While still a one-party state, China is no longer a one-voice nation. In 1949 and for decades afterwards, Mao Zedong’s words were the only ones that mattered, and his Propaganda Chief Mei Yi helped broadcast them in China and around the world.
Today, with an estimated 70 million bloggers and 420 million internet users, total control over the flow of information is impossible, and pioneering new media outlets such as Caixin can be trusted to tell the truth and comment fairly.
The Brunswick Review presents two inspiring women who are pushing the boundaries of the Chinese Media industry. Mei Yan, the daughter of Mei Yi, is Head of Viacom and MD of MTV in China. Investigative Journalist Hu Shuli is the Founder of Caixin Media and the Founder and former Editor of Caijing magazine
ADVOCATE FOR OPENNESS
"The Chinese people have stood up." On October 1 1949,
Mao Zedong’s radio address announcing the founding
of the People’s Republic of China was broadcast live
around the world, a technical achievement that his Propaganda
Chief, Mei Yi, would later say was one of the biggest of his career.
In the decades that followed, any deviation from the Communist
Party’s official narrative could send a person to prison.
Some 61 years later in that same country, a powerful official
appeared on television wearing a "one million yuan watch." A few
observant citizens spotted it and began talking about it on Weibo,
China’s equivalent of Twitter, and before long the official had
been sacked. There may be no formal democracy, but "people
power" has arrived in China.
Mei Yan, the daughter of Mei Yi, is now Viacom’s Chief
Representative and MTV’s Managing Director for China.
Her career in broadcasting (CNN, News Corporation and now
Viacom) has taken a different path from that of her father,
who headed the Broadcast Administration, the cabinet-level body
that managed China’s nationwide network of radio and TV
stations and the international station Radio Beijing in the 1950s
and 1960s. On a recent hazy Beijing afternoon in Viacom’s sleek
and modern China headquarters, Yan reflected on how the
information age has profoundly changed China in recent years,
and how the notion of propaganda has fallen out of favor.
Until recently, it was not uncommon to walk into a state-run
enterprise or government office and see a sign in English for the
‘propaganda department.’ In China, the word for propaganda, xuanchuan 宣传, means simply to disseminate, publicize,
or propagate information. Formerly a neutral word in English
too, it took on a negative connotation in the West during the 20th
century, when the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and China used
propaganda to promote and further causes that liberal Western
societies found repugnant.
In the early years of communism, Yan’s father was the
spokesman for the Communist Party during its negotiation with
the Nationalist government in Nanking. He had been tapped by
Mao to run his radio broadcasts from Communist Party
headquarters in Yan’an, Shaanxi province, when China was at war
with Japan, and later served as one of the translators for the
influential book documenting the Party’s early history,
Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China.
That just one person could have been responsible for
communicating news of a nation the size of China is almost
impossible to fathom in today’s era of information overload.