Chinese Young People Are Rejecting Communist Party Propaganda and the Government Is Freaking Out

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing (Left) and actor Huang Xiaoming (Right) arrive for the red carpet of 4th Beijing International Film Festival at China's National Grand Theater on April 16, 2014 in Beijing, China. Getty Images

Young people in China are rejecting Communist party propaganda for Western-style movie stars and celebrity culture – that's the lesson behind the box office flop of a series big budget propaganda films according to observers.

When the movie Founding Fathers of the Army, which tells the story of the founding of the People's Liberation Army, recently hit cinemas, officials hoped it would inspire an outpouring of patriotic feeling—instead it was mocked for trying to use popular film stars to lure younger viewers.

"Chinese people are increasingly ignoring party propaganda and are much more interested in movie stars, who represent a new lifestyle and more exciting aspirations," Willy Lam, an expert on Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the Associated Press.

While the Communist Party once exercised an iron grip on what it's citizens saw and read, a loosening of restrictions means that propaganda must now compete with movies and dramas produced by the country's booming entertainment industry, and the stars it has spawned.

Fathers of the Army is not the only expensive government-sponsored movie to lose out in the popularity stakes.

In October, The South China Morning Post reported that Sky Hunter, which was hatched at the instigation of military propaganda chiefs and featured two of the country's youthful a-list stars, also flopped at the box office on its opening weekend.

Behind the spate of glossy but clumsy propaganda blockbusters is a drive by Chinese President Xi Jinping to spread traditional Chinese values among youths seduced by celebrity culture and consumerism.

Authorities have capped the high pay commanded by TV stars, moved to close down celebrity gossip accounts on social networking site Weibo, and a called on web giants behind the Great Firewall of China to actively propagate core socialist values.

China's media watchdog has told production companies not to employ stars engaged in activities such as gambling, prostitution and drug use and failing to live up to the standards of purity expected of youthful role models figures. Stars caught using drugs including Taiwanese actor Ko Chen-tung and Jackie Chan's son, Jaycee Chan, have been forced to apologize on state television.

But according to experts the party is fighting a losing battle against a background of swiftly changing values, with young people preferring to watch dramas that focus on romance, martial arts, and historical intrigue.

"While the government could once dictate to young people what they should value and how they should lead their lives, they find themselves completely without the tools to do that now," Hung Huang, a well-known social commentator based in Beijing, told the AP.