From China arises Mao Zedong.
He strives for the people's happiness,
Hurrah, he is the people's great savior!
The original People's Republic of Tyranny, China played a fair few roles as the Big Bad during part of The Cold War, even after the Sino-Soviet split resulted in better relations with the US and other capitalist nations. With the end of the Cold War and collapse of the USSR in 1991, the portrayal of the People's Republic has tended to move towards that of an international Anti-Hero, of the Neutral Evil or Lawful Evil sort—although given Values Dissonance, it sometimes could qualify as either Lawful Neutral or True Neutral instead.
Red China became a recurrent villain in Cold War literature; not as common as the Soviet Union, but definitely there. Using China instead of Russia allowed writers to work in some of the traditional mystique that Oriental culture seemed (to them) to have always been steeped in. It probably is no exaggeration to say that Red China was the Cold War-era successor to WWII's Imperial Japan in villain roles, in the same way that the Soviet Union was the successor to Those Wacky Nazis.
The portrayal of Communist China can be roughly divided into two periods:
Red and Nasty (1949 to c.1979)
Fu Manchu meets Dirty Communists (or Yellow Peril meets Red Scare), to a very large extent. The Chinese are sneaky and crafty, like to brainwash people (the term was invented in China) and generally trying to subvert Western freedom. Will team up with the USSR at times.
The main cause of this was The Korean War — while the Soviets were not (obviously) attacking UN forces, which included the US and the UK, the Chinese most certainly were.
Red and Rich (c.1979 onward)
Not so much Dirty Communists here, although you will get Renegade Chinese. China becomes a rich, well-developed country, but still prone to torture and general international shadiness, although not on pre-79 levels. Many things are still Banned in China, though usually available through bootlegged media.
Why 1979, you may ask? Though China did start to open to the world in 1972 after Richard Nixon visited China, Mao Zedong had a stranglehold on power until his death in 1976, and supported the most radical politics in China. Immediately after he died, those radical elements were arrested, and Deng Xiaoping made a grab for control of the Party. The economic reforms he implemented in 1978 began to turn China from a sclerotic command economy into an economic powerhouse as foreign investment was allowed in ever-larger areas and ever-greater sections of the banking sector were freed up to invest in things that were actually profitable, as opposed to things the government thought the country 'should' have.note Additionally, the United States formally established diplomatic relations with China that year — up to that point, the US had recognized the Guomindang government on Taiwan.
Also notice that since China has lately acquired a huge potential as a consumer market for Western media, it makes almost no business sense to offend the peevish Chinese censors and/or audience by casting China or a Chinese person as the villain. Though there are exceptions to censorship in recent years.note
Sometimes, Red China Takes Over the World.
- The original founding story of Iron Man. Modern adaptations tend to update it to Afghanistan or somewhere in the Middle East.
- Marvel Comics' version of Red China doesn't have quite as much of a super-soldier program as Russia or America, but they do have:
- The Mighty Thor's enemy Radioactive Man.
- The Missing Link, their own equivalent of The Incredible Hulk
- Mandarin, one of Iron Man's more prominent nemeses. To be clear, he was wiling to work for the Reds; he didn't like them much, due to having his family's ancestral home seized. He just hated America more.
- In one of their adventures, Spirou and Fantasio sneak into China to free an American scientist who was held prisoner in a secret facility. However, the Chinese aren't depicted as outright villains, even though they definitely are the antagonists.
- Played with in Les Innommables: the Chinese Communists are depicted as utterly merciless and depraved, but the main character's love interest is a fanatically loyal Communist agent. And the other sides aren't depicted in a much more favorable light either.
- Wonder Woman: The mind-boggling weirdness that is the original version of Egg-Fu.
- Marvel Comics's favorite kaiju Fin Fang Foom made his first appearance when a Formosan (Taiwanese) history student awakened him and lured him into the path of a Chinese military force that was set to invade Formosa. Fin defeated them easily, and the student then managed to return him to suspended animation.
- James Bond:
- Goldfinger is of the first type. The Chicoms are clearly bankrolling Goldfinger's plan to break into Fort Knox, having also provided the nuclear bomb he's planning to detonate.
- In You Only Live Twice, Blofeld is implied to be working for Red China.
- In The Man with the Golden Gun, China is implied to be the Greater-Scope Villain to the main villains... in fact the evil lair is located in Red Chinese waters.
- Tomorrow Never Dies is probably the only Bond film thus far which uses the Red and Rich version of the trope. To be sure, China exists as a possible enemy, but agent Wai Lin and Bond never really discuss or debate politics, and they do collaborate to uncover the evil plan of the week. Both China and the UK were being manipulated into war by a third party, and in the end the villain was exposed, his own forces destroyed, and everyone just went home.
- The film Red Corner with Richard Gere was all over this trope (hence the film name).
- In the Matt Helm series by Donald Hamilton, Mr. Soo is an Red Chinese agent specializing in scientific espionage and sabotage. He appears in The Menacers and The Poisoners, and is mentioned in The Interlopers.
- The titular antagonist of the James Bond novel Colonel Sun is a master Torture Technician in the People's Liberation Army.
- In the Alex Rider series, Red China is briefly implied to have been The Man Behind the Man (or at least one of) in regard to Herod Sayle, though it turns out that it was Scorpia.
- Dreams of Joy, the sequel to Shanghai Girls, takes place during the Great Leap Forward and is about a Chinese-American girl who goes to China to meet her long-lost father.
- The Manchurian Candidate (and its 1962 film adaptation) revolves around a Red Chinese plot to install a communist puppet president in the White House via a brainwashed assassin.
- 24 has Jack Bauer attack the Chinese Consulate in Season Four, where the Consul is shot in the crossfire. At the end of Season Five, Jack is kidnapped by Chinese agents and put on a slow boat to China. He is returned at the beginning of Season Six.
- JAG: In the two-part episode "Dog Robber", a U.S. reconnaissance plane has to make an emergency landing in mainland China.
- The Outer Limits (1963): The episode "The Hundred Days of the Dragon" is basically a more overtly science fiction reworking of The Manchurian Candidate, replacing the brainwashing with a serum that makes human flesh pliable.
- Guns N' Roses (Jersey Jack): The mode "Shall We Play a Game?" situates the player in a war of propaganda between America and China, helping the former outdo the latter in terms of dispersing their values to each other. The former is visually suggested to be spreading virtues like freedom and justice to China, therefore implying that the latter is instead repressive.
- Cyberpunk: Red China is still there, but in this version Deng's reforms led to increasing tensions between Deng's reformists and Maoist hardliners, which eventually led to a civil war. By 2013, the nation has basically returned to the "Warlord Era" of the early 1920s. All the power players are still nominally Communist, but differ on how Communist they want to be.
- Fallout. The Red Chinese are THE Dirty Commies in Falloutverse. It is unspecified whether China underwent its late-20th and early-21st Century reforms in the Fallout Universe, but the US propaganda still basically treats them as Dirty Communists.
- One of the factions you can work for in Mercenaries and its sequel.
- Although which category the Chinese faction falls into is never really specified, as they seem to take a vaguely nationalistic stance, if anything. However, they support the populist and presumably Marxist La Résistance and are willing to butt heads with the West, so the first form is at least implied.
- Receive a cursory mention in World in Conflict when you are told Red China has entered the war on the same side as the Soviet Union, with the Chinese army on its way to Seattle. Best not to think too hard about how the late 1980s Chinese army intended to accomplish that.
- Cold Winter have the hero's sidekick, Kim, who had a past with Red China. As revealed in a flashback circa 1989, the Chinese secret service tries forcing Kim to join their ranks after her brother was arrested for partaking in the 1989 Tiananmen riots; Kim instead kills the recruiter and escapes to the west.
- Command & Conquer: Generals features, oddly enough, a combination of the two varieties. Chinese society is clearly of the second type, which makes sense, as the game takes place (unlike all the other Command & Conquer games) in our timeline during the 2020s, but their military, with its tactics and units, is based inaccurately on that of the first type, and is considered so hyperbolic that the game was actually Banned in China.
- Not that it is seen in the game but the background mentions that China's new generation leaders enacted a whole set of reforms and civil liberties. It still has the traces of authoritarianism but there is an implication that by 2020s China is a relatively free society with a militaristic bent like the United States, making it a wholly different type.
- China is one of the foreign powers in Tropico 4. It buys canned fish and pineapple, corn, goat cheese, llama wool, and cars. It likes you more if you have an open doors immigration policy, low liberty, and bad relations with the USSR. The benefits of good relations are cheaper luxury goods, increased commodity prices of canned goods, and the ability to ask for development aid in the form of 100 immigrants.
Works set in China during the Red and Nasty period:
- Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is about two college students sent to a remote village during the Cultural Revolution.
- Farewell My Concubine by Chen Kaige features several scenes set during the Cultural Revolution.
- The Last Emperor sets its Framing Device during this period.
- To Live by Yu Hua (later adapted to film by Zhang Yimou) depicts the vicissitudes of an ordinary family from the 1930s to the 1980s.
Works set in China during the Red and Rich period:
- Most of the films by independent director Jia Zhangke deal with life in China since the beginning of the Red and Rich period:
- Xiao Wu (小武) is about a pickpocket whose small-time criminality is becoming anachronistic in a city where high-level corruption runs rampant,
- Platform (站台) is about a small band of performers trying to adjust to the economic and societal changes,
- The World ( 世界) is about the employees of a tacky theme park near Beijing,
- Still Life (三峡好人) is about people evicted from their homes by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.
- China Blue is a documentary about the working conditions in China's textile industry.
- The second half of Durian Durian is set in northeastern China.
- Last Train Home is a documentary about a family of migrant workers.
- Luxury Car shows the Values Dissonance between a father raised during the Mao era and his daughter, who sells herself for money.
- The Orphan of Anyang (安阳婴儿) by Wang Chao is about a laid-off factory worker who adopts an abandoned baby and shacks up with a Hooker with a Heart of Gold.
- She, a Chinese by Guo Xiaolu follows a disaffected young Chinese woman from rural Sichuan to Chongqing, and from there to London.