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What on earth is happening at this bizarre Chinese summer camp, where kids get to bayonet straw dolls dressed as Japanese soldiers and fire off mortars?

Matthew Loh   

What on earth is happening at this bizarre Chinese summer camp, where kids get to bayonet straw dolls dressed as Japanese soldiers and fire off mortars?
  • A video on Twitter has been gaining attention with clips of young Chinese kids bayoneting dummies.
  • The footage shocked users, who are worried about China indoctrinating children with war rhetoric.

Learning to bayonet a straw doll is apparently key to a well-rounded childhood, at least in the eyes of some parents in China.

A video of young Chinese children throwing mock grenades, firing a mini anti-tank launcher, and learning how to use mortars recently surfaced on Twitter.

The video started getting more attention after it was re-posted in a May 21 tweet by US-based Chinese activist Jennifer Zeng. It opens with a striking clip of small kids stabbing a row of straw dolls with toy bayonets.

The tots are wearing bright red hats with yellow words — in typical Communist Party style — and the dummies are clad in Japanese World War II uniforms, in reference to a continued Chinese grudge against Japan for its invasion decades ago.

There's a lot happening in the video. The kids ride in a small vehicle painted like a military personnel carrier and aim toy rifles with scopes at a faux firing range.

"China has almost perished! The people of Hunan will be the first to perish!" a man yells, accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack. The audio comes from "My Chief and My Regiment," a popular 2009 Chinese TV show about the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Another man is then heard shouting: "The day the Japanese pirates are eradicated is the day my son returns home! Mount your horses and kill the enemy! Those are the true colors of a man!"

That line comes from another Chinese show about the war, 2010's "Snow Leopard."

It's not immediately clear who edited the audio into the clips, but the video certainly takes a hostile tone, especially in light of Chinese leader Xi Jinping's continued emphasis on preparing his nation for war and worsening US-China relations.

Military-themed summer camps: A common sight in China

The footage is likely from a children's summer camp in Shaoyang, Hunan, called Red Sun.

Its account on Douyin, China's version of TikTok, shows a facility almost identical to the grounds in the video.

Kids at Red Sun are also shown bayoneting the same straw dolls, throwing mock grenades, and riding in similar vehicles in other posts.

Red Sun, like many other military-themed camps or theme parks commonly found in China, offers team-building and physical activities for children aged six to 16.

A lot of it looks like a kid's army dream come true, but the camps also promise to teach children habits such as folding clothes, and skills like identifying gun parts or assembling mortar shells.

Some kids are even sent into the forest to pretend that they're sweeping for mines. A 2023 promotional video shows children in combat gear costumes marching and playing laser tag.

When the kids aren't learning to stab dummies, moms also get a chance to fire mock anti-tank launchers, and one video features a bunch of retirees playing around with the toys at the camp.

No one is amused — even on Weibo, China's version of Twitter

Fighting Japan doesn't appear to be a central element of Red Sun's programs, but there's plenty of national pride infused in its programs.

On Weibo, China's heavily moderated version of Twitter, footage of the anti-Japan video has drawn mixed reactions.

"I don't know if the organizer's intention is to make these children, who should enjoy a happy childhood, hate the people of one country. Their world should be full of love and kindness," one user wrote. They were promptly blasted in the comments for appearing to advocate that China go easy on Japan, despite the two countries fraught histories.

A prominent Chinese blogger named Zhou Bin applauded the camp for allowing the kids to fight Japanese soldiers.

"We should be aware that our ancestors have paid a lot of precious life and blood and sweat for peace and development, so that we can live a happy life like today," he wrote.

The response on Twitter has been far less supportive. "Chinese militarism in children's education," tweeted The Great Translation Movement, an account that observes happenings in China.

"China is fascist," wrote another.