China cliches and the power of propopanda

Benjamin Carlson recently made a list of five Communist Party catchphrases commonly used in writings on China. They are:

  1. Referring to China’s “century of humiliation”
  2. Crediting the government with “lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty”
  3. Needlessly referring to China’s “5,000 years of history”
  4. Calling China’s supreme leader “the president”
  5. Referring to free thinkers as “activists” or “dissidents”

For the most part, all major publications, as well as this blog, have made use of these narratives, while any discussion on China is usually framed around them. They aren’t necessarily untrue, but they are a bit disingenuous and, as Carlson notes, politically charged. These terms are repeated over and over in China, by China, in both domestic- and foreign-oriented content. As an editor, they drive me crazy because not only are they often irrelevant to the story, they are repeated so damn often. Can’t the government find something else to write?

In a land of 1.3 billion unruly individualists too busy with their own lives, it is amazing how deeply ingrained some of these notions are when other more practical ideas, such as public courtesy and traffic laws, aren’t. In fact, it’s probably the best example of the CPC’s power and what they can do if they really, really wanted to. This is the image of China that China is pushing, and it’s even seeped into our own writings on and understanding of China. Which means, we’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid.

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