For its 95th anniversary, China’s Communist Party is trying to explain itself to the world

Quite the happenin’ party.
Quite the happenin’ party.
Image: CCTV/Youtube
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Today marks the 95th anniversary of the formation of the Chinese Communist Party.

A grand ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing is being held to mark the occasion. President Xi Jinping’s speech, dubbed in English, is being livestreamed on YouTube (which is blocked in China) and on Xinhua, the state news agency.

The speech is heavy on the party’s “guiding principles,” how Marxism remains core to the party’s identity. By “departing from or abandoning Marxism, the party would lose its soul and direction,” Xi said. “We should open a new chapter for Marxism in the 21st century and allow it to shine brighter in modern China.”

The ceremony caps a week of celebrations: Xi and other elites attended a concert of revolutionary songs on Wednesday, while throughout China ceremonies featured Mao Zedong’s daughter and variety show-style public performances (links in Chinese).

The CCP’s propaganda machine has made a special effort to reach outside of its borders in recent months, and this year’s celebrations are no exception. As part of an ongoing online push, the party released a series of videos that attempt to explain China, and the party.

“This is China,” a four-minute, English-language, hip-hop music video by a group called CD Rev, may be the most jarring. In the clip, which the party paid for, the rappers praise the party for the country’s economic boom, while gently lamenting the problems of corruption and product safety. They also accuse foreigners of misrepresenting China in the media, and misunderstanding political issues like the country’s relations with Taiwan.

“You are probably also confused about the situation of Taiwan/as you don’t know the relationships between it and the mainland/Actually, for normal citizens, we just want us united as one/because we think we are from one family, the same.”

Four new animated videos (available here, here, here, and here) attempt to explain how the party works. It’s a noble effort, as the party’s workings can seem opaque and impenetrable to outsiders. But they don’t do much to demystify the organization.

One, titled “Where do I sign up? A guide to joining the CPC” explains how to join the party. Over an acoustic guitar soundtrack reminiscent of a Kickstarter video, the narrator describes the seven-step process.

Even with a breezy voice-over, the party’s control over daily life is apparent. Step four, referred to as the “activist” period, requires applicants to “hand in reports to the party on your studies and work, as well as attend CPC lectures and activities.” Then there’s an “inspection,” although it’s unclear what this entails. “All those reports, lectures, and activities were important after all,” the narrator says, before introducing the next step—a year-long probation.

Another video, titled “Can foreigners become CPC members,” recounts all of the overseas nationals that have gone on to join the party. As an attempt to make the party look welcoming to foreigners, it’s a miserable failure. After all, there are just four examples.

The first foreigner to join the party, according to the video, was Sidney Rittenberg, the journalist and linguist who joined the party in 1946. The last person mentioned is Holly Liu, who moved to China in 1957 and joined the party 29 years later.

Missing from all of these videos, of course, is the infighting, factionalism, and corruption that have become synonymous with the CCP, as well as its harsh crackdown on human rights in China, or its history of tragically misguided policies that killed millions.

But the videos do capture the other side of the party—its penchant for generating tone-deaf propaganda. What better way to ring in its 95th anniversary?