China’s Flying Propaganda Machine Will Blow Your Mind

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July 18 (Bloomberg) -- What’s the latest weapon in the Chinese military’s arsenal of high-tech killing machines? It might be an airplane capable of disseminating propaganda so powerful it induces nervous breakdowns, according to report in Tuesday’s Global Times, a state-owned newspaper close to the military.

Detailed photos of the plane -- known as the Gaoxin VII -- circulated on the Chinese Internet in advance of the article, probably leaked by military sources eager to publicize the new aircraft. In the article, the Global Times neither confirms nor denies the plane’s existence. It does reprint the photos and provide a thorough inventory of the aircraft’s (theoretically) formidable capabilities:

“When carrying out a mission, the airplane will use its own ‘programs’ to forcefully overpower enemy television stations, radio stations and wireless communication networks, interfere with the enemy’s propaganda dissemination programs, affect the enemy’s military-civilian morale, and create rumors and confusion, thus causing the enemy, from government to everyday citizens, to have ‘nervous breakdowns’ and achieving their goal of rendering them helpless and unable to fight.”

In other words: One moment you’re sitting at home watching CNN, and the next you’re a basket case because your television is locked on a steady stream of Chinese Communist Party propaganda.

It’s entirely possible that the Global Times -- hardly a paragon of journalistic integrity -- got the story wrong, and the Gaoxin VII isn’t designed to induce nervous collapse. It’s also possible, probable in fact, that Chinese Communist propaganda can’t induce such a fit.

Some of the photos suggest the plane is really just designed to effectively drop leaflets. Whatever its purpose, the idea of such a breakdown-inducing aircraft has certainly gained the attention of Chinese microbloggers -- most of whom have spent their lives being fed a steady diet of Chinese propaganda (while still, as far as we know, staying conscious and healthy).

The Global Times’s story has been tweeted and re-tweeted tens of thousands of times on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging service -- and very rarely with admiration. “Hegemony just around the corner,” tweeted a microblogger in Guangdong province. “According to reports, Obama has drafted his surrender,” wrote another in Beijing.

Perhaps the most cutting response came from the Sina Weibo account operated by People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party (People’s Daily also happens to own the Global Times). Neither the paper nor its microblogging account is known for humor, much less a willingness to poke fun at the People’s Liberation Army. So this tweet, sent late Tuesday night, is unusual (if only as an act of blatant trolling):

“What do you think will be the most effective means for the Gaoxin VII to induce nervous breakdowns in the enemy? A. Pretend that you’ve captured the enemy’s classified information. B. Drop leaflets on the enemy. C. Create signals that deceive and confuse enemy radar systems. D_____.”

The answers left in the comment section vary. Seemingly the most popular, with some variation in form, suggests a constant replay of China Central Television’s carefully managed, propaganda-laden evening news program. In the words of one user, “After one week of it and the Global Times, they’ll definitely kill themselves.”

(Adam Minter is the Shanghai correspondent for the World View blog and a contributor to the Ticker. Follow him on Twitter.)