山寨 (shanzhai) is a Chinese word for a particularly Chinese product: knock-offs. They look pretty much the same, but there’s generally something ever-so-slightly off.
Well over the past year or so, CCTV’s foreign social media has gradually been turning into a shanzhai version of Russia Today. We’ve observed this before, but one particular facebook post made today seems like a milestone in the transformation.
As part of the RTification of CCTV we’ve tended to get a lot of footage from Chinese tv talent shows. This is because the Chinese authorities would love to be able to mobilize the viral video phenomenon in the same way that RT did. However, while RT had the balls to play up to national stereotypes by making itself a go-to source for meanwhile-in-Russia videos, the powers that be ruling CCTV are less willing to take risks, and hence wary of posting videos that might make China look bad. Or, more realistically, wary of posting videos that a 60 year-old CCP cadre might think might make China look bad.
So we get Cultural Artifacts, weird stuff happening abroad that has nothing to do with China, and the aforementioned talent shows. Lots and lots of talent shows.
And it’s moderately interesting – certainly compared to actually watching CCTV News in Chinese – but it’s no bear-riding-in-a-taxi.
Today, however, they seem to have taken things a step forward:
The only reason the post embedded above stands out is because it’s moderately sarcastic. It’s not actually sarcastic, obviously, but they’re clearly testing the waters. CCTV’s transformation has been much more gradual than RT’s was, and it appears that the authorities will only allow daring experiments such as this at very widely spaced intervals. Nevertheless, it is happening. When you compare CCTV now with what it was just a few years ago, the difference is impressive. It’s grown more open, but it’s also grown far slicker. Which raises the question: which is better, propaganda that can easily be seen through or real news content presented in such a way as to manipulate the audience?
Interestingly, I happened to mention the RTification of CCTV to a friend who works in the Chinese media. He replied, “Oh yes. The CCTV executives go to Russia every year for training.”