Let’s sing along now: a little musical number from the censorship choir

On the 10th February at a televised event hosted by the Beijing Internet Association to celebrate the imminent Lunar New Year festivities, the assembled audience of leading internet executives and media figures was treated to a special performance of a new song entitled 网信精神 “Cyberspace Spirit” by staff from the Cyberspace Administration of China, the government agency in charge of Internet policies, and increasingly, censorship.

The performance, shown above, features a 50+ strong choir of dedicated employees extolling the virtues of China’s cyber sovereignty and the preeminent role which the internet now plays in showcasing the country’s technological prowess to a global audience. In addition to the overt military bombast of the musical arrangement, the lyrics are quite explicit in linking these aims to the broader government rhetoric of constructing 中国梦 “The Chinese Dream”, most notably in the final section of the chorus, which features the rousing lines: 网络强国 告诉世界中国梦在崛起大中华, 网络强国 一个我在世界代表着国家 “An Internet power: Tell the world that the Chinese Dream is uplifting China. An Internet power: I represent my nation to the world.” The lyrics of the entire song (originally posted on the New York Times sinosphere blog) are as follows:

在这片天空日月忠诚的守望
为日出东方使命担当
创新每个日子拥抱着清朗
像一束廉洁阳光感动在心上
团结万物生长的力量
奉献地球村成为最美的风光

网络强国 网在哪光荣梦想在哪
网络强国 从遥远的宇宙到思念的家
网络强国 告诉世界中国梦在崛起大中华
网络强国 一个我在世界代表着国家

在这个世界百川忠诚寻归海洋
担当中华文明的丈量
五千年沉淀点亮创新思想
廉洁就是一个民族清澈荡漾
我们团结在天地中央
信仰奉献流淌万里黄河长江

网络强国 网在哪光荣梦想在哪
网络强国 从遥远的宇宙到思念的家
网络强国 告诉世界中国梦在崛起大中华
网络强国 一个我在世界代表着国家

The english translation is:

Devotedly keeping watch over the space every day,
Taking up our mission as the sun rises in the east,
Coolly and brightly embracing innovation every day,
Like a beam of incorruptible sunlight touching our hearts,
That unites the powers of life from all creation,
Devoted to turning the global village into the most beautiful scene.

An Internet power: Where the Internet is, so is the glorious dream.
An Internet power: From the distant cosmos to the home we long for.
An Internet power: Tell the world that the Chinese Dream is uplifting China.
An Internet power: I represent my nation to the world.

In this world all rivers flow to the sea,
Bearing the measure of Chinese civilisation.
Five thousand years of history condensed to illuminate innovation,
Integrity is the clear ripple of a nation.
We are unified between heaven and earth,
Faith and devotion flow like the Yellow River and Yangtze.

An Internet power: Where the Internet is, so is the glorious dream.
An Internet power:  From the distant cosmos to the home we long for.
An Internet power: Tell the world that the Chinese Dream is uplifting China.
An Internet power: I represent my nation to the world.

The Cyberspace Administration of China’s choral group performing 网信精神 “Cyberspace Spirit” at the 2015 Internet Media Spring Festival Celebration in Beijing on Tuesday, 10th Feb.

The Cyberspace Administration of China’s choral group performing 网信精神 “Cyberspace Spirit” at the 2015 Internet Media Spring Festival Celebration in Beijing on Tuesday, 10th Feb.

The entire spectacle is heavily laden with imagery and metaphors alluding to the benefits of internet management and glorifying the cleanliness and clarity of China’s uniquely controlled online sphere. Whilst the editing of the performance makes it difficult to get a clear sense of the images which appear on the giant screen behind the choir (complete with karaoke style sing-along lyrics for the uninitiated) the montage alternates between stock images of visual patriotism, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Chinese National Flag, to more intriguing montages of what appear to be flashing LEDs on banks of network servers and data centres, interspersed with screen shots of computer files and what may even be a photograph of the the Cyberspace Administration building itself.

The video montage behind the choir appears to integrate images of data centres, the Great Wall and even the Cyber Administration headquarters.

The video montage behind the choir appears to integrate images of data centres, the Great Wall and even the Cyber Administration headquarters.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 15.46.30

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 15.47.52

Some commentators have remarked on the elaborate production values of the performance (According to one Chinese media report, some extremely well known singer/songwriters and musicians were recruited to create the song). Lyrics were written by Wang Pingjiu 王平久, the author of the Beijing Olympics anthem 北京欢迎你 “Beijing welcomes you” and the equally unforgettable 世界看中国 “The World Watching China”  for the Shanghai Expo. The music was arranged by Zhao Jialin 赵佳霖, who was part of the team behind the Chinese pop hit 小苹果 “Little Apple.”  If expressing the goals and sentiments of the Cyberspace Administration in musical form may seem like a rather frivolous use of government money, this New Year’s anthem for the censorship era serves as yet another indicator of the deep coffers which the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has been furnished with, whilst simultaneously highlighting how vital it considers the realm of popular culture to be in wresting control of China’s online sphere.

The song was presented during the talent show section of the televised celebration, and while the thought of it being judged in an X-Factor style scenario elevates the performance to even greater heights of sublime absurdity, “media reports of the event unanimously dubbed the Cyberspace Administration’s song the winner.” Thus while It’s doubtful that the demographic who listen to 小苹果 “Little Apple” are ever going to be enthusiastically humming the lyrics to “Cyberspace Spirit” over the holiday period, the CAC is increasingly using more sophisticated means, including harnessing the creative energies and cultural capital of mainstream musicians, performers, artists and cultural producers to extol the virtues of its unique agenda for the future of the Chinese internet.

One of the most interesting developments following the release of the song centred around the fact that many videos of the performance were quickly deleted after they were posted on the Internet. Although it has subsequently been posted to the CAC website (although not in a prominent position or anywhere on the home page- you have to input the song’s title into their search engine before it pops up in a section under 网络研究 “Internet research”). In a wonderful example of meta-censorship “it appears that China can now claim to have censored the online celebration of its own Internet censorship agency”. If you feel that you’ve just been trapped within a mise-en-abyme of censorship then fear not, I’m sure it won’t be long before China’s netizens create some appropriately humourous parodies of this most unexpected and ominous of anthems.