China deserves all the congratulations in the world for landing its first spacecraft on the Moon. It's a big deal – both for China and humanity at large. But can somebody please explain why the background image at this exhibit for China's recently deployed Yutu Rover depicts a massive mushroom cloud over Europe?
Photo Credit: China Network/Reuters
Here's a closer view of the photo, which was captured last month at the China International Industry Fair 2013 in Shanghai, and has been quietly circulating in various news outlets ever since. The display shows a model of the China National Space Administration's Moon-roving Yutu (aka "Jade Rabbit") spacecraft atop a mock lunar surface, and set against a backdrop image of the Earth seen from space. But hold on a second – what's that over Europe?
Yep, that's a mushroom cloud. But why would an exhibit for Yutu Rover be set against an image of Europe under nuclear attack?
The most likely explanation – the one we're hoping for, anyway – is that this was just an unfortunate diplomatic oversight. As a redditor by the name of wigg1es points out, the backdrop is actually a stock image (seen above), which means it's entirely possible that whoever was responsible for arranging this diorama picked the art out of a lineup without scrutinizing it for depictions of nuclear bombardment.
Still, there are undoubtedly those who will interpret the choice of image as a deliberate gesture. China – having been denied membership in the multinational partnership that operates the International Space Station – has managed to forge an increasingly impressive space program largely on its own (NASA, for instance, is banned by Congress from any contact, collaborations or partnerships with China, primarily due to concerns about technology transfer), a fact that has made for some disquieting observations about China's rise to ascendancy. To quote former NASA administrator Michael Griffen, who in 2011 had this to say about China's lunar ambitions at a hearing before a NASA oversight committee:
In my opinion, China understands what it takes to be a great power. We have written the script for them... They are a near-peer competitor of ours and I would worry very much about the future of this nation if we were not — and if we were not seen by all — to be a world leader.
When the Chinese can reach the moon and we cannot, I don't see why any other nation would regard us as a world leader.
Is someone in China asserting their country's dominance over those nations that snubbed their ambitions of space exploration? Possibly. But until we hear otherwise, we're chalking this one up to an unfortunate oversight.