China's many messages to quell unrest
To ensure stability, Communist leaders invoke Mao, Confucius, and Buddha.
As Chinese leaders fret over rising peasant protests, political instability, and a decay of traditional values, the Communist Party is experimenting with multiple new messages - designed to capture the hearts and minds of ordinary people.Skip to next paragraph
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"It is a very intelligent strategy," says a Western historian here. "If people are nostalgic for Mao [Zedong] and old moral values, they've got Lei Feng [a model soldier lauded for selfless service]. For those who say China has lost its traditions, they promote Confucianism. For those who long for spirituality, it is Buddhism. The party is saying, 'you name it, we've got it.'"
But the disparate propaganda campaigns often seem like unrelated story lines in search of a central script. Last month, President Hu Jintao launched the "eight honors, eight disgraces" - spelling out the virtues of hard work and discipline, and the vices of cheating and selfishness. Other campaigns include engineering a "new socialist countryside," promoting old model revolutionary soldiers such as Lei Feng as "cool" for kids, and biweekly ideology sessions for party members billed as a chance to "refresh your mind."
In a fresh twist, the Party is also quietly backing campaigns that diverge from the standard political propaganda: opening a department of Confucianism at People's University, turning the late pop star Cong Fei into "young pioneer" style model, holding the first Buddhist forum in modern China on April 13. And a hard-core neo-Marxist faction has been allowed to rise - contrary to a decade of greater liberalization - which helped kill a proposed law allowing private property rights at the annual People's Congress last month.
A CCTV producer says that in March a senior minister ordered yet another new campaign to be broadcast on the evening news. But he balked. There were so many other campaigns being promulgated there wasn't room in the broadcast. The Party is trying for a delicate balancing act, say experts, somewhere between the extremes of doubt and zealotry.
"It has become a consumer Communist Party....a party based on marketing, not Maoism," says Russell Leigh Moses, an American scholar at the Peoples University in Beijing. "[The messages] are a great experiment, a way to figure out what will take."
But is anyone listening?
For example, Beijing bus No. 117, like many in this city, has a set of flat screen TVs that show news, traffic, weather, cooking, and sports. Monday, along with shots of President Hu shaking hands with Saudi princes on his current overseas trip, there was a Discovery Channel-style 5-minute segment that memorialized a soldier who had infiltrated the enemy reactionary forces in the 1930s and became a hero for the cause of Red China. Called "Eternal Monument," the regular segment is part of a broader campaign called "Maintaining the Advanced Nature of the Party," that is spun off into various kinds of patriotic media efforts.
But the TV on Bus 117 only vaguely catches the attention of afternoon riders as they wind past the second ring road skyscrapers, past the Lama Temple, and toward the new suburbs sprouting outside the fourth ring road. Shows like "Eternal Monument" vie for time alongside pop stars, game shows, skin-cream ads, and an endless flow of "infotainment."