The U.S. Navy is partly to thank (or blame).
It's a sign of the apocalypse -- or just trouble finding recruits. On July 27, China's Ministry of Defense promoted on its homepage a video showing members of its armed forces, collectively called the People's Liberation Army (PLA), dancing to "Little Apple," a popular Chinese love song created by two music producers who call themselves the "Chopstick Brothers."
The video, which was featured just days before the August 1 anniversary of the PLA's founding, is a good-natured but somewhat awkward affair. Perhaps to showcase the collective might of the PLA, soldiers from seemingly every branch of the Chinese armed forces dance to the tune, interspersed with cutaways of fighter jets performing barrel rolls and firing missiles, soldiers lifting weights, sailors operating a submersible, tanks firing ordinance, and what looks like a member of the special forces firing on a paper target in the outline of a human being. Threaded through the video are clunky words of encouragement that read as if they were straight out of a Communist Party-run newspaper, such as this gem: "Every youth once had a dream that shone forth the glory of their struggle." A number of the cutaways appear to have been cribbed from other sources. Here's the video:
The clip, from central Shaanxi province, is among dozens of regional entrants in a nationwide competition by a PLA evidently eager for fresh bodies. Nationwide recruitment statistics are difficult to come by, but a June 2014 article in the liberal Beijing News paraphrased a city official as saying the number of eligible recruits from the capital was shrinking. By Chinese law, men are required to serve in the military after reaching age 18 -- unless they go to college. China's growing ranks of college students and graduates have the option to serve for two years, but it's voluntary; and these are the people the PLA now says it hopes to attract. That's why, according to the Beijing News article, requirements for this year's recruiting season, which ends September 30, were relaxed, while payments to soldiers sent into service and financial aid for discharged military personnel were sweetened. Even tattoos -- once taboo in the PLA -- have now been allowed, if they are small.
To some extent, Chinese fans of the video have the U.S. military to thank. According to state-run Xinhua News Agency, Chang Chao, an officer who helped generate the idea for the featured video, inspiration came from a popular September 2012 clip in which members of the 22nd Company at the Annapolis-based United States Naval Academy dance to hit K-pop single Gangnam Style. But there's an evident enthusiasm gap between the two efforts, perhaps because, according to Chang, participants only had two nights to rehearse. At least their struggle to go viral is a glorious one.