Burning about North Korea: Chinese Netizens


and other such comments on the news that North Korea would pay $3000 USD to each of the families of the killed and wounded people in the June 4 border shootings.

For more extensive commentary from the Chinese press, see this entry entitled “Borderline Banditry”; the comments section there is also full of juicy links.

Rather than extensive commentary here (although it’s certainly deserving), I’ll just Tweet the links forthwith.

June 18: Celebrating Charles de Gaulle


Who cares that the French (“les bleus”) are a stagnant Fussballmannschaft who is on the verge of being bounced from World Cup play?

Because tomorrow in Europe begins today: it is the seventieth anniversary of General Charles de Gaulle’s announcement of “la Resistance” from a radio booth in London.  Which means that French President Nicholas Sarkozy will be — where else? — in London, with a Gaullist book between his hands, to commemorate. In short, he has not been able to say “Enough with the De Gaulle!”

I’ve been sparring with this man (de Gaulle that is, but also his inheritor Sarkozy) in a renewed and highly sporadic fashion for about the past year and a half, but this article in Liberation encapsulated the meaning of the man, for me anyway, in the most beautiful fashion:

Alain Dudmel, “Que reste-t-il du gaullisme aujourd’hui? [What Remains of Gaullism Today?,] Liberation, Paris, June 17, 2010, p. 17.

[translation by Adam Cathcart]

The [French] President Nicholas Sarkozy will be in London tomorrow to commemorate the appeal of 18 June 1940.  The seventieth anniversary becomes an occasion for a national consensus and, also, an edifying retrospective.  If today nearly all the French give their admiration to the rebellious general who saved the day and the honour of the tricolor French flag, at the time, things were different.  Between the wrecked military [naufrage militare/ 功败垂成的士兵], the perilous exodus, and the crushed politics [effondrement politique / 崩溃政治情况] , most French people regarded Marshal Petain as the supreme savior.  The shield with seven stars eclipsed the lone sword [Le bouclier (盾)aux sept etoiles eclipsait le glaive (关刀) solitaire.]

l'appel dans la nuit, via Le Figaro

Since then, the legitimacy of Gaullism has justly erased the legality of Petainism.  The Gaullism in London has easily [haut la main] won the battle of history.  The man of June 18 remains, for eternity, the most glorious Frenchman of the 20th century.

But is that to say that Gaullism was itself also fated to expire in its time?  In fact it is an entirely different affair.  The Gaullism surely triumphed in the war, thanks to Free France, thanks to the Resistance, thanks to the sovereignty regained after the Liberation.  And afterwards we cannot forget how less than two years after the apotheosis of his decent down the Champs-Elysees, the General DeGaulle would abandon power.  (The right to ingratitude is the priviledge of democracy.)

After this we could not omit his adventure with the RPF, irresistable in 1947 but miserable (déconfit/难为情)  in 1952 .  Partisan Gaullism was hoisted on the petard of its originator.  Then there remains the institutionalized Gaullism of the Fifth Republic.   Towards this, it is natural that we should withhold a response.  But is the Gaullism of the war destined to always be unforgettable?

The author then goes into a discourse on how French government was deeply impacted by Gaullism, but how society has moved well beyond its conservative mores.

This translation has been brought to you by the Lycee Francais Charles de Gaulle in South Kensington!

All the Parisians in Berlin are allegedly dejected, but they still seem to be loving life.  I knew there was a reason that my bicycle mantra for the day has been “Viva les Allemandes francophone.”

A Little Huanqiu Nationalism

If the above link to a gallery of Chinese volunteers in Vietnam [浴血南疆对越自卫反击战 ] fails to satisfy, be sure not to miss some obligatory Xinhua praise of the Boxer Movement [义和团运动 ] as “a patriotic, anti-imperialist movement of farmers in North China” or an extensive reminder in this scintillating lead from  “战后日本 关于民间“认罪”的不完全记录 [ Postwar Japan's Record Regarding Collective 'Guilt' is Not Complete]“:


Nothing like a little nationalist orthodoxy to act as an astringent for the day.  Or perhaps the Huanqiu scribes and editors, like many journalists, are under pressure to just fill space and back up the bulwarks with such stories.


Archives Week

This week, and next as well, I’m in Berlin for the annual spelunking of the Bundesarchiv, Germany’s premier archive.  The Bundesarchiv is a treasure house of information, if you can find it, that is.   The archive is hidden away in a leafy corner of Lichterfelde West just past Kadettenweg on the grounds of an officer’s school with roots in the Prussian past, all within a gated campus which was once used by US occupation officials as a barracks for Americans.   In short, it is a deeply layered thing.

Take, for instance, this random find, a listing sent by the German Institute for Foreign Science to the German Foreign Ministry in 1942, in response to the latter’s request for a list of people in Berlin who were good with the Turkish language.

And no, you can’t find this stuff sitting in your house, that is, unless you are a former Nazi official, circa 1942, and you generally can’t find it online.  (And some people can’t read German, but they should be working along with me to remedy that deficiency as well.)  The challenge with archival materials is always and perpetually to balance the need for incessant exploration with the equally present (though not always overpowering) desire to see the material into print.  I’ve found the Bundesarchiv materials to be extremely helpful, however, in many regards, not least of which is as a spur to keep my German language relatively limber and, more importantly, give me a better sense of the breadth and success of Chinese foreign policy with East Germany in the 1950s-1980s, East German aid to North Korea, and the complex ties between Japan and Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

And on the topic of archives, I may be posting a few more newsy items picked up along the way on my recent travels to Iceland (where my visit coincided with a PRC state visit for geothermal energy contracts) and London (where among other things I met with Sinologist Martin Jacques, joined an Iranian march for democracy, and partied with the dancers of the English National Ballet.)   But all in due time, or, in the infamous words of the Cairo Declaration, “in due course.”  Until then!

This is What Sino-Japanese Friendship Looks Like

Congratulations, Japan, and thank you Toyota.  [And thanks to Singularity Hub and the tongue-twisting Daily Discovegestionary Babel for the links.]  You have now officially captured the hearts of the Chinese people by designing a robot that not only has perfect bow placement and can vibrato on long notes, but one that plays Chinese folk songs at the Shanghai Expo.  This is a feat that not even the South Koreans could accomplish, the nation that produced Sarah Chang! (I’m not implying she’s a robot; anything but.  In fact I should highly recommend Chang’s recent recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto, Op. 77, with its attractively deliberate resistance to pulse.  But Hyundai, on the other hand, was resistant to competing with Japan on the robot violin innovation front.)  Jealousy, pride, and friendship levels really need to be running high about this sort of thing.

Afghan Mirage


Deployments can be brutal, but sometimes it can be very liberating to follow a vague command, pick up your body and your portable office, and just dump the whole mess in a random European city.  For instance, Reykjavik.  Yes, for some reason which is truly unknown to me, I’m sitting this evening in Iceland’s long midnight twilight, reading a weird but healthy pastiche of Le Monde, Liberation, Zhongguo Meishubao, a scholarly monograph on Jewish musicians in Berlin in the 1930s, and Simone de Beauvoir’s immense dissertation on postwar lassitude and the French left, the obsessively repetitive yet often brilliant novel Les Mandarines.

Well, as a good friend of mine would say, “Whatever, jackass.”  Let’s just  focus on Le Monde and Afghanistan,shall we?  And perhaps the original salient point on perspectives will become clear enough, and possibly even refreshing, like a volcanic lagoon or a fresh laceration.

The New York Times brings the noise yet again, where, in a headline promising progress in Afghanistan, American journalists basically act as good foot soldiers for yet another wartime president. Note that, after a bit of “lessons learned” talk from Marja, the catch phrases employed here in the NYT, nine years after the war first started, seem to basically endorse U.S. strategy in Afghanistan:

The prospect of a robust military push in Kandahar Province, which had been widely expected to begin this month, has evolved into a strategy that puts civilian reconstruction efforts first and relegates military action to a supportive role….

[According to] the Afghan National Army officer in charge [in Kandahar], Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai. “[The alleged U.S. offensive] is actually a partnership operation.” [...]

Mr. Karzai promised local people that there would not be a Kandahar offensive. “You don’t want an offensive, do you?” he asked the crowd, to general acclamation. “There will be no operation until you are happy.”

Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak said the new approach was adopted after officials considered the mistakes made in Marja and the much larger scale of Kandahar.

“We have learned lessons, also, which we will apply in the future,” he said in an interview this week. “About Kandahar, it is a different type operation…it is not going to be that kinetic.” (Kinetic is military jargon to describe fighting.)

Instead, the emphasis has been placed on strengthening provincial reconstruction teams…The idea [for which], said Frank Ruggiero, the senior United States Embassy official in the south, is to make sure “the government at the most basic level, the district level, is able to provide some services so that people who are sitting on the fence are able to say, well, the government has something to offer.”

There’s nothing wrong per se with this mode of reporting.  It essentially passes along the military line, and , to the extent that a critiquing position of the policy is offered, it is purely an auto-critique.   But does that type of coverage offered by the Times serve the interests of the soldiers, some of whom are my students, others of whom are French Legionnaires I met on the Paris Metro, others of whom suit up at the Cathcart Armory in Montreal before taking off?

Contrast the above story, in America’s paper of record, with today’s front-page editorial offered by Le Monde entitled “Dialogue Without Naive Illusions”:

L’Union soviétique avait tenu dix ans. Combien de temps tiendront les Etats-Unis et leurs alliés de l’OTAN ? L’Afghanistan, ce “cimetière des empires”, est en train de miner à la fois les ressources et le moral de l’Occident. Plus de neuf ans après l’intervention américaine contre le régime taliban (au pouvoir de 1996-2001), précipitée par les attentats du 11 septembre 2001, les grands espoirs de reconstruction de l’Afghanistan ont fait long feu. A mesure que l’insurrection des talibans se consolide, le découragement gagne. Le sentiment d’échec s’installe. Et les appels au dialogue, à la négociation avec la rébellion talibane se multiplient. Chacun admet que la solution ne sera pas militaire, mais politique.

or, in my translation,

The Soviet Union lasted ten years.  How long will the U.S. and its NATO allies remain?  Afghanistan, the “graveyard of empires,” is on the path at once to drain [miner /消沉] the financial and moral resources of the West.  More than nine years after the American intervetion against the Taliban regime (in power from 1996-2001), preciptated by the attacks of 11 September 2001, the great hopes of reconstructing Afghanistan have long been delayed/laid on the pyre.  Stimulated by the consolidating insurrection of the Taliban, discouragement has won out.  And the appeals for dialogue and negotiation with the Taliban rebellion are multiplying.  Everyone admits that the solution cannot be military, but [must instead be] political.

Etc., etc.

American papers do not necessarily need front-page editorials of this ilk to awaken a kind of heightened consciousness of Afghanistan, but a fuller appraisal of the whole enterprise, as opposed to a basic re-reading of the most recent Pentagon press releases, might be considered helpfully provocative.

After all, what’s worse: not knowing why you’ve left, or realizing you’ve stayed too long?

Kefalik Peninsula, Iceland -- photo by Adam Cathcart

Borderland Banditry

The Chosun Ilbo reported today, via Voice of America:

China says it has filed a formal complaint with North Korea about the killing of three Chinese citizens last week by a North Korean border guard.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang says a fourth person was wounded when the guard opened fire from his post across the border from China’s northeastern town of Dandong last Friday. Qin says the four Chinese citizens were shot by the North Korean guard on suspicion of crossing the border for illegal trade activities.

Why we as readers are considered unworthy of a direct quote here, much less a link to Qin Gang’s original statement, is beyond me.  (Fortunately, Sinoglot has some very good ideas today about why we generally lack translations or links to things Chinese in the Anglophone press.) Of course,  the English-language site of the Foreign Ministry has yet to include a translation, and, true to their track record, will probably neglect to translate the sensitive stuff about North Korean-Chinese relations.

Qin Gang, Pretty in Pink in Beijing

So instead we have to go to the Chinese version of the Foreign Ministry page where we find that Qin Gang was terse in the extreme.  But he certainly didn’t say “no comment” [translation by Adam Cathcart]:

问:据韩国媒体报道,在中朝边界发生了枪击事件,有中国人死亡,请确认。中方对此有何评论?Q: According to South Korean media reports, an incident with firearms occurred on the Chinese-North Korean border in which a Chinese person died.  Please confirm.  Does China have any criticism toward this [report/action]?

答:6月4日凌晨,辽宁省丹东市居民因涉嫌越境从事边贸活动遭到朝鲜边防部队枪击,造成3人死亡,1人受伤。事发后,中方高度重视,立即向朝方进行严正交涉。目前此案正在进一步调查和处理过程中,相信有关部门会适时发布有关情况。A: Early in the morning on June 4, citizens of Dandong city in Liaoning province whom [we] suspect of crossing the border illegally for trade activities were shot by a North Korean border patrol, killing three people and wounding one.  After this incident, to which the Chinese side attaches high importance, [we] sternly negotiated with the North Korean side.  Now an investigation of this incident is continuing, and we trust that the relevant departments will publicize the relevant situation in due course.

Since Chinese people cross the border all the time, it’s possible that Jang Song-taek ordered this incident to coincide with his formal elevation to Vice-Chairman of the National Defense Commission.  Jang has taken credit in the past for tightened regulation on the border, and shooting Chinese capitalists accords about with his documented distrust of market activities on the northern periphery of the DPRK.  (Just in case you hadn’t heard, the best source of Jang Song-taek reporting and news aggregating in English is available on Mike Madden’s NK Leadership Watch; Madden’s report today is particularly relevant.)

Daily NK, even the Chinese version, has no reports on this border shooting incident yet, and One Free Korea, who is usually on this kind of story with alacrity, at least has some action in the comments section of his blog, with the standard gratuitous attacks on John Feffer and Christine Ahn.

Although the rollback crowd thinks it’s all bunk (probably because “中方高度重视”  means nothing in particular to them, and they don’t read Huanqiu Shibao or spend time in Chinese circles, much less work annually at the PRC Foreign Ministry), I wouldn’t underestimate the extent to which North Korea is steadily alienating China.  Perhaps with enough aid from the UN, seduction of the new Europe, a little bit of intriguing new tourism, and ongoing work in illegal economic sectors, the DPRK can limp along and fund its military-first policy without China’s full-throated support.  After all, at least last week, that throat appeared to be filling with blood.

Something tells me the Chinese Ambassador in Pyongyang is going to be busy with a lot more than the annual photo op on the collective farm outside of Pyongyang:

Courtesy Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang; click image for story (in Chinese) and photo gallery

Or perhaps the powdered beauties of Pyongyang singing foreign songs for Embassy officials like “Without the Communist Party there would be no New China,” all the frustration with the DPRK will simply be lost in the belly of a golden drum.  But it’s unlikely.

Finally, back to the big picture:  If you can read the full text of the PRC Foreign Ministry press conference, it’s evident that China is trying to play down the border incident and keep the focus today on cementing good ties with the new Japanese administration.  North Korea’s aggressive missteps on the North Pyong’an/Liaoning border seem to reinforce the idea of China’s increasingly parallel, if far from wholly congruent, interests with Japan as the DPRK’s northern border again bristles with arms.

Entr’acte: North, East

Time to recharge the batteries, smudge some new colors on the mental smock, and, allegedly, submit a ream of print pieces for review.  Stare at it!  The forge fluctuates, the jet enjine whines, the keyboard remains mute.   

Portents at the aperture?  Tangun writhes out of the placenta, seismic flood in atomic Hamgyong; Paektu bursts upward in an immense vomit of bone-shards, the dead guerrillas’ final Mahlerian song.  Or, perhaps, we will have to be content with the mineral carnage of a dystopian, urban, tributary North Korea in 2050.   And Berlin awaits, and beyond, Beijing, my reappearance in digital guise, hands smudged with the dust of the departed…

Take it away, Allen Ginsberg:

….the beasts dance in Siam,/they sing opera in Moscow,/my boys yearn at dusk on stoops,/ I enter New York, /I play my
jazz on a Chicago Harpsichord,/Love that bore me I bear back to my Origin with no loss, I float/over the vomiter
thrilled with my deathlessness, /thrilled with this endlessness…

Now, get out of here, Cathcart!

PRC-DPRK Pygmalion

Get into character.  Who really changes anyway?  Perhaps, perhaps, the Chinese:

We previously knew that China would be providing tickets to 1000 Chinese fans in South Africa to root for North Korean teams, but now Huanqiu Shibao reports in slightly different terms: the headline is ” 朝鲜禁止国内民众前往南非看世界杯比赛,” or, “North Korea forbids citizens in the DPRK to travel to South Africa to watch the World Cup.”   In other words, it’s more than a bit critical.  (Soccer/football seems to be on the mind in the PRC, as the long-maligned men’s squad somehow pulled out a 1-0 victory over France (photo gallery here).]  I thought this comment by a Chinese netizen was particularly apropos: 朝鲜当局连让朝鲜人来丹东吃碗猪肉炖粉条都不肯,还会让他们去非洲找金字塔吗?。。, in other words, “North Korea’s relevant departments strictly forbid North Korean people to come to Dandong to eat a bowl of pork noodles; why would they [now] allow [the North Korean people] to go to South Africa to see the World Cup?” 

North Korean official w/ the national football team in Johannesburg, courtesy Chosun Ilbo (click image for link to the story)

 The Chinese media reports on South Korean action to investigate the Cheonan incident at the UN, with yet another war scare quote (which we reported on here yesterday) from the DPRK delegate at Geneva disarmament talks, Li Changhyon.  Americans may be focused on the Gulf Coast and sports at the moment as spring turns decisively toward a summer of leisure or malaise, but China is trying to keep a fair but not completely unsettling amount of news moving into public consciousness about possible war in Korea.  Ah yes, now that’s more like it.  Unfortunately the Daily Show’s coverage of the Korea crisis, with its recap of the Korean War, left out the entire Chinese intervention in 1950.  North Americans, straighten up!  This is indeed the land of Lethe! 

China has yet to report on the breaking story of a South Korean general charged with spying for North Korea; it seems he met with DPRK officials in China to hand off some of his informational haul. 

Chinese ambassadors are out helping with the spring rice transplanting again, reminsicing about Zhou Enlai’s friendship with Kim Il Sung.   But in spite of all that, North Korea is straining the edges of the pacts signed by Zhou, and putting forth Kim Jong Il’s blatant plagiarism of the Maoist slogan “Serve the people!”    

North Korea is celebrating the anniversary of the 1937 battle for Pochonbo, near Hyesan, reminding everyone that violence is necessary to assure national  independence, and that attacking forestry conservation officials is fine so long as they are imperialists. 

The North Koreans are turning the Cheonan news within the DPRK increasingly towards accusations of Japanese revival….As to how and why this is an effective tactic, I will immodestly (and no doubt futilely) refer you to my published articles and Ph.D. dissertation.  Long analysis on the fall of Hatoyama and the meaning of Okinawan bases for the security of the DPRK.   If all that Japan stuff that bores you, try blaming Israel

In more news of the wierd, quadruplets are now defending the border with North Pyong’an province.  The DPRK takes care of everyone, but if your birth heralds the dawn of a mystical songun age, they take care of you particularly well. 

Finally, don’t miss this eight-part special by AlJezeera (via the diehard rollback-may as well play “Freebird” for John Foster Dulles-yet always informed anti-DPRK website One Free Korea).  We behave as we must, each performing his proper and prescribed role.  Thus, the Pygmalion effect.

via Liberation