Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi have detained another person for allegedly “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs” after he made comments about the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-backed Korean War propaganda blockbuster “The Battle of Changjin Lake.”
The man, who was identified only as Zuo ***dong, was jailed for a 10-day administrative sentence by police in Nanchang city after he posted an irreverent comment on the Sina Weibo social media platform under the username @yuediyouyou.
“That fried rice was the best thing to come out of the whole Korean War,” the user wrote on Oct. 8, 2021, in a joking reference to the Nov. 25, 1950 death of late supreme leader Mao Zedong’s son Mao Anying in North Korea.
“Thanks for the fried rice!” the comment said, in a reference to an apocryphal story told in China that Mao Anying’s location was only discovered by the U.S. military because he broke blackout rules with a cooking fire, because he wanted to make fried rice.
Police said Zuo had confessed to “impeaching the reputation of the volunteers to resist U.S. aggression and aid Korea,” referring to China’s People’s Volunteer Army (PVA), which crossed the Yalu River and joined the war on the North Korean side on Oct. 19, 1950.
Jiangsu-based current affairs commentator Zhang Jianping said the charge made no sense.
“So the people responsible for the tragedy [that was the Korean War] and those who use it to whip up hatred have nothing to answer for, but anyone with a dissenting opinion, or who makes fun of it are judged guilty,” Zhang said.
“This is very similar to the way it was when I was young, during the Cultural Revolution,” he said.
A WeChat user who gave only the surname Mao said he would avoid any reference to the incident in future online comments.
“I wouldn’t even utter the words ‘egg fried rice’ right now,” Mao said.
A current affairs commentator surnamed Cai agreed, saying there are now huge risks associated with commenting on anything online.
“There is an atmosphere of extreme fear and high political pressure pervading the whole of society right now,” Cai said. “Everyone has the sense that they could be in danger.”
“This may be what the authorities need now or what they think this is the best way to control public opinion, by silencing everyone in favor of a single point of view,” he said.
Zuo’s jail term came as former Beijing News and Caijing Magazine editor Luo Changping was detained by police in the southern island province of Hainan on the same charge after commenting online about the depiction of China’s role in the Korean War (1950-1953) in “The Battle of Changjin Lake.”
Luo is currently being held under criminal detention by police in Hainan’s Sanya city for “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs,” and the case has been transferred to the municipal prosecutor’s office.
Supporting the North
Critics of the movie outside China say it never mentions that the Korean War was triggered by the North’s invasion of the South, and make it appear that the landing of U.S. forces at Incheon was an invasion out of the blue.
Soldiers in the film are led to believe that they are ultimately fighting to protect China from U.S. invasion.
Chinese historian Xin Haonian said plenty of people in China will know what actually happened.
“Anyone who has had any contact with people outside China will already know the truth,” Xin said. “But the majority of people in China haven’t had it explained to them and didn’t know why the volunteers went to resist the U.S. and support the North.”
“Anyone who has managed to find out what really happened in the past 70 years is going to be pretty ashamed and saddened when they watch The Battle of Changjin Lake,” he said. “It’s all fake: they are still up to their old tricks, even today.”
“They have to keep telling the old lies, because that’s the most powerful form of propaganda,” Xin said. “The bigger the propaganda effort, the bigger the lies. People who tell the truth don’t need propaganda.”
Sociologist Zhou Xiaozheng said the movie is finding an enthusiastic audience among nationalistic Chinese, often referred to as “Little Pinks,” which has ominous implications for the CCP’s military threat against the democratic island of Taiwan.
“These Little Pinks are watching Chanjing Lake with tears in their eyes, but it will give the wrong message to Chinese leaders: that they want to invade Taiwan and rule it by force,” Zhou said.
“These Little Pinks … may be happy to turn out to fight against Taiwan,” he said. “Nobody is born [a terrorist]; there is always a psychological journey to get there, in which everything is turned on its head, and right becomes wrong.”
“These Little Pinks are going to grow up to be terrorists.”
Stepping up propaganda
The movie’s release has coincided with a spike in searches inside China, Hong Kong and Singapore for a PBS documentary on the Korean War titled “The Battle of Chosin: American Experience.”
U.S.-based veteran journalist Hu Ping said CCP general secretary Xi Jinping has stepped up the intensity of CCP propaganda and public opinion management since taking power in 2012.
“Xi Jinping has engaged in a lot of this sort of propaganda since he took power,” Hu said. “This has definitely had an effect in a short period of time, but it is also fairly quickly forgotten by everyone.”
He said a return to the Mao era, when the majority of people in China existed completely within the CCP’s propaganda bubble, looked unlikely.
“It’s pretty hard to recreate that atmosphere of the Mao era, so that everyone in the country is living and breathing it,” Hu said. “There will always be stuff that breaks through from time to time.”
Cai Xia, an exiled former professor at the CCP Party School, wrote in response to the film that she found hope in the rise in online searches about the Korean War in China.
“We have a responsibility to expose lies and restore historical truth,” Cai wrote.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.