For years, China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), has been trying to increase its attractiveness to highly qualified young people – particularly college graduates – as it tries to make the transition to a more modern, more professional force. Now, the PLA has unveiled its latest weapon: a rap music video.
The new recruitment video, viewable here, treads the line between a music video and the advertisement for a new military-themed video game. It shows images of Chinese soldiers performing missions – hopping in tanks, launching missiles, at one point even sniping a man in the head– while a strong beat pulsates and a voice-over tells viewers that “war could break out at any time. Are you ready?”
The video is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Xinhua. The Chinese news agency reports that the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Central Committee Publicity Department (formerly translated as “Propaganda Department”) has issued a plan to entice university students and graduates to join the PLA. In addition to music videos, “songs, slogans, advertisements and documentaries should be spread online, on TV, and in public places such as buses and subways” from now until the campaign ends in September, Xinhua reports.
According to Xinhua, China’s media organizations will also be “required to push the recruitment drive” by publishing interviews with military recruiters, animated videos about the military, and “interactive online games to appeal to young people.”
The new campaign comes after some definite signs of jealousy on the part of Chinese military toward other countries’ military publicity. The Korean drama “Descendants of the Sun,” which depicts a romance between a doctor and solider, in particular sparked both admiration and warnings from the CPC. The drama mostly takes place during a peacekeeping mission in the fictional country of Uruk, where the characters – many of whom are in the military – help fight natural disasters and disease outbreaks. The show became a smash hit in China, causing China’s Ministry of Public Security to issue a warning against watching the show, arguing it was leading to obsession among Chinese viewers.
People’s Daily, meanwhile, pointed to the show as an “excellent advertisement for conscription,” and suggested that China create its own version – a suggestion that soon became reality. A Chinese remake has been confirmed by the show’s producer, NEW.
Meanwhile, the PLA Daily recently ran a commentary criticizing Disney’s animated film, Zootopia, as part of a “propaganda war” from the United States. In that article, the paper also complained about U.S.-made military-themed video games smearing the armies of countries “that America wants to contain in the real world” – including China. The PLA is not above fighting fire with fire; it has created its own video games, showcasing the Chinese military in a more positive light. Most famous, perhaps, is “Glorious Mission Online,” which in 2013 added a level in which users can fight as Chinese soldiers retaking the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands from Japan.
It’s easy to read all these moves as past of China’s “information warfare” against the West – especially given that many Chinese analysts discuss their publicity efforts in exactly those terms. But the intended target of the latest campaign is much closer to home: Chinese college students. As the PLA transitions to a more professional, modern force, it will need professional, educated soldiers and officers to fill up its ranks. To do that, the Chinese military needs to step up its recruiting game among educated young Chinese.
In 2014, the PLA lowered its physical standards for new recruits, specifically in a bid to bring in more educated young people. It relaxed weight limits, eyesight standards, and even restrictions on tattoos, recognizing that any or all of these regulations could eliminate recruits among its target audience. At the same time, the PLA announced that it would gradually begin restricting its recruits to only those who have at least a high school diploma – and it wants the number of college-educated recruits to increase each year.
To reach these potential recruits, the PLA is prepared to speak to them in their preferred language – whether rap music or video games. When it comes to propaganda wars, the thinking is apparently, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
To that end, China may be proud to note that its latest music video is causing some jealously overseas. The new video “beats anything the U.S. military has to offer,” a commentary on Marine Corps Times noted. “U.S. military recruiters take note: It’s time to up your game.”