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The Beijing Olympics as a Campaign of Mass Distraction


From 2006 to 2008 the predominant theme in the Chinese media was preparations for the 2008 Olympics. These preparations were not merely about putting up new sports stadiums; China also underwent a massive public etiquette campaign, aimed at “civilizing” Chinese citizens. This was nominally so they could be good hosts during the Beijing Olympics. The 2006–08 emphasis on Olympic-related news coverage and the ongoing public morals campaign was what I have called a campaign of mass distraction: a propaganda campaign designed to mobilize the population around a common goal, and distract them from more troubling issues such as inflation, unemployment, political corruption and environmental degradation. This article discusses China's Olympics propaganda within the context of the modernization of the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda system – which has included incorporating practices originating in modern democratic states – and considers in what way changes in the propaganda system reflect changes in China's system of political control.

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Michael Schoenhals , “Political movements, change and stability: the Communist Party in power, 1949–1999,” The China Quarterly, No. 159 (1999), pp. 595605

Harold D. Lasswell , “The theory of political propaganda,” American Political Science Review, No. 21 (1927), pp. 627–31

Seymour Martin Lipset , “Some social requisites of democracy: economic development and political legitimacy,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 53, No. 1 (1959), p. 86

William R. Freudenberg and Maria Allario , “Weapons of mass distraction: magicianship, misdirection, and the dark side of legitimation,” Sociological Forum, Vol. 22, No. 2 (2007), pp. 146–73

Joseph Fewsmith , China since Tiananmen: The Politics of Transition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

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The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
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