NYT: At the Movies in China, Some Propaganda With Your Popcorn

  July 6, 2017   News Stories

News story originally published at NYTimes.com

By Amy Qin

The house lights dimmed, and moviegoers in a Beijing cinema settled in with their popcorn for some of Hollywood’s finest escapist entertainment.

But first they got a dose of Communist Party propaganda, courtesy of China’s film authorities: a short video message promoting “socialist core values.”

Chinese cinemas have been ordered to play one of four government-issued videos before every movie screening. Theater managers in several Chinese cities confirmed on Wednesday that they had received the order, which went into effect last week.

Besides “socialist core values,” the videos promote President Xi Jinping’s cherished “Chinese dream” and two other Communist Party slogans, the “Four Comprehensives” and the “Five in One Overall Arrangement.”

To make such abstruse fare more palatable to audiences, the videos, produced by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, feature A-list Chinese celebrities, including Jackie Chan, Angelababy and Kris Wu.

In a video played before a screening of “Transformers: The Last Knight” at a Beijing theater on Wednesday, the actress Li Bingbing, who was in the previous “Transformers” installment, appears before a somber gray backdrop.

“No matter what you do, as long as you don’t disappoint our country, our society, our people and your family, then you are helping to realize the Chinese dream,” Ms. Li says.

The celebrities appear one by one, quoting from ancient poetry and national leaders. In the video extolling the “Four Comprehensives,” Donnie Yen, who was recently featured in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” reads a quote from Mao Zedong.

It is not clear what, if any, consequences there would be for theaters in China that do not follow the order, which comes as government scrutiny of the entertainment industry has increased.

Last month, a number of popular entertainment gossip blogs were shut down after a meeting in which Chinese cyberspace regulators called on internet companies to create a “healthy, uplifting environment for mainstream opinion” by resisting sensationalist celebrity coverage. In the past, Mr. Xi has called on artists to use their talents to serve the nation and “disseminate contemporary Chinese values.”

Response to the videos appears to have been mixed.

“Many came late for the movie just to avoid the short video, and others complained about the video after watching the movie,” the English-language Global Times, a party-affiliated Chinese newspaper, quoted a cinema employee as saying.

Others, however, were more supportive. “I thought the video was great,” said Zhang Xun, 34, as she walked out of a theater in Beijing. “It was easy to understand, it spreads positive energy, and it was relevant to my life.”

Other countries in Asia have required patriotic messages before film screenings, though China’s edict is more overtly political. Last year, moviegoers in India were arrested after they were accused of refusing to stand for the national anthem, as required by a Supreme Court ruling. In 2008, a man in Thailand was charged with lèse-majesté — offending the dignity of the monarch — for not standing as the royal anthem was played in a movie theater.

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