Entertainment media, propaganda, and popular support : evidence from China

  • Shouzhi XIA

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


Is it possible to form “soft authoritarianism” that manages citizens by taking away their sense of resistance? Taking China as a case, this dissertation suggests that the rise of entertainment media in authoritarian states enables the rulers to maintain their resilience through a soft approach, thereby avoiding costly heavy-handed measures. Such a soft approach can work because entertainment media, like “fictitious pleasure drugs,” undoes audiences’ sophistication so that people are susceptible to official propaganda.

We provide two pieces of evidence that the Chinese authorities may use entertainment media as a subtle means to manage society. First, analyzing the Weibo posting corpus of the Chinese Communist Youth League, the youth wing of the ruling party, we find that it keeps a close relationship with pop idols on social media platforms, thereby attracting these idols’ fans who are liable to be influenced by nationalistic propaganda. Second, based on a provincial-level panel data set, statistical results indicate that a one percentage point increase in the ratio of variety shows in television broadcasting time is associated with the decrease in the expenditure of public security by roughly 110 million Yuan. In other words, entertainment is used to some extent as an alternative to heavy-handed means.

The causal relationship between entertainment consumption and popular support for the current regime in the Chinese context is also empirically supported. By analyzing a national data set, via instrumented regressions, we show that a one standard deviation increase in people’s interest in entertainment media is associated with an increase of almost 20% in both their satisfaction with the current regime and their anti-Western hostility. Furthermore, the findings indicate a positive relationship between people’s entertainment consumption and their acceptance of indoctrination by state media.

This research contributes to the existing authoritarian resilience literature by proposing the soft authoritarian model and illustrating the model based on the Chinese context. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that such a soft pattern will not totally take over the hard one, especially when the authorities perceive an increase in latent threats or instability.
Date of Award7 Jul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorShalendra SHARMA (Supervisor) & Dong ZHANG (Co-supervisor)

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