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.