The highest-grossing movie of 2021 wasn’t the latest Marvel movie or James Bond flick — it was a propaganda film produced by the Chinese Communist Party.
The movie has been lauded by the Chinese government as a rousing, patriotic story about the Chinese army overcoming the evil American capitalists out of sheer will and determination, and it has even been defended by Western media outlets. But when you really look at the facts surrounding the battle, the film actually depicts what should be considered a national embarrassment for the People’s Republic.
The Battle at Lake Changjin, commissioned by the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party, has made almost $900 million at the box office since it was released in late September. It is currently the highest grossing film in Chinese history, the highest grossing film of 2021 and the highest grossing non-English film ever. The movie depicts the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir between Chinese and American troops during the Korean War.
By November 1950, United Nations forces, primarily made up of American and South Korean troops, had reversed North Korea’s gains since the beginning of the war in June. They had almost liberated the entire peninsula from communist control when China, wary of a fully democratic and united Korea on its border, launched a surprise attack to help the North Koreans.
U.N. intelligence on Chinese forces in Korea was poor, and the allied forces continued their advance toward the Chinese border after initial skirmishes with Chinese troops. The U.S. X Corps moved to occupy the area around the strategically important Chosin Reservoir — unaware that a massive Chinese army was in the area.
Not expecting a major attack, the U.N. force, around 30,000, had positioned itself in a vulnerable position. They had split their forces between the east and west sides of the reservoir, not taken the high ground around the lake, not adequately guarded the only two roads out of the valley and had not properly scouted the area for enemy forces.
On November 27, the Chinese army, numbering over 120,000 men, surrounded the U.N. positions and attacked. After over a week of heavy fighting amid sub-zero temperatures, the U.N. troops fell back to a small village located on one of the roads out of the valley to prepare for a breakout attempt. Attack after attack launched by the Chinese to stop the breakout was repulsed, and on December 6 the allied troops began their breakout along a series of treacherous mountain passes and bridges in the face of entrenched Chinese positions. The U.N. forces finally reached the relative safety of the port of Hungnam on December 11.
Over 7,000 Americans, almost 3,000 South Koreans and 78 British Marines were killed, wounded or captured during the battle. An additional 7,000 Americans were victims of the brutally cold weather, which dipped to around -36 degrees Fahrenheit. Chinese losses were even worse, with the People’s Liberation Army suffering between 50,000 and 60,000 casualties during the battle.
To recap, the Chinese outnumbered the allied troops 4-to-1, held the high ground, completely surrounded their enemy, cut off their only means of escape, lost almost half their army and still weren’t able to destroy the U.S. forces. The Chinese had every advantage except for airpower, and it is a testament to the tenacity of their enemy and the incompetence of their leaders that they were unable to claim full victory.
So, in reality, the film should be about the heroic stand of outnumbered and surrounded U.S. and allied troops who fought their way out of one of the most savage battles of the Korean War against all odds.
But pesky facts haven’t stopped the Chinese from touting both the film and the battle as a triumph over the United States.
And the self-loathing Western media wasted no time in parroting the narrative. The BBC toed the line and described the film as “a story of Chinese soldiers defeating American troops despite great odds.” The Washington Post, which has been paid millions of dollars to run Chinese propaganda on its site, ran with the headline, “Americans vanquished, China triumphant: 2021’s hit war epic doesn’t fit Hollywood script.”
Forbes dabbled in a bit of whataboutism to defend the film from critics, claiming “It’s arguably no more jingoistic, at least until the final montage, than (offhand) Pearl Harbor or We Were Soldiers.” Yes, the propaganda film used to promote a regime that is actively herding religious minorities into concentration camps and forcibly sterilizing them is no different than patriotic American war classics.
Malaysia, in a commendable display of good sense, decided to ban the film entirely because of its promotion of communism. The West should take a page from a country that fought a twenty-year communist guerilla insurgency and knows firsthand how unheroic the ideology really is.
The Chinese flim industry is distributing blatant propaganda that ranks up there with Triumph of the Will in distorting facts, but so is leftist Hollywood. Thoroughly discredited pseudohistories like the 1619 Project have inspired studios to produce historical films and T.V. shows that “reimagine” the past with a “modern,” i.e. leftist, perspective. It’s basically impossible to watch a piece of media set in a historical period without being strangled by painfully on the nose messages about racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. until the end of time.
Chinese propaganda is applauded and defended by Western critics, but any movie that shows even a bit of earnestness or pride about American history is derided as “problematic” or “whitewashing” history because it doesn’t point out every single little flaw about the time period it’s depicting.
As Hollywood spirals further into mindless popcorn fare and Oscar-baiting struggle sessions masquerading as films, China is getting serious about fighting the global culture war. The Chinese film industry could one day eclipse Hollywood in both profit and influence, and if we don’t act now to promote a more positive vision of America to the world and, more importantly, our own people, China might be able to turn the Battle of Chosin Reservoir into a long-term victory for communism after all.
Hayden Daniel is the opinion editor at the Daily Caller.