Saturday, July 23, 2011

USCC: The Confucian Revival in the Propaganda Narratives of the Chinese Government


The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Releases Report:

The Confucian Revival in the Propaganda Narratives of the Chinese Government

Washington, D.C
. - Today, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission released a report entitled “The Confucian Revival in the Propaganda Narratives of the Chinese Government.” Once a target of official condemnation in Mao-era China as a relic of the country’s feudal past and as an obstacle to the Party’s vision of social transformation, Confucius has been revived in official propaganda as a national icon of China’s traditional culture, as well as a symbol of the Party’s concern for public welfare.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has turned to Confucian ideals – or at least, to the promotion of a selective interpretation of the Confucian tradition – for several reasons. In the face of widespread public cynicism regarding traditional Communist ideology, the Party has undertaken a search for an alternative philosophical tradition that could appeal to the public without contradicting the Party’s continuing use of official Marxist theories on politics and social development. The CCP is also facing widespread social unrest sparked by disparate factors such as income inequality, environmental pollution, and official corruption. Alarmed by the potential threat this unrest could pose to the Party’s ruling status, the Chinese authorities have repeatedly invoked the need for “social stability.” They have also promoted broad propaganda campaigns, both domestically and abroad, asserting China’s desire for a “Harmonious Society” and for “Peaceful Development.”

In this environment, Confucianism presents itself to the authorities as a natural choice. The emphasis within Confucian philosophy on ethical behavior, self-discipline and cultivation, and simple living dovetails well with the efforts of senior government leaders to portray themselves as dedicated corruption fighters concerned with the welfare of the common man. Through the Confucian emphasis on public service via loyalty to the existing social order, the selective promotion of Confucian teachings also provides a pillar of support for authoritarian and paternalistic politics. Furthermore, hearkening back to Confucianism offers an indigenous tradition of social philosophy that satisfies nationalist impulses, while simultaneously presenting a gentler humanist face to audiences both at home and abroad.

To this end, in recent years Confucian iconography has been employed extensively by the Chinese state propaganda apparatus: in the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games; in an historical epic film about Confucius produced by a state-owned film company in 2009; and in a large statue of Confucius erected on the edge of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in early 2011. Confucian themes of virtuous public service have also surrounded the depictions of senior Party leaders in the state press, accompanied by very Confucian-esque exhortations to lower-level CCP cadres to avoid the temptations of corruption.

Due to its high suitability to the public relations needs of the Party, “CCP Confucianism” is likely to remain a staple of Chinese Government-sponsored propaganda in the years ahead. It remains to be seen, however, how much influence this emerging state-sponsored philosophy will actually have – either in terms of reassuring foreign audiences, or of convincing China’s own citiz of the government’s commitment to public welfare and social justice.

The report is available online at

For a copy of this and other USCC reports, please visit For a hard copy of a USCC Annual Report to Congress, please contact Tim Lipka at or 202-624-1407.

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