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Inside China: Red Songs curbed but not banned
A signature action of ousted Chongqing Communist Party chief Bo Xilai was to hold mass rallies for the singing of communist songs, or “red songs.” Mr. Bo’s program was officially curtailed by the new propaganda chief, who announced the move Monday in the southwestern metropolis of more than 30 million people.
He Shizhong, Chongqing’s new party propaganda department chief, ordered a reduction in the scale of “concentrated stage performances” of “red songs,” and directed citizens to “resolutely avoid campaign-style mass singing,” a hallmark of Mr. Bo’s national fame.
During his rule in Chongqing, Mr. Bo implemented Cultural Revolution-style brainwashing campaigns that required all Chongqing citizens to regularly sing communist songs, including classics such as “The Sun Is Most Red, Chairman Mao Is Most Dear.”
Mr. Bo also organized frequent campaign-style mass singings of red songs in sport stadiums. At a rally on June 29, for example, he invited former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to give the keynote address at a singing event featuring more than 100,000 people in a packed stadium. On that occasion, Mr. Kissinger’s speech was followed by a recitation of the Communist Manifesto, word for word, along with scores of red songs performed afterward.
To promote his red song policy, Mr. Bo adroitly used party-controlled mass media, especially Chongqing’s main television station, CQTV, to fan Maoist populism. In March last year, Mr. Bo ordered CQTV to ban all advertising segments and drama series because he considered them “capitalist” and of “petty bourgeois sentimentality.”
On March 7, 2011, Mr. Bo ordered CQTV to broadcast a daily segment called “The Everyday Red Song Singing.” The 15-minute program totaled 105 minutes each week.
Mr. Bo’s fundamentalist communist propaganda policies caught national attention as well. For example, 108 red song singing groups from across the nation were sent to Chongqing in June to participate in the red song orgy that was graced by Mr. Kissinger. In some sensitive spots such as the Prospect Hill, just behind the Communist Party of China leadership compound of Zhongnanhai in downtown Beijing, regular Bo-inspired red song performances have been going on for months, albeit banned one week after his ouster.
However, the directive formally curtailing Mr. Bo’s red song campaign appears to fall short of a full rebuke.
In fact, Mr. He, the propaganda chief, acknowledged the positive effects of the red song campaign, but merely urged party propaganda cadres to reduce the fanaticism with which the activities were carried out under Mr. Bo.
The directive, Mr. He revealed, keeps the ban on “capitalist” commercials on CQTV. However, the 15-minute “Everyday Red Song Singing” segment will be replaced with a 45-minute-long “Weekly Collections of Red Songs” that will be broadcast on weekends.
Hu, Obama in harmonious summit
For the first time in recent memory, the leaders of China and the United States expressed an almost identical public stance on North Korea. President Obama once again strongly urged Chinese President Hu Jintao to help rein in Pyongyang’s brinkmanship through the announced plan to conduct what it says will be a space launch of a satellite in mid-April that critics say is cover for a long-range missile test. The plan has produced unanimous international condemnation. Mr. Hu heartily endorsed condemning his communist ally’s nuclear gambit.
However, Mr. Hu is supporting the U.S. position amid political uncertainty faced by the communist leader at home, because of the recent ouster of a key contender for power, Bo Xilai and the subsequent political and military crises that are widely reported in Beijing.
Mr. Hu’s long-scheduled visit from March 26 to April 2, including stops in South Korea, India and Cambodia, produced an untimely absence from the country for the party secretary for seven days at a critical juncture in his political life. China’s Internet is awash in rumors and reports that speculate about a possible coup against him.
Chinese Internet users were transfixed by an alleged greeting in Seoul from Mr. Obama to Mr. Hu. “How are things at home lately?” the president is reported to have poignantly said upon greeting the Chinese leader. “Fine,” Mr. Hu reportedly replied curtly. The Chinese Internet then went viral in spinning the short exchange as an example of Mr. Obama’s humor and a sign of Mr. Hu’s fear of being toppled at home.
However far-fetched it may sound, such speculation is not completely off the mark. Visits to the Korean Peninsula were a prelude to the demise of two of Mr. Hu’s predecessors. In May 1978, General Secretary Hua Guofeng, Mao Zedong’s successor, was in Pyongyang when his political enemy Deng Xiaoping staged the deadly anti-Hua propaganda campaign at home disguised as redefining criteria for Marxist truth, which laid the foundation for Hua’s ouster soon afterward.
In May 1989, amid a similar tense background of political intrigue at home, Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang visited Pyongyang only to be summarily purged upon his return to Beijing a few days later. Zhao died in agony in 2005 while still under house arrest.
• Miles Yu’s columns appear Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About the Author
Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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