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Hu Jintao sits down for chat in Guo Chunping's (right) 77 kuai apartment.

Regular readers of this blog will know I toiled in the bowels of China’s state-run media machine for a few years, so know all about the silly, paranoid behaviour of some of China’s reporters, and even moreso the censors editors.

I’ve long maintained China could do vibrant, compelling propaganda that has viewers glued to their sets (hey, look at Fox News). But instead, those on the frontlines are afraid of taking any chances because they are catering to an increasingly aging audience of Communist Party cadres who just want to see themselves on TV. It often results drab, characterless reports that qualify as propaganda, but not exactly the persuasive kind.

Case in point, a CCTV report which showed President Hu Jintao “descend from his gilded throne at the Great Hall of the People and make his presence felt among the hoi polloi” according to Shanghaiist. That’s right, Hu decided to hang out in the apartment of Beijing resident Guo Chunping and ask a few questions on December 30.  Here’s the exchange, translated into English:

Hu: When did you move in?

Guo: I’ve moved in over half a month now.

Hu: Oh, half a month, I see. How big is this apartment?

Guo: It’s 45 square metres in all.

Hu: 45, huh. Two rooms?

Guo: Yes, two rooms.

Hu: How much rent are you paying for this apartment?

Guo: I pay RMB77 each month.

Hu: RMB77 each month — are you able to cope with the rent?

Guo: Yes. Secretary-General, I just wanted to say a big thank you to the party and the government. We are so touched to have been given this fabulous apartment to live in!

Hu: The party and the government are very concerned with the people’s daily livelihoods. We’ve taken up a series of measures to further improve your daily lives. Well, we’re so happy to see that your lives have been improved here!

Guo: Thank you! Thank you! Our country is really improving day by day. We never dreamed we would be living in such an apartment some day.

I wonder how many watched this exchange and felt a great warmth in the cockles of their heart and a beaming pride in the good works of the party and state. Judging by the reaction of China’s ever-active online community, not many.  Several believe Guo Chunping wouldn’t qualify for subsidized housing even if it existed at that crazy rate, some reports say rents in Guo’s complex are as high as RMB2,000 per month, and of course, Chinese internet users would love to find out how they, too, can rent a 45 square meter apartment for only RMB77 in one of China’s most expensive cities. With inflation at 5.1%, Guo’s rent will soon cost less than her vegetables.

The larger picture here has nothing to do with Guo Chunping, however. It is about the people’s reaction to an official state television report. It’s not a good sign for the Communist Party when reports involving the President are ridiculed and mocked by citizens, even if it’s just online for now.  The government is going to have to be a bit more persuasive in its propaganda, especially with an ever more sophisticated and connected citizenry.




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