China's Most Secret Weapon: The

Messenger Pigeon
By Chengcheng Jiang / Beijing
Wednesday, Mar. 02, 2011
From TIME Magazine
Vocabulary to know before you read:


Though the world's
attention has recently
been focused on the
unveiling of China's first
ever stealth fighter jet,
the Chinese military has
been busy investing in
another type of furtive
flyer: the humble
messenger pigeon.
According to reports in
state media, late last
year, the Chengdu
division of the People's
Liberation Army (PLA)
began training 10,000 pigeons as part of a push to build a "reserve pigeon
army" that would provide support to the military's conventional
communications infrastructure in the event that war rendered its
plethora of modern technology unusable.
"These military pigeons will be primarily called upon to conduct special
military missions between troops stationed at our land borders or ocean
borders," air force military expert Chen Hong told China Central Television
after the announcement. According to reports, the birds will be dispersed to
communications bases across China's remote and mountainous
southwestern region, particularly around the Himalayan foothills. The

Hundreds of pigeons were dropped over Normandy during the D-Day landings to provide a communication channel back to Britain for soldiers who feared their radio messages would be intercepted by the Nazis. considered the crème de la crème of the pigeon racing world. as the PLA cavalry has played an increasingly peripheral role. will be trained to carry loads of up to 3.S. at a pigeon auction in Belgium. That group of pigeons would form the core of the PLA's first military pigeon brigade. assisting special police forces and supporting border troops.S. with cocaine and marijuana strapped to its back. and those who remain mostly take part in exhibitions or movie shoots.000 cavalry soldiers left in the PLA. Messenger pigeons have been used in the country for more than a thousand years. He brought with him hundreds of messenger pigeons to help with the war effort. Why might China’s use of messenger pigeons be surprising? 2. arrived in China to head up a group of U. In China. and after the war. The first pigeon to make it back to London with the news that the invasion had been a success was awarded high military honors. how have messenger pigeons been used in the past? 3. The over-burdened bird. Two thousand new dogs are reportedly signed up each year. an unnamed Chinese bidder broke the world record price for a single pigeon by paying $200. In late January. tasked with taking to the air to repel the Japanese invasion of the mainland. In 1937 Lieutenant Claire Lee Chennault. (100 g). have fallen out of fashion.-sponsored aviators known as the Flying Tigers.000 for a pedigree Belgian racing bird. and pigeons have been earning their military stripes here since at least the late 1930s.000) is too much? Too few? Just right? Why? . The birds have a long history of service in China. Air Force pilot. Questions: 1. Today the pigeons serve alongside 10. too. fell out of the sky before crossing the prison walls. once an important part of the military operations. flying at speeds of up to 75 miles (120 km) per hour. Horses.5 oz. a retired U. the birds are also used for recreation. There are said to be fewer than 1.pigeons. authorities in Colombia apprehended a pigeon that was being used by smugglers to deliver narcotics to their incarcerated compatriots. he left the birds behind. The Chinese army is far from the only one to turn to these winged warriors in times of trouble. Do you think the number of pigeons that are being trained (10.000 dogs in PLA service. Pigeon racing — and pigeon breeding in general — has exploded in popularity among China's upwardly mobile middle class. guarding military warehouses. have found pigeons useful: in January. Criminals. According to the article.