Leaking State Secrets is Way Easier Than You Think

In the midst of the Chen Guangcheng story exploding, I came across this story ((Apologies, I don’t remember where I first saw it, probably via someone on Twitter)). It is not related to Chen Guangcheng, but it is so absurd that I thought it was worth sharing (and it’s been too long since we ran a translation anyway).

Translation: Fujian Man Sentenced for Filming Secret Military Plane

Mr. Huang, a disabled man from Yongtai, didn’t listen to the warnings of passers-by, and filmed and uploaded video of a military aircraft at the Jixu airport. Little did he know he was violating the law. Several days ago, the Yongtai Country Court found Huang guilty of intentionally leaking national secrets and sentenced him to one year and two months in prison, with a suspended sentence of 1.5 years.

In August of 2009, Huang was driving his cart to Cangshan district, to visit his son who was working in Huangshan. As he drove past Yixu airfield, he got curious, and used a digital camera to film an Yixu road sign, the airfield, and several military planes. As he was filming, a pedestrian warned him: “You can’t film that, they’ll arrest you,” but Huang didn’t care, and kept filming, in total filming for over one minute.

After he returned to Yongtai, he put the video onto his public [QQ, probably] space online, and titled the video: “On the way to Huangshan, Fuzhou, I passed Yixu airport military planes, and got very excited seeing them up close, because it was my first time seeing a plane, so I filmed them…” He also wrote: “I am not a spy!” Before it was deleted by the relevant organs, this video was viewed more than 15,000 times.

This video was appraised by the Air Force’s Fuzhou secrecy committee, and found three classified items and three secret items, constituting serious breaches of national and military security.

The Yongtai Court held that the accused Mr. Huang had violated regulations in the Protecting National Secrets Law, as he clearly knew that his video of Yixu airport related to classified military secrets, yet he still distributed it via the internet, which is serious enough to be considered intentional dissemination of state secrets. In light of his confession, his expression of regret, and his disability, the court handed down the aforementioned sentence.


Now, it goes without saying that Mr. Huang certainly had some opportunities to avoid his predicament here, but I still find it ridiculous. Warnings from a random pedestrian or no, was it so irrational for Huang to assume that secret military vehicles might be kept somewhere that isn’t visible to anyone passing by on the road? Might the authorities at least have posted a sign that said “No Photography” or something? Railroading some poor farmer who got excited at seeing army planes seems like a poor way to protect national security. I’m not a general ((Yes, my name is Custer, har har shut up.)) or anything, but if those planes were important military secrets, maybe they should be hidden? If a disabled man can stumble across them on his way to somewhere totally different, how secret could they really be?

The story reminds me of my own most recent brush with this kind of illogical mentality. Several weeks ago, I went to one of the Beijing offices that deals with petitioners to get a pickup shot for our film. It’s totally tangential, and I just needed a shot of the building, from the street, for a couple seconds — just enough to show that the place exists. Predictably, though, my footage was spiced up by a plainclothes officer who came running over and explained to me that I couldn’t take any pictures of the building because it was a national organ, and therefore a secret.

Of course I’m grateful that he was kind enough to turn that boring footage into something a bit more interesting, but the logic behind this baffles me. We’re talking about a gigantic building with a clear sign labeling what it is in the middle of one of the most populous cities on earth. It’s clearly labeled in online maps. It has its own official website. What damage could an exterior photograph of the building possibly do?

That’s not the point, of course. It’s all about control, not logic.

9 thoughts on “Leaking State Secrets is Way Easier Than You Think”

  1. Yeah, this story is absurd- but like you seem to have noticed, national security laws are clearly there to be abused. Particularly so for minorities, for example Tibetans are regularly sentenced for harming national security after simply mentioning that protests occurred in their hometowns to relatives or friends outside of China- even if the protests have already been picked up by national media or have been documented by photo or video evidence, all it takes is confirming that they happened. Compared to that filming a spy plane is legitimate spy shit, although I guess its slightly harder for Han Chinese to be hit by this particular charge.


  2. Hey, the petitioners’ office is really a secret place, they are running a very top secret program on space travel. I just went to their website and the date is 今天是 19112年5月1日 星期二… they thought no one was watching the website so late at night, and I caught them!


  3. The CCP is way ahead of the curve in terms of reverse psychology. They put “secret” things right out in the open, cuz who’s going to look there, right?

    The CCP and logic are mutually exclusive things.


  4. There are a lot of ways to unwittingly leak state secrets when government organs basically have “state secrets” tourettes. A reporter friend once called a local government bureau for some mundane budget information. DENIED! – that’s a state secret. China’s propaganda directives are also state secrets, so any of us who’ve ever forwarded CDT’s Directives from the Ministry of Truth are just as guilty as this farmer.


  5. I’d like to suggest a 周星馳 (Stephen Chow) movie called 國產零零柒 (“From BeiJing With Love”), in which a guy facing the death squad screams, “我根本就冇偷睇國家機密。你哋做人要有啲良知至得㗎! 係人都知道我盲嘅嘛!” (I illegally looked at classified information. You guys should have a bit of a conscious. Everybody knows I’m blind!)


  6. Actually this kind of thing can happen in many countries. There was a case in the 90’s where a group of British enthusiasts served a jail term for doing exactly the same thing (taking pictures of military aircraft) that Mr. Huang did.


  7. I live in a southwestern, mostly rural American state. My friend is an expat in England who goes out to photograph buildings with me when he comes home to visit his folks. We took pictures of the local federal courthouse. As it turns out, there is an FBI office in there. They called the security guard station at a skyscraper near where we were standing and told them to relay a message that the FBI said to stop taking pictures of that building. We did. When I lived in China, a season Vice Consul glared at me and said at a meeting, “The Bill of Rights doesn’t magically follow you around. We cannot spring you from jail.” I don’t take many pictures in China anymore. My gear is professional and attracts too much attention. Post 9-11, I deal with the same issue here often. We are advised to comply with them. Get their name, badge number, etc. Then file a complaint. I wouldn’t try that in China. I hope things get better there. There are allot of places and things to photograph that could portray China in a positive, light. But it has to be done honestly, warts and all. The poor guy probably felt proud of his country’s new plane and posted it. Little did he know. The bottom line is, China (CCP) wants to control how the world sees it. It’s been that way since 1949. The iphone, mobile phone, etc. and the internet have upended the whole system. I think that they (CCP) just want us to keep our noses out of their business and mind our own business. I hope someday i can come back to China and spend allot of time photographing historic buildings without worrying about stepping into someone’s development battle.


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