Guns, Rockets and Videogames: The Appeal of the Chinese Military

On the 2nd of May 2016 the western public was treated to the latest recruitment video from the People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese Military. Unlike other videos produced recently by the military this latest edition has one striking difference. While it still incorporates fast paced visual cuts, instead of the traditional orchestral grandness that accompanies the video, this most recent one employs spoken word, not in the sense of a national anthem or the normal carefully chosen non-aggressive vocals but of a patriotic, extremely aggressive rap/hip-hop soundtrack named “Battle Declaration”.

The video itself starts off with an officer getting dressed into their military gear with the soundtrack building behind them. After a short voiceover, the video then begins to show recruits training and getting ready for war. They participate in running drills, tank driving, fire arms training and also obstacle course and martial arts training. Then the video cuts to an upshot of the Chinese flag. This happens all within the first 40 seconds of the 3-minute video. It is after this that the video begins to pick up pace using split-second jump cuts while the rapping starts. It transitions from showing an army detachment quipped with the latest hardware, searching for the enemy, both rural and urban settings, transitioning then to a sniper taking out someone with an AK47.

Chinese Flag

At 0:37 the video spends the single longest time looking up the flag emphasizing that it’s all done for the country, the party.

From there the video then transitions to showing the 5 different branches of the Chinese Military, The PLA Ground Force (Army), PLA Navy, PLA Airforce, Rocket Force (Responsible for nuclear weapons) and the PLA Strategic Support Force (Marines). Each of these branches of the PLA show off the latest in Chinese Military hardware: The Liaoning aircraft carrier, the J-11 fighter jet, the Type-99A tank, new DF-11 ballistic missiles and extensive satellite and aerospace technology. In a limited timeframe the military is able to show the technology at their disposal as well as the sheer extent of their interests towards not only potential recruits but potential adversaries.

New Chinese FIghter

One of many shots of the high-spec military hardware available to the PLA. Pictured at 1:01 the J-11 Fighter Jet.

While the videos visual production helps engineer a slick, tense, epic atmosphere it is the accompanying audio that helps create such an overwhelmingly aggressive and tense soundscape. Setting up this urgency, the voiceover which translates:

 “There are always missions in soldiers’ minds, enemies in their eyes, responsibilities on their shoulders, and passions in their hearts. There could be a war at any time. Are you ready for that?”

These lyrics at the start of the video set the scene for the video, and the patriotic focus with a message of impending war and the need to defined one’s country might reveal the impending war of worldly proportions that its individual soldiers have a responsibility to take an active part in. This combined with the notion that:

 “Even if a bullet passes through my chest, my mission remains carved in my heart… Brothers, let’s follow this light. [Roar! Roar! Roar! Roar!] Roar with animal spirit.”

The video not only calls the people to war but to withstand injury in order to complete their mission for their country, the Communist Party.

It is the combination of the the visual, the soundscape, its production and its use of television series footage helps blur the boundaries of what is real and what is fantasy, fueling this sense of adventure. Critical Geopolitics has taken extensive interest in the combination of the visual, the sonic, the combination of the production, the video itself, its intended audience, and more recently its delivery networks of objects and people in order to get a fuller analysis of the representation to situate within the wider political debates.

The video was released on YouTube through the ‘People’s Daily China’, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, with the title of the video “‎China’s ‪‎PLA army enlists rap-style music video to recruit young soldiers”. It is clear that this is an attempt by the Chinese military to attract younger generations for military service, who actively try and avoid military service[[1]].

These are the same people who have taken to playing consoles, like the PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo systems and their games which until recently (July 2015) had been banned for import and sale within China[[2]]. The military has crafted this video, with its videogame influenced style and hip-hop/rap enthused film-like soundtrack to target this demographic. The technique of employing videogames is not new the American Military has been heavily involved with the gaming industry for years providing the realistic foundation for the fundamental conflict-focused games like Call of Duty or Battlefield series, even to creating their own game for recruitment[[3]][[4]].

It is too early to say whether this video will increase younger generations involvement with the PLA but if the videogame inspired, action film-like video is anything to go by the military want to give younger people the impression that being in the army is not just about an individual’s patriotic duty to defend the country but that it can be “cool” or fun to do so, and this is bound to have some impact on commission[[5]]. Interestingly this is at the same time where the PLA has had to make 300,000 of its 2.3 million-strong force redundant[6]. Because of the limited information that is available to non-Chinese, but especially Western media/academia, it’s unlikely that we’ll know about the effectiveness of the campaign, only speculation. With the voiceover at the start hinting at an imminent war, and with the chorus repeating “Kill, Kill, Kill” there is a somewhat warranted cause for concern. However, the unease felt (mainly by many of the West) is most likely the intentional production of an affectual/effectual sense of urgency, a statement of the PLA as a force to be feared externally with all its new military hardware as it is a cool adventure to those internally.

[1] http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2016-05/03/content_25014534.htm

[2] http://www.wsj.com/articles/china-to-end-ban-on-videogame-consoles-1437813695

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/mar/18/video-games-propaganda-tools-military

[4] Salter (2011) “The Geographical Imaginations of Video Games: Diplomacy, Civilization, America’s Army and Grand Theft Auto IV”, Geopolitics, 16(2), 359-388.

[5] http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2016-05/03/content_25014534.htm

[6] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/290a9410-110c-11e6-bb40-c30e3bfcf63b.html#axzz48rXrD4KU

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