Chinese propaganda and pageantry goes global with “Mao Meets Madison Avenue”


When Chinese President Xi Jinping went to the US earlier this month, the most notable thing about the visit was the sophisticated staging and messaging. The Washington DC portion constituted a quick drive by, with Xi stopping only for a quick lunch and a couple of Obama dinners and no public events of any note. The focus of the visit was a bearhug from American business in Seattle and some geopolitical pageantry at the UN in New York.

The overarching goal for a Chinese leader is to look all-powerful back home. In this regard, Xi’s visit was a smashing success. Even the inevitable critical reporting from the American press was largely snuffed out by the overshadowing wall-to-wall coverage of visiting Pope Francis and Speaker John Boehner’s decision to seek a saner life and dominate a news cycle.

As the Obama Administration fumed about cyber hacking and formidable market access roadblocks for US tech companies in China, the Chinese president’s office summoned America’s top tech executives to the safety of Seattle on the West Coast, where they were given the opportunity for photo opps and tidbits of discourse with Xi and his entourage.  These tech titans appeared to be grateful for the opportunity and bowled over by Xi’s references to all the books on American politics and culture he claims to have consumed.

Xi’s political and policy comments were restrained and identical, flowing seamlessly from his “interview” with the “Wall Street Journal” that never put him in front of reporters, to his Seattle speech to well over 500 American business executives. Clearly the Chinese Communist Party has figured out overseas staging and messaging. And this was only a warmup for the pomp and pageantry of Xi’s visit to a pandering Britain.

This sophisticated marketing is aimed at the political and business audiences. For the washed and unwashed overseas masses, China now has campy and catchy English language cartoon videos. The most recent video extolling the 13th 5-Year Plan as a thoughtful funfest will leave you humming a tune. The Party has certainly learned that a Pepsodent jingle can brighten your smile.

Huang Zheping pulls this all together on Quartz.

“Hey have you guys heard what’s going on in China?” the narrator begins, in English, with an American accent, in this strangely propagandistic music video. “The shisanwu!”
The three-minute animated music video was posted across official Chinese media today (Oct. 27), including the Twitter account of Xinhua, the state-run news agency, and on the website of a Communist Party news site. It is just the latest in a series of videos produced by the mysterious Fuxing Road Studio, and featuring native English speakers spouting a strong pro-China message.

The new video has American-accented performers—represented by a cast of animated characters—gleefully singing and chitchatting about the most boring of topics: China’s 13th five-year plan, or shisanwu, a jargon-heavy document laying out the country’s future economic strategy.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.


About James McGregor
James McGregor is an American author, journalist and businessman who has lived in China for more than 25 years. Currently, he is chairman of APCO Worldwide, Greater China. A professional speaker and commentator who specializes in China’s business, politics and society, he regularly appears in the media to discuss China-related topics. McGregor is the author of the books "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism" (2012) and "One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China" (2005). He also wrote the 2010 report "China’s Drive for ‘Indigenous Innovation’ – A Web of Industrial Policies." From 1987 to 1990 McGregor served as The Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief in Taiwan, and from 1990 to 1994 as the paper’s bureau chief in Mainland China. From 1994 to 2000, he was chief executive of Dow Jones & Company in China. After leaving Dow Jones, he was China managing partner for GIV Venture Partners, a $140 million venture capital fund specializing in the Chinese Internet and technology outsourcing. In 1996, McGregor was elected as chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. He also served for a decade as a governor of that organization. He is a member of the Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, National Committee on US-China Relations and International Council of the Asia Society. He serves on a variety of China-related advisory boards.

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