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The original People's Republic of Tyranny, China played a fair amount of roles as the Big Bad during part of The Cold War--afterward, portrayal has tended to move towards that of an international Anti-Hero, of the Lawful Neutral sort--although given Values Dissonance, it sometimes could qualify as Chaotic Neutral instead.

Following the Communist Revolution of 1949, the Kuomintang gang went to Taiwan and set up a government, meaning mainland China became Communist. The prior regime were no saints themselves--Chiang Kai Shek marked his rise to power in China with a massacre of his opponents, and courted fascism; China was receiving Nazi advisors up until World War II, when Germany withdrew them so as not to work against its Japanese allies--and were not exactly seen as such by the Western media--China and Asia in general had long been vilified in popular culture--but they were seen as a lesser evil, partially due to alliance in World War II, and partially due to the fact that they were unlikely to aid the Soviet Union in international disputes.

Therefore, Red China became a recurrent villain in Cold War literature; not as common as the Soviet Union, but definitely there, with the addition of the traditional mystique that Asian cultures have always been steeped in. It probably is no exaggeration to say that Red China was the Cold War-era successor to WWII's Imperial Japan in villain roles, in the same way that the Soviet Union was the successor to Those Wacky Nazis.

The portrayal of Communist China can be roughly divided into two periods:

Red and Nasty (1949 to c.1979)

Fu Manchu meets Dirty Communists (or Yellow Peril meets Red Scare), to a very large extent. The Chinese are sneaky and crafty, like to brainwash people (the term was invented in China) and generally trying to subvert Western freedom. Will team up with the USSR at times.

The main cause of this was The Korean War - while the Soviets were not (obviously) attacking UN forces, which included the US and the UK, the Chinese most certainly were.

Red and Rich (c.1979 onward)

Not so much Dirty Communists here, although you will get Renegade Chinese. China becomes a rich, well-developed country, but still prone to torture and general international shadiness, although not on pre-79 levels. Many things are still Banned in China, though usually available through bootlegged media. Also notice that since China has lately acquired a huge potential as a consumer market for Western media, it makes almost no business sense to offend their powerful censorship by casting China as the villain.

Why 1979, you may ask? Though China did start to open to the world in 1972 after Richard Nixon visited China, Mao Ze Dong had a stranglehold on power until his death in 1976, and supported the most radical politics in China. Immediately after he died, those radical elements were arrested, and Deng Xiaoping made a grab for control of the Party. The economic reforms he implemented starting in 1978 turned China from a sclerotic command economy into a supercharged powerhouse.

Sometimes, Red China Takes Over the World.

Incidentally, red is also a traditional color of China, predating Marxism.

Examples of Red China include:


Comic Books

  • The original founding story of Iron Man.
  • In one of their adventures, Spirou and Fantasio sneak into China to free an American scientist who was held prisoner in a secret facility. However, the Chinese aren't depicted as outright villains, even though they definitely are the antagonists.
  • Played with in Les Innommables: the Chinese Communists are depicted as utterly merciless and depraved, but the main character's love interest is a fanatically loyal Communist agent. And the other sides aren't depicted in a much more favorable light either.

Film

  • Goldfinger is of the first type.
    • In You Only Live Twice, Blofeld is implied to be working for Red China.
    • Notably averted in Tomorrow Never Dies. That is, China exists as a possible enemy, but Wai Lin and Bond never really discuss or debate politics. Both China and the UK were being manipulated into war by a third party, and in the end the villain was exposed, his own forces destroyed, and everyone just went home.
  • The Dark Knight
  • The first version of The Manchurian Candidate.
  • The film Red Corner with Richard Gere was all over this trope (hence the film name).

Literature

  • Matt Helm series by Donald Hamilton. Mr. Soo was an Red Chinese agent specializing in scientific espionage and sabotage. He appeared in The Menacers and The Poisoners, and was mentioned in The Interlopers.
  • The James Bond novel Colonel Sun
  • In the Alex Rider series, Red China is briefly implied to have been The Man Behind the Man (or at least one of) in regards to Herod Sayle, though it turned out it was Scorpia.
  • Dreams of Joy, the sequel to Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, takes place during the Great Leap Forward and is about a Chinese-American girl who goes to China to meet her long lost father.

Live-Action TV

  • 24 has Jack Bauer attack the Chinese Consulate in Season Four, where the Consul is shot in the crossfire. At the end of Season Five, Jack is kidnapped by Chinese agents and put on a slow boat to China. He is returned at the beginning of Season Six.

Video Games

  • Fallout. Just Fallout. The Red Chinese are THE Dirty Commies in Falloutverse.
    • It is unspecified whether China underwent its late-20th and early-21st Century reforms in the Fallout Universe, but the US propaganda still basically treats them as Dirty Communists.
  • One of the factions you can work for in Mercenaries and its sequel.
    • Although which category the Chinese faction falls into is never really specified, as they seem to take a vaguely nationalistic stance, if anything. However, they support the populist and presumably Marxist La Résistance and are willing to butt heads with the West, so the first form is at least implied.
  • Receive a cursory mention in World in Conflict when you are told Red China has entered the war on the same side as the Soviet Union, with the Chinese army on its way to Seattle. Best not to think too hard about how the late 1980s Chinese army intended to accomplish that.
  • Command and Conquer Generals features, oddly enough, a combination of the two varieties. Chinese society is clearly of the second type, which makes sense, as the game takes place (unlike all the other Command & Conquer games) in our timeline during the 2020s, but their military, with its tactics and units, is based inaccurately on that of the first type, and is considered so hyperbolic that the game was actually Banned in China.
    • Not that it is seen in the game but the background mentions that China's new generation leaders enacted a whole set of reforms and civil liberties. It still has the traces of authoritarianism but there is an implication that by 2020s China is a relatively free society with a militaristic bent like the United States, making it a wholly different type.

Works set in China during the Red and Nasty period:

  • Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress is about two college students sent to a remote village during the Cultural Revolution.
  • Farewell my Concubine by Chen Kaige features several scenes set during the Cultural Revolution.
  • To Live by Zhang Yimou depicts the vicissitudes of an ordinary family from the 1930s to the 1980s.

Works set in China during the Red and Rich period:

  • China Blue is a documentary about the working conditions in China's textile industry.
  • Last Train Home is a documentary about a family of migrant workers.
  • The second half of Durian Durian is set in Northeastern China.
  • Most of the films by independent director Jia Zhangke deal with life in China since the beginning of the Red and Rich period:
    • Xiao Wu (小武) is about a pickpocket whose small-time criminality is becoming anachronistic in a city where high-level corruption runs rampant,
    • Platform ( 站台) is about a small band of performers trying to adjust to the economic and societal changes,
    • The World ( 世界) is about the employees of a tacky theme park near Beijing,
    • Still Life (三峡好人) is about people evicted from their homes by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.
  • The Orphan of Anyang (安阳婴儿) by Wang Chao is about a laid-off factory worker who adopts an abandoned baby and shacks up with a Hooker with a Heart of Gold.
  • She, a Chinese by Guo Xiaolu follows a disaffected young Chinese woman from rural Sichuan to Chongqing, and from there to London.
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