A screenshot from “China’s Island Watcher in the South China Sea” (中国南海的守岛人), a nine-minute short documentary that looks at the daily life of the 145 Chinese residents of Tree Island (赵述岛), an island in the Paracels group that has also been claimed by Vietnam and by the Republic of China.
“Wherever readers are, wherever viewers are, that is where propaganda reports must extend their tentacles,” Xi Jinping said back in 2015. Given the extreme popularity of short videos in China, it should be no surprise that propaganda leaders are redoubling their efforts to encourage the dissemination of the “mainstream” values of the Chinese Communist Party through platforms like iQiyi, Youku, and Tencent Video.
Welcome to China’s first annual Short Video Online Influencer Night, where the videos, all up for top prizes, sing the CCP’s “main melody” (主旋律), telling stories about hardworking civil servants, the prosperous lives of ethnic Tibetans, and the personal miracles made by the country’s vibrant economy.
Held on the evening of January 15 in the city of Changzhou, the event sought to encourage the creation by users both in China and overseas of short video content that casts China, and its government, in the best possible light. The awards, funded by the state through the National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA), an executive agency under the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, selected around 100 short videos that aligned with the Party’s values and agendas.
Examples of videos selected for the award included “China’s Island Watcher in the South China Sea” (中国南海的守岛人), a nine-minute short documentary that looks at the daily life of the 145 Chinese residents of Tree Island (赵述岛), an island in the Paracels group that has also been claimed by Vietnam and by the Republic of China. The video, produced by Timely Media (北京集拾文化传媒有限公司), a company invested by such media groups as Joy Pictures and Shenzhen-listed Zhongnan Red Cultural Group, was one of six videos awarded as a “fine creative work” (精品创作作品) at the ceremony.
Other entries honored at the event included “Beautiful Life: Entering Tibet” (美好生活, 走进西藏), a panoramic view of how lives have improved in Tibet under the CCP, and “The Future is Here: Jiangsu Changzhou’s Tianning Economic Development Zone” (未来就在这里：江苏常州天宁经济开发区), which sings the praises of a local economic development area established more than 15 years ago.
While there seemed to be much talk at the event of the need to raise China’s international communication capacity, the subject of a collective study session of the CCP’s Politburo back May 2021, it was unclear from coverage by the state media how this was being achieved by the honorees. Nevertheless, NRTA chief Wei Jingjun (魏党军) concluded: “The success of this event causes us to realize that the combination of ‘online influencers’ and ‘short video’ offers a multi-dimensional and multi-layered view of China, making the image of China more realistic.”
“’Online influencers can become a dynamic force in international communication through audiovisual content,” he added.
The deputy head of the NRTA’s department for international cooperation, Yan Ni (燕旎), said she hoped the competition would work toward “training a camera on each and every ordinary and creative Chinese, and extending a microphone to every international person with a connection to China.” This, she said, would “stimulate creative inspiration, and present a vigorous and thriving China to the world through new technologies and new platforms.”
In recent years, short videos have developed rapidly in China. By the end of 2020, more than 870 million Chinese were consuming short videos, meaning that close to 90 percent of the country’s internet users now watch this creative and interactive form of multimedia content. The internet audiovisual industry (视听领域) was valued at more than 600 billion yuan in 2020, one-third of that coming from short video.
Chinese authorities have moved to control a broad range of what they deem “harmful content,” and recently the China Netcasting Services Association (CNSA) released an updated version of its 2019 list of content restrictions for short video platforms. The stated goal was to “improve the quality of short video content, and to curb the spread of false and harmful content to create a clean cyberspace.”
But the government has also recognized the immense potential of short video, as a creative medium with broad appeal, to reach the population at home and overseas with positive messages that bolster official Party-state frames – what Xi Jinping has called “telling China’s story well” (讲好中国的故事). As the headline of one article in an official publication on publishing and broadcasting put it last week: “In Telling China’s Story to the World, Short Videos Have Great Potential.”