‘Grandpa, what are spies?’ Cartoon urges Chinese children to be on alert
National Security Law requires national security to be part of children’s education
A boy watches his father email photographs of Chinese warships to an overseas magazine when his grandfather storms in, brandishing a newspaper article about spying.
“Grandpa, what are spies?” the boy asks.
“Spies are those sent by enemies to collect information about us,” his grandfather replies with a stern face. “In peaceful times, the information is used to damage our development. In wartime it can kill numerous compatriots.”
That’s the plot of a cartoon viewed by young Chinese children in the past month to prepare them for what the government says is a growing espionage threat.
The video is part of an online course launched by the state-run Chinese Society of Education last month to remind youngsters of their duty to safeguard the country.
There are two videos, one designed for primary pupils and one for secondary pupils, and the course also includes a quiz featuring questions like “what number should you dial when you spot spying activities?”
In the video for secondary school pupils, actors and actresses demonstrate three kinds of espionage: leaking government data, taking photos of a military base for foreign spies, and breaches of cybersecurity protocols.
Children are told the law requires citizens to report such acts to intelligence and security officers.
The stories mirror espionage cases reported by state media.
Two Chinese men were jailed in 2015 for selling military secrets, such as photos of the Liaoning aircraft carrier, to foreign spies. A Japanese news outlet then published detailed photos of the aircraft carrier last year, prompting a Chinese military newspaper to call for tighter counter-espionage efforts.
An official notice said the new material complied with China’s National Security Law, which requires national security to be part of children’s education.
The notice says all schools in a “safety education pilot scheme” should arrange for their pupils to watch the video with their parents and to complete the quiz online.
It is unclear how many people have accessed the materials, but the pilot scheme covers major cities including Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
A staff member at the Chinese Society of Education who was charge of the campaign said she was not authorised to speak to the media.
Some social media users have said the videos reminded them of the Cultural Revolution, when people were encouraged to turn in friends and relatives who were “counter-revolutionaries”.
“Little has changed after 40 years,” a Weibo user said on Sunday, posting screenshots of the cartoon.
Since becoming Communist Party leader in 2012, President Xi Jinping has stepped up warnings about national security threats such as subversion, terrorism and religious extremism.
Over the past five years, Beijing enacted a slew of laws covering national security, anti-terrorism, counter-espionage, cybersecurity and intelligence work.
Xi also chairs the powerful National Security Commission, which he founded in 2013 to strengthen centralised control of various security organs.
In April last year, the government marked the first National Security Education Day, circulating posters that showed a foreign man seducing a young Chinese woman to get her to spy for him.