After almost 60 years in power, the Communist Party knows how to keep public opinion on track
BY CLIFFORD COONAN
CHINA IS tackling the economic slowdown head-on with a patriotic propaganda assault aimed at lifting national spirits in the face of rising discontent over unemployment and shrinking order books.
After almost 60 years in power, the Communist Party is the best in the world at keeping public opinion on track with highly sophisticated propaganda.
The “mass patriotic education” campaign to beat the downturn is no different. “Guide people to profoundly grasp the incomparable superiority of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Correctly understand the new changes in the international economic environment and in our country’s economic development,” the order issued by the party said.
You can expect to see similar messages painted on the walls of villages and towns around the country soon, as well as in the print and TV media, which are controlled by the government.
The Beijing government is planning TV shows, concerts, and a host of party meetings and public events to “bolster confidence in vanquishing hardship”, according to a directive from the Communist Party’s department of propaganda, which was published in the People’s Daily and other major newspapers.
China’s economy is centrally planned and directed, and the government has been upbeat on its prospects in recent months as its economic stimulus plan has taken hold.
Measures to combat issues seen as a threat, such as Sars, or major public events, such as the Olympics, are often wrapped into national campaigns, with stirring propaganda aimed at reminding the populace of their public duty to serve the people.
Some have been more controversial than others. The “Anti-Rightist Campaign”, even the “Cultural Revolution” itself, were examples of how pervasive propaganda’s influence has been in China over the years.
Mao Zedong’s campaign against the “Four Harms” during the “Great Leap Forward” in the 1950s targeted rats, sparrows, flies and mosquitos.
Citizens were given strict instructions to kill the four species. The campaign became famous because the measures to control both earthbound and flying vermin involved, for instance, banging pots and pans to scare sparrows into flight and have them eventually drop to earth, dead from exhaustion.
A campaign against spitting during the Sars epidemic in 2002/2003 led to a massive reduction in the number of people spitting on the streets.
As the other major economies of the world shrink, economic growth of 8 per cent is expected in China this year, despite the collapse of the export market.
Domestic consumption is being marshalled to ensure some of the decline in goods sold abroad is compensated for by consumers at home freeing up their huge savings, reckoned to be about 40 per cent of income.
However, armies of migrant workers are still leaving the boomtowns of the south and heading home, and some economists have warned that resolving economic problems is about more than boosting sentiment.
Some analysts are fearful that China could revive itself, but then face a deeper fall in the near term.
But for the time being, there are signs of recovery: people are returning to find work in the state-funded infrastructure programmes around the country, while Chinese consumers are doing their patriotic duty and spending.
At Shanghai train station last week, thousands of migrants were disembarking carrying their possessions in red, white and blue canvas suitcases.
And on the Avenue of Eternal Peace in central Beijing, newly arrived migrants wearing orange fluorescent work vests and helmets were working on roadbuilding projects and other infrastructure construction.
Some of the infrastructure work relates to a road-widening project to make way for the traffic of military vehicles during an enormous parade to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party’s ascension to power after the civil war of 1949.
The government has enlisted the help of the country’s most famous film director, Zhang Yimou, in orchestrating the parade.
It is also planning a major film, featuring almost every Chinese film star and director in some capacity and called The Great Cause of China’s Foundation, to rally the people around the big anniversary.
Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, said at the weekend that positive changes had taken place in the Chinese economy.
“Facing the impact of the financial crisis, the Chinese government has promptly introduced a policy package to expand domestic demand and maintain financial stability,” he told a meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee.
“Positive changes have appeared in the operation of the national economy, and overall performance is better than expected,” he added.
He said the slowdown in gross domestic product (GDP) growth has been contained, with GDP growth in the first quarter of 2009 reaching 6.1 per cent, while the growth rate in industrial production had also rebounded.
Now the campaign begins to convince people the statistics are translating into something genuine.