Learning From National Security Education Day

Publication: China Brief Volume: 24 Issue: 9

National Security Education Day Poster (Source: Jincheng Government website)

Executive Summary:

  • The Comprehensive National Security Concept has expanded over the last decade to cover areas the People’s Republic of China (PRC) perceives to be its territory, which now includes the deep sea, space, and digital networks.
  • Xi Jinping has pushed the totalizing conception of national security—explicitly linking it to economic development and traditional culture—giving the Ministry of State Security (MSS) a more public and influential role.
  • The emphasis on national security reflects the leadership’s perception of an increasingly complex security environment, and perhaps the leadership’s awareness of problems internal to the Party.
  • April 15, National Security Education Day, saw thousands of activities across the country, from school trips to drone performances to film and artistic productions. This indicates the extent to which national security now permeates all walks of life.


April 15 was National Security Education Day (全民国家安全教育日). It was also the tenth anniversary of the launch of the “comprehensive national security concept (总体国家安全观)” (hereafter, the Concept) (MCT, April 15). Over the last decade, national security has grown to become a totalizing concern for the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Not only has the Concept grown to encompass numerous domains and all walks of life, but the power of the security services—in particular the Ministry of State Security (MSS)—has risen dramatically. The rise of the MSS as national security concerns overseas increased predates Xi Jinping (see China Brief, January 14, 2011). Xi, however, has explicitly advanced national security prerogatives to an unprecedented degree. [1] The ways in which April 15 was celebrated across the PRC and the emphasis on incorporating national security into discussions of both economic development and traditional culture are indicative of the direction in which the country is heading. Namely, one that is more paranoid, but also more capable of cracking down when perceived threats appear.

The Rise and Rise of Comprehensive National Security

On April 15, 2014, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping proposed the Concept at the first meeting of the Central National Security Committee (Aisixiang, April 17). This was closely followed by the adoption of the National Security Law that July (China Law Translate, July 1, 2015). The law stipulates, among other things, that the state will strengthen national security propaganda and public opinion guidance, carry out national security publicity and education activities in various forms, incorporate national security education into the national education system and the education and training system for civil servants, enhance the national security awareness of the entire population, and designate April 15 of each year as National Security Education Day (MCA, April 14).

In the intervening years, the meaning of comprehensive—sometimes translated as “holistic,” perhaps better translated as “total”—national security has expanded. An informational piece published by the Ministry for Civil Affairs includes 16 posters about key areas of national security (MCA, April 14). These include political security, territorial security, military security, economic security, cultural security, social security, scientific and technological security, cyber security, ecological security, resource security, nuclear security, security of overseas interests, base security, space security, deep-sea security, and biological security. Other sources cite 20 such areas, supplementing the above with polar security, artificial intelligence (AI) security, financial security, and food security (Huanghe S&T University, April 11).

Cheng Lin (程琳), Convener of the National Security Discipline Review Group of the Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council and former Secretary of the Party Committee and President of the People’s Public Security University of China, echoes the 20 major areas of national security. He also acknowledges the expansion of the Concept. In the past, he writes, “the nation’s territory mainly referred to land.” Now, however, “with the international situation, the continuous development of science and technology, and the continuous enhancement of national strength, the nation’s territory has been extended to the ocean and the deep sea, space, and digital networks, etc., and has formed a three-dimensional national territory and national sovereignty from real-world society to cyberspace” (Aisixiang, April 17). One interpretation suggests this does not just mean that as the PRC has gained in hard power, it has been able to claim more territory (though de facto this has been the case). Rather—and more concerningly—it suggests that the PRC’s rise entitles it to more expansive territorial claims. Chen goes on to argue that the PRC should rely on both traditional security and more recent forms of technology to ensure the security of these “new types of territorial boundaries.” Minister for State Security Chen Yixin (陈一新) also referenced the expansive, even extraterritorial, demands of the Concept in an essay, published in the Party’s theory journal for National Security Education Day (Qiushi, April 15). He argues that the principal task for the deep implementation of the Concept is “countering subversion (反颠覆).” This includes cracking down on infiltration, sabotage, subversion, and separatist activities outside the country (严厉打击境外渗透、破坏、颠覆、分裂活动).”

The MSS Pushes National Security Education Day

National Security concerns start at home, even if recent developments further afield merit attention. The centrality of the CCP lies at the heart of any discussion of national security. As Chen Yixin noted, “political security is the highest national security.” The first of four “adheres (坚持)” cited by Nie Furu (聂福如), head of the political department of the Ministry of State Security, the people must “adhere to the Party’s leadership and draw attention to its political attributes (坚持党的领导,彰显政治属性)” (Aisixiang, April 18). Another Qiushi article from this month references the “ten adheres” of the Concept, of which the first is “to adhere to the Party’s absolute leadership of national security work” (Qiushi, April 8).

The Party perceives the security situation as becoming more complex. As such, National Security Education Day has become an increasingly important vehicle for messaging about the Party’s priorities. Nie Furu’s essay mentions many techniques that various government bodies have used to promote national security awareness. This ranges from producing content for various media, including articles, audio and video, animation, to live events such as fireworks, drone and light shows, performances, and other interactive events (Aisixiang, April 18). A recent post on the MSS WeChat channel provides an extensive list of activities that also took place across the PRC this month, all organized by local national security organs (MSS Wechat, April 22). It highlights a series of “knowledge feasts,” 370 million members of the Communist Youth League taking part in thematic activities, and a special program on CCTV looking at the rule of law and National Security. Schools in Fujian, Chongqing, Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Xinjiang are praised for their “innovative use of murder mystery games, cultural and artistic exhibitions, quizzes, mock trials, and art and ideology classes.” Meanwhile, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Guangxi, Yunnan, Qinghai, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps have produced multi-ethnic language versions of propaganda films and printed materials, and have conducted in-depth lectures in ethnic minority villages, “taking into account the folklore and cultural characteristics of ethnic minorities.” The Handover Gifts Museum of Macau opened an exhibition on National Security (Xinhua, April 15). Other activities, such as national security-themed running races and dance performances are designed to “integrate elements of national security into people’s daily lives and make it palpable.”

The MSS has been at the forefront of many of these activities. In the summer of 2023, it launched its own WeChat channel (see China Brief, September 22, 2023). For April 15, the ministry released a video documentary on ten counterespionage cases (YouTube.com/“Led by Innovation, National Security Sharpens the Sword”: April 14; April 15). This production, titled “Led by Innovation, National Security Sharpens the Sword (创新引领·国安砺剑),” provided details on alleged cases that the MSS had successfully exposed. The MSS notes that it “quickly became a breakthrough hit,” being disseminated by all the central media outlets—the People’s Daily, Xinhua, CCTV News, and over a thousand other media platforms. It estimates that it received more than a hundred million views (MSS Wechat, April 22).

Many of these activities seem trivial, and of little relevance to national security. Much of the messaging is clearly about shifting the mindset of the people and encouraging them to expect danger around every corner. The post containing the first part of the documentary details one by one “Ten Big Counter-espionage Cases (十大反间谍案例)” uncovered in the past decade. These include supposedly foreign spies, such as Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Also included is the revelation that a PRC citizen was executed in 2016 for allegedly selling secrets to the United States. The aim of the film is to raise people’s awareness, “so that spies have nowhere to hide” (MSS Wechat, April 13). PRC citizens are encouraged to notify the MSS if they see any telltale signs of espionage. Nie Furu also argues for “measures to reward citizens for reporting acts that endanger national security (公民举报危害国家安全行为奖励办法)” (Aisixiang, April 18).

National security, under the Concept, is intertwined with two other central preoccupations of Xi’s tenure. One is the synergy between what is currently referred to as the new productive forces and the new quality combat forces, which builds on the Military-Civil Fusion development strategy (see China Brief, March 15). Chen Yixin references these early on in his Qiushi article, arguing for the promotion of “the efficient integration and two-way pull of the new productive forces and new quality combat forces, and to create growth poles for new productivity and new combat power (推动新质生产力同新质战斗力高效融合、双向拉动,打造新质生产力和新质战斗力增长极)” (Qiushi, April 15). Technology is crucial to Xi’s aspirations for the PRC, but especially in terms of enhancing both economic development and national security. As many officials have stated: “security and development are the two wings of the same body (安全和发展是一体之两翼)” (Qiushi, April 16).

The other preoccupation is the harnessing of traditional Chinese culture for the Party’s own ends (see China Brief, October 20). The Concept has thus received an academic sheen of historical prestige from researchers at the Xi Jinping Research Centre for Socialist Thought with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era at National Defense University (Qiushi, April 8). They argue that the concept has “deep civilizational underpinnings,” is a “fundamental departure from the capitalist view of national security that pays lip service to human rights and security.” To support their claims, they cite a phrase from the Book of Changes (周易) that Xi had quoted in 2014, comparing it favorably with a quote from Marx (12371.cn, March 26, 2019).


National Security Education Day and the activities and content generation that surround it are evidence of the pervasiveness of the concept of comprehensive national security in PRC society. It is difficult to assess the extent to which these efforts are successfully enhancing people’s loyalty or preparing them for a potential conflict. At the very least these government initiatives are suggestive of a PRC society that is increasingly being forced to reflect the anxieties of a party that feels compelled to flex its impulse for control.


[1] Tai Ming Cheung. Innovate to Dominate: The Rise of the Chinese Techno-Security State. Cornell University Press, 2022. Chapter 2.