Propaganda in film, or propaganda films

In English, the word propaganda is obviously rather pejorative. That need not any explanation. Some people might even disparage my blog as “Chinese communist propaganda.” If they do, so be it.

A native Chinese female who I talk with a fair bit now, sometimes about film, asked me if I’ve seen Anna and the King. My answer to that was that I had never even heard of it. I skimmed through the plot on Baidu Baike to get a gist of it.

She seems to know a fair bit about popular culture, and the gossip that goes along with it. Relatedly, she seems to have seen a fair bit of film, including the TV series Gossip Girl. I had watched maybe like the first 10 episodes of that. I was probably more motivated to do so for the attractive girls in it than for the plot, though surely the plot was certainly not bad. I sure got a good taste of “upper class white privilege” from that. I even joked to a math PhD student I was talking with a fair bit at that time, who said he had watched the whole thing, that I need to become filthy rich eventually so that my daughter can become like Blair Waldorf.

I had told her that I watched the historic Nazi anti-Semitic film Jud Süß largely out of curiosity. I think almost certainly, had I revealed that to my typical America raised peer or friend then, I would have been ostracized to some degree. Even many Chinese in America who did up through high school or undergrad in China would have at the very least viewed me funny or with some backlash.

The best I could find of it on YouTube is

with French subtitles. (To someone who really wants to watch it with English subs, then you better find some way to obtain it yourself.)

Out of curiosity, I had also watched, in my last year of college I believe, the North Korean film, The Flower Girl.

I actually told my mom about that, and the result was her raging at me, saying that if I mentioned this to the outside world, people would think I’m mentally insane, which I’m obviously not. At that time, maybe I actually took that a bit more seriously, but now, it’s like, “it’s just a movie, and the propaganda aspect of it is too obvious to miss, so what,” not to mention that hundreds of millions of people in China also watched it in the 70s, so I’m far from alone. I don’t remember how I found out about it.

Similarly, I watched around the same time 英雄儿女 (Heroic Sons and Daughters).

It was produced in 1964 and became a classic film in China. I certainly found the whole plot quite moving when I watched it. A song in it 英雄赞歌 (A Paean of a Hero)

became widely known and sung too and still is up to this day I believe.

I did not actually tell my mom about my watching that, but I told that native Chinese female about my watching that along with The Flower Girl and my mom’s reaction to my having watched the latter.

Her response was, having slightly misunderstood

what’s wrong with your mom, 英雄儿女, it was on cctv6 yesterday.

I also told her that I had watched Saving Private Ryan, which could also be regarded as propaganda of a different nature, and sigh, its director was the anti- China Jew Steven Spielberg.

Also I am reminded that I have an ABC friend without a Chinese name. I had asked him what his Chinese name was and he said he didn’t have one. But when he told me that his birthday was October 1st, I joked to him, “[姓]国庆”, which means “[his surname] national day.” He has some interesting views that I liked to laugh at.

Once when he visited me, I made some jokes using the Chinese name I had given him, and we watched this 1952 film 南征北战 the plot of which was on some battle in the civil war 4 years earlier.

We didn’t finish it since he had to leave.

I began listening to Soviet music my final year of college. A female Chinese international student from Harbin in casual chat with me told me about the song Katyusha (and also that How the Steel Was Tempered book that I had already heard about) and I found it so beautiful that I wanted to understand its lyrics in the original, authentic Russian. That was what got me learning Russian on my own, much by accident. I had a Russian friend who helped a bit and was quite supportive of it.

I was a bit anxious though since I was still very much trapped by the norms of America, especially its school system. I was afraid that people would find out and think that I was crazy or brainwashed. (Some Indian-American had said to me a summer earlier, “you seem brainwashed by the Chinese government!” notwithstanding that at that time, I was still in school and consuming and creating verbal content mostly if not almost exclusively in English and still thinking in more of an “American” mindset.) But it was more of a real start at spiritual liberation. Now, I could care so much less about what all those idiots in America think. I’m not the one who’s mentally crazy. It’s America and American culture that’s mentally sick, and becoming ever more so.

As I’ve indicated, the political reaction of many if not most in China would be quite the opposite. For instance, when I wrote about my experience growing up in America, some female jokingly commented in Chinese,

Comrade, you are a modern version of 18 Years in the Enemy Camp!

I was somewhat confused when I saw it. But after looking up online, I learned that it was referring to some TV series on some CPC agent who spent 18 years within the KMT, between 1927 and 1945.

I eventually decided to actually watch it, not just listen to the theme song, and it was entertaining enough for me to have finished almost all the 40 episodes. Contrary to the negative Hollywood portrayals of Asian men, the protagonist was a charismatic, competent, and heroic alpha male who easily attracted and seduced women, even a woman high up within the KMT who he managed to manipulate again and again to help achieve his objectives without her knowing who he really was. When she finally found out, she had to keep it a secret too not only out of love but also to avoid being implicated.

Though I read stuff on the Chinese internet starting from high school, it was really only a year ago that I began to comment, write, and meet people through that. Pertaining to this, some America raised guy at elite school asked me how I managed to meet all these people from China or in China. I don’t remember how I answered, but on this, I will remark that surely, what I’ve done is something that most ethnic Chinese who grew up in America would not even dare think of doing, due to immersion in American culture and social pressures and what not, let alone actually doing. But I guess that’s just my personality. Not being terribly conformist and doing certain things that most people would be afraid to. Can’t really help with that. Somewhat tangentially, I’ve written to a math PhD student from China too that my interest in pure math surely had something to do with my difficulty fitting in culturally in the American school system.

Finally, my sympathies to those stuck in America who feel similarly but feel at dis-ease about it. When I say this I have in mind not just ethnic Chinese who grew up in America but also the unusually woke white American who can more or less actually understand where I’m coming from, who thinks that the people running the country are basically delusional, witnessing directly there a big theatre of political idiocy. If that’s you, you are not alone.

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