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China’s Belt and Road Propaganda Machine Running at Full Speed: An Overview

The Beijing ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) summit is about to take place, and the Belt and Road propaganda machine is running at full speed. Chinese state media spotlight children in promotional campaigns, and emphasize the idea of China as a harmonious global leader.

Manya Koetse

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The Beijing ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) summit is about to take place, and the Belt and Road propaganda machine is running at full speed. Chinese state media spotlight children in promotional campaigns, and emphasize the idea of China as a harmonious global leader. Here is an overview of the various recent public promo videos backed by different state media outlets, including the latest one by People’s Daily.

As the ‘One Belt, One Road’ (aka OBOR or Silk Road Economic Belt) summit takes place in Beijing on May 14-15, the promotion of this enormous development strategy is in full swing. Chinese state media outlets China Daily, CCTV, and People’s Daily have all published their own OBOR promotion clips through Youku or Weibo.

All the latest promo clips on the Belt and Road strategy have clear characteristics in common. Besides that young people and children play a major role in them, they are all global focused; they use many languages and feature people of various backgrounds.

 
1. Communist Party: The Belt and Road is How
 

Over the past week, it was especially the Sesame Street-style video with children from various countries singing about the Belt and Road that made international headlines. It was the only promotion video that was posted on Chinese social media by a wide range of official media, including China Daily, People’s Daily, PLA Daily, Communist Youth League, China National Radio, Xinhua, and CCTV.


The Belt and Road Song by Fuxing Road Studios posted by whatsonweibo

In the video, fifteen different children sing along in English to a catchy song with cartoon graphics. The political video was made by Fuxing Road Studios (复兴路工作室), a company that often produces English-language propaganda videos on China’s policies.

China’s English-language public communication videos are not necessarily only targeted at foreign audiences. The Belt and Road is How video was widely shared by official channels on Chinese social media, and was initially not even posted on YouTube. The use of an English song (providing Chinese subtitles) helps convey the idea of the Belt and Road as a very global initiative, both for Chinese and non-Chinese audiences.

Featuring a group of cute and diverse children in this clip also boosts the global image of the OBOR project, and stresses its unthreatening character. Although the Chinese government and state media have continuously represented the initiative as one of peaceful development that has no regional or military agenda, there are still international concerns over China’s strategic goals. The choice for such a “Sesame Street-style” promo video, in that sense, is quite telling; the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative couldn’t be represented in any cuter or more innocuous way.

Fuxing Road Studios has covered numerous major China-related events in the past, including state leaders’ overseas visits. Using pop songs and modern graphics, their videos target the younger, social-media generations. Although the company is secretive about its affiliation, The Wall Street Journal reported in 2016 that the production house is part of the Chinese Communist Party’s international department.

 
2. China Daily: Belt and Road Bedtime Stories
 

State newspaper China Daily recently launched its ‘Bedtime Stories’ campaign. It is a series of clips in which Erik Nilsson, assistant director at China Daily, tells his little daughter Lily stories about the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative before she goes to sleep.

These China Daily series are mainly aimed at English-speaking audiences; newspaper China Daily has pushed these videos through its official channel on YouTube, a platform that is inaccessible from mainland China. They were also posted on Weibo, but the videos made less of an impact on Chinese social media than they did on YouTube, where the last clip received over 63,000 views within 24 hours.

When China Daily introduced the first video of the bedtime series on its official Weibo account on May 9, it emphasized the video’s sentence “It is China’s idea. But it belongs to the world,” as a key sentence from the campaign. This sentence is crucial in the promotion of the idea behind the Belt and Road initiative, that emphasizes China as the harmonious leader that helps the whole world become a more prosperous place.

The concept of ‘bedtime stories’ gives China Daily the freedom to tell the story of the Belt and Road initiative in a very clear way through a father explaining the strategy to his daughter. This makes it easy for all people to understand, also for those who are not familiar with OBOR.

 
3. CCTV: Prosperous Together
 

China’s state broadcaster CCTV published its own promo video this week that shows, amongst others, children from around the world playing with miniature cars, boats, and trains that then turn into reality along the Silk Route belt (see video below). The video’s main theme is how OBOR connects the people of the world.


CCTV One Belt One Road Promo Video by whatsonweibo

The clip, titled “Together Prosperous,” ends with the slogan: “Discuss Together, Build Together, Enjoy Together” (“共商, 共建, 共享”). It very much highlights the international impact of the One Road One Belt initiative – something that is given more weight through the use of dramatic music.

As in the other clips, this public communication video also gives prominence to the role of children from different countries. The point is not that these videos are targeted at kids, but that they are the perfect propaganda messengers: they represent the new future of China and the world.

 
4. People’s Daily: WE Make It Happen
 

On May 12, another video came out which shows students from eight different countries painting together and talking about their home and interests. They mostly speak in Mandarin Chinese, but some also speak in their native languages. The students come from Hungary, Kenya, Spain, Argentia, Russia, China, Kazakstan, and Thailand.


“WE Make It Happen” – One Belt, One Road Promo… by whatsonweibo

While the other students talk about soccer, food, and dance, the Russian and Chinese students bring out the video’s main message.

“Today, I drew a bridge,” the Russian student named Mikhail says: “It connects Russia and China. Two different countries, two different nations. They can get to know each other. Every person or every nation can act as a bridge.”

The Chinese student Yu then tells: “The kite was invented by ancient Chinese people. I think they had a dream. They wanted to know the outside world. A bigger world.” The students then put their paintings together, forming the word “WE”, followed by the message: “The Belt and Road – WE make it happen.”

The video is an initiative by Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily and was shared on Weibo by various media sources, including the Global Times.

Like the other videos, the focus is on how the Belt and Road strategy connects people of various nations. It is a new kind of public promo video, as Chinese public campaigns commonly always include references to the flag of China or other national symbols like the panda or the Forbidden City; something which does not comes up in this clip.

On China, netizens have responded in different ways to the various videos. Although many people said they think the Fuxing Road Studios clip is somewhat “awkward,” the other campaigns are more popular.

Especially the “WE make it happen” campaign seems to be liked by many netizens. Many people comment on the video with: “We like WE!”

“This is a successful promo video,” one person says: “It makes people feel proud.”

The CCTV promo video also received praise on Sina Weibo. “It’s very well done,” many said.

“When I finished watching, I felt like this is the best Chinese promo video I’ve seen thus far,” one Weibo user writes.

There are also those who wonder about the role of the USA, as America seems to play no role whatsoever in the various Belt and Road promo films. But there were also those who were not surprised about America’s invisiblity in the videos: “This is the ‘One Belt, One Road’,” one person commented: “And it is China that is leading the way.”

– By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Insight

“I’m One of 1.4 Billion” Goes Trending as China’s Population Now Tops the 1.4B Number

China’s total population is up, but its birth rate has fallen to the lowest level.

Manya Koetse

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According to the latest numbers, China’s birth rate has hit a new low, but state media are instead highlighting the fact that China’s population has now surpassed 1,4 billion.

This Friday, official data, released annually by the National Bureau of Statistics, shows that the total Chinese mainland’s population has surpassed 1.4 billion at the end of 2019.

In light of this news, Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily launched the hashtag “I’m One of 1.4 Billion” (#我就是14亿分之一#), propagating a sense of unity among such a massive population.

This message was also reiterated by other accounts, such as the Shenzhen Police, that said: “We’re all one big family, our name is China, we have a lot of brothers and sisters.”

China’s Birth Rate Falls to Lowest

While People’s Daily is publicizing the 1.4 billion number, the annual statistics also show that China’s birth rate has fallen to its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Although only 14,65 million were born in mainland China in 2019, the death rate of the country was also lower than before – meaning that the total population number still went up from 1,39 billion to 1,4 billion in the last year.

One thread started by People’s Daily on Weibo received nearly 530,000 likes by Friday afternoon, with thousands of Weibo users posting a response to the latest numbers.

Many netizens responded to the news in a similar fashion, saying: “There are already enough people [in China] now, I don’t need to have children anymore,” or: “Good, there’s so many people, I don’t have to worry about having kids.”

China’s marriage rates hit a new low in 2019 after dropping year by year.

Over recent years, various trends in Chinese (online) media have highlighted the existing social issues behind China’s dropping marriage and birth rates.

The rising costs of living and the fact that many among Chinese younger generations “prefer to marry late,” are often mentioned as an explanation for China’s decline in marriage rates and the interrelated lowering birth rates.

But China’s so-called ‘leftover’ single men have also been pointed out as a “crisis,” with China having millions of more men than women of marriageable age – partly a consequence of the one-child policy and general preference for baby boys.

Although Chinese couples are allowed to have two children since 2015, the new regulations have not had the desired effect, with many couples simply not wanting a second child or not being able to afford it.

For some years, ‘leftover women’ were mentioned as a reason for China’s declining marriage rates; China’s well-educated, career-oriented, urban single women were sometimes singled out for making it harder for China’s unmarried men to find a wife because of their ‘choice’ to postpone marriage and family life. This has increased the pressure on China’s single women to get married, which has become a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

Today’s responses on Weibo seem to indicate that many young people are still not very eager to have children. “Let’s not add to the population, it’s enough burden for the planet,” some say.

Others say the number of 1,4 billion make them or their action seem “irrelevant” and “tiny.”

There are also those with entirely different concerns about the number: “There are 1,4 billion in China now, and yet I’m still not able to find a boyfriend!”

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Insight

Top 10 Buzzwords in Chinese Online Media

From blockchain to hardcore, this is an overview of China’s media top buzzwords over the past year.

Jialing Xie

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Some of the expressions and idioms that have been buzzing in Chinese media the past year. What’s on Weibo’s Jialing Xie explains. 

Last year, we listed China’s “top ten buzzwords” for you (link), giving an overview of some noteworthy expressions on Chinese social media and in the media in 2018. Recently, the chief editor of the magazine Yǎowén Jiáozì (咬文嚼字) has again announced the “top ten buzzwords” in China of the past year.

Yǎowén Jiáozì, which literally means “to pay excessive attention to wording,” is a monthly publication focused on the Chinese language. Chinese (state) media have been widely propagating the magazine’s selection of the top words and terms of the past year in newspapers and on Chinese online media. The ten terms have also become a topic of discussion on Weibo over the past month, with the topic receiving 290 million views.

We’ve listed them for you here:

 

1. 文明互鉴 (wénmíng hùjiàn): “Mutual Learning”

  • Literal Meaning: “Mutual learning,” “Exchanges and mutual learning among different cultures and civilizations.”
  • Original context: This expression can be traced back to the era around and during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), a time of division, bloody battles, and political chaos. The demands for solutions brought forth a broad range of philosophies and schools. During this time, Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism, Mohism and many others were developed leading to the phenomenon known as the “Contention of a Hundred Schools of Thought.”
  • What does it mean now? In 2014, at the 4th summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward a major initiative to convene a conference on dialogue between Asian countries followed by an introduction emphasizing how “diversity spurs interaction among civilizations, which promotes mutual learning.” This sentence and expression were later repeated in speeches during various major events. In May 2019, President Xi once again emphasized the idea during the CICA, making the term pop up across Chinese state media again. 

 

2. 区块链 (qū kuài liàn): “Blockchain”

  • Literal Meaning: Blockchain Technology
  • Context: “Blockchain” is no longer a new concept since it was first introduced to the public around a decade ago. Development of the malleable blockchain technology has become an important trend in China’s tech market through the years. 
  • What does it mean now?  Blockchain was all the buzz in China over the past year. In early 2019, the Cyberspace Administration of China released the Provisions on the Administration of Blockchain Information Services. In October, President Xi singled out blockchain technology as an important breaking point in developing China’s core innovative technology and emphasized the importance of investing and stepping up research on the standardization of blockchain to increase China’s influence and power in the global arena. 

 

3. 硬核 (yìng hé): “Hardcore”

  • Literal Meaning: “Hardcore” – 硬 = hard, 核 = core. 
  • Context: “Hardcore” is known as the abbreviation for Hardcore Punk, a punk rock music genre originated in Southern California during the late 1970s. The term was later used to reference things of a certain level of complexity, such as “hardcore games” (versus casual games). The term started to mean something along the lines of “terrific” (厉害) or “strict”/”rigid” (刚硬)  and in Chinese, started being used in expressions such as “Tiger mom” (硬核妈妈) or “Hardcore game players” (硬核玩家).
  • What does it mean now?  As the Chinese science fiction blockbuster The Wandering Earth (流浪地球) was categorized as ‘hardcore science fiction’ (硬核科幻), the term ‘hardcore’ resurfaced as a popular word often popping up in (online) conversations.

 

 4. 融梗 (róng gěng): “Mixing up ideas”

  • Literal Meaning: “Integrating other people’s ideas into one’s own work” or “integrating punchlines,” “mixing up plots.”
  • Context: Over the past two decades, many literary works, including a few by prestigious Chinese writers, have been suspected of plagiarism and triggered heated discussions online — when it comes to drawing inspiration from other art and literary creations, where is the boundary between artistic freedom and plagiarism?
  • What does it mean now?  Soon after the Chinese movie Better Days (少年的你) came out in October (read more here), the writer of the original novel was accused of plagiarizing parts of Japanese mystery writer Keigo Higashino’s work. Many netizens argued that in the field of online literature, borrowing ideas from others (融梗) is ubiquitous and does not necessarily equate plagiarism because the act (融梗) itself requires original work and creativity. From October to now, the term has become a recurring topic in Chinese media. 

 

 5. “XX 千万条,XX 第一条” (XX qiān wàn tiáo, XX dì yī tiáo): “Out of millions of things,..is the first one”

  • Literal Meaning: “Out of ten million things,.. xxx comes first as the rule of thumb.” 
  • Context: List thinking is prevailing in China; from codes and regulations enacted by the government and laid down by companies, to the way teachers outline their lectures, the usage of “articles” (sometimes used as ‘rules’)  or “items” (条) to organize ideas and outline objectives is commonly seen in daily life.
  • What does it mean now? This phrase caught people’s attention after appearing in the aforementioned science fiction film The Wandering Earth, where a robot voice reminds a driver of traffic safety in a noteworthy way, saying something along the lines of: “There are thousands of road rules, but safety rules always come first. If you disregard safety, your loved ones will end up in tears.” Despite sounding like a sketch that rhymes poorly in Chinese, the lines stuck around and were later also used by Chinese traffic police across the country. The sentence structure is now also more often applied in various other contexts, for example: “There are thousands of things good for health, but sleep is the most important.”

 

6. 柠檬精 (níngméng jīng): “Lemon monster”

  • Literal Meaning: “Lemon mythical spirit” or “Sour lemon goblin”
  • Context: In ancient Chinese superstitions, it’s believed that animals and non-living objects may have the potential to grow into something with spiritual and immortal characteristics if meeting certain criteria. One of the criteria is to be around long enough, usually hundreds of years – if not thousands. For instance, in the classical work Journey to the West (西游记), the four main characters except Tang Sanzang are all spiritual beings derived from animal prototypes. 
  • What does it mean now? Lemon tastes sour (酸), which is often used to describe the feeling of envy or jealousy. When lemon becomes a spiritual being, it basically means the lemon has reached the ultimate stage of being a lemon and maximized its characteristics such as being terribly sour. The phrase is used to deride those who feel envious of others’ possession and achievement. Lately, the word is more often seen in a self deprecating humoristic context. For instance, when someone says “I’m a lemon jing now/I feel sour now( 我柠檬精了/我酸了)”, instead of expressing envy towards others, it’s more about acknowledging others more advantageous position compared to one’s own. 

 

7. The 996 work schedule 

  • Literal Meaning: 996 working hour system
  • Context: 996 is a work schedule commonly practiced by many companies in the internet and tech industry in China. With the 996 schedule, employees are required to work from 9 am to 9  pm, 6 days per week. 
  • What does it mean now? In April 2019, Jack Ma, the co-founder and former executive chairman of Alibaba Group, commented on 996 during an internal meeting with Alibaba employees. Ma’s comments seemed to justify how companies and employees can both benefit from the work schedule, however, the comments quickly triggered criticism after widely circulating online for allegedly violating of the Labour Law of the People’s Republic of China. 

 

8. “我太难(南)了” (wǒ tài nán le): “Life is so hard for me” 

  • Literal Meaning: “I’m feeling uneasy” or “life is so hard for me” 
  • Context: The phrase originated from a 10-second video self-posted by a user on video-sharing site Kuaishou earlier in 2019. As the video begins, the user – an older Chinese guy –  says to the camera: “I’m feeling uneasy…” followed by sad music. He then continues to say “Lao tie [bro/guys], (I) have been under a lot of stress lately.” The video, in which the man dramatically drops his head in his hands and seems to cry without tears, quickly went viral. The phrase “I’m feeling uneasy” was quickly adopted and applied in daily conversations.  
  • What does it mean now? The broad circulation of this phrase on the internet reflects that the uneasy feeling about life is relatable to many people. Acknowledging the stress in a self-deprecating humorous tone is in itself a way of relieving stress. To add a sense of humor to this phrase, many replace the initial character “难” (nán, adj. difficult) with “南” (nán, adj.& n. south), which is believed to be taken from the mahjong tile “南风”(south wind).  

 

9. “我不要你觉得,我要我觉得” (wǒ bùyào nǐ juédé, wǒ yào wǒ juédé): “I don’t want to know what you think, I only care about what I think”

  • Literal Meaning: “I don’t want to know what you think, I only care about what I think.”
  • Context: The line was taken from Xiaoming Huang, one of the guests in the third season of the entertainment TV show “Chinese Restaurant”, which was broadcasted in the summer of 2019. In the show, Huang, who took the role as the manager of the restaurant, is self-centered, and often disregards the opinions of others in matters such as menu ideas or pricing, showing his blind self-confidence and arrogance. In addition to this line, Huang’s frequently used language includes “There is no need to discuss this matter”, “Listen to me, I have the final say” and so on, and it spread quickly on the internet.  
  • What does it mean now? The popularity of this line reflects people’s ridicule and resentment against arrogant and dominant personalities.

 

10. 霸凌主义 (bàlíng zhǔyì): “Bully-ism”

  • Literal Meaning: “Bully-ism”
  • Context: The word 霸凌 (bàlíng) comes from the English word “bully.” Here, it refers to bullying other countries in the face of conflicts between nations. 
  • What does it mean now? As the trade conflict between the US and China was ongoing in 2019, many believed that the current government administration of the United States has been handling international affairs in almost a bullying manner. The slogan “America First” is also often perceived as a declaration in front of the entire world that the interests of the United States come first. As a buzzword, “bullyism” has come to be used by Chinese media in the context of international affairs. 

 

By Jialing Xie
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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