by Tracey Fallon.

China watchers are kept busy this week pouring over the speeches and wondering what is going on behind the scenes at the 18th Congress of China’s Communist Party. Due to the secrecy over proceedings, words and actions will be scrutinised for any clues as to what is ahead for China. Here, I wish to offer an alternative location of analysis so far uncommented on elsewhere: the CCTV evening performance “Navigate China: Welcome the Victorious opening of the 18th Party Congress” broadcast on the state’s main TV channel on the eve of the Congress’s first day(7th November 2012).

The evening performance show is one of the remaining bastions of art serving the party to be found on CCTV.  Although the annual Spring Festival Gala is used to get core political issues over to the public, recent years have seen some relaxation of the format to include public involvement with X-Factor style auditioning. In contrast, the 18th Party Congress show presented a slick top-down propaganda fest

The flag of Chinese Communist Party Symbol along with Huabiao (Cloud Pillars) an ancient symbol of authority

The show’s structure is a familiar one for audiences; famous presenters guide the narrative interspersed with grand performances. Not surprisingly, the core theme was the Party is instrumental in China’s every development. Throughout the two hour long programme, nation, government and the Party; past, present and future were collapsed into one. A typical ecstatic introduction was: “From a big country to a great country, braving wind and waves, the people have chosen the Chinese Communist Party! 从大国到强国, 乘风破浪, 人民选择了中国共产党!”. The presenters gave “work reports” outlining China’s achievements in infrastructure, technology and aerospace. They reminded the audience of overcoming disasters like the earthquakes China suffered. This reinforced the shared past; reproducing the nation and placing the Party at the head. Sayings of socialist heroes were shouted out by actors portraying China’s youth showing how the Party’s spirit lives on.

“Advance, Advance, Advance” scene from group choir singing “Towards revival”

A second key theme was naval power as the title “Navigate China” suggests. Nodding to China’s shift to developing itself as a sea power and the recent launching of China’s first aircraft carrier, many key performances displayed naval symbolism. White is the representative colour of naval formal uniforms. Although performances involved all areas of the military, the navy was represented more through white uniforms. Significantly, white uniforms lead the grand finale mass choir singing “Towards revival走向复兴”.

For the domestic, ethnic unity, infrastructure and sustainable development, and “the people” were the main themes. Mentioned was the target of developing the west over the next 10 years and making China an innovative country. Throughout the show the beauty of modernity and technology were celebrated. Nature was also present but framed through the lens of providing a good environment justifying clean energy projects. The support of the ‘laobaixing’ (ordinary people) was portrayed throughout. The audience was reminded of the love the Party has for them and that it works for the benefit of the people.

Celebrating modernity: Wind farm and plane emerging in dance scene “Breakthrough”

The style of the broadcast is so hyperbolic that I doubt many will be taken in. To an outsider it appears nationalist, ideology-laden and despite its dazzlingly advanced sets, outdated. Yet, in terms of an artistic self-representation, the show is illuminating in what it reveals as the core issues and identity of the Party.  There can be little doubt that the Party sees itself as more than a political party, but as China itself. This indicates a continual tight grip on power. Of significance for the rest of the world is the promising commitment to renewable energies. However, also of import is the party’s display of an increasing naval assertiveness as it “Navigates China”.

Tracey Fallon is a PhD Candidate School of Contemporary Chinese Studies.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.