The ruling Chinese Communist Party has ordered its nearly 90 million members to watch a propaganda movie titled "My Country is Incredible," sending the nationwide box office ratings sky-high on the first day of its release in movie theaters, RFA has learned.
As the country's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), mulled plans that would allow President Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely, the feature length documentary on the "historic achievements of the 18th Party Congress" at which Xi first took power, sold more than 40 million yuan worth of tickets on the first day.
The figures came after state-owned companies and government-linked agencies across the country were instructed to organize trips to see the film, as well as "discussion groups" about its content afterwards, leaked documents reveal.
A leaked directive issued by party authorities in the state-owned mobile service provider China Unicom and seen by RFA ordered all party members at every level of the organization to view the movie.
"All party members in every unit at every level must see this film," the Feb. 27 notice reads. "The cost of the tickets will come from the party expenses budget."
It said one third of party members in China Unicom should have been to see the documentary by Mar. 4, within the first three days after its opening in cinemas.
"The remainder of party members must have seen it within one month after opening," the directive said.
It ordered work units at every level in the company hierarchy to organize at least one meeting to discuss the movie, and report back to party propaganda teams on "the feelings" of participants.
Attendance figures for viewing the movie in the first three days must be reported back by 6.00 p.m. on Mar. 4, and the remainder by Apr. 1, the notice said.
Group movie watching
Repeated calls to the contact number on the China Unicom directive rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
A similar notice was posted on the website of a law firm in the eastern province of Anhui.
"This major exposition on the new era of socialism was has been released for the first time on the big screen in documentary form," the notice said.
"Please would all branches do a good job of organizing party members ... watch as a group ... as an important part of party members' activity," a notice on the website of the Hefei Lawyers' Association, under the aegis of the Hefei municipal department of justice, said.
"After watching the film, party members and activists should conduct a discussion session and report back," the notice, dated Mar. 5, said.
Unofficially, genuine fans of the movie were harder to find, however, and few who criticized it to RFA were willing to reveal their full identity.
A Guangdong resident surnamed Deng said the movie is a massive propaganda exercise.
"This is a so-called patriotic film, which is clearly intended to shore up the authority of our leader and to show allegiance to his personality cult," Deng said. "Nowadays they put out films like this under a commercial banner ... then they organize people from various companies and departments to go and see it."
"The government pays for it on expenses," he said.
The documentary was ranked fourth on Mar. 4 in box office ratings, behind Operation Red Sea, which had grossed nearly 99 million on that date, a box office ratings app revealed.
The Chinese Communist Party currently has 89.45 million members, according to official media reports.
Gu Jian, a resident of the eastern province of Jiangsu, said the movie was a bid to get everyone to "sing the main theme tune."
"These ideological things are a political duty, which has to be carried out," Gu said. "You're not allowed not to go and see it; they organize it so everyone goes together."
Online activist surnamed Zhang said such cultural activity is inherently fake.
"It's clearly a fake activity, to organize group outings to see a movie," Zhang said. "It's also very clearly an act of brainwashing, no different from the exaggerated style of the Cultural Revolution."
"All these weird things happen under a dictatorial regime," he said.
Under the direction of late supreme leader Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing, "revolutionary model operas" were the only form of entertainment available to China's population from 1966 until Mao's death and the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976.
They were available as theatrical performances, recordings and movies, and their songs were picked up and sung by ordinary people across China.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.