Republican Reading for the Day

is on YouTube.  And the online essays on the meaning of the 100th anniversary (today!) of the Chinese republic by Jottings from the Granite [or was it 'Gangster'?] Studio and the reliably reactionary Global Times, the latter of which audaciously bids “Farewell to the Revolutionary Complex.”

Speak, Memory!

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.

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

“US-China Musical Diplomacy” at the US Consulate in Chengdu

Adam Cathcart and Andreas Boelcke perform Gao Ping's Cello Sonata at US Consulate-General Chengdu, July 2011


25 July 2011

Dr. Adam Cathcart

Sino-U.S Relations Lecture at the Chengdu U.S Consulate

[Transcription by Mycal Ford, Pacific Lutheran University]

Part I:

Conflict and Culture:

  1. It is often thought that the answer to conflict is culture (wenming). The notion that we should focus on culture to become calm and ease tensions is especially true in China, with its emphasis on “harmony” (hexie), but maybe not throughout the world.
  1. “The more cultural exchange the better right!?” However, this is not always true. Cultural exchange and warfare are not mutually exclusive, e.g., Yuan Dynasty (Mongol invasion of China) and, during Ming Dynasty, when Hideyoshi invaded Korea, not only taking captives, but also bringing back with them c artists, musicians, and other cultural aspects.
  1. Culture as it proceeds through conflict, seems then, engaged in a cohesive relationship that can ultimately work together toward the desired state of peace (heping).

Sinicization and Westernization

Sinicization-becoming more Chinese

Westernization- becoming more Western

  1. In remote parts of the U.S many Americans are increasingly becoming more interested in Sinicization, particularly in the Midwest.
  1. However, the U.S should never become complacent with their knowledge of China. China is constantly changing and the U.S needs to abandon ethnocentric sentiment that suggests that they’ve got China figured out. We need to always be aiming towards more sinicization.

(Aside on South Korean [“the Korea Wave”] and Japan as cultural export kings and major competitors with China in the US market and imagination).

Music and Politics

Open discussion/brainstorming examples of “political musicians” and “music and politics.”  All of the examples generated by the audience were American or British.

No one mentions Chairman Mao or the Yanan Forum.  When Cathcart mentions his surprise at the omission, the audience says but “Mao wasn’t a musician!”  A discussion follows of Chairman Mao, Jiang Qing, and opera in the Yanan years, including the visit of George Marshall to Yanan.           

Music as containing something much larger than itself.  Is music inherently political, or is it independent?  Must each piece of music tell a story?

Discussion of two Soviet/Russian composers, Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokoviev and how their music reflected the political realities of the Soviet Union.

Part II:

Culture Revolution

  1. 1950s —  Great musical and cultural exchange with Soviet Union – positive legacies in Chinese conservatory training today.
  2. 1961 China breaks ties with Soviet Union, thus the cultural exchange with the Soviet Union ceases; in 1966 all music deemed Western or reactionary is officially abandoned.


Kissenger and Nixon

  1. Kissenger prior to Nixon visited China on a secret mission in 1971.
  2. China wasn’t quite sure how to welcome Kissenger. However, they ended up deciding to welcome him with Beethoven, which was insisted by Zhou Enlai.

This is important to note because Beethoven had been banned. China presenting Beethoven music served as symbol that transcended its commonly understood purpose which is to entertain.

  1. 1972 Nixon goes to China and they welcome him with Beijing Opera.
  2. 1973 Philadelphia Orchestra visits China
  3. 1974 George H.W Bush the U.S. Liaison Officer in China (essentially the Ambassador to China during this time) engages in extensive talks with China about cultural exchange. i.e Second Philadelphia Orchestra trip is cancelled because Chinese song/dance troupe who planning to tour to US refuses to drop song regarding “liberation of Taiwan by force” from their program.



 Chengdu composer’s cello sonata from 1996 fuses Western and Eastern music together terrifically.

Many thanks to Mycal Ford / 黑飞虎 (center, in black shirt) of Pacific Lutheran University, who is presently in Chengdu on a research grant and will be moving on to Taiwan

Notes on Sino-German Relations

Mark Siemons, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite correspondents in Beijing, has another piece in yesterday’s Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung.  Ironically entitled “Deutschland ist eigentlich ein zweites China in Europa [Germany is truly a second China in Europe],” it reveals a few things of note.

Foremost, the Chinese domestic media gave less attention to Wen Jiabao (and his 13 fellow ministers) in Berlin “than it would for a state visit to Central Asia.”  With virtually nothing in the Huanqiu Shibao (which Siemons calls “one of the most influential papers on transnational affairs”), a scribble in People’s Daily, and a blurb in a local Beijing paper, the visit to Germany was in the eyes of the Chinese propaganda apparatus nothing worth discussing.  Certainly there was no mention of Ai Weiwei, and why would there be?  With the giant red orgasm of the CCP’s 90th anniversary about to explode — the harmonious imposition of what the Tagezeitung calls “a unified community of belief” — why would Angela Merkel’s subtle notice about more regular and open dialogue about human rights have any traction whatsoever?

The Party thus celebrates itself in the immense bubble of humanity that is China.

Far more interesting in Siemons’ article is the notion of “Germany as a second China in Europe.”  Here Siemons characterizes his conversation with a group of Chinese intellectuals who have been keyed into this notion by writings of one particular scholar (one whose name now escapes me) at the Center for International Studies in Beijing.  The idea, according to Siemons, is rooted strongly in 19th-century notions of global power and competition, and projects a future in which Germany “leaves Europe” to unite with Scandanavia and divide the world, essentially, among itself and the U.S. and China.  Such a notion, Siemons notes, is not only tremendously fanciful, it virtually ignores Germany’s European orientation and forgets completely about the huge reluctance of Germans to strive for global power.  It seems the Chinese intellectuals have become far more Nietzschean than any German, in other words.

Finally, Der Spiegel wins the prize for the best picture caption: “The East is Red: Ferrari Red.”

“Tibehtalaš” and Harnessing the Flood-Gates of Ethno-Nationalism: Hydroelectric versus Indigenous Power.

In keeping with our interest in Tibetan issues on this blog, I am glad to bring you another guest post by Kristiana Henderson of Pacific Lutheran University.  

Here’s some more Tsampa for thought, especially since there’s even more to this story than meets the eye.  Which story?

As Xinhua put it on March 28:

Tibet has released the “Opinions on Accelerating Tibet’s Water Infrastructure Reforms and Development,” and will attempt to double its average annual investments in water infrastructure projects over the next 10 years compared with 2010, according to the People’s Government of Tibet Autonomous Region.
“Although Tibet is rich with water and hydropower resources, water resources are still one of the key factors in restricting Tibet’s development,” said Zhang Qingli, Party chief of Tibet Autonomous Region. Zhang stressed that it is of great urgency to develop water infrastructure projects in Tibet.


Xinhua further described these celebrations over the funding for hydroelectric dams in Tibet, and most recently said, effectively: “Yay!! More electricity in Tibet!!”

Now, last I checked, there wasn’t all that great of a demand for electricity in most parts of Tibet, considering that many of those living in these especially remote areas are still nomadic.  But of course, that is changing as well as a result of China’s extensive Tibetan nomad relocation programs.  There’s a great article documenting many of the colonial concerns I have been raising in conjunction with my projects, and in following Tibet/Scandinavia comparisons for this blog, on PRI’s The World

You see, when I began to seriously study Tibet and its culture, politics, and (hopefully at a faster pace), language, I tried to remove myself from the bumper-sticker rhetoric of “FREE TIBET!!!” “CULTURAL GENOCIDE!!!” And “发展进步” and “Tibet’s Always Been a Part of China and Always Will Be!” to just try to understand what, in my eyes, was really going on.

So understand that when I say this smacks considerably of “colonialism,” I’m not using the word “colonialism” lightly or with a stereotypically angry, confused undergrad (although that I can be!) with a flair for wanting to liberate anything that sounds cool. What I mean to argue is that the construction of these dams, while a seemingly helpful aspect of development, is sending up a red flag that doesn’t even have to include a bunch of stars in the upper left-hand corner.


Because the story of building dams in the name of “progress,” when in reality the control of water is in all actuality a way of controlling an indigenous people, is nothing new or unique to the land of the Three Gorges Dam. I have also been researching and studying considerably a lot about the Sámi People of Northern Scandinavia and Russia, and in particular, the Sámi of Northern Norway.

You may ask: “The Sami?! Scandinavia?!” Wait a second, I thought those Scandinavians had it all figured out!! I mean, good golly, they have the Nobel Peace Prize, and they even gave it to the Dalai Lama! Surely they wouldn’t have their own post-colonial issues to sort out!!

Oh, but they do, my comrades, but they do.

And, long story short, even those nice, egalitarian, democratically-minded socially-medicated Nordic people have their own not-so-good history of repressing the culture and economic rights of their indigenous groups. Among other things, this included encouraging the development of a pastoralist society’s lands to make way for agriculture and other, more “advanced”  economic practices, after centuries of a “hands-off” policy with minimal political and economic contact, the records that are now being dredged up to prove a should-be-now-unquestioned legitimacy over the most Northern of Nordic lands.

In addition, these also included shifting cultural policies that fluctuated between “Lapp skal være lapp,” or, “The Lapp [derogatory term] shall remain a Lapp,” even if it is just a widdle cute, quaint culture that we can capitalize on for commercial gain, and targets of a vigorous nationalization campaign to encourage the Sámi to see themselves as part of the grand, national fabric/narrative, with their language deemed as inferior to the national languages of Norwegian, Swedish, etc., their educational curricula slanted heavily towards assimilation, because some day, “they’ll see it was for their own good.”

I mean, back in 1850, the Sami even had their own uprising, once only referred to as the “Kautokeino Event” (…)

Interestingly enough, while it was long a source of shame within the Sámi community as figures of authority from both within and outside of the community branded it as simply an example of religious extremism (in this case, Læstadian Christianity) going “too far,” in recent years it has been much more commonly discussed and taken center stage in representing the struggles between colonized, colonizers, and collaborators. For example, I’ve had the opportunity to watch the movie that came out three years ago that recasts the Kautokeino Rebellion as one of struggle against oppression, taking it out of the framework of crazy religious reindeer herders who decided to burn up some booze in Northern Norway. By the way, you can watch this on tudou if you are very, very patient…I like to bring this back into the discussion on the rebellions since the Cultural Revolution in Tibet in particular. While the chronology is not the same as it is in the Sámi community (especially considering that the modern Sámi experience is certainly not that of Tibet), the same back-and –forth pull within the Tibetan community between accepting the “self-shame” in one’s “backward” culture and an attempt at “getting with the program” and outright rejecting these sentiments.

It seems everyone’s been having their 事件 to sort out!

This all brings me to bring up the exhilerating year of 1971, the year of the Alta Conflict, in which the Norwegian government planned to build a dam on the Alta River, a land crucial to the fishing Sami of Northern Norway that has been part of their lands and economic livelihood since time immemorial. The short version of this story is that while the Norwegian government won in the end, the protests against the dam were fierced and the legacy of it is a new Pan-Samism (the term Sápmi is the word for the Sámi national homeland that acknowledges that in the Sámi cosmology, their homeland does not naturally recognize the national borders as defined by Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia..), as before the Sami first and foremost prioritized their local community (the Siida) over a more “national” identity. It was a turning point in the history of Sami-ethnically Norwegian, as the Sami, united in terms of political goals and a more broadened sense of an in-group, struggled against a hegemonic government deciding “for” the Sami that it was in their “Best interest” to build a hydroelectric plant. The Altá River dam still stands today, but now the Norwegian and other Scandinavian governments are beginning to recognize that perhaps more Sámi autonomy would be a nice idea.

Similarly, we can even think locally as many Native American groups all around Washington State, California, Arizona, and, well, frankly everywhere else, have all had their ancestral lands somehow greatly affected by some government, local or federal, deciding to harness the power of water, the voices of these communities drowned out amidst the roar of the hydroelectric turbines. So whenever I flip on a light switch, I have a marginalized indigenous group that lost its salmon fishing rights to thank. Makes me want to switch over to yak butter candles and making my own paper as far as I’m concerned, but I digress.

Back to Tibet. That said, I think that at this point, think you, dear reader(s), can see where I have been going with all of this. In essence, dams, along with trains and railroads, seem to be the infrastructure most intimately connected with indigenous rights and autonomy concerns. At Tibet University, one of the top majors is, indeed, geology and engineering for the very purpose of 发展ing the T.A.R.. Likewise, through conversations with Tibetan students at 藏大, the situation of Tibetan language classes for non-native speakers are not what they used to be, while the geology programs are still going strong. Hmmmmm. Interesting, to say the least….and, of course, let’s not forget that much of this “development aid” comes from Shanghai and Beijing, and many of the names attached to the project do not seem to suggest that this is a Tibetan project of, for, and by the Tibetans.

And it’s not just about geology my friends, let’s remember geoPOLITICS as well.

Do you know why the Norwegian government was so hell-bent on Norwegianizing the Sámi back in the day, and one of its most long-standing concerns up until the collapse of the Soviet Union? Dam, I just gave it away. Yes, even since the 19th Century, the Norwegians were very afraid of Russian claims to their northern-most borders, and they hoped that if they were to gain the “allegiance” of the most northern people on their borders, that they could combat a Russian hegemonic power. Hmmm. Last I checked, Tibet’s waters still led into China’s uneasy neighbor, India. In fact, India is incredibly concerned about this problem, and articles on it have continued to stream through its news generators. Most recently is an editorial article in the Times of India that voices concerns over the future of India’s Brahmaputra waters. China’s response via the Global Times? Get over it, you tree-hugging, Dalai Lama-kissnig wusses: these are international waters, we weren’t really planning to build a dam there anyway. …Oh wait, just kidding, we are.

In fact, the Sámi Parliaments have officially recognized that their history is not unlike the current “Tibet Problem,” and while not has been published since, in the late 1990s and early 2000s they did officially address Tibet and have sided with its goals for self-determination as passed in 1994. In 2006, the Tibet Environmental Watch documented some follow-up in which various other indigenous groups from around the world met to discuss these autonomy concerns. Obviously, these groups do not hold much clout on the world stage – not nearly as much as say, well, the IMF, World Bank, the U.S., China, the EU, the members of the World Trade Federation….but every once and a while they make some noise and cause a stir. Tibet has largely been able to contextualize its own struggle on its own terms, thanks to its Hollywood/Western media publicity and, I would guess, the fact that it gives Westerners an excuse to dislike China further (and historically, use Tibet as a catalyst against those Commies in the 1960s), whereas communities such as the Sámi have had to place their issues in a larger framework because, frankly, Scandinavia just looks so cute and cuddly that they possibly couldn’t have been marginalizing their indigenous communities (or even more, most people think of Scandinavia as a region that is the epitome of “homogenous white,” which it certainly ain’t).

But it appears that Tibet’s “cause” has since come to a standstill, because as China rises, the “weaker” groups from within fall as China is able to hold its ground more and more, and its growing finesse in blocking information and forums from the outside world, especially as a result of the Jasmine Revolution fears and the anniversary of Tiananmen two years ago, will only further block change from within. Even if the Dalai Lama and his cohorts were even in positions of real political power (“religious figurehead” or not), he/they simply cannot do anything more than let Westerners feel vaguely sorry for some people who live in the mountains in what is apparently Western China.

It would do well for Tibet to learn from the Sámi case and perhaps accept that its situation is not so unique – theirs is a struggle very much like those faced around the world. There is strength in numbers, and that includes the numbers of groups banding together to face similar concerns regarding land use rights, political, economic, and cultural autonomy, the preservation of indigenous systems of knowledge, and simply promoting respect/anti-discrimination in the backdrop of these greater powers. If the Tibetans were to recontextualize their concerns into a greater global dialogue on indigeniety, then there many be more cause for international pressure on China. I hope to explore the Sámi-Scandinavia-Tibetan-indigenous connections further as time goes on, because this will continue to add to an extra dimension on what the modern “Tibet Problem” could possibly transform into.

That said, I hope you enjoyed a brief look at Nordic colonialism with reference to the contemporary development politics of the CCP in Tibet. It just strikes me that I’m beginning to detect a pattern.

– Kristiana Henderson