Cindy Yu

One Britain One Nation: How to write a proper propaganda song

One Britain One Nation: How to write a proper propaganda song
(Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
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How do you make an emotional appeal for a united United Kingdom? So far, unionists have tried flag flying, resolutely refusing another referendum and bussing members of the royal family north of the border. All to no avail. The one thing that hasn't been tried so far? A song. Today, on One Britain One Nation day (nope, me neither), children around the country are being encouraged to sing in support of the Union:

It reminded me of the communist songs that Chinese schools inculcates in its young children, a so-called 'patriotic education' that I also went through; and not least because 'One Britain One Nation', or 'OBON', sounds uncannily like Xi Jinping's flagship policy One Belt One Road (OBOR). As perhaps the most powerful propaganda machine in the world, the Chinese Communist party is not a bad model to learn from, if that's your thing (after all, Chinese leaders are also no strangers to using propaganda to tackle irritable separatists). OBON's certainly on the right track — is there anything that says 'revolutionary zeal' more than saccharine children harmonising? But it's not quite there yet — here are some tips for a proper propaganda song. 

For one, you need a compelling narrative. Just as a novel might have a villain, a struggle, and a happy ending, a communist anthem takes you on a journey of the righteous (Maoists, the proletariat, the third world) trumping evil (imperialists, who are ‘running away with their tails tucked between their legs’, capitalists, Americans). Nowhere is this highly emotional journey done better than in the Chinese national anthem, which we sang at school’s flag raising every Monday morning. Identifying a struggle (kicking off with the unforgettable 'Arise, all those who refuse to be slaves'), it is a rousing piece that exhorts one to 'Brave the enemies' fire! March on!' The final goal is to 'build a new Great Wall' 'with our flesh and blood'. Grisly is no problem, and don't shy from the point (see 'Five-Starred Red Flag Fluttering in the Wind’ which includes the line 'We love peace, we love our home. Whoever dares invade will be annihilated'). Blood, tears, toil — you might scare a few kids but the CCP guarantees more cut through than something naff like 'Strong Britain, great nation'. Make it punchy.

But not every propaganda song can be a grand narrative. Another tried and tested method is the use of natural imagery — make the most of your landscapes. After all, political causes can be difficult to get excited about, but who doesn't love a good mountain range? The CCP has painstakingly hitched loyalty to itself to love of country, making it hard for your man on the Chongqing omnibus to distinguish between love of China the country from China the government. In 'Defend the Yellow River', the powerful current of the China's second longest river is used as a metaphor for the zeal of the anti-Japanese warriors; whereas the aforementioned 'Five-Starred Red Flag Fluttering in the Wind’ uses plenty reference to the mountains, plains and, again, the Yellow and Yangtze rivers of China. Unionists, consult the Ordnance Survey, or Wordsworth and Milton.

Do make your words memorable — be that through repetition, catchy tunes or sensationalist lyrics (you want the young ones to bop along before they can properly understand what's going on). Preparing the next generation is important — remember, propaganda songs are for the heart, not for the brain, and kids have heart in bundles. Mould their worldview — and the emotions they attach to it — before they get this unhelpful thing called 'critical reasoning'. Take 'Team Song of the Young Pioneers of China', which combines life advice like 'study determinedly' with revolutionary zeal ('battle decisively... We must cleanly eliminate the enemy'). Given the involvement of St John's primary school in Bradford in penning and singing the unionist song, OBON is clearly on the right track. The next step is to make the tune just that little bit catchier, pacier and of course bloodier.

Take these tips to heart for your next song, One Britain One Nation, and these rousing tunes will stick in young minds years after initial inculcation (I can vouch to that). Lessons from the communist handbook will yet give you victory over those pesky separatists through winning hearts and minds!*

*A techno-surveillance state, border internment camps and shutting down press freedom may also help.

Written byCindy Yu

Cindy Yu is broadcast editor of The Spectator and presenter of our Chinese Whispers podcast. She was brought up in Nanjing and has a masters in Chinese Studies from Oxford University. Her Twitter handle is @CindyXiaodanYu

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