China's Psychological Warfare

By Murray, Laura K. | Military Review, September/October 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

China's Psychological Warfare


Murray, Laura K., Military Review


IN THE SUMMER OF 1997, the eyes of the world were on Hong Kong as China assumed control over the former crown colony. How China handles the transition there is widely viewed as a preview of what might happen if China achieves its long-term goal of "reunification" with Taiwan. Increased Chinese defense spending since the late 1980s has purchased advanced arms from Russia and developed advanced domestic systems and platforms. Further, more aggressive military activities claiming disputed territories in the Spratly islands exercises apparently intended to bully Taiwan have heightened regional anxiety.1

Over the past decade, China has emerged as a significant player in virtually every arena of international competition. However, key events during this period, especially the prodemocracy movement in China in 1989, the strong performance of the allies in the Gulf War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, have significantly influenced Chinese leaders. Chinese national strategy seeks to build "comprehensive national strength" by enhancing China's international standing, improving weapons and telecommunications and promoting continued economic development, while maintaining internal stability.2 For Chinese leaders, these objectives do not permit challenges to China's sovereignty or the internal authority of the Communist Party. Further, China seeks to ensure the widest possible latitude in trade, aid, diplomacy and military activity that will enhance its aims.3

As China grows militarily and economically, its leaders will have an increasingly credible arsenal to enforce policy objectives. Interpreting China's statements and actions in the international arena and developing the most appropriate responses are vitally important. Yet clearly understanding China's intentions is often difficult, obscured by differences in language, history, culture and ideology.

This article examines elements of Chinese propaganda and public diplomacy that may have contributed to that lack of understanding, particularly the various deception and perception management programs China has used to gain advantage on sensitive issues. Current Chinese procedures encompass ideas from premodern Chinese views of strategy and statecraft, world view of modem totalitarianism, experience of communist leaders as they rose to power and more recent experiences meeting domestic and international challenges since the start of economic reform. Recent publications have also shown that China is interested in using psychological warfare to incorporate traditional strategic approaches, exploit the power of modem communications technology and support national policy objectives across diplomatic, economic and military spheres.

Historical Perspectives

China's premodern historical tradition produced extensive writings on military strategy. The best known by far is The Art of War, attributed to Sun Tzu, a 5th-century B.C. nobleman who lived in what is now Shandong Province. This widely read work emphasizes that the preferred strategy of all warfare is manipulating the enemy to create an opportunity for easy victory without combat. Sun Tzu advised that attacking the enemy's strategy is the best way to achieve victory, attacking his alliances is next, attacking his troops is next and attacking his fortified cities is the worst.' Modem Chinese sources often paraphrase the concept, "It is better to attack the enemy's mind than to attack his fortified cities," and it is considered the traditional origin of psychological warfare.' But achieving victory without combat requires careful planning, a prosperous and contented populace that fully supports the state, well-trained and highly disciplined troops and absolute secrecy within alliances and during operations. If a military campaign is required, it should seek to achieve its goals with minimum risk, destruction and suffering.6

The ability to use deception skillfully is a highly prized characteristic of a leader.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

China's Psychological Warfare
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?