Lux Sinica: China’s Civilizing Influence in North Korea

It takes more than a few days, or perhaps a few weeks, to sift through all the reports, speculation, and rumors surrounding Kim Jong Il’s “new deal” with China.  At the end of the day, though, it seems that a single question aids in interpreting the phenomenon: To what extent has Kim Jong Il’s visit to China spurred the North Korean regime to embrace even the appearance of a reformist direction? 

In other words, is there any indication, however small, that Kim Jong Il or his Korean Workers’ Party is internalizing themselves or mobilizing society toward a policy approximating that of Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s?  Given how much the North Korean leadership is said to despise Deng Xiaoping, perhaps the “Dengist direction” is not the ideal way to phrase a move toward North Korean reform, but certainly the CCP leadership does not shirk from the label or the idea.  But let us review the recent evidence:

New Slogans in Pyongyang

A couple of weeks ago, the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang was the only place this new North Korean slogan (something like “Based on the Local, Step Into the World”) was being discussed.  (For an English rendering of the story via Google, click here.)

New Slogans in Pyongyang -- image courtesy PRC Embassy in Pyongyang

Now the slogan is getting aired in a more prestigious publication, the “International Herald Leader,” one of the more rational and widely-read foreign affairs weekly tabloids published in Beijing.  In his full-page spread on the DPRK entitled “North Korea Wants to Rush Toward ‘A Powerful Nation’ [朝鲜要向‘强盛大国’冲刺], the paper’s man in Pyongyang, Zhang Li [张利] writes extensively of the new slogans.

There is of course the idea, too, that the North Korean regime could just be doing this to string along people like you and me, offering up the appearance of, or the possibility of, reforms, and then taking no actual further steps in that direction.  Certainly it would not be the first time such a thing happened. And we should be mindful that North Korea does quite a lot (the 2009 nuclear tests being a signal example) without necessarily considering what the impact is on their Chinese patrons.  But even when we are striding through a Potempkinian landscape, we need to take note of the details!  There is some evidence that Pyongyang’s more persistent propaganda emphasis on living standards and economic growth is at the very least reaping some benefits in giving Chinese elites (e.g., 知识分子 or literate people who consume news) some idea that their support of North Korea is resulting in tangible and positive changes in the DPRK.

Confucius in Pyongyang

In other good news for Beijing, Chinese language education appears to be making solid inroads in Pyongyang.  Estimates such as those in Bruce Bechtol’s 2010 book Defiant Failed State, and articles by people like Robert Kaplan, tend to toss off statements about the Chinese taking over North Korea with ease.  Why else would the PRC be rebuilding roads along the border and fixing up bridges?  This group of analysts frequently make hay from the notion that China has huge competitive advantages in its business and other interactions with North Korea.  In fact, if language is the barometer the Chinese are at a disadvantage; Kim II Song cut off Chinese language education in North Korea at the knees in the late 1950s.  This makes the PRC even more reliant on Yanbian Koreans for commercial interaction with the North, using Yanbian as a channel.  Reliable statistics about numbers of Chinese speakers in the North are hard to come by, but we do know that the small Chinese minority (North Korea’s only bona fide ethnic minority) has been among the most closely watched sectors of the society and, unlike in places like Malaysia or Philippines, has been unable to spread its mercantile spirit into the greater society.  It has also been in a kind of linguistic quarantine.

We do know that North Korean teachers of Chinese were studying at Beijing University, laying the foundation for the big event in Pyongyang.  See my 18 February 2010 essay, “Confucius Institute Outreach to DPRK.”

Thus it is a turn of events to find that the Confucius Institute in Pyongyang appears to be thriving.  And lest you think this is not a particularly big deal in the orbit of North Korea’s foreign relations, consider how obstinate the DPRK has been about language and cultural education toward European states with whom it is also distinctly in a warming phase:  The German Goethe Institute was forced out of Pyongyang because of restrictions and the French Alliance Francais (disclaimer; I am a card-carrying member) cannot get into Pyongyang no matter how many delegations of French socialists make their obeisance to Mangyongdae.  So the Workers’ Party is embracing finally the building of the linguistic infrastructure necessary to do business with China, in in China.

(Click here for photos of the Confucius Institute party in Pyongyang, via the Chinese Embassy in the DPRK.)

One of the more palatable aspects of my fieldwork along the North Korean border are the conversations I am able to have with probably a couple dozen North Korean waitresses in China.  Setting aside the somewhat asinine claim that these girls are all spy-seductresses whose command of taekwando is worthy of a James Bond plot, one of the main reasons they come to the mainland to work is to acquire Chinese language.  One said to me not long ago “it will be very useful for doing business when I go back to Korea,” nodding earnestly.  I very much doubt that this person is some completely brainwashed cog whose study of Chinese is part of some grand plan of North Korea to deceive China into thinking relations are friendly.  She and others are well aware that Chinese is the business language of the region and are acting accordingly.  It seems that, rather belatedly, the North Korean state is having the same revelation.

Return to Chinese Cultural Superiority?

One possible problem that the North Koreans are already facing, and have been facing since the Koguryo locked swords with the Sui, is that of Chinese cultural superiority.

China’s recent action with Vietnam indicates how strong this kind of cultural chauvinism can be, seeing China inherently as the older brother.  How deep this notion is ingrained in China’s diplomacy can be seen in a recent standoff with Vietnam in the South China Sea.  As Wang Hanling, director of Chinese Academy of Social Scienes’ Centre for Oceans Affairs and the Law of the Sea, said to the South China Morning Post on 13 June 2011 (p. A4) stated of the Vietnamese:

If the big brother bullies the younger brother, that is not good and is something that should not happen.  If the little brother challenges or bullies the older brother, it’s just ridiculous.

At a time when China is under attack from Western European states for not following European models of Enlightenment – seen expressly in the case of Germany and Ai Weiwei and art exhibits in Beijing – it is all the more important for Beijing to be able to pose itself as a benevolent tutor for the region, to behave, in other words, as a Confucian hegemon.  In a recent podcast with some big names in China analysis, Jeremy Goldkorn paraphrases Martin Jacques in terming this “Tributary System 2.0.”  In the context of bilateral relations with the DPRK, the label can be considered rather true.

Wen Jiabao stated it most clearly on his overseas junket, but the trope of China’s civilizing influence in the DPRK comes through in smaller channels as well.  A semi-official blog carried by Huanqiu Shibao states Kim Jong Il came to China for “enlightenment” as well as aid:



Kim Jong Il came to China this time, and what did North Korea get from China?  To use just one sentence to describe it, one could say that ‘North Korea has gained a future….’

This kind of Chinese salvationist rhetoric for North Korea sounds almost white and missionary.

An early analysis of Kim Jong Il’s presence in Nanjing by the Huanqiu Shibao offers up further, somewhat simplistic, reflections on Chinese success in helping the North Koreans stagger forward into modernity.  But in so doing, the story necessarily becomes a frank admission of Kim’s need for aid and “education,” even if the slogans are optimistic: “金正日版南巡讲话,” etc.

The same ambivalence, the balancing of Chinese auto-glorification with acknowledgement of Kim’s recalcitrance, appears on a different Huanqiu BBS.  Covering a story on North Korea’s high tech industry, the report is said to emerge out of the quarter of Zhongguancun [中关村], a high-tech district near Beijing University positively bursting with circuitry, programmers, and ambitious hawkers of soft- and hard-ware.   (Anyone who has purchased a laptop in Zhongguancun, receiving deep assurances of total loyalty from a serviceperson, and then returned to get a hand with something only to find that the young Turk with whom you had just last week been having lunch with to bond after a big purchase has already moved to Shanghai will know what I mean.)  The 

Huanqiu blog promotes North Korean computer production as yet another sign that China is helping the DPRK into the modern age, or, as the North puts it weirdly, “CNC Technology.”  But the netizens cannot resist: the first commenter on the blog, obviously aware of the North Korean propaganda line on Kim Jong Eun as the harbinger of all things digital and binary, asks: “Is the Little Dictator Going to Increase Production/小霸王升级版?”

Quite naturally, there are more than a few North Koreans who find this whole state of affairs galling, and one of them is, in all likelihood, Kim Jong Il.  He is nothing if not his father’s son.  Kim Jong Il can only continue with what DailyNK aptly calls his “China Angst,” gaining some small solace from his pet areas: cooperation and funding for broadcasting work and 2012 movie festivals.

Kim’s angst, his pushback against China, and his effort to carve out the latitude for freedom of action outside of Beijing’s orbit, is, however, the subject of a subsequent post which draws the very productive people at KCNA and my new Weibo feed of links on Sino-North Korean relations.

Scoping North Korea’s Emerging Trade Zones with China

This is what a Party looks like -- reminiscent, perhaps, of Pu Yi's heavily policed enthronement ceremony in February 1932 -- photo near Dandong, courtesy Al Jazeera news

Leaving the thrall of Hong Kong behind (and not even by boat!), I’ll be moving up into Dalian and the Liaodong peninsula for the next several days.  Not being a wealthy Chinese investor with a Hummer in Changchun, there’s no way I can make it to distant Rason, but I will certainly be spending some good time checking things out in Dandong and near the border trade zone which the North Koreans and the Chinese cadre announced this past week.

Thus, it’s more than appropriate to pose a framework kind of question that is going to drive my own research this week:  Is the Chinese Model Taking Hold in North Korea? 

Here, for your delectation, is some background reading and analysis.

I. On the Yalu Island Trade Zones: 黄金坪, etc.

This story is now all over the news wires, but if you need a good basic primer on the subject, I recommend this piece from the Chosun Ilbo  or the following article from a Korean reporter working for Al Jazeera.

Barbara Demick, the Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a perceptive piece on the subject from her office which is also well worth reading by way of introduction.

I would respectfully disagree with Demick that the Chinese were low-key about these developments.  Sure, the CCP could have gone double-barrel with its propaganda (there’s no mistaking when they do that — witness the orgiastic self-regard and millions of yuan spent on the Party’s 90th birthday coming up), but with Huanqiu Shibao headlines that describe the Yalu River developments as having the potential to become the “Hong Kong of DPRK”, it doesn’t strike me that the Chinese are in some way trying to hide what they’re doing.

On the other hand, if I’m banned from looking around the islands this week, then maybe they are trying to hide something.  I will keep this space posted as possible.

In North Korean media, KCNA is also bullish on the project, describing how the Sinuiju economic zone has been enlarged in a northeastern direction to include Uiju.  Joshua Stanton seems to have a lock on the analysis of how much of this area will be surrounded by barbed wire on the Korean side, so I will leave that to him.

One interesting (and perhaps predictable note) is how the North Koreans have been so careful to emphasize DPRK sovereignty in talking about this issue.  Besides the whole tensile strength of the trope in North Korean critiques of quisling states slathered in the rotten butter of sadaejuui or flunkeyism –
South Korea and Japan, both of whom are much more freaked about about Rason –why is this emphasis significant?

Recall, if you hadn’t yet passed out from the moutai or the pollen from all the floral bocquets, what Kim Jong Il said to Hu Jintao in his dinner-table speech:

[ ]

The Chinese party and government are greatly contributing to rejecting high-handedness and dominationism and ensuring world peace and stability by pursuing a foreign policy sovereign and independent, under the banner of peace, development and cooperation.

There have been a few signs of disagreement.  For instance, KCNA plainly notes that is was “basically agreed to develop Hwanggumphyong by the joint efforts of the DPRK and China” Basically agreed?  Chosun Ilbo is way to the right of the Wall Street Journal (a paper which, to correct Aidan Foster-Carter in his brilliant essay on Kim Jong Il in China, is still to the left of Attila the Hun), and it loves to traffic in evil-communists-conspiring-behind-evil-doors kind of stories, but here it seems their assertion is correct: the ceremony for the island joint opening was likely delayed due to disagreements.

A lot of groundwork for this was done at the “14th Pyongyang Int’l Trade Fair,” which functioned as a networking gathering for more than 100 Sino-North Korean trade (贸易) officials [ ].

And as I’ll point out in a later post, the Chinese are fairly realistic about the limitations they are up against.  In holding up the positive example of a single Sino-North Korean joint venture, a bicycle manufacturer with offices in based in Tianjin, the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang admits that Chinese companies can’t even advertise in North Korea and end up giving away large percentages of their product.

II. The Case of Rason

The only logical place to start with this story, short of crossing the border at Hunchun, is to read Curtis Melvin’s excellent compilation of developing memes.

A few days ago, in hyping up interest in extreme northeast of the Korean peninsula in the port of Rajin/Sonbong (known as Rason) the Chinese Global Times tweeted “First China to N. Korea self-drive tour begins” [ ], a fascinating story which had first appeared the day before on page 3 of the Huanqiu Shibao.  Chinese television coverage of this story in Changchun and the Rason border zone can be seen here.  Huanqiu had been doing propaganda preparation for this move since at least last October, if not before.

A (to my mind) rather significant story from last December in the Chinese Huanqiu Shibao in which a Chinese reporter goes to Rason and characterizes the situation for Chinese capitalists is translated/summarized in English.

Chinese BBS boards are hardly unanimous in their support for the efforts. If anything, Beijing has been somewhat tone deaf to international criticism of its economic cooperation with North Korea. 

Beijing’s moves in North Korean border zones have a bit of the pedagogical/patriarchal whiff, spiced w extraterritoriality, as in these 2008 photos of the “Harmony Cup,” Chinese diplomats golfing in Pyongyang.  The global image of PRC capitalists tied to the CCP isn’t currently particularly savory, and the North Koreans don’t have much love lost.  As Harper’s and The Economist picked up on in an essay I wrote back in 2009, there is quite a strong foundation for anti-Chinese sentiment in North Korea in the Works of the DPRK’s founding god, Kim Il Song.

There is much, much more to say about the geopolitics and regional meaning of the Chinese move into Rason, but I recommend this Chosun Ilbo article,

which prompted this almost gloating Huanqiu analysis of South Korean nervousness about the Rason project,

which is connected to this KCNA weigh-in on Chinese mining companies and Rason port,

which was followed by this significant analysis in KCNA about Chinese investment in Rason.

In discussing all of this action on Saturday with a colleague in Hong Kong who has spent two decades as a correspondent in China; he conveyed to me what he was hearing from all of his diplomat connections Beijing: “The North Koreans despise the Chinese,” he confirmed.

III.  Both sides are pairing friendly economic development with a renewed emphasis on border security

A few final points:

Everyone missed this, but Chinese border patrols were drilling with “anti-terrorist” machine guns near Dandong/Sinuiju and promising to shoot drug traffickers (photos)

June 4 is also the anniversary of a North Korean border guard shooting 3 Chinese near Dandong

And China is probably using drones in border areas [China Daily =  HT to quelquefois  


The keynote on security is emphasized in more subtly, historical ways.  Why else would the Huanqiu Shibao release a compilations of photos surrounding the explosive 1948 accusations of espionage against the top American diplomat in Shengyang, Angus Ward?

Reference Readings

North Korea Leadership Watch is back online with a post on Yalu River island joint ventures

Netizen reactions to Sino-NK border trade zone (

Relatively well-off North Koreans floating in the Yalu River -- note the wrist watches; photo courtesy Huanqiu Shibao, 2010

Media Conference Hong Kong

I’m participating today in a very interesting new media conference at the University of Hong Kong.  Something tells me this might even be more relevant to my sinology, although less full of hipsters and cyborgs, than the Transmediale conference I attended this spring in Berlin.

You can follow livefeeds or watch video of the conference here.  My favorite part so far was my Q and A with CNN’s Kristie Lu Stout, who is a formidable international news anchor in Hong Kong, but there are many other highlights as well, including considered thoughts on “netizen” culture and nationalism by the indubitable Kaiser Kuo.  And Akiko Fujita was most impressive as well, particularly in describing her work near Fukushima as the sole ABC reporter in Tokyo when the quake/tsunami hit:

ABC Tokyo Bureau Chief Akiko Fujita, with microphone, Reflecting on Japanese Ersatz Burials and the Future of Japan after Fukushima, at the University of Hong Kong, today; photo courtesy Journalism and Media Studies Centre, UHK

Typhoons are on the way, and the North Korean border looms, though distant.  加油!

33 Questions on The History of Modern Tibet

Here on Sinologistical Violoncellist, the subject of Tibet seems to be coming up with greater frequency, as it ought to.  After all, the Dalai Lama remains floating through the universe (and the halls of Congress, Richard Gere in tow) dropping rhetorical bombs on Beijing, and Zhongnanhai makes no bones about shutting off all avenues of dialog with the 14th reincarnation.

And thus, apropos of well, this, allow me to state that people who have not read (or are in the process of reading and attempting to digest) Melvyn Goldstein’s relatively new tome on the Chinese Communist Party’s policies in Tibet from 1951-1955 are really missing out.  I believe this is one of the most essential books that anyone can read, and should read, in order to understand the compromises that are both possible and historically relevant between the Chinese and Tibetan leadership, and the inherent conflict in their positions.

Thus, I bring you a few dozen questions (which, unlike most of the material on this blog, I encourage you to plagiarize and modify as you like):

Discussion Questions [by Adam Cathcart] re: Melvyn Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet, Vol. 2: The Calm Before the Storm, 1951-1955 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).

CHAPTER ONE – Chinese Perspectives

1. On pages 22-25, Goldstein lays out a set of points which are key to understanding the realistic conditions for CCP’s gradualist policy in Tibet.  I presently believe that the CCP were gradualist because they had to be.  Goldstein, on the other hand, never draws this explicit conclusion.  Why doesn’t Goldstein want to discuss more about the motives of the communist leaders?

2. In describing “United Front” (e.g., propaganda) work of the PLA, Goldstein describes Mao’s “carrot-stick” approach toward Tibet.  What are the carrots, and what are the sticks?  Absent the tens of thousands of troops bearing down on Chamdo, could Mao have gotten the Tibetan government to agree to anything?

CHAPTER TWO – Tibetan Perspectives

3. What is the 1914 Simla Convention and why does Prime Minister Nehru get on the phone about it during his meeting with the Tibetans (p. 45)?  Why isn’t India more supportive of the Tibetans in their hour of need?

4. In their first meeting with the new Chinese ambassador to India, Yuan Zhongxian, in September 1950, the Tibetans state that “there is no need to liberate Tibet from imperialism, because there are no British, American, or Guomindang imperialists in Tibet, and Tibet is ruled by the Dalai Lama (not a foreign power).”  Is this a true statement?  If so, then why does the CCP continue to insist that it is liberating Tibet from foreign imperialism?

CHAPTER FOUR – Dalai Lama to Yadong

5.   In Tibet’s appeal to the UN (pp. 90-91), China is pictured as immense and inherently aggressive.  In what ways is the memo’s ultimate suggestion – the dispatch of a UN fact-finding mission to Tibet – both a non-starter with the Chinese and a horrendously belated request for political recognition from the global community?

CHAPTER FIVE – The United States Intervenes

6. Why does Goldstein find it necessary to discuss China’s intervention in the Korean War in late 1950 (pp. 114-115)?  Is it possible that the connection between the war in Korea and the events in Tibet is actually much, much bigger than Goldstein implies? Or is the Korean War irrelevant to events on the Tibetan plateau at this time?

7. In point one “Against the Embassy Proposal,” the author describes how the goal of U.S. policy in China for the past several decades has been to support the “territorial integrity” of China (p. 116).  The Americans threw hundreds of thousands of troops and hundreds of millions of dollars into the Asian theater of World War II to support that policy and back up China’s right to exist.  Why would the Americans have considered throwing out all of that history and investment of blood and treasure in order to advocate a separation of Tibet from China?  Does the U.S. Executive Branch support China’s territorial integrity today?  Does the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, as she demands a consulate be set up in 2011 in Lhasa?

8.  What is the major problem with the American statement (p. 117) that “we should encourage….Tibet’s orientation toward the West rather than the East”?

9.  If it were possible to find enough information, the trip that never happened of “experienced explorer-scholar Schuyler Cammonn, University of Pennsylvania” to Tibet to spy out the situation in summer 1949 would be a fascinating and very publishable research paper topic (p. 119).  If anyone is interested in hunting down more information about this thread for a possible guest blog post on Sinologistical Violoncellist, please let me know.

10. In U.S. Ambassador to India Henderson’s secret letter to the Dalai Lama, he recommends that his Holiness go into exile in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka).  Why does Henderson recommend this course of action?  Why is this letter not a part of the Dalai Lama’s autobiography or his manga biography?

11. In the 1950s, is the Indian border city of Kalimpong really, as George Patterson called it, a “nest of spies”?

CHAPTER SIX “The Dalai Lama Returns to Lhasa”

12. At the three-day assembly and debate in Yadong, why are the Tibetan monks, including the abbots of the big three monasteries, nearly unanimous in demanding return the Dalai Lama’s return to Lhasa (p. 138)?  How would you characterize the strategy of the three big monasteries in the eight years (1951-1958) of cooperation with the CCP?

13. Namseling is hardcore, the main advocate of rejecting the agreement, and therefore of the idea of perpetuating the notion of a political and cultural Tibet in exile. Why does Namseling oppose China?  What is his particular view of the global role of the question of sovereignty in “keeping the flame of Tibetan independence alive”?   Does history change at all if Namseling wins this argument?

CHAPTER SEVEN – Initial Contacts and Strategies

1. Zhang Jingwu arrives in Lhasa on 8 August 1951.  Given that Mao had proclaimed the People’s Republic on 1 October 1949 (and with the republic, presumably, the victory of the CCP in civil war), doesn’t Zhang’s arrival in Lhasa seem awfully late?  If so, then what does Tibet’s later timetable for consolidation tell us about China’s sensitiveness about “territorial integrity”?

2. Note the pre-arrival stereotypes of the Han Chinese among Tibetans: many Tibetans thought the Chinese might be “devils” of some kind.  How are the imaginations of some Tibetans calmed, and others enflamed, by the appearance of actual Chinese in Lhasa?

3.  Why were songs especially important in Tibet’s political culture?  Hint: Because there were no newspapers in Lhasa before the Chinese showed up!

4. Who is Shelling, the source on pp. 171-172 for Zhang Jingwu’s appearance in Lhasa?  Hint: he’s my old housemate in Cleveland!  I was fortunate to live with linguistically talented and spiritually adept Tibetan aristocrats, via Dhramsala, when I was studying to become a Sinologistical Violoncellist in Cleveland in the late 1990s.

5. How does Lukhangwa fit into contemporary images of Tibet?  Which “side” in the contemporary context is more truthful?  Does Lukhangwa represent an incorrect approach among Tibetans toward relations with China?  Is there such a thing as Tibetan xenophobia, or would that phrase be politically incorrect?

6.  Would Tibet be better off had Sinified Tibetans like Lobsang Tashi been more assertive (p. 193)?

7. How does the fait accompli of the 17-Point Agreement make the sitsab even more hard-line in dealing with initial Chinese military officials in Tibet (p. 174)?

8. Chinese propagandists made promoted many positive images of Zhang’s first month in Lhasa.  In what ways was Zhang’s behavior toward the monasteries patterned after the Guomindang/Nationalist precendent in Tibet? And why, generally speaking, was there no open Sino-Tibetan disagreement in this period?

9. Why doesn’t Lukhangwa’s threat involving “the three jewels and karmic cause” scare the Chinese (p. 176)? Hint: It’s because the Chinese officials are atheists!

10. Would you attribute the first-ever growth of what we would recognize as “civil society” in Tibet to the Chinese pressure (pp. 177-179)?  Is it fair to say that the arrival of the CCP inaugurates a period of real political participation for Tibet’s non-official aristocrat class and others?  If so, doesn’t this render the CCP as a positive force in Tibet?

11.  What was Mao’s strategy with regards to the Dalai Lama?  Does it seem likely, given the reasonably reliable information on p. 179, that the CCP threat to kill the Dalai Lama – a message delivered via his brother from Qinghai (see also Manga Biography pp. 64-69) – is simply false?

12.  Were the communist leaders sincere in their desire to respect Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism (p. 180 ff.)?  Or was the policy merely a necessary short-term accommodation that preceded their true desire: to wipe out the religion and therefore the basic civilization of Tibet?

13.  In what ways is the CCP directive not to stir up class consciousness or attack landowners (p. 183) fundamentally at odds with concurrent political events in China at the time?  What would scholars like Julia Strauss or the author of Words Kill have to say about CCP policy in Tibet in comparison to that in China proper?

14.  In the early 1950s, the CCP leadership insisted that there be no specific timetable set up for Tibet’s fuller integration into the PRC.  In what ways does this strategy mirror Sun Tzu or Chairman Mao’s tactics as described in their respective texts Art of War and On Protracted War?  Does everything that important require a plan with a calendar? Or are flexible principles themselves sufficient grounds for acting efficiently and effectively?  Did the Tibetans fail in the 1950s because of a dearth of ancient and indiginous military texts and strategies?

15. In what way is Lukhangwa the real father of “the Tibetan Resistance”?  Can we speak of a “Lukhangwa model” of resistance today, or have times, tactics, and perspectives changed radically?  In what ways has his strategy failed the Tibetans, particularly in the impulsive and independent character of the resistance?

16. What do you think of Goldstein’s implicit assertion that Tibet weakened itself by truncating the modernizing influence of British-educated Tibetans from 1914-1933?  In what ways did Tibet’s “anti-imperialism” of the 1910s and 1920s – an outlook and violent activity for which the CCP lauds them still – paradoxically leave Tibet unreformed and thus open to Chinese allegations that they, the Chinese, are modernizing Tibet because the Tibetans are incapable of doing the job themselves?

17.  On pages 192-193, Goldstein describes the minor wave of Tibetan students who went to study in the interior of China at places like People’s University in Beijing.  While Goldstein seems to interpret this change positively (or at the very worst, as an anodyne development), Tibetan exiles have since depicted the associated actions as a form of “abduction” by the Chinese, part of a quasi-genocidal process of forced acculturation.  In the long run, why does this topic of Tibetans studying in China matter at all?  Shouldn’t we just be focused on what the Chinese are doing in Tibet itself?

18.  When it comes to Tibetans who admired Chinese modernization and culture in the early- and mid-1950s, the Dalai Lama needs also to be considered (pp. 200-205).  Didn’t these people understand that China was about to embark upon two massively destructive mass campaigns, known as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) and Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which would be very harmful to Tibetans?  If the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Sinified elites had had better foresight, wouldn’t they have gone into exile in 1951 instead of giving the Chinese Communist Party a chance to demonstrate its moderate nature?  Conversely, what is the historical problem with criticizing the young Dalai Lama and others for pro-China tendencies in the mid-1950s?

19.  Of the partially-Sinified and conciliationist wing of the Tibetan elites, few are more influential in the long run than Ngabo.  Do you consider Ngabo a pragmatic patriot or a sell-out?

20.  When is a scholar going to write a historically accurate rap battle between Ngabo and the culturally conservative obstructionist Lukhangwa, giving each man a verse which pivot around a chorus which starts with “khasey dingsey,” which is the Tibetan phrase for “say what your feel and think?”

Brave, Yet Isolated: Cat Surveys Shigatse, The Old Haunts of the Panchen Lama; photo by Adam Cathcart

On Sino-North Korea Relations: Three Reads

Stephan Haggard, “China Trip Roundup: The Security Dimension,” Witness to Transformation (PIIE Blog), 2 June 2011,

Sokeel Park, “The Domestic Imperative in China’s North Korea Policy,” Sinocentric (East Asia Blog), 28 May 2011,

Chris Green, “An Anti-Reform Marriage of Convenience” (Interview with Bernd Schaefer on North Korea-China relations), DailyNK, 30 May 2011,

Scaling the Plateau: A Tibet Abstract, and Three Publication Opportunities for Scholars of All Ages

Somewhat excited by the emergence of the Association of Nepal and Himalayan Studies, its scholarly journal Himalaya, and anxious to further connect with colleages at outstanding Macalaster College, I figured it might be wise to get in line for their fall conference:

“Liu Shengqi in Lhasa: A New Window into Tibet and Chinese Assertions on the Plateau, 1945-1949”

Adam Cathcart, Pacific Lutheran University

Abstract submitted to the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs, Macalaster College, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 29-31, 2011:

Before Liu Shengqi (柳陞祺)became the early PRC’s foremost historian of Tibet, he was an English-language secretary in Lhasa for the Nationalist Government’s Commission on Mongolia and Tibet.  His travels and assessment of Han-Tibetan relations in and around Lhasa provide a unique and vital perspective on Tibet’s tenuous status from the end of War of Resistance until 1949, when Liu was expelled from the city with all Chinese and their suspected sympathizers.  Liu’s experiences have been essentially ignored up until now by even such thorough scholars as Melvyn Goldstein, but with the 2010 publication of Liu’s recollections in Lhasa (in Chinese), we can now fill a minor but significant gap in the literature on Tibet’s history — and assertions of Guomindang power in the region — in the period just preceeding the traumatic collision with Maoism.

And an excerpt from the paper itself:

The Significance of Liu Shengqi as a Viewpoint Into Tibet (1912-1949)

Liu was stationed in Lhasa from 1944 to 1949 as the English-language Secretary for various (GMD) Central Government organs and later became one of the foremost Tibetologists in the early PRC.[1]  His lively biographical history which intersected with one of the major turning points in the modern history of the Tibetan plateau – the fall from power of the Nationalist Party in mainland China.  He is therefore a figure of significance when attempting to unravel both what happened in Tibet at the end of the Chinese Republican era, but also in how Tibet’s subsequent history was interpreted, as he himself was instrumental in crafting the distinctive CCP historiography on the Tibetan plateau.[2]

Liu’s own personal recollections dealing with his years as a Nationalist Official.  , and, most of all to our interest today, to Lhasa from 1944-1949.  Virtually all of the significant correspondence from Chongqing and then Nanking to Lhasa in those years passed through his hands.

[1] Among Liu’s cadre of important Tibet scholars in the early 1950s, several shared his background of experiences in the National Government of Chiang Kai-shek, but few had his fluency with English sources.  These were the founders of modern Tibet studies in the academy.  For an impressive bibliography assessing publications in Chinese prior to 1949, see 藏学学刊, 2008, Vol. 4.

[2] His 1953 book, co-authored with his former Nationalist colleague Shen Zonglian 沈宗廉  after only a year back from India, and in English, was Tibet and the Tibetans, an important reference work.  In 1957, with Wang Jingru 王静如 he published an overview of Tibetan history entitled 西藏历史概要, which was later praised as  “the first work in our country [China] to use a totally new perspective” on Tibetan history.  This text — published in the middle of the anti-Rightist campaign — helped to actualize, in print, the interpretive orthodoxy which we see in Tibetan history studies today in the PRC.  

See also: Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 柳陞祺研究员逝世

Liu’s newly published (!) studies of Tibetan monasteries and monks in the 1940s

Xinhua (中文) in 2008 on Liu’s newly published collected writings on Tibet, which did not include his Lhasa recollections, interestingly enough

Liu Shengqi died in 2003; reincarnating himself like any good Tibetologist, the best stuff is published posthumously

Three Publication Opportunities for Scholars of All Ages

Undergraduate students looking for a good publication opportunity shouldn’t overlook the Wittenberg University East Asia Journal or the College of St. Scholastica’s Middle Ground Journal.  The latter journal also looks to be a magnificent forum for articles from faculty who teach about global issues.  Finally, Studies on Asia is back up and running in a fourth series and is a wonderful place for graduate students to consider submitting papers, or for folks like myself to submit fuller translations of things, well, like Liu Shengqi’s recollections from Lhasa.  Summer — is there any better time to write?