String Crossings: Tracking the Evolution of North Korea’s Moranbong Band

One of the advantages of staying at the top North Korean hotel in Shenyang, the Chilbosan, is that the nightly broadcasts from Pyongyang are available in real time. 

Earlier this month, I made a visit to the hotel and was rewarded with a news broadcast from Pyongyang which featured highly the return of the Moranbong Band. The first violin/concertmaster Sonu Hyang-hui finally reappeared with the Band, in one of their concerts in Ryanggang province. That’s interesting because she had been absent from the band’s previous return concerts in March, and had not been seen on the stage since October 2013.

So she obviously hasn’t been purged or otherwise ostracized, although there had been some speculation about her connection to Jang Song-taek, given the band’s travel to China during his visit there in August 2012. 

I don’t think that she (or even Ri Sol-ju, for that matter) is in any danger of eclipsing Kim Jong-un in terms of popularity, given the weight and inherent momentum of the cult of personality around the Kim leadership (since the late 1960s, really). North Korean artists and musicians know their place within that system and know that to succeed within it, one does not attempt to go beyond established boundaries. 

Here are my questions about the Moranbong Band:

-Why do the Moranbong Band shows dwell so heavily on old movies in terms of graphics used? Is this a clear case of “old wine in new bottles” or is something genuinely new happening on stage that needs to be counterbalanced by older, more traditional propaganda tropes? 

- What percentage of their repertoire are rearrangements of old songs vs. completely new songs? (The song “Without a Break” is a perfect example of the latter; it is fully associated with Kim Jong-un.)

- What role does the Moranbong Band play in North Korea’s information strategy, particularly as it concerns what might be called “soft power” or cultural diplomacy?

- Why has the Workers’ Party chosen now as the time to unleash them again, and in particular to indicate that they “belong to the people” and are not simply pleasure brigades for Kim Jong-un? (The appearance of Choe Tae-bok at their concert –unobtrusive but unmistakeable-- at their last Pyongyang show was a good example of this — they are not mistresses of the top elite.)

- Has the Moranbong Band ever initiated a “diplomatic signal” to, say, the United States, via one of their concerts — as opposed to merely reflecting state propaganda themes?

- Big question: Why has the Unhasu Orchestra *completely disappeared*, and what has happened to the Sea of Blood Opera company, which Kim Jong-un has shown zero interest in and which has previously toured China on multiple occasions? In other words, is the splash of the Moranbang Band actually masking a larger turmoil/inactivity/bureaucratic rearrangement and reassessment of North Korea’s classical music culture and musical culture generally?

For more information (and for more of my commentary) on this matter, see the AP piece: 

Enemies and Allies in North Korean Art and Archives, 1948-1952

This is the introduction to a paper which I prepared for an Association of Asian Studies panel on captured wartime documents in Korea, Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, 29 March 2014.  The panel was organized by Chuck Kraus and the discussant was Bruce Cumings. The images that accompany the presentation can be accessed via clicking on this link for PowerPoint slides. – Adam Cathcart

Usually in modern times when States have been defeated in war they have preserved their structure, their identity, and the secrecy of their archives. – Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. 1: The Gathering Storm (London: Cassell & Co., 1948), p. 232.

Embarking on an analysis of North Korean political cartoons retrieved out of the dark and then gleaming fluorescent vaults of the US National Archives ought to stir a bit of reflection. These are not simply cartoons, they are captured cartoons, and their transmission into the present has come down a long and peculiar line. Such documents have been stripped from their original possessors; they are the residual booty of a momentary victory in the autumn of 1950.[1]  They may not, as Cumings wrote of photographs, “objectively hold history still,” nor prove anything at all about who started the Korean War,[2] but very presence of the captured documents in one’s hand or their impression upon the eye itself forces the historian firmly into the ranks of the wielders of power, even as the scholar endeavours to use the image as a portal into the semi-sovereign optimism of the “North Korean Zeitgeist” during the era of liberation.[3]

To illustrate the point regarding preponderance of force, and its connection to how we come to know anything at all about North Korea during, before, or after the war, we might also look to the New York Public Library, which holds two boxes of Korean War propaganda. Much of this material consists of anti-communist United Nations leaflets, but it also includes a few folders of graphic documents wrested from Prisoners in Koje Island during the Korean War. Communist prisoners were not allowed to have writing utensils in the camps, but somehow ball-point pens were smuggled in and paper acquired, cartoons sketched of massive North Korean T-34 tanks smashing South, world maps generated and labeled with letters for educational quiz purposes, and portraits drawn of Kim Il-song on white T-shirts. When holding the documents, the historian is made aware of his or her silent collusion with, and dependence upon, the prison guards, truncheons, and tear gas, the “stock of intrinsic atrocities” that allowed the camps to function.[4]


Korean War Crime 95 — An unidentified male bludgeoned to death and left atop the library at the Bowibo (Public Security HQ) in Chinnampo, North Korea, October 1950 . The magazines and publications ended up in Record Group 242.–  Image from U.S. National Archives Record Group 153, Korean War Crimes


If plunder, in this case, rests at the core of the scholarly enterprise, it is congruent with North Korea’s own perception of a continual push from without for a kind of “cultural rollback” of the gains of the revolution, however Kim-centered and atrophied those gains might be. The momentary revolt against communist power initiated by students in the northwestern city of Sinuiju in November 1945 was crushed with arms before a quarter of the city was taken over (this was no Kwangju 1980, nor Beijing 1989), so anxieties over destruction of monuments and North Korean culture become displaced fully into the war itself, and justifiably so. But even after the war, threats remained: Like the horrified Mao Zedong, North Korean leaders and diplomats surely took careful stock of the actions in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956. Destruction of communist icons was de rigeur in these uprisings, but so too was the burning of communist publications; this was an incendiary cultural rollback.[5] “To destroy or to loot?” becomes the question of the rebel as well as the imperialist.

The North Korean response to such pressures today is ubiquitous, and it is twofold: 1) Rebuild the archives and, in more familiar fashion, 2) Use art to attack the state’s enemies.


[1] Dae-Sook Suh, “Records Seized by U.S. Military Forces in Korea, 1921-1952,” Korean Studies 2.1 (1978): 177-182. See also Ra Jong-yil, “Governing North Korea: Some Afterthoughts on the Autumn of 1950,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 40, No. 3 (Jul., 2005), pp. 521-546; Charles Armstrong, “The Destruction and Reconstruction of North Korea, 1950 – 1960,” The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 8, Issue 51 No 2, December 20, 2010.

[2] Bruce Cumings, War and Television (Verso, 1992), 54-57.

[3] Charles Armstrong, The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950 (Cornell, 2003); Suzy Kim, Everyday Life in North Korea, 1945-1950 (Cornell, 2013).

[4] Michel Foucault, Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1974-1975, Valerio Marchetti and Antonella Salomoni, eds., Graham Burchell, translator (New York: Picador, 1999), p. 84; see also Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir (Paris: Gallimard en février 1975) ; Ha Jin, War Trash (Pantheon, 2004).

[5] Dandan Zhu, “The Hungarian revolution and the origins of China’s Great Leap policies, 1956–57,” Cold War History, (2011) Volume 12, Issue 3.

In Germany, ROK President Park Geun-hye Talks Reunification and a Possible Kim Jong-un Summit

After unification, will Korean teens in Seoul enjoy a fashionably retro museum of North Korean material and cultural life, as this young German is doing at a Berlin exhibition on the former East Germany?

After unification, will Korean teens in Seoul enjoy a fashionably retro museum of North Korean material and cultural life, as this young German is doing at a Berlin exhibition on the former East Germany?

Having dueled with Japanese Prime Minster Abe Shinzo in The Hague yesterday, the flinty President of the Republic of Korea, Park Geun-hye, spoke with Philipp Abresch yesterday, as she set off for a visit to Germany. The following is the full text of President Park’s interview and story from the original German. — Adam Cathcart

Tagesschau Intro: The relations on the Korean peninsula are tense – mainly due to the policies of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un. South Korea’s President Park has indicated, in an interview with, that she is open to a meeting with him, but only would do so if North Korea ends its nuclear program. Today, President Park begins a multi-day visit to Germany. She also wishes to learn from the German reunification (Wiedervereinigung).

Philipp Abresch: You have appointed a commission whose purpose is to prepare for a reunification with North Korea. How stable do you consider the leadership in Pyongyang to be? Do you expect a reunification in the next ten or twenty years?

Park Geun Hye: We do not really know what is going on in North Korea (Wir wissen nicht genau, was in Nordkorea vor sich geht). And what happens in the future is difficult to predict. North Korea wants to grow economically, but, at the same, North Korea insists on [keeping] its nuclear program. I think that under such circumstances, North Korea does not expect or wait for any help from abroad. Such a policy is not going to attract winning investors. Ultimately, the nuclear program will have a negative effect on North Korea.

Next year, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea. And this occasion is particularly important for us: We face a nuclear threat and the danger of war, which we do not wish to have (die darf es da nicht geben). We want to be actively involved in prosperity and peace. That’s why I set up a commission to thoroughly prepare the reunification of the two Koreas. I hope that this commission is received with encouragement and support among [all] people .

I’ve heard that the reunification of Germany was also very difficult, because hardly anyone knew what it was really like inside the GDR [German Democratic Republic/East Germany]. North Korea is much more closed today than East Germany was at that time. We know very little about the country. So we have to be active and prepare ourselves conscientiously (gewissenhaft) for the day of reunification.

What we want is for it to be possible for people from North and South to see one another more often, that there is an exchange between both sides. We must try to resolve the differences between North and South Koreans – the emotional differences and the cultural differences. This is our most important task.

” We can alleviate the suffering of the families “

Abresch: You said that the big day (Tag X/i.e., unification) may come completely unexpectedly. How do you prepare for a reunification when the south knows next to nothing about North Korea?

Park:  We just had a reunion this past February of separated families from North and South Korea. And along with that, many wishes were left open [i.e., unfulfilled]. But we are fortunate that we were able to alleviate the suffering of the families which had been torn apart.

The fact that North and South in are in agreement (handelseinig) on such matters is enormously important. So we want to build more and more confidence. But we don’t have much time. Of the 70,000 people who want to meet their relatives across the border, most are very old. We have to work faster to bring these families together again. And in my view, we should do the same no matter what the level or political climate is between the two sides.

No compromise on the nuclear program

Abresch : You have always said that you would not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. But we have now lived through nuclear tests, missile launches and other military provocations from the North. Hasn’t the policy of patience and restraint failed?

Park: Whether it was right or not to be patient is not so important. One thing has always been clear: The South Korean government will react harshly to the nuclear program of North Korea. But if there were [the possibility of] talks between North and South, then we would not close ourselves [to that possibility].

Our North Korea policy is explicit and reliable. When [confronted with] hardness, we will respond harder. But the softer [we will become] when [confronted with] soft. (Auf Härte werden wir härter reagieren. Aber umso weicher auf weich.) This [principle] also means that we will not stand for a nuclear program that threatens the Korean peninsula and even the entire North Asian region.

We do not stand alone. Germany, the European Union, and many other countries are behind us. That’s why, on my visit to Germany, I ‘m going to speak intensively with the Bundesregierung (Federal Government) about our “politics of reunification” (Wiedervereinigungspolitik).

Many states have endeavored [to halt] North Korea’s nuclear program, for example, in the realm of the Six Party Talks. During these talks, North Korea has simply continued to work on its nuclear program. North Korea has won time to further expand and build its nuclear capabilities.

Up until now, we have been caught in a vicious circle (Teufelskreis). We were provoked and then we backed down. We absolutely have to break this vicious cycle. It would be ideal if North Korea would change itself voluntarily. And would be good if the world moves forward cohesively (geschlossen auftritt), in order that we can create an overall atmosphere in which North Korea, finally, has to move.

Talking about peace and stability

Abresch: There have always been high-level meetings between North and South Korea, and between the national leaders of both sides. When will such a meeting take place between the two of them?

Park: We have always been open to discussions between North and South Korea. If it were necessary, the two heads of state would also meet. But if such talks were arranged for their own sake or the talks occurred only once, I don’t think they would result in much for the Korean people.

Abresch: What would you like to say to the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un?

Park: In the event that there were talks with Chairman Kim, I would speak to him about the North Korean nuclear program. About peace and stability. And we would talk about the future of inter-Korean relations. I would also advise him (hinweisen, “point out”) that North Korea’s current strategy of simultaneously pursuing economic development and a nuclear program cannot possibly go together.

Beyond that, I would also bring [Kim Jong-un] the news that [South] Korea and the international community want to help North Korea to develop economically, the minute it distances itself from its nuclear program. This could begin a new era of Korean relations.

Source: Park Geun-hye, „‘Ich würde mich mit Kim treffen‘: Interview with Philipp Abresch,“, 26 March 2014. Translated by Adam Cathcart.

Leaflets from the Sky

The UN Commission of Inquiry’s up-close-and-personal warning to Kim Jong-un may have been bold, but it was hardly unprecedented. In October 1950, US/UN field commander Douglas MacArthur dumped leaflets all over the skies of Korea, both North and South. They warned Kim Il-song specifically that the end was near, and that he, and any relevant North Korean commanders, would be held responsible for international war crimes.

MacArthur utilized a leaflet from above, but what tools and means do Michael Kirby and UN Commission of Inquiry have for communicating their message to the Chinese people, and the North Koreans beyond? What does this bundle of white papers in a foreign script represent, after all? Whether or not China and North Korea are induced to come out of the foxhole – together or separately – and investigate just what this document is all about is an important question we need to continue to ask as the COI report and its abundant testimonies continues to ripple through the news cycle.

North Korea and China’s Response to the UN Commission of Inquiry Report

North Korea has ever been the subject of journalistic inquiry, but in the past couple of years things seem to have hit a kind of new high point. Likewise, public consciousness in the US and Western Europe of the importance of Pyongyang’s relationship with China seems also to have taken a major leap forward. So what happens when a United Nations special report on North Korean human rights emerges, and China is implicated heavily in the document?  Journalists need to seek comment from experts, or at least perceived experts. Since some of my work is cited in the UN report (in a discussion of Kim Jong-un’s newly generated holiday, the “Day of Songun”), it seems I became fair game.

The history of the impact of the UN Commission of Inquiry report is still being written, so I thought it might be appropriate at this point to share some of my initial responses, which I also discussed in a 6 March event at the University of York. The questions below were generated by a reporter for a major daily in Western Europe, who was so impressed with my answers that none of them made it into print — such is life, but that is also why scholars these days keep weblogs:

1.- What effect do you think the report will have on North Korea? Is it likely to produce any change in the country?

While the authors of the report clearly hope to create some spark of recognition for their work among the people of the DPRK, the state is likely to depict the report as highly instrumentalized, serving as another implement in a broader US-led drive to overthrow the regime and besmirch the “supreme dignity” of their leader personally. The notion of a letter addressed to Kim Jong-un, while logical in any number of other contexts, is likely to ignite a scramble within the DPRK propaganda and media organs for a competition to see who can most vehemently denounce the Western methods.

We also have to keep in mind that while the DPRK has been a member of the United Nations since 1992, the country has had a very adversarial relationship with the UN dating of course back to the Korean War, when the UN sent troops led by Douglas MacArthur precisely to roll back the gains of their violent revolution. This does not mean that the North Koreans would reject any initative from the UN or the international community more broadly – in fact they are rather receptive when it comes to areas of capacity building in areas like medicine and agriculture, and they are looking of course for foreign aid to solve the food problem, but this report seems to run counter to anything that the North Koreans would remotely accept.

2.- What is so special about this report? Haven’t these abuses been reported in the past?

What is special about the report is the recommendation to the General Assembly that the North Korean regime be referred to the International Criminal Court. It suggests that North Korea is becoming more isolated internationally under Kim Jong-un’s leadership – and the execution of Jang Song-taek, which is referenced in the report, would seem to indicate this. China will be defending the DPRK in the Security Council but this is no guarantee that the country will not be referred to the ICC.

The abuses chronicled in the report are well known, but this report packs a kind of cumulative effect and it has served to update the literature while energizing the loose yet broad coalition that exists attempting to enact change in North Korea. Of course the North Korean regime puts forward a much different conception of rights and human rights, which emphasizes the role of anti-colonial sovereignty and the right, more or less, to remain outside of the global economic system and to continue with their weapons programs and leader veneration.

3.- The UN calls for the international community to impose sanctions against the Korean Leadership? Can’t this be a way of destabilizing the region? Can this sort of mechanism be effective?

Sanctions on DPRK have been tightening since their first nuclear test in 2006, but I don’t think this report will itself result in economic sanctions. The regime is definitely feeling the pain from the ban on luxury goods, and again, the Chinese element is the one to watch. China certainly does not want to see North Korea destabilized, and is not at all receptive to the critiques offered by the UN, for various reasons. North Korea stands up for China on the Tibet issue (where the PRC has few friends and many critics) and China stands up for North Korea in the international critiques of its human rights. However, the Jang Song-taek execution seems to have upset Chinese leaders and the report’s critique of the Jang execution has already been echoed, if faintly, by the Chinese media.

Wolmi Island DPRK film



Japan in Winston Churchill’s Postwar Histories

Living in the United Kingdom, it is practically impossible to ignore the imprint of Winston Churchill on the 20th century in his intertwined roles both as statesman and historian. As a postwar writer, Churchill was mightily productive, and one volume of his mammoth The Second World War emerged virtually every year between 1948-1953, leaving the English-reading public with six volumes which are full of primary documents and reflections.

Having finally gotten through the first three volumes this afternoon in the Yorkshire countryside, I am ill disposed to describe what precisely Winston Churchill accomplishes by turning the focus on Stalin and postwar Soviet foreign policy in Volume 6; surely it is one of the key documents for understanding Yalta, Potsdam, and the emerging Cold War order, not least of which included coordination and disharmony between the United States and the United Kingdom.

But in volumes 1-3, much can be learned about where Japan, ‘the China Incident’, and East Asia generally fit into his world view and policy direction. Churchill’s views of Japan prior to 1931 (which, evidently, held up until 1940-41) could be characterized, in the words of John Maurer, as follows:

Churchill’s understanding of the international strategic environment also led him to conclude that Japan alone, unaided by coalition partners of its own, would not embark on a war against Britain. Instead, Churchill imagined a predatory Japan acting in a more opportunistic way, attacking only if Britain found itself already endangered by some other great power. In this scenario, if the British Empire faced a serious threat from some other quarter – most likely, a challenge from a revanchist Germany in Europe or an expansionist Soviet Russia in South Asia – Japan might exploit this opportunity to bandwagon against Britain by aggressive action in the Far East. This scenario, too, proved an accurate forecast: Japanese decisionmakers only did feel confident enough to attack Britain when it appeared that Germany was on the verge of scoring a major military success in Europe during World War II.

There are several particularly interesting episodes in Churchill’s recollection of the diplomacy and military feinting that preceded full-scale war in the Pacific between Japan on the one hand and the Allies (and their not-entirely-willing colonies). One is his treatment of Matsuoka’s junket to Europe and Moscow in 1941.

Another is his view of Hong Kong. On 7 January 1941, Churchill wrote to his Commander-in-Chief in the Far East:

This is all wrong. If Japan goes to war with us there is not the slightest chance of holding Hong Kong or relieving it. It is most unwise to increase the loss we shall suffer there. Instead of increasing the garrison it ought to be reduced to a symbolical scale…We must avoid frittering away our resources on untenable positions. Japan will think long before declaring war on the British Empire, and whether there are two or six battalions at Hong Kong will make no difference to her choice. I wish we had fewer troops there, but to move any would be noticeable and dangerous. [Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. III,The Grand Alliance (London: Cassell & Co., 1950), p. 157.]

Churchill would instead be delivered an additional two battalions of Canadian troops for Hong Kong, meaning that there were six there when the Japanese struck in December 1941, proving the Prime Minister quite correct in his views of Britain’s inability to resist such an assault.

Turning from Hong Kong to Nanking: Churchill’s relationship with Chiang Kai-shek hardly seems very sturdy. Chiang is very much an outsider in this text. The Nanking’s government evacuation to Wuhan in late 1937 and in Chongqing the following year hardly gets a mention; perhaps this is a signal example of the typical European view of the Second World War and its early periodization.

This autumn, teaching a course on war crimes in East Asia from 1931-1945, I thought I might peruse Churchill’s correspondence from December 1937 to see what, if any, informal response he might have had to the Japanese assault on the then-Chinese capitol of Nanking. There was no mention of Nanking at all — but Churchill was perturbed and agitated in January 1938 about gossip and activities among the Japanese community in London.

I was therefore not entirely surprised to find how, in Volume III of The Second World War (pp. 157-8), Churchill describes his state of mind some three years later, in February 1941:

I became conscious of a stir and flutter in the Japanese Embassy and colony in London. They were evidently in a high state of excitement, and they chattered to one another with much indiscretion. In these days we kept our eyes and ears open. Various reports were laid before me which certainly gave the impression that they had received news from home which required them to pack up without a moment’s delay. This agitation among people usually so reserved made me feel that a sudden act of war upon us by Japan might be imminent…

The agitation among the Japanese in London subsided as quickly as it had begun. Silence and Oriental decorum reigned once more.

On 24 February 1941, Shigemitsu Mamoru, the Ambassador to the UK, arrived to speak with Churchill. Reflecting the importance of the Angl0-Japanese relationship from the Japanese point of view, Shigemitsu was a well-known figure who had preceded his 1938 appointment in London with Ambassadorships in Moscow (1936-1938) and Nanking (1931-1932).  He would also sign Japan’s surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri in September 1945.  In meeting Churchill this time, the Japanese diplomat among other things complained about Britain’s implied support for China.  Churchill, for his part, left the meeting with the distinct impression, as he put it in a note on 4 March (The Second World War, Vol. III, p. 160), that “I do not think Japan is likely to attack us unless and until she is sure we are going to be defeated [by Germany].”

Tao Zhu and the Guangxi Bandits: Mao Zedong Nianpu Notes, Jan. 1951 (3)

Whereas January 1950 had found the Chinese leader stuck in Moscow, January 1951 found Mao Zedong at the storm center in Beijing. Mere months after founding the new People’s Republic of China, Mao was wrapped in a highly active policy agenda focusing on anti-bandit activity, mass propaganda, land reform, territorial consolidation, and national defence.  The fact that he had just learned of his son’s death in Korea failed to slow him down, and he pursued his agenda and his colleagues with great vigor.

The following sources are all summarized/translated from volume 1 of the Mao Zedong Nianpu (Chronology), newly published in Beijing in December 2013.*

7 January 1951 

Mao gets agitated in reading a report from Tao Zhu [陶铸], who was in charge of a number of military and political projects in southern China. Tao report described progress on anti-bandit work in Guangxi, itself a generally difficult task given the region’s topography, ethnic makeup, its historically persistent warlordism, and the fact that it had been one of the last mainland provinces to fall to the People’s Liberation Army. But Guangxi was also strategically vital, given links to Indochina and comrades in north Vietnam.

Mao commented on the report, sending it to Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yi, He Long, Rao Zhangfeng, and Xi Zhongxun (the last-named being the father of current CCP Chairman Xi Jinping), telling them to forward it “so that [cadre in] all localities and in military units where the solving of the bandit problem has been particularly severe can read it.” Mao implored Deng and others: “Evaluating the most recent work in Guangxi, one has to say that it is very good, and merits [your] research.” Cadre in Guangxi, according to Tao’s original report, had done an effective job of “uniting military power with the Party, the people, the economy, and political organizations,” and, during the campaign to suppress counterrevolutionaries, had focused on “gathering weapons, opposing local tyrants, constructing local militia and other important anti-bandit policies.” Coming from Mao, this was high praise for a “policy carried out very well.”

However, work was hardly complete in the region. Many difficult areas remained unconsolidated near the city of Nanning, and on 9 January, Mao followed up by demanding that the areas have “all the bandits cleaned out before March.” If the Northwest Bureau could spare anti-bandit troops, they should be sent to Guangxi, he said.  [Nianpu, Vol. 1, p. 278-279]


Tao Zhu received high accolades from Mao and was rewarded with a series of high Party and Army posts in Guangdong in the mid-1950s. He became entangled in the Gao-Rao affair in 1954, but seemed to emerge unscathed. In 1966 he was among the most rapid beneficiaries of the Cultural Revolution; Mao elevated him to chair national propaganda efforts after Lu Dingyi fell from grace. But in 1967, Tao himself was ousted, struggled against by Red Guards, and died in 1969. The bandit hunter had become the hunted, and Chairman Mao was, it seems, in no mood to protect him from the forces which he had unleashed.

*All references are from Mao Zedong Nianpu, 1949-1976 [Chronology of Mao Zedong, 1949-1976], Vol. 1 (Beijing: Zhonggong zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2013).

Mao Zedong and Korean War Propaganda: Nianpu Notes, Jan. 1951 (2)

New sources published in Beijing this past December give us further insight into Mao Zedong’s multifarious activities and ongoing strategic activities with respect to the Korean War. In addition to covering in some detail Mao’s active policy direction for the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, the consolidation of Tibet, and land reform, the Mao Zedong Nianpu (Chronology) discuss information operations in and around Korea.

Given the kind of anti-Chinese leaflets that the US/UN were spreading around North Korea, and the flack China was taking in global public opinion, Mao’s interest in the matter was quite logical. He was always mindful of properly spinning the “Resist America, Aid Korea” campaign domestically — and it was considered important enough that the chairmanship of the committee to guide the patriotic movement within the PRC was headed by Guo Moruo, and not Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, who had very much wanted the job.

China’s moves to guide foreign journalists during the war were doubtless important and active in their Sino-French context, not to mention the Korean battlefield writings of leftist Anglophone journalists Wilfred Burchett and Alan Winnington, more about whom can likely be learned from the ongoing and highly enjoyable work of Dr. Tom Buchanan at the University of Oxford.

At any rate, here is my translation of the Mao material:

5 January 1951

Mao revises a note from the Central Military Committee [Zhongyang junwei] to Peng Dehuai in Korea on the subject of propaganda. Noting that “the whole country and whole world are carefully watching reports from the Korean War,” Mao goes on to discuss the need to publicize every battlefield victory and achievement, including “the release of prisoners of war and other important sudden steps [步骤],” all the while making sure that Xinhua, the state news agency, “does not publish or leak military secrets or conditions at the same time.” He writes: “[We] must change the current situation where Xinhua often does not publish war reports, or publishes such reports too late.” [Nianpu, Vol. 1, p. 277-278]

*All references are from Mao Zedong Nianpu, 1949-1976 [Chronology of Mao Zedong, 1949-1976], Vol. 1 (Beijing: Zhonggong zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2013).

Mao Zedong as a Father: Nianpu Notes from January 1951

In the six big volumes of Mao Zedong Nianpu (1949-1976) published in Beijing this past December 2013, a number of new texts can be located, and minor mysteries solved. I was fortunate to pick up copies of all six volumes on a recent trip to Shanghai. Chronologically organized, the writing in January 1951 is particularly interesting.

Having decided in October to go to war in Korea, and having been heavily involved in the planning and execution of that war, Mao in January 1951 was also consumed with interest in the campaign to suppress counterrevolutionaries, border consolidation, ongoing land reform in previously “unliberated areas,” as well as the occasional cultural policy — an area of great interest for Mao.

The first few days of January 1951 found him more taken than usual with his role as a father — not to the nation, but instead to his own children. Here, we learn how Mao was informed of his son’s death in Korea, and find him just a couple of days later writing a tender note to his daughter, Li Na.

Translations are often a bit rough, but they are my own.

1 January 1951

Mao revises an editorial for Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) on improving the livelihood of the working masses. [Nianpu, Vol. 1, p. 275]  

2 January 1951

Mao complements officials in the south/southwestern province of Guangxi on their plan for anti-bandit work. [Nianpu, Vol. 1, p. 275]  

Mao, along with his wife Jiang Qing (who may be at a rural commune nearby) is informed by a communication from Zhou Enlai and Peng Dehuai that Mao’s son, Mao Anying, had been killed in the Korean War some five weeks prior on 25 November 1950. An excuse for the delay is tendered by Zhou and Peng, who write, referring back to 25 November: “Because at that time you all had colds  [当时我因你们都在感冒中], we decided to send this to you in the future; but Comrade [Liu] Shaoqi already had been sent [this information] to read.” Mao then says what has been known about his own loss; a laconic or terse response.  But then he goes on to praises Gao Ruishi’s idea for establishing cemeteries on the Korean battlefields for the Chinese People’s Volunteers once the war is over; this appears to be some solace and also perhaps appeals to Mao’s imperial or romantic imagination. [Nianpu, Vol. 1, pp. 275-276]

4 January 1951

Mao receives a note from Huang Kecheng [黄克诚] in his old home province of Hunan, explaining that reactionaries in old military schools remain a problem, partially because not many can be arrested, given that their crimes occurred before liberation and they had not committed any crimes since liberation. Does this mean they were puppet troops under the Japanese?  [Nianpu, Vol. 1, p. 276]

Mao writes two affectionate notes to his daughter Li Na, telling her he heard she was sick, and that he really misses her. “If you recuperate really well and get better soon, everyone will be really happy,” he writes, then noting “There was a huge snow, did you see it?” On January 6, Mao wrote to her again: “Are you or aren’t you feeling a little better? Daddy really misses you.” [Nianpu, Vol. 1, p. 277]

*All references are from Mao Zedong Nianpu, 1949-1976 [Chronology of Mao Zedong, 1949-1976], Vol. 1 (Beijing: Zhonggong zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2013).