The Chinese words for “publicity” and “propaganda” are the same: 宣传xuānchuán. Surely this is a sinister sign. But if you think about it, they are the same thing. To publicize is to put something out into the general public. To propagate can be the same. But in English, and other languages, we have made a special category for that kind of ideological publicity where we feel someone is trying to put one over on us. It’s true, it’s false, it’s attractive, it’s repulsive, and it seems to only become propaganda when we disagree with it. Chinese, with so many homophones, is a language made for puns. While Chinese has no distinct word for what we call propaganda, there are of course ways to express the idea of it, to get around it, and to mock it. Though it tends to be less direct and more subtle and punny. For example, the government likes to promote “social harmony.” Harmony, 和谐héxié, is often interpreted as no dissenting or controversial views, so many will employ the word ”crab” on the internet, 河蟹héxiè, to avoid censors if they have an ‘inharmonious’ thing to say. 央视yāngshì is an abbreviation for China Central Television. 央屎yāngshǐ, roughly China Central Shit, is one of my personal favorites.
The greatest knockoff of all time or…something else? It’s not yet clear exactly what the “Chinese Dream” is. The name isn’t even completely settled; it’s also written “China Dream.” This new national slogan has been accompanied by a publicity campaign that started in summer 2013.
Better minds have already written what can be written at this point. Read some of it here: NY Review of Books, The Atlantic, China Current, ChinaFile, BBC. Here are a bunch of digital China Dream graphics. Caijing asked some cabdrivers what it meant to them. A collection of the posters out in the streets is here at the official website of the propa…hm, hm, publicity department that puts up these ‘public welfare advertisements’ (公益广告). Xinhua has an official Chinese Dream website of sorts.
They’re typically posted around construction sites, but you can also find them around government offices and generally busy places. Most Chinese people hardly notice them. I thought they were kind of lame when they first started appearing around town because they lack the piss and vinegar of old school Commie propaganda. But after seeing more and more of them, they have grown on me. Here are some shots of Beijing in the times of the Chinese Dream.
The Youth are strong. China is strong. Take the book bag and put it to the roadside, take responsibility on both shoulders. By your robust power, the Nation pulses with the People’s rejuvination and the Youth’s dream realization.