Three suitably breathless Global Times articles and photo galleries are linked below, but for a sane appraisal of at least part of what is going on, I recommend MIT professor M. Taylor Fravel’s September 15 article. Respectively, the articles below deal with the protests in Beijing, Ferraris at the protests in Beijing, and the newly-publicized “40-year social movement” to protect Diaoyu/Senkakus with liberal borrowing from Taiwan’s archives. Unfortunately, none of this seems to get at what happened in San Francisco in 1951 and what the PRC said about the issue then, but then again, that is what Cold War historians of East Asia (like myself) are supposed to do.
Recapitulation | After a solid run of 32 months, the academic weblog Sinologistical Violoncellist has reached its logical conclusion. Since beginning in April 2009, this sole-authored website has been cited in some excellent venues for East Asia news and analysis, including the (web) pages of The Atlantic, Harper’s and The Economist, and Danwei.org.
I’ve been fortunate to have been quoted in newspapers like the Portland Oregonian and journals like Foreign Policy, and to have had interviews with reporters for newspapers like the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, for whom my work on Sinologistical Violoncellist was a point of entry into my areas of expertise.
As Paul Olivier of Melville House wrote on the publisher’s literary blog, “[Cathcart's] blog is more of a single scholar’s East Asian Journal (capital “J”) than it is a weblog.”
With a parachutist’s approach to East Asia, the blog dealt with all manner of issues as they arose or came to mind: the Chinese youth movement of the 1980s as depicted in East German archives, the social calendar of CCP princelings in Paris, Chinese interpretations of World War II, or environmental movements in China.
Based on my travels, readers could get a gauge on what was going on in Tibet, Chengdu, Beijing, and China’s border with North Korea. Doing fieldwork and archive-dives as a historian can have its benefits.
New Start-Ups | In December 2011, I made an important break from the present blog and started SinoNK.com, a site focusing on China’s evolving relationship with North Korea. I’m the Editor-in-Chief of the site and am managing the output of the SinoNK.com Staff (which includes 20 exellent writers and analysts from around the world).
I remain engaged on a larger project on musical diplomacy generally, extending on my academic work on the role of classical music in the Nixon visit to China in 1972 and the visit of the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang and Beijing in 2008. A portion of this was just published at Yonsei University, and I will be lecturing on the topic at Stanford University on November 2, 2012. Also relative to this project is its “applied” element, which in my case has included a number of cello performances and recordings in both Europe and China, which can be learned more about on the Amitayus Duo website.
I’m also making a move this fall to the United Kingdom, specifically, to Queen’s University, Belfast, where I will be teaching two courses (World War II in East Asia, and the Cold War in Asia, in the fall and spring, respectively) and supervising a handful of theses and dissertations.
Let me get to the point:
The site is now SinoMondiale.
There will likely be ongoing redesigns and tweaks, but we’re here for the long run.
Expect a healthy mixture of commentary on contemporary history in China, cultural diplomacy, and — a big goal for the fall — China’s experience with Japan in World War II.
Among the questions I hope to answer is: Who is General Takahashi Gaku[高桥坦], and how did he end up surrendering to the Chinese Nationalists in October 1945 in Beijing and dying in a Nanking military prison the following year?
The answers tendered to this and other questions should be suitably eclectic, and, I hope, give readers a reason to keep coming back. Continue reading
Virtually nothing was posted in January because I was parted from my main axe in Seattle; she needed work, and I needed time to teach and lecture and write, here and in London. Now the sphere turns and all things return into my waiting hands: the cello, the bow, the black keyboard. And a microphone awaits as well. And thus this Bach, raw, an initial foray, yet representing (I can suppose, having been the vehicle) the repetition of several thousand Soli Deo Glorias:
…is fairly described by the New York Times in Beijing, where a post-performance discussion of an American-company-led drama about the Pentagon Papers and government secrecy was cancelled.
Next up with this topic is for us to here take up Ezra Vogel’s treatment (in a text which, in its overall voluminousness, exemplifies the notion of writing as a kind of maintained physique whose restless forward motion only occasionally bypasses a topics so plainly and potentially consequential — such as that of John Denver performing a song ‘Rocky Mountain High’ for Deng Xiaoping at the Kennedy Center in January 1979) of the same topic. Vogel, perhaps to his credit, is not particularly interested in the history of popular reception in China toward the music of John Denver, but his painting of the story of US-China relations and the liberation culture of the 1980s in China so rudely brought to an end on June 4, 1989 is also embedded in his immense new biography of Deng Xiaoping.
I had a chance to perform with Mister John Denver himself as part of a small children’s choir that accompanied him on a tour he was making in order to promote sustainable rural, solar-powered houses in the United States in 1990, and in 1993 Denver took his music to China, where it has remained popular. Who knows if the 1979 performance for Deng opened the door, but John Denver seemed to walk freely through the aperture:
This guest posting comes from the sizzling keyboard of Paul Manfredi, head of the Chinese Studies Program at Pacific Lutheran University and the author of China Avant Garde, one of the Internet’s best analytical stops for insights into the Chinese contemporary art scene. Manfredi’s blog is a rich blend of image and word, and highly recommended. My apologies, by the way, to readers for taking so long to post this essay which I received several weeks ago! — Adam Cathcart
Reevaluating Ai Weiwei
The news of the release of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on June 22 brought a collective sigh of relief, though one quickly tempered by the fact that the once outspoken Ai is for the time being unable to express anything at all. This unfortunate situation for Ai, however, is not a surprise or even much of a concern to many people in China itself, and that includes artists whose fates are most closely linked to Ai Weiwei. Consumers of news media in English, meanwhile, could hardly be faulted for misunderstanding this fact given the relentless reporting on the fate of this largely unrepresentative Chinese artist. What, in fact, Ai Weiwei’s experience does occasion is a deeper reflection on what it means to be a Chinese artist in the present globally linked, internet savvy, but also often blatantly ignorant media culture.
To begin with, a question: of all the ways we might describe the experience of any contemporary Chinese artist, why has “oppressed” become so prevalent? Clearly, Chinese government control of artistic expression is a factor in contemporary China, as it has been for decades. It is not, however, the only factor, or even a major factor for most artists. Moreover, as a factor, one must recognize that part of the reason Chinese artists like Ai Weiwei are popular on the world stage is precisely because of Chinese government oppression, or at least the perception of such impression.
I say perception because for those artists not inclined to play chicken with Beijing authorities, which is to say most Chinese artists, such oppression is not part of their experience. Indeed, any casual visitor to north-eastern Beijing can see that this is not an artistic culture blighted by government authoritarianism. Instead, such a visitor will see is the thriving 798 Art Zone, a major tourist destination, and the neighboring Caochangdi, Songzhuang, Blackbridge, and Huangtie art districts all vying for position of next “center” of Chinese art. If global media organizations would taken an in these places a very different picture of the life of the contemporary Chinese artist would emerge. Take for instance Huang Rui, the actual founder of the 798 district and former colleague of Ai Weiwei in the critical avant-garde art movement of the late 1970s. When asked his views on the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Huang expressed appreciation for China’s accomplishments and optimism for the direction of contemporary Chinese art. Huang’s interviews were never published. Huang, it should be noted, is no stranger to conflict with the Chinese authorities, and he regularly tests the boundaries of freedom of expression and assembly. Yet, his lapse into something like pride for his country’s achievements earned him censure from Western media outlets not interested in such a message. By contrast, Ai Weiwei’s interviews of early 2008 enjoyed broad coverage, and it was from that point that Ai began to rise as heroic, anti-government activist.
But the ultimate problem with reporting on Ai Weiwei as oppressed artist struggling against faceless government authority is that it’s inaccurate. Much of what Ai has produced in recent years actually targets the ideologically rigid value systems that constant repetition of the heroic artist narrative itself reflects. From photographing a middle finger waved at the US White House, to branding valuable Chinese antiques with Coke and other corporate insignia and then shattering them, to hand carving hundreds of thousands of sunflower seeds to be crushed underfoot, Ai challenges a wide range of assumptions, some of which underlie even his own valuation in the world art market. But this challenge extends beyond the world of art. Ai’s true value now is as a kind of global public intellectual, a place from which he challenges all of us to take more seriously the way we handle information in this transnational and transcultural media marketplace. Let’s hope that sometime soon we will be able to take up his challenge.
- Paul Manfredi
Today in Berlin, I was cruising through the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, the businessman’s preferred paper, for German response to the Wen Jiabao visit when I ran across an article so completely fascinating that I decided to translate it for inclusion on the blog, as it actually adds something new to the giant slapping waves of somewhat repetitious commentary in the area of China’s relations with Germany.
This translation represents 脑力劳动, which is to say, it is mental labor which has not been strained through the Google-translate machine. Critiques of any sort are therefore welcome. Link to the original German is here.
Mark Siemons, “Wenn das der Mao wuesste! [If Only Mao Knew!],” Review of the Beijing Production of “Hitler’s Stomach [希特勒的肚子], Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, 28 June 2011, p. 33. [Translation by Adam Cathcart.]
Hitler as a tai chi-practicing pensioner with a birdcage in his hand, Hitler listening to rock ‘n roll with Eva Braun, pregnant Hitler: All of this can be seen in the Beijing “Pioneer Theater of the East,” not far from the central commercial mile of Wangfujing, led by Meng Jinghui, one of China’s most celebrated theater directors.
The premise of the play, as if Beijing were trying to overtake the Berlin Volksbuehne by point of subversive trash, arises out of no particular provocation. In Meng’s young work, “Hitler’s Stomach [希特勒的肚子]“, the historical Gestalt [form/形状] of the title character never really emerges: when it comes to ideology or crimes against humanity, nothing in the least is said. There are, however, plenty of Hitlerian logos: the uniform, the mustache, etc., and a sly joke connected to contemporary China: Hitler as a curious foreigner, but one that everyone knows.
Before the commedian Liu Xiaoye takes the stage, films are posted of air attacks on Berlin, and two young men read news reports from the last days of the [European] World War. But then the entertainer arrives, saying: “Don’t take this all so seriously, I just want to talk with you a little bit.” And straight away, he has the public — mainly youth wearing floral summer clothing — laughing at his omnipresent lies: “Today, everything is stable. The economy is stable, the prices of goods are stable. And the most stable thing of all is speech.”
It is as ever in the traditional improvisational Beijing theater, but then into the conference, suddenly, comes Hitler: He slumps in his uniform, screams in German about the Day of the Party [Parteitag] and is greeted by two young dancers with the Hitler salute. Later, the commedian also arrives wearing a costume of Charlie Chaplin, whose film “The Great Dictator” Hitler requests and watches a future scene play out of his suicide in the Fuhrerbunker. Two metrosexual Wehrmacht solders get into a fight which comes to resemble lovemaking during which the stage is full of dancing and Hitler’s pregnancy is made clear like a flatulent joke that farts its way to the very end of the play. Before his suicide, Hitler asks to be sold to the Chinese as pork.
The author notes everything that is grotesque, as a form of persiflage [bantering / 逗嘴] with history. Perhaps the desire also here is to make fun of the contemporary [Chinese] dictatorship via the historical mirror.
But as to the degree to which history is used as a premise – and done so completely without analysis or critique — forces one to ask, unavoidably: How is this possible? How is it possible that in Beijing, in the year 2011, that a director in intellectually respectable circles can depict the recent 20th century this way? And, moreover, how is it possible that in these circles, no one finds anything objectionable about this?
The answer can be found elsewhere, in the fact that in China, Hitler remains a somewhat unreal figure. Recently, a posting on Kaixin, the Chinese Facebook, reported that Hitler had been raised in Vienna by a Chinese family. As a consequence, Hitler for his whole life maintained a grateful attitude toward China, and his greatest wish was that Germany and China could dominate and divide the world together after the war. Almost none of the four thousand commenters on the page cast this idea in the slightest doubt. On the contrary, 4.6% said they took Hitler as a personal hero, and 38.8% said they believed Hitler had been raised by a Chinese family.
Of course in the portrait of history put forth by the Chinese Communist Party, there is little sympathy for German National Socialism (e.g., Naziism). Indeed, Party history is rather straightforward: If anything, it enjoins Japanese revisionists to take up the German method of Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung (“coming to terms with the past”). But the material collateral of Naziism, its propaganda, its function in the moral and political realm, remains as a kind of folklore in China, in spite of its absence from the official CCP ideology. Many Germans who have traveled to China have had the irritating experience of being confronted with the Hitler Salute — intended as a sign of goodwill from the Chinese, not as criticism.
Ignorance thus mixes with a rude historical Darwinism among those who are impressed by, above all, how strong Hitler made Germany. In the internet form “Baidu Zhidao [白度知道 / "Baidu Knows"] the question is frequently asked: “Was Hitler a great man?” Many answers will take your breath away, with their cold-blooded and relativistic approval of power. “Any victor would be criticized for being a criminal,” writes one. Another says, “Had he united the world, he would have been the greatest man in all history.”
Hitler thus appears as a reincarnation of China’s First Emperor [Qin Shihuangdi / 秦始皇帝], whose uncontested brutality was considered by a few — not least of which was Mao — to have been the necessary precondition for unifying China.
One also gets the impression that here, Hitler is taken less for his actual historical uses than as a reflexive turn on a Chinese theme, one put forth particularly by the Communist Party, of duty to lift china out of the humiliations of the 19th century and vault China back into great power status.
Another internet commentor describes not Hitler, but instead the Versailles Treaty, as responsible for the Second World War. The Treaty of Versailles, in which Germany failed to relinquish its colonial possessions to China, but which instead were taken by Japan, sparking patriotic movements for restoration in both China and Germany. This is the connection between the real Hitler and the one played on stage, one totally missed by the absurd fantasies played among some Chinese.
Otherwise, the propaganda principle holds: Even the evil Hitler, describes one forum reader, was an environmentalist who respected women, loved art, and read philosophy. Thus is it is no surprise to read an immediate response on the forum: “Hitler is as great as Mao — more positive points than mistakes.” With this as premise, the kids in the theater can almost take the play as an exhibition of opposition.
Translator’s Note: Although the article was written in early June, and run of the play has now been completed, it is an interesting commentary itself by the somewhat taciturn editors of FAZ to release this piece today, just as it was clever statecraft by Angela Merkel to welcome Wen Jiabao in Wansee at the lakeside estate of an artist,
Wow. Thanks to Curtis Melvin at North Korean Economy Watch for unearthing this.
For the last two months, a stack of German newspapers and internet print-outs about the case of Ai Weiwei seems to have accrued first in my bags in Berlin and Paris and then in my offices in Seattle and Tacoma. What a treasure-trove of perceptions and misperceptions, opportunity and loss, of connection do these papers constitute! In a fantasy world that demands little more than internet and newspaper commentaries from the East Asia professoriat, the bulk of these essays would be translated and summarized on this blog, leading rather naturally to a much larger and heavily-footnoted project on the role of culture and politics in the Sino-German relationship.
Teutonic methods demand Teutonic scale, and an endurance for the word and its steady stacking, rather like a city prepares for siege.
The story of Ai Weiwei deserves such stacking, as it represents Germany’s willingness to stand up for the rights of individual artists even as Germany integrates (and competes) with China most skillfully in the economic realm.
And the story extends to the city of Berlin, one of my favorite regular haunts. So, why not add Ai Weiwei’s potential studio in that city to my list of places to go, along with the Music School where cello sonatas are rehearsed, and the Bundesarchiv where documents about things ranging from North Korean cultural ties with East Germany to Japanese reporters in Nazi Germany are hunted down?
Well, because one’s time is perpetually limited, and my best student writer on the contemporary art world has transferred to Whitman College. (O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer!)
Fortunately, other writers and commentators have picked up the ball — or the Han dynasty vase — and are running headlong forward with it in a fresh study of perspective.
Tops among them in terms of consistency and content is the new blog Free Ai Weiwei , hosted on Posterous. This appears to be the ultimate internet resource on all Ai-related news. The site is updated daily (“Day 52,” today’s ominous title) and provides a nice range of links and developments. If “Der Fall Ai Weiweis” interests you in the least, I would bookmark the page and see what it has to offer.
For those who wish not to click, a healthy excerpt from the blog’s analysis should suffice:
We are living in the age where nothing has something to do with something else when it comes to doing business with China. That is the impression you get while reading Artinfo’s interview with Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The VMFA will be the first museum to exhibit its collection in the Palace Museum in Beijing. It was announced only last week.
With Ai detained, should VMFA deal with China?
Asked if this deal with China could not be seen as an endorsement of Ai Weiwei’s detention and “a propaganda coup for the Chinese”, Nyerges answers:
No, never once would that thought have crossed my mind...
On a practical level in terms of the staff, certainly Ai Weiwei’s arrest was a topic of conversation, but quite simply our partnership and relationship with the Palace Museum has nothing to do with the Ai Weiwei situation whatsoever.
Martin Roth, currently director general of Dresden’s State Art Collections and soon to be director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, was asked if it would not be anappropriate answer to Ai’s detention to withdraw the exhibition “Art of the Enlightenment” from Beijing. He answered (paraphrased): A: Ai Weiwei is making a lot of noise all the time, that’s why the media have an obsession with him. B: Without China the production of the Phaeton would have to be closed down. (The Phaeton is a luxurious automobile built by Volkswagen in a factory near Dresden.) A little more blunt and you could think he was in the furniture (or firearm) business.
The notion of Germany’s economic needs as taking primacy over its ability to take a principled stand against Ai’s detention was early on expressed in a furious editorial in Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin, the day after the following article was published in the same forum describing Germany’s total impotence in the case of Ai, indeed, the humiliation inflicted upon Germany’s foreign relations, the tangible slap in the face which Ai’s arrest consisted of in the immediate aftermath — the very afternoon, in fact — of German Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s departure from Beijing after the opening of the massive Enlightenment art exhibit there:
In early May, the immense temporary sculpture “Leviathan,” at Grand Palais Paris until 23 June 2011, was dedicated to Ai Weiwei:
The Guardian further describes the link to “Leviathan,” and the call to close galleries worldwide for a day in protest of Ai’s arrest.
Berlin may have summoned the Chinese ambassador to issue a rebuke last month, but no contracts, or exhibitions, are being cancelled as a result. Not that the CCP is sending thank you notes to Westerwelle, or sitting on its hands in the Sino-German dynamic of mutual criticism.
The respected blog The Peking Duck has a must-read post on a recent People’s Daily denunciation of Deutsche Welle, the German media service.
Was People’s Daily referring to this Deutsche Welle piece about how the German government felt snubbed by Chinese behavior, and the German cultural establishment prompted to debate the merits of exchanges, in the wake of Ai’s detention?
Finally, this Spiegel interview (in English) about Ai Weiwei with an architect whose frame of reference for all of this is bad-old-East Germany will certainly open a few eyes.
Since copies of the text will not be available to we mortals on the Northwest for another week or more — even those of us with Japan connections in the form of a Kinokuniya Bookstore — it might be useful to review for a moment some of the former Harvard professor, National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State in his writings on China.
And thus to musical diplomacy!
Thanks to his extensive briefing books (which are available to researchers in the Nixon Presidential Library materials currently housed in Washington, D.C., and which I have consulted), during his trip to China in October 1971, Kissinger was supremely attuned to messages intended for him in cultural shows presented to him by the Chinese Communist government. Thus his attendance at “The White Haired Girl” by the CCP, a revolutionary ballet performed by the Central Ballet Company of China, merits a bit of analysis.
The White Haired Girl (Bai Mao Nü, 白毛努) tells the story of the suffering life of a peasant girl who is saved from a life of servitude by the revolutionary leader. This sought after story had been portrayed in the movie before the ballet and was extremely effective in provoking hatred feelings to the old system. The government was impressed by the impact of the movie, like many others, the CCP artists sought to transform this most moving story into the other artistic sphere of ballet. However, in his memoirs concerning this performance (White House Years, p. 779), Kissinger panned the opera:
On the evening of October 22 we were taken to the Great Hall of the People to see a ‘revolutionary’ Peking opera — an art form of truly stupefying boredom in which villains were the incarnation of evil and wore black, good guys wore red, and as far as I could make out the girl fell in love with a tractor.
Now that is an acid pen!
Of course, at the time, he was highly complementary to the CCP leaders about the show and even described its message in some detail in his dispatches debriefing Richard Nixon about the trip.
Later, Kissinger would open the way to a trip by the Philadelphia Orchestra to China in September 1973, which itself was the result of Zhou Enlai’s victory in the internal debate with Jiang Qing, over the role that Beethoven should play in the musical and ideological life of the Chinese elites in Beijing and Shanghai. Kissinger describes the action iduring his fifth visit to China in February 1973 in his Years of Upheaval, p. 45.
Of course, when Zhou Enlai is saying things like the following to Kissinger directly, recalling the failed attempt on the Chinese Premiere’s life in 1955 on his way to Bandung, it is hard to imagine that he also had energy to take on the cultural bureaucrats in Shanghai, but he did:
As for international hijacking, we do not approve those activities. It’s too unreasonable. Such adventurous acts are not a good practice, regardless of the motives behind it, whether it is revolutionary or of a saboteur nature. I say these not as superfluous words but to explain how people of the world think of the CIA. As for we ourselves, we are not very much excited by the CIA..[Memorandum of Conversation with Zhou Enlai, Henry Kissinger and Winston Lord, 21 October 1971, Beijing, Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1976, Vol. XVII, pp. 503-504.]
Today, prepping a piece on Ai Weiwei in the German press, I popped a few dozen links (beginning with my own “European Sources on East Asia” in my homepage sidebar) and was quickly swimming in excellent, original data from the Francophone world.
Why not share it?
Like this television report from Beijing about the luxury trade in China and those who work in both its heart and at its margins:
Or some footage of President Sarkozy at the new French Embassy in Beijing, exalting in his “duty [devoir]” (“Because it is my duty, it is a pleasure, it is my duty!”), hyping how great the World Expo was for French business (either his penance for threatening to boycott the 2008 Olympics or just recalling glorious visits with Carla), or reminding everyone that we cannot understand today’s world by ignoring China:
More Sarko in Beijing footage here.
French cultural diplomacy in China is really exceptionally rich. This diplomacy includes singers and pianists touring East Asia giving master classes on diction in the French chanson to eager groups of students. No wonder Bizet’s Carmen is doing well in China’s best theater this week. The French Embassy has also taken up the sponsorship of major art photography conferences in Beijing which includes the following photo, linked via the Le Monde China blog, which itself remains as affecting as ever:
This very interesting short video report dates from the days of late February, 2011, with footage of the “Jasmine demonstration” in Beijing and a state-security aborted interview with one of Zhao Ziyang’s old reformist comrades from 1989.
The same group of French journalists covers expropriations and urbanization in Shanghai.
In feel-good news, a French-owned company, Road39, seems to be doing quite well in a niche market in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong: designing svelte clothes for pregnant women.
As a penultimate item, there is this video analysis from what feels like eons ago, describing how Chinese media was covering the revolution in (really the democratic wave ["la vague democratique"] washing over) Egypt:
Finally, although Libération is a relatively small paper in Paris, they manage to have a brave correspondent in China named Philippe Grangereau, who has also penned a rather interesting book about North Korea entitled In the Country of the Big Lie. This month Grangereau provides some first-hand reporting and a photo from the troubled Tibetan areas of western Sichuan, which is where, having digested the complete historical works of Melvyn Goldstein, I will be spending — God and the Chinese visa office willing — about a week this coming August getting my hands and feet dirty, and perhaps even testing the acoustical properties of the mountains when faced with cello licks intermingled with yodeled fragments of translations of Also Sprach Zarathustra.