The Online Side of “Social Management” in China

The China Media Project at Hong Kong University was kind enough to host yours truly last June at a conference on new media and journalism in East Asia, and they continue, frankly, to impress the hell out of me.  It is both a testimony to the importance of the China Media Project and the need for more emulation of this program that CMP remains one of the few truly bilingual outfits out there endeavoring to penetrate through the fog and get straight to the point of what Chinese people are being presented as “news” and setting down to analyze it.

David Bandurski, the driving force (along with Director Qian Gang, a flinty and no-nonsense veteran reporter) of the China Media Project, weighs in with an analysis and translation regarding recent moves to further control the Internet in China:

Since President Hu Jintao’s address at People’s Daily in June 2008, the concept of “public opinion channeling,” or yulun yindao (舆论引导), has been a central part of the Party’s press control strategy. It implies a more modern, slightly more savvy approach to traditional “public opinion guidance,” the notion (born in June 1989) that the Party must enforce its political line in the media in order to maintain social and political stability and Party rule.

“Public opinion channeling,” which CMP Director Qian Gang has called “Control 2.0,” focuses not just on restricting information but ensuring that the Party’s own authoritative version of the facts predominates. In other words, information can no longer be simply controlled through traditional censorship tactics — it has to be actively spun as well.

For Bandurski’s translation of the Wang Chen editorial — not really delightful reading, but rather important in my estimation — click here.  The New York Times blog has another fine piece on a similar theme.

Finally, it’s worth noting that while People’s Daily and other Party views of this theme are going to be wildly divergent from most readers of this blog, China’s use of information technologies to render smoother the process of “social management” is being noted, quite possibly with emulation in mind, by North Korean friends in Pyongyang.

Depressing?  Try a feel-good tale about NBA stars playing in China and loving it.  Nothing like a little post-brawl sports journalism to act as a balm over any and all wounds and cultural misunderstandings.  As the Beijing Ducks shooting guard and China Daily columnist likes to say, “It’s a beautiful thing when you can tell your own story.”

Related Post (w/ photos of the direct predecessors of the above): Adam Cathcart, “The Yanan Spirit of Journalism,” Sinologistical Violoncellist, 9 November 2009.

Inspector O is Not in the Office: Tracing a Traffic Accident Near Pyongyang

The story has made virtually no waves in English, Chinese, or Korean, but perhaps that is the point:

On November 26, apparently within minutes of one another, two separate buses full of “a Chinese business delegation” and “a Chinese tourist group” crashed on an icy road 60 km from Pyongyang, killing six Chinese and two North Koreans.

This according to the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang, which rapidly reported the news on its website and said the North Korean authorities were doing everything they could to help the other victims of the crash, some of whom were moved to the Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang.  Ambassador Liu Hongcai got very busy indeed, going to the scene of the accident and linking up with various North Korean bureaucrats.

The next day, the body count went up: one Chinese and another North Korean died in the hospital.  At this point, Xinhua picked up on the story, and Liu Hongcai sent his councilor Jiang Yaxian to stand in front of the bomb-proof Chinese embassy in Pyongyang to make a short statement for CCTV).

On November 28, the tourists and “businessmen” who were not badly wounded returned to China, some by air and others by train to Sinuiju, where they then got on more buses to cross the Friendship Bridge into Dandong.  What a nice surprise to find that there were three Dutch people on the tourist delegation; that had not been reported prior. No one knows in which direction from Pyongyang the bus was coming, nor what the two groups were doing precisely besides “being tourists.”

This incident interests me because it happened precisely when Xinhua and KCNA were inking their new mutual understanding and cooperation. KCNA clearly pledges to continue reporting daily news about China to the North Korean people (along the lines of supporting China’s modernization, party building and ethnic unity policies) while Xinhua clearly pledges to tone down negative reporting about North Korea within the PRC.  KCNA also pledged to start a Chinese-language service, which they did on December 1.  And since these meetings, we have seen almost a total absence of critical items in the Chinese press about North Korea. Certainly the CCP will turn up the heat again when they need to, but for the time being, the information environment is one where the CCP Propaganda Ministry (surely with the support of the Foreign Ministry) is trying to consolidate its gains with the DPRK and going easy on, for instance, North Korea’s new assertions that things are going great with their Light Water Reactors.

There was no original reporting allowed of the incident from Pyongyang; that is, a single short Xinhua dispatch went out and was not elaborated upon by anyone.  The Chinese reporters in Pyongyang wrote nothing.  The Chinese Embassy has been the sole source of information about this incident, the sum total of which is about ten sentences.

Why does this matter?  Because such incidents have the power to rile up Chinese public opinion very quickly, mushrooming into a storm of criticism of both North Korea and the way in which China handles its alliance with that country.  Netizen comments on the story on Sohu website focused in on the question of corruption, asserting that the “business delegation” was a bunch of lazy and corrupt cadre from the Chinese provinces off spending public funds in the DPRK.  Other netizens were quick to critique the very notion of China promoting tourism in North Korea, calling Pyongyang “the equivalent of a second-rate Chinese city in the 1980s” and underscoring North Korean dictatorship.

Imagine the firestorm that would occur if seven Chinese tourists were killed in Japan, particularly if there were some implication of Japanese negligence or wrong doing.

How did this accident occur?  Why would two buses, minutes apart, essentially crash in the same place?  Who are the North Koreans who were killed?  Why did the Chinese embassy release the basic information right away, and then have no further reporting on the issue?

The need to fill the empty space and questions with some kind of neutral if not helpful content for the Chinese was seen in the dispatch sent by the PRC Embassy in Pyongyang on Nov. 28, describing two tearful Chinese in the Pyongyang hospital who, when the Chinese ambassador came to visit them, demanded that Liu Hongcai convey a few packs of cigarettes and hard liquor to the tomb of the unknown Chinese solider in North Korea, recalling the deep bonds of mutual obligation and protection forged during the Korean War.

Chinese People's Volunteers monument in South Pyong'an, DPRK, photo courtesy Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang, liquor and cigarettes courtesy Tupac Shakur/Chinese traffic accident victims

I am very curious to see where this story goes.

For the time being, all relevant links to the facts and interpretations above, including the Netizen responses, are on my Twitter feed (not that I have attention deficit disorder, quite the contrary: I’m off to San Diego where I may meet with a few experts whose views may or may not be shared later on the blog).  Careful out there on those roads.

Rethinking “China’s Peaceful Rise”

Although I occasionally mourn my inability to be in two places at once — as Sichuan and Tibet come immediately to mind — the benefits of being in the Puget Sound region in the autumn, I now recall, are multiple, as these perks include the ability to spend time talking with, and hearing from, Sidney Rittenberg.

A new film project, “The Revolutionary” — a preliminary screening of which I was able to attend in Tacoma — calls Rittenberg “the most important foreigner in China since Marco Polo.”

Rittenberg has subsequently undertaken a lecture series on the campus where he and I are both members of the Chinese Studies faculty — Pacific Lutheran University.  The intersection of Rittenberg’s vast experience and unique deep background on China along with our students is enjoyable to observe and to navigate.  One of the most interesting juxtapositions of worldviews comes when with military backgrounds get a chance to think through the elder Rittenberg’s assessment of China’s place in the world, and the global outlook for what some folks call “China’s peaceful rise” (or what students with a DoD connection, urged on by events and information, might rather call “China’s peaceful rise with aircraft carriers and ICBMs”).

Today I received a truly interesting communication from one of my students growing out of Rittenberg’s lecture, and I thought it might serve as a solid pretext for “breaking out of the [writer's] blockade” which I seem to have imposed myself recently upon this blog.


During Sidney Rittenburg’s lecture he portrayed a very (as we stated in class) rosy view of China especially on the military side. In short, he stated that the idea of Chinese imperialism does not fit the culture of China. The one exception he provided is Chinese territories (Taiwan, Tibet, ect.). Over the years, China has used many forms of soft power to force nations to recognize the “One China Policy” and deal primarily with the PRC over the ROC.

Sidney also recognized the danger of growing ultra-nationalists (especially amongst the youth of China) and their affect on China’s foreign policy.

I was wondering what your thoughts were on the possibility of ultra-nationalists (or even moderates) within the government extending the “One China Policy” to other areas within East Asia under the precursor of China’s historical ownership over the land and how China’s soft-power can be defined as a form of Chinese neo-imperialism ultra-nationalists may utilize to carry out their agenda.

Thank you for your thoughts. I understand this is a complex question.I have a reason why I am asking this question that I may be able to discuss with you later in the semester. In short it has to do with the strategy used in weiqi.

Before dropping down a fuller answer, and in its stead, I cannot recommend highly enough this piece from Foreign Policy on the form and function of the Global Times or Huanqiu Shibao, one of the foremost means by which China could and does justify its policy of military growth. [Update: In keeping with the heavy comments that follow this particular post, Global Times has a riposte to the Foreign Policy summary of its activities available here in English; Kaiser Kuo's always-worthwhile Sinica podcast this week covers the same issue in style and itself links to one final takedown of Huanqiu Shibao's "Top 10 Screeds" and take-no-prisoners editorial style.]

New European Perspectives on North Korea

North Korean elites attend a football exhibition practice for German guests in Pyongyang, April 2011 - image courtesy Claudia Roth, German Green Party -- click image for her photo gallery from Pyongyang

North Korea watchers are having a bit of a dry spell of late: the biggest stories of Kim Jong Eun’s succession are now a year in the rear view mirror, 38North is precisely unlike a good methadone clinic (it acknowledges one’s addiction but is frustratingly irregular in slaking it), the Daily NK keeps churning out pieces about rice prices, and the reliably crotchety, pro-rollback, and better-read-than-most blog of choice — One Free Korea — appears to have vacated the trenches for the foreseeable.  What’s a North Korea watcher to do?

Well,that is, besides read Noland and Haggard’s outrageously-well-informed stuff, or hunt for Andrei Lankov, or peruse Richard Horgan’s Twitter feeds, or peck through Korean Central News Agency dispatches, or tail the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang?

For solid analysis and copious links, I recommend the blog Nordkorea-info (today’s entry is on cellular and internet technology in the DPRK), a blog which recently carried a very interesting entry about a German football delegation to Pyongyang.

Although the aforesaid football delegation did its legwork back in April, the reports have just become public, and they are fascinating reading.  I did some interpreting of the report in English on Nordkorea-info, which can be accessed here.

Thanks to the serendipity of the Internet, I managed to run across this rather interesting combination-documentary about some foreigners in Pyongyang, which readers may find as interesting as I have:

Insights into North Korea’s Internationalization

Readers/viewers may also be interested in this related video session about the same book at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo with Jiro Ishimaru and Bradley Martin; the Wall Street Journal breaks down Rimjingang‘s mission and personnel.

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!

Kim Jong Il in China: 28 Things You May Have Missed

Cross-Border Economic Development

1. Indeed, the Rodong Sinmun [劳动新闻/Worker's Daily], North Korea’s key ideological mouthpiece, has said nothing of Kim Jong Il’s since his junket to a Hamgyong fruityard. But what has flowered in place of news of Kim?  The halls of Pyongyang, at least the ones with lighting, are suddenly again flush with economic optimism.

The phrases present in this Rodong Sinmun, May 20, editorial had gone into deep remission.  The North Korean leadership, we can only assume, feels confident that Chinese aid can pitch them forward headlong into the future (notwithstanding the fact that 6 million of the DPRK’s 24 million people are starving).

2. Analysis of all of this is needed, and one of China’s top North Korea bloggers rises to the task:


Roughly, while Kim Jong Il is trying to “transmit craziness” to the world community and heighten concern about his food difficulties and military potency, he is also – and this is interesting – trying to restore Sino-North Korean relations to a state resembling that of the 1980s.  Economic junkets and implicit promises of reform were a core piece of those relations.  However, the economic linkages of the 1980s never really took off, whereas today, North Korea is ever-deeper in the economic embrace of China along the frontier and otherwise.  In the 1990s, during the height of the famine, Kim Jong Il not once travelled to China.  This was clearly a mistake.  North Korea appears to have learned something from its recent past [前车之鉴].   Perhaps, finally, there is no going back.

3. Another very astute point made by the Chinese blogger is the unifying imperative of both the internal situation in North Korea (and, implicitly, China) with the complex international situation.  This includes the democratic wave in the Middle East and the need to improve domestic stability in both countries.  Thus the answer is to present not only a united Sino-North Korean front to the world, but to render that front even more united than before:


The mechanics of Kim Jong Il’s visit are less important than its effects and what it accompanies: another wave of economic cooperation with China.  Economic ties with North Korea are far, far more important to the Chinese leadership than blustering about North Korea’s nuclear program.

4. Criticism of the DPRK will remain a salient part of the PRC’s media arsenal, but this is done in more subtle ways that do not damage fundamentally the international united front with North Korea.  Where, after all – other than on Sinologistical Violoncellist – do you read stories in English about North Korea-bashing in the Chinese media?

Thus, to economic cooperation, which continues apace:

5. China and North Korea will launch a new borderlands developments initiative next week, and these developments near Sinuiju and on islands in the Yalu River are making the rounds on various government-approved  internet bulletin boards.  In particular, this Chosun Ilbo story is getting a great deal of attention from netizens:

6. North Korea is doing a great deal more than it has in the past to promote Chinese investment.  Witness this – the most detailed KCNA story on the subject I have seen to date — about Chinese investment in Rason, the port in the northeastern corner of Korea.  Of special interest is the frank admission that China is footing the bill for the port’s renovation:

7. Just as the North Korean regime essentially said “hell with it” to the public distribution system in the late 1990s and allowed small market activities so that people knew they should fend for themselves, the DPRK is today more or less admitting that China is going to be increasingly important certain segments of economic life.  Again, the survival imperative is at the core of this: North Koreans know the economy needs an infusion from somewhere, and internal complaints about the Chinese ascension – and they certainly exist – are easy enough to stifle.

8. North Korea has emphasized how much they value Chinese investment in Rason – or done a damn good job in covering up an accidental death – by commemorating the drowning of a Chinese businessman who is said to have saved the lives of two North Korean girls who were somehow just floating in distress of the Rason coast.  A ceremony was held in early April in Pyongyang and Zhang’s stone-faced widow and son were there to accept awards on behalf of a grateful nation.  (Link with photos.)

9. Unfortunately, according to internal sources, North Korea still can’t find enough Chinese investors who are willing to trust their North Korean counterparts.  The limits of rhetoric thus become evident.

10. Not that North Korea isn’t trying hard, and also drumming up interest from European firms as well.  At the International Trade Exhibition in Pyongyang on May 17, a whole host of DPRK international trade officials showed up to meet the Chinese ambassador, as well as a host of businesspeople, including Germans, French, and Italians.

11. But at the same time, the moribund nature of everything economic in North Korea seems clear.  No one has mentioned this, but in last site visit prior to moving east through some devastated provinces which he completely ignored on his way to China, Kim Jong Il managed to stare forlornly at some fruit, coughing up some of the same old boilerplate:

And speaking of Kim….

Personal Politics

12. Kim Jong Il has regained weight, his swagger, and high heels

13. While he was crossing over the Tumen River, North Korean media released this unusual and soaring endorsement by a “Chinese VIP”  (Chen Zongxing, discussed later in this post) who endorsed Kim Jong Il’s rule and anticipates it will alst at least through 2012 :

14. Kim Jong Il proceeded to meet with Dai Bingguo in little Mudanjiang city. (with photos) in a trip that might have been prophesized had anyone been paying attention:

On May 10, the Chinese Embassy had been summoned to Mangyongdae Hall in Pyongyang for a good long meeting with the DPRK’s head of Public Security [李明洙/Li Myong Jo] at which the two countries’ Public Security Bureaus agreed on “the strictest” precautions (obviously in reference to the Dear Leader’s visit, as can be seen in retrospect).  Link with photos:

Stories like the above, which go totally unreported in even the Wall Street Journal or the Guardian, along with stories like this in the Chinese media (“Kim Jong Eun Visit Speculated for Early May”) make you wonder: even given latitude for the differences in political culture, is it really fair to say that China is “habitually secretive about such trips” by Kim Jong Il?  As with everything else, it depends what you are paying attention to prior to the “disclosure” of Kim’s appearance in China, and what your definition of “secretive” is.    Perhaps more people need to read “North Korea Leadership Watch.”

15. As for possible meetings with Xi Jinping, so far the Chinese media is mum, as per protocol, but one “inside source” (maybe a friend in the Foreign Ministry in Chaoyang) states that Xi Jinping doesn’t want to be photographed with Kim Jong Eun, in any event:

16. Kim Jong Eun, perhaps, is busy holding down the fort in Pyongyang, making sure that the press duly commemorates a speech his absent father made twenty years ago (when the heir apparent, it bears noting, was all of six years old) about architecture theory:

17. In a story about the paradox of youthful leadership transition in North Korea, the Chosun Ilbo speculates that the DPRK’s new cadres are actually likely to be more aggressive than their predecessors:

Meanwhile, the “American imperialists” were also rather busy…

The U.S. Angle

18. The new US diplomatic team on North Korea is rather remarkable, and rather expert.  I strongly recommend you get to know Sydney Seiler, a Koreanist who has studied Kim Il Sung’s rise to power, via this Chosun Ilbo rundown:

19. The core outline of what the US wants – nuclear de-escalation before resumption of normal trade – is made clear in this extensive interview about North Korea with Kathleen Stephens, the excellent US Ambassador to South Korea:

20. KCNA has yet to jab at Seiler – surely they will start name-calling eventually – but the North Korean media put out again a  warning about the deployment of US unmanned drones in Asia-Pacific:   As I mentioned a few days ago, the use of unmanned aerial drones by the US in East Asia, if in fact this becomes policy, has already become, paradoxically, a major plus for the North Korean regime.  Can you imagine a more perfect method of pumping up a mobilization-weary populace to be vigilant of foreign threats than that?  It also has already brought the Sino-North Korean security and military apparatuses closer, closing ranks against the common threat.  Drones over Hyesan?  As much as Douglas MacArthur would love the idea, couldn’t we leave MacArthur in the grave and the North Korean textbooks and just stick with satellites?

General Sino-North Korea Relations

21. Returning to the endorsement of Kim Jong Il given in Pyongyang on May 19-20 by the Chinese official: it was Chen Zongxing, in Pyongyang along with Ma Zhongping (马中平), chair of political conference in Shaanxi Province, there with a led a group of Chinese officials from May 16-20.

In a meeting with Kim Yong Nam, Chen uttered what is likely to be the most high-level characterization of the Sino-North Korean relationship that we get, absent a Wen Jiabao eruption on his junket in Seoul.  Via the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang, which, like me, translates very little of value into English,



22. After praising Chinese “multilateralism and supporting the unique development of China’s “green economy” in KCNA, it was time for the annual spring rice-planting by Chinese embassy in Pyongyang, for pictures, see also

23. In a May 4 speech celebrating “Youth Day,” PRC Ambassador in Pyongyang assures his North Korean colleagues of the ideological reliability of young Chinese people working for the Embassy.  Is this a response to North Korean nervousness about liberal Chinese youth?  Or is it just another statement of filler orthodoxy that kills another thirty seconds before the Ambassador can enjoy those blessed three seconds of solitude with the obligatory glass of alcohol that makes such events tolerable to officials who would rather be stationed in London?

If Chinese youth are becoming more liberal, they are going in a very different direction than the core North Korean leadership, or so it appears.  And the Global Times, by the way, seems to agree: Chinese under age 35 have little attachment to the type of “Red culture” so praised by the North Koreans.

24. For the May 1 holiday, Chinese embassy staff took a misty holiday to the DPRK mountains.  In a virtually abandoned park, they enjoy some beverages – both their water and their orange drink, unsurprisingly enough, are brought from China.

25. On April 28, the Chinese Ambassador met with the North Korean cultural official Park.  The main business at hand was to announce the North’s intention to organize the  “13th International Film Festival” in Pyongyang to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth.

Judging from the Embassy’s summary of this meeting, it seems that Park did most of the talking.  His remarks begin by stating how well North Korean revolutionary films have already succeeded in giving the North Korean people a positive picture of the Chinese people.  (A whole list of films is then reeled off, probably while Ambassador Liu nods with false curiosity and a student at UC Santa Barbara finds new fodder for summer research.)

Perhaps most interesting are this section of Park’s remarks:


“[I] hope that the Chinese government and the Chinese Embassy can continue to give great support [大力支持] to the Pyongyang International Film Festival, which will allow the North Korean people to encounter films which [give them] even more understanding of the revolutionary spirit [革命精神] of the Chinese people, traditional [Chinese] culture and the colorful realism of life in China.  At the same time, we hope that both sides can quickly [尽快/jinkuai] move forward with friendly cooperation in the area of film-making, so that our two countries’ film industries can reach a new and higher level of exchange.”

And, as a coda, a few more links and fragmentary notes from the Chinese-North Korean border…

Borderland News

26. Contrary to the Chosun Ilbo report, the Chinese Ambassador to US was NOT at the launch of recent abductions report; China is not sending any signals of anger at the DPRK for snatching people over the Tumen river:

However, more news has emerged about a 1999 Tumen river body snatching of a South Korean agent by North Koreans:

27. In a story that, for me, does not pass the sight test –since I’ve met several dozen of these young ladies – the Daily NK asserts that North Korean waitresses in China supposedly need surgery on their eyelids before they go abroad:

But fashion matters: After noting a struggle between young women and state minders over extravagant earrings (just check my Twitter feed for that), Daily NK reports on a recent public trial in Sinuiju for those caught watching South Korean movies:

28. Finally, there are parallels between tracking a wild predator and the type of journalism and analysis that we need to do to understand the Kim trip.  This one is propitious: A trail of torn throats and paw prints in the mud: photo evidence of the rare Northeastern tiger roaming the Sino-North Korean frontier.  Photos:

Trashing Diplomatic Etiquette, or Just Empty Cannon Shots? Huanqiu Shibao Weighs in on Clinton’s ‘Fool’s Errand’ Comment

There has been an immense amount of action which has occurred in the U.S.-China relation in the past week, actions about which, being on several “fool’s errands” of my own, I nevertheless hope to comment upon.

At the end of a week of bilateral meetings in Washington, rather than grand strategic debates, we seem to have in hand the following tempest-in-a-teapot:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview with the Atlantic Monthly about democracy in the Arab world, made brief and passing — and very critical — comments about the Chinese Communist Party.

These remarks have caused something of a kerfuffle in the Beijing media.

In response to Clinton, the Huanqiu Shibao editorial of May 15 2011 noted:

  美国国务卿希拉里用破坏外交礼仪的语言批评中国人权,称中国“做蠢事”(fool’s errand),西方与中国的人权之争呈现出更多的不规则性。西方对中国的态度像是外交、舆论战,以及它们国内政策工具的大杂烩。猜西方一个激烈指责“背后”的故事是很累的,简单说起来,西方在当下的人权之争中咄咄逼人,但这场冲突究竟谁是“胜利者”,却要历史说了算。

Which translates roughly as:

American Secretary of State Hillary [Clinton recently] critiqued China’s human rights by describing China’s ‘fool’s errand.’ By using this language, [Clinton] laid wreckage to diplomatic etiquette, and brings even more unpredictability to the Sino-Western debate on human rights. The Western attitude toward China appears to be one where human rights is used as an implement in the mish-mash of domestic politics, diplomacy, and the war for public opinion. Gathering that the story of fierce Western criticism behind [China's] back is tiresome, [we can] put it simply: Western criticism of China’s human rights has presently become totally overbearing [咄咄逼人]. However, on this field of struggle, only history will say who emerges ‘the victor’.  

Huanqiu Shibao’s editorial language is far more expressive that that of the paid-to-be-sternly-taciturn Jiang Yu, the Foreign Ministry spokesman whose remarks are reported on by China Digital Times [hat tip to CDT; an earlier version of this post can be found in the comments section on the linked piece over there].

The Global Times’ English version of the May 15 editorial in question is way, way toned-down and changed around, and includes the token reference to the now-useful-to-all-parties Ai Weiwei, who is so good at disappearing that he does not make the Chinese edition at all.

The strange thing in analyzing Clinton’s comments to the Atlantic is that they came in the midst of a much longer interview focused almost entirely on the Middle East. In fact, Clinton is in the middle of a comparison of China with — get this — Saudi Arabia when the conversation turns, and then she almost immediately swivels back to the prospects of regime change in Syria.

Is it possible that Clinton’s criticism of China is quite intentional, and intended to lay down some preemptive covering fire (in the form of “empty cannon shots,” as Mao famously said to Nixon about pro forma propaganda) for the Obama administration’s domestic opponents as the administration is engaging in multiple high-level meetings with China and signing a battery of bilateral agreements?

The anguish of the artistic community, and the Tibetans in exile, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and the Falun Gong notwithstanding (all of whose complaints are, like those of the American communist parties, very much separate and disconnected, united only by the object of mutual derision), is there nothing to celebrate about last week’s cooperative efforts in Washington, D.C.?

There is a ton of video footage available of Clinton’s various bilateral sessions with Chinese leaders last week, and in none that I’ve seen does Hillary Clinton appear to be lecturing Chinese leaders in tones reminiscent of the Atlantic Monthly interview as to how they need to change in order to avoid the historical dust heap.

(Stalin’s advice for avoiding said dust heap, by contrast, would have been an ice pick to the head of the regime’s opponents — effective and cheap, but in China there are not enough ice picks and too many heads for this strategy to work, and besides, this is the United States, where no problem, including the President’s national origin, can’t be solved without a little public bellyaching and a lot of transparency.  The relative clarity of ice, in other words, beats steel ice picks, and Jefferson trumps Lenin.)

At one point, Clinton happily looks on as her Chinese counterpart describes the good old days when [the Republic of] China and the U.S. got together to launch air raids on Japan.  When you’re remembering World War II and channeling Song Meiling, it’s best not to mention that China vaguely resembles Saudi Arabia, even if you think it does. (The video of this session was up on Friday on the State Dept. website and on YouTube, it now appears to have been taken down.)

The Huanqiu Shibao editorial therefore accurately notes the milieu in Washington last week.  The Secretary of State did indeed warmly greet her Chinese colleagues, the editorial states, concluding: “It makes one wonder if, when they talk about human rights to China, the leaders of some countries aren’t just going through the motions [走过场].”

Hey, if “going through the motions” gets us some real “Eco-Partnerships,” maybe it’s all in a day’s work.

Or maybe the State Department is banging on the table about the rights of American students — like the 25 I brought to Sichuan and Tibet last fall — to travel to China as part of the Hundred Thousand Initiative.

Or maybe they are busy talking about currency, trade, and our mutually dependent economies.

Fool’s errand, indeed, but then again, so was Henry Kissinger’s trip through Pakistan to Beijing in 1971, laden with briefing books by Chas Freeman and the hopes of a President burdened by a war (or two) and the hopes of a second term.  Who is writing Clinton’s briefing books and coordinating her strategy on China might even deserve a bit of begrudging support, as to both Sun Tzu and Chairman Mao (as well as their successors and their advisers in Zhongnanhai), “unpredictability” might be considered a word of praise for a premeditated but previously unseen Washington strategy.

via Le Monde

Farewell, Leighton Stuart? The US Ambassador’s Jasmine Stroll in Wangfujing

On the off-chance that you missed it, a controversy has been stirring about the presence of Jon Huntsman, the American ambassador to China, at the non-demonstration-turned-media-event at the Wangfujing area McDonalds last week. carries the story and calls our attention to this rather critical video produced by some Chinese netizens about Huntsman (with English subtitles):

Shanghai journalist Adam Minter rapidly kicked out a blog post entitled “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Jon Meade Huntsman’s Got to Go.” Minter’s post concludes:

….inciting the suspicions of China’s netizens, is a particularly woeful and unneccesary self-inflicted wound of the sort that US ambassadors to China really shouldn’t – and generally don’t – make. Which leaves many people to question: was Huntsman’s presence at the rally purposeful, or just an incredible lapse in (China) judgment that his staff should have – and maybe did – warn him against making?

My own opinion is that Huntsman, now all but official as a candidate for President in 2012, wasn’t concerned with how Chinese would interpret his presence at the rally, but rather by how US citizens – particularly those who will vote in 2012 – will receive his presence (in a leather bomber jacket with a US flag patch on the left sleeve) at the rally. That’d make for a nice campaign ad, and a sweet vignette in a campaign stump speech. Of course, I don’t know and can’t confirm that; but the problem is, people with bigger audiences than me area asking that question.[...] And if others are asking that question, then I think we need to ask the bigger question: do Huntsman’s political ambitions conflict with his ability to carry out the role of US ambassador until his announced departure on April 30? I hope somebody in Washington is beginning to contemplate an answer.

Left undiscussed in the Huntsman imbrolgio is the work that he and the State Department have been engaged in almost from the get-go of trying to build links to the Chinese blogosphere, as seen in and a pre-Hu Jintao state visit colloquy with Chinese bloggers on the White House website. In a more recent February 10 colloquy with Hunan journalists, Huntsman stated:

My expectations for the young people in China are that they’re able to maintain a grounded and proper understanding of who we are as Americans. I’ve noticed like with my son Will and the same with young people here in China. There’s so much information to access and so many sources from which to access the information that you go from one thing to another to another very quickly.

So you take a little information here and a little information there and sometimes you fail to stop and think and analyze for a long period of time the complexity of Chinese culture and history for Americans, and then for Chinese young people, the complexity and importance of American history. Sometimes that’s counter-intuitive. You have to sit and study and think for a long period of time.

My hope would be that more and more young people would take that study of culture and history of Americans seriously, and I would hope for the same thing among American young people.


Now, Huntsman’s stroll and the backlash on the Chinese internet tests the durability of his work. Personally, I’m in the mind of 1947, when Chinese students protesting against American troops in China, inflamed by the Christmas Day rape of Beijing University student Shen Chong by a U.S. Marine, stated “a hundred years of friendship can be destroyed in a single day.”

My own response to the Huntsman affair began with a discussion with my students, with whom I watched the above video, and is informed by my colleague Sidney Rittenberg’s high regard for Huntsman’s work in China. We need a skillful Ambassador in Beijing, and, short of Secretary of State, is one of the more important posts in the whole of the Foreign Service. As I don’t yet have a fully-formed op-ed synthesized and churned out yet, I thought I might at least compile my comments here, as they may be useful for others.

Comment #1:

Leighton Stuart, an undisputed “China hand” and the last U.S. Ambassador to China before the Nationalists fled to Taiwan, analyzed the events of 1948 in his memoir:

“This narrative…is written…to furnish a guide for the future from these failures. The Chinese people ardently desired independence, unity, peace, economic recovery, and democratic government. These things the American Government and people also desired for China. With my dual attachment there could, therefore, be no slightest conflict of loyalties for me as to the objectives. The Chinese knew of my love for their country, my concern for their welfare, my liberal attitude and my convictions as to a peaceful solution of their internal strife through inclusive and untrammeled co-operation. I had therefore the full advantage of their trust. But I failed them” (John Leighton Stuart, Fifty Years in China, [Random House: 1954], p. 211).

It’s fair to say that the job of U.S. Ambassador to China has become a great deal more complicated since Stuart’s time. (Although in fairness, Stuart would probably vehemently disagree with the statement, having been interred by the Japanese, jerked around by Chiang Kai-shek, witnessed an immense and open civil war in China, and having been ejected rudely in a public slap by Mao Zedong. By contrast, Huntsman is just another cog in part of a Foreign Service machinery whose primary aim is, ostensibly, to maintain the status quo.) It is simply incomprehensible that someone as suave as Huntsman would believe that in the present communications environment, he would go unnoticed and unobserved at Wangfujing, a location which, speaking suddenly in his defense, even if the location isn’t all that far from his office.

Not to submit Huntsman to the same level of scrutiny as we might accord to, say, Kim Jong-un (and the meaning of the Third Represent’s fur hat, or his haircut, or his watch, or his curious binoculars technique), but yes[...]: what’s up with the American flag patch and the sunglasses? Is there anyway he might appear more like a Chinese caricature of an American tewu 特务/spy from the 1950s? Doesn’t our Embassy in Beijing have a public relations officer or someone who might have consulted our dear Ambassador about such things? If [Huntsman] had a hamburger in his hand and was sucking on a milkshake (oops, contaminated products) maybe he could have gotten away with it.

In George H.W. Bush’s newly published China Diary the author brags on how the Chinese people in the same neighborhood had began to recognize him over the course of the year he spent in Beijing. And how important it was for the smallest detail not to ruin his carefully-cultivated image of a down-home dude who understood the Chinese people. In 1974, Bush becomes nearly enraged when his wife Barbara takes the family dog to the main department store on Wangfujing, leaving the Chinese chauffeur and the family dog to wait in the car outside. Because even George H.W. Bush, who was our chief Liaison Officer in Beijing before full normalization and the return of the Ambassador in 1979, is aware of how quickly the old stereotypes about American imperialists can be revived. Maybe Huntsman didn’t read much of his predecessors’ writing…

…Huntsman…was the first U.S. Ambassador to travel into Tibet in September (a visit that to my knowledge garnered virtually no public comment), something we might consider significant, a minor opening; he accompanied Hu Jintao on the recent state visit, and no one seemed to complain. But maybe he’s just homesick and having the post-Spring Festival blues. Maybe he’s itching to get back into the RNC conversations and go to Wisconsin and bust an [expletive] union to get a little more street cred with the Michelle Bachmann wing of the Republican Party.

What would [former U.S. Ambassador to Japan] Walter Mondale say?

If Huntsman is going the way of Douglas MacArthur in 1947-1948, funneling his fantasies and devoting his dearest hopes into a nascent Republican Presidential run in primaries like Wisconsin, maybe it’s better to give the job in East Asia to someone who is interested in doing it really well, and let the conquering hero return home to see for himself just what his colleagues have wrought.

Comment #2:

Huanqiu Shibao decides to open the floodgates on [the "Huntsman Walk"]; on February 25 two articles appeared; more than 500 netizen comments [have been affixed] on each already….

The first is an op-ed that makes clear Huntsman has done good work, but that his appearance at the protest cannot possibly be a coincidence, and cannot be separated from his representation of U.S. policy, that Huntsman’s sunglasses are a great metaphor for American sneakiness and secret stimulating of uprisings in such places as Egypt, that the U.S. is trying to use the Internet to disturb China, and (big surprise) that no one, including Jon Huntsman, can stop China’s inevitable rise:

Some of 616 Netizen comments on this article include:

我觉得确实是碰巧 ["I believe it is a coincidence"]

现在中国发展那么好!为什么还有人当汉奸!不就是为钱吗!垃圾不如… ["Now China is so well developed! Why are there still people who become hanjian (traitors)? It can't be for money, can it? What trash... " (evidently referring to the previous comment)]

美国驻中国大使是一只披着羊皮的狼! ["The American Ambassador in China is a wolf in sheep's clothing!]

有血性的中国人,起来打到美帝国主义!["You Chinese who have a pulse, stand up to strike down American imperialism! (seven exclamation points omitted in the translation)"]

现在很好,我们不需要什么民主,自由 ["Now it's really good, we don't need any democracy, freedom..."]

美国佬滚出中国“琉球群岛” ["Yankee, get out of China, go to the 'Ryukyu Islands'"]

The second Huanqiu piece reports on the online action, anti-CNN coverage, etc., and is more of a follow-up piece:

Of course, none very little of this material is mirrored on the Huanqiu’s English-language site (“Premier Wen Jiabao Chats with Netizens!” happy happy China China), but it is already up on, etc., appears to be widely circulating on the Chinese web.

…It bears reminding that Huntsman is slated to resign anyway as of April, a fact which makes the Ryan Lizza [The New Yorker] question about Huntsman provoking an ideological conflict with Obama a salient one indeed.

If this continues to metastasize and Huntsman indeed emerges as a harsh critic of the administration, and his walk as a kind of deliberate stunt (who knows?), perhaps blame can ultimately be laid at the feet of the President for not replacing him immediately (although the appointment process is rarely so fast) or for appointing him in the first place. There is such a fine line, it seems, between master stroke and obvious blunder…Excuse me, I’ve got a walk to take.

Comment #3:

美 国大使是不是暴乱分子,分裂分子?他在王府井的时候揭开了他的不承认中国主权的态度吗?如果中国爱国网民说‘对‘的话,有几问题:九月份出,美国大使到你 们国家的西藏自治区为出差,那时候他为什么没有作过分裂活动?又说,他是基督教徒,他为什么还没开口批评中国的教徒政策?他是不是达赖的亲友?

Which translates roughly as:

Is the American Ambassador to China a provoker of chaos [乱] or a separatist [e.g., one who wishes to detach portions of China such as Tibet from the motherland]? Did his walk on Wangfujing somehow expose that he does not respect Chinese sovereignty or China’s [political] system? If Chinese patriotic netizens say ‘yes,’ then I have a few questions [for them]: In early September, the American Ambassador went to your country’s Tibet Autonomous Region for work, why didn’t he engage in splittist activites at that time?Going on, Huntsman is a Christian: why hasn’t he yet opened his mouth to criticize China’s policies on religion?Is he or isn’t he a good friend of the Dalai Lama’s?

Comment #4:

1919 年日本占领朝鲜的言论自由比2011年中国‘特别制度‘言论自由大多了! 啥事儿?外国知识分子不爱批评中国,不想继续批评中国! 就想无墙上网,发表我们无为的没意思的文章,发怎么缺乏内容的段心,有缘分的话,读什么深入的。外国人(除大使之外)看微微小小的游行无罪,丢什么面子!

Which translates roughly as:

Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea had more freedom of speech in 1919 than does China with its ‘special characteristics’ in 2011! [A reference to the March 1, 1919 movement, which was inaugurated in a restaurant in Seoul.] What is that, anyway? Foreign intellectuals don’t love to criticize China, [we] don’t want to continue to criticize China! We just want to surf a web with no Great Firewall, publish our purposeless [无为] and uninteresting articles, send our text messages devoid of content, and, if we have luck, read something deep. There is nothing wrong with foreigners (excluding the American Ambassador) witnessing an extremely tiny demonstration; who is losing face, anyway?

Related Links:

Adam Cathcart, Review of Jeffrey A. Engel, ed., The China Diary of George H.W. Bush: The Making of a Global President, H-Diplomacy Reviews Roundtable, Vol. X, No. 18 (June 2009). [available as pdf., includes discussion of the possible debacle of Barbara Bush chauffeuring the family dog to shop on Wangfujing; further discussion of the Bush diary here on SV]

Jeremy Page, “What’s He Doing Here? Ambassador’s Unusual Protest Cameo,” Wall Street Journal China Real Time Report, 23 February 2011.

Any related Tweets or articles by Tom Lasseter, McClatchy’s man in Beijing; his work is head and shoulders the best available at the moment.

Jeremiah Jenne, “The Historical Record for December 24: The Christmas Eve Rape of Student Shen [Chong],” Jottings from the Granite Studio, 24 December 2008.

Adam Cathcart, “Atrocities, Insults and ‘Jeep Girls': Depictions of the U.S. Military in China, 1945-1949,” International Journal of Comic Art, 10, no. 1 (2008 Spring): p. 140-154.

Mao Zedong, “Farewell, Leighton Stuart!Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1969), Vol. 4, pp. 433-440.

U.S. Ambassador John Leighton Stuart at a rebuilding Beijing University, 1946, before the Shen Chong Incident -- click link for a discussion of his career with historians Nancy Bernkopf Tucker and Cold War history master Chen Jian

Chinese Pluck: Must-Read Material on ‘Jasmine Revolution’

Amid the bad news from Libya, one really needs to be keeping an eye on China and developments there.

On February 21, a few abortive demonstrations were broken up by Chinese police, as reported by McClatchy and by Associated Press.

The People’s Daily in Beijing basically argues that the Chinese people are too stupid to understand the confusion of information on the Internet and should basically accept the fact that Xinhua will tell them what they need to know.  According to a bunch of very interesting Tweets from foreign reporters in Beijing today (too numerous to link, but I recommend Tom Lasseter’s feed as one of the best), most Chinese weren’t sure why the Internet was running so slowly today, and of course the minor demonstrations in Shanghai and Beijing got (to my knowledge) no domestic news coverage.

Gady Epstein at Forbes reflects in a thorough way on the meaning of the Jasmine story and its connection to covering China’s economy.  This is probably the best single piece of writing I’ve seen on the issue thus far, superior perhaps to Perry Link’s work.  After all, as Epstein points out, there would be severe economic impacts were China to suddenly just shut down the Internet in order to quash a nascent social network of would-be protestors.  South Korea is very wisely tooting its own horn at the moment, exemplifying all of the benefits described by U.S. SecState Hillary Clinton about Internet freedom and economic development.

Granite Studio parses things over quite well and wonders why the Wangfujing McDonalds (where I was once followed into the bathroom by an eccentric waving an old green Chinese-English dictionary and a carpenter’s pencil) would serve as the epicenter of a demonstration.

The Internet in China is being scrubbed and monitored like never before.  On February 22, an ad-hoc organization identifying itself as the “China Jasmine Group” called for weekly demonstrations in Chinese parks (Chinese version here) in a letter to the National People’s Congress.

Huanqiu Shibao seems to be focusing its attention on the Chinese who are coming home, again.

Finally, there is one’s own attitude toward all of this to be considered.  What do we in the West really want from China?  Are we all just provocateurs, voyeurs, who wish to see chaos in China simply because a messy world is more interesting (唯恐“天下”不乱)?  Is it necessary to analyze China’s response to the Egypt aftermath by predicting Xi Jinping’s downfall, and the collapse of the Chinese system, sometime after he assumes power in 2012?  It’s worth asking, even if the CCP somehow lost its mind, abandoned its strongly totalitarian principles, and allowed such an event to go forward, do we want a more liberalized China?  Could we tolerate the middle age of the PRC as a kind of neo-Tang era, when, at least as far as the myths go, China was an “open empire,” welcoming all manner of expression, of religion, of ideology?  Put another way, and seen more through the lens of internal change, are Chinese intellectuals today the actual heirs of the May Fourth Movement, or has the CCP so tightly controlled discourse that the principles of May Fourth, 1919, lie in abeyance?  And is it really good foreign policy for China in Africa to just sit back without comment, as Zhou Enlai said during the Korean War, “with folded hands”?

courtesy Huanqiu Shibao