The Chinese government has been quietly releasing bizarre propaganda rap videos, and they’re absolutely hilarious.
From a video claiming to tell foreigners the truth about China (“The red dragon ain’t no evil, but a peaceful place!”) to a People’s Liberation Army recruiting video with lyrics like, “There could be a war at any time / Are you ready for that?,” the Chinese Communist Party is trying hard to appeal to millennials, both inside China and internationally.
Beijing’s latest rap single dropped on Thursday — Xinhua, China’s official press agency and mouthpiece of the government, released a music video in Mandarin about six things that are close to President Xi Jinping’s heart, including recycling, clean energy, and caring for the elderly. “We need change to make a more beautiful tomorrow,” sings the musician.
Xinhua illustrated the importance of reform by using cute cartoons. When the musician sings about food safety, for example, a wide-eyed cartoon man with a goatee is put in handcuffs after he serves a customer a toxic-looking green bowl of noodles.
Why is the Chinese government making rap videos, you ask? One reason is that the government is trying to be relevant among millennials. Rap’s popularity among young people is on the rise — most clubs play American rap music, Korean pop-rap songs often top the charts, and an increasing number of college students aspire to be famous rappers, writing lyrics in Chinese and English.
It’s also, obviously, a rather weak attempt at spreading government propaganda. Most videos share the theme that China is strong and prosperous, and needs to reform to become an even better nation. By sharing important Communist Party values through rap, the government is signaling to its citizens the kinds of reforms they should support.
But in an article published by Foreign Policy, George Gao suggests that rap is the government’s attempt at soft power, or spreading its values and getting other countries to agree with it without using military force. Rap is China’s attempt to be “cool” and boost its popularity abroad. That may be the case, but that will likely prove to be about as effective as your goofy dad putting on a backward hat and saying, “What’s up, dudes!” to your friends — a sad attempt to be hip and relevant.
Regardless of the reason, Communist Party rap is weird, to say the least. Here are a few of my favorites:
“Party-building the key, reform for y'all!”
In February 2016, Xinhua published another cartoon rap explaining China’s long-term development plan, known as the Four Comprehensives, with lyrics in eight languages, including English, Korean, Arabic, and Spanish. The song describes a need to protect the environment, fight corruption, and provide education for all citizens. The key point is emphasized in the chorus: “Prosperity and rule of law. Party building the key, reform for y'all!”
With missiles and masculinity, the army tries to be cool
The government upped its game in a People’s Liberation Army recruiting video uploaded by the People’s Daily, another government mouthpiece, last May. With a pounding, aggressive beat interspersed with occasional gun shots and people shouting, “Roar, roar, roar!” and, “Charge, charge, charge!” the video shows off the Chinese army’s best weaponry, including its aircraft carrier, tanks, and ballistic missiles.
In the description of the video on its YouTube channel, the People’s Daily explains how the army is attempting to recruit more educated young people. It quotes Col. Wu Qian, the spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense, saying that “a man's youth is not only about being cool but also about being responsible for the nation and its security.”
“We the Chi-phenomena”
The music video “This Is China” went viral on Chinese social media when it was posted last June by the Chinese Communist Youth League. The video was produced by a group of guys who call themselves “Tianfu Incident.” Although the lyrics and beats were created by members of the band, the video was produced with help from a studio run by the Communist Youth League. Singing in English for an international audience, the rappers not only highlight China’s greatness but also mention several scandals, including pollution and food safety issues.
“Melamine milk had affected so many babies, and they all suffer from malnutrition,” raps one of the singers in a lyric lacking any kind of flow whatsoever. It’s a reference the 2008 milk scandal in which an estimated 300,000 babies were sickened after drinking milk contaminated with the toxin melamine.
In an interview with Sixth Tone, an online culture publication based in Shanghai and funded by the government, the band’s leader, Wang Zixin, said, “This is a song for Westerners to understand China. We want Westerners to know that Chinese know our problems and we are trying to make a change.”
I’m not entirely sure that’s the message Westerners are going to take away from this video, but I guess you can’t blame a guy — or a government — for trying.