Maybe there's hope for China after all

In China, mass media is expected to serve the greater good, which means putting out pro-communist propaganda designed to convince viewers they are lucky to live in the glorious “People’s Republic.” But in the age of cell phones and social media, it seems a growing number of Chinese aren’t as impressed as they are supposed to be.

Case in point, “The Founding of an Army.” This was a big budget Chinese film released to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army in 1927. Here’s a trailer for the film which came out this July. You don’t need to watch all of this but if you watch 10-seconds you’ll get the tone and the scale of this production:

Lot’s of revolutionary fervor and heroic sacrifice. I don’t recognize any of the actors but apparently, the movie includes a bunch of well-known young actors who usually star in China’s equivalent of romantic-comedies. The implied message is that young people can do nothing better than dying in the service of the communist state. You can see why the ruling party would be eager to promote this message. But the Associated Press reports the reception of the film wasn’t what the party expected:

Instead of inspiring an outpouring of nationalism and self-sacrifice for the state, it was roundly mocked for trying to lure a younger audience by casting teen idols as revolutionary party leaders.

Viewers more used to seeing the idols play love interests in light-hearted soap operas responded to the film by projecting “modern-day romantic narratives on the founding fathers of the nation,” said Hung Huang, a well-known social commentator based in Beijing. “It was hilarious.”…

“Chinese people are increasingly ignoring party propaganda and are much more interested in movie stars, who represent a new lifestyle and more exciting aspirations,” said Willy Lam, an expert on Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The situation for “The Founding of an Army” is so bad that China’s top film review website has shut down any comment on the movie. And it’s not just movies where the state is fighting this battle. The AP reports the popularity of Chinese teen idols has raised concern about the revolutionary commitment of the youth:

Just this month, teen idol Lu Han, also known as China’s Justin Bieber, announced he had a girlfriend, triggering a flood of shares, responses and 4 million “likes” within a few hours that briefly crashed the country’s popular Weibo microblog service.

A recent commentary in The Global Times, a party newspaper with a nationalistic stance, railed against such celebrity worship, saying China had now surpassed the West in that regard.

It certainly sounds as if the hearts of the young are being pulled away from communist ideals toward the images of personal freedom popular in the rest of the world’s mass media. As much as we’ve criticized Hollywood here in the past couple weeks, that sounds like a big improvement for China. Once people start laughing at state-approved propaganda like “The Founding of an Army” they’re more likely to be critical of their totalitarian, one-party government as well.