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9. Vietnam: Documents and Research Notes, U.S. Mission, Saigon, 1968, pp. 1-2. 10. “China and U.S. Far East Policy, 1945–1967,” Congressional Quarterly Background (Washington Quarterly Service, 1967), p. 220j.



Recognizing that the relative effectiveness of media varies significantly between different population groupings, mainland Chinese leaders employed a variety of media in order to

reach and appeal to different population sectors. When the Chinese Communists set up their regime in Peking in October, 1949, they established a Ministry of Culture and local bureaux of culture throughout the country, emphasizing the importance they gave to culture-partly or largely for propaganda. One very clever aspect of their cultural methods was that their variety enabled them to appeal to different sections of the population, but with a rather special attraction for youth. This article describes the initial methods used in the period 1949 1952.


Folk dancing's natural appeal made it an ideal channel for propaganda. One dance for instance depicted the actions of a girl tending a machine in a cotton factory. This dance was rather beautiful, and many in the audience could understand and appreciate the significance of the simple movements. A similar appreciation was shown of a dance portraying the picking of tea leaves from the teabushes. Young men were also trained to perform some sort of military dance, falling down on the ground and pretending to be digging a trench on one side and then on the other. This militaristic feature went further when a jazz orchestra blared out patriotic song-music for social dancing.

One of the most spectacular examples of mass dancing was in the celebration of the National Day, October 1st, in 1952. The winter and spring of that year had seen the Five Anti Movement sweep all over the country, so that by the end of the summer, gloom and dismay were widespread. Deliberately, therefore, the keynote for the celebration was happiness, and for that purpose all the people were to be taught a simple dance. "all” meant all. The dance was extremely simple, The movements of the dance were taught-in the days preceding October 1st—to grandmothers and children, to housewives and to peasant women, to factory workers and to office staffs.

* Excerpts from “China's Use of Culture for Propaganda,” Eastern World XXI, No. 11/12 (Nov./Dec. 1967), pp. 10–11. Reprinted with the permission of Foreign Correspondents, Ltd., copyright holder.

The songs that were taught were simple, tuneful and patriotic, and they were broadcast incessantly. For the celebration of October 1st in 1951, all the people were taught three short songs. Each factory would have its little band or orchestra, and the musicians would be dressed in colourful costumes. Red, in Chinese symbolism, stands for happiness. Not a trick was missed in the presentation of these new songs. Most meetings were opened with a practice of the current popular songs. Large numbers of people would sing in unison, and as in Western evangelistic campaigns or at football matches, the participation by a crowd of tens of thousands aroused emotions. A new National Anthem was taught, which had a rousing tune too; Arise was its opening word.

At first, all the emphasis was on training the masses to sing. The National Conservatoire was ordered to make this their first aim rather than concentrate on a few artistes.


Chinese love going to the theatre, and not a few are born actors; whether they understand all the words or actions is sometimes irrelevant. Shaoshing opera and Peking opera have been famous for many years and have always attracted large crowds. The Chinese Communists cleverly encouraged the continuance of the presentation of the old plays but of course_favoured those in which the villain was a landlord or someone of that ilk. Many new plays were put on. Chinese people have a great sense of tragedy, so they would appreciate a tragedy showing sufferings inflicted by cruel landlords or Japanese militarists. As melodrama is also applauded, plays with an “American imperialist” as the villain were also very popular.

China is a vast country, and Westerners find it hard to believe that plays found in Peking or in Shanghai are also to be found in the countryside. But, the Communist regime saw to it that small troupes of actors would tour the rural areas and that scripts of new plays would be broadcast to outlying parts of the country.


Once again, a Westerner was at a loss in this field too. In the West, the cinema is an entertainment. A movie star will assert that his aim is to make people “happy"—that is to help them to forget their troubles. In China, the Communist aim was and is to use movies for propaganda almost exclusively, and rather cleverly. For example, during the Five Anti Movement, documentaries were made. When Shanghai people saw on the screen the misdeeds of a well-known drug factory, they were greatly impressed. A picture would be shown of a “wicked capitalist factory owner" who painted over rusty old chains that subsequently broke when in use in the fighting in Korea.

During the first two or three years after 1949, the best acting, musical and circus troupes were sent abroad, e.g., to Moscow and to Paris. When the Chinese in the cities of China saw on the screen a documentary of their troupe being given vociferous applause in Russia and in France, their patriotic pride was naturally aroused with widespread effect. Popular documentaries dealing with current themes were shown simultaneously in 15 or more theatres. Group tickets issued through the schools and factories were extremely cheap, so that the percentage of the population who saw such films was high. Virtually all new films had patriotic themes as “The New-Man Village,” “The Dove of Peace,” “Stand Up, Sisters."


Cultural troupes included those of the Chinese Minorities as well as troupes invited from foreign Communist countries, such as North Korea or Eastern European States like Poland. In the years preceding the Communist regime the previous Chinese governments had paid little attention to the minorities—of whom the Communists listed more than forty—but the Communists straight away spent considerable money, time and effort on bringing minorities dancing and singing groups from the outlying areas of the country to tour all over China. This had the immediate effect of increasing the patriotic fervour, making the people appreciate the greatness of their nation in many new areas. Chinese appreciate colour, and the costumes of these troupes were decidedly colourful.

The visits of foreign troupes, in the early 1950s, was an adroit move. Peking had not been invited to join the UN; the U.S. had put on embargos; foreign tourists and connections were not too common. Hence, the appearance of these foreign artistes showed the Chinese masses that they did have friends in some foreign countries. This was complemented by the showing of films of Chinese troupes performing in these same countries. Chinese have been famous for their skill in acrobatics for a long time. With their ability in organisation, the Communists were able to procure outstanding performers from all over the country in acrobatics, in conjuring, in Chinese sword dancing. The result was that the performance was of such outstanding merit that it brought tremendous credit and fame to new China. In one circus troupe, one of the acts was performed by an old man and his two sons. The old man was about five feet three inches in height, and was quite slender. The climax of that act was when the old man sat on the floor, and drawing a small hoop—with a diameter of possibly eighteen inches—over his feet and legs, proceeded to squeeze his whole body through this hoop. A popular story had it that when this circus had performed in Moscow, the Russians had asked that this old man be X-rayed.


The Chin’se used exhibitions in a big way, similar to their use of the cinema and adio for propaganda. For instance, the Land Reform Exhibition showed in clear, direct manner the way in which the peasants had formerly been exploited by the landlords. Pictures, charts and implements all told an easily-understood situation. One could hear the onlookers comment, "Oh, yes, I knew this. I saw that." Skill in the technique of getting across a political message was also shown when there was an Agriculture and Forestry Exhibition. Special charts and pictures were supplied to illustrate how the urban folk could help those in the rural areas, and vice versa.


Perhaps it is in the use of radio that the Communists have reached heights—or depths?—that would seem unbelievable to Westerners. Take the celebration of Labour Day, May 1st, in 1951, as one example. A two-day programme was put on, lasting four hours, from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30. Twenty-two items were listed for the first day, including speeches, shouting of slogans, band music, solos, etc. All factories and schools were expected to use their loudspeaker system for listening-in. The programme was designed to whip up enthusiasm for increased production, so that, say after one hour, one factory would telephone in and say, “We have been stimulated to pledge to increase production by ten percent." This, naturally, was immediately reported over the radio. Soon after, another factory would respond and go further by pledging to increase its production by fifteen percent.

In October, 1952, there was a Peace Conference in Peking and after that conference, Shanghai delegates reported it over the radio. Town women sat outside their houses on benches and seats to listen to these reports, and this was repeated all over the country. During one of the early thought-reform campaigns, the children of a prominent "reactionary” were even brought to the broadcasting studio to broadcast an appeal to their father to repent and reform. Another development was the seven o'clock morning physical exercises broadcast over the radio-exercises which were being performed in most parts of the country.


After the Communist Government was installed in Peking, all aspects of life came under government control with politics pervading the daily life of China to an extent that would not be believed in Western countries.

One of the cleverest devices was in the use of wall newspapers, which might be on a wall or a blackboard or hoarding. Chinese people admire and love good calligraphy. The trick was to get the best calligraphist in the neighbourhood, whose writing was admired, and his material was supplied to him by a politically-progressive cadre. Usually a cartoon or funny picture was added for good measure to attract the passers-by. Also a special section might be devoted to services for the neighbours such as "lost and found," "to let." Items of particular interest to housewives might be added, such as “the daily menu," "how to weave."

In their first five years of government, the Chinese put out more issues of new stamps than many other countries would put out in ten years. These issues commemorated the birthday of Lenin, or a big Communist meeting in Peking, or tractors, or athletes, or the famous murals in the Tung Huang Caves. Matchbox covers had pictures of new factories or of tractors in the field. Wrappings for sweets would have similar scenes, and so would banknotes. Pocket diaries were produced and at the foot of each page covering one week, there would be a saying from Lenin or Stalin, or Mao Tse-tung, or some other Chinese Communist leader.

The lengths to which an individual in any particular walk of life would go to show his political progressiveness can well be illustrated by the following true story. One night in the spring of 1952, in a Chinese restaurant in Shanghai, a feast was being served at two tables. One of the dishes was a watermelon cooked in the Cantonese style. When the two melons were brought in, one for each table, it was observed that the chef had skillfully ornamented the rims not by a fretwork design but by carving out on one melon four Chinese characters for Resist America, Aid Korea, and on the other melon, Protect the Motherland, Assist the Nation.

The Chinese Communists are masters of the art of propaganda. They assign much time and personnel to political propaganda, and many people are employed full time in the propagation of the Party doctrines. For example, in one single district of Shanghai, 25 Youth League Workers who were subsidised by the government had as their full-time job the task of going to the Party branches or organisations in the factories and schools and lanes in their district to demonstrate the latest dances or songs or plays or to tell about radio programmes and the like.




An account of the use of theatre to convey political themes in Southeast Asia.

In all countries of Southeast Asia theatre has been more than just entertainment. In addition to providing aesthetic pleasure, emotional release through empathic response, and even a means for accomplishing communal celebration of ritual events, theatre has always functioned as a channel for communication. Traditionally, three major channels were open to southeast Asian ruling elites through which they could disseminate their ideas, beliefs, and value systems: the religious hierarchy,

*Excerpts from “Past and Present," chapter 15 in Theatre in Southeast Asia, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1967, pp. 277–301. Copyright 1967 by the president and fellows of Harvard College.

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