Minitrue: Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the War to Resist America and Aid Korea

The following instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online.

Cyberspace Administration of China notice:
1. Regarding livestreams of the commemorative rally for the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army’s War to Resist America and Aid on October 23, strictly standardize sourcing, and use the video stream from the Central Broadcast and Television General Platform. It is forbidden to change headings without authorization or activate the on-screen comments function. Keep tabs on posts and comments.
2. On October 23, there will be activities such as laying of wreaths at the War to Resist America and Aid Korea martyrs’ cemetery in Liaoyang and monument in Dandong, Liaoning, and the Sino-Korean Friendship Pagoda and Cemetery for the Heroes of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army in Pyongyang, . Related reports should not relay information from KCNA. (October 22, 2020) [Source]

This week marks the 70th anniversary of China’s intervention in the in the thinly veiled guise of People’s Liberation Army units rebranded as “Chinese People’s Volunteers.”  began a week-long remembrance by visiting a memorial exhibit in Beijing on Monday. The Diplomat’s Shannon Tiezzi analyzed the subtext of Xi’s highly public visit:

In remarks at the exhibit, Xi said, “The victory in the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea was a victory of justice, a victory of peace and a victory of the people.” He added that the spirit forged during the war “will inspire the Chinese people and the Chinese nation to overcome all difficulties and obstacles, and prevail over all enemies.”

Xi did not specifically mention what “enemies” China might be facing today, instead focusing on the figurative battle for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” But the subtext was obvious from the literal backdrop to his remarks. The , that past enemy, looms large as a present villain. It’s noteworthy that, amid the worst downturn in U.S.-China relations since at least 1989, and arguably since ties were established in 1979, Xi chose to highlight the one actual war between the two sides.

As Joe Renouard and Woyu Liu noted in an earlier article for The Diplomat, in China’s official narrative the Korea conflict “was not only a just war, but also a vital test for the new PRC and, ultimately, a ‘victory’ against a technologically superior foe.” More specifically, “In China today, the Korean War stands as a universally understood symbol of national unity against American belligerence.” That gives the Korean War a clear resonance for the current moment. [Source]

Similarly, from William Zheng at South China Morning Post

Junfei Wu, deputy director of Hong Kong think tank the Tianda Institute, said Xi’s speech at the museum had a “two-pronged message” for domestic and overseas audiences.

“At the beginning of the Korean war, America misjudged China’s determination to push them back. They thought China would not send troops into the Korean peninsula. But China did. Xi’s speech and Beijing’s high-profile commemorations are clear warning signals to the US not to underestimate Beijing’s determination to safeguard its core interests,” he said.

[…] Chen Daoyin, an independent political scientist and a former Shanghai-based professor, noted that from the Communist Party’s perspective, historical narratives always needed to serve current politics. “Xi’s historical evaluation of the Korean war corresponds to the current era of the new ‘cold war’ confrontation between China and the US,” he said. [Source]

The Dandong war memorial, mentioned in the censorship directive above, can be seen as a bellwether of Chinese relations with the outside world. Historian Ma Zhao, quoted by The Financial Times, said that recent renovations to the memorial point to “a clear flare-up of anti-American sentiment.” Chaguan’s David Rennie traveled to Dandong and reported on how revisions to Korean War historiography reflect Chinese leaders’ changing world views:

The new memorial in Dandong charges America with crimes against international law in a single display panel, offering few details. A glass case offers supposed evidence: an old bomb casing, and dusty test-tubes containing “bacteria-carrying insects scattered by the us forces”. In reality the tale was long ago debunked, notably by documents that emerged from Soviet archives decades after the war. The papers included a resolution by the Soviet government in 1953 that called reports of American germ warfare in Korea “fictitious”. A study by Milton Leitenberg for the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington cites memoirs by Wu Zhili, a former head of China’s military medical service in Korea. Wu called talk of germ warfare a “false alarm” that did not make sense: some alleged drop-zones were just metres from American lines, and the winter weather was far too cold for bacteriological warfare.

Cheerful souls might conclude that modern China’s rulers are embarrassed by this old propaganda but cannot easily disown it, so are taking a middle path. Chaguan draws a different lesson from a recent visit to the memorial. The new museum may tone down its anti-Americanism, eschewing the previous memorial’s statements about American imperialism being exposed as a “paper tiger”. But in its place is something that may prove just as disruptive: a deep disdain for the West, which is portrayed as unable to match the efficiency and order of Communist Party rule. Indeed, America’s germ-warfare campaign is called a military failure, thanks to clever Chinese and North Korean anti-epidemic work. [Source]

As part of the Chinese government’s campaign to revisit and rethink the Korean War, CCTV released a 20-episode documentary series on the conflict

Although there might have been noticeably little mention of North Korea in the Chinese state-television documentary, Global Times covered North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s tribute to Mao Anying, Mao Zedong’s son, who was killed in a bombing raid while serving in the Chinese army. 

China’s online nationalists criticized the über-popular South Korean boy band BTS for eliding mention of Chinese war dead during a ceremony commemorating the war. China and South Korea fought on opposite sides of the war and although a truce has been reached the war is, technically, not over. BTS, like all South Korean K-pop groups, is banned from performing in China but nonetheless remains extremely popular. Although some Chinese netizens called for a boycott of all BTS goods, no such large-scale boycott has yet emerged. A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson even clarified that BTS merchandise has not been banned by Chinese customs

In Foreign Policy, S. Nathan Park wrote on the boycott that never materialized:

The PRC proved no match for ARMY. When the K-pop superstar group BTS acknowledged the shared sacrifice of Americans and Koreans as they received the Korea Society’s James A. Van Fleet Award, named after a U.S. general during the Korean War, Chinese social media roiled with outrage, perceiving BTS’s message to be a slight against Chinese soldiers in the war. The Global Times, China’s state-owned tabloid, blasted the group for its “one-sided attitude” that “negated history.” Online stores began pulling BTS-related product, anticipating the kind of nationalist frenzy that has cost giant franchises like the NBA and the South Korean supermarket store Lotte hundreds of millions of dollars in the past.

But China’s media offensive against the kings of K-pop barely lasted two days. Global Times quietly deleted some of its articles criticizing BTS, and the negativity against the group in Chinese social media also faded quickly. Some Chinese fans’ call for a boycott hardly made a dent on BTS, supported by their worldwide fan club “ARMY” (which stands for Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth, if you were wondering). Shortly after they received the Van Fleet Award, BTS became one of only five music groups in history to seize the top two spots simultaneously on Billboard’s Hot 100 songs chart, joining the Beatles and Bee Gees among others. Last week’s initial public offering of Big Hit Entertainment, BTS’s production company, was among the most successful IPOs in the history of the Korean stock market as its share price nearly doubled on the first day. [Source]

In 1950, American President Harry Truman stationed an aircraft carrier in the Taiwan Strait, preventing a PLA invasion of Taiwan. At South China Morning Post, Minnie Chan reported on how memories of the Korean War shape mainland opinions on war with Taiwan:

After returning to Beijing in 1954, Zhang, an English translator and negotiator for the PVA, was classified as a “betrayer”, dismissed from the PLA and expelled by the party. It was not until 1981 that he was rehabilitated.

The struggle over Taiwan remains a central issue in his reflections of the Korean conflict.

In 2013, Zhang wrote an article, saying he felt relieved after realising the Korean war had avoided “a fratricidal fight” between Chinese people on the mainland and in Taiwan.

But this month, Zhang told the South China Morning Post he supported actions by the PLA to accomplish “Taiwan reunification” because he was angry hearing that some Taiwanese refused to recognise they were “Chinese”. [Source]

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.

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