Art & Culture

China's newest propaganda format: Children's bedtime stories

Carlos Tejada
Source: China Daily | YouTube

Sometimes "Goodnight Moon" just won't do the trick.

So for parents struggling to get their little ones to rest their eyes for the night, China's state propaganda apparatus has a suggestion: Tell your child about President Xi Jinping's ambitions to extend China's political and economic power across Asia and the Middle East.

China Daily, a state-controlled media organization that aims primarily at an international audience, began releasing English-language videos this week describing a huge spending and infrastructure push called the Belt and Road Initiative, in the form of a child's bedtime story. In the two videos released so far, a father uses a windup camel skittering across a map to describe trade across Asia along the old Silk Road, and how China plans to help develop the regions it once passed through.

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Mr. Xi's name is, of course, dropped prominently.

"They're building new things like highways and railways and airports, and even pipeline and internet cables," says a father trying to put his daughter to bed.

"So it's just about moving stuff around?" she asks.

"That's a big part of it," he says. "But there's a lot more."

In a second video, the father expands on that point. "It's not just about roads and rail and airports to move stuff," he says. "It's also about people and cooperation."

Any country can join, the father says. "But," he notes, "the United States hasn't joined the initiative."

"It's China's idea," he says, "but it belongs to the world."

The video identifies the father as Erik Nilsson, who is listed on LinkedIn as assistant director, features at China Daily. He did not respond to calls and an email requesting comment. An editor at China Daily's new media desk declined to immediately answer questions.

China has been trying to polish its ham-handed approach to telling its story to skeptical audiences outside its borders, just as it has at home. In a video released two years ago, for example, China's official broadcaster repackaged an important but dry story about the formulation of a new five-year economic and development plan into an animated ditty about the "Shisanwu."

Then there were the foreigners who appeared in a video by the Communist Party's newspaper, People's Daily, calling Mr. Xi a great leader, a family man and a handsome fellow.

The Belt and Road videos were released ahead of a forum in Beijing next week dedicated to the infrastructure initiative. Mr. Xi and the leaders of countries including Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia and Turkey plan to attend.

It is not clear how China's plans to help build infrastructure across the region will fare. But the benefits could be considerable for the country, which has far too many steel, glass and cement factories and is looking to find markets for that overcapacity.