The Battle at Lake ChangjinSHIN KYUNG-JIN
The author is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“When the name is not right, the words become impure, work is not done and courtesy and music do not thrive.” Confucius emphasized the importance of having the right name for his disciple Zilu. I was reminded of Confucius’ saying after watching the Chinese movie “The Battle at Lake Changjin,” or the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, on Oct. 1.
The film claims that the 1950-53 Korean War was “a war against the United States to help North Korea and protect home and country.” Around the 70th anniversary of the war last year, there was a flood of related films and dramas about the war in China. Veterans were awarded the Order of the Republic. They all emphasize that it was a war against America.
But the description is wrong. No matter how revisionist scholars argue that the date of the beginning of the war is not important, the fact that North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, does not change. After watching the war in the early stage, the Chinese forces crossed the Yalu River to intervene as the situation changed with the participation of the United Nations forces, not the U.S. forces.
Before the 1970s, China used to call the war a “war to resist U.S. aggression and aid North Korea,” and the Chinese forces fought in the war as “People’s Volunteer Army,” said 69-year-old Wang Shuzeng, who was the history advisor for the movie. He practically admitted it was not the proper name for the Korean War.
Then why are they bringing up the war with the U.S. now? Through the 176 minutes of the movie, I heard the Chinese audience sniffling many times, especially when an artillery platoon commander (played by Hu Jun) dies in battle. The movie alternately shows the Chinese forces armed with only rifles and the U.S. Air Force’s bombers. The bloody scenes of bombings were enough to make Chinese people angry and antagonistic. It was a mental training for the young people who are called “Generation N,” after “nationalism.”
Moreover, the Communist Party of China last October resolved to realize the “challenge goals for the centennial of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army” in 2027. In July, the Politburo group study renewed the vow. Its contents are secret. Experts interpret it as taking back Taiwan. The antagonism the blockbuster movie ignites in the hearts of 1.4 billion Chinese people is to engulf Taiwan.
The problem is Korea. On June 27, 1950, the U.S. 7th Fleet blocked the Taiwan Strait to prevent the war from spreading over to the strait between China and Taiwan and escalating into two wars. Similarly, the cross-Strait issue is intertwined with the Korean Peninsula. Less than six years are left until the 100th year of founding of the Chinese Forces. That’s why we can’t lightly watch Chinese state-run media and Generation N’s hymn for “The Battle at Lake Changjin.”