Essay

Reformist Propaganda

Yifu Dong visits Beijing’s new exhibit celebrating economic reform

Forty years ago, China’s leadership decided that the Chinese people deserved better than having to suffer from mass hunger, abject poverty and periodical chaos. It rolled out a program called Reform and Opening, setting China on a path of capitalist normalcy, or as most pundits put it, “an economic miracle.”

This past November, the National Museum of China, a sullen monolith hunching over the east side of Tiananmen Square, put on a grand exhibit called ‘The Great Transformation,’ which celebrates China’s progress in the past four decades. Before it opened on November 13, when President Xi Jinping visited, the National Museum closed for 50 days in preparation. Seeking earth-shattering revelations about Chinese politics from such a well-orchestrated propaganda exhibit is the same as digging for gold in a coal mine, but the basics of China’s new narrative about Reform and Opening are worthy of a recap.

Review

Palimpsests of Propaganda

Yifu Dong reviews Curating Revolution by Denise Y. Ho

Propaganda is a concept that refuses to translate smoothly between English and Chinese. The English word “propaganda” seems to have a direct counterpart in the Chinese word xuanchuan, but the connotations diverge: in English, propaganda means Orwellian doublespeak, whereas in Chinese, propaganda is the carrot of persuasion that often precedes the stick of coercion. The differing perceptions of the same word stem from the varying degrees of tolerance for the distortion of truth, because propaganda not only aims to persuade and agitate but also does so by using alternative versions of the truth, such as untruths and half-truths.