Victory

Victory is doing good things you never thought you could do.

Sunbeams strike the carrefour here in this foreign land, and,

amid stone chambers, shapely vowels,

the ungeheurerlich complexities of Gaul,

arcs of joy cut inexplicably into my sternum.

How can this be?  Is it not unseemly to declench oneself?

Striding toward towers crowned by mute and lovely angels,

I heave up great irrevocable laughs

as I became somewhat less foreign to myself.

PIC_3105

China’s Xinjiang Crisis [1]

Since the Xinjiang crisis erupted into violence on July 5*, I had a chance to view this problem from a few unique perspectives:

1. When the violence broke out, I was in China smack in the heart of another stronghold of nationalities, that is, the Korean Autonomous regions and counties on the border with North Korea, checking out the appeals for ethnic harmony.   The Koreans didn’t seem to give a damn about the Uighurs and if anything were bothered.

Indeed, everyone in China seems to reference last year’s Tibet unrest in indicating the Uighurs have bad timing and aren’t mindful of China’s needs.  In the week after the initial incident in Xinjiang, I had a nice ride  with a load of Tibetans from Qinghai on the No. 5 subway in Beijing; it was pretty palpably uncomfortable between the Han and the sprachlos/not really very good with oral Mandarin delegation of about twenty Tibetans.  So things are still tense depending on which ethnic group you are talking about, but the Koreans were rock-solid with Beijing.  Very little sympathy from any quarter.

2. I spent half a day in Dubai last week and therefore had a chance to delve, old-school, into their press stories on the Xinjiang problem. (The Khaleej Times is a great paper whose articles I hope to excavate here a bit further.)   Then I flew over Iraq and Turkey — wow! you might say, that don’t make him an expert, and I would agree, yet my surroundings were certainly encouraging to think about the Xinjiang problem, and the whole notion of borderlands in desert kingdoms, from another perspective.  And in sum I got a more visceral idea of how closely the Islamic world, broadly speaking, is watching this Uighur problem.

3. I spent a few days in Berlin, that partially Turkish city, and quite a few fine articles appeared in Germany on the Xinjiang issue and its Turkish ties when I was there; similarly, the French press (since today I’m back in Paris and doing my best to read ye olde Le Figaro, etc.) has fine insights into the Sino-Algierian issues in particular that have arisen as a result of Xinjiang (see below).

Since time is a bit limited, today’s post is going to save these things for later (particularly digests of 2. and 3. above) and promise to talk about the 1950s and 1960s  as well.  After all, China’s new placement with the West in the “War on Terror” is in many ways a consquence of Beijing having abandoning its sponsorship and support of revolutionary and anti-colonial movements in north Africa and across the world.

[*] I will resist using the favored CCP term for the violence;  their “7.5 incident” lies in a kind of conceptually ritualized nationalistic netherworld plotted in between the three disastrous points of 9.11 (signifiers of terror attacks, implications of justice for whatever acts occur in the following undeclared war on an internal population), 7.7 (the just  eight year War of Anti-Japanese Resistance not entirely forgotten by the media even in this year) and 6.4 (Tianamen in ’89, the unspoken anniversary that needed most badly to be topped).  Finally, in 2009, Communist Party officials seem to have found a date worth commemorating.  And they are fetishizing away. [*]

Citations:

Pierre Rousselin [talking head], “La Chine face à l’islamisme (China faces Islamism),” editorial, Le Figaro, 16 July, 2009, p 23.

Therry Oberle [correspondent in Maghreb], “Al-Qaida cible les Chinois en Afrique du Nord,” Le Figaro, 16 July, 2009, p 5.

China Daily, “‘East Turkestan’ a concept forged by the deceit of separatists, not history”

Qianmen: The Foreigner’s Lament [I]

(Note: Chinese characters may not display properly due to Turkish-style computer in Berlin via which this entry is being uploaded.)

Preface: The connection of Tiananmen Square with political theater has been well documented by all number of scholars and observers, most often with reference to the 1989 student movement which culminated in the chaos of June 4. In my own visits to that space in Beijing, I have tried to resist what might be considered a false connection between past events and the space at Tiananmen Square; in other words, I have tried to resist the seemingly foreign preoccupation of memory and taken the more “Chinese” outlook of pragmatism, simply enjoying the space for what it is: a fine place to take in the twilight too strongly. However, here I let myself go, somewhat more freely than my academic analysis permitted in a forthcoming essay for Cornell University Press.

I. The Sarcophogus

A swarm of sparrows glides and unclusters, diffusing space between Qianmen and the moon ascendant. Looking south, and up into the twilight, I murmur: “they are a collective intelligence.” Though I am anchored on the stone tiles of Tiananmen Square, my final syllable acts as a thunderclap; the flock flees north, warping the air towards Mao’s sarcophogus.

There, in the distance it takes for a bell to resound, a lone soldier stands, centered in the tomb’s yawning portal, stairs sluiced out beneath his gaze; he is a gleaming scale on the dragon’s back. The grandeur of his solitude, the mingling of his defiance with apparent vulnerability is all illusory: certainly behind this lone and vast portal stands a regiment drenched in iron, a body bristling with blades whose weight is meant to crunch down upon a palace coup. Playing within the drama of intimidation even in death, Mao indeed resembles Qin Shihuang.

(Yet the First Qin Emperor sits at this very moment bewildered on the blue line, the Number 2 subway. Under Qianmen’s depths, at the bottom of some toothy escalator, he is clad in peasant vestements, nervously fingering his imperial seals amid a sea of empty plastic bottles in an enormous sack; he knows not where to detrain. Qin Shihuang has buried his soldiers, killed his translators, gone amnesiac. He can no longer read his own scripts. Thus he sits in a long blasting sarcophogus on uniform gague, and rides the loop around the Second Ring Road with beggars who sing the forgotten songs of the Eighth Route Army, flanked by oblivious readers of the Huanqiu Shibao. 真是个悲剧.)

Above on the square, created by the revolution, the soldier guards the body of its progenitor, sustaining some flame that would eitherwise be mocked as futile or anachronistic. I plunge into my pocket, finding implements of German democracy – der Bleistift / the pen – fluttering with the visage of some Socialist Democratic Party bureaucrat. Though it emerges, somehow I am inhibited from wielding this tool; like the shouts of one million websites, it is blocked, strangely; it will not echo in this space.

Instead I peer up above that lone PLA guard, and to the icons. Above Mao’s tomb stand ten giant seals, and further still upward are carved five further seals. Fifteen – some oblique reference to the number of members of the Central Committee? No power lingers in the numerology. If five be a reiteration of the five major ethnicities evoked in the national flag, then it is a wholly stale one that reeks of artifice. These fifteen plates instead represent an unparalleled stone canvas of immortality; yet they are simply repetitve, meaningless patterns of flowers and stars. They are thus indicative of the intellectual exhaustion of their era, the inability to say anything with specificity or real conviction other than “bury the man, and make it glorious.” Were the cranes still up over this massive construction project, blocking out the view south from Tiananmen, when the walls blossomed with big character posters again in Xidan? Did someone wonder if the great leader might be buried alongside the head of his loyal general Peng Dehuai?

The public security / 公安 does not interpret such phenomenon.

Oblivious youth in bold greens and pinks pose in tacit ridicule of everything. After all, fresh pixels of one’s own image capture an allure far greater than some thousand-year old monolith or the millenial tomb of some ideologue. After all, the monuments will still be here when one ceases to look like a pop star on a Pepsi can.

Dead Mao and the nouveau riche: even this pastiche of minisculism drives me nauseous into the dark and accepting portal of Qianmen. I look out, north. Four guards pass, protectiing the republic, lingering over my brandished pen, thrumming with its own schaffensdrang, their only possible enemy in this lengthening and lonely salient of the square at twilight. Behind them, Mao’s tomb blocks out everything — Tiananmen, the monument to the people’s heroes, the flag – suffocating space.

I turn away, and to the stones. They are grey and black, mute, yet so tolerant. Their loving silence at the application of such potentially dangerous inks…

II. Shades of the Republic – Min’guo

I stumble out from the sterile guts of the square, tiled, aniseptic, and seek dust.  “Staub”, as the Germans say, as Mahler hurled out, to dust I shall return!

And in following trails of pebbles south of the square, I find a crevase of dirt.  And one could be in Anshan, or Shanxi…the pavement is gone, an ancient hotel not yet razed, everywhere destroyed.  No one is here.  And then after suffering the stares of a few ghostly souls who still live among smashed bricks and gravel behind the giant canvas pictures of future dream developments, I find it:

A bank hewn from stone, the National Bank of China, a nation unto itself, built in 1932 as the Japanese made their way south with lugubrious power.   This building is of a rare vintage indeed; very little remains in Beijing of the Republican epoch, at least not visibly.  Even the Square itself is a creature of the People’s Republic, not its predecessor rival which Mao chased off to Taiwan like Zhu Yuanzhang.

And so I am pleased to find this bank here, to make its great aquaintence.  It is as if it has been dropped out of space, as if its compact shoulders and barfing stone dragons, defy and expose the manifest weakness of everything in its aura.  Everything else is crushed underfoot in this abandoned warzone.  But neither Mao nor Deng nor their followers had the guts or the ability to raze this structure, fearful somehow of its compact brawn.

Min guo!  Your sinews are yet imitable.  For you, I would slide into iambic meters, compose paeans, acknowledge that you dug out the hollows in which I yet sleep.  For you, state of old, I would inhabit the 1930s, hack at typewriters, lick the wounds of Wade-Giles, callous my fingers on all rotary phones, suffer through interminable dinners with American brass, avert my eyes from scandalous qipao, voyage for weeks to collect bullets from Chinatowns, dive like Hart Crane into waters as blue as the tiles on the Guofu’s tomb, drink sandy beverages with Sidney Rittenberg before he pushes off for Yanan, gauge the tenor of the American ambassador’s strange war whoop, work in this damned united front, shave and pray, deliver speech after speech in dolorous orphanage meter, find something celestial about your banks, your tombs, your dizzying modernity.  And I would of course strive to recover your northern frontier.  I would do these things for you, all for the love of your architecture, and purely so, because my daoshi and his ilk are of the Minguo, and because I perceive within it the roots of the present beast — this bellowing panda, laughing dragon, rural dumping ground for microchips — and the idea that unity might yet be achieved between the red stars and the white sun on blue.

And because my lands were once locked in civil war, I wonder when yours will end, in a a chat room or by some less pleasant means.  But today it is no longer my fight and I have gazed upward for long enough at the remnant of Republican glory.  I turn to beholden the lights, leaving in my wake a dusty field of memory.

III. Qianmen (forthcoming)

Relevant Citations:

Adam Cathcart “Walls as Multivalent Icons in the early People’s Republic,” forthcoming in Chinese Walls in Time and Space: History, Medicine, Media, Law, Art, and Literature, Haun Saussy and Roge DesForges, eds. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009).

Hu Jintao 1984 = Hu Jintao 2009

For reasons which will be made clear to me only gradually, yesterday I managed to pull a 9-5 shift at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin.  I say “will gradually become clear” because most good archival visits are like making wine: one stamps through fields of grapes, leaving with pungeant feet and drunk on fumes, yet it takes months or years for the product to age properly and for the full value of the research to become known to the researcher (the eventual author) and those he entreats with the new data.  But in the meantime there is the euphoria of another notebook scarred with black pens filched from French librarians in Beijing, of knowing that the harvest has only begun, of having been kicked out of yet another research facility by archivists raring to get in their Volkswagen turbochargers.

Now, the intention of my research is never to discredit the great Communist Party of China; I only long to create social harmony and aid China in its rise as a strategic partner to any and every country in Orient or Occident who is wise enough to befriend the leaders of the Middle Kingdom.  Yet sometimes in my research I dig up little bits of what might be considered “dirt”: a good example is Peng Zhen chortling to a French delegation in 1956 that China would be glad to wipe Chicago and San Francisco off the map once they finished work on the Chinese atomic bomb.  Oops!  But let it never be said that China scrubs scrubs scrubs its historical image; Peng simply made a gaffe and the Party historians of the Foreign Ministry (more liberal by most accounts than those of the Central Archives) let it ride.

And, although I had no intention of digging up dirt on Hu Jintao, I nevertheless crossed paths with the man in the Bundesarchiv in Berlin.  The context was via  documents he created in his earlier capacity as President of the All-China Youth Federation.  (As reading previous entries will make clear, among other things this summer I have been delving into youth group and cultural connections between China and Europe during the Cold War.)

The German archives are incredibly rich in their portraits of Chinese society and particularly Chinese students in the period from 1979-1989.  One report by the East German embassy in Peking, dating December 18, 1979, notes the student disatisfaction centered around the “Unzufriedenheit mit dem materiellen und kulturellen Bedingungen, mit der Perspectivlosigkeit und der politischen Rechtlosigkeit.”  (In other words, the regime had lost its perspective, and the students have lost their rights.)  And thus a cultural battle followed in the early 1980s, which continues today.

And I love learning about China in the 1980s for lots of reasons: trying to discern the continuities from the total ruptures, for one.  But here, with Hu Jintao, we have a case of pure continuity.

To the excerpts from Hu Jintao, circa 1984!  The context is a hard-hitting interview with reporters from the Xinhua News Agency on the subject of a reading campaign Hu was heading up.  I think you will appreciate how little his attitude has changed since that time, a quarter century ago:

Q: What is the guiding ideology of the reading drive?

A: It is a traditional hobby of our youth to read books, especially good books.  We hope reading will enrich the spare-time activities, deppen their general and technical knowledge, and raise their ideological and political awareness.  We do not think that all books are beneficial to the youngsters who are maturing and have not got their outlook on the world and life into shape.  We should therefore reisist the bourgeoise ideological contamination spread by such books that advocate sex and violence and the pornographic hand-copied stories.  Proceeding from education in patriotism, we will guide the young people to foster a firm communist world outlook and become a new generation with ideals, moral integrity, good education, and a sense of discipline.

Q. How long will the reading campaign last?

A. Considering the needs of the youth, the reading campaign is by no means a temporary expedient and will be carried on permanently.

Q. What measures will you take to guide the reading?

A. Youth organizations at all levels should encourage extensive and lively activities such as guidance lectures, tests on the books…The talks…at present should stress the significance of resisting the bourgeoise cultural contamination.  Their contents need to be continuously renewed and their forms diversified.

And thus we have Hu Jintao today.

At the same time that this interview was occuring, Hu’s newspaper, the Zhongguo Qingnianbao, published an editorial (“Desire for Fuller Life is No Ideological Contamination”) in which some confusion among the masses was pinpointed.  What the hell was meant by “ideological contamination” anyway?  The editorial answered this question simply enough: “pornography” and, in a last gasp of jumbled nonsense, “and bourgeoise liberalism in the theoretical and cultural fields whereby cultural products are turned into a commodity.”

I hope that in future debates over the Chinese internet and censorship, that my colleagues recognize that, while the internet is a new channel of communication, it did not create some giant crisis for the CCP.  Simply apply the old methods consistently enough, treat the people like “youngsters who are maturing and have not got their outlook on the world and life into shape,” and everything will be fine.

A wonderful contrast, a spark of hope from the 1980s, is found in the same communist journal.  In 1985 the party experimented in its normal laboratory for such reforms, the middle schools of Beijing.

(This is true: Beijing is the launching pad for everything, including the Cultural Revolution of course.  Myself, I recall publishing some work based on anti-American songs from the early Korean War whose first singers were just that audience, but in 1950.  Oh indeed! to have been blessed with a fatherly danwei, a Beijing hukou, and an education from the Fourth Middle School of Beijing city!  To be the first to sing a new song!  To sing, and then to hammer out the gaokao, annihilate various assignments as if one were conducting guerilla warfare {surround, outwit, and destroy piece by piece of the larger body of troops/the homework}, get into Beida, marry a girl with some serious guanxi in the PLA, and clamber up the ranks of the elite.  Or, get a gig teaching “Deng Xiaoping Theory / the Three Represents.”  But I digress…)

Yet it should be remarked that the CCP at least experimented with a more open communications environment for youth in the same epoch.

In 1985,  one hundred student journalists at the No. 35 Middle School of Beijing founded a news agency, led by Yang Yixin, an upperclassmen.  While Yang and everyone else were working under the leadership of the Beijing Qingnian bao, they were bold in their pronouncements.  Their goal, as stated in the China Youth Bulletin, was for China to become “a cradle for famous journalists in the 21st century.”  This is bold stuff!  China returning to its great tradition of journalists, gaining a foothold on the world stage as they had during World War II via such flinty and persistent reporters as Wang Yunsheng.  And seeing the development of student journalism as part of the Four Modernizations is even more bright.

Going on, the 1985  bulletin noted that “[the policy's'] aim is to tap intellectual resources, foster students’ creative abilities and keep themselves well-informed so as to bring up a new generation of jounalists and student activists.”  The students were authorized to send a tongxun, or circular, to all middle school students in Beijing.

What became of this group and Yang Yixin?  Did this activity expand and thrive, only to be cut short by the events of 1989?  And can you imagine the CCP today allowing access to any part of its communications appartus to even the most loyal middle school students?  The whole notion of student control over newspapers and their ability to command school or government printing presses is one which remains highly contested in the U.S., but in the context of the PRC with its endemic censorship and information control policies, such tentative essays toward reform are worth noting, even if they amount to nought.

I’ll conclude with the students’ own triumphant procolomation of 1985, most likely drafted by the ambitious teenage hand of Yang Yixin: “The current economic reforms have opend up a bright future for us.  We should find a new way to enhance our abilities.  Our slogan is ‘Go our own way hitherto untrodden, forward to a magnificence never attained before.’”




Sources:

Hu Jintao, “Answering Questions On the Reading Drive,” Chinese Youth Bulletin (Zhongguo qingnian tongxun 中国青年通讯) Vol. 4 No. 1 (Jan. 1984): 4. {Referenced at Bundesarchiv, Berlin.}

“The 1st Student News Agency,” Chinese Youth Bulletin (Zhongguo qingnian tongxun 中国青年通讯) Vol. 5 No. 3 (Jan. 1984): 15.  {Referenced at Bundesarchiv, Berlin.}

Hamburg Sinology

The dense and wealthy north German metropolis of Hamburg appears to be fairly bursting with people who are both interested and invested in China.  I was able to attend two events there yesterday.

1. “Lingang New City: Between Surrealism and Function,” an exhibition of work at, and by, the renowned Hamburg architecture firm gmp.   The firm was contracted to design a new city outside of Shanghai, and the construction of the project  is currently nearing completion.

This struck me not only as an aesthetically pleasing exhibit (and what else would one expect from a German firm?), but it reinforced for me the serious competition that exists in China for such firms and the almost limitless potential for opportunity with which such firms regard China.  This occured most strongly to me when standing in the firm’s vault of miniature wooden models of previous projects.  By and large, the projects undertaken for Europe involved grafting something new onto something old, such as the redesign of the 1936 Olympic Stadium in Berlin originally conceived by Albert Speer.  However, Chinese projects took place on a practically blank canvas.  Here the imagination of the architect seems less burdened by existing structures or budgets.  This freedom in many cases has resulted in some monstrosities (the  variety of pseudo-European kitsch villas near the Shenyang airport being a good example) but also can result in potentially classic structures if the planners have the leeyway and the creativity.  And it appears that Hamburg architects in particular will continue their string of successful contracts for work in China.

2. A lecture by the dynamic Gerd Boesken entitled “China’s Green Great Leap Forward?”

Chinas Grüner Sprung nach Vorn? 

Das starke Wirtschaftswachstum in der Volksrepublik China ist nicht ohne Folgen für die Umwelt geblieben. Sind die hoch gesteckten Ziele der chinesischen Regierung im Umweltbereich erreichbar? Welche Chancen bieten sich Firmen für eine Zusammenarbeit im Umwelttechnik-Bereich? Der China-Experte Dr. Gerd Boesken wird am 15. Juli 2009, um 19.00 Uhr im Elbe-Zimmer der Handelskammer Hamburg auf diese und andere Fragen eingehen.

Die Vortragsveranstaltung ist eine Kooperationsveranstaltung des Juniorenkreises der Chinesisch-Deutschen Gesellschaft e.V., des Taiwan-Freundeskreises Bambusrunde e.V., des OAV und der Handelskammer Hamburg.
More thoughts on this lecture  and its multiple meanings in a subsequent post.

Return from Yanbian

My apologies for the paucity of recent posts, friends.  The author of this blog has been smashing through the Chinese borderlands with North Korea, pen in hand, laden with a camera, now borne aloft on new experiences.

In the aftermath of this journey, there are scores of things I would like to say about North Korea and Chinese views of that state.  Along with a few of my extra photos, I will be offloading said views and first-hand accounts onto this blog in the coming weeks.   Fortunately, none of it involves 1. my being kidnapped or 2. walking across the border into North Korea.  (As for 1., I was momentarily trapped in a cab by some miscreants who claimed to be Uighur terrorists at about midnight one evening on the outskirts of Yanji; fortunately I muscled and talked my way out of this situation without relinquishing funds or dignity and was fine.  And they were Han, not Uighurs.  And, as for the second point, although I was very close most of the time to North Korea, for anyone who is not a returning refugee bringing food or cash back home, crossing into that country without permission is both irrational and pointlessly dangerous.)

In all, it was a lovely journey and I am looking forward with great anticipation to describing it further, along with further analysis of related geo-political issues, most of all that badly misunderstood and changing rubric of Sino- North Korean relations.

And some local descriptions of areas such as Ji’an, Linjiang, Changbai Automous Korean County, Yanji, and that Russianized outpost of Hunchun.

Today, following a 36-hour stint back in Beijing to clamber my way through a gang of Huadong Shifan University scholars and collect an armful of documents from the Foreign Ministry Archive, I am now tasting the fruits of internet liberty and the abundance of newspapers which are the domain of the Bundesrepublik, e.g., Deutschland, e.g., Germany.  Yesterday Frankfurt, today Hamburg, tomorrow Berlin.

Finally, a bit of inspiration from Eliezer Gurarie, our favorite scientist in Helsinki/Seattle, whose offering prompted me to return to the blogging method, and to do so forthwith:

the trickle of data oozing through the cracks in the great firewall has gone calando, calando, calando to an deafening fermata, not unlike sightings of the baiji in the long water of the golden sands.

is it the perturbations among the arid sands of the sinic occident?  or in the febrile jungle of the cathcartian heart?  these are the questions that haunt us here, perched in the glass aeries of academe in helsingfors, looking eastward through warm winds, fanciful thunderrolls and heavy baltic mists.

in any case, the silence, we hope, will be broken.

And it has now been broken indeed, not with a Mahlerian thunderclap, but with a modest post, of modest means, tapped out in the modest corner of a Hamburg train station…

French Dispatches from Tokyo: Philippe Pons on North Korean Provocations

Why Read the European Press re: East Asia? A Justification
I operate on assumptions that more sources, even flawed ones, are better than fewer.  (I also believe, unlike the classic example of Dick Cheney in 2002-03, that as we sift through these sources, it is important to let a thesis develop out of them rather than imposing one from above.)  Grabbing a wider net can only bring more perspectives to bear.  So even if European reporting on East Asia were all “wailing and gnashing of teeth,” racist and hopelessly biased, we still might want to take a look at it, and feed it through our filters.  And, because European reporting from East Asia is not in fact beyond hope, it is worth stating plainly: there appear to be more European reporters in East Asia than American reporters, and the substance of the reporting tends to be better.

A second reason is that, in the process of translation, we can sometimes fina a new level of analysis or a fitting phrase, a new way of thinking about a problem which has not heretofore existed in English.  I’ll give a few examples below.

Now, to the quality-of-reporting issue:

Take, for instance, Le Monde versus the New York Times.  The New York Times is particularly guilty or lacksidasical reporting from Tokyo; reporting from Japan is either business-centered [although there is still precious little of even this] or of the human-interest variety.  Whale meat!  Snow in Niigata!  Girls in kimonos graduate from high school!  With an occasional foray into demographic crisis or history controversies, there is simply not enough decent reporting from Japan in the financially-strapped and Middle-East oriented New York Times.  Perhaps the Los Angeles Times is somewhat better; and fortunately the Seattle Times does come through with a good original story from Asia from time to time.  (One on Beijing hip-hop where the author went to Mao Live House between Gulou and Dongzhimen stands out as a particular favorite; the Seattle Times also seems to have a corner on stories about Japanese baseball.)

By contrast to the NYT, reporter Philippe Pons has been writing some decent dispatches lately for Le Monde from Tokyo.  The following piece is quite good; I haven’t sufficient time for a full translation, but here are a few significant points [again, with apologies for the lack of diacritical marks]:

Philippe Pons, “Pyongyang prend le risque de fragiliser ses arrieres,” Le Monde, 30 May 2009, p. 2.

North Korea, according to Pons, has been engaged in overloading the international system with problems (“montee au creaneau”) in order to attract attention.
Pons interviews Chongryon members (pro-north Koreans in Japan), describes them as “seething with frustration” over the north’s recent actions.
In a couple of solid reminders, Pons notes that the anti-“Sunshine Policy” Lee Myong-bak’s February 2008 election was a turning point for DPRK’s foreign policy; he further states the obvious but often forgotten fact that “in theory, the two Koreas are still at war every day.”
Pons describes 2012 as an “echenance” or “due date” for North Korea; the centenary of Kim Il Song’s birth is taken quite seriously by the author as a driving force for regime short-term planning in Pyongyang; presumably, this year might serve as the appropriate time for a more global or official announcement of Kim Jong-un’s accession plans
Pons may be a Frenchman in Japan, but he is on the phone with experts in Seattle (Peter Beck) and San Francisco (Scott Snyder).  Beck believes that internal factors outweigh external factors in gauging North Korean recent behavior.  In other words, domestic politics trumps whatever international backlash might rain down on the North for nuclear tests, grabbing American journalists, etc.
The North Korean missile launch on April 5 2009 was a means of not just testing  ballistic capabilities, but also of testing Barack Obama.
Pons quotes a “South Korean commentator”/talking head Shim Jae-hoon, who states that “Kim Jong Il is playing his last game of poker.”  This is a strong image without much analytical value, but it’s how Shim pays his bills.
China is described as “the queen on the chessboard on account of its ties with North Korea” (“la piece maitresse de l’echiquer en raison de ses liens avec la DPRK”).  It is this kind of metaphor that has been lacking in the American press, to my knowledge.  Everyone leans on China to influence the North, but to liken it to the queen in a game of (Western) chess seems to better capture the overall situation.  China can intimidate, cajole, work with other partners, etc., but it is far from omnipotent.  Particularly if it is distrustful of “the rook” to which we might liken Japan.

Philippe Pons, “Les enjeux geostrategiues de la crise coreenne,” Le Monde, 10 June 2009, p. 2.

Pons discusses the international/regional aspects of the crisis.

Peking Days

There are days when all the havoc floats away like flotsam, days when Peking blossoms into full perfection.  Days when one’s roommate runs away forever to Mongolia, when blankets fill the window and allow one to chose the moment of introduction to the sun, days when noon has the aura of early morning, when clouds become distinct, when one finds that shampoo suffices to clean one’s clothes, days when the bugs recede, when one forget to pick up the business cards because there is no urgent business, days when the air clears and the mountains emerge with dignified clarity, when the archives move like concrete blocks in the constructive mind, when the mix of tea and water is right, when a line of eight North Koreans walk past with beautiful smiles, when the dumplings are 5 yuan, when the garbage is not fetid, when you see a map of unexplored territories in Europe and savor their savage urbanity, when the arc of the Foreign Ministry recedes behind trees planted by thoughtful Chinese oil company architect-planners, when one ignores the newspaper for a few hours, when one folds up everything into a small box and walks away, days when one craves a certain dish and arrives at the old haunt restaurant to find that it has looked like a bombed-out 抗战 Chongqing Dagongbao office for two years, but one admires its dusty grey beauty // its ornaments defiant amid twisted metal // days when the water flows, when the bum sits down with aspirated satisfaction on the giant bag of plastic bottles, when the little store of fan motors has not been swallowed by monolithic kitsch, when you acknowledge that you love even to hate this city, when the 青菜腐竹 arrives gently on the table, when ghosts from the past arrive with new hair cuts, when the lilies have uprooted to move to the south shore –

//on such days, the mutton shop once mourned becomes a field of orange geraniums waving like pendulums of time//

days when one has forgotten and then rediscovered a flavor at a smooth table, when a huge window looks out at a wall – you recall its construction, you no longer need to know when it is coming down – when one has planned a series of lessons and trapdoors for the young, when one reads headlines like “Americans save money, Chinese don’t worry,” when one walks directly into Vice-Premier Xi Jingping’s hortatory speech on the 7 o’clock news on the 109 to Jingshan Park and gets a seat in front of the television and is inundated immediately with “liberation thinking” “choice of the people” and the notion of comedy rapidly passes and//when it comes down to it// one becomes genuinely and inexplicably interested traversing the streets by old Peking University—

days when one coils up within the second ring road and finds again the eccentric old men, where dogs waddle, birds skate through the air, when the white hulk of an airplane can be discerned hovering beyond the Worker’s Stadium, when one has finally laid siege to a particular 字 and anticipates drumbeats of victory in this battle of annihilation, when one dreams not of Yanji or Strasbourg but of another hour of daylight, when the library closes but one finds a French pencil and turns joyfully to the bag on one’s back, when those to whom you lent Hamlet cling to it and affirm its perfection, when Anglophone thoughts thrum guiltless and powerful through the atmosphere, when one meets again a brother in 帽儿胡同, when one circumambulates the Mongol lakes, peering into their waters.  Diving into these depths as the twilight recedes into amber would be perfectly natural, yet, is not needed, because one knows how it feels.