China dra­goons view­ers to make pro-Xi film a block­buster

‘It’s a very pa­tri­otic movie’

Arab Times - - FEATURES -

SHANG­HAI, March 14, (AFP): Cit­i­zens across China are be­ing cor­ralled into cin­e­mas to watch a pro­pa­ganda film ex­tolling the Com­mu­nist Party and Xi Jin­ping, as an in­ten­si­fy­ing per­son­al­ity cult around the 64-year-old leader hits the big screen.

The mass view­ings by staff from com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ment agen­cies have cat­a­pulted the fea­ture-length movie, called “Amaz­ing China” in English and re­leased March 2, into the ranks of the coun­try’s big­gest box-of­fice earn­ers, with state me­dia say­ing it was al­ready the coun­try’s high­est-gross­ing “doc­u­men­tary” ever.

The fea­ture, pro­duced by state broad­caster CCTV and a gov­ern­ment film group, fawns over China’s achieve­ments in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, in­dus­try, and poverty re­duc­tion since Xi took power in 2012, and the mo­bil­i­sa­tion of movie-go­ers un­der­lines his in­creas­ing dom­i­nance of pub­lic life.

“Most of us are from a state to­bacco com­pany. We all came to­gether,” said a woman who was among hun­dreds of view­ers at a Shang­hai cin­ema that was, un­usu­ally for a week­day, sold out.

“It’s a very pa­tri­otic movie, and con­tains much of our party’s doc­trine, so it’s our duty to watch it,” she said cheer­fully.

The tim­ing of the re­lease of the film, dis­trib­uted by Alibaba Pic­tures, is no ac­ci­dent.

China’s an­nual par­lia­ment meet­ing opened in Bei­jing on March 5 and on Sun­day the Com­mu­nist-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture voted to abol­ish pres­i­den­tial term lim­its, paving the way for in­def­i­nite rule by Xi, who has rapidly be­come China’s most pow­er­ful leader since Mao Ze­dong.

The move, which has prompted fears of a budding dic­ta­tor­ship, is part of an ac­cel­er­at­ing drive by Xi to ac­cu­mu­late power as he pushes his long-term plans to pro­pel China to su­per­power sta­tus, backed up by a re­lent­less do­mes­tic pro­pa­ganda cam­paign.

The of­fi­cial Xin­hua news agency said “Amaz­ing China” was the most talked-about film at par­lia­ment, cited by var­i­ous min­is­ters as proof of the coun­try’s progress.

Devel­op­ment

Breath­lessly nar­rated seg­ments praise China’s armed forces mod­erni­sa­tion, in­fra­struc­ture achieve­ments, space pro­gramme and eco­nomic devel­op­ment in back­ward re­gions like Bud­dhist Ti­bet and pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim Xin­jiang.

Crit­ics in those re­gions have com­plained of re­pres­sion by Bei­jing and both have suf­fered bouts of vi­o­lent anti-Chi­nese un­rest in re­cent years.

None of this is men­tioned in the film. Ma­jor prob­lems like chronic air pol­lu­tion and cor­rup­tion are also ig­nored.

In­stead, Ti­betans are por­trayed as the ap­pre­cia­tive re­cip­i­ents of Com­mu­nist aid that has saved them from poverty.

“We are very grate­ful to the party. Long live the party!” says an el­derly Ti­betan woman in the doc­u­men­tary.

Every few min­utes, Xi ma­te­ri­alises to of­fer fresh wis­doms and drive home the mes­sage.

The viewer rat­ing func­tion on lead­ing Chi­nese movie plat­form Douban.com has been dis­abled for “Amaz­ing China”, ap­par­ently to sti­fle crit­i­cism.

But many Chi­nese in­ter­net users com­plained of be­ing pres­sured to see the movie at their own ex­pense and to write an ap­praisal of it.

Some users of the Twit­ter-like Weibo plat­form pleaded with oth­ers to share their es­says.

“It’s like school­child­ren be­ing taken to watch a movie and then given home­work on it,” said one user, com­plain­ing that view­ers were be­ing treated like “big ba­bies”.

At the packed Shang­hai screen­ing, au­di­ence mem­bers oc­ca­sion­ally re­acted with au­di­ble ex­cite­ment at key mo­ments, but some snor­ing could also be heard.

One man said his trad­ing com­pany’s Com­mu­nist Party cell pushed em­ploy­ees to at­tend.

“It was manda­tory. But I’m glad we came. Don’t you think it was great?” he asked.

Xin­hua said “Amaz­ing China” had so far earned 227 mil­lion yuan ($36 bil­lion) -- and count­ing -- at the box of­fice. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, by com­par­i­son, made around 267 mil­lion yuan in China, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial sources.

China re­stricts for­eign movie im­ports and in­creas­ingly utilises cin­e­mas to ham­mer party doc­trine.

The­atres across China were or­dered last year to screen short clips pro­mot­ing Xi-ap­proved po­lit­i­cal mes­sag­ing be­fore fea­ture films, and pa­tri­otic-themed block­busters in­creas­ingly dom­i­nate the box of­fice.

The state ad­min­is­tra­tion gov­ern­ing film said on Jan­uary 30 that 5,000 movie the­atres around China would be des­ig­nated as “Peo­ple’s Cin­e­mas”, show­ing only pa­tri­otic-themed con­tent.

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