With all the recent talk about Chinese censorship
in relation to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, there was a very interesting interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Evan Osnos, who spent eight years in China, and has recently written a book about that "explores the tensions between China's rapid expansion and economic opportunity, and its enduring commitment to authoritarian rule." The book is called Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China
, and the interview about it is fascinating
for a variety of reasons. However, one tidbit stood out: how China totally revamped their propaganda system, modelling it after the US PR industry.
There was a point right after the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square when the party realized, you know, our propaganda is not working, otherwise all these young kids wouldn't have come down to the middle of the capital and held demonstrations for weeks and weeks. And in fact, for a time, they talked about getting rid of the propaganda system completely. And instead they did they opposite, and they doubled down on it.
And what they said was, we need to become much more sophisticated about how we conduct what's known as Chinese as thought work. And so they began to study the masters, really. They began to study the United States and the origins of public relations culture. So they went back and they actually - if you look in the textbooks for Chinese propaganda officials today, some of the things that they cite are the success of Coca-Cola. They say, if you can sell sugar water in effect to people, well, then we can sell anything at all.
They also looked very admiringly at the way that the Bush administration dealt with the press in the run-up to the war in Iraq. They think this is an example of a successful relationship with the press. They also look at the way that Tony Blair's government in Britain handled the media around the issue of mad cow disease. And so there's been this real effort to study what's been done in the West and to take from it the best attributes - or at least the most efficient and effective attributes of the free-market public relations industry.
Yes, congratulations to Judith Miller
and the NY Times! You're now the very model
for how China runs its propaganda operations. Oh, wait, did I say "propaganda"? I meant, "PR." Even China has changed the name of its propaganda department. Osnos talks about this a big building in the center of Beijing, where there are no signs, and no one will tell you what goes on in there. But it houses the Central Propaganda Department. Or it did. Until they changed the name.
So a few years ago, they actually changed the name of the Central Propaganda Department in English. They changed it to the Central Publicity Department. But I've always found it ironic that the Central Publicity Department has no sign and no address.