Propaganda is defined as a methodical spread of ideas and information that can affect a nation or a cause. Though it can be either negative or positive, the basic idea behind the dissemination of such information is to present a certain way of looking at a situation. Occasionally propaganda is responsible to show, or even produce, a widespread change in society. The story Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang and the anthology of poems from ninth-century Japan, the Kokin Wakashu are prime examples of how such propaganda can be used through different literary works in entirely different styles separated by centuries.
The story Folding Beijing depicts the class structures in the society of Beijing. The novelette was initially published by the writer, Hao Jingfang, within the Tsinghua University’s online student forum in December of 2012. It is a Hugo award-winning work and was later published in some literature magazines in Chinese. Folding Beijing gained renown when it was translated in to English and, in 2015, published in Uncanny Magazine. Moreover, it was also featured in a collection of contemporary Chinese science fiction works compiled by Ken Liu in 2016. Initially, the story unfolds into a soon-to-come Beijing of the future, and it builds upon a dark representation on the basis of the way the society is currently developing. The entire society is divided into three urban spaces, and the close to 80 million people of the city is separated by a 48 hour period. The classes are similar to current societal norms and shown as Upper, middle and the working population.
With the depiction of different classes in society, there is expectedly a varying level of privilege allocated to each. IN this case, the privilege is that of time, and the elite classes are able to enjoy a longer duration of the day. On the other hand, those who are from the lower classes are deprived and have to get permission to cross over into the elite spaces and cross the borders. Thus, the narration focuses increasingly on the growing social disparities in such a society. This situation is used as a backdrop to tell the tale of the lead character, Lao Dao. He belongs to the lowest class in the system and does everything in his power to be able to provide for his daughter Tangtang. He is even willing to use illegal means to be able to do so.
Folding Beijing is unique in the way it depicts a persistent optimism against great odds. This is a reflection on the current society in China as well, as blue-collar workers struggle to make ends meet but keep their spirits high. Lao Dao is aware of the bleakness of his situation, and it is the same as that of many others. However, he remains indifferent to it, at least on the surface. The urban society of the future as presented by Hao is a critical portrayal of the manner in which the current Chinese population accepts the system. They know the social reality that they live in, but allow it with a figurative shrug. Instead of fighting against a system which they believe cannot be changed, they focus on the more immediate concerns which tend to be limited to the person’s own needs and worries. This current social inequality is dramatized in the novelette.
The style of Folding Beijing is distinctly sci-fi realist, and it is a powerful social critique of Chinese society. Dystopian literature is an established genre and is usually marked by a binary social structure. The manner in which Hao’s work is different is in the way the middle class introduced. This creates a three-layered structure which is more representative of how the current society functions, not just in China, but across the world. With the events being shown as taking place in Beijing, there is an added sense of grim realism and relativism in the story. It manages to highlight the way in which solidifying classes and increasing stratification n Chinese society are worsening as time goes by. Hao very pointedly shows many of the social problems that exist and presents a view of the way in which a majority of the big-city population lives.
Moreover, there is also a future outlook of how society is accepting machines into its folds. Hao also develops a deeper theme of the effect of increasing automation and reliance on machinery on the function of the economy. Machines are already replacing humans in many tasks. Earlier this was limited to repetitive and tedious tasks which they machines could tirelessly, and in much lesser time than a human. Nowadays, they are capable of taking on even more complex tasks, and China leads the world in such processes. In the future, as shown in Folding Beijing, if most of the work is taken up by machines, the unemployed would have no job that they could do. Moreover, the primary value of labor is to perform blue-collar tasks, and if this function s taken away, there is a loss of definition of them as human beings.
Folding Beijing seems to be a mild story, but it has a very profound and somber message that requires contemplation. Societal advances have always created inequality, and this is apparent throughout history and in the present. In a vicious circle, as society focuses more and more on removing inequality, it tends to lead to even more of the same.
The Kokin Wakashu has been considered to be the epitome of Japanese poetry for hundreds of years. It marks the end of the domination of Chinese poetry in Japan and is an anthology of poems called Waka from the Heian dynasty period. It can be termed as propaganda mostly due to the fact that it was commissioned by the emperor Daigo between the years 905 and 917 AD. The selection of 1111 poems is written by 127 poets, and all of them are in the form of 31 syllables, also called the tanka. All of the works are arranged thematically rather than chronologically in twenty books that focus more on seasons and love. Looking at the order of the poems, it is apparent that it was set very carefully. Occasionally, the progression from one to the other is very obviously based on seasons, while in some other cases the transition is based on themes or moods. This results in a work that is much more than the sum of its individual poems. Such was the impact of the structure used in the Kokin Wakashu that it influenced all the future works that came after it and still does so today. The Kokin Wakashu marked the beginning of a series of seemingly propagandist works that were imperially commissioned and is extremely important in terms of its influence.
The Kokin Wakashu is the most important work of propaganda in terms of Japanese poetry and language. The period during which it was prepared, i.e., the ninth century witnessed writers who preferred or were forced to prefer compositing in Chinese. The Japanese language was not in favor in the literary circles. Even the japans writers wrote in Chinese, while the Japanese compositions that were written were considered to be trivial. With the advent of the Japanese nation, the people felt an increasing pride in their own culture, and it was due to this that the Japanese writers returned to the use of their own language in their compositions. However, their works were still modeled on Chinese court poetry at this time.
New competitions and contest saw a rise of Japanese poets presenting their writing. Many of the new ones were used in public celebrations. The poet Ki No Tsurayuki was granted a commission by the emperor to put together the collection that came to be known as the Kokin Wakashu. He, along with other renowned poets such as Oshikochi no Mitsune, Mibu no Tadamine and Ki no Tomonori selected the best examples of Japanese poetry that they could find. They then arranged them in a manner that is seen and created an anthology that has successfully directed the discourse of Japanese poetry. The nature of the propaganda is best seen in the way that the Chinese preface of the book talks of how the Japanese poetry suffered in the preceding hundred years, and how it was glorious in the time before.
Both the works discussed above have certain propaganda value. Folding Beijing is an attempt by the writer to highlight what is lacking in current Chinese society by embellishing it in a dystopian future. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that it presents a view to the reader of the current state of the country. On the other hand, the Kokin Wakashu, though commissioned by the emperor of Japan, is a favorable view of the Japanese language presented to the Japanese people. The aim was to make people feel pride in their culture again, and it was quite successful. Thus, propaganda can have a lasting, widespread effect on people. Just as the Kokin Wakashu had an impact on the Japanese people, Folding Beijing may do so in the future. By itself, therefore, propaganda is neither good nor bad. Instead, it is only an attempt to make people look at another viewpoint, and maybe alter their thoughts and behavior.
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