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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

“Support Xinjiang MianHua!” – China’s Social Media Storm over Xinjiang Cotton Ban

The hashtag “Wo Zhichi Xinjiang Mianhua” – “I Support Xinjiang Cotton” – received over 6 billion views on Weibo.

Manya Koetse

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Western brands faced heavy criticism in China this week when a social media storm erupted over the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and its brand members for no longer sourcing from China’s Xinjiang region. The ‘Xinjiang cotton ban’ led to a major ‘Xinjiang cotton support’ campaign on Weibo, and a boycott for those brands siding with BCI.

In 2019, an extensive brand ‘witch hunt’ took place on Weibo and other Chinese social media networks in light of the protests in Hong Kong, with international fashion and luxury brands, from Versace to Swarovski, getting caught in the crossfire for listing Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as separate countries or regions – not part of China – on their official websites or brand T-shirts.

Now, another brand ‘witch hunt’ is taking place on Chinese social media. This time, it is not about Hong Kong, but about Xinjiang and its cotton industry.

H&M, Uniqlo, Nike, Adidas and other international brands have caused public outrage for the stand they’ve taken against the alleged use of forced labor involving the Muslim Uyghur minority to produce cotton in China’s western region of Xinjiang.

The social media storm started earlier this week on Wednesday, March 24, and is linked to H&M and the ‘BCI’ (Better Cotton Initiative), a Swiss NGO that aims to promote better standards in cotton farming.

In October 2020, H&M shared a statement on its site in which the Swedish retailer said it was “deeply concerned” over reports of forced labor in the production of cotton in Xinjiang, officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

H&M stated that it would no longer source cotton from Xinjiang, following the BCI decision to suspend licensing of BCI cotton in the region.

 

BCI and its Suspension of Activities in Xinjiang

 

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is the largest cotton sustainability program in the world. It practices across 23 countries and accounts for 22% of global cotton production. The governance group was established in 2005 in cooperation with WWF and leading retailers, with the aim of promoting the widespread use of improved farm practices.

While H&M is a ‘top member’ of the Better Cotton Initiative (link), many others brands such as IKEA, Gap, Adidas, Nike, Levi’s, and C&A are also brand members.

January 2020
In January of 2020, the BCI was slammed by Dr Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington DC, for its refusal to pull out of the Xinjiang region. At the time, 20 percent of its ‘better cotton’ was sourced from Xinjiang, which is China’s largest cotton growing area.

According to a 2020 report by EcoTextile, the BCI maintained that its implicated council member, the yarn producer Huafu, denied the allegations and that an independent audit of the company’s Aksu facility in Xinjiang had failed to identify any instances of forced labor. An earlier report by Adidas from 2019 also stated that their independent investigations found no evidence of forced labor.

March 2020
In late March of 2020, the BCI reportedly did suspend activities with licensed farmers in the Xinjiang region for the 2020/21 cotton season while also contracting a global expert to conduct an external review of the Xinjiang situation. Chinese state media Global Times later reported that despite suspending its licensing activities, the BCI would remain committed to cotton farming communities in Xinjiang and would continue to engage in activities in the region.

July 2020
The pressure on BCI and other brands to stop sourcing from Xinjiang was heightened when a coalition of civil society groups raised concerns over the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China and the “grave risk of forced labor.” Reuters reported that more than 180 organizations urged brands from Adidas to Amazon to end sourcing of cotton and clothing from the region and cut ties with any suppliers in China that would benefit from the alleged forced labour of Uyghur other Muslim groups.

October 2020
In October of 2020, the Better Cotton Initiative announced it would cease all field-level activities in Xinjiang with immediate effect because the region had reportedly become “an increasingly untenable operating environment.” The aforementioned statement by H&M came out in the same month.

March 2021
By late March 2021, various Chinese state media reported on the BCI suspension. These reports came days after a coordinated effort by the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada to impose sanctions on Chinese officials over China’s alleged human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang, something which was called a “concerted effort to slander China’s policies in its Xinjiang region” by Global Times. The news outlet linked these “anti-China forces’ efforts” to the BCI decision to suspend its Xinjiang activities.

 

A Social Media Storm over Xinjiang Cotton

 

The news developments were followed by a wave of social media boycott movements and Chinese brand ambassadors cutting ties with international brands, with H&M being the main target over its Xinjiang statement.

Chinese e-commerce platforms Taobao, JD.com, Pinduoduo, Suning.com, and Meituan’s Dianping on Thursday all removed H&M from their platforms, with Chinese Android app stores also removing H&M. On Thursday, a search for “H&M” came up with no results on these sites (see images below).

Two of China’s largest online maps also removed H&M from its systems.

No H&M on these maps.

On Thursday, virtually all topics in Weibo’s top trending lists related to the Xinjiang cotton ban (see image below), with Chinese famous influencers and celebrities one by one announcing they would terminate their contracts with international brands related to the Xinjiang cotton ban.

The storm became so big this week that some people on social media even commented that “if you’re a Chinese celebrity and you don’t have any contracts to terminate now, you’re not doing so well.”

After H&M, an entire list of brands was targeted, including Adidas, Nike, Calvin Klein, New Balance, Tommy Hilfiger, Uniqlo, Converse, Puma, Burberry, and Lacoste.

In light of the heated discussions and calls for boycotts, there was also another hashtag that popped up on Weibo, namely that of “don’t make it hard for the workers” (不要为难打工人). The hashtag came up after some Chinese staff members at Nike and Adidas stores were scolded on a live stream, with netizens calling on people to stay rational and not let the boycott turn into personal attacks on people. But another popular video showed a man in Chongqing calling customers out in an H&M store for buying their “trash.”

Another hashtag gaining many views, 520 million in total, was that of two ‘girls from Xinjiang dancing outside H&M’ (#新疆小姐姐在HM门店外跳新疆舞#) – it was linked to a video that showed two women performing outside of a H&M store in Chongqing.

Meanwhile, some brands, including Chinese company Anta Sports and the Japanese Asics, reportedly announced they would leave the Better Cotton Initiative in order to continue sourcing cotton from Xinjiang.

The discussions on Xinjiang as Weibo saw this week are unprecedented, as ‘Xinjiang’ was previously a sensitive topic on Chinese social media and was barely discussed in political contexts. The last time Xinjiang became a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media was in 2018, when CCTV aired a program on the region’s “vocational education programs” in Xinjiang. That media moment triggered mixed reactions on Weibo, with some commenters wondering what the difference between a ‘re-education center’ and a ‘prison’ is.

 

Chinese State Media and the ‘Xinjiang Cotton Ban’

 

While Chinese netizens and celebrities play a major role in the storm that erupted over BCI, H&M, and Xinjiang cotton, the role of Chinese state media is pivotal.

Over the past week, various state media outlets posted strong messages regarding the ban in various ways, the most noteworthy one being People’s Daily‘s “I Support Xinjiang Cotton” (#我支持新疆棉花#) hashtag, which had garnered six billion views by the weekend. “The H&M Group released a statement that sparked outrage among netizens. Let’s pass it on together: Support Xinjiang Cotton,” the tagline of the hashtag page said.

The message came with an image saying “Xinjiang Mianhua” (Xinjiang cotton) in a similar font to the H&M logo, the “H” and “M” within ‘mianhua‘ being identical to the H&M letters.

The image and post by People’s Daily was shared over 36 million times.

A message by People’s Daily: those who slander China are not welcome.

Another image by People’s Daily published on March 25 said that the Chinese market does not welcome those who slander China.

The Communist Youth League also contributed to the online storm by posting about H&M, writing: “On the one hand they are starting rumors and boycotting Xinjiang cotton, on the other hand they want to make money in China. Dream on, H&M!” That post received around 430,000 likes.

Various official media, including Global Times and China Daily, posted about cotton production in Xinjiang. Besides refuting the forced labor accusations and accusing Western players of hypocrisy and ulterior motives, a recurring issue stressed is how 42 percent of Xinjiang’s cotton is harvested by machines. Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng was quoted as saying that “the so-called forced labor in Xinjiang is nonexistent and entirely imaginary. The spotless white Xinjiang cotton brooks no slander.”

This image was posted by China Daily USA.

On March 27, People’s Daily posted a rap video by ‘Xinjiang Youth’ (新疆青年) on its official Weibo channel (video below) that included some tough lines attacking Western powers, companies, and media.

Also noteworthy in this propaganda campaign is how the Canadian YouTuber Daniel Dumbrill got caught up, as what he said in one of his videos was quoted by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) on March 27 during a press conference, with his video being screened before the conference.

In this video, that was part of a larger panel on Xinjiang, Dumbrill responded to the decision-making process on how China’s treatment of Uyghurs is called a “genocide.”

Recently, a number of countries and parliaments including the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands have declared that China’s crackdown on the Muslim minorities amounts to “genocide” in violation of the U.N. Genocide Convention. Dumbrill talks about why the Xinjiang narratives matter to both the foreign and domestic politics of the US and other Western countries, with Dumbril claiming it “isn’t really about human rights and a care for overseas Muslims” but about other political goals. Dumbrill’s video was praised by authorities, state media, and by Chinese netizens.

“We have to push for the truth to come out,” some netizens commented. Others wrote: “But we’re only allowed to discuss it from within [the country].”

Meanwhile, while many companies are seeing sales falling, there are also many who are benefiting from the current developments. Some sellers on Taobao have found another way to attract customers, promoting their products as being made with “100% Xinjiang Cotton!”

As this is an ongoing topic, we will report more later. Meanwhile, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

“Love the Motherland” – New Moral Guidelines for Chinese Performers Come Into Force

New “Self-Disciplinary Measures” for performers in China come into force on March 1st.

Manya Koetse

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On February 5th of 2021, the China Association of Performing Arts (中国演出行业协会), which is run by China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, officially released new guidelines for Chinese performers in order to promote the idea that Chinese performers should abide by rules of ‘social morality,’ stating they could face a permanent ban from their profession if they fail to comply.

The guidelines, that come into force on a trial basis starting from March 1st, are meant to “promote the healthy development of the performer industry” (“促进演出行业健康发展”). It is the first time for the Association, which was established in 1988, to introduce “clear regulations” in this way.

The regulations are presented as being “self-disciplinary measures” for actors, musicians, dancers, opera performers, acrobats, and any other people engaged in performing within China.

Part of the article presented by the China Association of Performing Arts includes the “practice norms”, which stipulate that performers, among other things, should abide by national laws and regulations, should honor their contracts and comply with copyright laws. The article also lists other things. For example, performers should:

 

  • “..love the motherland, and support the Party’s line and policies” (“热爱祖国,拥护党的路线方针政策”)
  • “..persevere in the orientation that literature and art should serve the people and socialism” (“坚持文艺为人民服务、为社会主义服务的方向”)
  • “..actively uphold a positive image” (“积极树立正面形象”)
  • “..actively participate in social charity events, help the development of public welfare undertakings, consciously put social responsibility into practice” (“积极参与社会公益活动,助力公益事业发展,自觉践行社会责任”)

 

Another part describes what performers are not allowed to do. Among other things – of which some seem obvious, such as ‘do not violate the basic principles of the Constitution’ – they include things like ‘performers may not..’:

 

  • “..jeopardize national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity, endanger national security or damage national honor and interests” (“危害国家统一、主权和领土完整,危害国家安全,或者损害国家荣誉和利益”)
  • “..encite hatred against ethnic groups, discriminate against ethnic groups, infringe the customs and habits of ethnic groups, insult ethnic groups or undermine national unity” (“煽动民族仇恨、民族歧视,侵害民族风俗习惯,伤害民族感情,破坏民族团结”)
  • “..organize, participate in, or promote illegal activities regarding obscenities, pornography, gambling, drugs, violence, terrorism, or criminal elements etc” (“组织、参与、宣扬涉及淫秽、色情、赌博、毒品、暴力、恐怖或者黑恶势力等非法活动 “)
  • “..violate national religion policies, promote cults or superstition” (“违反国家宗教政策,宣扬邪教、迷信”)
  • “..do lip-sync in professional performances, deceive the audience by fake playing instruments etc” (“在营业性演出中以假唱、假演奏等手段欺骗观众”)

 

The punishment for going against these regulations is an industry-wide boycott of one year, three years, five years, or even a permanent ban depending on how serious the case is.

By stressing that art should serve the people, the China Association of Performing Arts reiterates President Xi Jinping’s views on the arts, which he previously shared at a symposium of prominent artists and writers in Beijing in 2014, and where he also said that “the arts must serve the people and serve socialism.”

As discussed by Chinese author Murong Xuecun in the New York Times in 2014 (‘The Art of Xi Jinping’ link), President Xi’s comments reminded of the famous Yan’an talks by Mao Zedong in 1942 where he prescribed the new direction for art and literature in China, saying they should serve the ‘people’ – the workers, peasants, and soldiers – and not the petty bourgeoisie or intellectuals.

The Beijing comments by Xi signaled that the Chinese government fixed its sights on literature and the arts, with Murong Xuecun already predicting that it would be the start of new lists of forbidden films, broadcasts, and publications. Those lists may now also include banned performers.

 

“Idols should be a good example for others”

 

The China Association of Performing Arts also has a Weibo account (@中国演出行业协会) where they posted about the new regulations.

“I support this, idols should be a good example for others,” one top commenter reacted to the regulations.

Others suggested that there should be a blacklist of performers engaged in illegal activities in order to “warn the industry.”

But there are also voices, such as some on Q&A site Zhihu, expressing that the current regulations are too vague, as they include stipulations that are already part of the law. Some argue that there should be a clearer description of the consequences artists will face when they violate industry guidelines or when they engage in acts that are illegal.

“Surrogate pregnancies, insulting China, taking drugs, evading taxes, etc etc – this should be banned forever,” another person said.

The ‘surrogate pregnancy’ comment refers to the controversy involving Zheng Shuang (郑爽). It already is the biggest celebrity controversy of the year in China. The 29-year-old famous Chinese actress dominated all trending topics in January of 2021 when news came out that the actress and her husband Zhang Heng (张恒) had separated and that she had left behind two children born out of surrogacy in the United States. Surrogacy is not legal in China.

Since the controversy, Zheng Shuang was dropped by the brands she represented, she was shut down by China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, and her honorary titles were revoked by Huading Awards.

Among all Weibo comments on the new regulations, there also many mocking them – especially the rule that stipulates performers should not lip-sync and deceive their audiences. “What about the Spring Festival Gala?”, multiple commenters say, referring to the biggest live televised state media event, that is often criticized for lip-synced performances.

 

“Can Zheng Shuang still make a comeback?”

 

The recent regulations come at a time when Chinese celebrities have enormous influence in popular culture due to the blossoming of various social media platforms – some of Weibo’s top celebrities have over 120 million fans.

At the same time, the past decades have seen a higher grade of commercialization of Chinese media, with entertainment and celebrities being a major driving force behind the success of hundreds of Chinese television stations. This has only further accelerated the influence of China’s top performers.

Loved by millions of fans, the power of Chinese celebrity artists is often also used by authorities to promote Party ideology and policies. This is done in myriad ways. In 2017, a group of Chinese celebrities praised China’s “New Era” in a song supporting Xi Jinping Thought; in 2019, influential pop stars sang about the importance of social credit.

In this thriving celebrity culture, Chinese authorities are tightening control on the culture & entertainment content that reaches millions of fans within the country. In 2019 there was a crackdown on the rising popularity of Chinese costume dramas. In 2017, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) issued a notice that Chinese television stations should refrain from broadcasting TV dramas “focused on entertaining” during primetime. These are just minor examples of ways in which authorities are shaping a popular culture environment that is not just about the entertainment alone – it should also serve the Party’s goals.

As the “self-discipline management measures” have now gone into effect, some discussions on social media are focused on whether or not these measures should be applied retroactively, and if Chinese celebrities could still be affected now for past behaviors.

In a previous interview with Xinhua News, The Secretary-General of the China Association of Performing Arts Pan Yan (潘燕) stated that previous actions or situations will not be taken into account when it comes to the current guidelines.

“Does this mean Zheng Shuang can still make a comeback?”, some netizens wondered.

Pan Yan also said that the Association has an ‘ethics committee’ which will be involved in the process of assessing whether or not artists have violated the practice norms.

 
By Manya Koetse

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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