This paper will be included in the edited volume Nationalism, War and Sacrifice:
Mao’s Martyrs: Revolutionary Heroism, Sacrifice, and
China’s Tragic Romance of the Korean War
University of Idaho
This article describes how—through the ideal of revolutionary heroism— Communist ideology promoted a wartime culture of patriotism and sacrifice. According to Communist theory, revolutionary heroism was the opposite of individual heroism: while individual heroism focused on personal fame and self-interest, revolutionary heroism emphasized ideals and actions revolving around daring to fight—and eventually give one’s life—for a cause in which one believed. Revolutionary heroism implied a sacrifice for the public interest and for the masses.
Once the war in Korea started, the Communist regime wasted no time generating massive popular support for war efforts. The enthusiasm and inspiration sparked feelings of national unity and the people’s determination to make sacrifice for the cause. While popular support called the war “a holy struggle”, official propaganda made the war a crusade for victory over American imperialism. National unity, confidence, determination and indignation were translated into the actions of massive monetary donation, high working spirit, flaunting patriotism and positive responses to military recruitment. Successful propaganda was able to unite the entire population behind the nation’s war effort. Love of the homeland and hatred toward U.S. imperialism were transformed into a massive willingness to contribute whatever little wealth the Chinese had, as well as much greater manpower, for the greater national interests.
Zhu shows that since its foundation, the Chinese Communist Party has upheld the tradition of revolutionary martyrs giving their lives for the cause of a brighter future for a Communist China. The Communist authority enshrined the ideal of revolutionary heroism into their particular wartime culture of patriotism and sacrifice. The military seemed to remain in high spirits, having the entire nation behind them. In every corner of the homeland, young people from all walks of life, including many college students, rushed to military recruiting stations to register. Reportedly, about 3 million young men and women joined the CPV forces. In public rallies, in factories and from farmlands, enthusiastic Chinese patriotically sent their youngsters off to war in Korea.
The Korean War provided a great opportunity for every Chinese, soldiers or not, to embrace the spirit of revolutionary heroism. The soldiers lived up to their countrymen’s expectations. Reports from the Korean warfront seemed to speak highly and positively of their campaigns. “The Most Beloved People” became the synonym for the soldiers. A glorious symbol of revolutionary heroism was reconstructed in front of the entire nation, who believed that sheer mass of people willing to sacrifice can defeat any technologically advanced enemy. This ancient idea that warriors, “because of their godliness and virtue, can vanquish strong opponents,” was shared by many Chinese. This article suggests that the idea—that soldiers willing to sacrifice for the ‘sacred’ goal can defeat any enemy—has been prevalent in many cultural contexts, from Islamic Jihadists to Japanese Samurai and German Nazis.