The State-Produced Opera That Is Bringing Chinese Officials to Tears

April 21, 2015 Updated: April 21, 2015

“Family Portrait” is a contemporary Chinese opera produced by the Communist regime’s propaganda departments to promote “clean government.”

The work—adapted from details gleaned from real-life corruption cases, as official sources would have it—seems to be part of a softer complement to the ongoing and wide-reaching anti-corruption campaign that has disciplined hundreds of Communist Party officials.

In “Family Portrait,” a Chinese woman called Han Linlin returns to China after studying abroad, only to find that her father, a rags-to-riches deputy mayor, has been sacked and investigated. Linlin then produces a 30-year-old family portrait, telling the story of her father’s rise and fall—how the once-hardworking farmer became a respected official but was then tempted by money, power, and women—and how tragedy befell her family.

Tearful Audiences 

According to a report by the state-run Beijing Youth Daily, central authorities organized an audience of nearly 2,000 Party officials at the board and division levels to see the opera in Beijing on the April 17 and 18. 

“Family Portrait” premiered in Henan Province last November. By January this year, the Henan provincial government had organized over 30,000 local communist officials and Party cadres to watch the opera, to warn and educate them about the dangers of corruption.

Beijing Youth Daily claims the show’s reception has been fantastic. Reportedly, some officials cried hard.

“I haven’t seen such a touching opera in a long time. Many party cadres were shedding tears,” said Hu Mingzhu, an official working at the Henan provincial anti-corruption authorities, in an April 19 interview with Beijing Youth Daily.

Internet users expressed more skeptical or jaded views.

“The officials that cried must have seen their own fate in the show,” one comment reads.

Some other netizens doubted the opera would do much to change the severe corruption among Chinese elites.

“It would probably be more effective to have the officials witness the corruption trials in court” another user wrote.

The propaganda opera comes as the Party boosts its ideological indoctrination of cadres. Xinhua reported on April 19 that Central Chinese authorities are to launch a political education campaign at the end of this month to focus on the so-called “three strictnesses” and “three solidities.” The “three strictnesses” refers to being strict in cultivating one’s morals, using power, and disciplining oneself. “Three solidities?” Solid planning, solid work, and solid behavior. Whether these trite slogans will really serve to invigorate the Party’s phlegmatic officialdom remains to be seen—but judging by previous political campaigns, the prospect seems a long shot.