Phase 1: Posing Real Questions
In Phase 0, I chose my Inquiry Project pick from a long list of topics. I first picked my top three and waited for Mr. T's feedback before picking my final one. The one I chose was Wall Propaganda Messages, the various graffiti around Xizhou that I would investigate.
In this phase, I did some background research on this topic of Wall Propaganda Messages in order to give myself a bit of a guideline and understanding when I came to Xizhou to interview the locals about my topic. This research can be found in Phase 3.
From multiple books that I read mainly for passion, as well as multiple Internet sources and current news, I have a pretty good understanding of propaganda. Propaganda is the way that a government uses media (art, the news, social media, etc) to influence its people to think a certain way that benefits the government. Governments most frequently do this during wartime, when they need to keep morale high so they can win. The current People's Republic of China did this ever since the Chinese Civil War, like the famous Long March that was painted as a massive success even though the wide majority of Communist forces were lost along the way. Mao Zedong, being a dictator, also had a personality cult enforced with music, posters, radio broadcasts and many more during (and even after) his rule. After Mao, the government toned down propaganda but still enforced tight censorship, and I think this would be more prevalent in the rural areas of China. Books like Revolution is not a Dinner Party and the YouTube channel China Uncensored were very helpful.
I am very interested in how aware the people are of government propaganda, and how many outdated misconceptions they still have that may have been influenced by Chinese propaganda. It would be a good challenge to interview people and get this information from them, and I feel that I could also improve my Mandarin skills this way. Furthermore, I also want to investigate the placement of the propaganda messages around the village, and whether they are all in the public eye or some tucked near private areas. Of course, the exact content of these messages are highly important, as I want to see whether the government prefers to persuade the villagers through positively glorifying Mao Zedong or downplaying Mao's (and the party's) enemies. Finally, I want to learn a little bit about the font of the messages to find out which one is most persuasive.
I have 10 major questions about my topic that I will number in order to use them to focus my research. Even though I do not know the answers, I will guess the possible answers to these in italicized text. These questions are grouped with the ones related to the outside world first, then Chinese history, then one about Chinese propaganda in general and then a few about the wall propaganda messages themselves.
1. What are some demographic misconceptions that the Xizhou villagers will have of foreign countries, especially those related to government propaganda?
They may have an overestimation of Chinese allies or perceived threats, like North Korea, Russia, America. They may have an underestimation of Chinese enemies, like South Korea, Japan, India, and various European nations.
2. What are some generalizations that Xizhou villagers will have of developed countries? How would government propaganda have shaped these views?
They may perceive them as quite rich, technology-focused, and slightly less virtuous than the villagers. Propaganda may have reinforced an unacknowledged "China is a better country" view.
3. What are some generalizations that Xizhou villagers will have of underdeveloped countries? How would government propaganda have shaped these views?
They may perceive them as very poor, burdened with hardship and war (similar to China before 1949). Propaganda would lead them to lump countries in South America or East Asia in there.
4. How does Chinese propaganda mention and use other countries in order to make themselves look good? What do villagers think of "outward belittlement", if they are aware of it at all?
It mostly portrays outsiders as neutral, unless the event is seriously major. For example, Brexit and the American election can convey "the failure of democracy", while terrorist attacks and violence in the Middle East can convey how instable outside systems are. Villagers may not be aware of the belittlement as it is probably done very lightly, but will very rarely disagree with the state on the outside news.
5. Who are the greatest Chinese leaders according to the Xizhou villagers? What factors, including government propaganda, would have shaped these views?
Mao Zedong would be first on the list, followed by other recent leaders, mainly because of propaganda. As for Imperial China, many would say Qin Shihuang, Han Wudi, Zhuge Liang, Tang Taizong, Genghis Khan, Yongle, Kangxi, etc.
6. What do the Xizhou villagers know about 20th century Chinese history? How would government propaganda have shaped these views?
They would be very aware of the Chinese Civil War, Second Sino-Japanese War, the Cultural Revolution, and the opening of China under Deng Xiaoping. Propaganda would lead them to encourage many of these outcomes as very good.
7. How is propaganda spread about Xizhou? How can I analyze every method of propaganda in Xizhou?
I feel like wall messages would be a little more obsolete and impractical. Newspapers, pamphlets, radio, and television would be much more effective. I could watch, listen or read today's piece of information, or see if I can find the ones from weeks or months ago.
8. Where are wall propaganda messages placed? What factors impact their placement?
Mainly in popular gatherings in town, perhaps in front of the rich person's home. Messages cannot be tucked away where no one can read them, and they need to be in an area large enough to point.
9. What colours are predominant in wall propaganda messages? What results can certain colours convey?
Brighter colours, like red and white, would be predominant. Cooler colours would give a degree of realism to the painting but also draw away from focal points, while brighter colours may stick in the viewers' minds for longer.
10. How is art used in wall propaganda messages? What results can art bring?
Art can glorify certain Chinese heroes, objects important to the government, or clarify a view that the rest of the message announces. For these reasons, art can bring a larger impact.
I need to read and watch more state-run media, like Global Times, People's Daily, and CCTV (China Central Television) before going to Xizhou, so I can understand how the government presents and spins its news. Now, as I finish Phase 1, I will move onto Phase 2 to start finding helpful resources.