The Young and the Communist

What happens when you mix propaganda with daytime television? Communist soap operas! I was visiting a Chinese friend in Beijing this weekend, and as in any good Chinese person’s apartment, the TV was on all the time, so I got to catch a few episodes of some soap opera involving Mao Zedong. There are a few of these. They invariably depict the Great Helmsman as witty, urbane, and almost absurdly passionate about the welfare of everyone around him. Think Mother Theresa meets Johnny Carson in a soup kitchen. In one of the episodes I watched, the Chairman was eating lunch with one of his cronies as two female comrades stood nearby grilling something that looked like, but hopefully wasn’t, donkey ears. The table was laid out like the perfect stereotype of a village meal: simple porcelain bowls of wild vegetables, cucumbers, and peanuts, with a little plate of fried fish and an unlabeled bottle of dark green glass that was full of home-brewed alcohol. You might imagine the lunch-time conversation dealing with what the people-hating Guomindang were up to, or perhaps how the Party could best reach the mighty proletariat farmers in Shaanxi, but no: The Chairman was giving dating advice. His subordinate apparently had a real thing for one of the women grilling the donkey ears, and as he hung his head shyly, Mao fixed him with an intense, Leader-of-the-People stare and said something like this: “I know how you feel, but you must try. She cares about you, and you care about her. It is good for the two of you to be together.” The Chairman as revolutionary politician, we knew. The Chairman as cultural interpreter of Marx and Lenin, this we also knew. The Chairman as ersatz Dr. Phil? Brand-new.

And then there was the scene with the beaming Chairman parading joyfully about a large meeting room, carrying in his arms a small child with a toy jeep. They were part of some kind of gathering which had been convened under a large canvas army tent (of course; why would the great Champion the People meet in an expensive mansion?) for the purpose of celebrating the opening of a new oil well. I think. I caught the show too late in the game to know what the kid had done, but Mao called him the “little hero,” thereby invoking both the spirit of Lei Feng (the “model Communist”) and Shirley Temple (the “model twit”) . Throw in the evil Guomindang operative who thought he had planted a bomb in the toy jeep (but was foiled by a wily People’s Liberation Army security wonk) for the purposes of polishing off the Hero of the People and the snotty kid, and you have something both melodramatic and surreal, like the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet performed by the band at Chuck-E-Cheese.

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3 Responses to The Young and the Communist

  1. Pingback: Hao Hao Report

  2. Bill says:

    Nice post, I’m going to reblog it and link back to your sit.

  3. Pingback: Reblog on Crappy Chinese TV « Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

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