Blog Post 1: Propoganda’s inherent Contradictions

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For my fieldwork research project, I chose to examine how the Chinese government presents information about politically controversial topics through museums, and how museum goers interact with this information. I chose my field site due to China’s oft-criticized censorship program, which creates voids of information about events such as the great leap forward that museums serve to fill. For this blog post, I would like to focus on my first attempt to visit the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s revolution. Because I underestimated travel time, I arrived at the museum after it closed for the day. Determined to make the most of the visit, I began to take pictures of the museum’s exterior, focusing on the Soviet architectural style and the two military patrol boats on display in front, both a clear demonstration of the Chinese state’s military power. However, the museum’s front was equally defined by the queues and bus stops for visitors, and the street vendors outside selling toys for the visitors children. These elements clearly demonstrated that the museum, despite employing a deliberately imposing architectural style, is intended to be accessible to visitors and thus disseminate information about wars China has participated in. However, my interactions with the guards suggested a less open attitude, bordering on outright suspicion. Once I arrived at the museum after closing, I began to draw my map of the museum, as well as take pictures to help get my bearings of the outside. However, the guards seemed very suspicious, staring intently at me more than the usual, “look at the foreigner” stare. Although it might have just been my own fears, I felt very unwelcome at the museum, and the almost empty courtyard seemed to lend the museum an imposing air. To be perfectly honest, my first impression nearly made me anxious about returning to what I assumed would be a very unwelcoming field site.

However, during my second visit, I took away a very different impression. Although the guards still stared somewhat intently, the museum’s imposing air was calmed down by any number of things, namely the happily laughing crowds, the children running around, and what I assume was a group of army cadets playing soccer around and sometimes in the exhibits. Compared to my first impression, the museum suddenly seemed like any other museum, a place to learn and experience, free of its clearly exclusive atmosphere. Based on these two clearly opposing impressions, I was left to conclude that the museum, like many other forms of Chinese media, encourages access, but only within the bounds the state establishes. It is through these boundaries that the states creates propaganda that maintains the semblance of free dissemination of information, while still enforcing an extensive censorship plan. It is also important to note that my impressions are based exclusively on the museum’s courtyard, as the main exhibits are closed indefinitely, with a small special exhibit opening on the seventh. Although I didn’t have the time or language skills to conduct proper interviews on site, it will be very interesting to see how visitors react to the historical exhibits when the museum begins to display more controversial material than retired tanks and aircraft.

Bibliography: The Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution, http://eng.jb.mil.cn/, (7/2/2013)