By Roxanne Hendrickx
History’s taught us that China is a country that used propaganda as a method of communication and conviction regularly. While Mao was ruling, the public experienced a lot of influence from above. The government controlled the educational system and the media, there were huge propaganda campaigns, there was a nationwide loudspeaker system to impose messages, etc. The use of propaganda was so common and obvious, but is this still the case now? Di Wang talks about her experience with propaganda in modern China.
Di is a 24-year old political sciences student who is currently on an exchange in Amsterdam. Even though she is so young, she also kind of had an encounter with propaganda from higher institutions. When Di was in primary school, there was a popular spiritual practise, named Falun Gong. It combines meditation and qigong (a moving form of meditation) exercises and aspires to achieve spiritual enlightenment. In the late 1990s, the Communist Party and public security organizations began viewing Falun Gong as a potential threat because it was getting more and more popular, and even had more followers than the CPC itself. That’s when the government started persecuting Falun Gong followers.
On 23 January 2001, there was an incident on Tiananmen Square, where several people set themselves on fire in the middle of the square. Di was told in school that these people were followers of Falun Gong, and that they were forced to do it. They watched a movie and were handed out flyers, that both contained several cases of people who harmed themselves in the name of the Falun Gong practise. “Some parts were so frightening that I could recall some scenes of that movie and the brochure even today”. What the real stories are, remains up to now still a mystery for Di Wang. Even though she acknowledges that Falun Gong is in some countries viewed as harmless, Di is still not sure of it. “I think this is a typical case where I was influenced strongly by the propaganda of the government, and I guess most of the Chinese people of my generation have had a similar experience and hold the similar opinion that Falun Gong is a cult.”
Years later, the situation is changing a lot. Even though there’s still a lot of blocked websites in China, and the government still tries to impose several ideals, there is more and more access to information and facts. Especially higher education people become more difficult to influence. “At university, we get educated to form an ability to think independently”, Di explains. This way, people are finally getting the chance to be more critical and learn to get their facts straight.