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Here’s Xi the Cartoon – Online Animations Are China’s New ‘Propaganda Posters’

Easy to click, view & share – short cartoons and gifs are the propaganda posters of China’s new digital era.

Manya Koetse

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In an era where China’s young generations are practically glued to their smartphone screens, China’s propaganda departments are stepping up their game. Online animated videos and gifs use bright colors, simple design, and a very likable Xi to deliver strong political messages.

The speech that was delivered by president Xi Jinping at the APEC summit last week made its rounds on Chinese social media this Tuesday – not as a video, but as an animated cartoon.

The APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting took place in Vietnam’s Da Nang from November 10-11, and was attended by international world leaders such as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, American President Donald Trump, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

As one of the keynote speakers to the APEC CEO summit, Xi talked about his views on the Asian region’s future. The speech was especially momentous since it marked Xi’s first public address at an international multilateral meeting since the conclusion of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

In his address, Xi spoke about China’s commitment to regional multilateralism and open economic globalization, and the importance of promoting inclusive development.

The animated cartoon version of the speech presents China as a leader in the region, with Xi as the main cartoon character. It was widely shared on Chinese social media by state media outlets for the past few days, at a time when cartoons and gifs seem to have become the new way of communicating Xi’s important visits and speeches to the online population.

 

Xi’s Animated Speech: China Leads the Way

 

The recent APEC cartoon that made its rounds on Weibo this week summarizes Xi Jinping’s speech in a 3,5 minute animation. It first shows a group of cranes, flying from China to the coastline of Vietnam’s Da Nang where Xi is holding his keynote speech.

As Xi talks about the development of China and the start of the PRC’s “New Era,” this concept is visualized through a boat that is going forward under the leadership of Xi Jinping (see featured image).

The short animation video then shows another vessel by the name of “APEC” that is in rough weather, passing icebergs of “terrorism,” “natural disasters,” or “food safety issues.” But luckily, there is a lighthouse standing up to the huge waves – and it is marked by the flag of China.

APEC: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

China is a stable lighthouse amidst the wild waves.

While the audio from Xi’s speech continues throughout the animation, talking about stability in the region, the cartoon presents the APEC group of leaders and Xi meeting with various leaders, leading to the final part that shows a world connected through boats, trains, airplanes, and the internet.

The very last fragment of the animation shows a fleet of boats going forward, “together building a better tomorrow for the Asia-Pacific,” with the leading boat carrying the Chinese flag.

The animation was shared on video platform Miaopai and Weibo by state media such as CCTV (@央视网), Global Times (@环球网), China Economy (@中国经济网), and others.

 

Xi Jinping the Cartoon

 

It is not the first time that the cartoon image of President Xi is propagated online by Chinese state media. Over the past years, various key political concepts, events, and ideological messages have been spread online through animations, with a central role for Xi Jinping.

This trend became particularly apparent earlier this year during the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative and during the 19th National Party Congress; both crucial moment for Beijing’s top leadership in 2017.

Xi Jinping was first launched as a cartoon image in 2013, when a video titled ‘How a Political Leader was Tempered’ (领导人是怎样炼成的) went viral online. At the time , Chinese state media reported that the identity of the video’s author “remained unknown.”

Xi first appeared as a cartoon in 2013.

But not long after this success, the first official release of a Xi Jinping cartoon followed. The series ‘Where did Xi’s Time Go?’ (习主席的时间都去哪了) was designed by media outlet Qianlong.com, and was propagated on major websites as well as new apps.

More attractive than text news, the comic graphic news could reach readers’ heart and it suits modern reading habits,” the chief editor of Qianlong proudly said about the Xi cartoon.

‘Where did Xi’s time go?’ was issued in 2013.

In 2014, another cartoon series of Xi Jinping was released by Chinese state media. According to People’s Daily, the image of cartoon Xi, drawn by cartoonist Jiao Haiyang (焦海洋), made it possible for the media to depict the country’s leader in a “fun and vivid way”, showing the President as “modest,” “approachable,” and “in touch with the people.”

Xi Jinping by Jiao Haiyang for People’s Daily in 2014.

Xi eats baozi with the people. By Jiao Haiyang.

Xi Jinping meets a sanitation worker. By Jiao Haiyang.

In 2015, Xi made another return as a cartoon hero fighting corruption. The cartoon, uploaded to Youku by the mysterious ‘Chaoyang Studios,’ was widely shared by state media outlets such as People’s Daily (Gan 2015).

The exposure of Xi as a cartoon image increased thereafter in 2016 and 2017, with China Daily even launching a ‘cartoon commentary’ section. The ‘cartoon commentary’ section posts short animations of Xi Jinping during and after important political events, such as Xi’s Europe-Asia tour in June 2016, the Central Asia tour in June of 2017 or the Hong Kong visit in July.

‘Cartoon commentary’ from China Daily 2016: Xi’s Europe-Asia Tour.

China Daily ‘cartoon commentary’ during Xi’s visit to Hong Kong in July 2017.

Most of the animated Xi cartoons that are widely shared on Chinese social media over the recent two years, including the official media ‘cartoon commentaries’, have been credited to a cartoonist named Liao Tingting (廖婷婷).

Xi Jinping by Liao Tingting.

‘Liao’s’ cartoons have a distinct style that is different from that of Jiao Haiyang or the Qianlong designers; Xi always has the same friendly face, which is relatively big for his body. The cartoons have bright colors and often have a simplicity to them which is comparable to the drawings in children’s books.

 

‘Propaganda Poster’ in the Social Media Age

 

Colorful images depicting important events or developments, often with a special focus on Mao Zedong, have played an important role in Chinese state propaganda since the founding of the PRC in 1949. The propaganda poster was an especially relevant medium within this type of state-sponsored propaganda art. With bright colors and powerful images, posters could easily grab the attention of the people, and could also transmit messages to the many illiterate Chinese (Landsberger 2001, 541; Van der Heijden&Landsberger 2008).

But in an era of fast online media and smartphone-scrolling youth, Chinese leaders are changing their propaganda tactics. As noted by Chow (2017) in The Diplomat:

China is hoping to reinforce belief in the Communist Party, Chinese nationalism, and socialist values through social media. The ruling party fears that it is losing the battle for hearts and minds – particularly among Internet-savvy millennials who have grown up with Western movies, music, and television.”

Besides other new ways to disseminate political messages (such as rap music, mobile games), short animated cartoons or gifs are now an important vehicle for propaganda; they can communicate strong audiovisual messages in bite-sized chunks, making it easy to digest for an audience that is overwhelmed by online information and is not interested in listening to hour-long speeches.

Although the step from propaganda poster to online animation seems big, the idea remains the same: using bright colors and simple design to attract people’s attention and communicate a strong message through a medium that can be easily placed in many locations, reaching a great number of people.

Besides communicating messages about China’s development and its role in the world today, state-sponsored Xi cartoons also convey a different message. Namely that Xi Jinping is a very likable and approachable leader.

The manner in which this message is conveyed matters greatly: the control should lie with Chinese authorities. When Chinese netizens compared President Xi to Winnie the Pooh, images of the friendly bear were censored soon after they went viral.

On Weibo, the animated cartoons of Xi’s speeches and important moments already seem to have become a normal part of the everyday social media landscape. While the reactions to the first series were generally positive, with netizens calling them “so cute” (好萌), the later videos seem to have become accepted as just another way for state media to communicate news to the people.

‘Xi the cartoon’ has become part of netizens’ daily online-scrolling routines. In this regard,  propaganda departments have succeeded in bringing a likable and approachable Xi “in touch with the people.”

By Manya Koetse

 

References & Further Reading

Chow, Eugene. 2017. “China’s Propaganda Goes Viral.” The Diplomat, June 29 https://thediplomat.com/2017/06/chinas-propaganda-goes-viral/ [14.11.17].

Creemers, Rogier. 2017. “Cyber China: Upgrading Propaganda, Public Opinion Work and Social Management for the Twenty-First Century.” Journal of Contemporary China (26): 85-100.

Gan, Nectar. 2015. “Cartoon Xi Jinping Returns in New Animated Adventures.” South China Morning Post, February 21 http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1719881/cartoon-xi-jinping-returns-new-animated-adventures [14.11.17].

Landsberger, Stefan R. 2001. “Learning by What Example? Educational Propaganda in Twenty-first Century China.” Critical Asian Studies 33(4): 541-571.

Van der Heijden, Marien & Stefan Landsberger. 2008. Chinese Propaganda Posters. Amsterdam: International Institute of Social History. Available online at http://www.iisg.nl/publications/chineseposters.pdf [14.11.17].

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

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

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

U.S. Embassy Launches WeChat Stickers Featuring Cartoon Eagle

A Weibo hashtag about the eagle stickers, that feature some phrases previously used by China’s Foreign Ministry, has now been taken offline.

Manya Koetse

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On January 30, the American Embassy in China announced the launch of its very own series of social media gifs, a special ’emoticon collection’ (表情包), featuring a little, somewhat silly cartoon eagle.

The U.S. Embassy launched the eagle series on WeChat and also announced the series on their Weibo account, writing that the eagle made its first public appearance in light of the festivities surrounding the Chinese New Year.

The eagle is called “Xiaomei” or “Little Mei” (鹰小美). The ‘mei’ is part of 美国 Měiguó, Chinese for the ‘United States,’ but měi also means beautiful and pretty.

The American embassy issued a total of 16 different animated stickers, and they’re intended to be used on Tencent’s WeChat, where users can download all kinds of different emoticons or stickers to use in conversations.

WeChat users often use many different animated stickers in conversations to express emotions, make jokes, or increase the festive mood (by sending out celebratory New Year’s or birthday etc gifs). Users can download new and preferred sticker packages through the app’s sticker section.

One sticker shows Xiaomei with a festive decoration with 福 () for blessing and prosperity, wishing everyone a happy start to the Chinese Lunar New Year. There are also stickers showing the texts “happy winter,” “hi,” and “thank you.”

Another sticker in the series that has triggered some online responses is one that shows the eagle with a surprised look, wiping its eyes, with the words “wait and see” written above. The Chinese expression used is 拭目以待 shìmù yǐdài, to eagerly wait for something to happen, literally meaning to wipe one’s eyes and wait.

This same expression was often used by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) during press conferences, and he also used it in 2022 when responding to questions related to Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan and how the Chinese military would respond (e.g. he first used “wait and see” in the context of waiting to see if Pelosi would actually dare to go to Taiwan or not). But Zhao also used “please wait and see” (请大家拭目以待) when foreign reporters asked him how China would respond to the announced U.S. boycott of the Winter Olympics in 2021.

The Little Mei emoji triggered the most responses as some netizens felt it was meant as a sneer to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

One of Little Mei’s quotes is also “remain calm” (保持冷静 bǎochí lěngjìng), which was – perhaps coincidentally – also often used by Zhao in the context of the war in Ukraine and to refer to other international conflicts or tensions (“all parties should remain calm”). The animated sticker also has olive branches growing behind the eagle.

It recently became known that Zhao, who became known as the ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomat, was removed as the Foreign Ministry spokesperson and was moved to the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs.

Especially in the context of Zhao leaving his post, some wondered why the U.S. Embassy would use phrases related to his press conferences for their new emoticons.

Although some people suggested the WeChat stickers were not launched in China with good intentions, others appreciated the humorous visuals and felt it was funny. Some also joked that America was infiltrating Chinese social media with its cultural export (“文化输出”), and others wondered if they could not also introduce some other stickers with more Chinese Foreign Ministry popular phrases on them.

A hashtag related to the topic made its rounds on Weibo on Tuesday (#美驻华大使馆上线鹰小美表情包#), but the topic suddenly was taken offline on Tuesday evening local time, along with some of the media reports about the remarkable WeChat series.

The WeChat stickers are still available for downloading by scanning the QR code below through WeChat.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

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.

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