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Positive energy

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Zhèng Néng Liàng 正能量

“Positive energy” first became an internet meme in 2010 during a highly publicized criminal trial. A female employee of Song Shanmu, businessman and founder of a well-known vocational training school, accused him of rape. Reports of the case included allegations that Song used the phrase “positive energy” as a euphemism for sexual assault. Song was later convicted and sentenced to 4 years in prison.

Despite its unseemly origin, in recent years, “positive energy” has become a propaganda catchphrase. In 2014, President Xi Jinping delivered a speech in which he called on artists and writers to help promote Party ideology. Xi said in his speech that art and culture shall serve the people and “emit the greatest positive energy.” At the same event, Xi applauded Zhou Xiaoping and Hua Qianfang, two nationalist bloggers, encouraging them to produce more work of “positive energy,” despite the fact that their works had often been subject to controversies for loose interpretation of historical facts.

Shortly after the coronavirus outbreak, Wang Zhonglin, the Party chief of Wuhan initiated a “gratitude education” campaign. During a video meeting for disease control, Wang called on the people of Wuhan to “be grateful to the General Secretary and to the Communist Party, listen to the Party, follow the Party, and form strong positive energy.”

Lacking “positive energy” is also routinely used to justify censorship. In June 2020, the phrase was met with a new round of backlash when a fifth-grader committed suicide at her school after being censured by her teacher for lacking “positive energy” in essay writing.

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