BEIJING — JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ writes: People joke that it’s now easier in many Chinese cities to use Communist Party slogans rather than street names to give directions. Looking for a bank in Downtown Beijing?
Walk past the screen proclaiming, “The people have faith,” take a right at the poster glorifying President Xi Jinping and cross the footbridge with the banner declaring a new era of prosperity for China.
Even as China grows increasingly confident on the global stage, Mr. Xi is using propaganda at home to protect his strongman rule and extend the party’s dominance over everyday life.
At the most recent party congress, Mr. Xi’s name and ideas were made part of the Constitution. Now, “Xi Jinping Thought” is pervasive, butting up against advertisements for hair transplant surgery, luxury cars and Danish butter cookies.
Mr. Xi’s Beijing bristles with adulation for the party and the president. During my half-hour commute to work at The New York Times bureau here in Beijing, I encounter more than 70 pieces of propaganda.
Billboards emphasize the importance of taking care of parents and being loyal to superiors. Banners urge people to remember the original intention of the Communist Revolution.
Even at home, propaganda is inescapable. I look out a window to see a screen describing China as “united by one heart” and President Xi, China’s most influential leader in decades, as the architect of a national renaissance.
Here are some of the hidden messages in China’s street propaganda.
Chasing a Dream
Mr. Xi’s signature slogan is the “Chinese Dream,” a vaguely defined promise of prosperity and rejuvenation that ties China’s quest to become a superpower to the hopes and struggles of its people.
This poster shows a path to an idyllic village in the style of a traditional Chinese painting, part of Mr. Xi’s efforts to justify the party’s rule by presenting it as the heir and steward of 5,000 years of Chinese culture.
The image plays into the idea that a better life is around the corner for China’s nearly 1.4 billion people — “under your feet” — so long as they maintain faith in Mr. Xi and his dream, expressed by the large red character.
The poster alludes to the belief that China is close to restoring its rightful place as a leading power in the world after decades of poverty, strife and embarrassment by other countries. A caption reads, “Chinese spirit, Chinese image, Chinese culture, Chinese voice.”
Mr. Xi, who rose to power in 2012, sees strife in areas that are home to large populations of ethnic minorities as one of the biggest threats to the party’s dominance. That includes the western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, where conflict has broken out between security forces and residents who have protested severe limits on religion and free speech.
The government says it is stamping out separatism, but advocates say Mr. Xi is leading a campaign to undermine minority culture and to promote the dominance of the Han ethnicity and the Communist Party, which is officially atheist.
In public, the party often embraces the idea of ethnic harmony, broadcasting videos on prime-time television of minority groups performing traditional rites, for example … (read more)