Truck Bearing Armaments Sets Off Nerves in China

April 5, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Screenshot of artillery shells truck in the Enshi Evening News
The article from Enshi Evening News was later deleted, before being reposted widely. (Screenshot from site)

A truck traveling from Chongqing was intercepted in Hubei Province on April 1 by traffic police and was found to be carrying over 10,000 artillery shells. Major Chinese news portals carried a terse update on the news on the evening of April 5 local time, with an emphasis that everything was normal. In the current political climate, readers of the news were not inclined to believe that.

The first report by Enshi Evening News, in Hubei Province where the truck was intercepted, said that a red truck was carrying 12,033 artillery shells on the Huyu Expressway, near Lichuan City. The truck was intercepted and detained, while the Lichuan City Public Security Bureau carried out an investigation.

Citing local police sources, the piece said that the truck—presumably a semi-trailer, though they share the same term in Chinese—had sealed shipping containers with signs saying “volatile material” on the side, with fluorescent strips. They thought it suspicious and proceeded to investigate, finding that the “volatile material” consisted of explosive artillery shells and armor piercing bullets. There were 236 boxes and 12,033 shells, for a total of over 10 tonnes of ammunition, the article said.

Click this tag or to read about the most recent developments in the ongoing power struggle within the Chinese communist regime. Intra-CCP politics are a challenge to make sense of, even for veteran China watchers. Here we attempt to provide readers with the necessary context to understand the situation. Get the RSS feed. Get the Timeline of Events. Who are the Major Players?Chinese Regime in Crisis RSS Feed

Police interrogated the driver, who was apparently unaware that he was transporting weaponry. He said that a company from Chongqing asked him to deliver the containers to Jilin.

The April 1 report was followed by another, of a single sentence, on April 5, saying that it was a “normal military shipment” and has been allowed to pass. The update was republished on major Chinese Internet portals, including NetEase. The original report in Enshi Evening News was deleted.

Incorrigible netizens began deconstructing almost every conceivable element of the event and the reportage on it. 

For example, the grammar chosen by Internet portals in reporting the news was said to have used the passive tense, in order not to seem as though they were instigating rumors. The differences in headlines were analyzed.

A user calling themselves “Female High School Student” said that “China controls armaments more strictly than any other country, an ordinary businessman does not have the capability or nerve to acquire them,” and noted previous rumors that Wang Lijun, under orders from Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, was establishing a private armed force. 

He Qinglian, an economist and scholar who has written a book on media control in China, wrote on Twitter that news from Chongqing is being overanalyzed in the current political atmosphere.

Netizens did not seem fazed. Dozens of remarks returned to the theme of “rebellion” or Bo’s supposed private army.

The fact that the news was reported at all is unusual, especially in the current political climate. But the actual significance of the weapon transport, the types of weapons, and the circumstances of their capture, is all difficult to evaluate, according to experts. “There might be some particular purpose to having these reports out right now,” says Wen Zhao, a commentator with the New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television. “The news itself is hard to evaluate.”

With reporting by Ariel Tian.