Reviewing the Year in Rap

Just when you thought it was safe to poke around the Chinese internet, the Chinese Communist Party releases a new “rap” video promoting Party Secretary Xi (“Big Daddy Xi”) and all the wonderful things he has done this past year.

The Wall Street Journal wrote about the video on their China Real Time Report blog:

The rap propaganda – dare we say, rap-aganda? – is the Communist Party’s latest experiment in modernizing its message. In October, the state-run Xinhua News Agency released a jaunty theme song to promote the 13th five-year plan, complete with a psychedelic music video featuring cartoon characters and a robot with a pile of poop on its head.

The new messaging effort appears to have delighted some of China’s netizens. On Weibo, one commenter wrote, “Compared with the previous outdated propaganda, this is way easier to listen to.” Another wrote, “I can sing it too: Smog! smog! smog!”

One critic wrote: “Easier said – or sung – than done. Only if the central government has the real intention and the local government had the power to carry it out will the people benefit.”

And in case you want to know what is being sung, here’s the rough translation from WSJ:

Take a look at the deepening-reform group in the year 2015

Building the economy, creating wealth, optimizing services

They streamline administration and delegate power to the lower levels, so please do trust the government

Don’t let the hand reach out when it’s not supposed to — let the market speak.

They’re determined to fight against corruption. They especially target ferocious tigers

They’re strict in governing the party and ruling the nation according to law, which makes people rejoice.

Carrying out the “three stricts and three steadies” and allowing supervision by the masses

Reining in officials who take bribes

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has been achieved a lot during the past two years.

Educational reform, medical reform and household registry reform. Reform! Reform! Reform! Reform!

Acting for the convenience and benefit of the people, giving them an easier life. Taking targeted measures in poverty alleviation and trying not to fall behind

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) To turn the people’s expectations into our actions.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Price reform, tax reform and state-owned-enterprise reform. Reform! Reform! Reform! Reform!

Streamlining administration and delegating power to the lower levels, releasing vitality. Supporting reform and upgrading the economy.

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) An arrow will never return once it’s shot.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Flies, tigers and large foxes. Capture! Capture! Capture! Capture!

To be strict in governing the party, we must first conduct ourselves honorably.  And we will surely win judicial reform.

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) Punish every corrupt official and fight every corrupt phenomenon.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Managing the water, managing the air, managing the land. Manage! Manage! Manage! Manage!

Clear waters and green hills are our golden mountains. What “One Belt, One Road” adheres to is:

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) The principle of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits.

To promote the progress of Asia and Europe in what’s called “One Belt, One Road”。

Free trade, openness, laws and finance, they are all helping each other.

Establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and accelerating infrastructure construction.

And finally the yuan was included in the SDR (Special Drawing Rights basket, an international reserve asset).

Facing the smog, they hate it so much.

To determine to protect the ecology requires a bow at full draw.

Suspend those who should be suspended. Halt those who should be halted.

Clear waters and green mountains are a necessary step forward into the new journal.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Educational reform, medical reform and household registry reform. Reform! Reform! Reform! Reform!

Acting for the convenience and benefit of the people, giving them an easier life. Taking measures in poverty alleviation and trying not to fall behind.

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) To turn the people’s expectation into reality.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Price reform, tax reform and state-owned enterprise reform. Reform! Reform! Reform! Reform!

Streamlining administration and delegating power to the lower levels, releasing vitality. Supporting reform and upgrading the economy.

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) Victory belongs to the man of valor at the key moment of reform.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Flies, tigers and large foxes. Capture! Capture! Capture! Capture!

To be strict in governing the party, we must first conduct ourselves honorably.  And we will surely win judicial reform.

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) To highly lift the sharp sword against corruption.

The deepening-reform group is two years old now and has achieved a lot during the past two years.

Managing the water, managing the air, managing the land. Manage! Manage! Manage! Manage!

Clear waters and green hills are our golden mountains. What “One Belt, One Road” adheres to is:

(Xi Jinping’s voice:) Openness and tolerance instead of closing up.

No mention of the …cough, cough….SMOG!

Related Post:

Thirteen Five

When the Media Come Calling

Here’s a pro tip for those of you living in China or planning to travel there. If you are approached by a member of the Chinese media (either national or local) and asked to give an interview or just answer some “quick” questions, JUST.SAY.NO!

I was reminded of that when I saw this cringe-worthy video that was making its way around the inter-webs last week. The Wall Street Journal posted the video under the headline, Xi Dada, So Cute: What Foreigners Think of China’s Leader (According to the People’s Daily).

I think a more accurate headline would have been What the Chinese Media Wants Chinese People to Think Foreigners Think about President Xi.

Now, some of the students featured in the piece are crying foul, claiming that they were duped; that they didn’t know they were going to be featured in a Party propaganda film; that the question about President Xi was just one of many that were asked.

To which I find myself responding, “but of course!”

I tend not to trust journalists in general, but even less so journalists in China. Maybe that’s because I’ve had my fair share of being duped as well (call me a slow learner).

Once when I was living in Changchun (in the 1990’s) the head of the foreign student department told me that a journalist from a local newspaper was in his office and wanted to interview a foreign student. Would I be willing? Knowing that Mr. Y. would probably lose face (who knows what promises had been exchanged between them), and against my better judgement, I agreed.

The reporter told me that he was doing a story about the life of a foreign student in Changchun. He asked me questions about my studies, how I liked the city, and how I was treated by people in town. I answered them politely and accurately, telling him that I was thoroughly enjoying my life in Changchun and that the people were great.

Apparently, that wasn’t good enough, though, because when the article was published in the paper the following week, the reporter told specific stories of my experiences in the city, which were obviously made up! That’s not to say they couldn’t have happened; they just hadn’t. Except for my name, where I was from, and what I was studying, the rest of the article “about me” was a complete work of fiction!

Obviously his assignment had been to tell a story that confirmed what the media wanted the Chinese people to think about what foreigners thought about the city.

Mission accomplished!

And who could forget the other time I made it into the Changchun newspaper for engaging in a decidedly “non-foreigner” type of activity: buying a couch!

So remember, folks; if the media come calling, just say no!

 

I Love a Parade

I’m actually ambivalent to parades in general, but I must admit to having a strange fascination with Chinese military parades. I’m not sure why, but perhaps it’s because they are multi-layered and there are interesting things going on at every level.

china military parade

On Thursday, September 3, China held it’s 14th grand military parade in Central Beijing. While past parades have been held to commemorate the founding of the People’s Republic or other Communist Party milestones, this one was designed to mark the end World War II; specifically the defeat of Japan. And just to be sure that everyone got that, it was given the somewhat clunky (at least in English) name: Commemoration of the The 70th Anniversary of the Victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War.  

From a purely visual aspect, the production of the parade was stunning. Nobody can stage manage and produce images (still and moving) better than CCTV, the Chinese national broadcasting entity. They are true masters.

Watching a Chinese military parade is also somewhat jarring, culturally. Parades in the west tend to be laid-back (albeit well-organized), often winsome events. The goal is to have a good time. Not so with a military parade; goose-stepping soldiers, tanks, and nuclear missiles tend not to have that kind of effect on people.

And perhaps that’s just the point. The parade wasn’t about or for the enjoyment of the people; it was about communicating a message to the people: “We have risen; we are strong.” To many (perhaps most) people in China, this message (rightly) inspires pride; to many in the west, consternation.

In other words, mission accomplished.

If you missed it the first time around, you can watch the entire parade here.

It is a little over an hour. If you would prefer to watch the 1-minute version, you can do so here.

Jonah Kessler has produced an excellent short video about the parade titled Pomp and Power at China Military Parade.

If you are more inclined towards still photos of the parade, The Atlantic has collected some of the best.

The Economist highlights the specific message that China was sending to Japan:

The government described the display as an international celebration, befitting the 70th anniversary of an Allied victory. But an online article in the People’s Daily, the party’s mouthpiece, earlier this year made clear what this meant. The parade’s purpose, it said, was to “deter Japan” and “show off China’s military might”. This was promptly toned down to “conveying to the world that China is devoted to safeguarding international order after world war two, rather than challenging it”. China argues that the main threat to the international status quo is the desire of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, to rewrite his country’s pacifist constitution. So the polite version is not, in fact, all that different from the blunt one.

It was also a more personal message from President Xii Jinping saying to the Party and the nation (and to potential rivals): “I am in charge now.” An article in The New York Times delves deeper into the meaning of the parade for Mr. Xi, and especially his use of the parade to announce troop reductions:

But the highly public manner of Mr. Xi’s announcement that 300,000 military personnel would be demobilized, China’s largest troop reduction in nearly two decades, carried another implicit message. He was demonstrating his grip on the military and on the party, amid economic squalls and a grinding anticorruption campaign that have left some wondering whether he and his agenda of change — including in the People’s Liberation Army — were faltering, several experts said.

“It’s Xi in command,” Andrew Scobell, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation who studies the Chinese military, and who was in Beijing during the parade, said of the announcement.

Writing at The New Yorker, Even Osnos notes that one of the issues underlying the parade was skeptism:

Seventy years after China emerged from the Second World War, the greatest threat facing the nation’s leadership is not imperialism but skepticism. Chinese Communist Party leaders built their legitimacy on economic performance, and now they must rebuild confidence that they are able to negotiate a more complicated financial and political moment.

The Wall Street Journal does an excellent job in presenting five takeaways from the parade.

Since this was the first parade to be held in the era of social media, there were numerous stories about how Chinese netizens were reacting online to the parade. The Wall Street Journal identified 5 memes, or topics of particular interest and comment on social media. They range from the red dress worn by President Xi’s wife to fans taking selfies with Chairman Mao’s grandson.

Finally, if you are interested in the history of Chinese military parades, I recommend the Parading The People’s Republic, posted at The China Story. It reminds us that these parades have a long and glorious history!

The 3 September 2015 Grand Military Parade is the fifteenth large-scale event of its kind in the history of the People’s Republic (not counting such confected crowd-sourced events as anti-US rallies, Mao’s eight reviews of amassed Red Guards in 1966 and celebrations following the coup d’état against the ‘Gang of Four’ in October 1976). It is an out-of-sequence triumph, heavily freighted with Xi-era self-congratulation.

Congratulations, China, on a parade well-marched!

Image credit: The Atlantic

This is a slightly edited version of a post that was first published at ChinaSource on September 7, 2015.

Chinese Dreaming

chinesedream

For the past few months I have had the song “California Dreaming’” stuck in my head. I blame Chinese president Xi Jinping and his propagation of the notion of a  “Chinese Dream.”

It has become a feature of political culture in China that each new leader puts forth a slogan that he hopes will define his “administration.” When Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1979 he launched the “Four Modernizations,” a campaign designed to jolt China out of the chaos and economic stagnation following the Cultural Revolution by embarking on modernization programs in industry, agriculture, science and technology, and the military. The slogan “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” came into vogue a bit later, and was trickier to nail down. When I would ask my Chinese friends back then what in the world it meant, they would reply, “Oh, it means capitalism, but we’re still not comfortable with that word.”

Jiang Zemin came up with the “Theory of the Three Represents,” which supposedly indicated that the Party was to represent not just the interests of the peasants and workers, but also of the “advanced and social productive forces,” “the progressive course of China’s advanced culture,” and “the fundamental interests of the majority.” I say ‘supposedly’ because I don’t think anyone ever had a clue what it meant. When I would ask my Chinese friends what in the world it meant, they would just roll their eyes, shrug their shoulders and say, “who knows?” After Jiang Zemin stepped down from his position as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, the phrase completely disappeared from public discourse, although he did manage to get the phrase enshrined in the Chinese Constitution. Mention it now and people just laugh.

Hu Jintao came to power in 2002 promising to build a “harmonious society,” and thus did the word HARMONY slowly work its way into all political and social discourse. The railway system even got into the act, naming the new high speed trains that now zip about the country “China Harmony Rail.” After ten years, the novelty wore off, however, and people in China (both local and foreign) are just sick of the word ‘harmony’ and all it’s variations. “Harmonize” has also become a synonym censorship, as in “my blog post was harmonized.”

Now Xi Jinping has become the leader of China and the slogan he has put forth is the “Chinese Dream.” Earlier this month The Economist published a special report about it, even suggesting that the slogan may have been borrowed from Thomas Friedman (a scary thought).

The Asia Society recently asked Evan Osnos, the Beijing-based correspondent for The New Yorker about the meaning of this “Chinese Dream.” Specifically, they asked for help in understanding what it is, who can attain it, and the obstacles for turning the dream into reality.

Here is a video clip of Osnos’ reply to the questions.

In sum, he makes these points:

1. It is the first slogan that makes sense.

2. It is an attempt to give individuals opportunities to keep moving forward.

3. It is about wealth creation and continuing China’s rise.

4. It is about humility in governing by acknowledging corruption and streamlining the bureaucracy

5. It is about national pride.

6. It is the first time that Chinese citizens are acknowledged as having similar interests American citizens.

7. The biggest challenge is that “the political system has run out of its ability to accommodate the incredible diversity of expectations and aspirations that Chinese people have today.”

Hmmm…. change the wording of that last point slightly, and you have a pretty accurate description of the situation regarding the church: “the religious regulatory system has run out of its ability to accommodate the incredible diversity of expectations and aspirations that Chinese Christians have today.”

Will the “Chinese Dream” also be able to accommodate the expectations and aspirations of China’s religious believers? Only time will tell.

Oh, and if you are working in China and have any dealings with officials, now is a good time to revise your banquet speeches and toasts by removing references to harmonious relationships and replacing them with references to dreams.

 

Further reading on the “Chinese Dream:”

Chasing the Chinese Dream (The Economist)

Xi Jinping and the Chinese Dream (The Economist)

A Nebulous Slogan (The Economist)

The Chinese Dream (Caixin Online)

 

Image source: nipic.com

 

Hu Was the Leader of China. Now Xi Is.

Two weeks ago, the Communist Party of China (CPC) completed it’s 18th National Congress, at which a new set of leaders was appointed. The nine-member Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) that sits at the apex of Party power and thus effectively rules the country was reduced to 7 members, and all but 2 of the out-going members were replaced (their terms were up).

Hu Jintao, the man who had been the General Secretary of the CPC for the last ten years stepped down. The man ‘elected’ to take his place was Xi Jinping (pronounced She Jeenping).

As you can imagine, this has spawned something of a cottage industry in pun-making.

A recent post on the website Foreign Policycompiled a list of bad-pun headlines they hope never to see:

1. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea: “Xi’s Gotta Have It.”

2. A profile of his teenage years: “Xi was only 16.”

3. His second visit to Iowa: “There Xi Goes Again.”

4. His portrayal in Chinese state media: “Isn’t Xi Lovely?” (Or “Xi Will Be Loved.”)

5. A Chinese Gorbachev: “Xi Change.”

6. Bizarre policy choices: “Xi Moves in Mysterious Ways.”

7. A definitive chronicle of his speeches: “That’s What Xi Said.”

8. His meeting with Henry Kissinger: “The Old Man and the Xi.”

9. On a conflict with the current head of the disciplinary committee: “He Said Xi Said.”

10. His stylish sartorial choices: “Ain’t Nothing But a Xi Thing.”

My contribution to the madness is the title of this post.

How about you? What are your favorite “Xi” puns?

 

For further reading on Mr. Xi:

Xi Jinping: the ‘big personality’ taking charge in China (The Guardian)

China’s incoming first lady a challenge for the image makers (Los Angeles Times)

What China’s seven rulers mean for its 80 million Christians (Christianity Today)

Image source: Wikipedia