Precious Propaganda

Changning District Propaganda Handbook Cover

Changning District Propaganda Handbook

The other day on the way home I checked my mail. There was no real mail; it was mainly just flyers for satellite TV installation. There was also a little booklet which was quite clearly unrelated to satellite TV, however. It was a Changning District propaganda handbook issued by the government. “What do you want that for?” my girlfriend asked. “Just throw it out.” She doesn’t really get why I would find something like this interesting.

What I find most interesting is that the government still goes to such trouble to even publish something like this. The little booklet is obviously very professionally printed. It’s glossy, in full color. How many people were involved in its publication, and how much money was spent on its production? Was it distributed to all residences in Changning District? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the government is clearly still putting a lot of money into traditional forms of propaganda that seem ineffectual to a new generation of Chinese.

I’m not about to read the whole booklet cover to cover, but it does have some amusing sections. I recommend the Q&A section (30 questions) and the Slogan section (50 slogans). Be sure to click on the “ALL SIZES” button at the top of the photo to see the pages in a readable size. I find Chinese propaganda particularly difficult to translate, so I’m not going to bother. If you read Chinese, have a look. If someone wants to put up a translation, that would be even cooler.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Classic! It could be that this is being published as a supplement, precisely because the traditional forms of propoganda aren’t working – it does no one any good to see slogan 32 “Strive to be civilized citizens, strive to build a civilized borough” 争做文明市人,争创文明城区 painted on a wall when they have no idea what they must do to “build a civilized borough.” But there, in question 14, is your answer.

    You know, they could be making you attend community meetings to give you this information, but here it’s all in a nice handbook. You should be grateful, really.

  2. Putuo District doesn’t do silly stuff like this.


  3. That’s interesting. Here in Shenzhen, there are lots of “All of the citizens rise up and create a civilized city!” banners everywhere now. They weren’t there before. I wonder what gives?

  4. Micah,

    Putuo has no hope of ever being 文明. 😉

  5. well, enjoy it while you can, because China is apparently on the verge of collapse, according to Mark Steyn.

  6. Da Xiangchang Says: June 14, 2005 at 12:37 pm

    The problem with Mark Steyn isn’t that he’s not right in many areas (I absolutely agree that China’s glorious future is being WAAYYY overstated). However, like most rightwing ideologues, Steyn fits the evidence to his prejudices and not the other way around. Among two rightwing core beliefs are 1) democracy is always good and 2) censorship is always bad. These 2 beliefs, however, are COMPLETE BULCRAP; I mean, just check out the histories of Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, and you’ll know they’re bullcrap. Thus, when you exclusively use 2 bullcrap beliefs in analyzing China, your article becomes useless–as Steyn’s is. After trashing China for hundreds of words, Steyn has a brilliant conclusion: “The 21st century will be an Anglosphere century, with America, India and Australia leading the way.” I mean, he just pulls the last 2 countries out of his butt: Australia (cuz Steyn likes it for supporting the invasion of Iraq) and India (cuz it’s a [drum roll] a democracy). Give me a break, man. Steyn had another oft-repeated prediction a few years back too–that Bin Laden was dead. Then the Bin Laden tapes started coming out, and now Steyn has shut up about that. In the end, on Chinese issues, rightwing writers are fun to read–especially the lunatic John Derbyshire of National Review–but they shouldn’t be taken seriously. Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria and the NY Times’s Thomas Friedman are a lot more trustworthy.

  7. Prince Roy at-large Says: June 14, 2005 at 8:19 pm

    I agree with you, DXC. the thing that always gets me about those kind of articles is that they invariably conclude China will break apart into several independent states, a condition that arguably hasn’t existed since before the Song.

    It’s the test I use to determine whether or not the writer has any idea what he’s talking about.

  8. I also found the commentary by Steyn not particulary useful. I although I do read some political commentary, I do not do so often as I do not think it is very productive.

    That does not mean there are not points worth considering, though. Much of the ballyhoo about the 21st century being the century of China may be due to both an assessment of China’s potential and a serious anti-American bent. As far as the future goes, the future is extremely difficult to predict, that is why most people betting on the future get it wrong.

    As far as China is concerned, it is a great potential, and most here feel that potential; something I suspect was in the psyche of the Americans during the 19th century. But there are problems, much of it due to the government’s intervention into the market place (the usual suspect involved in these things, both East and West). When the chickens come home to roost, which they always do, the response of the government then will determine which course their future takes. For example, when the Japanese responded to their government induced economic crises, they responded in that good old Hoover-FDR package of solutions and reaped a similar reward, a long (13 year economic contraction in the case of Japan, 10 years for America) economic contraction. The coming bust in China (and there are signs all around, a huge glut of office space, apartments, etc. in many cities) will require a response; if that response is immediate liquidation of bad investments, they will be ok economically and will be able to move on in about 1-1/2 years, otherwise it will be a long time affair. All these things will have a political response, and that is difficult to measure.

  9. Well, they are spending a lot of funds in these things for sure. I think the govt must think twice before investing the money for such purposes.

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