Entertainment as Trojan Horse: Voluntary Consumption of Propaganda in China

61 Pages Posted: 13 May 2023 Last revised: 1 Apr 2024

See all articles by Hanzhang Liu

Hanzhang Liu

Pitzer College, Department of Political Studies

Linan Yao

Vanderbilt University

Date Written: May 13, 2023


For authoritarian propaganda to fulfill its persuasive function, it must first reach the intended audiences and garner their attention. What makes people living under authoritarianism willingly consume some pieces of propaganda but not others? In this article, we examine this question by studying a new genre of propaganda movies in China known as "main melody movies." Leveraging data on box office performance and a survey experiment, we find that the entertainment value of propaganda movies is key to increasing consumption; the effect is particularly pronounced for groups that are least inclined to consume propaganda in the first place. Moreover, when propaganda can provide entertainment, audiences are less averse to its political indoctrination. These findings highlight the multi-dimensional nature of propaganda and shed light on how authoritarian regimes increase the reach of their propaganda by attracting audiences with various other utilities. They also point to the increasing "Hollywoodization" of propaganda movies in contemporary China.

Keywords: propaganda, films, China, authoritarian regime, entertainment

Suggested Citation

Liu, Hanzhang and Yao, Linan, Entertainment as Trojan Horse: Voluntary Consumption of Propaganda in China (May 13, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4447598

Hanzhang Liu (Contact Author)

Pitzer College, Department of Political Studies ( email )

1050 N. Mills Avenue
Claremont, CA 91711
United States

Linan Yao

Vanderbilt University ( email )

2301 Vanderbilt Place
Nashville, TN 37240
United States

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