Sunday, March 25, 2007

Propaganda and the Evils of Corruption

The rewards of learning Chinese while living here are obvious: forming more varied friendships, eating and shopping with ease, integrating more deeply into the culture, and seeming less like a space alien to the local people. But there is another reward particular to this country that is easily overlooked, yet still fascinating: understanding Party propaganda. China is well beyond the era of the Chairman Mao "loyalty dance" and spiteful diatribes against America and the capitalist "running dogs," but one doesn't have to look very far to see the omnipresent, paternal guidance of the government. There are slogans and life advice painted in gigantic characters on walls throughout China, which are generally uncontroversial but intriguing nonetheless. These vary from the relatively harmless ("look to the future, improve education," "don't do drugs," "love the people, serve the people") to the slightly creepy ("the reason you can relax is because we have everything under control"). On top of a building in the town square is a sentence spelled out in 10-foot high characters, which I've been curious about since the beginning and have finally learned says "Carry out the Three Represents [a policy that essentially says, or at least strongly implies, that the Communist Party is China], construct a Well-Off Society [an economic policy]."

Near the wooden pagoda in the square there is a set of propaganda signs, such as an illustrated series for children about President Hu Jintao's "8 Virtues and 8 Vices" (the first virtue is "enthusiastically love the Motherland"). Andrew spotted one of the most entertaining ones, shown in the picture. It's about corruption, and warns of the slippery slope a hapless proletarian might descend into. This is shown visually as a big, Inferno-esque dollar sign with increasingly dangerous levels of corruption. The entry to the dollar maze says "first time being treated to a meal." The second level of corruption is "first time entering a music hall." Andrew is marking this spot with his finger, as it seems we are at the second level of corruption in China. Presumably, there is hope for us yet. The third one is "first time in a sauna," followed by "first time receiving gifts" and finally a sudden, dramatic leap to "first time embezzling public funds." Oh, naive briefcase-toting cartoon man, if you only you knew what you were getting yourself into.

Last week there two women from the government handing out fliers in front of the campus, and a long series of posters along the front wall. It turned out to be a campaign against cults and false religions, with cartoons touting advice such as "all cult leaders claim that they are God, but in reality they are just people." Andrew set about reading one of the fliers with the assistance of Joy. It didn't go so far as to name examples, but apparently these cults (in Chinese, literally "evil religions") trick students into giving them all their money, inspire apathy by convincing them of the coming of Armageddon, perform false miracles, and even kidnap, rape, and murder.
But as Andrew pointed out, the only people who seemed interested in any of it were the two foreigners.


Matthew said...

That's why I need to learn to read more Chinese. Fortunately, most of the billboards in Shenzhen are in English too. I always like "Idle talk endangers the nation." There's another one about efficiency that's funny, but I forget the exact wording.

Dan said...

I usually don't understand every word, but I can check a dictionary or ask someone. I'm sure I've forgotten many of the most entertaining ones I've come across. There's another one on a wall in Zhangye that just came to mind that insists "having a girl is just the same as having a boy."