HONG KONG – When the propaganda film, “The Founding of an Army,” hit theaters in China recently, the reaction wasn’t quite what the ruling Communist Party might have hoped for.

Instead of an outpouring of nationalism and self-sacrifice for the state, it inspired mockery for trying to lure a younger audience by casting teen idols as revolutionary party leaders.

Viewers more used to seeing the idols play love interests in light-hearted soap operas responded to the film by projecting “modern-day romantic narratives on the founding fathers of the nation,” said Hung Huang, a well-known social commentator based in Beijing. “It was hilarious.”

While China’s resurgent Communist Party once pushed its policies on an unquestioning public, it now struggles to compete for attention with the country’s booming entertainment industry and the celebrity culture it has spawned.

“Chinese people are increasingly ignoring party propaganda and are much more interested in movie stars, who represent a new lifestyle and more exciting aspirations,” said Willy Lam, an expert on Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

President Xi Jinping, who will cement his authority with his expected endorsement to a second five-year term at this week’s national party congress, has placed priority on stamping out too much Western influence in Chinese society, in part so the party can dictate the values the youth should embrace.

Authorities have responded by targeting everything from gossip websites to soap opera story lines to celebrity salaries. Instead of selfish, rich stars, the state is promoting performers who are all about patriotism, purity and other values that support the party’s legitimacy.

The results have at best been mixed and at worst ham-fisted and out of touch.

One problem is that the party’s values often clash with what young Chinese want to watch, according to Hung. Among the

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