In Liu Cixin's novel The Three Body Problem, astrophysicist Ye Wenjie is snatched up by agents of the Chinese government to take part in a special weapons programme involving the use of high-energy radio beams to disable Russian and American satellites. Later we find that this is only a cover story, and the true purpose is

to establish contact with an extraterrestrial civilization.

At the height of the Cold War, when the Chinese government considered both the "American Imperialists" and the "Russian Revisionists" an existential threat, it would seem difficult to justify use of scarce national resources in this way (as compared to improving missile technology, or indeed developing an anti-satellite capability).

What was the rationale used to justify the Red Coast programme?

1 Answer 1


This is explained a little later in the book.

  1. Chinese government scientists have determined that contact with extra-terrestrials would be a make/break occurrence. If contact is made by the Americans or Russians, it could be an existential threat to Communist China, especially if there's a transfer of technology. For a relatively low cost, China can "get in the game", so to speak.

Currently, both NATO and the Warsaw Pact are intensely active in fundamental research and investing heavily in it. One or more technological leaps can occur at any time. Such an occurrence will pose a major threat to our strategic planning.

  1. The government are keen to share their version of events (e.g. the doctrine of Marxism/Maoism) with the outside universe.

Others have already sent their messages out into space. It’s dangerous if extraterrestrials only hear their voices. We should speak up as well. Only then will they get a complete picture of human society. It’s not possible to get the truth by only listening to one side. We must make this happen, and quickly.


Attention, you who have received this message! This message was sent out by a country that represents revolutionary justice on Earth! Before this, you may have already received other messages sent from the same direction. Those messages were sent by an imperialist superpower on this planet. That superpower is struggling against another superpower for world domination so that it can drag human history backwards. We hope you will not listen to their lies. Stand with justice, stand with the revolution!

  1. Aside from SETI, the station does actually have other, more mundane, uses such as stellar observation, satellite listening and the potential to use the beam to attack satellites.

In future wars, Red Coast can effectively strike at the enemy’s communication and reconnaissance satellites, like the KH-8 spy satellites on which the American Imperialists rely, as well as the KH-9, which are about to be launched. The lower-orbit spy satellites of the Soviet Revisionists are even more vulnerable. If necessary, we even have the capacity to destroy the Salyut space station of the Soviet Revisionists and the Skylab station that American Imperialists plan on launching next year.”

Although this is a cover story for the need to have such as powerful transmitter, there's also no reason to assume that they're lying about the station's capability.

  • Unless there was a compelling reason to believe the other sides had already made contact or were about to, it would seem much easier to justify the anti-satellite use case from a military perspective.
    – Batperson
    Aug 22, 2021 at 9:19
  • @Batperson - Military scientific projects often have multiple applications. DARPA spent billion making a robot for the US Army, only to end up leasing it to construction companies and police forces; youtube.com/watch?v=wlkCQXHEgjA
    – Valorum
    Aug 22, 2021 at 9:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.