An Investigative Report on Mysterious Chinese Clandestine Stations
Numerous clandestine radio stations came on the air following the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in China in 1966. Some of them continued to broadcast even after the revolution ended 10 years later. Those stations completely vanished by 1991. But the identity of those behind the broadcasts still remains a mystery.
Spark and the Voice of the Liberation Army
On January 13, 1967, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported in a dispatch from Hong Kong that two anti-Mao-Lin clandestine radio stations -- "the Voice of the Liberation Army" (Jiefangjun zhi Sheng) and "Spark" (Huohua) -- had been monitored since mid-December. Japan's major daily quoted China watchers' speculation that the two clandestine stations originated from mainland China.
Spark was noted at 0900, 0930, 0945, 0900, 1100, 1345 and 1500 on 7165, 7185 or 9600kHz. Each program lasted about seven minutes. The station's name refers to the Russian revolutionary underground newspaper Iskra (Spark in Russian) and Mao's quotation that "A single spark can start a prairie fire." The opening announcement was: "This is Spark. This is Spark. This is Spark. We will present further Yanshan Yehua." Yanshan Yehua is a series of essays written by Deng Ta, a secretary of the party's Beijing Committee, who died in 1966 after being persecuted as an anti-Maoist in the early stage of the Cultural Revolution. The station ended its program with slogans: "Down with the Mao-Lin minority faction! Long live our revolutionary communist youths! Long live the great Chinese Communist Party!"
The Voice of the Liberation Army was observed at 0930, 1000, 1030, 1100, 1115, 1200, 1230, 1245, 1300, 1315, 1400, 1500 and 1600 on 7290, 9660, 11795 or 15055kHz. It had at least two transmitters because it occasionally used two frequencies simultaneously. The two frequencies carried the same program but not synchronous.
The station played the Chinese national anthem -- the Volunteer Army March -- at the start and the end of each broadcast. Before the Cultural Revolution, Radio Beijing played the anthem at the start of each program. But Radio Beijing stopped the practice after its songwriter Tian Han was criticized as a counterrevolutionary. Tian died in a prison in 1968. After a seven-minute program, it ended with slogans: "Down with the counterrevolutionary Mao-Lin minority faction! Long live our revolutionary Liberation Army! Long live the great Chinese Communist Party!"
The two stations called the party leadership "Mao dynasty party" and the "Mao-Lin rebellious bandit."
On July 22, 1968, The New York Times ran a Hong Kong dateline story about the Voice of the Liberation Army:
Specialists on Communist China here have monitored a number of broadcasts in the last
few weeks purporting to speak for the Chinese Army and denouncing Chairman Mao Zedong.
It is a mark of the turmoil in China that the broadcasts have commanded the attention of political analysts and led to speculation that a clandestine station may be operating there. Similar broadcasts have been heard in the past but have generally dismissed as examples of Taiwan's psychological warfare. While generally skeptical about the origin of the broadcasts, specialists in Chinese affairs have been following them with interest. If the broadcasts prove to be genuine they will constitute the first open attack on Mr. Mao...The station from which the broadcasts emanate has been on the air almost every night for about five minutes. It calls itself the "Voice of the People's Liberation Army" -- People's Liberation Army is the official name of China's armed forces. The station has attacked both Chairman Mao and his chief aid Lin Piao, who is the party vice chairman and defense minister. The broadcasts take the position that "the small Mao-Lin clique" has betrayed the Communist Party and moved away from its original doctrine. They do not say anything that could be construed as basically anti-Communist. The broadcasts have not so far given support to any person or faction by name, speaking only in general terms and in language likely to be understood by doctrinaire Communists. Some credence has been given to the possibility that a clandestine station or stations exist in China by the fact that individual Chinese traveling to Hong Kong from China have reported hearing anti-Mao broadcast from a station calling itself the "Voice of Peking."
Chinese Communist Party Broadcasting Station
Three other clandestine stations came on the air as late as in 1968. In the early 1968 "Chinese Communist Party Broadcasting Station" (Zhongguo Gongchangdang Guangbo Diantai) was noted on 6090kHz. Each program lasted 10 minutes and ended with slogans "Long live the great Chinese Communist Party! Long live the great Marx-Leninism! Long live the great socialism construction! Long live proletariat dictatorship! Long live the People's Republic of China!" and the chorus of "Unity is Strength." The station had at least two transmitters. The two frequencies of 6090kHz and 11130kHz carried the same programs but not synchronous. The station signed on at 0900, 1200 and 1400. The station vanished by April 1971.
"The Contingent of Proletarian Fighters" (Wuchanzhe Zhandoushi) was first intercepted on December 3, 1968. The station used only 7525kHz with a 10-minute program from 1430. It ended with slogans "Long live Marx-Leninism! Long live the Marx-Leninism Chinese Communist Party!" The station called the leadership the "Mao-Lin evil clique" "Mao dynasty party." In 1971 the station appeared at 1045, 1215, 1430 and 1445. In May 1971 the station changed its name to "Fighters" (Zhandoushi), while signing and signing off with the "Internationale."
"Liberation Army Activist Battle Corps Broadcasting Station" (Jiefangjun Jijifenzi Zhandoubingtuan Guangbo Diantai) was the only pro-Mao clandestine station that appeared during the Cultural Revolution. The station was first observed on 6195kHz on October 26, 1968. It played the chorus of Dong Fang Hong (The East is Red) at the sign-on and sign-off. The station praised Mao and supported the Cultural Revolution. Each program lasted 15 minutes. The station sporadically appeared at 1000 and 1200 on 7105kHz from 1969 to 1970. It went off the air by April 1971.
"True Representative of Proletarians Broadcasting Station" (Zhenzheng Daibiao Wuchanjiejidi Guangbo Diantai) was monitored only on April 11, 1970. It used 7305kHz and lasted five minutes.
A clandestine station, which had no name and broadcast only classical Chinese operas for one hour, was first noted July 2, 1970. The station appeared irregularly at 0345 on 11735kHz, at 0750 on 11280kHz and at 1225 on 7085kHz. Chinese classical operas were banned during the Cultural Revolution.
After the station disappeared, "News and Music Station" (Xinwen he Yinyue Diantai) was first observed on September 28, 1971. The station signed on with Dvorak's "The New World" at 0800 on 7155kHz and ended its broadcast at 0900. It broadcast not only Chinese music but also Western music. It also used 6070kHz. In December 1971, it began to use an additional frequency of 9570kHz .From March 1972 the station started its program at 0830 and ended at 0940. The station was last heard in May 1972.
"Red Flag Broadcasting Station" (Hognqi Guangbo Diantai) was first monitored in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost main island, on September 11, 1971. Using the medium wave frequency of 995kHz, the station signed on at 1230, 1300 and 1330 with a 10-minute program. The station called Mao a bogus Marx-Leninist and used such terms as "Mao dynasty" "Mao Zedong bandit."
Reorganization of Clandestine Stations
After Vice Chairman Lin Biao, erstwhile heir apparent to Chairman Mao Zedong, died in an alleged failed coup attempt in September 1971 and U.S. President Richard Nixon visited China in February 1972, the Voice of the Liberation Army, Spark and Fighters became inactive.
"Red Army Broadcasting Station" (Hongjun Guangbozhan) was first noted in March 1972. It signed on with the Liberation Army March. Its time and frequencies were not fixed. The station denounced the leadership, calling it "the Mao-Zhou counterrevolutionary group." It vanished as late as in 1977.
Against the backdrop of changes in political situations involving China, clandestine stations were reorganized. The Voice of the Liberation Army reactivated along with two other stations. The Contingent of Proletarian Fighters resumed operations with its original name. Spark renamed itself as "Radio Spark" (Huohoa Tai). All the three stations began to play the Internationale at sign-on and sign-off. The Voice of the Liberation Army aimed at personnel of the armed forces, Radio Spark at the youth, while the Contingent of Proletarian Fighters at the workers.
The Phony "Central People's Broadcasting Station" (Zhongyang Renmin Guanbo Diantai) was one of the blackest stations that appeared during the Cultural Revolution period. The station was confirmed on May 1, 1974, although a similar station was monitored in February 1972. It used recordings of genuine programs of Central People's Broadcasting Station, China's domestic service, at the beginning and later parts of each broadcast. A 10-minute bogus commentary criticizing the leadership was inserted in the middle of a 30-minute program. Signing on with the Sing of the Socialist Fatherland, it appeared at 1100, 1130, 1200, 1230 and 1300 on frequencies adjacent to frequencies used by China's domestic services between 5MHz and 10MHz. Only bogus parts were jammed.
Since the fall of 1975, either the Radio Spark or one of the two other stations appeared at 1000, 1015, and 1030 on 7165kHz and at 1100, 1115 and 1130 on 7520kHz, apparently sharing the same facilities..
After the End of the Cultural Revolution
The Cultural Revolution was officially declared over in 1977 after Mao died in September 1976. Reinstated Deng Xiaoping adopted an openness policy and the Cultural Revolution was denied. However, those clandestine stations continued to broadcast, criticizing Deng's leadership.
In 1978, a new clandestine station came on the air. It called itself "October Storm Broadcasting Station" (Shiyue Fengbao Guangbo Diantai). The station praised Mao and criticized the party leadership as "capitalist-roaders." It played the Internationale at sign-on and sign-off like Radio Spark and its sister stations. The station was noted irregularly for about 10 minutes between 2200 and 2330 on 7175, 9656, 9674 or 9710kHz.
During the brief Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979, another clandestine station criticizing China's action against Vietnam emerged. "Radio 8.1" (Ba Yi Diantai) was first monitored on March 3. The Associated Press quoted the Voice of Vietnam on March 10 as saying a clandestine radio station within China had begun broadcasts supporting Vietnam in connection with military clashes between the two countries. BBC Monitoring Service (BBCMS) said in the March 15 edition of the World Broadcasting Information (WBI) that the Voice of Vietnam reported the station was operated by the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
WBI said, as a result of technical investigations, it was most likely that the site of its transmitter was located beyond China's northeastern border. The station took its name from the founding date of the People's Liberation Army on August 1, 1927. The station had two announcers. During the two years after its inauguration, it signed on at every hour and half hour between 1200 and 1630 with a five-minute program. Since April 16, 1981, the station started at every 27 and 57 minute. The station had been absent from the airwaves for about one month during the summer in 1981, 1982 and 1985. On September 17, a new announcer was confirmed.
In May 1979, another clandestine station was confirmed on the medium wave. It called itself "the Voice of the Chinese People" (Zhonggou Renmin zhi Sheng). The station was irregularly noted on 1235kHz at 1200, 1300 and 1330 in western Japan.
Red Flag Broadcasting Station on 995kHz became inactive in 1977. It reactivated in the following year, signing on at 1400 and 1430. It was also note at 1245, 1315, 1345 and 1415 since 1981. The signal became stronger since July 19, 1981 after a two-month absence and the station was heard very well even in western Japan.
Since May 1977, Radio Spark, the Voice of the Liberation Army and/or the Contingent of Proletarian Fighters appeared at 0900, 0915 and 0930 on 7285kHz, at 1000, 1015 and 1030 on 7170kHz, and 1100 and 1115 on 7525kHz. On May 3, 1983 October Storm Broadcasting Station joined Radio Spark and the two other sister stations in their broadcasting pattern. Radio Spark and the two other sister stations began to use 9267kHz, which had been exclusively used by the Phony Central People's Broadcasting Station.
The Contingent of Proletarian Fighters was last heard on March 19, 1984. Radio Spark used 9660kHz exclusively, the Voice of the Liberation Army 7185kHz, October Storm Broadcasting Station 9267kHz and the Phony CPBS 7525kHz from April 1984. Radio Spark almost suspended its operation in June 1985. The transmission time of the Voice of the Liberation Army and October Storm shifted to between 1400 and 1500.
Red Flag Broadcasting Station was last intercepted on November 29, 1986 and Radio 8.1 was last noted on December 2 in 1986.
Shortly after the military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, the Voice of the Liberation Army, October Storm Broadcasting Station, the Phony Central Broadcasting Station and the Voice of the Chinese People ceased their operations. "Democracy Broadcasting Station" (Minzhu Guangbo Diantai) emerged in July instead. The station was noted at 0900 on 7125kHz and ended with the chorus of "Yellow River" 12 minutes later. The station called for overthrow of the Communist Party.
Another clandestine station appeared in early August in 1990. "Voice of Democracy Broadcasting Station" (Minzhu zhi Sheng Guangbo Diantai) was monitored several times until June 1991 on 8057kHz for about one hour in late and early morning (China time). The new clandestine stations did not survive in 1991.
Who Were Behind Clandestine Stations?
As Sheila O'Brien of the University of Michigan says in a chapter of "Clandestine Broadcasting" published in 1987 that the ideological inconsistency of those stations rules out an indigenous dissident group as the source of the broadcasts.
But there are confusions about operators of those broadcasts.
Lawrence Magne, a famous DX-er, claimed the Soviet Union operated Radio Spark and its sister stations. He wrote in the 7th edition of "How to Listen to the World" published in 1973 that Spark was operated by the KGB but staffed by Chinese exiles affiliated with the Twenty-eight Bolsheviks group of Sun Yat-Sen University of Moscow ex-students. But he gave no attribution. He reiterated his claim in the 1976 edition of World Radio TV Handbook. His argument was quoted in other books, including "Radio Power" by Julian Hale published in 1975, "International Radio Broadcasting" by Donald Browne published in 1982, and "Clandestine Confidential" by Gerry Dexter published in 1984.
It is true that Radio 8.1 and Red Flag Broadcasting Station were operated by the Soviet Union. The Far Eastern Economic Review said in the May 4, 1979 edition that "Since April 12, a monitoring station in Seoul has been picking up Mandarin language broadcasts believed to be originating from the Vladivostok area. But the broadcasters have pronounced Southeast Asian accents, leading speculation that Vietnamese may be cooperating with Soviets in operating the station, known as Ba Yi (August 1) Radio."
The Far Eastern Economic Review said in the May 4, 1979 edition that "Since April 12, a monitoring station in Seoul has been picking up Mandarin language broadcasts believed to be originating from the Vladivostok area. But the broadcasters have pronounced Southeast Asian accents, leading speculation that Vietnamese may be cooperating with Soviets in operating the station, known as Ba Yi (August 1) Radio."
In a Foreign Affairs Note issued in December 1982, the U.S. State Department identified two clandestine stations broadcast from the Soviet territory -- Radio 8.1 and the National Voice of Iran.
The disappearance of the two stations in 1986 coincided with improvement in bilateral relations between China and the Soviet Union. A Japanese DX-er noticed in 1988 that one of the two announcers at Red Flag Broadcasting Station was speaking at Radio Station Peace and Progress's Chinese service.
An independent direction finding research confirmed that Radio 8.1 originated from the Vladivostok region and that Red Flag Broadcasting Station was located near Khabarovsk.
Radio 8.1 purported to speak for disgruntled Chinese military officers. It defended Lin Biao saying that the allegation that Lin attempted to assassinate Mao was trumped up by the "Gang of Four." The station criticized the "Japanese militarism" and the "U.S. imperialism." Radio 8.1 stressed the need for closer relations with the Soviet Union in a bid to estrange China from Japan and the United States.
But other stations were not undoubtedly sponsored by the Soviet Union.
Radio Spark and its sister stations -- the Voice of the Liberation Army, the Contingent of Proletarian Fighters, the Phony Central People's Broadcasting Stations, October Storm Broadcasting Station and Democracy Broadcasting Station -- apparently shared the same transmitting facilities.
The voice of an announcer at the Voice of the Chinese People on the medium wave was very similar to that of an announce at the Phony Central People's Broadcasting Station.
Meanwhile, Chinese Communist Party Broadcasting Station, Liberation Army Activist Battle Corps Broadcasting Station, True Representative of Proletarians Broadcasting Station, New and Music Station and the Chinese classical opera station also apparently shared another same facilities. The same kind of noise was head when announcers of the stations turned on microphone. The signal of those stations was stronger than that of the Radio Spark group. The group and Voice of Democracy Broadcasting Station, which went on the air after the Tiananmen incident, are suspected of having links with Taiwan-based numbers stations -- Shinshin Kwanpo Tientai and now defunct-IOK and BOT Tientai.
David Conde, a journalist, was the first person who mentioned the involvement of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in clandestine broadcasts targeted at China. He says in the Japanese edition of his "CIA - the Focus of Cancer" written in 1967 and published in 1968 that in the summer of 1966 a fleet of pirate ships was put into operation near the Chinese mainland in a black propaganda campaign with the intention of making China to collapse from within inside. But he does not identify the station.
The CIA had reportedly been involved in clandestine radio operations against China. The Washington Post ran a story on January 17, 1976 that "In the early 1960s, these officials say, the agency was using its resources in the Far East to create irritations between the Soviet and Chinese governments. At that time, the two Communist powers were beginning to have disagreements but were far from the open break that subsequently took place. CIA-sponsored radio station on Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia broadcast as though they were in China and would attack a Russian leader. The broadcast, monitored in Hong Kong, would be replayed in the unwitting world media."
"The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence" by Victor Marchetti and John Marks published in 1974 says, "A decision was therefore made to install on Taiwan a pair of clandestine radio transmitters which would broadcast propaganda and disinformation of the same nature as that disseminated by the balloon drops. If the Chinese people accepted the radio broadcasts as genuine, the CIA reasoned, then they might be convinced that the counter-movement to the cultural revolution was gaining strength and perhaps think that the time had come to resist the Red Guards and their supporters still more openly." The writers also do not identify the station. Marchetti was a staff officer in the Office of the Director of the CIA.
One source of news used by agency propagandists was the CIA's own Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), which daily monitors open radio broadcasting around the world, the book says. The product of the FBIS was also utilized to determine whether the broadcasts of the clandestine transmitters were reaching their target in China and creating the anticipated effect, the writers say. The operators in the Clandestine Service are reluctant to reveal their propaganda operations to the FBIS editors. As a result, for its Far East daily report the FBIS frequently monitored and distributed the texts of programs actually from the agency's secret stations on Taiwan, the book says. No steps were taken to rectify the false date passed on to the other U.S. government agencies or to the press and academia, the book says.
Morton Halperin, a former senior staff member of the National Security Council and deputy assistant secretary of defense, writes in "The CIA File," published in 1976, that "....a CIA-operated clandestine radio on Taiwan broadcast some of the same kinds of propaganda as were in the leaflets...The CIA operations had even more bizarre consequences. American intelligence analysts from the Department of State in Hong Kong began to get copies of these leaflets from refugees from the Chinese mainland; at the same time, a different branch of the CIA, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, began to monitor the clandestine radio broadcasts from Taiwan and treat them as though they were coming from a clandestine, dissident radio on the Chinese mainland. The pamphlets and the radio broadcasts were then fed into the analysts of the Cultural Revolution situation being done by the State Department and the CIA analysts in Hong Kong and Washington." He does not identify the station.
Interestingly enough, "Broadcasting Stations of the World" compiled by the FBIS in 1971, did not list Radio Spark and companion stations. The book included other clandestine stations but excluded CIA-linked clandestine stations.
No transcripts of these broadcasts in the 1960s and 1970s are available to determine which were likely Soviet operations and which were not, O'Brien says. It appeared that the FBIS published news stories carried by Taipei's Central News Agency and these Taiwanese news reports were themselves based on falsified information obtained from clandestine broadcasts, he writes.
O'Brien says that the history of these stations and the content of their broadcasts suggest that Taiwan, not the Soviet Union or Vietnam, was operating these stations. He claims it was possible that the CIA was involved, but more likely that it turned the operation over to Taiwan intelligence agencies some time between 1972 and 1978. "The cumulative weight of the evidence leaves little doubt that Taiwan is the operator of these stations," he concludes.
Although BBCMS reported the emergence of Radio 8.1 immediately after it came on the air in 1979, the BBCMS had ignored Radio Spark for 17 years. It was not until October 20, 1983 that BBCMS's WBI reported the existence of Radio Spark, quoting reports of the Voice of Vietnam on October 13. BBCMS's WBI reported on November 10 the existence of October Storm Broadcasting Station for the first time, quoting the Voice of Vietnam's news on November 1. WBI quoted the Voice of Vietnam's reports on November 5 about October Storm Broadcasting Station, Spark Radio and Radio 8.1, adding an editorial note that "These radios are in fact believed to have been in operation for several years." WBI reported on December 8 that the Voice of the Liberation Army was intercepted on December 2. On January 5, 1984, WBI reported the existence of the Contingent of Proletarian Fighters as a fourth anti-Deng Xiaoping clandestine radio station, "which shares a transmitter with October Storm, Radio Spark and Voice of the PLA," based on monitoring observations.
BBC's WBI reported on September 12, 1985 the existence of the Phony Central People's Broadcasting Station for the first time based on its monitoring research on September 6. It said "Although this announcements is identical to that used by the CPBS in Peking, and some of the news items were repeats of items broadcast by Peking on 2nd September, there were additional news items not broadcast from Peking and the style of announcement was different: Peking usually alternates its news items with a male and female announcer, whilst this news bulletin was read by a female announcer." WBI said in the October 10, 1985 edition that the Phony CPBS has been broadcasting irregularly since at least 1974.
After BBC reported the existence of those stations, mass media began to report many stories about such stations. But they made conflicting reports about sponsors of those broadcasts.
The Los Angeles Times said on May 5, 1984 that Radio Spark and three other sister stations originated in a single transmitter that Western monitors believe operates from a ship in the South China Sea. It said analysts of the BBC concluded that Taiwan was the probable sponsor of the stations. "But some Western diplomats are not so sure that Taiwan is the sponsor, and they say that they suspect that the Soviet Union, perhaps in partnership with Vietnam, is behind the broadcasts," The Times said, adding that Radio 8.1 was based in the Soviet Union.
The New York Times reported on May 7, 1984 that Radio 8.1 had been traced to the Soviet Union and that some references to Nationalist ideology led to speculation that Radio Spark and its fellow stations came from Taiwan, but their signal has prompted theories that they are based in Vietnam.
The Jane's Defense Weekly reported July 27 and October 5, 1985 that the broadcasts were believed to come from a single transmitter said to operated from a ship in the South China Sea, adding that some analysts believe Taiwan is the probable sponsor, while others suspect the Soviet Union, perhaps in league with Vietnam.
Voice of America's Beijing correspondent Mark Hopkins reported on September 11, 1985 that Radio 8.1 was located in Vietnam.
The Asiaweek reported April 26, 1985 that Radio 8.1 sent its signal from a transmitter in Soviet Siberia while the Radio Spark group was thought to broadcast from a ship in the East China Sea. The Hong Kong-based weekly said analysts did not rule out the possibility of Taiwan's involvement.
Asiaweek's conclusion is consistent with a direction finding research conducted in 1982 by a member of the Asia Broadcasting Institute, using a large-scale monitoring facility of Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK). Whenever a typhoon was located in the Taiwan Strait, none of the Radio Spark group appeared and the signal of the Spark group received in Fujian Province facing Taiwan was extremely strong.
(Notes: All times in UTC. This report is based on monitoring researches by members of the Asian Broadcasting Institute. Recordings of the stations, including those in the 1960s and 1970s, are available.)