In his baseball cap and baggy yellow t-shirt, the rap star Li Yijie – better known by his stage name ‘Pissy’ – is an unlikely face of China’s straight-laced ruling Communist Party.
His group, Tianfu Shibian, has won fans and the support of the party’s youth league with songs like ‘Force of Red’ and ‘This is China’, that chime with President Xi Jinping’s nationalist vision of China and its place in the world.
The government latched onto other acts like TFBOYS, a wholesome boy band whose three members each have nearly 30 million followers on the popular microblog Weibo, to help spread the party message.
The band often appears at Youth League events.
On its Bilibili account – a video site popular with China’s post 1990s generation – the Communist Youth League has posted hundreds of videos this year interspersing patriotic raps with more traditional fare such as defence ministry briefings.
One such “guichu” – a fast-paced clip of repeated images, sounds and catchy music – calls on citizens to be on the lookout and report people they suspect are spies to the authorities.
Tianfu Shibian shot to prominence in 2016 voicing patriotic values in sometimes expletive-filled songs.
Force of Red attacked Tsai Ing-Wen, the president of Taiwan, an independently governed island that Beijing considers a renegade province.
“There’s only one China, HK, Taipei, they are my fellas,” ran the lyrics of the song in English, along with expletives aimed at Tsai and her government: “Far away from us you forget how to act. Even dogs know to come home with a thankful bark.”
The music video went viral, racking up more than 7 million views on the band’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo feed and catching the attention of the Communist Youth League.
Rap group Tianfu Shibian performing their 2016 hit ‘This Is China’.YouTube/CCTV News
But not everyone is a fan.
Others online have dismissed the band as a propaganda machine, calling it “wumao” – roughly “50-cents” – a reference to those paid by the government to post patriotic comments online.
Li is currently working on a song in the run-up to next month’s Communist Party Congress, called ‘A Letter to President Xi Jinping’.