Shaping Collective Attitudes - the "China Dream" (CD): A Textual Analysis

By Wei, Lim Tai | International Journal of China Studies, April 2016 | Go to article overview

Shaping Collective Attitudes - the "China Dream" (CD): A Textual Analysis


Wei, Lim Tai, International Journal of China Studies


1.Introduction and Literature Review

All states produce propaganda for the purpose of social mobilization, instilling patriotism and loyalty amongst its peoples, society and institutions. Harold Lasswell's classical 1927 work argues that propaganda is related to the manipulation of "collective attitudes" through the use of force or softer forms of coercion (e.g. use of economic incentives) (Laswell, 1927: 627-628). Propaganda also makes use of selective symbols and signifiers to shape and guide public opinions and attitudes. Lasswell distinguishes between propaganda and advertising which he characterizes as "paid publicity" and the two may not coincide in terms of purposes (see ibid. : 628). Propaganda materials are contextually interpreted by its designers and recipients in accordance with dynamically-changing agendas, contexts and environmental factors. Very often, there is an intended target audience but, in reality, the boundaries of this audience cannot be neatly delineated as unintended audiences are sometimes incorporated into the receiving group themselves or there may be resistance to the propaganda materials amongst members of the intended audience. There are no inherent values within propaganda materials themselves. These values are subjectively read and comprehended by interpreting parties when they craft or manipulate propaganda for their own interests and agendas. Positive and negative values attributed to propaganda materials are carefully negotiated by contesting forces and (state and non-state) interest groups in public narratives through their debates, coercion and persuasion.

What is the relationship between propaganda and political attitudes? In a more updated work, Stanley Feldman studies the relationship between public opinions and core beliefs/values. A question that Feldman asks in his writing is also relevant to the discussion in this paper - why are the masses attracted towards certain perspectives and viewpoints (Feldman, 1988: 417)? How do the state or its statesmen and politicians try to propagate these values to the masses (the general public). This is especially important since Feldman argues that exposure of these values are very important ("The more people are exposed to these structures and the better they comprehend them, the more likely their beliefs will be systematically organized" (see ibid.: 417)). How these values are propagated and disseminated to the public also depends on the political system in which they are located. In a democracy, statesmen and politicians tends to seek consensus and, in the absence of which, persuasion through policy-making or election campaigns. In an autocratic society, compliance is sought through state enforcement of obedience from the people through economic, social and political means (a combination of carrots and sticks). Propaganda is a subset of these means to seek general consensus. It is more forcefully and hegemonically presented in autocratic societies in comparison with the comparatively more subtle approach and pluralistic comprehension of the materials found in democratic societies. The rule of law in democratic societies also prevents arbitrary enforcement and forced compliance with collective attitudes/values/beliefs that is found in non-democratic ones. The ideal democratic impulse is to persuade members of a society to voluntarily accept ideas and concepts promoted by the state. Free will is the basis for voluntary societal acceptance of a policy, initiative, worldview or a campaign slogan.

2.Multiple Doctrinal Identities?

As a kind of political narrative, belief or set of values, a question then emerges related to the subject matter of this writing: how does one classify the "China Dream (CD)" narrative? Are they ideologies, doctrines, beliefs, policy preferences, values, propaganda or slogans? How do the CD narrative (and can they) become widely-held attitudes towards dominant and prevailing political ideas and beliefs? …

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