Embattled Huayi Brothers Announces Closer Ties to China’s Communist Party

Huayi Brothers, China’s longest-established private-sector film studio, has publicly pledged to deepen its ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), burnishing its patriotic credentials after a year of massive financial losses and the cancellation of its summer blockbuster, “The Eight Hundred,” by party censors.

The firm has established a “CCP Huayi Brothers Media Co. Committee” in order to better “integrate party-building work into every aspect and step of the process of film and TV content creation,” Chinese reports cited the studio’s party secretary, Cao He, as saying. The move took place at a Monday meeting attended by local officials and about 100 Huayi employees, and comes amid a growing cultural tightening throughout China by the Communist government.

“Huayi Brothers has always believed that correct moral values are the cornerstone of a company’s healthy development,” CEO Wang Zhongjun told the gathering, against a bright red backdrop emblazoned with a large hammer and sickle. “Today, the establishment of the Huayi Brothers party committee will further promote and strengthen this work, and more deeply integrate the party’s core socialist values…into the company’s lifeblood.” Wang is himself a party member.

As of the end of June, Huayi had 115 party members among its 1,933 employees, Chinese reports about the meeting said. More than 85% of them are younger millennials born after 1980. Huayi deputy general manager Gao Hui called on employees to “strengthen their theoretical studies and endlessly shape yourself to the party spirit.”

In China, organizations with more than three party members must set up their own in-house party cell, so the existence of a CCP committee within Huayi is not in and of itself unusual. It is less common, however, for a company to publicize what are typically internal proceedings.

Once a Chinese company’s number of party members exceeds 100, it must establish a more significant party cell. Now with 115 party members, it is likely that this announcement marks Huayi “upgrading” its existing body after passing a period of review. Such committees are typically more powerful within state-owned enterprises and less functional in private ones, where member dues may just be used for excursions or team-building activities.

But authorities are working to change this. Local Beijing official Wang Hao took the stage to say that it was critical to “improve the effectiveness of party-building work in private-sector companies.” 

Huayi lost about $160 million last year, but had expected to recover in 2019 on the back of “The Eight Hundred,” a patriotic war epic made on a budget of $80 million and predicted to gross more than $200 million.

Unfortunately, censors deemed that the tale of Chinese soldiers facing off against the invading Japanese portrayed the Communists’ rivals, the Nationalists, who did most of the fighting, in too positive a light, particularly in an emotional flag-raising scene. The film was abruptly pulled from its premiere as the opening film of the Shanghai International Film Festival last month, and its July 5 theatrical debut was canceled. 

A new release date has not been set yet, but is not expected before October, when the CCP will fete the 70th anniversary of its victory against the Nationalists and its establishment of the People’s Republic. Censors are on high alert in such a politically charged atmosphere for anything vaguely threatening to the party’s legitimacy — like a film that might give the Nationalists more credit for its role in the Second Sino-Japanese War than the current regime prefers to acknowledge.

Cozying up to the Communist Party after falling afoul of the authorities is a common tactic in China. Wanda CEO Wang Jianlin made similar displays of patriotism in the wake of government criticism of his splashy overseas spending, visiting Yanan — a CCP revolutionary stronghold key to the party’s origin story — and pledging in December to build a $1.74 billion “red tourism” site there.

Some industry watchers speculate that Huayi’s new committee may be more than just for publicity’s sake. The company likely needs to “show some true loyalty” by hiring more party members, one source said, speculating that the move could foreshadow the financing of a new members-only department to increase party control over future project development and internal green-lighting.

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