The press office of the international department of the Communist Party of China’s central committee sent an email last week containing some links to videos that highlight different facets of Chinese history and culture.
An exercise in public relations (PR), and no wonder considering the rap the Chinese are getting from western media.
A cynic would call the email from the central committee ‘propaganda’, and yes, that’s what PR is: the opportunity to influence and manage the perceptions of others. But when the influencing is all one-sided, redressing the balance is a vital act.
We cannot avoid being bombarded with opinion: it’s what we read, see and hear every day through our newspapers, radio, TV and online media. We know that western mass media are monopolised, owned and run by those whose interests are closely tied to the US-dominated imperialist system, and whose reporting is biased in the extreme.
Our daily propaganda diet is based on the western premise of what is ‘true and good and right’ and on its projected version of the ‘rules-based order’. And we swallow it, sometimes consciously but often mechanically, our opinions and prejudices forming despite any resolve to the contrary.
But isn’t it our responsibility as conscientious citizens of the world to reach opinions on balance, with thought and consideration, by assessing the different viewpoints and making our own, independent assessment – rather than a Daily Mail one?
But how do we discover ‘the truth’? How do we distinguish facts from fallacies? How is propaganda distinguished from news? How do we take a correct stand?
We do so by applying an honest examination of facts available from different sources. We check the credibility of these sources; we consider them and we then make up our own minds. Ideally, we do so with an understanding of class forces that we get from the science of Marxism.
The study of scientific socialism hugely amplifies our ability to separate fact from fiction, enabling us to understand the class agendas beneath the systems, the actions and the narratives that are presented to us.
We cannot simply object to the Chinese putting themselves out there, dismissing it as propaganda and getting all righteous about their temerity in trying to inform us about their culture and values. Let’s face it, if they don’t offer a perspective of their own culture and values, no one else will.
Why shouldn’t the Chinese – or any nation or culture – extend the arm of friendship? Why shouldn’t they try to break down barriers and suspicion that have been created by stereotypes and untruths? Why shouldn’t they share some insight into what makes them both different from, and the same as us?
So now that we have something the Chinese have shared with us about their culture and their values. Before we berate them for doing so, let’s consider their contribution and how it compares to the values that we in Britain and the west are trained to defend so rigidly.
What might these videos contain? How China is going to take over the world? Destroy our culture? Bring a new kind of insidious pop culture to our children?
No, none of the above. A bit about the history of tea and how it has been adopted by cultures throughout the world, including our own. Some traditional Chinese music from the bamboo flute, and an interesting look at the origins of Tai Chi – a martial art that is today practised in countries all over the globe.
It was the latter video that gave our reviewer particular food for thought. What struck them particularly was the one from Master Chen entitled ‘Taijiquan (Tai Chi) Master Chen connects people all over the world’.
The title uses the word connecting. Not dominating, controlling, ruling, taking over, taking the world by storm – simply ‘connecting’.
Master Chen, who is an 11th-generation practitioner, speaks of his ancestor, who created the practice over 400 years ago, its long history and culture, and his pride in that heritage. In those intervening 400 years, Tai Chi has been exported to the world, yet that knowledge and expertise has not been exploited for profit. Not given in one hand to greedily grasp in the other a global empire of Tai Chi schools, videos, social media platforms etc.
Master Chen expresses his humility and joy at eventually being accepted as part of Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. He wants to share what he and his ancestors have created – not for profit, but to benefit individuals and, therefore, humanity.
He talks about the benefits of Tai Chi for the individual and the whole of society. According to Master Chen, Tai Chi allows your whole body to relax; it balances and calms your mind. It can change a person’s mindset, and when someone can remain calm and peaceful, their family becomes harmonious. When families are harmonious, he says, our entire society will be harmonious.
Master Chen describes Taijiquan as an invisible bond – a silent language that can unite people of different countries, skin colours and languages.
A simple internet search will return definitions of US and Chinese cultures. Individuality is highly valued in US culture. Americans often identify themselves as separate individuals before identifying with their family, group or nation. Chinese culture, particularly now after 70 years of socialist development, is based on collectivism, whereby cooperation and collective achievement is emphasised over self-fulfilment and personal gain.
Understanding these polar perspectives may help us to get behind the rhetoric of both nations and encourage us to further explore the truths behind the promoted perceptions of China and other nations that our western media so vehemently encourage us to hate, distrust and despise.
More videos in this series can be found below: