Party advertising and self-promotion

Party advertising and self-promotion
As Victor Klemperer noted in his classic study of totalitarian language, The Language of the Third Reich, political sloganeering and propaganda (‘public enlightenment’) campaigns have a symbiotic relationship with the language of advertising. While Maoist-era political jargon reflected a more militaristic and hyperbolic age, feeding off hoary Chinese traditions (enumeration was particular common) and shaped by the unique linguistic flair of Mao, Deng-Jiang-Hu era politics rarely rings with the clarion call of agit-prop. This is an age when droning Party pronouncements contrast with increasingly glitzy ‘public service’ announcements. The spiritual civilization campaigns launched periodically since 1986, the media mobilizations to study the political speeches or ‘theoretical’ writings of the leaders, the slogans promoting social stability, public safety, urban order and patriotic zeal cleave to the methods of commercial advertisement, but while they are often as jingoistic as before, they generally lack memorable jingles.
The Party promotes itself not simply as the ‘ruling political organization’, an expression used to sheath the apparatus of rule in a cloak of constitutional formality (see 1982 Constitution of the PRC), but also as the final or ultimate historical choice of the Chinese people. Moreover, its multifaceted propaganda-cum-public-relations organizations increasingly represent it through a statist-corporate voice that offers basic definitions of group morality and ethics, consensus, coherence and community in ways more familiar to us from international corporate advertising practice than Maoist hyper-propaganda. Not only does the Party manipulate routine public pronouncements and orchestrated news reporting to achieve this end: it pursues its goals also through a range of national media entertainments and promotions. It achieves this through the Party Propaganda Department (that’s Propaganda), the government instrumentalities devoted to public enlightenment like the Ministry of Culture and State Administration for Radio, Film and Television, as well as a myriad of subordinate organizations: Party newspapers, CCTV (Chinese Central Television), Central People’s Radio (see radio (stations and content)), and so on. At other times, the Party’s messages are conveyed through non-Party organs and allied mass media that are directed at one level or another by in-house Party committees. Such committees function both as surrogates for Party authority and as representatives if not mediators for non-Party interests. As a result, they are enmeshed in a complex of relationships that range from the purely propagandisticideological to the corporate-promotional.
It was not until the 1990s that, for want of better terminology, ‘politico-tainment’ or ‘Partimercials’ appeared. Party culture, even when packaged for television ratings, was not necessarily all that popular and, since it has been in competition with more commercial (and in many cases foreign) programmes, inducements have had to be found to keep viewers watching. Taking the lead from the ‘opposition’, quiz shows and newspaper competitions were introduced that tested the skills of participants in memorizing, for example, official Party history, not to mention facts and figures related to new Party policies.
The conscious development of Party and state ‘institutional advertising’ (gongguan guanggao) and ‘public service announcements’ (gongyi guanggao), as they are now called, has been a gradual process pursued by what were now called Party PR gongguan specialists. But the awareness of these modified forms of propaganda has been heightened by the general development of commercial culture. With the establishment of Spiritual Civilization Propaganda Offices at provincial and municipal level from 1996, the use of a new commercial standard in state propaganda became evident. When in 1996 the Party launched its latest ‘spiritual civilization’ offensive which featured moralizing slogans exhorting people throughout the country to comply with road rules and to speak politely, huge computer-enhanced images, neon slogan boards and advertising displays were erected throughout Beijing and provincial cities to help deliver the message (see socialist spiritual civilization).
Similarly, the creation of ‘corporate identities’ for venerable state institutions developed apace from the mid 1980s onward, and became something of a fad from 1993. The influence of the Kong-Tai style of mercantile environment in all of this was fundamental. Many state bodies like the Bank of China, China Travel, publishing organizations like Joint Publishers, Commercial Press and Chung-hwa Books, as well as various other state or pseudo-private groups engaged in business in Hong Kong, were the first to construct a corporate facade, which was then introduced to their head and branch offices on the mainland. Also by the mid 1990s, a corps of journalists, editors and designers now existed within the mainland media that constantly negotiated a working relationship between the esoteric communications favoured by traditional staid propagandists, on the one hand, and the more newsworthy style of partial disclosure and pseudo-honesty that fitted in with the modernized urban style of contemporary mainland life, on the other.
Through broad-based appeals to national symbols and patriotic indoctrination—increasingly delivered via a mass media that has appropriated elements of avant-garde art, culture and global advertising styles—the ideological promotion of the Party continues to claim a competitive stake on the public’s attention and continues to shape sociocultural norms (see socio-political values). It is often considered that commodity culture and the market have fatally undermined the primacy of Party rule in China. This is supposedly a process that has been accelerated by the opening up of greater public spaces and discursive realms, as well as being the result of international political and economic pressures, and the tripartite dialogue within the Chinese world—Sino-Kong-Tai. It is argued that Party control has thus been weakened, or at least diversified, and its ideology gradually undermined to the point of becoming little more than a window-dressing disguising a basic nationalistic political and economic agenda. Nonetheless, the Party as an organization has also benefited greatly from many of these various pressures, including advertising culture. The Party retains its dominant role, and through competition in the marketplace its symbolic world has been enriched.
Barmé, Geremie R. (1999). In The Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 115–22, 235–54.
Lewis, Steven (ed.) (2002). China’s Public Advertising Culture: Spiritual Civilization, Local Development, Privatization and Public Service. Baker Institute, Rice University: Transnational China Project (online). Available at

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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