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Marketing war and the military to children and youth in China: Little Red Soldiers in the digital age

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Abstract

Since the early 2000s, the Chinese military has been engaged in the production of military- and war-themed cultural products which increasingly employ new media and new technologies. Many of these products specifically target children and youth, and many are also a result of collaborations between the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and commercial forces. This article offers a preliminary exploration of how such PLA-civilian productions attempt to package and market war and the military to contemporary Chinese children and youth. It compares these current endeavours to previous depictions of war and the military in the youth culture of the Maoist period, and reflects on what this comparison can tell us about recent changes in official as well as popular conceptualizations of childhood, youth, and violence in the People's Republic of China. The analysis demonstrates that contemporary PLA products for children and youth display positive attitudes toward the military and toward officially sanctioned military violence. However, these products also subscribe to new public sensitivities about children and their involvement in acts of brutality, thereby reflecting the changing needs and interests of the PLA and of the Chinese Communist Party in the post-Cold War, post-Tiananmen era.
China Information
2014, Vol. 28(1) 3 –25
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DOI: 10.1177/0920203X13513101
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INFORMATION
Marketing war and the military
to children and youth in China:
Little Red Soldiers in the digital
age
Orna Naftali
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Abstract
Since the early 2000s, the Chinese military has been engaged in the production of
military- and war-themed cultural products which increasingly employ new media
and new technologies. Many of these products specifically target children and youth,
and many are also a result of collaborations between the People’s Liberation Army
(PLA) and commercial forces. This article offers a preliminary exploration of how
such PLA–civilian productions attempt to package and market war and the military to
contemporary Chinese children and youth. It compares these current endeavours to
previous depictions of war and the military in the youth culture of the Maoist period,
and reflects on what this comparison can tell us about recent changes in official as well
as popular conceptualizations of childhood, youth, and violence in the People’s Republic
of China. The analysis demonstrates that contemporary PLA products for children and
youth display positive attitudes toward the military and toward officially sanctioned
military violence. However, these products also subscribe to new public sensitivities
about children and their involvement in acts of brutality, thereby reflecting the changing
needs and interests of the PLA and of the Chinese Communist Party in the post-Cold
War, post-Tiananmen era.
Keywords
children’s media, youth culture, post-socialist China, military, war, patriotic education
In a recent interview, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) political instructor complained
about young conscripts. ‘The 90s generation, who grew up at the time of the Internet
Corresponding author:
Orna Naftali, Department of Asian Studies and School of History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 9190501, Israel.
Email: orna.naftali@mail.huji.ac.il
513101CIN0010.1177/0920203X13513101China InformationNaftali
research-article2014
Article
4 China Information 28(1)
boom and were influenced by what they read on websites, are not as compliant as their
predecessors,’ he said. ‘They argue about everything, from whether it is necessary to fold
quilts neatly to human rights issues related to one’s privacy.’ Some of these new recruits,
the instructor further grumbled, are nothing more than ‘spoilt brats … occupied with
technological gizmos such as MP3, iPod, and PSP (PlayStation Portable)’.1 This com-
plaint reveals the exasperation of army personnel with the value system and psychologi-
cal make-up of the current generation of urban youngsters in China. It is also indicative
of the PLAs growing concern about the appeal of military service and the image of the
military in general in present-day China.
To address these concerns and remain relevant in the age of market reforms, the PLA
propaganda apparatus has, over the past decade or so, embarked on an ‘intensive charm
offensive’, consisting, among other things, of the production of military- and war-themed
popular culture works.2 Many of these works specifically target children and youth, and
many are also a result of collaborations between the Chinese military and commercial
forces. In this article, I offer a preliminary exploration of how such PLA–civilian produc-
tions currently attempt to package and market war and the military to contemporary
Chinese youth. I compare these current attempts to previous depictions of war and the
military in the youth culture of the Maoist era, and reflect on what this comparison can
tell us about recent changes in official as well as popular conceptualizations of childhood
and military violence in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Children and youth all over the world have been deeply engaged in different aspects
of modern war – and not simply as victims. They often become a part of the meaning of
war by the way in which societies use them as ‘symbols of virtue, sacrifice, and patriot-
ism’.3 Post-Second World War representations of children in Western media nonetheless
tend to depict youngsters’ involvement in war as a serious offence on the moral and
natural order and as a violation of the ‘sacred’ nature of childhood, which in modern
liberal societies constitutes a time of passivity and vulnerability.4 Romantic notions of
the innocent, defenceless child have also been present in 20th-century Chinese cultural
works, most notably during the May Fourth Period. However, in the Maoist era, the idea
of the vulnerable, passive child was largely marginalized and ultimately eclipsed by the
notion of children as active political agents who can and ought to partake in brutal
struggles.5
As Farquhar and Donald have shown in their ground-breaking studies, stories, films,
cartoons, and propaganda posters of the Maoist era often celebrated the figures of heroic
children and situated young protagonists in the historic settings of the fight against
Nationalists or the War against Japan (1937–45), thereby allowing children ‘to develop
the requisite qualities of bravery, resolution and a keen class consciousness in the midst
of revolutionary struggle’.6 This was particularly true for works of the Cultural Revolution
period (1966–76), in which literary and filmic young characters were shown imitating
the actions of adults by partaking in violent skirmishes, even if they displayed rebellious-
ness and non-conformity in the process.7
In contrast, Chinese media of the reform period has tended to de-emphasize the fight-
ing skills of child protagonists. Seeking to entertain rather than merely educate young
audiences, a growing number of writers, directors, and producers in post-1978 China
have started to adopt a more ‘child-centred’ approach and to place a premium on the
Naftali 5
‘unique features’ of childhood.8 Consequently, contemporary PRC media works for chil-
dren tend to show young characters engaging in a world of play and fantasy rather than
political struggle. They also allow children to display ‘innocent’ behaviour, ‘vulnerabil-
ity’, and ‘tender human feelings’.9
Despite this notable transformation, the image of the belligerent child has not
altogether disappeared from the media scene in contemporary China. Rather, it has
gained new life under the impetus of the Chinese government’s patriotic education
(爱国主义教育) campaign, in place since the early 1990s. Historically, the PLA has
been as much an educational organ as a defence force. Over the years, the PLA’s
media apparatus has overseen more than a dozen news, educational, recreational, and
publishing institutions.10 Today, the military media continues to play a central role in
the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) propaganda efforts. However, its ideological
task is becoming ever more difficult as China goes through a period of unprece-
dented change and as the military struggles to adapt to a more liberal, market-
oriented environment.11
The present article describes how the PLA creatively attempts to address this chal-
lenge through the co-production of ‘fashionable’ youth products together with commer-
cial companies. Drawing on a critical analysis of a number of recent PLA products,
including a 2007 adaptation of a Cultural Revolution war film, a 2009 military toy series,
and a 2009 pop song and animated video, I note some of the key differences between past
and present representations of children in Chinese military products. I demonstrate that
contemporary PLA products for children display highly positive attitudes toward the
military and toward officially sanctioned military violence. As such, they form a crucial
part in the ongoing formation of the PRC ‘war culture’ – a culture that has portrayed war
as a glorifying experience and which has had tremendous power in shaping Chinese
national memory throughout the 20th century.12
However, a careful examination of the design and contents of contemporary military–
civilian productions, and a comparison between the images and narratives they convey
and those depicted in the exclusive PLA productions of the Maoist period, reveal a major
representational shift. This shift, I argue, is a product of the changing needs and interests
of the PLA and CCP in the post-Cold War, post-Tiananmen era. It further reflects chang-
ing notions of childhood and violence within China’s urban population – a transforma-
tion that the PLA is forced to acknowledge in its current drive to recruit more sophisticated,
better educated urban youths of middle-class backgrounds.
Playing war games with righteous Red Soldiers
In the fall of 2009, the Chinese government staged a massive military parade as part of
the national celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC. As Chinese
citizens were gearing up to watch the newest generation of tanks, missiles, and aircraft
on live television,13 the PLA propaganda apparatus launched yet another public relations
initiative, addressing children and youth: a new military toy series branded ‘Red Justice
Division’ (正义红师). The launching of the PLA toy series was accompanied by the
release of a Red Justice Division theme song, video clip, and Internet website, all of
which were produced as a result of the collaboration between the PLA’s August First
6 China Information 28(1)
Film Studio and the Puzzle Animation Studio, a Shenzhen commercial entertainment
company.
The release of the Red Justice Division toy series was itself not an ad hoc initiative
but part of an ongoing propaganda campaign waged by the Chinese government and the
PLA since the early 1990s. The patriotic education campaign aims to foster the dual spirit
of ‘love for the nation’ and ‘love for the army’ among the Chinese public and in particu-
lar youth.14 Campaign initiatives accordingly include taking school students on regular
trips to visit ‘patriotic education bases’, including war memorials, military museums,
and sites of important battles in revolutionary wars,15 where students can imbibe ‘national
defence values’ and ‘national security awareness’.16 In the past two decades or so,
Chinese students have also been taking part in month-long military training on campuses
and military bases. According to participants, the programme, which initially applied to
college students but was recently expanded to include primary- and high-school stu-
dents, offers activities such as ‘singing army songs, learning self-defence, and studying
advanced weaponry, such as U.S. Black Hawk helicopters and aircraft carriers’.17
The 1994 ‘Outline on Implementing Patriotic Education’ states that the goal of these
various educational activities is to ‘strengthen the civil-military unity’ within Chinese
society, enhance students’ ability ‘to resist foreign invasion’ and deepen the conscious-
ness of the youth about the importance of ‘guarding the territorial integrity, national
sovereignty and independence of the motherland’.18 To better communicate with the
younger generation, the campaign calls for the use of entertainment as a medium of edu-
cation, and employs a broad range of media channels for this purpose, including art
exhibitions, books, newspapers, television shows, video and audio products, films, com-
puter games, and the Internet.19
A recurrent theme in this ongoing media campaign is China’s ‘traumatic and
humiliating experience in the face of Western and Japanese incursions’,20 along with
the notion that the country’s development is the result of ‘unceasing effort to lift itself
up and to struggle against foreign aggression and oppression after repeated setbacks’21
and hard fighting in ‘bloody battles’.22 Working under the assumption that the foster-
ing of ‘military culture’ plays a prominent role in conveying these messages and in
developing a patriotic consciousness,23 the Chinese army has contributed its share to
these propaganda initiatives. Since the 1990s, the PLA media apparatus has made a
concerted effort to expand its reach into television broadcasting and, especially in the
last decade or so, it has been involved in the production of a large number of war- and
military-themed prime-time television dramas, adult and children’s films, and chil-
dren’s toys.24
Many of these PLA products have been the fruit of military–civilian collaborations,
which is not so remarkable if we consider that during the 1980s and 1990s, the PLA as a
whole was extensively engaged in commercial activities. The military media apparatus
joined the fray, and the PLA’s August First Film Studio even started making popular
entertainment products for money,25 engaging in co-productions with commercial com-
panies both inside and outside China, for instance in Hong Kong, Canada, Japan, and the
United States.26 In the late 1990s, the Chinese army was ordered to divest its commercial
interests because of rampant malpractices. Nonetheless, PLA media units were permitted
to continue with business operations that were deemed ‘politically acceptable’ as long as
Naftali 7
such activities did not interfere with their primary duties and as long as they abided by
the operational model of ‘propaganda first, profitability second’.27
Under this model, PLA media productions are required to focus on a number of cen-
tral themes, including ‘the portrayal of a positive and strongly patriotic image of the mili-
tary as the defender of the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and ideological
purity’; ‘instilling a strong sense of patriotism and nationalism within the general public
and linking this with the notion that a prosperous country requires a strong army’; ‘stress-
ing the PLAs complete loyalty and obedience to the CCP and the core leadership’;
‘showing off the technological progress that has been achieved in the military’s moderni-
zation drive’; as well as ‘painting the PLA as a peaceful force that does not represent a
security threat to any other country unless China’s national interests are challenged’.28
The new Red Justice Division toy series and related products embody these official
themes. According to reports in the Chinese media, the release of the toys in 2009 was
meant to fill a gap in China’s market, which carried the GI Joe series produced by Hasbro,
an American toy company, but left Chinese children with ‘no national military hero’ of
their own.29 Just as with Hasbro’s products, the PLA toy set consists of miniature soldiers
equipped with a range of state-of-the-art military props, including fighter jets, helicop-
ters, armoured vehicles, tanks, boats and rifles, all of which are said to be based on real
PLA equipment. With no less than 21 movable joints, the Red Justice Division soldier is
ideally suited to a child’s active play; it can also take on any potential rival in hand-to-
hand combat. Notably, however, the design of the Chinese soldier carries some unique
features which distinguish it from similar toys on the market. A comparison of the
Chinese toy soldier with its main adversary – the American GI Joe soldier – is particu-
larly telling.
Hasbro’s GI Joe was specifically designed with a stoic, even robot-like, expression to
demonstrate its ability to ‘face danger with an unchanging, unemotional demeanor’.30 In
contrast, the PLA toy soldier is marked by much more expressive, humanlike facial fea-
tures.31 Admittedly, such a design choice is a bit risky when it comes to a military toy set,
for it renders the soldier susceptible to emotional and perhaps even physical injury. Yet
this strategy may give the toy soldier a more trustworthy, amiable face, and by extension
the Chinese military as a whole. The attempt to accord the PLA soldier with humane
qualities even at the risk of rendering him more vulnerable is further illustrated by the
equipment and attire of some of the toys in the Red Justice Division series. For instance,
the Red Soldier (红兵) set in the series possesses nothing more than bayonets, swords,
and antiquarian rifles. Riding on horseback, the soldiers are attired in khaki shorts, wool-
len leggings, straw hats, and straw sandals. Severely under-equipped, a Red Soldier toy
is certainly no match for a modern GI Joe, and seems oddly out of place in today’s high
technology warfare. The former does bring to mind, however, the Red Army soldiers of
the 1930s and 1940s. During this period, the Red Army was mostly a low-tech infantry
force engaged in continuous guerrilla campaigns against the Japanese military and
Nationalist forces. Since 1949, the stories, rituals, and symbols that were born in the
years of guerrilla resistance came to constitute the PLA mythology in the founding nar-
rative of the birth of the nation. They also construct the Chinese military’s image as a
highly disciplined, humane army, which historically was low on weaponry but high in
morale and ideological conviction.32
8 China Information 28(1)
With approximately 2.3 million soldiers and a defence budget that has grown by dou-
ble digits in recent years, today’s PLA has come a long way since the hardships of the
revolutionary period. Why market under-equipped PLA soldiers to contemporary
Chinese youth then? The answer may lie in the current ideological and pragmatic con-
cerns of the CCP and Chinese military. In recent years, China has become involved in
several territorial disputes with Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines in the
East and South China seas.33 However, it is also the case that since the end of the Cold
War there has not been an immediate military threat to China’s security. Instead, the CCP
has been more concerned with its legitimacy, which it tries to cement through perfor-
mance, focusing on economic development and political stability. While Chinese leaders
have made repeated statements regarding the need to ‘constantly enhance [the PLAs]
capability to … win local wars under information age conditions’,34 the Chinese military
has in recent years devoted much of its manpower to rescue efforts during natural disas-
ters. These activities may have been part of an attempt to restore the PLA’s image, which
had been damaged after military troops crushed the pro-democracy movement in 1989
and because of the PLAs rampant involveme in commercial activities.35
In designing a contemporary military toy series which includes both high-tech com-
batants as well as ‘barefoot soldiers’, the PLA therefore strives to connect the future of
the Chinese military with its past, marked by qualities such as self-sacrifice and abnega-
tion.35 The marketing of the technologically inferior toy may also signify the PLA’s
efforts to present contemporary urban youth in China, often derided for succumbing ‘to
the lure of individualism and consumerism’, with a role model of a modern capable sol-
dier, who is also honourable and humane, and above all whose duty is to ‘serve the peo-
ple’.36 Notably, this theme is also present in the Red Justice Division theme song, released
in 2009 as part of the toys’ marketing campaign.
The Red Justice Division theme song was created by one of China’s best-known
record producers, Zhang Yadong, who has worked with many noted Chinese artistes,
including the Cantonese pop-diva Wang Fei (Faye Wong). The song is performed by the
Beijing-based all-male popular band, Super VC (果味VC), and employs a very modern
pop tune. Its lyrics, penned by Super VC’s members, celebrate the ‘timeless heroism’ of
PLA soldiers and the idea that the Chinese army is in fact a force for ‘love’. To quote the
song itself: ‘You cannot stop justice; the power of love leads us in the right direction; you
cannot stop the light of hope; defend the ideals of the Red Justice Division and complete
the glorious mission of our peers.’
The Red Justice Division song was accompanied by the release of a music video,
made available on various Chinese video sites and on the product’s official website (tell-
ingly named ‘worldpeacekeepers.net’). Jointly produced by the PLAs August First Film
Studio and Puzzle Animation Studio, the music video shows the animated versions of
Super VC’s four young band members. Exuding the air of ‘soft masculinity’ which has
become increasingly popular among contemporary urban youth in China,37 the singers
are shown sporting fashionable suits and the kind of trendy, untidy hairdos more likely
to be worn by teen pin-ups than traditional military crooners. They play their conspicu-
ously red guitars in a war-torn urban environment while a battle involving infantry,
fighter jets, helicopters, and tanks takes place around them. At the end of the clip, the
lead singer bends down to gently caress a red peony. The flower, which is associated with
Naftali 9
the theme of peace in Chinese popular discourse, is blooming against all odds amid the
ruins of the battleground.
Clearly, the producers of the Red Justice Division song and music video have gone to
great lengths to create a fashionable image for the PLA toy series and, by extension, the
PLA itself, an image which may appeal to the sort of sophisticated urban youth in China
who consume popular music, new media, and animated films. In doing so, however, the
producers have also been careful to follow the stipulation that military media products
should show off the technological progress that has been achieved in the PLA’s moderni-
zation drive, while presenting the military as a peaceful force that does not pose a secu-
rity threat to any other country. A second animated video, which is also available on the
Red Justice Division official website, sends a similar message.
In this second video, young viewers are shown PLA soldiers sent on a mission to
rescue a young boy who has been taken hostage by enemy robots. The Chinese soldiers
in the video are fully equipped with advanced high-tech weaponry, which creates daz-
zling, giant explosions. Their mission is successful, and as the evil androids are blown to
pieces, no blood is spilled on either side. According to an interview with the producer of
the video at Puzzle Animation Studio, the use of robots instead of human soldiers in the
role of the enemy was a deliberate choice on the part of PLA personnel, who wished to
avoid potential offence to any foreign power.38 As noted by some perceptive Chinese
netizens, however, the automatons shown in the PLA video carry a clear resemblance to
the highly popular transforming alien robots of the Transformers franchise, jointly pro-
duced by Hasbro (American) and Takara Tomy (Japanese) toy companies. This choice,
along with the decision to produce a cartoon rather than a realistic-looking video, has
further symbolic implications.
The PLA animation arguably renders military action as an exhilarating adventure,
thereby fostering a ‘war-game mentality’, which normalizes military fighting by blurring
differences between reality and simulation or make-believe.39 By presenting war as an
‘absolute unreality’, the creators of the Red Justice Division cartoon are in fact selling
combat to Chinese children as a harmless fantasy in which no one – at least no human –
is hurt and ‘the good guys always win’.40 In the process, the clip creators have also been
careful to place the young male protagonist in an innocent, inactive role compared to that
of the adult combatants. This may not seem such a remarkable decision in the context of
post-Second World War European and North American media, which typically feature
children in the role of blameless victims of war brutality.41 However, compared to PLA
representations of children and war up to the late 1970s, this is in fact a major represen-
tational shift.
Children, military, and violence in PRC culture
During the Maoist period, Chinese society witnessed the spread of the military’s charac-
teristic organizational techniques, routines, and attitudes to civilian realms.42 In the
1960s, for instance, Mao called upon the entire nation to ‘learn from the PLA’ and to
‘Learn from Lei Feng’ – the model soldier – and the military was hailed as the ‘crucible
of revolutionary citizenship’. Stories of heroic sacrifice pervaded PRC mass media, and
‘soldiery became not only the noblest profession to which every youngster aspired, but
10 China Information 28(1)
also one of the few viable paths of upward mobility for many rural youth’.43 In accord
with Mao’s instruction to millions of Chinese children that they ‘go out to face the world
and brave the storm’,44 school and college students received training in armed battle,45
and when relations between China and the Soviet Union had deteriorated to an armed
conflict at the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s, youngsters also took part in prepara-
tions for war by building air-defence tunnels in northern China.46
Works for children and youth, including those produced by the PLAs media appara-
tus, reflected and further propagated the militarization of Chinese society during the
Maoist period and in particular during the Cultural Revolution. The small number of
children’s works that appeared during this period was stern, militant, and overtly politi-
cal in content.47 Stories and films of the mid-1960s to mid-1970s drew on the assumption
that ‘there is no such thing as “an adult’s standpoint” or “a child’s standpoint”’, since ‘a
person’s standpoint is determined by class position rather than by age’.48 Cultural
Revolution public discourse condemned the notion that youngsters possess unique char-
acteristics, labelling it a ‘bourgeois way of life’, and instead emphasized the importance
‘of allowing children to forge and develop their character by facing difficulty under
tough conditions’.49 In this atmosphere, producers of children’s media had no qualms
about creating works which sought to inculcate in children ‘combatant qualities required
in revolutionary struggle: bravery and resoluteness to the point of martyrdom’.50
After 1978, however, PRC cultural works for children underwent a dramatic transfor-
mation. Fantasy and fairy tales started to replace the older theme of political struggle,
and literary and filmic creations paid attention to ‘children’s psychology’, allowing
young protagonists to display more ‘childish’ features and ‘human feelings’, such as
‘love and a sense of beauty’.51 Notably, this development corresponded with the emer-
gence of a new public discourse about children and their education in post-socialist urban
China. Particularly since the 1990s, PRC official legislation, mass media publications,
and pedagogic materials have been promoting the idea that children are persons with
distinct needs and rights, including the right to protection from violence, and that child-
hood ought to be a happy, carefree time of innocence and play.52
In line with these developments, the PRC government has in recent years banned
the sale of audio and video products containing elements of ‘horror, violence, and cru-
elty’ to minors, as these are now deemed ‘unfit for children, and extremely harmful for
their psychological development’.53 The general media in China has likewise shifted
from condoning to condemning the depiction of children’s heroic actions, while argu-
ing that the idea that ‘just like adults’, children, should ‘display their sense of social
responsibility to the point of self-sacrifice’, is ‘in fundamental contradiction with the
principles of child protection’.54 PLA cultural products for children have followed suit.
Though sticking to the themes of war and the military they have nonetheless had to
adapt to new public tastes and sensitivities. A notable example of this process of adap-
tation is the 2007 remake of the Cultural Revolution children’s war film Sparkling Red
Star (闪闪的红星).55
Originally produced in 1974 by the PLAs August First Film Studio, Sparkling Red
Star is still considered a classic in China’s film industry. Moreover, as part of the patri-
otic education campaign, the Chinese government has recently re-canonized it as a ‘red
classic’ and included the original title in the list of ‘One hundred patriotic films, songs,
Naftali 11
and books’ recommended for children.56 Unlike the original film, the new version of
Sparkling Red Star (now carrying the slightly different Chinese title, 闪闪的红星: 孩子
的天空)57 is the fruit of military–civilian collaboration between August First Film Studio
and Puzzle Animation Studio. The idea for the remake of the film as a cartoon came from
the Hong Kong businessman and Chairman of Puzzle Animation Studio, Chin Yiu-tong,
who reportedly ‘wanted to do something’ for the fledgling Chinese animation industry
which was struggling to keep up with American and Japanese competitors. The cartoon
cost more than US$2 million to make and was created by the award-winning Hong Kong
director Dante Lam, who insisted on including mainly hand-drawn characters which
resemble the work of the famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.58
In what follows, I do not seek to present a full-fledged comparison between the two
film versions, but rather to discuss the new version of the film while identifying points
of similarity and difference between the remake and the original, particularly concerning
the rendering of PLA soldiers as well as of children’s involvement in acts of violence. I
consider adaptations to be an instructive barometer for an age, since each film version
may reflect the different political and social realities of its time and the contemporary
concerns of its audiences and producers.59 I therefore ask what the comparison between
the two versions can tell us about the changing interests of the PLA and the current con-
cerns of Chinese audiences in the post-socialist era.
From small soldiers to innocent victims: Sparkling Red Star
revisited
As with the original film, the 2007 animated version of Sparkling Red Star is set in the
mid-1930s. It tells the story of Pan Dongzi, a young Chinese boy who helps the Red
Army fight an evil landlord, Hu Hansan. When the boy’s father joins the Red Army’s
Long March, the 10-year-old Dongzi challenges the landlord who has taken over the vil-
lage and sent the young boy and his mother fleeing. Dongzi’s mother then sacrifices
herself to save the Red Army soldiers who have been ambushed by Hu’s people. From
that point onwards, Dongzi, alone, experiences failures and frustrations, striving con-
stantly to become a tougher, stronger fighter. Under the influence of Captain Wu who is
in charge of a local Red Army unit, Dongzi is transformed from a naughty, sometimes
stubborn child into a brave and passionate youth who successfully beats the evil landlord
in the film’s final showdown.
The 2007 cartoon is far less didactic on the issue of socialist revolutionary struggle
and also lacks in declarations of ‘love for Chairman Mao’, both of which were required
staples of any work produced during the ultra-politicized decade of the Cultural
Revolution. However, like the older motion picture, the 2007 remake is replete with
celebratory depictions of war and the military. Red Army soldiers are consistently por-
trayed as righteous, courageous fighters who will readily sacrifice their lives for the sake
of a wounded comrade and the welfare of the common people. Notably, the soldiers
engage not only in dangerous guerrilla skirmishes, but also in the building of a new vil-
lage school and clinic, as well as in rice distribution to the poor farmers who joyfully
declare that the ‘Red Army has come to rescue us!’
12 China Information 28(1)
As in the Maoist-era version, the 2007 animated film also shows how the Red Army
soldier, Captain Wu, becomes in charge of Dongzi’s training and education following the
departure of the child’s father to fight with the Red Army and the sacrificial death of his
mother. The portrayal of the military captain as both a valiant soldier and a caring father
closely resembles the original version in that it symbolically substitutes the armed forces
for Dongzi’s biological parents, thereby making the PLA ‘a surrogate parent and ultimate
protector of the child’.60 The new film further performs its duty in justifying the act of
war to young audiences. For instance, upon his departure to fight with the Red Army,
Dongzi’s father solemnly tells the boy (and contemporary audiences) that ‘fighting is
necessary in order to safeguard the future of our beloved country’ and ‘the future of
Dongzi’ himself. Before he leaves he gives his son a special memento: a Red Army
badge in the shape of a sparkling red star, from which the boy can draw courage and
inspiration. Dongzi, equipped with this special token, proceeds to join the Children’s
Brigade. There, he and the other village boys (but not the girls) receive military instruc-
tion from Captain Wu, who tells the children that in order to ‘build a world of equality’
everyone must ‘unite and fight’. Taking these words to heart, Dongzi and his little friends
work together to assist the PLA soldiers in their battle against the landlord and his men,
and in a dreamlike scene at the end of the cartoon, Dongzi’s father, who has just returned
to the village accompanied by a large platoon, proudly pins the red star badge on the
boy’s cap, symbolically initiating him into the ranks of the military.
These scenes largely resemble those of the 1974 original, and yet in contrast to the
older film, the recent version conveys a much more ambiguous message concerning the
effects of war on individual lives and the appropriateness of children’s involvement in acts
of violence. For instance, in the Cultural Revolution version, Dongzi repeatedly hears that
he must not cry or be afraid of anything, including death, ‘for that is what makes a true
soldier’. In contrast, the new version shows the young boy experiencing deep fear for the
life of his father who is away at war, as well as shock and inconsolable grief after witness-
ing the death of his mother who is shot in a military ambush. Indeed, the 2007 cartoon also
includes a poignant new scene, in which viewers see the young boy running around franti-
cally and desperately crying to his dead mother: ‘Mama, don’t go! Mama, please come
back!’ and promising that, if she returns, he will behave and study hard.
Replacing the infallible, hardened little warrior of the Cultural Revolution period with
a more well-rounded protagonist who exhibits a broader range of emotions and is allowed
to be weak and vulnerable, the new version of Sparkling Red Star illustrates the so-called
humanistic turn in Chinese war films of the post-1978 period. As noted by a number of
Chinese scholars, this change also appears in the depiction of the tragic, emotional
impact of war on individuals’ lives, replacing the previous tendency of PRC war films to
celebrate battle as a necessary experience for the forging of heroic revolutionary
characters.61
The new Sparkling Red Star cartoon further departs from the original in that it con-
structs childhood as a time of study and play rather than battle. In a discussion of another
recent adaptation of a Maoist-era red classic, Little Soldier Zhangga (小兵张嘎), Liu
Yingming observes that unlike the original film, the 2004 televised version of this 1963
war film places greater emphasis on the theme of childish ‘fun and games’.62 Notably,
the televised adaptation of Little Soldier Zhangga was produced by a privately owned
Naftali 13
commercial company in China. An examination of the new version of Sparkling Red Star
reveals a similar move on the part of the PLA’s August First Film Studio and Puzzle
Animation Studio.
In the 1974 version of Sparkling Red Star, we see for instance a debate between
Captain Wu, the Red Army soldier, and the peasant, Grandpa Song. While the latter is
afraid that ‘Dongzi is too young to participate in the revolution and should be protected
by adults’, the Red Army Captain insists that the boy ‘should plunge into class struggle’.
As the film later makes clear, Grandpa Song is wrong.63 The new animated version of the
film addresses the issue of children’s involvement in violent struggle in a decidedly dif-
ferent manner. Whereas in the 1970s film, Dongzi daydreams of joining the military and
taking part in combat, children in the 2007 cartoon repeatedly hear that they must go to
school and work hard at their studies – a message that was anathema at the time the initial
film was produced, but which once again is in vogue in post-socialist China. Moreover,
children in the new version are shown not only helping the PLA in its battle against the
evil landlord, but also engaging in more benign activities such as hiking and exploring
nature, playing with animals, or pulling pranks on each other. Such scenes are altogether
missing from the 1974 version which has only one notable play scene, in which children
conduct a war game.
The reconstruction of childhood as a time of study and play is further accompanied by
a new approach to the nature of children’s engagement in acts of brutality. The original
film includes several scenes involving the use of extreme violence, at times even border-
ing on sadism against the child protagonist, and by extension against viewers them-
selves.64 In contrast, the new version of the film considerably tones down the level of
violence, especially where minors are involved. For instance, in the original, there is a
scene early on in the story in which the landlord and his men tie the seven-year-old
Dongzi to a tree and mercilessly flog him. The new version retains this scene but replaces
the child with his father, an adult PLA soldier. And when the landlord brutally pushes the
boy away from him, the new version shows the villagers all shouting in indignation, ‘He
won’t even leave a little child alone. What a beast!’
Presenting violence toward children as an act that ‘defines the realm of the inhu-
man’,65 the new version dramatically departs from the Cultural Revolution original in
further depicting children as victims rather than active participants in adult hostilities.
Whereas the 1974 film shows Dongzi practising with a bayonet and receiving his first
real gun at the end of the film, in the 2007 version the boy and his friends are armed only
with slingshots. This transformation of the child protagonist – from a child soldier to an
innocent victim – is equally evident in the final showdown between Dongzi and his
enemy, the evil landlord who was responsible for the death of Dongzi’s mother. In the
1974 version, we see the young child delivering the fatal blow. After informing his best
friend that he will not let Hu Hansan live, Dongzi sneaks into the landlord’s bedroom,
pours oil over the bedcovers as the landlord sleeps, and sets the bed on fire, attempting
to burn the man alive. When Hu wakes and tries to throw the blanket off, the young boy
attacks him with a knife and kills him. Stepping outside, Dongzi then proudly informs
the captain of the local Red Army unit that he has ‘killed Hu Hansan’. The captain, his
men, as well as the other villagers – men, women and children – all proceed to praise the
young boy for his heroic achievement.
14 China Information 28(1)
Extolling this and other scenes for their ‘high level of realism’, official PRC media of
the 1970s praised the original motion picture for ‘correctly dismissing the notion of chil-
dren’s innocence as no more than revisionist rubble’.66 In contrast, the military–civilian
creators of the 2007 version are much less keen on depicting children in the role of aggres-
sors. In the new film, Dongzi and his friends attempt to physically attack the evil landlord
and his men, but their assaults are often futile and shown in a comic light, bordering on
slapstick. Moreover, the death scene of the evil landlord has also been considerably altered.
In the new version, the boy hero (whose age at the beginning of the story has notably been
elevated to 10 instead of seven) does not in fact premeditatedly murder the landlord. In the
final showdown, the new film shows the landlord chasing the unarmed boy inside a granary
while shooting him. In an act of desperation, the defenceless boy manages to break the log
on which he and the landlord are standing; the landlord loses his footing, falls and is buried
in the pile of rice he has unjustly confiscated from the villagers. Watching the landlord die,
Dongzi declares: ‘You deserve this, Hu Hansan!’, but when he steps outside, he does not
announce his responsibility for the man’s death, nor is he praised for his actions.
As in the Red Justice Division video clip, then, the creators of the new version of
Sparkling Red Star have shifted the responsibility for the act of brutality from the child
to the adult, making the child a victim rather than a perpetrator of violence.67 The
choice to remake Sparkling Red Star as a cartoon rather than as a realistic motion pic-
ture is again equally significant in this regard. Noting the use of animation products in
the current image-making efforts of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, Sabine Frühstück
suggests that cartoons perform ‘a trivialization and infantilization’ of the military’s
tasks for young consumers, who also are potential recruits.68 In the case of the Chinese
military, I would argue that recruitment concerns likewise play a part in the decision to
use the more ‘innocent’ medium of animation and to tone down the level of violence.
Technically, service in the PLA is obligatory for all Chinese citizens. However, in
practice it is entirely voluntary; because of the size of China’s population and the large
numbers of individuals who volunteer to join the regular armed forces, the authorities
have never enforced a draft. The challenge, however, is not so much the number of
recruits but their quality.69 Compared to the Maoist period, the Chinese military officer
corps is now drawn from a younger and better educated generation.70 However, the vast
majority of PLA personnel are still undereducated, drawn from rural villages and have
little acumen for modern military technology.71 While there appears to be some enthusi-
asm for military service among urban Chinese youth, that spirit is certainly not universal,
and in recent years the PLA has publicly recognized problems in bribery and quota
manipulation during conscription period.72
To address this issue and recruit personnel with higher levels of education and techni-
cal proficiency, the PLA has devised various recruitment schemes for well-educated
urban youths. These include relaxed restrictions on height, weight, tattoos, and ear pierc-
ings; offering bonuses to college graduates who volunteer for the armed forces; as well
as bonuses for students, who enlist in the army while still in college, based on years of
college completed (such recruits can resume their studies within two years after leaving
the military). The army also directly targets college graduates for officer positions
through the National Defense Students programme, which is roughly equivalent to the
US Reserve Officer Training Corps.73
Naftali 15
Alongside these practical measures, the PLA now heavily invests in the production of
innovative and entertaining cultural products geared toward urban children and youth.
Through the marketing of toys, music videos, cartoons, and websites, and with the help
of commercial companies, China’s military currently seeks both to increase the numbers
of more educated, computer-savvy conscripts and to foster a patriotic spirit among the
present generation of consumer-oriented urban youth. As demonstrated by the testimony
of the political instructor who was quoted at the beginning of this article, these are rather
difficult tasks to achieve, however. Indeed, later in the interview, the same PLA instruc-
tor admitted that while in the beginning, the 90s generation conscripts ‘were treated with
the traditional tough measure’, army personnel later complied with various demands
made by rebellious recruits. These demands included establishing ‘a cyber-bar for the
exclusive use of soldiers’, ‘installing pumps to irrigate the company’s kitchen garden,
which previously would have had to be watered manually’, and ‘installing private closets
for soldiers’.74 PLA cultural products for children and youth likewise have had to adapt
to new civilian sensibilities.
Some urban Chinese parents do see value in exposing children, and in particular boys,
to war-themed stories or military drills. They hope that this exposure will instil qualities
such as discipline, self-reliance, endurance, and virility in their pampered only-child and
help him succeed in a competitive market economy.75 However, recent surveys and eth-
nographic studies also document the emerging conviction, particularly among urbanites
who wish to associate themselves with middle-class civilities,76 that children should be
protected from adult brutality. Or in other words, that ‘beyond a certain level of violence,
the child is no longer a child’.77 Accordingly, the PLA products surveyed in the present
article continue to extol war and the military but are careful to place children in a rela-
tively passive, innocent role compared to the past. By symbolic extension, this represen-
tational shift allows contemporary young audiences in China to retain their ‘childish’
nature, and their adult, middle-class caregivers their sense of moral righteousness.
Concluding remarks
Militarization, suggests the historian Michael S. Sherry, can be defined as the process by
which war and national security become ‘consuming anxieties’ and provide ‘the memo-
ries, models, and metaphors that shape broad areas of national life’.78 In contemporary
China, the PLAs attempts to market war and soldiering as attractive and exhilarating
pursuits coincide with the CCP’s on-going campaign to promote martial values and mili-
tary behavioural models as the basis for youth patriotism. Should we therefore conclude
that the PLA–civilian products surveyed in this article are contributing to a widespread
‘discursive militarization’79 of Chinese childhood?
The findings of the present article suggest that this is not necessarily the case, since
the recent wave of militarization of children’s culture in China is marked by ambiguity
and even aversion toward the depiction of violence, especially as it involves minors. Like
the propaganda works of the 1960s and 1970s, contemporary PLA products for children
and youth continue to present war as a glorious endeavour which turns boys into men.
However, the military media apparatus faces much difficulty in selling its ideological
merchandise in the commercial environment of post-socialist urban China, now
16 China Information 28(1)
inundated with the highly popular products of Japanese anime, Disney cartoons, and
Hasbro toys.80 To overcome this difficulty, the Chinese military has had to cooperate
with civilian forces. Similarly to the Japan Self-Defense Forces or the US military,81 the
PLA also uses new electronic technologies and other elements of youth culture, such as
pop songs and toys, as marketing and recruitment tools.82
In China, however, the military continuously struggles to balance its political respon-
sibilities as the armed force of the CCP with countervailing pressures not only from an
information-savvy, market-oriented generation of self-assured urban singletons, but also
from their parents, many of whom have come to reject the involvement of children in
acts of violence.83 In stark contrast to PLA works of the Cultural Revolution, which sanc-
tioned patriotic and revolutionary brutality regardless of the age of victims or oppressors,
new PLA products reflect a considerable lowering of the threshold of tolerance of violent
conduct inflicted on or by children. Thus, even if more and more Chinese youngsters are
becoming militarized, a statement that is far from proven and which requires a separate
empirical study, it is also the case that the Chinese army is becoming, to borrow E. P.
Thompson’s phrase,84 more and more ‘civilianized’.
Notes
1. Baijie An, Young soldiers rewrite rules, China Daily, 1 November 2011, 7, http://www.china-
daily.com.cn/china/2011-11/01/content_14012363.htm, accessed 9 October 2013.
2. Tai Ming Cheung, Engineering human souls: The development of Chinese military jour-
nalism and the emerging defense media market, in Susan L. Shirk (ed.) Changing Media,
Changing China, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, 128–49; Nan Li, PLA conservative
nationalism, in Stephen J. Flanagan and Michael E. Marti (eds) The People’s Liberation Army
and China in Transition, Washington, DC: Institute for National Strategic Studies, National
Defense University Press, 2003, 69–90.
3. James Marten, Introduction, in James Marten (ed.) Children and War: A Historical Anthology,
New York and London: New York University Press, 2002, 8.
4. Ian Wojcik-Andrews, Children’s Films: History, Ideology, Pedagogy, Theory, New York and
London: Garland Publishing, 2000, 162–3; Vicky Lebeau, Childhood and Cinema, London:
Reaktion Books, 2008, 142; Catarina Martins, The dangers of the single story: Child-soldiers
in literary fiction and film, Childhood 18(4), 2011: 434–46; David M. Rosen, Armies of
the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism, New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers
University Press, 2005, 7; and Chris Jenks, Childhood, London: Routledge, 1996, 125.
5. Mary Ann Farquhar, Children’s Literature in China: From Lu Xun to Mao Zedong, Armonk,
NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1999; Stephanie Hemelryk Donald, Children as political messengers: Art,
childhood, and continuity, in Harriet Evans and Stephanie Hemelryk Donald (eds) Picturing
Power in the People’s Republic of China: Posters of the Cultural Revolution, Lanham, MD:
Rowman & Littlefield, 1999, 79–150; Xu Xu, ‘Chairman Mao’s child’: Sparkling Red Star
and the construction of children in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Children’s Literature
Association Quarterly 36(4), 2011: 383, 397–8; Thomas A. Zaniello, Heroic quintuplets: A
look at some Chinese children’s literature, Children’s Literature 3(1), 1974: 36–42; Fang
Weiping, Shuru yu chuanbo: Cong ‘ertong zhongxin zhuyi’ dao ‘ertong benwei lun’ (Input
and dissemination: From ‘child-centrism’ to ‘child-centered theory’), Zhejiang shifan daxue
bao (shehui kexue ban) (Journal of Zhejiang Normal University (social sciences edition)), no.
2, 1993: 8–15; and Fang Weiping, Lun ‘wusi’ shiqi Zhongguo ertong wenxue lilun piping de
xiandai zijue (On the modern consciousness of children’s literary criticism in China of the
Naftali 17
‘May Fourth’ period), Dongbei shidaxue bao (zhixue shehui kexue ban) (Journal of Northeast
Normal University (philosophy and social sciences)), no. 2, 1994: 36–41.
6. Farquhar, Children’s Literature in China; Stephanie Hemelryk Donald, Public Secrets,
Public Spaces: Cinema and Civility in China, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000;
Stephanie Hemelryk Donald, Little Friends: Children’s Film and Media Culture in China,
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005, 33–4; and Donald, Children as political mes-
sengers, 79–150. See also Chen Taolan, Cong ‘hushi ertong’ dao ‘yi ertong wei ben’: Xiandai
xiaoshuo li Zhongguo ertong jiaoyu guannian de biange (From ‘ignoring children’s [nature]’
to ‘emphasizing child-centredness’: The changing conceptualization of Chinese children’s
education in modern novels), Zhejiang shifan daxue xuebao (shehui kexue ban) (Journal of
Zhejiang Normal University (social sciences edition)) 38(4), 2013: 22–7; and Zeng Qingjiang,
Guochan zhanzheng pian zhong shaonian ertong xingxiang de shanbian (The transformation
of children’s images in domestic war films), Dangdai dianying (Contemporary cinema), no.
197, 2012: 157–9.
7. Xu, ‘Chairman Mao’s child’; Zaniello, Heroic quintuplets.
8. See, for example, Chen Mo, Laoshu de gushi rang women xiangdao shenme? – Jian shuo
tonghua pian, ertong dianying yu ertong wenhua (What does the story of the mouse tell us? A
discussion of children’s films and children’s culture), Dangdai dianying (Contemporary cin-
ema), no. 187, 2011: 45–8; Chen Taolan, Cong ‘hushi ertong’ dao ‘yi ertong wei ben’, 22–7.
9. Zheng Huanhuan, Xin Zhongguo 60 nian zhanzheng ticai ertong pian de chuangzuo zhuan-
xing (New China’s 60 years of creative transformation of children’s war-themed films),
Beijing dianying xueyuan xuebao (Journal of the Beijing Film Academy), no. 6, 2009: 20–
4; Zeng, Guochan zhanzheng pian zhong shaonian ertong xingxiang de shanbian, 157–9.
See also Donald, Little Friends, 33–4; Donald, Children as political messengers, 79–150;
Farquhar, Children’s Literature in China; and Xu, ‘Chairman Mao’s child’, 402.
10. Haiyan Lee, The charisma of power and the military sublime in Tiananmen Square, The
Journal of Asian Studies 70(2), 2011: 406–7.
11. Cheung, Engineering human souls, 128, 130–2, and 141.
12. James Z. Gao, War culture, nationalism, and political campaigns, 1950–1953, in C. X. George
Wei and Xiaoyuan Liu (eds) Chinese Nationalism in Perspective: Historical and Recent
Cases, Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 2001, 179.
13. Cheung, Engineering human souls, 128.
14. Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu yinfa ‘Aiguozhuyi jiaoyu shishi gangyao’ de tongzhi (Notice
of the CCP Central Committee regarding the ‘Outline on implementing patriotic educa-
tion’), 22 August 1994, http://news.xinhuanet.com/ziliao/2005-03/16/content_2705546.htm,
accessed 6 February 2013.
15. Suisheng Zhao, A Nation-State by Construction: Dynamics of Modern Chinese Nationalism,
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004, 219–222; Baogang He and Yingjie Guo,
Nationalism, National Identity and Democratization in China, Aldershot, UK and Brookfield,
WI: Ashgate, 2000, 26–7; William A. Callahan, History, identity and security: Producing and
consuming nationalism in China, Critical Asian Studies 38(2), 2006: 179–208; Zheng Wang,
National humiliation, history education, and the politics of historical memory: Patriotic
education campaign in China, International Studies Quarterly 52(4), 2008: 783–806; and
Edward Vickers, The opportunity of China? Education, patriotic values and the Chinese state,
in Marie Lall and Edward Vickers (eds) Education as a Political Tool in Asia, London and
New York: Routledge, 2009, 53–82.
16. Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu yinfa ‘Aiguozhuyi jiaoyu shishi gangyao’ de tongzhi.
17. China’s annual military recruitment favors college graduates, People’s Daily, 2 November
2009, http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90776/90882/6800268.html, accessed 9 June 2010;
18 China Information 28(1)
Calum MacLeod, Chinese kids undergo required military training, USA Today, 4 September
2007, http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-09-04-bootcamp_N.htm, accessed 10
October 2010.
18. Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu yinfa ‘Aiguozhuyi jiaoyu shishi gangyao’ de tongzhi.
19. Zheng Wang, National humiliation, 796.
20. Ibid., 791.
21. Zhao, A Nation-State by Construction, 227.
22. See Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu yinfa ‘Aiguozhuyi jiaoyu shishi gangyao’ de tongzhi.
23. Zhenjiang Ming, Jianchi shehui zeren, fanrong junshi wenhua zuopin (Adhere to social
responsibility, let military cultural artworks prosper), 30 August 2010, http://jswm.newssc.
org/system/2010/08/30/012872773.shtml, accessed 11 March 2011.
24. Ibid.; Li, PLA conservative nationalism, 82; and Cheung, Engineering human souls, 135, 141.
25. Thomas J. Bickford, The People’s Liberation Army and its changing economic roles: Implications
for civil–military relations, in Nan Li (ed.) Chinese Civil-Military Relations: The Transformation
of the People’s Liberation Army, London and New York: Routledge, 2006, 148–63.
26. Military movies with touch of reality China, China Daily, 20 March 2006, http://www.china-
daily.com.cn/cndy/2006-03/20/content_546723.htm, accessed 27 February 2011.
27. Cheung, Engineering human souls, 133 and 147, note 13.
28. Ibid., 142–3.
29. ‘Hong Shi’ chengjun de beihou: Zhizuoren Qian Guodong zhuanfang (Exclusive interview
with producer Qian Guodong: Behind the scenes of Red Division), Hobby Wave, no. 10, 20
September 2009, 52.
30. Karen J. Hall, A soldier’s body: GI Joe, Hasbro’s great American hero, and the symptoms of
empire, The Journal of Popular Culture 38(1), 2004: 35, 40.
31. Images of the PLA toys are available on the Red Justice Division official website http://www.
worldpeacekeepers.net/.
32. Lee, The charisma of power, 406; see also Hans van de Ven, The military in the Republic, The
China Quarterly, no. 150, 1997: 352–74; Stefan R. Landsberger, Learning by what example?
Educational propaganda in twenty-first-century China, Critical Asian Studies 33(4), 2001:
541–71; and Gao, War culture, nationalism, and political campaigns, 184.
33. Jeremy Page, Jason Dean, and Julian E. Barnes, Beijing’s buildup stirs fears, The Wall Street
Journal, 5 March 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870358000457618
0482219510892.html, 10 March 2011; Wang Hui, Chinese military increases transparency,
China Daily, 30 January 2013, http://china.org.cn/opinion/2013-01/30/content_27835930.
htm, accessed 9 October 2013.
34. Roy Kamphausen, Andrew Scobell, and Travis Tanner, Introduction, in Roy Kamphausen,
Andrew Scobell, and Travis Tanner (eds) The ‘People’ in the PLA: Recruitment, Training,
and Education in China’s Military, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, United States
Army College, 2008, 3.
35. Ibid.; see also Zhao, A Nation-State by Construction, 289–90; and Lucy Hornby, China’s
military cautiously tries out new openness, Reuters, 28 July 2009, http://www.reuters.com/
article/worldNews/idUSTRE56R1YR20090728?sp=true, accessed 28 July 2009.
36. Lee, The charisma of power, 411.
37. Kam Louie, Popular culture and masculinity ideals in East Asia, with special reference to
China, The Journal of Asian Studies 71(4), 2012: 929–43.
38. ‘Hong Shi’ chengjun de beihou, 52.
39. J. David Slocum, General introduction: Seeing through American war cinema, in David
J. Slocum (ed.) Hollywood and War: The Film Reader, New York and Abingdon, UK:
Routledge, 2006, 18.
Naftali 19
40. Ibid.; see also Paul Wells, Understanding Animation, London and New York: Routledge,
1998, 25.
41. Wojcik-Andrews, Children’s Films, 162–3; Lebeau, Childhood and Cinema, 142.
42. Van de Ven, The military in the Republic, 352–74; Lee, The charisma of power, 397–424.
43. Lee, The charisma of power, 406; Landsberger, Learning by what example?, 541–71; van
de Ven, The military in the Republic, 353; and Emily Honig, Maoist mappings of gender:
Reassessing the Red Guards, in Susan Brownell and Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom (eds) Chinese
Femininities, Chinese Masculinities: A Reader, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of
California Press, 2002, 263.
44. Cited in Xu, ‘Chairman Mao’s child’, 399.
45. Honig, Maoist mappings of gender, 262; Lynn T. White III, Policies of Chaos: The
Organizational Causes of Violence in China’s Cultural Revolution, Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1989, 205–8, 215–16.
46. See Weili Ye with Xiaodong Ma, Growing up in the People’s Republic: Conversations between
Two Daughters of China’s Revolution, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005; Sheldon H. Lu,
Beautiful violence: War, peace, globalization, positions: east asia cultures critique 12(3),
2004: 762.
47. Farquhar, Children’s Literature in China, 30, 285; Donald, Little Friends, 33–4; and Xu,
‘Chairman Mao’s Child’, 382, 392.
48. Xu, ‘Chairman Mao’s child’, 389, 393.
49. Wu Yuzhang, Xinnian hua jiachang (New Year message on family affairs), Zhongguo qingnian
(Chinese youth), 1964. Cited in Zhao Zhongxin (ed.), Wu Yuzhang tan jiating jiaoyu (Wu
Yuzhang discusses family education), Zhongguo jiating jiaoyu wuqiannian (Five thousand
years of family education in China), Beijing: Zhongguo fazhi chubanshe, 2003, 579.
50. Farquhar, Children’s Literature in China, 30, 285; Donald, Little Friends, 33–4; Xu, ‘Chairman
Mao’s Child’, 382, 392; Zeng, Guochan zhanzheng pian zhong shaonian ertong xingxiang de
shanbian, 155–7; Zheng, Xin Zhongguo 60 nian zhanzheng ticai ertong pian de chuangzuo
zhuanxing, 20–4; Liu Hongqiu, Lun xin Zhongguo shaonian ertong zhanzheng ticai dianying
(New China’s war-themed children’s films), Dangdai dianying (Contemporary cinema), no. 6,
2009, 118–21; and Wang Haiying, 20 Shiji Zhongguo ertong guan yanjiu de fansi (Reflections
on the concept of childhood in 20th-century China), Huadong shifan daxue xuebao (jiaoyu kexue
ban) (Journal of East China Normal University (educational sciences)), no. 2, 2008: 16–24.
51. Qingyun Huang, A survey of children’s literature in China, The Lion and the Unicorn 10(1),
1986: 25; Xu, ‘Chairman Mao’s child’, 402; Donald, Children as political messengers, 79–
150; Donald, Little Friends; and Chen Taolan, Cong ‘hushi ertong’ dao ‘yi ertong wei ben’,
22-7; and Zeng, Guochan zhanzheng pian zhong shaonian ertong xingxiang de shanbian,
157–9.
52. Orna Naftali, Children, Rights, and Modernity in China: Raising Self-Governing Citizens,
Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014; Orna Naftali, Recovering childhood: Play,
pedagogy, and the rise of psychological knowledge in contemporary urban China, Modern
China 36(6), 2010: 589–616; Wang Haiying, 20 Shiji Zhongguo ertong guan yanjiu de fansi;
Donald, Little Friends, 58; Ronald C. Keith, Legislating women and children’s ‘rights and
interests’ in the PRC, The China Quarterly, no. 149, 1997: 29–55; and Yufu Huang, Ni Liu,
and Ying Shi, Portrayal of children in the news: A case study in China, in Anura Goonasekera
(ed.) Children in the News: Reporting of Children’s Issues in Television and the Press in Asia,
Singapore: Asian Media, Information and Communication Centre, Nanyang Technological
University, 2001, 47–64.
53. China intensifies crackdown on horror audio and videos, People’s Daily, 14 February 2008,
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20 China Information 28(1)
54. Cited in Huang, Liu, and Shi, Portrayal of children in the news, 51–2.
55. Jun Li and Ang Li (dirs.) Shanshan de hongxin (Sparkling red star), 102 minutes (August First
Film Studio, 1974).
56. Xu, ‘Chairman Mao’s child’, 401.
57. Dante Lam (dir.), Shanshan de hongxing: Haizi de tiankong (Sparkling red star), 82 minutes
(Asia Animation LTD, 2007). Note that the film’s name in Chinese includes a subtitle, ‘Haizi
de tiankong’, which may be translated as ‘a child’s universe’.
58. Classic Chinese Red Army propaganda film reborn as animated film, FoxNews.com,
23 October 2007, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,304357,00.html, accessed 24
September 2012.
59. Wojcik-Andrews, Children’s Films, 188–9.
60. Xu, ‘Chairman Mao’s child’, 396; Donald, Children as political messengers, 85. As Donald notes,
the absence of parents, whose role is taken up by Party cadres or CCP soldiers, is a frequent theme
in films and stories of the Maoist period. See also Donald, Public Secrets, Public Spaces, 41.
61. Zeng, Guochan zhanzheng pian zhong shaonian ertong xingxiang de shanbian, 155–7; Zheng
Huanhuan, Xin Zhongguo 60 nian zhanzheng ticai ertong pian de chuangzuo zhuanxing,
20–4; Liu, Lun xin Zhongguo shaonian ertong zhanzheng ticai dianying, 118–21; and Chen
Xujiao and Chen Lu, Lun Zhongguo zhanzheng dianying de rendao zhuyi shijiao (On the
humanistic perspective of Chinese war films), Jiangsu jishu shifan xueyuan xuebao (Journal
of Jiangsu Teachers University of Technology) 17(1), 2011: 43–7.
62. Liu Yingming, Zhanzheng beijing xia de ertong youxi: Zai lun ‘Xiaobing Zhangga’ de dian-
shiju gaibian (Children’s games in the context of war: On the TV adaptation of Little Soldier
Zhangga), Yancheng gong xueyuan xuebao (shehui kexue ban) (Journal of Yancheng Institute
of Technology (social sciences edition)) 23(3), 2010: 42–6.
63. Xu, ‘Chairman Mao’s child’, 391–2.
64. Compare Lebeau, Childhood and Cinema, 148.
65. Ibid.
66. See, for example, Fang E, Yige ke’ai de xiao yingxiong: Ping dianying ‘Shanshan de hong-
xing’ (A cute little hero: A review of the film Sparkling Red Star), Renmin ribao (People’s
daily), 22 October 1974, 2.
67. On this point, I differ from Xu who argues that in the 1974 version of the film, the protago-
nist ‘retains the “special characteristics” of a child’ since he does not ‘physically confront
his enemies’ (Xu, ‘Chairman Mao’s child’, 400). Notably, while Dongzi may not partake in
proper military battle, he does initiate and actively participate in the act of killing the landlord.
Moreover, in the context of guerrilla warfare, even actions such as assassinations of enemy
leaders can be considered a form of physical confrontation.
68. Sabine Frühstück, Uneasy Warriors: Gender, Memory, and Popular Culture in the Japanese
Army, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007, 128.
69. Cheung, Engineering human souls, 138.
70. Yongnian Zheng, Discovering Chinese Nationalism in China: Modernization, Identity, and
International Relations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, 102.
71. Eligibility for conscription in the PLA extends from ages 18 to 22 for males, with females
inducted according to the needs of its units. The minimum educational requirement is
middle school graduation; students enrolled in full-time education programmes may be
deferred from conscription. See Dennis J. Blasko, PLA conscript and noncommissioned
officer individual training, in Kamphausen, Scobell, and Tanner (eds) The ‘People’ in the
PLA, 103, 126.
72. John F. Corbett, Jr., Edward C. O’Dowd, and David D. Chen, Building the fighting strength:
PLA officer accession, education, training, and utilization, in ibid., 139–89; James Mulvenon,
Naftali 21
‘True is false, false is true, virtual is reality, reality is virtual’: Technology and simulation in
the Chinese military training revolution, in ibid., 49–98.
73. Anthony H. Cordesman and Nicholas S. Yarosh, Chinese military modernization and force
development: A Western perspective, Centre for Strategic and International Studies Report,
30 July 2012, http://csis.org/files/publication/120727_Chinese_Military_Modernization_
Force_Dvlpment.pdf, accessed 5 February 2013, 60.
74. An, Young soldiers rewrite rules.
75. Ibid., 7; see also MacLeod, Chinese kids undergo required military training.
76. Huang, Liu, and Shi, Portrayal of children in the news, 47–64; Liu, Lun xin Zhongguo shao-
nian ertong zhanzheng ticai dianying, 118–21; Naftali, Children, Rights, and Modernity in
China; and Naftali, Recovering childhood, 589–616.
77. Lebeau, Childhood and Cinema, 176; Jenks, Childhood, 125; and Rosen, Armies of the Young, 7.
78. Michael S. Sherry, In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s, New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press, 1995, xi.
79. Catherine Lutz, Making war at home in the United States: Militarization and the current cri-
sis, American Anthropologist 104(3), 2002: 723.
80. Stephanie Hemelryk Donald, Crazy rabbits! Children’s media culture and socialization,
in Stephanie Hemelryk Donald, Michael Keane, and Yin Hong (eds) Media in China:
Consumption, Content and Crisis, London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002, 128–39; Stanley Rosen,
Film and China’s youth culture, Education About Asia 13(3), 2008: 38–43; and Laikwan
Pang, The transgression of sharing and copying: Pirating Japanese animation in China,
in Chris Berry, Nicola Liscuting, and Jonathan D. Mackintosh (eds) Cultural Studies and
Cultural Industries in Northeast Asia: What a Difference a Region Makes, Hong Kong: Hong
Kong University Press, 2009, 119–34.
81. Frühstück, Uneasy Warriors, 119; Henry A. Giroux, War on terror: The militarising of public
space and culture in the United States, Third Text 18(4), 2004: 217.
82. Most recently, in August 2013, the PLA also released a civilian, online version of a war-themed
computer game called Guangrong shiming (Glorious mission). See Hu Wei, ‘Guangrong shim-
ing’ jiu jiaogei ni le (The ‘Glorious Mission’ is now yours to carry out), 9 July 2013, http://
military.people.com.cn/n/2013/0709/c172467-22124172.html, accessed 15 September 2013.
83. Cheung, Engineering human souls, 143.
84. Edward Palmer Thompson, Exterminism and Cold War, London: Verso, 1982, 22. See also
Martin Shaw, Post-Military Society: Militarism, Demilitarization, and War at the End of the
Twentieth Century, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991, 69.
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... While a general sense of uncertainty about being Chinese outside of China was observed, so was a heightened trust in the Chinese military to protect them. These sentiments support Naftali's (2014) argument that recently revamped military-sanctioned media products marketed to the Chinese youth serve to re-stimulate patriotic respect for the military. Such media products are designed to target a generation brought up in a depoliticized and non-violent economically reformed China. ...
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