media to maintain their power. The two major countries exporting propaganda and their news control methods are China and Russia,” according to Delaware Online.
Given that Hollywood is one of the biggest cultural influencers in the world, it is no wonder that the CCP decided to extend its propaganda network into the American movie industry. In fact, Zhang Xun, President of the state-owned China Film Co-Production Corporation, spelled out the intention in a 2013 speech at the U.S.-China Film Summit in Los Angeles.
“We have a huge market, and we want to share it with you… [However], we want films that are heavily invested in Chinese culture, not one or two shots… We want to see positive Chinese images,” Zhang said in a statement (The New York Times).
Ever since China started funding Hollywood movies, studios have taken great pains to avoid showing the country in a negative light. While earlier, Hollywood used to release movies like Seven Years in Tibet and Kundun, which showed a sympathetic depiction of Tibet and the Dalai Lama, such movies have few backers in the industry right now.