Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution

by Jiang Ji-Li

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What is an example of propaganda from the book Red Scarf Girl?

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Let’s start by understanding exactly what propaganda is and what it looks like. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, propaganda is information that’s spread around in public in a “biased or misleading” way in order to push certain political ideas onto people. Propaganda can also be the act of sharing that kind of information.

Let’s look closely at that key phrase, “biased or misleading.” In order to be categorized as propaganda, some piece of information (like in a message, on a poster, or on a billboard) doesn’t have to be a lie or a distortion of the truth—it can simply be biased, meaning that it leans toward a certain opinion, value, or way of seeing the world.

We get our first whiff of propaganda in Ji-li Jiang’s Red Scarf Girl near the very beginning, in Chapter 1, as the narrator sits with her class, restless, attempting to pay attention. Here’s what she sees:

"...the paper slogan below Chairman Mao's picture: STUDY HARD AND ADVANCE EVERY DAY" (page 3 in the version of the text available for a preview on Google Books).

This photo of the politician and his slogan stays posted above the blackboard for all students to see—it’s a prominent place, a place that demands the attention of young children. Consider what it says: “STUDY HARD AND ADVANCE EVERY DAY.” That doesn’t sound bad at all, does it? It’s certainly not a lie, or a twisting of any truth. But it’s definitely biased: biased toward pro-social values like hard work, focus, and competition. It’s propaganda. It’s certainly not an evil or vicious example of it—but it’s still propaganda!

We’ll see a much harsher, much more severe example of propaganda in Chapter 7, “The Propaganda Wall.” Until then, keep a lookout for signs, banners, posters, and other publicly displayed words and images, and ask yourself, “Is this information biased or misleading? Does it advance a specific political idea?” If the answer to both questions is “yes,” you’ve found another example of propaganda.

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An example of propaganda is the Propaganda Wall used to promote state leaders and ideas. 

The wall was located at the end of an alley, and used to display posters.

Right at the entrance to our alley, where you could not help noticing it, stood the propaganda wall. (p. 98)

The book’s glossary defines propaganda as “[information] intended to promote a particular belief” (p. 298).  The propaganda wall is something Ji-li finds disturbing.  The posters seem to watch her.  They are simple proponents of the fight against the Four Olds.

Propagandists prefer simple and clear arguments and descriptions over complex ones. It targets the emotions of its audience, rather than the intellect… (enotes, propaganda)

Even though Ji-li was young, she was old enough to realize that the propaganda was not helpful, but harmful.  The mindless distribution of ideas frustrates and confuses her.

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