Sociological Propaganda Through an Ellulian Lens: Developments in Modern China

Paul A Tilton, Salve Regina University


Over half a century ago, French philosopher Jacques Ellul penned the seminal study on the phenomenon of propaganda in the modern world. Developed over fifty years ago, his taxonomy endures in the study of propaganda and is present in any serious discussion of the phenomenon. At that time, he identified “three great propaganda blocs: the USSR, China, and the United States…tha[t] represent three entirely different types and methods of propaganda.” Examined through the framework introduced by Ellul, sociological propaganda, while not part of the propaganda system present in China under Mao Zedong, was present in the American propaganda model. The thesis of this study is that a lack of mass media technology constrained the efficacy of Maoist propaganda, and now that this constraint is no longer present, China is using mass media to incorporate elements of sociological propaganda, thereby developing a new approach to propaganda in the modern era. The purpose of this study is to analyze the commercial success of Chinese cinema and the use of propaganda in that medium to develop narratives that support regime stability in the post-Mao era. The findings show how the inclusion of sociological propaganda into the Maoist model bolsters propaganda's effect on increasing regime stability in contrast to the hope that the proliferation of modern media and technology would lead to political liberalization. China's market reforms and its development of other characteristics of propaganda represent an evolution of the model into a distinct species from the model used under Mao or present in the American system as observed in the mid-twentieth century by Ellul.

Subject Area

International Relations|Mass communications|Asian Studies

Recommended Citation

Tilton, Paul A, "Sociological Propaganda Through an Ellulian Lens: Developments in Modern China" (2023). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI30689094.

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