by KYLE MIZOKAMI
Need a Chinese military entrenchment tool? Are you a hipster who wants to replace that 1960s-era Mao cap with a Xi Jinping-approved jungle boonie hat? Do you hunger for “anti-radiation” food?
You’re in luck. Now you can buy equipment, uniforms and patches from the largest armed force in the world. Thanks to eBay and enterprising exporters in China, a vast array of military equipment from the People’s Liberation Army is up for sale.
The PLA, like the rest of the Chinese government, is not exactly the most transparent institution in the world.
But the goods are a fascinating window into the world of Beijing’s military and its various ground, naval, air and nuclear warfare branches.
Collectors will take interest in items such as uniforms from China’s 1979 war with Vietnam. Unit patches from the Second Artillery Corps will intrigue open source analysts combing the web for information about China’s nuclear force.
China is the largest trading nation in the world. At the same time, interest in the rapidly expanding PLA is higher than ever. So it was only a matter of time before someone started selling PLA equipment and memorabilia abroad to collectors.
Two eBay accounts in particular, army6688 and china-pla-supplies are doing brisk business selling PLA uniforms and equipment. Both accounts are based in and ship directly from mainland China and Hong Kong. An interview request to army6688 was not returned.
There’s a staggering variety and scale of merchandise. A service badge from the People’s Armed Police features depictions of a bird, rifle and the Great Wall. Interested in a PLA Tibet Military Region Special Forces patch?
Some of these items have more practical applications. Backpackers can buy a strobe light issued to aircrews—it’s visible from three kilometers away. For your next pickup basketball game, try a pair of PLA Paratrooper kicks.
Allergies bothering you? Try the PLA Chemical Corps protective suit, complete with respirator, which ideally keeps out chemical agents. Or, as the description delicately puts it, “poison.”
Even better, start a collection from China’s nuclear deterrent force, the Second Artillery Corps.
The eBay sellers have several nuke-related items for sale, including uniforms, badges and unit patches. This is particularly interesting, as there’s little publicly known about the Second Artillery. China has only a handful of nuclear weapons, and few operational details are available.
A savvy open-source analyst could look at the unit badges and correlate them with known—and unknown—nuclear forces. The items don’t just represent the latest PLA gear, but are historical artifacts from China’s recent military past.
Another item hearkens back to the lowest Chinese tech—a pocket knife tool combines a blade and a pick for cleaning the shoes of PLA horses. The item dates back to the 1970s, but Chinese troops still use horses to this day along the frontier with India.
The PLA has helpfully thought about what its troops should eat in the event of a nuclear war or accident. The result is “anti-radiation” cookies.
War Is Boring pal Mike Yeo translated the bold red lettering above as “Anti-Radiation Food.” According to the rest of the package, it weighs 170 grams, and there are 10 pieces inside.
“The ingredients are typical of butter cookies or biscuits,” another translator wrote. “Some Chinese herbs are added to the mix, these includes ginseng, goji berries, Lingzhi mushrooms.”
“But one ingredient stood out—which directly translate to ‘spirulina polysaccharides,’ a kind of algae, which detoxifies the cells, boost the immune system, increase macrophages in one’s white blood cells, which purifies blood.”
The “anti-radiation food” sounds like something you can buy at Whole Foods. Just pray you never have to eat it the way the Chinese army intended.
“It does mention ONLY consume twice daily,” the translator added. “The manufacturer belongs to a department of food trials of the PLAN Quartermaster.”
The question is—given China’s tendency to crank out fakes and unauthorized reproductions, is all of this stuff real? China-pla-supplies even boasts of the authenticity of his or her products, warning potential buyers that there are “many, many” fake copies on the market.
It’s possible most the goods are indeed authentic. In the U.S. for example, defense contractors sell goods when they make too much, the government cancels a contract or cuts it short. Another possibility is these items derive from Chinese companies that deliberately produce too much.
For years, Chinese companies have extended production runs of goods to sell on the side. These products surface on gray and black markets at home and abroad.
Another question—is any of this stuff legal to export?
War Is Boring isn’t aware of Chinese export controls on non-lethal military equipment. The closest items to an actual weapon are pocket horseshoe cleaning tools for the PLA’s horses, and an infantryman’s entrenching tool—which, to its credit, is deadly in the right hands.
Some of the information provided by sellers also appears to be incorrect. One seller describes an insignia as the “China PLA Army Second Artillery 73056 Troops Patch.” The Second Artillery Corps is the PLA branch responsible for the control of conventional and nuclear ballistic missiles.
There is a “Unit 73056” in Zhenjiang, China, but it’s an air-defense brigade. The missile depicted in the patch looks awfully like a Hong Qing-2 surface-to-air missile, the Chinese version of the venerable SA-2.
So, the patch may be authentic, but the description is probably wrong.
Okay—this stuff is all pretty niche.
But the flow of militaria out of China is an opportunity for both collectors and Asian military watchers to study the culture of the PLA. And it’s a fun chance to collect everyday items from a different, possibly antagonistic military culture.
Flashy, patriotic patches such as that worn by the 31st Army Special Forces show that Chinese troops take pride in their units. Some items, such as the Kevlar helmets, are not too different from what U.S. and western forces wear.
Other products, such as the anti-radiation food, are pretty far out there. But it’s still tempting. “I can’t even look at the stuff on eBay,” one active duty U.S. military officer told me. “I’d buy all the things.”
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