Cultural Power Battle Threads

From the May Fourth Generation to Today

- The Telegraph reports in alarmist fashion about Hu Jintao warning, as the newspaper headline puts it, of “cultural warfare from the West”

- A closer examination of the story indicates that Hu Jintao’s “battle cry,” above, was a speech given on October 18, 2011, that was republished yesterday in the preemminent journal for CCP theory, Qiushi (Seeking Truth / 求是).

In fact most of the speech is not at all about the West, but the need for more powerful socialist culture.  However, the key detonating sentences in this long and rather boring speech are, after a discourse on China’s rising soft power, as follows:

同时,我们必须清醒地看到,国际敌对势力正在加紧对我国实施西化、分化战略图谋,思想文化领域是他们进行长期渗透的重点领域。我们要深刻认识意识形态领域斗争的严重性和复杂性,警钟长鸣、警惕长存,采取有力措施加以防范和应对. At the same time [that we develop our cultural industries and gain international advantage thereby], we must see with utmost clarity that hostile international forces are currently stepping up the implementation of Westernization in China, attempting to do so via in a variety of strategies; their long-term focus is on infiltration [渗透/shentou] in the ideological and cultural fields. We should thoroughly understand the seriousness and complexity of this ideological struggle, remaining vigilant (lit. “always keep the bell ringing“), ever alert, and taking effective measures to prevent and respond to [the challenge of cultural infiltration].

The full text of the article is available in rough English via Google Translate here.

- My own evidentiary contribution to the discourse on Hu Jintao’s retrograde and conservative tendencies with regard his extensive work in “socialist culture” are described in this essay about some materials I found about Hu Jintao in East German archives in 2009.

- As usual, with reference to cultural diplomacy and the soft power discourse, JustRecently is already well ahead of the curve.  His website has the most extensive open-source translation available of the Party’s “cultural document”, a document which stemmed out of the same meetings at which Hu Jintao weighed in above.

- In reading headlines about Hu Jintao’s fear of Western “infiltration,” I think it’s important to note that there are far more nuanced Chinese examinations of soft power out there.  PRC scholar He Zengke published a rather wide-ranging article this past December 23 in a reformist journal surveying French and German modes of exerting soft power, noting:

France was one of the first countries to understand the role of cultural soft power. Napoleon once said that a pen was equal to 1,000 Mauser rifles*), and a former French minister of culture said that culture and the economy are one and the same battleground. French people believe that a cultural mission can take the place of a country’s military power.[9] In 1883, France established the Alliance Française to promote French culture. Starting in 1959, France began to define the “First Five-Year Plan for the Expansion of French Cultural Activities”, and afterwards, 25- and 35-year plans etc. were gradually developed. From the total amounts spent and per capita, France belongs to the first-ranking countries worldwide.[10] From that, it can be seen that France attaches great importance to the development and use of soft power.

法国是最早懂得文化软实力的地位和作用的国家之一。拿破仑曾经说过,一支笔等于1000支毛瑟枪。法国前文化部长曾经说过:文化和经济是同一场战斗。 法国人认为,文化使命可以代替国家武力。[9]1883年法国就建立了法语联盟,在世界各地讲授法语,推广法国文化。从1959年起,法国开始制定“关于 在国外扩张和恢复法国文化活动的第一个五年计划”(1959-1963),后来又陆续制定了“二五”、“三五”计划等。法国的国际文化交流支出从总数和人 均来看都居于世界第一的位置。[10]由此可见法国对发展和运用文化软实力的高度重视。[Translation here by JustRecently]

He’s essay reminds us again:

-For all the huffing and puffing about Confucius Institutes, the “hanban” is still behind such institutions as the Alliance Française when it comes to enrollments and influence globally, a fact which I reported in July 2010 (from a cafe in Seoul, awash in K-pop, WiFi signals, kimchee and bubble tea) via a translation of a Huanqiu Shibao interview with the Hanban head.

- Finally, the magazine Monocle (which I fittingly tend to read in international airports; this one was in Tokyo) recently did some comprehensive “soft power ratings” in which the US was #1 but France not far behind.  China, by the way, was #17.

Shanghai Impressions, or, What Cellistic Ennui Tells Us about Cultural Dynamics in the Sino-North Korean Relationship

A few days in Shanghai rarely fails to reorient one immediately from wherever illusory place one has been prior.  In Shanghai, China’s upward thrust is paired with its revolutionary guts, its past foreign dominance juxtaposed at every turn with the new impositions of 1949.  Art of various kinds slides past taxi windows, and the low and sulfurous scent of commerce being transacted hand over fist leaves a low undertone to practically every act undertaken after noon.

Every visit to Shanghai is worth the price, but it remains possible to waste the experience, frittering away one’s time in sullen Western cafes from Seattle and reeking of a desperate quest for WiFi, or in being too rapidly sated by a stroll along the Bund as the sole recognition of the shadows of the 19th century, when in fact a Li Hongzhang-Alfred Thayer Mahan redux is perpetually in motion in the newspapers that so rapidly populate one’s backpack.

What is a wasted visit to Shanghai? Surely, it would be a visit absent a stroll along the long spine of Huaihai Road. There looms the Shanghai Municipal Library, that object of lust for many a researcher with a hunger for the dead, for old magazines, for epochs reorganized and reclaimed, for the first Chinese Republic.  Just beyond the great translucent book drop of the library, which neatly displays and precatalogues what patrons have been dropping into its great and vigilant plastic innards, the American Consulate squats in colonial splendor behind high cream walls.  Once, enchanted by a new digital device and the music positively throbbing from a scratchy erhu by an old man under those walls, I there kicked a can of RMB coins in every direction. It was a worthy metaphor for Shanghai: desire – for experience, for documents, for modernity, for funds — radiating in every direction, abundant technology colliding in mistaken entwining with a dental casualty of some unnamed province, fingertips hardened by rural farming in the one case and by urban typing in the other,  scattering metallic largesse to the sound of a Communist war song in the shadow of muted American power.

And just beyond, beyond a bend on Huaihai Road, rises a large round pillar, the largest bulwark of Western music on the mainland between Tokyo and Calcutta, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.  To come to Shanghai and miss the opportunity to visit such a site would truly be counted as wasted.

Thumbing through the shelves at the Conservatory bookstore is always rather instructive: ethnomusicological research at the institution is abundant, and the publications in this realm are rapid and interesting. Titles like “PHONE”… proliferate.  Western-educated scholars have returned to Shanghai in droves, and their work fuels this city’s prodigious growth not simply in GDP but in lists of published work, or things in the category of what some idealistic people with no regard for the convincing heft of aircraft carrier ordinance might call “cultural capital.”

Then I ran across an intriguing new collection of cello scores “in the style of [Chinese] ethnic minorities” which I proceeded to purchase.  Upon negotiating my way through a few large crowds of Japanese moms retreating out of the campus with their children, each person radiant with the kind of upward gestalt that only in-tune group singing can provide, I went to the airport, flew to Chengdu, and there reunited with one of my cellos in order to test which of the “ethnic talents” who was writing for cello was most worthy of my attention.

Shanghai was thus dispatched.

Immediately upon opening the score in Chengdu, I was struck most by the piece “Autumn Song [秋之歌]” by Kim Jongpyong, or Jin Zhengping [金正平].  Judging from the textual introduction to the collection (focusing on “high talents from among our country’s ethnic minorities”), as well as the svelte harmonic style and harmonically supple idiom, I assumed the composer to be a successfully struggling ethnic Korean music graduate from, say, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing sometime in the mid-1980s.  If the reader be a bit uncertain, such a provenance should be regarded as a complement: the young talents like Gao Ping who emerged out of the conservatory milieu in that era are cutting new pathways into the musical realms all over the world, and justly so.

I was quite wrong about his age, and his relationship to China’s cultural bureaucracy.  Jin’s full biography is available on the website of the Association for the Research of Chinese-Korean Music, to be explained shortly.

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.]

Report from the Jianchuan Museum Cluster, Sichuan (Die Zeit)

Last year I made two trips to the Jianchuan Museum Cluster in Sichuan, the PRC’s only private collection of museums and facilities which are completely ground-breaking in their somewhat individualistic take on curating and historical interpretation in general.  The museum cluster, owned and very much directed by the entrepreneur Fan Jianchuan, includes a museum of the Cultural Revolution, among other things.

An excellent overview of the museum’s themes (with video) is available here; my colleague in Tokyo, Jeff Kingston, wrote this piece for Japan Times after visiting me to talk Chinese nationalism in Chengdu last winter.

But here is the most recent reporting from the museum site, from the pen [aus der Feder] of Angela Kockritz, one of Germany’s best reporters in the PRC.

et la pièce de résistance

Celebrating the National Day Holiday Week in the PRC

Just when you think that China has completely exhausted its capacity to surprise you, the hard-line foreign policy tabloid Huanqiu Shibao sends a reporter to cover an S & M-themed show at an International Exhibition in a second-tier city like Zhengzhou, Henan, where apparently, if the face of the little old man at the foot of the stage is any indication, the show brought much joy and proof of China’s internationalism to the masses.

image courtesy Huanqiu Shibao -- picture links to further images and some extensive Netizen commentary

Given his attempts to wipe out sex-themes samzidats as head of the Communist Youth League in the mid-1980s (as documented in the East German archives, among others), I can’t imagine Hu Jintao signed off on this one,

Perhaps the Health Ministry [卫生部] has won an important internal bureaucratic battle?  It seems that the promotion of information about sex in China has been significantly increased since even August.

Or, as one Netizen said in response to the above gallery: “中国 开的太放了 该管管了 [China has opened up too much; need to manage manage....].”

By contrast, Kim Jong Il’s travels through Manchuria and the Russian Far East led him to decree an end to short skirts, tight pants, and English-language T-shirts in North Korea.  Whereas China, the socialist ally and cultural intermediary for North Korea, promptly began, at the same time, the state promotion of rubber dolls by women wearing bunny ears.

Perhaps it’s not inaccurate to say that the “culture wars” continue in East Asia?  Before long, even this analyst will be crying for the return of the Generalissimo and the spiritually healthier days of the New Life Movement.

But in the meantime, happy birthday PRC.  If the 2008 Olympic Games somehow failed to mark your debut on the world stage, certainly the Zhengzhou Expo marks a new moment in some kind of history of this jagged, morphing, protean, now overtly masochistic, fascinatingly weird and endlessly restless Republic.

Commemorating National Humiliation in China

Today is September 18, 1931, at least in China, where the 80th anniversary of the incident which unleashed the Japanese Imperial Army to break off the entire northeast from the Republic of China and, a few months later, proclaim it an independent garrison state named “Manchukuo” which was justified on rhetoric of ethnic harmony and propogation of the yen bloc.

It’s usually a sign that something else is going wrong, or that the CCP is worried about something other than international relations with Japan, when an anniverary like this one gets such big billing.  Sure, 8 is a important in Chinese numerology, and Manchukuo was a huge deal, and there was a pre-stimulant to bringing all this back online earlier in August in Heilongjiang, but this commemoration is much more state-driven than “demanded by the people.”

I was at the September 18 memorial museum on August 15, 2011, the anniversary of an important victory in the War of Resistance.  In spite of the fact that 8-15 is the logical and victorious feel-good anniversarial antipode to 9-18, the September 18 museum was closed on August 15, and the sidewalks and concrete plaza were being redone, clearly in preparation for today.   Clearly for the CCP it is more expedient in this case to pump up the original offense by the Japanese.  And thus the focus on September 18.  There is a great deal more that could be said about the leadup to this commemoration and what it all means, but in the meantime it should suffice to note its occurence and the broad, country-wide, mobilization to remember the date which included, according to my friends in Sichuan, a long five-minute siren cry in the major cities of that province, as it did last year on the same date.

According to Kyodo News, who surely had people on the scene (as they did, and as was I, on the Marco Polo Bridge on the 70th anniversary of that incident in 2007), about thirty youth in Shenyang chanted insults at Japan and burned a Japanese flag outside the museum.  For Huanqiu Shibao’s propogation of this news inside of China (no photos, however), click the photograph below.

The day and the actions are headline news on, so clearly thirty boys burning a flag in Shenyang is much more to the taste of the censors than a few thousand closing a chemical plant in Dalian, and for obvious reasons.

As long as the action remains small and doesn’t prevent Japanese investors in Dongbei, the tremors can ripple out and we can all gather once more around the image of the once-disgraced Generalissimo or the presently-strong Chinese Communist Party, whose underground resistance to Japan in Manchuria in 1931-32 was about to be eviscerated not by some counterinsurgent stroke by Japan’s Marshal Petreaus (Okamura), but by an inner-Party purge known as the Minsaengdan Incident.

Don’t worry, CCP, I have taken your advice to heart, and will never forget the Angus Ward Incident!  When it comes to foreign plots in Shenyang, an American telegraphing his State Department masters in Foggy Bottom in 1948 would be every bit as significant as September 18, 1931, except that you, Party of Parties, had the foresight to prevent the reconstitution of the Japanese Empire under American aegis after the Reverse Course in Japan, for Tojo’s dream and animating spirit, as I have learned so well, was essentially transferred into that otherwise Victorian-Bismarckian skull of the Anglo conqueror MacArthur in 1948.  And thus the Angus Ward Incident should also be celebrated, like August 15, as a mark of pure success in the growth of China’s regional and global power, and as a step away from the politics of humiliation that, like a particularly consequential dog bite, should be remembered as often as possible.

And once more into that good breach…

In the 9-18 Memorial Museum in Shenyang, the T-Shirts read "National Humiliation: September 18" -- courtesy Xinhua/Huanqiu Shibao

Wakeman Inaugurates

It is the first day of a new semester in Tacoma, and therefore fitting to invite the past master, Frederick Wakeman, to the fore for a lecture on Manchu identity at Berkeley.  And, seeking further models, there are few things more personally sustaining to me than the admonitions and advice offered as a preface to his talk by the professor from San Diego, by way of Madison Wisconsin.

I am making a point to record my lectures this semester digitally (they began this morning with a dissertation on the Qin and sinocentric patterns in East Asia), and may make these more widely available soon, but there is little doubt that I won’t be reaching the Wakeman standard anytime soon, or approaching it with less than the appropriate respect.  Perhaps that sounds Confucian, but perhaps it should.

Democratic/Thought Reform in Tibet

Man liveth not by links alone, but I did want to make note that, as of Labor Day, this blog will very likely be turning its attentions with greater regularity toward the issue of Tibet and its historical relations with the (maternal and adoptive, or coercive and abusive? but unquestionably Chinese) motherland.

These attentions will likely take the form of broader pedagogical inquiries, guest posts from the socialist or Lutheran motherland, and discussion of new Tibetan history research.

Today, an excellent place to start is Columbia University professor Robert Barnett’s priceless and precise analysis of Xi Jinping’s choreographed appearance in Lhasa earlier this summer. The essay contains within it a nearly three-hour long and rather rare CCTV feed (live, of all things!) covering the CCP’s litany of speeches and plaques and stilted Tibetan communist phrases in Lhasa this past August, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of that city.  Quibble with Barnett if you like — after all, he posits plastic stools as the key to understanding the CCP’s mistrust of Tibetans –  but his analysis at least forced me to say “Oh yeah, where were all the monks, anyway?”

When parsing events in Lhasa, the riot cop/monk ratio is always one to watch.

As when fellow traveler Anna Louise Strong went to Tibet on a CCP-sponsored/spoon-fed trip about a month after the March 1959 revolt, the lack of monks at the commemoration ceremony would seem to make clear that the Party makes no apologies for interpreting monks as barriers to socialist production, sexual reproduction, and economic development.

At about the 30′ clip of Xi Jinping’s speech, when he talks about “democratic reform (民主改革)” in Tibet, it’s almost as if he wants to say “thought reform (思想改造)” instead.  Of course, the phrase has fallen out of the CCP’s stated orthodox vocabulary, but it doesn’t mean the Party doesn’t believe that thought reform would do the Tibetans good.

After all, Xi finally mentions that great enemy, the Dalai Lama, at about 36′, and the danger he poses to “social stability,” an assertion which is heartily applauded by a few Tibetans sitting across from a bunch of young Han cops before it was summarized into Tibetan and Xi Jinping turns to discussing the great contributions to the revolution of Mao Zedong.

This whole speech is so predictably drenched and dried in the thick syrup of orthodoxy that I can’t look away.  Unlike the fleet Chinese internet, where ephemeral artifacts stimulate our critical gaze and demand a rapid capturing, Xi Jinping’s speech is like the CCTV building: immense and stilted, yet completely stable and predictable in its output.

An antidote exists, and immediate gratification, via mental transport to, say, Ladakh and New Delhi in 1959: look no further than this tremendous historical film fragment from my new favorite YouTube channel.  All that black and white film makes my heart pulpy and quickened, spattering blue into red.

Someday a real scholar is going to apply some rigorous analysis to the assertions made by the Dalai Lama in his first press conference in India in 1959.  (If any diligent readers can locate a transcript or intelligible-to-an-Anglo/Sinophone footage of that event, please do inform me!)  The Tibetan Government in Exile wasted very little time in prompting reports on the CCP “genocide” in Tibet which, as Patrick French writes in his highly recommended Tibet, Tibet, have gone virtually uncritically into the canon of Chinese atrocities accepted in the West as absolute fact.

Doesn’t it seem a little weird that the same people who are so interested in the factual basis for claims about “excess deaths” in China during the concurrent Great Leap Forward have virtually no interest in the factual basis of the Dalai Lama’s claims about CCP “genocide” in Tibet, claims which His Holiness repeats in his official autobiography?

But let us leave these disputes aside and move down from the plateau and into the placid and warm waters of the Taiwan Strait, wading in with that novice swimmer and grizzled politician, Zhou Enlai.

As an added Cold War contextual bonus, please enjoy this rather rare bilingual Zhou Enlai interview dating from 1965 in Beijing with a man who appears to be the eminent journalist Edgar Snow.  Among other things, Zhou lays down the gauntlet (which he later quietly picked up in 1971) on the Taiwan issue, predicting that without American removal of all military interests from Taiwan, no Sino-US rapprochement could be considered:

Liaoyang-Dalian: The Transformation of China’s Rust Belt Unrest

The 14 August 2011 protests in Dalian, forcing the closing of a major chemical plant there, have inspired a fair amount of news in the Anglophone and Sinophone press.

Now the Guardian’s essential environmental correspondent, Jonathan Watts, takes the analysis to a new level, describing the role of social class in forcing the environmental issue to the fore — or, in other words, the power of the white collar Dalianites to force change while poor and rural Chinese languish in pollution pools.

One angle which Watts does not explore, and which I have yet to see parsed, is the extent to which social unrest or grass-roots protest activity has transformed in Liaoning province over the past decade.  An excellent reference paper can be found in this working paper on the Liaoyang protests over the Fero-Alloy Plant in 2002.

Affluence and change in Liaoning province certainly struck me in Shenyang earlier this month, where the compression between new and old, rich and poor, is striking in ways that “second-tier” cities like Chengdu, dating to a somewhat earlier round of development, only approximate in patches.

I spent exactly a week this summer living in the Dalian Special Economic Zone, where the plant in question is located, and talking to the very white collar workers whose offices are nearby the plant.  This is a place quite apart from Shenyang, capital of Liaoning province, where wealth is regarded as a kind of surprise, slow in coming, dusty, where environmental devastation is taken as a fact of life.  (Where, by the way, is the reporting on the changes in the Tiexi district?  Why is it that filmmakers seem to have taken the lead as the true modern anthropologists?)  In Dalian as in Shanghai, there is a strong sense of entitlement in having “made it”, having clawed to the top of a difficult and teeming hierarchy of tests and knowledge and workplace challenges that bring one, finally, to the city of apples, foreign cheeses, direct flights to everywhere and temperate summers.  The extent to which a chemical plant threatens this (now lost?) paradise is a particularly fascinating question that Watts grasps at, but it is important to place Dalian in its regional context (as well as to compare it to Yunnan, since everywhere on earth really ought to be compared to Yunnan at some point).  Once we place Dalian in its Liaoning context — even though so many of its mobile workers, particularly in the Special Economic Zone, hail from other regions of China — we can gain some small insight into the outlook for further “environmental movements,” such as they are and might become, in the PRC.

Having been blasted out of the barrel of the San Francisco Bay Area this morning, little time remains for this author to parse the transformation much further or delve into the rusty guts of beloved Liaoyang, but it (the metamorphosis, that is) is worthy of more type, more ink, more thought, more words, and more speech, if not beating of drums and flinging of digital images.

A Dalian artist brings the hard truth, December 2010, image via 南方周末; click image for link to the story "The End of 'Great Dalian'," an August 2011 which I began to tear apart in the back of a fossil-burning taxi blazing 167 yuan to Pudong Airport in Shanghai from the Municipal Library wherein Guomindang periodicals were parsed and the fate of the nation only vaguely sensed

Yuanhai Fangwei [远海防卫]: Observing China’s Navy

Back in the American defense belt of Orange County, I’m reading Kissinger and reflecting on the extensive annual report to Congress from the Pentagon regarding Chinese military capabilities.  The full text of the report is here.

One minor advantage of the financial focus of VP Biden’s public remarks in China from 17-21 August was that the normal drum-beating on the security front relented, but only slightly so; the temporary disengagement from security and military competition seems just that.

Of course, these two threads — the military and the economic — were neatly tied together in a statement by the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Republican John “Buck” McLeod:

China clearly believes that it can capitalize on the global financial crisis, using the United States’ economic uncertainty as a window of opportunity to strengthen China’s economic, diplomatic, and security interests. Therefore, security in the Pacific could be further jeopardized if our regional allies also come to believe that the United States will sacrifice the presence and capability of the U.S. military in an attempt to control spending.  This is an unacceptable outcome…

For some reason this makes me think we might be better off with an annual White Paper by a few dozen academics analyzing the whole notion in the prior year of the “China Threat.”  Goodness knows there is enough material to mine alone from such 4-times-a-week publications as 国防时报 (China Defense News).  In the meantime there are always the incongrous statements of a “what? you’re nervous about poor old us?” take on the role of combat vessels in China’s peaceful rise by or the old standby 环球时报 (Huanqiu Shibao/Global Times).

A smarter approach might be to note that in Dalian, the northeastern port city from which the carrier launched and where I spent a little under two weeks this summer, “public opinion” was far, far more enraged over a chemical spill than they were over the heralded release of the aircraft carrier.  (Do not miss these stunning photos of the Dalian protests — which I missed by a single day — from the China Media Project.)  Moreover, the Wenzhou train crash in late July, which was caught in and ultimately overcame the maelstrom of pro-aircraft carrier domestic propaganda, further indicates the domestic limits for Chinese leaders of hyping military trophies over basic necessities like product safety and corporate/environmental regulations.

Back in Washington, American observers of Chinese naval capabilities are further alarmed by Japan’s aftershocks and slumps of various kinds.  As a partner of Armitage International testified before a House Commitee in May 2011 (full text here of the hearing on “the Future of Japan“):

Again, our aspirations are for a strong Japan. We can’t have and should not be complacent about Japan looking inward. But I would also add there are a few voices who have talked about a reorienta- tion opportunity for Japan, some high-profile op-eds maybe, about looking at reorienting away from the alliance and maybe toward China.

I just want to say that while China will surely be part of the re- covery and will surely be part of Japan’s trajectory out of this cri- sis, this would not be a very wise move, in my opinion. China is not the same kind of partner that the United States will be now and looking forward; at best, an unreliable partner. We only need to look at the events of 2010 to see China’s more assertive sov- ereignty claims; vis-a`-vis Japan, their cutting off of rare earth ma- terials when Japan was in need; and in general, an attitude of sup- porting the adversaries of Japan, like North Korea. So I hope it is not an inward turn, but I also hope it is not a reorientation away from the alliance. I very much believe in the future of this alliance.

In the House Commmittee on Foreign Relations, the outlook for slightly less harsh rhetoric towards China is also not positive.  One need only recall Chair Ros-Lehtinen’s remarks of July 1, 2011, commemorating the 90th anniversary of the CCP.   Comments like hers that strip China entirely of its Dengist direction, pointing glaringly at Maoist continuities, are particularly rough.

We’re in for an interesting fall in any event.