Starting in March, Chongqing Satellite Television eliminated soap operas and advertising in its primetime 7:30pm and 11pm timeslot, playing instead paeans to communist ideology such as Mao era songs and movies, and government and public service ads.
The goal of Chongqing Satellite TV (CQTV) is to “focus on spreading communists’ advanced culture” a spokesperson from Chongqing Administration of Radio, Film and Television told Chinese media, “We will make sure we fully perform our responsibilities as a mainstream media in guiding public opinion… [and] educating the people.”
The channel’s newly launched programs include a series featuring “touching stories” of how Communist Party officials connect with “the masses,” and reflects the “water-and-fish relationship” between officials and the public.
Another new program is the Daily Red Song Show, a singing competition of communist propaganda songs.
Most of these songs praise the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for its “achievements” over the years. One famous song compares the CCP to Chinese people’s mothers: “Party oh mother, my dear mother. You brought me up with your sweet milk.” Another equally well known piece calls Mao the “Great Savior” of the people.
CQTV’s new contents are Chongqing CCP leader Bo Xilai's expression of loyalty to the Chinese regime. Bo started to push the Communism come-back campaign shortly after he was appointed Secretary of the CCP Chongqing Committee and the actual boss of the south-western city, one of the four central government direct-controlled municipalities (the other three being Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin).
The campaign includes promoting red songs through media and events, and regularly sending “revolutionary dictums” in text messages to the public. According to the authorities, the campaign aims to reduce official corruption and inspire the people through communist education.
Though Chinese media flatter the red-song campaign, and the songs may resonate with older people who grew up during Mao’s era, bloggers do not find it appealing. In a widely circulated article titled “Can Chongqing’s Red Songs Move Chongqing Officials?” published on the popular site Kdnet.net, blogger Lin Mingli criticized the hypocrisy of the campaign:
“If Chongqing officials are really touched by the red songs they sang, shouldn’t they demonstrate their determination to ‘serve the interests of the people’ instead of grubbing profits for themselves?” Lin wrote. “Shouldn’t they publicize their financial status and accept public supervision? Shouldn’t they reduce ‘official cars’, streamline ridiculously redundant staff, and eat and travel less with public money?”
“If you can’t do any of this, then aren’t all the red slogans, all the promoting and urging, and all the calling for followers… just a show? Aren’t you just fooling us?” Lin questioned. “Your public performances are shameful.” Lin’s article received wide applause on the Internet.
Sohu.com blogger Yesmann said that the authorities’ concept of “educating the people” is wrong. “It should be the people that educate the officials to stop messing around.”
Many criticized the campaign as a backward step in history. “We see China rushing backwards to the Cultural Revolution, and we can foresee the ‘beautiful’ lives waiting ahead for the Chinese people,” Beijing writer Ling Cangzhou sarcastically said in his blog.
Ling later said in an interview with Radio Free Asia that CQTV’s move was an attempt to bring back the old era, calling it “an ominous sign.”
Independent writer Ran Yunfei told Deutsche Welle the red campaign reminded him of Mao and Nazi propaganda, and said he fears the campaign will be pushed to other parts of China.
For many Chinese, red songs recall the ten-year-long Cultural Revolution launched by Mao in 1966. The catastrophic period was marked by frantic deification and worship of Mao, bloody class and power struggle, nation-wide chaos and economic breakdown.
Researchers estimate 100 million Chinese were persecuted during that time, and up to 20 million may have died of unnatural causes. The Communist Party culture Bo is promoting represents the art forms and political propaganda typical of that era.
Bo’s interest in CCP culture may not be a surprise given his background. The second son of a senior Party official, Bo was a member of the Liandong Red Guards, a radical youth organization notorious for excessive use of violence against “anti-revolutionaries” during the Cultural Revolution. Bo’s father Bo Yibo was also a radical communist who came to the peak of his political career after staunchly supporting the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre in which thousands of pro-democracy student protesters were killed.
CCP media portray Bo as a political new star and a hero in cracking down on gang crime, which has been echoed by some international media. But accounts from non-official sources present a very different picture.
Veteran Chinese journalist Jiang Weiping, who knew Bo from the beginning of his political career, depicts him as an unscrupulous power-seeker who cunningly manipulates public opinion and media for his own profit. Jiang himself was jailed for six years after revealing to Hong Kong media that then Liaoning governor Bo covered up political corruption.
While serving as Liaoning Province governor, Bo actively helped former Party leader Jiang Zemin persecute Falun Gong practitioners. One hundred and three Falun Gong practitioners died of torture in Liaoning by April 2004. Bo was sued by persecution survivors around the world and was convicted for torture by the New South Wales Supreme Court of Australia in 2007.
A Tianya.cn blogger said that a similar red movement decades ago led China to its darkest era. Singing red songs to please CCP leaders is turning back the wheel of history, said blogger screen-named A Red Heart Facing the Sun. “Those who take backward steps will be deserted by history.”