Professor Maria Repnikova's new book explores China’s complex and often contradictory soft power performance.
Talking Points, July 10 - 20, 2011
July 10 - 20, 2011
|Students form the character dang or Party.|
We’ve had a flurry of important anniversary celebrations. On July 1, China's Communist Party marked its 90th birthday and nearly 62 years in power. Among political parties, only North Korea's party, installed by the Soviet Union, has been in power longer. The party's celebration has included speeches, song fests, television miniseries, and a feature film that has been screening in major North American cities.
In Beijing, CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao spoke for more than an hour. His central point was hardly surprising: “Success in China hinges on the Party.” The CCP had “ended the misery endured by China in modern times when it suffered from both domestic turmoil and foreign invasion and was poor and weak” and “started the Chinese nation's historic march for development, growth, and great rejuvenation.” Continued CCP leadership was essential, Hu explained, for continued progress. (Click here for the full speech. Click here for more information on Party growth.)
For the Party to do its job well, Hu said it needed to make policy adjustments as circumstances dictate, pay special attention to recruiting and promoting talented people, and battle corruption. He dwelt at length on this last point. The Party, Hu said, needed to remain focused on promoting economic development, but at the same time had to maintain social stability. Hu called for strengthening Party-led social administration (社会管理) to achieve this.
Commentators focused on Hu’s frequent mention of the need for stability and the dangers posed by incompetence, isolation from the masses, and corruption. None of this was particularly new. In fact, for many, the most newsworthy thing about the talk was that Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin, was not there to hear it. Reports circulated that Jiang had died or was gravely ill. To squelch further discussion, internet monitors set up automated blocks on the popular microblog site Weibo (part of Sina.com). Since Jiang's name also means river, the "jiang" block erased China's rivers from the service for a time. On July 7, China’s state news agency said the reports were “pure rumor.” No explanation, however, was given for Jiang’s absence.
|Four generations of CCP leaders: Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao.|
In addition to being described as the core of the Party’s third generation of leaders and featured in banners and posters, Jiang Zemin was included in some of the memorabilia companies produced to mark the 90th anniversary.
|L: Thin silver-coated bars with portraits of Mao, Deng, Jiang, Hu, and representatives of the armed forces. Only 5,000 boxed sets, on sale for $37 each; R: A pair of Seagull watches (only the pocket watch is pictured), with Mao’s likeness, the hammer and sickle, and the reminder to “serve the people.” Only 999 sets are available, at $4,586 each.|
In Chongqing, millions of people have joined in various “red” song fests since Municipal Party Secretary Bo Xilai launched them as part of a “red culture movement” in 2008. He also turned the municipality’s
|One of the Red Games logos.|
|A scene from Yan'an Love.|
|A scene from My Youth in Yan'an.|
national satellite station into a “red” station, beginning by dropping American Idol-like competitions. In March, the station eliminated commercials and bumped soap operas and comedies out of prime time in favor of revolutionary-themed dramas and red song fests. Revenue from the municipality’s eleven commercial (and ratings-minded) stations subsidize the “red” station.
Bo and other Chongqing officials are sensitive to suggestions they are trying to bring back the spirit of the Cultural Revolution, arguing that none of the 36 songs promoted in the last couple of months “is ultraleftist.” He argues that these songs, including “Go China,” “Chongqing Days,” and “Sisters Forever” are merely patriotic tunes promoting love of country, community, and family.
The run up to the anniversary included the second annual “Red Games” (红色运动会) in Qingyang, Gansu province. Sixty-one teams from across China joined the competition. There were fourteen different events, including stretcher-carrying. Some participants wore revolutionary-era inspired uniforms as they crawled under wire and ran through a “minefield” of traffic cones. Qingyang was a stop was a stop on the CCP’s 1934-35 “Long March.”
In addition to the revival of old revolutionary dramas, television stations produced new soap operas set in the place the Long March ended: Yan'an, the revolutionary base area in Shaanxi province. Zhejiang television created Yan'an Love, a 38-episode soap opera that starts in 1938 and is partly set at the revolutionary base area. Hunan television offered the 20-episode My Youth in Yan'an.
As it did in 2009 to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, China’s leaders invested in a sprawling film. In Chinese, the film is The Great Undertaking of Founding the Party (建党伟业), but the formal English title is Beginning of the Great Revival. Combining the two provides the film’s simple message: creating the CCP was a great achievement which saved China. As they did for the 2009 film, Han Sanping and Huang Jianxin served as co-directors and this time worked with more than 170 prominent actors. The budget was $12 million, more than the 2009 film and ten times the cost of most Chinese films.
The film focuses on the decade between the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the creation of the CCP in 1921. While the overarching theme is clear, the story is complex. Many viewers wish they were armed with a chart showing alliances and a map showing key locations. Important figures pop into the story (and their name pops up beside them). The filmmakers make sure that peripheral figures who later loom large are included (the most obvious of these is 16 year old Deng Xiaoping, who appears in a scene in France, not speaking, but dutifully taking notes). Zhu De is the film’s action hero, Mao Zedong and Yang Kaihui are the featured lovers. Yuan Shikai’s efforts at dynastic restoration are emphasized along with the warlordism that follows. Some of the intellectual ferment of the age is hinted at and the 1919 student protests of how China was treated in the Treaty of Versailles pound home the idea that the imperialists would not, of their own accord, end their dissection of China.
Because the sweep of the film is so ambitious, the execution, while technically impressive, is often simplistic. For example, the notion of uniting workers and farmers into a single unstoppable force is developed in a few sentences Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu exchange one night over dishes. While the founders’ embrace of the Bolshevik example is clear, the extent of Soviet logistical support and guidance is not.
What does come through is that creating the CCP was not easy. The struggle to seize power, however, was even greater and would take nearly three decades.
Beginning of the Great Revival opened June 22 on more than 6,000 screens across China. Many people have seen the film, some on field trips from their schools or workplaces. Many are drawn by the chance to see so many stars in a single film. Box office figures are always a bit fuzzy, but this is particularly the case here. Some allege that the books are being cooked. Some theater-patrons are getting printed tickets for the film, but actually going to see other movies. It’s impossible to know how widespread this practice is. China Film Group, Beginning’s distributor, said the film took in more than $16 million in its first five days.
Here in the U.S., the film was in 29 theaters and took in $99,257 during its first week. During the same week, Cars 2 was in 4,115 theaters and took in $99 million.
Still, Beginning did significantly better in the U.S. than another Chinese film, City of Life and Death (南京！南京！Nanjing! Nanjing! in Chinese), directed by Lu Chuan. That amazing film was produced in 2009 about the 1937 Japanese attack on and occupation of Nanjing, then China's capital. In two months since its May release, City has sold $82,225 worth of tickets.
One question raised about the film is indicative of today's China, with its hybrid "socialist market economy." Did Omega, the Swiss watchmaking giant, pay to have one of its products showcased?
Mao's wife, Yang Kaihui, gives him an Omega pocket watch. Bloggers and reporters raised the issue. Filmmaker Han Sanping and Omega both deny this was a case of "product placement." Actor Liu Ye (Mao) said he had no idea if the gift-giving scene was historically accurate.
Product placement is increasingly important in big budget Chinese and American films. Perhaps half of the production budget for last year's blockbuster hit, Aftershock (大地震), came from product placement fees paid by BMW and other firms.
Omega is China's leading luxury watch brand. Actress Zhang Ziyi advertises for the company. Omega gets 35% of its worldwide sales in China (compared to about 10% in the U.S.). Mao, incidentally, is said to have kept an Omega watch he received in 1945 until his death.
With increasing affluence, Chinese are traveling, and “red tourism” is part of that boom. In 2010, 430 million people visited “red tourist” destinations, about one-fifth of all domestic tourism. For many years, the Chinese state paid to send people to the revolutionary holy land of Yan’an. Now, plenty of people are paying their own way. While there, many rent and wear period uniforms and watch battle reenactments.
|Yan'an tourism, 2004 photo by Lynne Joiner, author of Honorable Survivor: Mao's China, McCarthy's America, and the Persecution of John S. Service.|
On July 4, Chongqing officials and entrepreneurs announced plans to build a $387 million Red Classic Theme Park. Visitors could see replicas of CCP landmarks.By July 7, however, the project had been shelved as unrealistic. Visitors to Beijing's Temple of Heaven learn about the numerical symbolism of the altars and the hall. Red Classic was going to be replete with such symbolism as well, beginning with a 1949 square meter flag to remember the year the People's Republic was founded.
Of course, we also noted the July 4 celebration of the founding of the U.S. The big film this Fourth is the third installment in the Transformers series. It has thus far brought in $261 million in the U.S. and a staggering $645 million worldwide. The previous installment earned $70 million in China, making it the 6th top grossing film of all time in China.
Americans watch movies and television shows about our history. They don’t do especially well at the theater box office and as a result are not be as plentiful as their counterparts in China in recent years. Docudramas (John Adams, Washington, and so on) have had television success. Large numbers of Americans travel to battlefields and other historical sites and a surprising number of people participate in reenactments of Revolutionary and Civil War battles. At least three magazines are dedicated to “covering” those wars. Public television has its American Experience series and major documentary series. Public radio has a weekly show The Jefferson Hour featuring a scholar impersonating Thomas Jefferson. The History Channel’s special mix of myth-making and myth-busting has proven popular.
As in China, we celebrate in the U.S. with food, music, and fireworks. The systems growing out of the founding of the CCP and America's break with Britain, though, are obviously quite different. In China, the CCP tolerates no opposition and, as seen in the Jiang incident above, seeks to strictly regulate what can be disseminated about its current and past leaders. Another such example involved the 2009 use of Mao’s image by a karoke parlor. The parlor was ordered to take its signs down. Compare that to the routine use of the images of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln for all sorts of advertisements here.
|Top: In 2009 a Zhejiang karoke parlor operator thought that Mao would help bring in customers. He was told to take the posters down; L: This Apple computer ad is from 1981; R: This Budweiser ad is from 1948.|
We hope you enjoyed whatever holidays you may have recently marked. Thank you for reading Talking Points and for sharing it with friends and colleagues. We always welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also consider a donation to support the institute and its many programs.
We'll be back soon to discuss two other US-China anniversaries.
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07/12/2011: Documenting the Global City -- 2011 Screening
USC School of Cinematic Arts
SCA 112, Los Angeles, CA 90089
Time: 7:30PM - 10:00PM
Collaborative film project between students from USC and the Communication University of China
08/01/2011 - 08/05/2011 and 08/08/2011 - 08/11/2011: USCI/NCTA 2011 Summer Residential Seminar
**Professional development opportunity for K-12 educators
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089
The USC U.S. - China Institute (USCI) and the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia (NCTA) are offering a nine-day residential summer seminar for K-12 educators employed outside of the greater Los Angeles area.
Deadline for application accecptance is Friday, July 8, or until the seminar is full.
09/27/2011: Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse
Davidson Conference Center, Club Room
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089
Time: 4:00PM - 5:30PM
A talk by Shelley Riggers discussing her book about global impacts that Taiwan has on the world.
10/13/2011: USC Global Conference Hong Kong 2011: Global Challenges and Enhancing Opportunities
JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong
Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong, China
The two day conference will feature New York Times and Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas L. Friedman.
07/13/2011: Meet Albert Lew
Chinese American Museum
425 N. Los Angeles Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Engage in a lively chat with Albert Lew as he relives his childhood days in the original Sun Wing Wo Store.
07/16/2011: Author Talk and Presentation with Belle Yang
San Francisco Main Public Library, Latino/Hispanic Meeting Room A & B
100 Larkin St.Hormel Center, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94102
Time: 2:00PM - 3:00PM
Belle Yang presents her illustrations, paintings, comic book pages, work environment and images of her family in Carmel and old China.
07/12/2011: Taiwan's "Win-Win" Strategy for Cross-Straits Relations
725 Park Avenue at 70th Street, New York, NY
Cost: Members and seniors $50; Nonmembers $75
Time: 12:30PM - 2:00PM
Asia Society presents a discussion on cross-strait relations.
07/13/2011: Mapping Chinese and American Mindsets: The Nitty-Gritty of Successful U.S.-China Partnerships
Johns Hopkins University
Kenney Auditorium, Nitze Building, 1740 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20036
Time: 4:30PM - 6:00PM
The School of Advanced International Studies presents a discussion on the various aspects of the relationship between China and the United States.
07/13/2011: The Dalai Lama: What He Means for Tibetans Today
Russell Senate Office Building, Room 418
243 Ford House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
Cost: CECC Roundtables are open to the public. No RSVP is necessary.
Time: 9:30AM - 11:00AM
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China announces a roundtable discussion hosted by Senator Sherrod Brown.
07/14/2011: Exploring China’s Mountain of Echoing Halls
S. Dillon Ripley Center 1100 Jefferson Drive, SW, Washington, DC
Cost: $22 Senior member, $25 Member, $35 General Admission
Time: 6:45PM - 8:45PM
A seminar on Exploring China’s Mountain of Echoing Halls will be held at the Smithsonian.
07/14/2011: U.S.-China Economic Engagement in Africa: Prospects for Cooperation
Center for Strategic & International Studies, B1 Conference Center
1800 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20006
Time: 3:30PM - 5:00PM
The Center for Strategic & International Studies presents a talk on American and Chinese involvement in Africa.
07/14/2011: Tibet and the Politics of Exile in the New Millennium
George Washington University, Sigur Center for Asian Studies
Harry Harding Auditorium, Room 213, 1957 E Street, NW, Washington, D.C.
Time: 6:30PM - 7:45PM
Samdhong Rinpoche, Tibetan Prime Minister in Exile, discusses Tibetan politics.
07/15/2011: Fire of Conscience
Freer Gallery, Meyer Auditorium
1050 Independence Ave SW, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012
Time: July 15 at 7:00PM & July 17 at 2:00PM
Part of the series Sixteenth Annual Made in Hong Kong Film Festival
07/18/2011: Public Outreach: Kissinger On China
National Committee on United States - China Relations
71 West 23rd Street Suite 1901, New York, NY 10010-4102
National Committee Vice Chairman Henry A. Kissinger will discuss his new book, On China, in an interview with NC President Steve Orlins on July 18.
07/20/2011: Same Bed, Different Dreams? The New Philanthropy and Civil Society in China
Henry Luce Foundation
51 Madison Avenue, 30th Floor, New York, NY 10010
Time: 8:30AM - 10:00AM
Dr. Shawn Shieh, the founding editor of China Development Brief (English), will discuss the burgeoning relationship between independent nonprofit organizations and grant-making foundations in China.
ends 07/17/2011: The Orchid in Chinese Painting
Pacific Asia Museum
Address: 46 North Los Robles Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101
Free for members, or $10 a family.
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian will host an exhibition of twenty works related to orchids in Chinese painting.
ends 07/17/2011: History of Chemistry I
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Smithsonian Institution 1050 Independence Ave SW P.O. Box 37012, MRC 707, Washington, DC 20013
This single-projection video by Lu Chunsheng will be on exhibit at the Smithsonian, a renowned photographer and video artist now living in Shanghai.
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Please join us for this virtual event presented by the USC U.S.-China Institute and the USC Gould School of Law Center for Transnational Law & Business.