Sunday, July 16, 2006

Great Moments in Chinese Propaganda (Mao, Goebbels and The Neanderthals)

This image was originally posted at the German Propaganda Archive

This article was originally printed in the July Issue of 24*7 Magazine,
which is available in interesting places islandwide. Apparently free.

Great Moments in Communist Chinese Propaganda
(Mao, Goebbels, and the Neanderthals) by Sean Reilly

{I locked myself in my office for three days straight staring at Chinese propaganda posters from the fifties to the present. I hadn’t had enough sleep by a long shot, ran out of my anti-psychotic medication, and was caught trying to board a squid ship in the Taiwan Straits that was heading for Ginmen. When they discovered me I had my Little Red Book clutched so tightly in my hands that you could read some of the words on my palm. I don’t know where I got the little red dingy or the flares, though. You have to be careful with propaganda; it’s pretty strong stuff.}

Propaganda is at least as old as art and probably predates speech. Undiscovered prehistoric caves unquestionably contain images of shady looking Neanderthals ravishing Homo sapiens ladies of impeccable virtue, with white flowers in their hair.

The architect of modern propaganda was Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment. He is believed to have introduced the Big Lie and the Ad nauseam approach which are both favored by Fox, CNN, and the current American administration. In 1928, Goebbels gave a very cold and clear speech about propaganda. He said good propaganda was simply propaganda that which has the desired effect,

“Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing.”

The People’s Republic of China, which was formed shortly after Goebbels’ demise, has profited greatly from his insights. Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1958 – 61) saw a huge intensification of government propaganda. It was meant to aid in bringing about mass production of steel and food. The posters boasted about showing Russia what communism was all about, producing more steel than mighty England and feeding all the communist countries in the world, whether they were starving or not.

The result of the Great Leap into Oblivion was steel that couldn’t even be used for yard sculpture and a famine that claimed in the neighborhood of thirty million lives. Right up until the end, many people believed that the silos were full of rice. One poster that the CCP put out around that time was of a pastoral looking Mao wandering through a field of rice and corn that were bursting off their stalks. That must’ve raised the morale of the starving masses.

Posters of the same time show healthy, well-dressed Chinese children set against Taiwanese children living in poverty, or Taiwanese women abused by American servicemen. So while the Chinese peasants were starving, the bombing campaign against Taiwan’s outlying islands was renewed and Mao was killing Taiwanese as well as Chinese. The posters must’ve made it all seem normal, madly smiling down at everyone.

2.2 billion propaganda posters were printed during the Cultural Revolution, (1966 - 76). Over almost the same period nearly a billion copies of Mao’s Little Red Book were printed and distributed. Again you saw Mao’s seductive, smiling face, asking you to believe the posters and the slogans, and not what was going on around and behind them.

The Cultural Revolution began as an attempt to rid the country of capitalists and degenerated into chaos and cannibalism. Once again, millions of people died or were killed. Mao escaped in the end through death, and besides, at that point he was a god. The posters, the maxims, and the propaganda, had brought him that far. Despite being directly responsible for forty to seventy five million deaths during his twenty-seven year reign, he was still the father of China more than Chiang Kai Shek had ever been.

“One cannot determine theoretically whether one propaganda is better than another. Rather, that propaganda is good that has the desired results, and that propaganda is bad that does not lead to the desired results.”

Did the propaganda used by Mao and the CCP meet Goebbels’ criteria for good propaganda? Ultimately, the first goal of any party or leader is staying in power, so in terms of political success the propaganda of the time was good propaganda. Mao maintained his power until he died, and his party continues to censor the Internet and buy off Taiwan’s political allies in the Pacific. The general goal was achieved but the specific goals were rarely met. Production of slag far outstripped steel production during the Great Leap. The Chinese capitalists have come back stronger than they ever were before the Cultural Revolution, and as for reunification with Taiwan, there’s still a lot of water between Beijing and Taipei.

On the other hand, a successful campaign was mounted against Homo sapiens neandertalensis by our more hawkish ancestors. Goebbels would tell us that it must have been good propaganda because it achieved its goals. You haven’t seen many Neanderthals these last thirty thousand years. Now it’s just us.

{After picking me up in the Strait, the authorities whisked me away to a facility outside of Taipei. When I explained what had happened, they relaxed noticeably, refilled my anti-psychotic medication and told me to get some sleep. When I asked if I was in trouble, they explained that this sort of thing happened all the time; the only time it worried them was when it was elected members of the opposition parties who were, they said, “a bit gullible”.}


1. Chinese Propaganda posters from : Steve Landsberger’s Chinese Propaganda Pages

2. Quotes from Goebbels: "Erkenntnis und Propaganda," Signale der neuen Zeit. 25 ausgewählte Reden von Dr. Joseph Goebbels (Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP., 1934), pp. 28-52.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

This was the most helpful thing I could find on the net about Mao's use of propaganda during the Cultural Revolution.