Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”
The film depicts a group of “People’s Volunteer Army” soldiers who are first hemmed in at Shanganling (or Triangle Hill) and then, when reinforcements arrive, take up their rifles and counterattack the U.S. military “jackals.”
The movie and the tune are widely known among Chinese, and the song has been a leading piece of anti-American propaganda by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for decades. CCP propaganda has always referred to the Korean War as the “movement to resist America and help [North] Korea.” The message of the propaganda is that the United States is an enemy—in fighting in the Korean War the United States’ real goal was said to be to invade and conquer China. The victory at Triangle Hill was promoted as a victory over imperialists.
The song Lang Lang played describes how beautiful China is and then near the end has this verse, “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” in the song is the United States.
The name of the song is “My Motherland,” originally titled “Big River.” In an interview broadcast on Phoenix TV, the first thing Lang Lang is quoted as saying is that he chose the piece.
He then said, “I thought to play ‘My Motherland’ because I think playing the tune at the White House banquet can help us, as Chinese people, feel extremely proud of ourselves and express our feelings through the song. I think it’s especially good. Also, I like the tune in and of itself, every time I hear it I feel extremely moved.”
He expressed this idea more frankly in a later blog post, writing: “Playing this song praising China to heads of state from around the world seems to tell them that our China is formidable, that our Chinese people are united; I feel deeply honored and proud.”
Known in Advance
Whether Lang Lang’s decision to play “My Motherland” was entirely his own is impossible to confirm. That his choice was known in advance to CCP officials is very likely.
Cheng Xiaonong is a former assistant to former CCP General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. He now lives in New Jersey and is a commentator on Chinese politics.
Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”
Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”
In addition to the Chinese delegation likely knowing of the program in advance, CCP officials connected to Phoenix TV would also have known.Phoenix TV is based in Hong Kong and its signal may be seen throughout China by satellite. Its interview with Lang Lang was broadcast at 7 a.m. Beijing time on Jan. 20, which is 6 p.m. D.C. time on Jan. 19—shortly before the state dinner. The interview was not live—it was filmed on another day in advance of the broadcast.
Phoenix TV, nominally independent, is known to have very close ties to the CCP. The scholar Anne-Marie Brady, whose research focuses on China’s media and propaganda, has said that Phoenix TV is more loyal to the Chinese regime than the official state-run media.
At a minimum, the staff at Phoenix TV knew in advance that Lang Lang planned to play the song. Given the close ties between the network and the CCP and the sensitivity of anything broadcast about Hu’s state visit, CCP officials not knowing this in advance would be unusual.
Continued on page 2: ‘Propaganda’