Over the weekend, the Chinese Education Minister announced an initiative to attract colleges to “political theory” indoctrination at Communist Party-run universities, a study that has plummeted in popularity due to China’s exposure to the outside world.
“When we investigate at colleges and universities, we find that attention levels at thought and political theory classes are not high. People are there in body but not in spirit,” minister Chen Baosheng lamented, calling for professors to do away with “packaging that is not that fashionable” and find new, “trendy” ways to encourage the nation’s youth to embrace Communism. With the spread of religion – Christianity and Islam in particular – and consumerism, fewer and fewer young Chinese people care to embrace the 20th-century ways of Mao Zedong.
If the recent history of President Xi Jinping’s tenure is any indication, that new “trendy” packaging will involve attempts at American-style hip-hop music. While Beijing has censored hundreds of pop songs, many of them rap songs, for “harming social morality,” the Chinese government has taken to publishing rap music videos with pro-Beijing, pro-Marxist messages in the hope of attracting youth attention.
Below, five of the most painful attempts at coolness from the Chinese government:
“The Four Comprehensives Rap” – February 2016
The “Four Comprehensives” are vague government objectives intended to bring about the “Chinese dream,” Beijing’s communist alternative to the “American dream.” They are, according to The Nanfang: “to comprehensively develop a ‘moderately prosperous society,’ to comprehensively reform the country, to comprehensively enact a ‘rule of law,’ and to comprehensively root out Party corruption.”
Naturally, the state outlet Xinhua saw in this fertile ground for a hip-hop anthem.
“The Four Comprehensives Rap” features such catchy lyrics as “the environment will become greener and haze will disappear” and “Prosperity is the goal, reform is the drive, rule of law is the guarantee, building up the Party is the key!” While in America, rap music surfaced as a defiant voice against perceived corruption of those in power, Chinese government rap celebrates utmost submission to authority. “Respect, obey and implement the law,” the lyrics warn laypersons and Party members alike.
As with many Chinese government-sponsored rap videos, this song’s music video features bizarre animated sequences featuring a middle-aged man lecturing a young girl with the song. The girl, who initially dismisses the Four Comprehensives as “about the Chinese dream or whatever,” learns to love the government’s abstract promises.
“The Reform Group is Two Years Old” – December 2015
Who would ever suspect that a rap song with a title as catchy as “The Reform Group is Two Years Old” was written by stodgy old Marxists locked up in the bureaucratic mazes of Beijing? The titular “reform group” is an ad hoc creation meant to weed out corruption in local Communist Party offices. As with “The Four Comprehensives Rap,” the song praises the benefits of strict adherence to the rule of law and deference to authority.
“Streamline the administration and delegate power to lower levels and unleash energy,” the rapper performing the song demands. “Only the daring will prevail at key stages of reform.”
“To rule the party strictly we must harden our bodies, the judicial reform must be victorious,” the song continues, thanking Communist Party officials for their commitment to the environment: “they hate smog to the bone.” Chinese government propaganda repeatedly mentions the alleged successes of Xi’s administration in protecting the environment to mask its woeful failure in addressing the issue.
President “Big Daddy Xi” appears in animated form in the video, and the song itself incorporates some key quotes from Xi speeches into its lyrics.
“This Is China” – June 2016
Unlike many government productions, this rap song was the product of an actual rap group, albeit a loyalist Communist Party rap group. CD Rev, which had previously released pro-Marxist singles independent of the government, wrote a song the government claimed was meant to show the “real” face of China. “The red dragon ain’t no evil,” the rappers claim. Instead, the nation is full of “young men like us, aspiring and friendly.”
The rap group celebrates the Chinese government because “we have tight gun control laws” and “we can use apps to pay in nearly all the situations.”
“Marx Is a Millennial” – May 2016
Literally translating to “Marx is a Post-90s,” the Chinese language term for the same generation, this government-commissioned work of art is intended to address the issue Education Minister Chen appears so alarmed by: the fact that young Chinese people, attracted to Western culture and the hope of a comfortable, capitalist lifestyle, have little interest in Communist dogma. The rapper in this song admits to never being interested in Marx before “one day, I discovered how awesome he was.”
The music video boasts bright colors and a geometric design reminiscent of the 1980s Dire Straits’ music video “Money for Nothing.”
“I saw my faith, don’t even ask why/You are my Venus, my dear Marx,” the song proclaims.
Xinhua appeared particularly proud of this production in its article about the rap song. “How to make Marxism attractive to the Chinese youth? Maybe a rap!” the state outlet’s write-up reads.
“Battle Declaration” – May 2016
Unlike the videos previously mentioned, “Battle Declaration” does not rely on bizarre cartoonish designs or a fun, colorful tone to attract attention. This rap song was intended to attract young people to a career in the Chinese military, and its aesthetic is much closer to teen boy “Xtreme” marketing than the bright jewel hues of “Marx Is a Millennial.”
The lyrics are also significantly more dramatic:
Even if a bullet passes through my chest
My mission remains carved in my heart
Brothers, let’s follow this path
[Roar! Roar! Roar! Roar!]
Roar with animal spirit
Look to the bravest general of them all
Walk from here toward the site of combat