China’s propaganda-video makers have one message for you: The West is the root of all of China’s troubles.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been working full speed the past few months to produce videos blaming “foreign hostile forces,” especially the US, for everything from inciting separatism to stealing territory in the South China Sea. Last week, as the high-profile trials of four Chinese human rights lawyers got underway, the video makers were in overdrive as they churned out at least six propaganda videos to counter criticism of its crackdown on civil society.
The videos usually surface on the social media platform Weibo and go viral after being promoted by state organs like the Communist Youth League. And they appear to be working.
“The US is the world’s biggest terrorist group… They never allow any government to have different standpoints from them,” one Weibo user commented under a video (link in Chinese) that warned of a US conspiracy to incite a pro-democracy “color revolution” in China. The writer added, “I love China! I love my country!” The comment earned more than 3,000 likes.
Here’s a guide to some of China’s recent anti-Western propaganda videos.
They didn’t come here for Tianjin’s famous buns
This four-minute video, with footage apparently from Chinese security police, was posted by the Chinese Communist Youth League’s official Weibo account on Aug. 4. It shows scenes outside a courtroom in the northern city of Tianjin, where the trials of four prominent human rights lawyers were taking place, and accuses foreign diplomats of organizing the lawyers’ family members to protest outside the courthouse on Aug. 1, one day ahead of the trial.
“Were they looking for business opportunities? Did they come to take in the beautiful scenery? To try some of the fried dough twists on 18th street? Or some of Tianjin’s famous Goubuli meat buns? None of the above. They came here provoking trouble!” says the video, according to a translation posted by US-based advocacy group China Change.
It also questions foreign journalists’ professionalism. One shot shows a closeup of the press card of an AP reporter, calling him out as an example of bad journalism. Elsewhere it suggests the wife of one of the imprisoned lawyers collapsing to the ground was staged, saying she fell “expertly” to pose for pictures.
The video concludes that the US has always wanted to “take China down,” citing part of a speech by Jon Huntsman, former US ambassador to China, in a 2012 Republican primary debate. “Jon Huntsman is simply making clear what has been an open secret for a long time,” said a narrator on the video. “This assault, intended to smack down China, has been going on for years.”
Rappin’ about a color revolution
In the past week, the hashtag “Beware of color revolutions” spread like wildfire on Weibo among Chinese official state accounts.
“Color Revolution,” an English- and Chinese-language theme song for the propaganda campaign, was posted Aug. 4 on Weibo. The song was created by CD REV, a hip-hop group backed by the Communist Youth League from the southwestern city of Chengdu. Rap videos became a popular part of the Chinese propaganda video repertoire around the beginning of this year, when CD REV dropped “The Force of Red,” a song warning that “all you faggots from the western [sic] better shut your mouth” and that Hong Kong and Taiwan are inalienable parts of China.
“America always says people need democracy to enjoy their rights, but wait a sec,” the rapper says. “Does he use this so-called ‘D’ to try to control the world and make his own money?”
The chorus, in English, follows:
Watch out for the dirty claws
And we screaming and yelling like anti-war
I got brothers and sisters from Russia to East Asia
Mideast to Africa
Last week on Weibo the Communist Youth League resurfaced another one of CD REV’s tracks, “This is China,” which features idyllic scenes of China’s southwest and images of prosperous citizens in an effort to rebut Western criticisms of China.
If rock music is more your thing, there’s something for you too. In “Rolling Back Your House,” a Chinese-language rock song published on Aug. 2, CCP-backed singer Wufeng Jifeng sends a smackdown to the human rights lawyers on trial: “Shut up, you are so ridiculous! Shut up, you shut up, you are incurable!”
“The dark shadow of the Stars and Stripes”
This video, posted by several state Weibo accounts on Aug. 1, denounced the lawyers on trial as “proxies of Western forces” trying to foment a “color revolution” in China. The video was produced by Lei Xiying, 29, a PhD candidate studying at Australian National University in Canberra.
The video says that the chaos in countries like Iraq, Egypt, and Syria are “painful lessons” for Chinese people to learn, while the US is portrayed as the culprit behind independence movements in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Tibet. “Behind them all, we often glimpse the dark shadow of the Stars and Stripes,” a narrator said. The video features young Hong Kong protest leader Joshua Wong, who does not advocate for an independent Hong Kong.
Do you really believe what you believe?
Another video (link in Chinese) was released hours after a forced TV confession by human rights lawyer Wang Yu on Aug. 1. Who made the video is unclear, but it was released by the Communist Youth League on Weibo.
Wang was arrested in a nationwide crackdown on human rights lawyers in July 2015, after defending feminists and minorities in China. In the “confession” she said she was used by foreign forces to defame Beijing. Rights activists say it was a forced confession timed ahead of the trials of the four rights lawyers, whom Wang worked with at a Beijing-based law firm.
“When some lawyers are chanting the slogans of ‘liberty, rule of law, and democracy’… do you really believe they are fighting for human rights?” a voice asks in the video.
The narration is in line with Wang’s supposed confession. “This is what is terrifying about color revolutions,” a narrator concludes. “Everyone who thought that they were in control had in fact inadvertently handed their fates over to foreign forces to become their pawns.”
Who is stirring up trouble in the South China Sea?
The short answer is the US.
This animated video is part of a trilogy that supports Beijing’s claims to the contested South China Sea, published by national broadcaster CCTV before an international tribunal ruled on July 12 against most of Beijing’s claims.
As Quartz wrote earlier, “The US enters the video at around the 2:10 mark as the bad guy, a ‘powerful nation far away from this region’ up to such nefarious activities such as backing the Philippines’ arbitration case to an international tribunal challenging China’s claim, ‘enhancing patrols near China’s insular features,’ and ‘conducting reconnaissance in waters within China’s jurisdiction.'”
“All these have escalated the tension in this region,” a narrator concludes.
Another video on the South China Sea recently played above Times Square in New York City 120 times a day—and misrepresented a featured UK lawmaker along the way.
National Security Education Day series
From Mr. Bean to Batman to Spongebob Squarepants, iconic figures of Western pop culture appeared in a series of propaganda videos on China’s first National Security Education Day in April to share the importance of keeping state secrets.
Superheroes like Spiderman and Iron Man are portrayed as unemployed agents in one video (video in Chinese). It explains that safeguarding national security is about not only being aware of espionage, but also defending territorial integrity.
Another video in the series instructs ordinary citizens to take action against foreign spies. A baby with large biceps photographs the Joker committing a crime and reports him to officials (video in Chinese), who promptly put him in jail.
The human rights record of the “human rights defender”
This is a 45-minute documentary detailing the US’s human rights abuses, produced by CCTV earlier this year (some scenes are disturbing). The video ranges in time from 1968 to the present day, and details a long list of US abuses, from police shootings to the FBI eavesdropping on European leaders, narrated in Mandarin with English subtitles. At the end, it concludes that human rights are only a tool for the US to “preserve its hegemony.”