"Dangerous love"

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In China, you may be breaking the law if you date a foreigner for the purpose of learning their language.

On April 15, China observed its first annual National Security Education Day with the distribution of propaganda materials, delivery of speeches, and other activities designed to raise awareness of security issues.  A centerpiece of the campaign is a comic book-like poster in 16 panels titled "Wéixiǎn de àiqíng 危险的爱情" (“Dangerous Love”).

The very first panel begins thus:

Jīntiān yǒu gè wàiguó péngyǒu zǔzhī de jùhuì, nǐ bùshì yào tígāo wàiyǔ shuǐpíng ma?  Gēn wǒ yīqǐ qù cānjiā ba.

今天有个外国朋友组织的聚会, 你不是要提高外语水平吗? 跟我一起去参加吧.

"Today there is a gathering organized by a foreign friend.  Don't you want to raise your foreign language level?  Why don't you come along with me to join it?"

The poster cartoon story is detailed in an article by Charles Liu from The Nanfang (cf. also here) titled "Propaganda Cartoon Warns Chinese of the Dangers of Dating ForeignersLaowai spies use gifts and affection to get what they want" (4/19/16).

In the district of Beijing referred to as Xicheng, in the center of the old city (inside the Second Ring Road), they had a poster campaign against dating foreigners because it runs a security risk.

The complete comic book-like poster in 16 panels with extensive dialogue is given in the above linked article from The Nanfang.  It tells the story of a pretty, young civil servant called  ("Little Li").  In one of the poster's final panels (the 14th), Xiao Li is shown in handcuffs, with tears gushing from her eyes, being sternly reprimanded by two policemen.  They tell her that she is suspected of breaking the nation's laws regarding keeping state secrets.

See also GlobalNews, "China to Women: 'Dating Foreigners is Dangerous Love'" (4/17/16).

Like many other online sources that are circulating this story, the GlobalNews version curiously omits the most dramatic panel of the poster, number 14,

See also the following accounts:

"Dangerous Love on National Security Education Day " (China Law Translate, 4/16/16)

"China warns of foreign spies with ‘Dangerous Love’ campaign" (The Asahi Shimbun, Associated Press, 4/19/16)

"China: Dating foreigners could lead to ‘dangerous love’ " (Asian Correspondent, 4/19/16)

Panels 15 and 16 show policemen reciting the relevant sections of Chapter 1 on crimes endangering national security, article 111 of the Criminal Law of the PRC and Article 27 of Chapter 4 of the Counter-Espionage Law.  The sentences meted out for such crimes are quite stiff, which are liable to make anyone reading this poster think twice about befriending a foreigner.

[h.t. June Teufel Dreyer, Nathan Hopson, and John Rohsenow]


  1. Evan Harper said,

    April 19, 2016 @ 9:15 pm

    Hang on, the cartoon depicts the Chinese woman knowingly providing State secrets. I get that the overall vibe of the thing is somewhat anti-foreigner, but I do not see what supports "you may be breaking the law if you date a foreigner for the purpose of learning their language." This poster is pretty much the same as something that could have appeared in the United States.

  2. January First-of-May said,

    April 19, 2016 @ 9:29 pm

    See also "The Instruction before the Trip Abroad" (Инструкция перед поездкой за рубеж), by Vladimir Vysotsky.

  3. Jeremy Daum said,

    April 19, 2016 @ 10:11 pm

    Most of the versions leave out slide 14 because the guy who runs Global News (in no way affiliated with the Canadian news organization, did a sloppy job of stealing our content. The Nanfang at least cited us.

  4. Hiro said,

    April 19, 2016 @ 10:41 pm

    @Evan Harper

    Would you kindly point me to some examples of similar posters in the US, please?

  5. David Moser said,

    April 19, 2016 @ 10:50 pm

    Several people have commented to me that the "David" foreigner in the material is clearly me. Though I am a handsome, cool, bespectacled American academic who often asks my Chinese friends for Chinese language materials, I maintain that the similarities are only coincidental.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    April 19, 2016 @ 11:12 pm

    @Jeremy Daum

    Thanks to you and China Law Translate for doing the basic work on this story, and for all the other good translations you do.


    I second your request for the United States.

    @David Moser

    I immediately thought of you when I read this story, but — alas — I know that you are not a spy.

  7. Ethan said,

    April 19, 2016 @ 11:19 pm

    One famous one from the US is a WWII poster "Loose Lips Sink Ships", but this British version is more directly parallel to the current cartoon since it implies innocently confiding secrets to a lover/foreign spy
    "You forget but she remembers"

  8. Hiro said,

    April 19, 2016 @ 11:32 pm


    Uhh… I double-checked that the year is 2016.

    Given the tone of @Evan's post, I would think the US counterparts of such posters in @Evan's mind are slightly more contemporary than WWII propaganda material. After all, that was a time of Hitler and Stalin, well before Mao, Pol Pot and Kim Il-sung. I don't think you can use the same absurdity meter to measure posters from 1940s and 2010s.

  9. Evan Harper said,

    April 19, 2016 @ 11:33 pm


    Gee, sorry, I don't happen to have an archive of US counterintelligence poster ads lying around. But US government agencies certainly do worry about this kind of thing. It's not some theoretical threat from an overactive imagination – the Katrina Leung or Anna Chapman cases are well known but hardly the only examples.

    Again, I don't deny that the pointed emphasis on "foreigners," even though it's perfectly reasonable in counterintelligence terms, would be disfavored in the United States for its perceived broader social implications. But no, the idea of explaining to people who handle government secrets that this kind of thing could be tried against them is not some outrageous totalitarian plot. It's not even unreasonable.

  10. Alyssa said,

    April 19, 2016 @ 11:34 pm

    I have a little bit of experience with how security clearances work in the US, and I'd expect them to view dating a Chinese national with similar… caution. This is just some forum posts, not an official source, but it backs up my impression: https://forum.federalsoup.com/default.aspx?g=posts&t=40418#post439901

  11. Jeremy Daum said,

    April 19, 2016 @ 11:36 pm

    For those needing an example of similar US absurdity, but at least based on a real case and with a (slightly) higher budget: I present "Game of Pawns" https://www.fbi.gov/news/videos/game-of-pawns

  12. Hiro said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 12:12 am

    Well, to this day I'm quite acquainted with the "same here" argument. But I guess I'll put that aside.

    @Prof. Mair, from a linguistic perspective, I'm wondering if you could elaborate on some of the phrases like "內參", "涉外宣傳部門" here? I'm not entirely sure if I get the connotations correct. I'm also wondering about the translation of "National Security Education Day." Even though I've seen it being referred to as both "全民国家安全教育日" and just "国家安全教育日" by the Chinese state media, I somehow feel that the "全民" is the keyword here.

    Some more relevant materials that might be of interest:
    1) BBC: China jails journalist over leaked 'state secrets'
    2) Classic children's educational cartoon book during the Cultural Revolution: 小红智斗亲爷爷

  13. liuyao said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 12:24 am

    Not a poster of warning, but something as absurd actually happened to Xiaoxing Li, a professor of Temple University.

    Anyway, the backdrop of the Chinese news may have to do with the rumored upcoming trial of Rui Chenggang, a TV host/reporter who was "disappeared" for no official charges. One theory is that he deliberately leaked "state secrets", none other than the story of Xi Jinping's family wealth, to foreign media (was it Washington Post?). So David Moser, even though you are no spy, it may very well refer to you.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 2:36 am

    "China Sentences Man to Death for Espionage, Saying He Sold Secrets" (NYT, 4/19/16)

  15. Joseph said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 5:47 am

    I thought of the same video as Jeremy Daum. fact I wonder if there is a direct connection between the trend in Amercia to be wary of Chinese spying to the point of overreacting often and this poster. The Chinese have recently arrested a Canadian man near the North Korean border and an Chinese-American businesswoman, in events that seem more related to human rights than espionage. Rather than deterring spying, this technique seems unlikely, maybe this poster is more focused on China preserving its image. Nevertheless, Chinese xenophobia is unwarranted because I'm sure that spies on both sides are much more likely to be of Chinese rather than European decent.

    An example of American overreaction- http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/05/10/business/accused-of-spying-for-china-until-she-wasnt.html

  16. liuyao said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 8:43 am

    Quite well made, though the scene with a big pailou was DC Chinatown and the Chinese all spoke fluent English with shady Chinatown vibes, like in some recent blockbusters such as The Martian.

  17. Christian Weisgerber said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 10:43 am

    Certainly in the 1990s and early 2000s (when I stopped listening), the American Forces Network radio station broadcasting for the Kaiserslautern Military Community (incl. Ramstein Air Base) in Germany also warned American service personnel to be on the lookout for pretend-friendly spies and to "call the spy hotline" if they noticed something suspicious.

  18. Eidolon said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 11:32 am

    The US would not make such a cartoon today because, for one, it is highly sexist, and therefore inappropriate for federal dispensation; two, I think propaganda cartoons have gone out of style.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 12:34 pm

    "China warns women of foreign spies in 'Dangerous Love' posters" (Hannah Gardner, USA Today, 4/20/16)

    This article is valuable for showing two photographs of the whole bipartite poster with all 16 panels as actually posted on walls in Xicheng District. It also describes another blatantly sexist poster campaign directed by the police at women drivers.

    If you click on the first photograph, you can make it larger.

  20. Michael said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 1:14 pm

    Here in the US, the only way to motivate people to learn another language is to encourage them with the hope of dating foreign men or women.
    Somewhere in here, there is buried the Chinese equivalent of a Yakov Smirnov joke.

  21. Mr Punch said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 8:11 pm

    So in China, anyone who in dating would "use gifts and affection to get what they want" must be a spy?

  22. Ajax said,

    April 20, 2016 @ 9:47 pm

    I'm more concerned about the fact that Little Li only has one dress. And the word balloon placement in panel 13 is backwards.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    April 21, 2016 @ 10:07 am


    I've been unable to reply earlier because I was on a long flight across the Pacific.

    As for the Chinese name of the National Security Day, this is from the China Daily (4/18/16):

    "国家安全教育日 (guójiā ānquán jiàoyùrì): National Security Education Day".


    They even went to the trouble of giving pinyin with tones! (good for the China Daily!)

    But a quick guesstimate of all the occurrences of the longer and shorter versions of the Chinese name for the National Security Day that you provided give me the impression that the longer one, with quánmín 全民 ("[for] all the people") at the beginning, occurs about twice as frequently as the shorter one. So you are right that the significance of those two characters is indeed crucial.

    Quánmín guójiā ānquán jiàoyù rì 全民国家安全教育日 ("National Security Education Day for All the People").

    And you are also right about the gist of your other main question. The authorities in China really do have a hangup about the nèiwài 內外 ("internal-external") dichotomy. That is evident from the wording on this poster.

    Although I'm not an expert on these matters, I think that shèwài xuānchuán bùmén 涉外宣傳部門 are propaganda departments that deal with foreign affairs. And I believe that "nèicān 內參" ("internal reference") is short for "nèibù cānkǎo zīliào 內部參考資料" ("internal reference materials"), that is restricted materials which are not for circulation outside of certain units that sponsored them. Already in the 70s and early 80s, many of my purely academic writings (on premodern Chinese literature and culture) were selected for translation and inclusion in the "nèibù cānkǎo zīliào 內部參考資料" ("internal reference materials") of various organizations. I thought that was pretty funny, because I can't imagine that there is any possibility that the scholarly articles I wrote could be used in a way that would be detrimental to China.

  24. Victor Mair said,

    April 21, 2016 @ 10:38 am

    "The spy who loved me? Chinese warned off dating foreigners" (CNN, 4/21/16)

    With cute video adaptation.

  25. Victor Mair said,

    April 21, 2016 @ 6:12 pm

    "China’s ‘Dangerous Love’ Campaign, Warning of Spies, Is Met With Shrugs"

    Sinosphere, NYT



    Includes a nice photo of the poster in situ in a major subway station and interviews with citizens about the campaign.

  26. Victor Mair said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 7:09 am

    "Chinese Cartoon Warns Against 'Dangerous Love' With Foreigners Who May Be Spies" (npr, 4/22/16)

  27. Victor Mair said,

    April 23, 2016 @ 5:12 pm

    "Chinese Warned About Dating Spies Who're After State Secrets" (Newsmax, 4/22/16)


    Begins with an interesting photograph of a woman walking by the poster on a blue corrugated wall plastered over another sign that says:

    piào 票 ("ticket") — less than half of that mainly yellow lettering on a black background is visible.

    To the right is another poster with an interesting poem, about which I'll write a separate post.

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