On 17 February Beijing Chaoyang Studio (北京朝阳工作室) released three cartoons which aim at spreading among the people the values of the Xi Jinping administration in a way that is closer to the common citizen and less stiff and cold than traditional political propaganda.
One of the three cartoons is entitled “Has the mass line been truly implemented?” (群众路线动真格了？) The animation revolves around Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption, a phenomenon which, according to the leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), runs counter the Communist Party’s mass line.
The animation condemns the vices that the official party language describes as “The Four Decadent Customs” (四风）and “The Three Abuses” (三公).
According to the Southern Metropolis Daily (南方都市报), the animations represent a departure from the previous style of government communication, which was too cold and detached from the people. “In the past,” writes the paper, “the Chinese people only saw pictures, portraits or official videos of their leaders, while it was extremely rare to see them in animated films.”
But China has now entered a new era, which the newspaper describes as “the era in which every person has a microphone” and in which every citizen is involved in disseminating political ideas. The way the government gives prominence to the people is the adoption of a new style of propaganda. It abandons “the language of preaching” (说教腔调), which scares people away and is ineffective, because “if no one wants to listen, it does not matter how loud the voice is, it will be to no avail”. In order to reach out to the public, “it is necessary to adjust to its taste”, to resort to a more joyful tone. This strategy will achieve the goal of “convincing the public without compulsion” (说服而非压服).
One scene from the video has become particularly popular. It is the one in which Xi Jinping brandishes a club and beats a tiger. “Tigers” is the common term used to refer to corrupt high-ranking Communist officials. The image therefore aims at illustrating in a simple (and frivolous) way how Xi Jinping is defeating corruption within the Communist Party.
But what is exactly the ‘mass line’ which the video mentions?
The mass line is not to be understood as a democratic principle in a Western sense, but rather as the implementation of what the PRC constitution calls the “people’s democratic dictatorship“. The people’s democratic dictatorship, which may sound like a self-contradictory concept, is in reality the logical result of the Communist Party’s principle of “avant-garde leadership”. The Party considers itself – in Marxist and Leninist terms – the most progressive element of society, the defender of the rights of the working classes, and the true liberator of the masses from capitalist exploitation. While the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has de facto discarded the idea of creating a classless society, it has maintained the principle of ‘avantgardism’: the Party interprets the will and needs of the masses, formulates its policies which it will then spread among the people through top-to-bottom mobilisation.
In “The Governance of China” Xi Jinping explains，
We have made the important decision to start an education campaign to promote the mass line of the Party. It was a decision made on the basis of the current circumstances, with the purpose of exercising self-discipline and of strictly carrying out the Party’s policies. This education campaign is an important measure that will fulfill the expectations of the people and facilitate the betterment of our Party as a Marxist ruling party based on learning, service and innovation. This will also be an important step towards the implementation of Chinese socialism. This campaign will play in important part in upholding the avant-garde character and the integrity of our Party …
According to Xi Jinping, corruption is one of the phenomena that have estranged the people from the Party, it is an evil that contradicts the mass line character of the Party. In order to re-establish the ties between Party and people, fighting corruption is a priority.
The cartoon exemplifies Xi’s war against corruption by addressing “The Four Decadent Customs” (四风）and “The Three Abuses” (三公).
“The Four Decadent Customs” are formalism (形式主义), bureaucratism (官僚主义), hedonism (享乐主义) and extravagance (奢靡).
In “The Governance of China” Xi Jinping describes them in the following way:
Formalism means looking only at the form of things, separating action and knowledge, neglecting effectiveness, hiding behind piles of documents and in conference rooms; it means pursuing vanity and resorting to wrong facts.
Bureaucratism means being detached from reality, losing the connection with the people, being indifferent towards facts, it means arrogance and egomania.
Hedonism means spiritual laxity, resting on one’s laurels, vanity, lasciviousness, longing for the limelight and always yearning for pleasure.
Extravagance means dissipation, wasting resources, expensive construction projects, endless parties and ceremonies, a luxurious and dissolute lifestyle, abuse of power for one’s own private interests …
“The Thee Abuses”, on the other hand, refer to the squandering of public money for cars, travel expenses and banquets during official trips.