‘The Battle at Lake Changjin’ and China’s New View of War

On China’s October 1 National Day holiday, while real-life People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fighter jets and other military planes sortied into the Taiwan Straits in record numbers, many Chinese celebrated by flocking to screenings of “The Battle at Lake Changjin,” breaking all box-office records. The 3-hour war epic commissioned by China’s propaganda department depicts a battle from the Korean War, where Chinese soldiers fought against the United States in what China calls the “War to Resist American Aggression and Aid Korea” (generally known abroad as the Korean War)

The film’s massive popularity arguably stems from China’s new view of war. Entering into military combat was formerly seen as a threat to the Communist Party’s hold on power. China’s military was not in a position to win. Going to battle and losing Chinese lives, even if it resulted in a territorial gain, was seen as potentially provoking a level of domestic unrest that could undermine China’s leadership. With the potential to topple the ruling party, war was off the table. Now it is perceived as a way to strengthen CCP’s position.

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