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2018-04-17 12:46:10

“He has a big beard,” one young voice says. “He’s German,” pipes another. Soon the vox pop gives way to a short rap before a female broadcaster introduces the birthday boy: Karl Marx.

So begins the first episode of “Explaining Marx to the Post-’90s Generation,” a new radio series on the father of socialism. The 19-part series, which made its debut on Monday evening, will broadcast daily until May 5 — the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth — on 15 radio stations around China and online through the app Archimedes FM.

The first episode introduces the German philosopher’s early life: his hometown, Trier; his influences from Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire to Protestant Christianity; and even his family’s surprising connection to the Philips brand — whose razors are popular in China — through company co-founder Frederik Philips, who was Marx’s cousin. The series will finish with a livestreamed offline salon event at which scholars will discuss the significance of Marxism to contemporary China and young people’s social responsibility.

Jointly produced by several Shanghai-based Party organizations, the series aims to make Marx relevant for millennial audiences through easily digestible 16-minute episodes that bring together high production value and modern Chinese slang. One presenter refers to Marx as a “little fresh meat,” and an upcoming episode looks at his transformation from young delinquent to xueba, loosely “study boss.”

The podcast is just one of many activities around China and the world to mark Marx’s bicentennial. The Chinese government recently gifted the town of Trier a 2-ton statue of Marx. Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics is holding a series of celebratory lectures and activities, while students at Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics made portraits of Marx out of all sorts of materials. Chinese netizens have even applauded adorable Marx-themed traffic lights in Germany.

Photos of student-made portraits of Karl Marx are displayed at Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, March 2018. From the university’s official Weibo account

Photos of student-made portraits of Karl Marx are displayed at Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, March 2018. From the university’s official Weibo account

Classes in Marxist thought are a compulsory part of state education in China, even for Ph.D. students, but getting young people excited about the theorist has proved challenging. Professors lament that classes are often dull, and a 2014 survey revealed that few students feel they understand Marxism. Recent years have seen Marxism repackaged into TED-style talk shows and even a rap song in an attempt to appeal to younger audiences, but most of these efforts have fallen flat. In October 2017, a six-episode TV show about socialist theory including Marxism — titled “Socialism Is a Bit Cool” — met with a cool reception.

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: Bronze sculptures of Karl Marx (left) and his friend Friedrich Engels (right) are displayed at the Marx-Engels Forum in Berlin, Aug. 6, 2017. IC)