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PLA marches on social media to gain public support

(People's Daily Online)    17:20, May 21, 2018

Glorious Mission, the first online, military-themed video game released by the People's Liberation Army.

A recruitment video filled with rap lyrics and sci-fi weaponry, patriotic cartoons featuring endearing animal characters and computer games teaching the public to understand basic military skills – the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been adopting creative approaches to introduce itself to the world, gaining ground in the global military publicity arena.

On Sunday, PLA Ground Forces launched their official Wechat and Sina Weibo accounts, making it the second Chinese military force to join social media after the PLA Air Forces made their online debut back in 2015. The Weibo account has attracted over 250,000 followers in just one day, while the video clip showcasing PLA’s combat capabilities has garnered over 20 million views as of press time.

PLA Ground Forces launched its Sina Weibo account on May 20th.

Subverting traditionally distant attitudes towards the public, PLA has attached great importance to its online presence, communicating with the public on a regular basis in recent years.

“Guiding and regulating Internet public opinion is a crucial task for the PLA. It is important and urgent to study the possibility of constructing PLA’s own online publicity team,” Ma Hongbin, secretary of the political department of PLA Rocket Force, said in his article published in Military Journalists Magazine.

Echoing Ma, a Beijing-based military expert who asked for anonymity, told the People’s Daily Online that Internet technologies have posed both opportunities and challenges for PLA, pushing it to create better ties with the public and the world.

Social media battlefield

Following China’s swift development of cyber technologies, social media has become a publicity force to be reckoned with. In 2015, while visiting PLA Daily’s headquarters, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed the importance of innovation in the Internet era, asking the paper to follow the trend of cyber development. Xi also posted an update on the paper’s Weibo account, encouraging armed forces to making new contributions to build a stronger military.

According to an international statistics portal, four Chinese social media platforms are among the world’s top ten most popular social networks in 2018, while Sina Weibo has overtaken Twitter in terms of user numbers.

This new reality, along with PLA’s military reform, has urged the world’s largest army to march on social media for more publicity. As of press time, PLA Daily has over 15 million followers, while the number for China’s Ministry of National Defense is more than 5.8 million.

Patriotic cartoon Year Hare Affair.

In addition to its presence on social media, PLA has also embraced new technologies and methods to introduce itself to the world. In a recruitment music video published in 2016, the military authorities allowed military personnel to sing and dance in rap-style, attracting millions of viewers who supported the creative move. The PLA has also cooperated with animation companies to create patriotic cartoons, such as Year Hare Affair, a Chinese cartoon using animals as an allegory for nations to present military events in history, which has garnered over 230 million page-views on Sina Weibo.

Though PLA has made great progress in the social media battlefield, experts noted that PLA military officials and soldiers are yet to play their part in the army’s online promotion, as army rules have banned military individuals from using social media.

Unlike the U.S., which published an All Army Activities message in 2017 to encourage soldiers to wisely and lawfully use social media for better military propaganda, PLA has forbidden its soldiers from using social media in fear of information leakage, though there are signs of the ban relaxing. In May, PLA has issued new military rules, unprecedentedly allowing soldiers to use WeChat and QQ.

“The new decision was made to comply with the development of the Internet, as well as satisfying soldiers’ needs,” said Wu Qian, spokesperson of the ministry of national defense, who also stressed the importance of securing military information and data. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Kou Jie, Bianji)

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