by Tracey Fallon.

China watchers are kept busy this week pouring over the speeches and wondering what is going on behind the scenes at the 18th Congress of China’s Communist Party. Due to the secrecy over proceedings, words and actions will be scrutinised for any clues as to what is ahead for China. Here, I wish to offer an alternative location of analysis so far uncommented on elsewhere: the CCTV evening performance “Navigate China: Welcome the Victorious opening of the 18th Party Congress” broadcast on the state’s main TV channel on the eve of the Congress’s first day(7th November 2012).

The evening performance show is one of the remaining bastions of art serving the party to be found on CCTV.  Although the annual Spring Festival Gala is used to get core political issues over to the public, recent years have seen some relaxation of the format to include public involvement with X-Factor style auditioning. In contrast, the 18th Party Congress show presented a slick top-down propaganda fest

The flag of Chinese Communist Party Symbol along with Huabiao (Cloud Pillars) an ancient symbol of authority

The show’s structure is a familiar one for audiences; famous presenters guide the narrative interspersed with grand performances. Not surprisingly, the core theme was the Party is instrumental in China’s every development. Throughout the two hour long programme, nation, government and the Party; past, present and future were collapsed into one. A typical ecstatic introduction was: “From a big country to a great country, braving wind and waves, the people have chosen the Chinese Communist Party! 从大国到强国, 乘风破浪, 人民选择了中国共产党!”. The presenters gave “work reports” outlining China’s achievements in infrastructure, technology and aerospace. They reminded the audience of overcoming disasters like the earthquakes China suffered. This reinforced the shared past; reproducing the nation and placing the Party at the head. Sayings of socialist heroes were shouted out by actors portraying China’s youth showing how the Party’s spirit lives on.

“Advance, Advance, Advance” scene from group choir singing “Towards revival”

A second key theme was naval power as the title “Navigate China” suggests. Nodding to China’s shift to developing itself as a sea power and the recent launching of China’s first aircraft carrier, many key performances displayed naval symbolism. White is the representative colour of naval formal uniforms. Although performances involved all areas of the military, the navy was represented more through white uniforms. Significantly, white uniforms lead the grand finale mass choir singing “Towards revival走向复兴”.

For the domestic, ethnic unity, infrastructure and sustainable development, and “the people” were the main themes. Mentioned was the target of developing the west over the next 10 years and making China an innovative country. Throughout the show the beauty of modernity and technology were celebrated. Nature was also present but framed through the lens of providing a good environment justifying clean energy projects. The support of the ‘laobaixing’ (ordinary people) was portrayed throughout. The audience was reminded of the love the Party has for them and that it works for the benefit of the people.

Celebrating modernity: Wind farm and plane emerging in dance scene “Breakthrough”

The style of the broadcast is so hyperbolic that I doubt many will be taken in. To an outsider it appears nationalist, ideology-laden and despite its dazzlingly advanced sets, outdated. Yet, in terms of an artistic self-representation, the show is illuminating in what it reveals as the core issues and identity of the Party.  There can be little doubt that the Party sees itself as more than a political party, but as China itself. This indicates a continual tight grip on power. Of significance for the rest of the world is the promising commitment to renewable energies. However, also of import is the party’s display of an increasing naval assertiveness as it “Navigates China”.

Tracey Fallon is a PhD Candidate School of Contemporary Chinese Studies.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.



  1. A nice discussion of the cultural construction of the congress; the iconography is spectacular. I am curious how this has been perceived by citizens, netizens in particular. What sort of comments have appeared on weibo and other social media sites? To what extent is the vision challenged or critized?

  2. Thanks Tracey for summing this up so well. The naval references are quite fascinating. It is the tongue-in-cheekness to this whole charade that as an outsider shows the depths of Chinese culture, able to mix satirism with great art and talent. Or am I misreading Chinese nationalism and there is no deliberate joke going on here? This kind of display made in this way allows extracting of the Michael (i.e. taking the Mick; ridiculing) from the Party for outsiders and of course, insiders, without needing to be direct and thus contentious. But isn’t it in some ways quite alike to putting the Queen of England on a slowboat up the River Thames and having commentators harp on all Sunday afternoon about how wonderful the procession of boats is and reminding us of the success of the Olympics. Where’s the line between drumming up National Pride and giving the nation a reason to be satirical?

  3. Hi Sam,
    Thanks for reading. This is not a satirical piece of performance, although looking at the first picture and being located in the UK satirical genre of Brasseye, Alan Partridge etc, you would be forgiven for thinking so. At present a mainstream show with the party as its target is unimaginable. Discussion of the 18th Party congress on the web has been greatly restricted – even plays on words for the name of the congress have been blocked (shi ba da – changed to si ba da Sparta for more on blocked words see China Digital Times

    Which brings me to Siman Hui’s question of how netizens reacted. Given the restrictions on weibo over even looking for the terms 18th Party Congress, I instead went to look at some of the comments on video hosting sites. The results are quite revealing. On video host ku 6, the first part of the show has been viewed over 16,600 times and the comments section has been closed. You are free to watch, but not comment.…html?loc=youce_tuijian

    On another video on the same site, the comments appear open, but no one has left any? It been up 5 days and no “dings” likes/dislikes and no comments – not even a “dibs on the sofa” (i.e. qiang sha fa – First to make a comment).

    On hosting site tudou, I looked at the first three videos that came up showing segments of the programme. 2 had no comments, 1 had a comment from a few days ago saying ” I love Zhou Tao (the presenter).”

    Shandong video hosting site Qilu – no comments:

    On a news report discussing the show: temporarily no comments:

    These are just the first few that I have checked according to results following a search for the programme name in Baidu, but this paints a rather telling picture on what public discussion can be had even on the cultural representation of Sparta, I mean, 18th Party Congress.

  4. Hey Tracey,

    Really interesting to look at this while everyone else is running sweepstakes on the new PSC. It was quite good. I was sitting watching it all with Penny and the mother-in-law. Everyone singing along to the old songs (well, my mother-in-law was) telling me I should learn some of these songs just in case I’m asked to sing by some officials. It gives you quite a different perspective sitting in a Chinese family home watching these things. Spring Festival is better, but the atmosphere is generally the same. Just more people in the house.

    It really is not as deviously evil as all that, though it is laughably unaware of its own ridiculousness. Its no less sinister than the annual US high school ritual of getting 5 year olds to recite Abe Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and his homage to the declaration of independence in1776.

    I’d question the political insight we can draw from this. Yes, the naval imagery and the wind farm nonsense with the Tron-a-like dance troupe.

    Its like the 60th Anniversary of the PRC in 2009. It was a pageant of colour, not really a show of military strength. I though that had more in common with the Trooping of the Colour, or the Edinburgh Tatoo. Similarly, this had more in common with those God awful variety performances we used to get every Xmas, presented by Jimmy Tarbuck and Bruce Forsyth.

    In fact, is it perhaps more likely that the CCP will fall because of their consistently crap entertainment and lack of sophisticated propaganda? On this evidence they’ve not got long left.

    Its just that whether we cynically dismiss this type of stuff as nonsense or not, there are plenty of people in China have fallen for the plot as you rightly point out: that its increasingly difficult to distinguish China from the CCP. Certainly, to criticise the party is to criticise China and thus be unpatriotic. But hasn’t this been the whole point of patriotic education since 1992??


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