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Avatar in China: Lesson Plan on Chinese Government

written by: davidmakofsky•edited by: Trent Lorcher•updated: 4/12/2010

The People's Republic of China is a culture and society that is difficult for foreigners to fully appreciate, and a case study will help us understand both the government and its opposition. The opening of the film "Avatar" offers a window on China. Political language is discussed as well.

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    The Chinese Government is difficult to describe

    Some teachers struggle for a way to describe the government of the People’s Republic of China. A unit on China can be enhanced by discussing an example and the language that is used to describe governance.

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    Political terms in a changing society

    For years political scientists used the term “totalitarian" to describe China, but the situation in China has changed so much that it hardly makes any sense to use that term any more. The opposition to the Chinese government is so persistent and vocal that it is difficult to accept the fact that the government of China has anything resembling total control over its citizens. Chinese government defenders might use the term “socialist democracy" as a description. One problem here is that China has almost no benefits for citizens resembling European socialism as it functions in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere. There is no national social security (pension) system, no national health insurance, no employment or unemployment or disability insurance. There are jobs and opportunities, but there is no socialism. Some elements of socialism may have functioned in China over thirty years ago, but do not exist nationally now.

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    The Chinese Internet as a political force

    Economists call China a mercantile economy, and this economy provides a safe, profitable home for international corporations. As someone with social science background who lives and teaches in China, I would describe the current political situation as an authoritarian one party system with a strong popular oposition.. The opposition functions publicly on the Internet. How can the Internet in China be called a “political party"? It has no known leaders, no ideology, there are no speeches, no fundraising. Political opinions are expressed but no one signs their name and the government makes it difficult to reach the internet. It is estimated that there are over 130,000 internet “policemen", and imprisonment awaits those who displease the government and are discovered. Well, for that matter, how can the Communist Party be called a political party? There are plenty of officials at high salaries, it functions at a cost of billions of yuan to the state, but it competes in no elections as a political party. It has plenty of speeches and the largest security force in the world, the People’s Liberation Army, at its command, but in terms of what a dictionary might call a political party, there is really nothing else. Actually this party constitutes a ruling class.

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    Avatar as a political fable

    The best way to understand the functioning of the Chinese political system is with an example, and one of the best examples of this is the opening of the movie Avatar. Avatar, in case you do not know it, is a fable about humans taking over an alien planet to gain its mineral wealth, a modern tale of imperialism. Conservative opinion writers in the US saw this as a ‘tired attack on US policy" in Iraq. Scholars of race relations saw this film as a parable of race relations with the ethnic “white-black-brown-yellow" race attacking the blue Na’vi peoples.

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    The Chinese "Internet Party" looks at Avatar

    To the Chinese Internet party this was all absurd. Avatar, to the Chinese, is a story about urban renewal and corruption in China. As soon as the film opened and drew an immense audience, commenters on Chinasmack, one of the principle non-government web sites( translated from Chinese) said:

    “(1) (cb900) Strongly condemn the Western director for using Avatar to allude to China’s current situation!!

    (2) (abcd2012) Avatar is the story of violent eviction and demolition [of people's homes] in China.

    (3) (1977) The humans actually failed to successfully evict and demolish [the aliens]?

    (4) (chengguan): Truly embarrassing. Why didn’t they send China’s chengguan there earlier? “With the chengguan, the world is mine, hahahaha…

    (5) (fly19820717) On what basis/authority do they openly demand to leave the land and homes they have lived in for generations?

    (6) China’s demolition crews must go sue Old [James] Cameron, sue him for piracy/copyright infringement

    (7). (shen92512) Stop making a fuss brothers! . Keep making a fuss and it will be banned like “Dwelling Narrowness“! And then we will only be able to watch recordings of Mao Zedong.

    (8) This film is too reactionary, encouraging China’s ordinary common people to use violence to resist demolition!!![It is an] attempt to subvert the great China!!"

    The Internet site comments reflect the rebelliousness, irony, and critical opinion that is part and parcel of contemporary Chinese life,

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    The Chinese Government responds to the Internet Party criticism: limit distribution

    The Chinese authorities may have realized they had made a mistake allowing the film to appear. The situation was serious enough to evoke a complicated response. First, (Huffing ton Post) Chinese censors almost immediately ordered the 2D version of "Avatar" pulled from screens across the country, apparently to reduce competition for the homegrown film industry ahead of the nation's biggest holiday season. There are very few 3D and IMAX screens, but these versions of James Cameron's global hit will continue their run into February. Finally, Avatar was shown and became a big hit in China.

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    As Avatar gains popularity, the government makes a conciliatary statement

    The government response was not, however, uniform.(Huffing ton Post, 1/19/2010): There is also sensitivity to the movie's plot, which revolves around the forced evictions of the alien Na'vi race by humans – a story line that some have said draws unflattering comparisons to China's own, often brutal removal of millions of residents to make way for property developers. Columnist Huang Hung penned a commentary in the official English-language China Daily, saying the film had struck a chord with Chinese viewers." All the forced removal of old neighborhoods in China makes us the only earthlings today who can really feel the pain of the Na'vi," she wrote.

    This is an interesting comment. This is an officially approved statement statement, that is, it is made in the China Daily, a government newspaper, where every statement must be approved before it appears in print.. There is no direct reference to the content of the internet, or the fact that there are even anti government web sites.. There is only the acknowledgement that the popular sentiment is there, and this is not stated by an actual official of the government.

    .

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    Third Government response: Smash the Internet

    Finally, on its own English newspaper web site, Chinaforum, the government position is made by contributors (or paid government employees). These comments deal with Chinasmack in relation to another “anti government" posting on Chinasmak

    Originally posted by communistsec at 2010-2-2 17:39 : “Chinasmak is an anti Chinese China bashing propaganda tool.

    We should go to that site and spam there constantly. “

    and by another commenter on a thread

    "A thread from the disgusting anti-China gweilo forum!

    This shameful degrading thread should be deleted."

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    Do the Chinese people need Avatar to protest government policy?

    Do the Chinese people need Avatar to protest government policy? Of course not! Does civil disobedience exist in China? Homes are often seized and the property is sold to property developers for huge profits. Residents get a promise of compensation, which is often not fulfilled. Recently a woman immolated herself, burned herself alive, to protest demolition. In a chinasmack story: On 2008 December 6, government demolition crews gathered outside a house in Minhang district of Shanghai. A woman named Pan Yong tried to protest and stop the demolition of her house without higher compensation from the government. She threw Molotov cocktails at the demolition crew. In the end, she and her family surrendered and their house was demolished.

    Said the voices on the unofficial internet:

    “Sigh, the people cannot fight the officials, I trust [if she knew] this saying, this incident wouldn’t have happened, what a pity:"

    “Any person who vainly attempts to fight the go-vern-ment will have nothing good coming to them!!! This is an example."

    Say the Chinese people are discouraged and I would agree with you. We must also say that many are brave, politically involved, and contemptuous of their government, and will speak out as long as they do not have to commit suicide by signing their names.

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    Sources

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/19/china-pulls-2d-avatar-fro_n_428798.html

    Huffington Post story China Pulls 2D Avatar From Theaters TINI TRAN | 01/19/10 10:23 AM

    chinaSMACK translated and reported some of these stories in recent months, such as “Woman Sets Self On Fire To Protest Demolition Of Home"

    http://www.chinasmack.com/

    The government threads can be found by using Google for China Daily