Acclaimed Chinese war propaganda film bodes ill for US relations

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s English-language mouthpiece, the Global Times, is boasting that a new CCP-sponsored war movie, The Battle at Lake Changjin, described as "the story about how the Chinese People's Volunteers soldiers held their ground amid fierce cold and the enemy's more advanced weapons during the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53)," has broken ten film records in China.  "The film," the report by Liu Caiyu and Yu Jincui states, "... smashed ten box office records ... as a historic film."  One movie-goer supposedly commented on social media that "Chinese people are not, and have never been, afraid of the US."

Americans know Lake Changjin by the name Chosin Reservoir, where in late November–early December 1950 vastly outnumbered American Marines and Army troops and were surrounded by more than 100,000 Chinese troops.  After fierce fighting in the bitter cold, U.S. forces held off the Chinese onslaught and managed to avoid a resounding defeat, most escaping to fight another day.  The Americans suffered about 18,000 casualties (dead, wounded, missing), while the Chinese suffered more than three times that number.

The Global Times article quoted a military expert who said, "The war epic film sheds light on the Chinese people's spirit that the Chinese people are firm in safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests and that they are fearless whoever their rivals are."  The authors of the article suggest that China needs to produce more war films about their army's heroic fighting in Korea that would help "to enhance China's cohesion and confidence."

Writing in The Diplomat, Carice Witte notes that the three-hour war epic was commissioned by the CCP's propaganda department, cost $200 million, and is a result of "China's new view of war."  The CCP views war today, Witte writes, "as a way to strengthen [its] position."  This is consistent with President Xi Jinping's exhortation at a 2017 Army Day celebration where he called for "the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" and for the need "to build a strong people's military now more than any other time in history."

Witte thinks that the timing of the new movie's release may have been spurred by China's slower economic growth, which the CCP believes could shake the regime's legitimacy.  The glory of war and a tale of victory over America, in this view, may serve to buttress the CCP's legitimacy.  And perhaps it is no accident, as the Marxists say, that the movie's release coincided with military exercises and incursions near Taiwan and President Xi's call for the annexation of that island.

The Washington Post reports that Chinese critics of the film have been arrested.  The Hill reported that journalist Luo Changping was recently detained by police for using social media to question China's involvement in the Korean War and criticizing the movie as propaganda.  The CCP blocked Luo's social media account and deleted his post — using the same tactics that social media platforms here in the United States use against voices that disagree with their accepted narratives on the 2020 presidential election, vaccine mandates, the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and prophylactics, the sufficiency of natural immunity from surviving the virus, and other "woke" issues. 

"War epics showing the victories of the People's Liberation Army have become increasingly common," the Washington Post notes, "and studios often work closely with the government and army to ensure that their films fit with the official narrative of events."  The more recent CCP films emphasize war against the United States, evidencing "a shift in tone," the Post further notes, "that ... reflects Beijing's growing focus on national security in confrontation with Washington."  CNN adds that the CCP is engaged in a "propaganda push" in which "Beijing repeats its familiar narrative that China's national security is under grave, constant threat from the United States."

Tensions are rising in the new Cold War between China and the United States.  And there are indications — including this new propaganda film — that China is preparing for war.

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