Videos Produced for Western Media Provide Unprecedented Look at Chinese Forces.
Chinese state media outlet CGTN (China Global Television Network) has recently started an unprecedented campaign of documentary videos featuring Chinese military units. Some of the most interesting are of their rapidly expanding naval aviation program. The videos are specifically produced for English-speaking, western audiences and are distributed through outlets like YouTube.
China has historically been extremely guarded about depictions of their military, especially new programs, in the media. As with the former Soviet Union during the Cold War era, images and video of new Chinese military aviation programs were previously difficult to find and of generally poor quality. This new media trend by the state-sponsored news outlet is a significant shift in policy and messaging about China’s military. The shift accompanies other interesting changes in Chinese media depicting its military.
CGTN’s new military reports have been hosted by one of their most senior correspondents, Han Bin. Bin, who holds a Master’s degree in journalism from the prestigious Goldsmiths University in London, has been reporting on Chinese affairs since 1995. His assignment and leadership to this new era of Chinese defense journalism signals the government’s commitment and significance of the move to provide greater transparency to the Chinese military.
The shift in Chinese-produced military media seems to signal increased openness and leveraging of social media to shift the perception of the Chinese military from being an antiquated, largely Soviet-era influenced military to a modern, nationally-produced military of increasing sophistication. Many western critics remain cynical about China’s emerging capabilities, but more experienced analysts suggest China is making tangible strides in achieving parity with other world powers.
Along with recent news media, Chinese entertainment depictions of their military have also become increasingly transparent and sophisticated- and sensational in recent years, featuring greater visibility of their military aviation.
New Chinese film director Li Chen’s 2017 release of Sky Hunter from the state-sponsored Spring Era Films was made with the full cooperation of China’s military and supervised by Lieutenant Colonel Zhang Li as a technical director to assure “technical authenticity” in the film. CNN Asia’s Serenitie Wang quoted Chinese film producer Guan Yadi in a story when Sky Hunter was initially released. Yadi told CNN Asia’s Wang, “It’s impossible for the air force in any other country to work as closely with movie making as this one.” The movie has been frequently compared to the American blockbuster Top Gun and even features a musical score by famous U.S. composer Hans Zimmer who produced the theme for Blackhawk Down. It’s main theme song is a Chinese ode to Kenny Loggin’s Danger Zone and translates to the English title, “Chasing Dream with Childlike Heart”.
From a critical perspective, Sky Hunter rivals its western inspiration, Top Gun in everything from effects to storyline, it is about as good, about as corny. It also provides an exciting first look at a lot of Chinese military aviation equipment, such as the new J-20 “Mighty Dragon” low-observable interceptor, the J-11 multirole tactical aircraft and the H-6K long range bomber.
In February 2018, China also released the movie, Operation Red Sea, very loosely based on the 2015 Chinese rescue of 825 civilians from the southern port of Aden in war torn Yemen. The movie was a smash hit in China, and has already grossed well over a half-billion U.S. dollars. It has also received critical acclaim as an action movie comparable to the western Black Hawk Down. Both Operation Red Sea and Sky Hunter are distributed in western media by streaming outlets Amazon Prime and NetFlix.