As part of its campaign this month to raise awareness about “national security,” China’s Ministry of State Security has produced a poster warning Chinese about the supposed intelligence risks that come with getting romantically involved with foreigners.
The poster is drawn in a manga-like comic style, but the themes seem like something from the Cold War. In 16 panels, it depicts a scenario in which a young female Chinese civil servant begins dating a Caucasian foreign spy posing as a visiting scholar. The woman, nicknamed “Xiao Li” or “little Li,” inadvertently aids the spy’s intelligence work by providing him with sensitive documents.
Xiao Li is shown refusing to provide the spy with her workplace’s “internal references” at first, but then accepts when he excuses it as a valuable opportunity for his research. She then receives a visit from the police, who arrest her for aiding the enemy.
April 15—the day the poster appeared—is the date of China’s newly-created “National Security Education Day.” The poster itself is just one of over 100 promotional materials designed for the campaign. According to a notice posted on the official website of a Beijing district, the posters are required to be put on bulletin boards and community leaders will be trained in “knowledge of counter-espionage.”
The poster has some of the trappings of the political climate under chairman Mao Zedong (1949–1976), when the slightest interest in foreign culture or affairs could get one labeled as a spy.
See the full comic, panel by panel, below:
Friend: A friend from overseas is holding a gathering today. Didn’t you want to improve your foreign language skills? You should go with me.
Xiao Li: Sounds good.
David: I’m David. I’m a visiting scholar specializing in China research. I’m very eager to chatting with you all.
David: Let’s all introduce ourselves and our work. How about we start with this beautiful lady here?
Xiao Li: Ah, alright.
Xiao Li: I’m Xiao Li, I just finished university and got a job with the civil service. I work in an international propaganda department.
After that gathering, David began meeting Xiao Li and gave her gifts.
David: You are beautiful, warm, bright, and in fact I’ve liked you since we first met.
Xiao Li: A handsome, romantic, and capable foreign boyfriend…not bad!
A relationship develops between the two.
David: Dear, What specifically do you do at work?
Xiao Li: I’m responsible for composing “internal references” that form the basis for central policies.
David: That’s great! You can let me borrow those “internal references,” they’ll be really useful for my academic papers.
Xiao Li: No, we’re under a confidentially agreement.
David: Dear, do you have to keep any secrets from me? I just want to have a look for my research work.
Xiao Li: Uh, alright then.
Xiao Li: This is a copy I made. Once you’re done, give it back to me immediately.
David: It’s alright, dear.
Police officer: You’re Xiao Li, right? We’re with the State Administration of National Security. Please come with us.
Xiao Li: Eh? What’s the matter?
Police officer: David is a spy from overseas who has stolen political and military information. He’s already been apprehended by us. You provided him these “internal references,” correct?
Xiao Li: What?
Xiao Li: I’m didn’t know he was a spy, I was used by him!
Police officer: For a state employee, your understanding of secrecy is shallow. You’re suspected of violating our national laws.