“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.

 

GaoPing

 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.

Why?

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

Lux Sinica: China’s Civilizing Influence in North Korea

It takes more than a few days, or perhaps a few weeks, to sift through all the reports, speculation, and rumors surrounding Kim Jong Il’s “new deal” with China.  At the end of the day, though, it seems that a single question aids in interpreting the phenomenon: To what extent has Kim Jong Il’s visit to China spurred the North Korean regime to embrace even the appearance of a reformist direction? 

In other words, is there any indication, however small, that Kim Jong Il or his Korean Workers’ Party is internalizing themselves or mobilizing society toward a policy approximating that of Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s?  Given how much the North Korean leadership is said to despise Deng Xiaoping, perhaps the “Dengist direction” is not the ideal way to phrase a move toward North Korean reform, but certainly the CCP leadership does not shirk from the label or the idea.  But let us review the recent evidence:

New Slogans in Pyongyang

A couple of weeks ago, the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang was the only place this new North Korean slogan (something like “Based on the Local, Step Into the World”) was being discussed.  (For an English rendering of the story via Google, click here.)

New Slogans in Pyongyang -- image courtesy PRC Embassy in Pyongyang

Now the slogan is getting aired in a more prestigious publication, the “International Herald Leader,” one of the more rational and widely-read foreign affairs weekly tabloids published in Beijing.  In his full-page spread on the DPRK entitled “North Korea Wants to Rush Toward ‘A Powerful Nation’ [朝鲜要向‘强盛大国’冲刺], the paper’s man in Pyongyang, Zhang Li [张利] writes extensively of the new slogans.

There is of course the idea, too, that the North Korean regime could just be doing this to string along people like you and me, offering up the appearance of, or the possibility of, reforms, and then taking no actual further steps in that direction.  Certainly it would not be the first time such a thing happened. And we should be mindful that North Korea does quite a lot (the 2009 nuclear tests being a signal example) without necessarily considering what the impact is on their Chinese patrons.  But even when we are striding through a Potempkinian landscape, we need to take note of the details!  There is some evidence that Pyongyang’s more persistent propaganda emphasis on living standards and economic growth is at the very least reaping some benefits in giving Chinese elites (e.g., 知识分子 or literate people who consume news) some idea that their support of North Korea is resulting in tangible and positive changes in the DPRK.

Confucius in Pyongyang

In other good news for Beijing, Chinese language education appears to be making solid inroads in Pyongyang.  Estimates such as those in Bruce Bechtol’s 2010 book Defiant Failed State, and articles by people like Robert Kaplan, tend to toss off statements about the Chinese taking over North Korea with ease.  Why else would the PRC be rebuilding roads along the border and fixing up bridges?  This group of analysts frequently make hay from the notion that China has huge competitive advantages in its business and other interactions with North Korea.  In fact, if language is the barometer the Chinese are at a disadvantage; Kim II Song cut off Chinese language education in North Korea at the knees in the late 1950s.  This makes the PRC even more reliant on Yanbian Koreans for commercial interaction with the North, using Yanbian as a channel.  Reliable statistics about numbers of Chinese speakers in the North are hard to come by, but we do know that the small Chinese minority (North Korea’s only bona fide ethnic minority) has been among the most closely watched sectors of the society and, unlike in places like Malaysia or Philippines, has been unable to spread its mercantile spirit into the greater society.  It has also been in a kind of linguistic quarantine.

We do know that North Korean teachers of Chinese were studying at Beijing University, laying the foundation for the big event in Pyongyang.  See my 18 February 2010 essay, “Confucius Institute Outreach to DPRK.”

Thus it is a turn of events to find that the Confucius Institute in Pyongyang appears to be thriving.  And lest you think this is not a particularly big deal in the orbit of North Korea’s foreign relations, consider how obstinate the DPRK has been about language and cultural education toward European states with whom it is also distinctly in a warming phase:  The German Goethe Institute was forced out of Pyongyang because of restrictions and the French Alliance Francais (disclaimer; I am a card-carrying member) cannot get into Pyongyang no matter how many delegations of French socialists make their obeisance to Mangyongdae.  So the Workers’ Party is embracing finally the building of the linguistic infrastructure necessary to do business with China, in in China.

(Click here for photos of the Confucius Institute party in Pyongyang, via the Chinese Embassy in the DPRK.)

One of the more palatable aspects of my fieldwork along the North Korean border are the conversations I am able to have with probably a couple dozen North Korean waitresses in China.  Setting aside the somewhat asinine claim that these girls are all spy-seductresses whose command of taekwando is worthy of a James Bond plot, one of the main reasons they come to the mainland to work is to acquire Chinese language.  One said to me not long ago “it will be very useful for doing business when I go back to Korea,” nodding earnestly.  I very much doubt that this person is some completely brainwashed cog whose study of Chinese is part of some grand plan of North Korea to deceive China into thinking relations are friendly.  She and others are well aware that Chinese is the business language of the region and are acting accordingly.  It seems that, rather belatedly, the North Korean state is having the same revelation.

Return to Chinese Cultural Superiority?

One possible problem that the North Koreans are already facing, and have been facing since the Koguryo locked swords with the Sui, is that of Chinese cultural superiority.

China’s recent action with Vietnam indicates how strong this kind of cultural chauvinism can be, seeing China inherently as the older brother.  How deep this notion is ingrained in China’s diplomacy can be seen in a recent standoff with Vietnam in the South China Sea.  As Wang Hanling, director of Chinese Academy of Social Scienes’ Centre for Oceans Affairs and the Law of the Sea, said to the South China Morning Post on 13 June 2011 (p. A4) stated of the Vietnamese:

If the big brother bullies the younger brother, that is not good and is something that should not happen.  If the little brother challenges or bullies the older brother, it’s just ridiculous.

At a time when China is under attack from Western European states for not following European models of Enlightenment – seen expressly in the case of Germany and Ai Weiwei and art exhibits in Beijing – it is all the more important for Beijing to be able to pose itself as a benevolent tutor for the region, to behave, in other words, as a Confucian hegemon.  In a recent podcast with some big names in China analysis, Jeremy Goldkorn paraphrases Martin Jacques in terming this “Tributary System 2.0.”  In the context of bilateral relations with the DPRK, the label can be considered rather true.

Wen Jiabao stated it most clearly on his overseas junket, but the trope of China’s civilizing influence in the DPRK comes through in smaller channels as well.  A semi-official blog carried by Huanqiu Shibao states Kim Jong Il came to China for “enlightenment” as well as aid:

金正日本次访华,朝鲜从中国得到了什么?用一句话来概括,可能即是:朝鲜收获了未来..

or

Kim Jong Il came to China this time, and what did North Korea get from China?  To use just one sentence to describe it, one could say that ‘North Korea has gained a future….’

This kind of Chinese salvationist rhetoric for North Korea sounds almost white and missionary.

An early analysis of Kim Jong Il’s presence in Nanjing by the Huanqiu Shibao offers up further, somewhat simplistic, reflections on Chinese success in helping the North Koreans stagger forward into modernity.  But in so doing, the story necessarily becomes a frank admission of Kim’s need for aid and “education,” even if the slogans are optimistic: “金正日版南巡讲话,” etc.

The same ambivalence, the balancing of Chinese auto-glorification with acknowledgement of Kim’s recalcitrance, appears on a different Huanqiu BBS.  Covering a story on North Korea’s high tech industry, the report is said to emerge out of the quarter of Zhongguancun [中关村], a high-tech district near Beijing University positively bursting with circuitry, programmers, and ambitious hawkers of soft- and hard-ware.   (Anyone who has purchased a laptop in Zhongguancun, receiving deep assurances of total loyalty from a serviceperson, and then returned to get a hand with something only to find that the young Turk with whom you had just last week been having lunch with to bond after a big purchase has already moved to Shanghai will know what I mean.)  The 


Huanqiu blog promotes North Korean computer production as yet another sign that China is helping the DPRK into the modern age, or, as the North puts it weirdly, “CNC Technology.”  But the netizens cannot resist: the first commenter on the blog, obviously aware of the North Korean propaganda line on Kim Jong Eun as the harbinger of all things digital and binary, asks: “Is the Little Dictator Going to Increase Production/小霸王升级版?”

Quite naturally, there are more than a few North Koreans who find this whole state of affairs galling, and one of them is, in all likelihood, Kim Jong Il.  He is nothing if not his father’s son.  Kim Jong Il can only continue with what DailyNK aptly calls his “China Angst,” gaining some small solace from his pet areas: cooperation and funding for broadcasting work and 2012 movie festivals.

Kim’s angst, his pushback against China, and his effort to carve out the latitude for freedom of action outside of Beijing’s orbit, is, however, the subject of a subsequent post which draws the very productive people at KCNA and my new Weibo feed of links on Sino-North Korean relations.

China’s Public Square Debate over Nuclear Power: Refracting Germany

Anti-Nuclear Protestors Storming Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, 29 May 2011; image courtesy Le Monde.fr

Imagine my suprise to open the webpage of the Huanqiu Shibao this morning to find the headline “German Environmental Ministry Announces that Germany Will Close All Nuclear Plants by 2022.”  The following story/poll looks like this — and please note the minumum of spin:

德国环境部门宣布将于2022年关闭所有核电站

你是否支持中国继续发展核电
支持
不支持

环球网记者谭利娅报道,据法新社5月30日报道,德国环境部门30日早间宣布,德国到2022年将关闭国内全部核电站,这将成为全球主要工业化国家中首个放弃核电的国家。
自今年3月份日本大地震引发福岛第一核电站发生核泄漏事故以来,多个国家陆续掀起一场有关核能安全性的讨论。据德国媒体报道,5月28日德国有几十万民众上街游行,反对核电站继续存在。

In other words:

Do you or don’t you support China continuing to develop nuclear power plants? (Click “Support” “Don’t support”)

Huanqiu Shibao internet reporter Tan Liya reports that, according to an AFP report of May 30, Germany has decided to close all domestic nuclear power plants by 2022, creating among the significant industrialised nations on the earth the first country to renounce nuclear energy.

The Japanese earthquake and the leaks at the first reactor at Fukushima in March of this year have triggered a series of debates about the saftety of nuclear power in many countries.   According to German media reports, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets on May 28 to oppose the continued retention of nuclear power plants in Germany.

The poll seems ongoing at the moment, but about 115 comments are up on the Huanqiu story.  A sampling of “netizen” thoughts on the subject (obligatory Hitler references have been omitted):

中国万万不能弃核,现在的电都不够用,还要老限电。虽然有些人说没电人可以活,但如果真的让你在没电的世界呆上三月,你试试。只有提高科技技术,把安全指数提高才是解决问题的根本办法。德国为什么弃呢,因为他们有几十万人在游行,政府再不表态,他们国家等 不到核毁灭,也要打内战。

There is no way China can relinquish nuclear energy; already there is insufficient energy supply available for use, and the power lines are old.  Of course there are a few people who say “people can live without electricity,” but if this world were truly without electricity for more three months, you try it!  The basic soloution to the problem is to recognize that technical capabilities should improve and that high technical solutions can be found.  Why does Germany relinquish [nuclear power]?  Because they have hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating, the government cannot take the stand not to destroy nuclear power, or [they would also have to] fight a civil war.

"Atomic Power? No, Thanks." Image courtesy Stern magazine; click image for interactive map of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants

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

Cross-Border Economic Development

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

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

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

 这两天很多网友通过电邮问我为什么金正日如此频繁访华,我个人觉得原因不外乎两点:其一是外界传疯了的“朝鲜困难说”,体制困难、政治困难、军事困难…这极可能被夸大演绎;另一点却很少有人提及,就是中朝关系很长一段时期的习惯,金日成时期如此频度的访华持续了整个八十年代。

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

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

 反之它是会与朝鲜国内的环境及其所处国际环境是紧密结合的,也就是国内国际形势越复杂、越需要有更加巩固的、更加清晰明了的中朝双边关系展示出来,团结——需要——更团结。

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

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

Thus, to economic cooperation, which continues apace:

5. China and North Korea will launch a new borderlands developments initiative next week, and these developments near Sinuiju and on islands in the Yalu River are making the rounds on various government-approved  internet bulletin boards.  In particular, this Chosun Ilbo story is getting a great deal of attention from netizens:  http://chn.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/19/20110519000022.html

6. North Korea is doing a great deal more than it has in the past to promote Chinese investment.  Witness this – the most detailed KCNA story on the subject I have seen to date — about Chinese investment in Rason, the port in the northeastern corner of Korea.  Of special interest is the frank admission that China is footing the bill for the port’s renovation:  http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news18/20110518-22ee.html

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

8. North Korea has emphasized how much they value Chinese investment in Rason – or done a damn good job in covering up an accidental death – by commemorating the drowning of a Chinese businessman who is said to have saved the lives of two North Korean girls who were somehow just floating in distress of the Rason coast.  A ceremony was held in early April in Pyongyang and Zhang’s stone-faced widow and son were there to accept awards on behalf of a grateful nation.  (Link with photos.) http://kp.chineseembassy.org/eng/zxxx/t814780.htm

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

10. Not that North Korea isn’t trying hard, and also drumming up interest from European firms as well.  At the International Trade Exhibition in Pyongyang on May 17, a whole host of DPRK international trade officials showed up to meet the Chinese ambassador, as well as a host of businesspeople, including Germans, French, and Italians.  http://kp.chineseembassy.org/chn/zt/cxdt/t823051.htm

11. But at the same time, the moribund nature of everything economic in North Korea seems clear.  No one has mentioned this, but in last site visit prior to moving east through some devastated provinces which he completely ignored on his way to China, Kim Jong Il managed to stare forlornly at some fruit, coughing up some of the same old boilerplate:  http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news18/20110518-42ee.html

And speaking of Kim….

Personal Politics

12. Kim Jong Il has regained weight, his swagger, and high heels http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/19/2011051900663.html

13. While he was crossing over the Tumen River, North Korean media released this unusual and soaring endorsement by a “Chinese VIP”  (Chen Zongxing, discussed later in this post) who endorsed Kim Jong Il’s rule and anticipates it will alst at least through 2012 : http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news20/20110520-41ee.html

14. Kim Jong Il proceeded to meet with Dai Bingguo in little Mudanjiang city.  http://nkleadershipwatch.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/kim-jong-il-continues-toward-beijing/ (with photos) in a trip that might have been prophesized had anyone been paying attention:

On May 10, the Chinese Embassy had been summoned to Mangyongdae Hall in Pyongyang for a good long meeting with the DPRK’s head of Public Security [李明洙/Li Myong Jo] at which the two countries’ Public Security Bureaus agreed on “the strictest” precautions (obviously in reference to the Dear Leader’s visit, as can be seen in retrospect).  Link with photos: http://kp.chineseembassy.org/chn/dshd/dshd/t821566.htm

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

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

16. Kim Jong Eun, perhaps, is busy holding down the fort in Pyongyang, making sure that the press duly commemorates a speech his absent father made twenty years ago (when the heir apparent, it bears noting, was all of six years old) about architecture theory:  http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news20/20110520-38ee.html

17. In a story about the paradox of youthful leadership transition in North Korea, the Chosun Ilbo speculates that the DPRK’s new cadres are actually likely to be more aggressive than their predecessors: http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/19/2011051901145.html

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

The U.S. Angle

18. The new US diplomatic team on North Korea is rather remarkable, and rather expert.  I strongly recommend you get to know Sydney Seiler, a Koreanist who has studied Kim Il Sung’s rise to power, via this Chosun Ilbo rundown: http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/18/2011051800890.html

19. The core outline of what the US wants – nuclear de-escalation before resumption of normal trade – is made clear in this extensive interview about North Korea with Kathleen Stephens, the excellent US Ambassador to South Korea: http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk02500&num=7697

20. KCNA has yet to jab at Seiler – surely they will start name-calling eventually – but the North Korean media put out again a  warning about the deployment of US unmanned drones in Asia-Pacific: http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news20/20110520-11ee.html   As I mentioned a few days ago, the use of unmanned aerial drones by the US in East Asia, if in fact this becomes policy, has already become, paradoxically, a major plus for the North Korean regime.  Can you imagine a more perfect method of pumping up a mobilization-weary populace to be vigilant of foreign threats than that?  It also has already brought the Sino-North Korean security and military apparatuses closer, closing ranks against the common threat.  Drones over Hyesan?  As much as Douglas MacArthur would love the idea, couldn’t we leave MacArthur in the grave and the North Korean textbooks and just stick with satellites?

General Sino-North Korea Relations

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

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

 金永南对代表团访朝表示热烈欢迎。他说,朝中友谊历经风雨,牢不可破,今年双方将共同庆祝《朝中友好合作互助条约》签订50周年,这将再次显示朝中友谊的巨大生命力。在双方领导人的共同努力下,朝中友好关系正得到空前发展,世世代代巩固和加强朝中友好关系是朝鲜党和政府坚定不移的立场。朝方愿进一步深化和加强同中国在政治、经贸、文化等各领域的友好合作,推动朝中友谊世代传承和发展。金永南盛赞中国经济建设取得的巨大成就,祝愿中国党和政府以优异成绩迎来中国共产党建党90周年和辛亥革命100周年,取得“十二五”规划开局之年的全面胜利。

陈宗兴转达了中国全国人大常委会委员长吴邦国对金永南委员长的亲切问候和良好祝愿。他说,中朝友谊是两国老一代领导人亲手缔造和精心培育的,是两国人民共同的宝贵财富,不断巩固和发展中朝友好合作关系是双方共同的责任和使命。中方高度重视中朝关系,愿与朝方同志一道,进一步推进双方各领域、各层次的友好往来,使两国传统友谊发扬光大、世代相传。陈宗兴向金永南简要介绍了中国经济社会发展、“十二五”规划以及中国全国政协工作近况。他表示,中国全国政协高度重视发展与朝鲜祖国战线的关系,愿进一步加强双方高层互访和交流机制,不断深化中朝友谊。

22. After praising Chinese “multilateralism and supporting the unique development of China’s “green economy” in KCNA, it was time for the annual spring rice-planting by Chinese embassy in Pyongyang, for pictures, see also http://kp.chineseembassy.org/chn/zxxx/t823937.htm

23. In a May 4 speech celebrating “Youth Day,” PRC Ambassador in Pyongyang assures his North Korean colleagues of the ideological reliability of young Chinese people working for the Embassy.  Is this a response to North Korean nervousness about liberal Chinese youth?  Or is it just another statement of filler orthodoxy that kills another thirty seconds before the Ambassador can enjoy those blessed three seconds of solitude with the obligatory glass of alcohol that makes such events tolerable to officials who would rather be stationed in London?  http://kp.chineseembassy.org/chn/sgxx/sghd/t819892.htm

If Chinese youth are becoming more liberal, they are going in a very different direction than the core North Korean leadership, or so it appears.  And the Global Times, by the way, seems to agree: Chinese under age 35 have little attachment to the type of “Red culture” so praised by the North Koreans.  http://opinion.globaltimes.cn/foreign-view/2011-05/657782.html

24. For the May 1 holiday, Chinese embassy staff took a misty holiday to the DPRK mountains.  In a virtually abandoned park, they enjoy some beverages – both their water and their orange drink, unsurprisingly enough, are brought from China.  http://kp.chineseembassy.org/chn/sgxx/sghd/t820387.htm

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

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

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

希望中国政府和中国大使馆继续给予平壤国际电影节大力支持,让朝鲜人民通过电影更多地了解到中国人民的革命精神、传统文化和多彩的现实生活。同时希望双方尽快推进合拍电影事宜,使两国电影交流上升到新的更高水平。

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

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

Borderland News

26. Contrary to the Chosun Ilbo report, the Chinese Ambassador to US was NOT at the launch of recent abductions report; China is not sending any signals of anger at the DPRK for snatching people over the Tumen river: http://www.dailynk.com/chinese/read.php?cataId=nk00100&num=8175

However, more news has emerged about a 1999 Tumen river body snatching of a South Korean agent by North Koreans: http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk00100&num=7714

27. In a story that, for me, does not pass the sight test –since I’ve met several dozen of these young ladies – the Daily NK asserts that North Korean waitresses in China supposedly need surgery on their eyelids before they go abroad: http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk01500&num=7716

But fashion matters: After noting a struggle between young women and state minders over extravagant earrings (just check my Twitter feed for that), Daily NK reports on a recent public trial in Sinuiju for those caught watching South Korean movies: http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk00100&num=7699

28. Finally, there are parallels between tracking a wild predator and the type of journalism and analysis that we need to do to understand the Kim trip.  This one is propitious: A trail of torn throats and paw prints in the mud: photo evidence of the rare Northeastern tiger roaming the Sino-North Korean frontier.  Photos: http://news.beelink.com.cn/20110514/2780426.shtml

High Altitude Social Isolation Tense Political Situation = Dream Job for Foreign Aid Worker in Tibet

In the best cases, one of the unheralded side benefits of being a professor involves the holding of office hours, the offering of an open door.  This morning, the open door resulted in two very interesting meetings.

My first meeting was with a very sharp ROTC officer, and ran the gamut of globe and various points of American military intervention.  To the benefit of readers of this blog focusing on Korea, the meeting resulted in me learning that we have whole batteries of anti-North Korean missile defenses already set up in Hawaii.  (Read the Chinese concerns about these batteries –”actually aimed at China” — here.)

My second meeting, with a student who is auditing my lectures on Japanese war crimes in China, led me to the following question, which is the focus of today’s post:  “Have you ever considered working for the United Nations?”

What a great question!  Why a great question?  Because it leads one to UNJobs.org.  Should you have missed it, the UN jobs website is itself a treasure trove of information about global development generally, even for those of us who have full employment.  It should be read more frequently.  I mean, wouldn’t we all benefit from a little “Training on Energy Efficiency and Passive Building Design for Cold Climate Conditions, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia“?  Doesn’t knowing about such things help to sharpen our understanding of the problems of architectural design in Mongolia, or in empty Inner Mongolian cities around which French photographers are prowling as my very keyboard clatters?

And for globally-minded graduates who can’t find global opportunities for which their are qualified, it is good to find the UNJobs.org posting entitled “Driver, Abuja, Nigeria,” a position for which one needs a Secondary school education, English fluency, a good driving record, and the ability to check the car’s oil and keep track of “vehicle logs, office directory, map of the city/country, first aid kit, [and] necessary spare parts.”  What a fantastic job!  Driving in Nigeria and keeping track of documents, yeah…

Attention unemployed college seniors: the window for this entry level UN job closes today!

Much closer to the heart and the content of this East Asia blog is the following, fascinating, job posting for Handicap International Belgium, which is seeking a Program Manager for its Tibet office.

Before you cross yourself off of the list of potential applicants or click on to some other, more relevant station on the Electric Carnival which is the Internet, you may wish to read the job description, for it reveals the difficulty for foreigners working in the Tibetan Autonomous Region in a way that is, to me at least, more interesting than a Heinrich Harrer memoir.  Aside from its (always-inspiring) requirement that the candidate be fluent in both English and French (because, really, who shouldn’t be working on their French proficiency?), one can learn a great deal about the aid environment in Tibet from the job description, which I will quote at length:

Handicap International Belgium is seeking a Program Manager for its Tibet office.

Specifics: High altitude (3600 m); Weather conditions difficult, cold in winter;
Accommodation in a hotel; Social isolation, rare entertainment and difficulty travelling out of the city (permits required); Tense political situation; Very few other expatriates living in the area

Job financed: Yes; Donor: Belgian Development Cooperation, EC, Luxemburg Cooperation

Possibility of a couple: Yes (but no possibilities to get a job for the accompanying person)
Possibility of children: Yes (but no access to an international school which makes schooling difficult; no local initiative for foreign children schooling)

Context: The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) remains one of the latest developed areas in China. Given the natural and socio-economic level of the region, the situation of disabled persons in general and children in particular remains precarious. Very few services or specialized facilities for people with disabilities are available in the field of rehabilitation and the needs remain tremendous in terms of detection and diagnosis, special care, physical rehabilitation, technical aids, integrated education, vocational training, information, counseling, awareness and social integration.

Description of the projects:  The recent “Second China national sample survey on disability” estimates that more than 75 percent of people with disabilities in the country are living in rural areas where they often represent the most vulnerable group with difficult access to basic health care, rehabilitation and education. Although the Government has set up very concrete and ambitious objectives for the coming years to improve the situation, measures taken by the China Disabled Persons’ Federation and its branches at provincial level do not reach yet people living in rural areas. In these areas, the level of knowledge of the local authorities and the general public on disability is still extremely limited and disability management skills are almost inexistent. In this context, Handicap International has initiated disability programs in 5 provinces/regions of the country (Guangxi, Tibet, Qinghai, Yunnan and Sichuan).

Handicap International has been operating in the TAR since 2001, in cooperation with its partner, the Tibet Disabled Persons Federation (TDPF) and its branches at prefecture levels. 7 different projects have been implemented since then:

  • Support in the set up and management of orthopedic workshops in Lhasa and Chamdo cities, provision of on-site orthopedic services in Shigatse prefecture, and delivering physiotherapy services at the 3 centers;
  • Community-based rehabilitation and inclusive development for persons with disabilities in Lhasa Urban District, 2 rural counties of Lhasa municipality, namely Medrogongka and Qushui; Shigatse and Chamdo;
  • Support to the set up and capacity building of the Disabled Persons Associations (Deaf, Blind and Physical).
  • Delivery of Vocational Trainings, internships and job placements of PWD from TAR. This project has been extended with a livelihood project (employment and grants for PWD).
  • Inclusive Education for children with disabilities in mainstream schools and kindergartens in Lhasa and Shigatse prefectures;
  • Social Protection and Security for persons with disabilities in health, education and employment in TAR;
  • Mother and Child Health prevention project in Lhasa (end on Dec 2010).

Dalai Lama, Goal in the Distance -- photo by Heinrich Harrer

Catching Up on French Reports from China

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.  

Archival Scraps — Lhasa, October 2010

A fragment of an unfinished op-ed I wrote in the Tibet Autonomous Region last fall:

As October advances, leaves scatter into Lhasa streets full of pilgrims weaving through the occasional knot of Han Chinese and foreign tourists.  According to today’s Tibet Business Daily [西藏商报] , since the National Day holiday started on October 1, the Tibet Autonomous Region [TAR/西藏自治区 ] welcomed 343,770 tourists, a large influx given the region’s relatively sparse population.  The figure, even if it is inflated (as Tibetan friends will assert), represents a 27.5% increase over last year’s official tourist figures from the same fall peak tourism week.  Hotels are going up all over the city, and by next year, a Shangri-La will redefine Lhasa’s luxury market.

(The kindred hotel, the Shangri-La in Chengdu, fills a segment of the riverine skyline outside of my apartment in Sichuan.  The hotel is downright sumptuous to walk through, inducing a kind of pleasurable guilt, sort of like listening to Debussy.)

What Tibetans think about the influx of tourists is a mixed bag.  Does the fact that tourists spent 1.3 million yuan in Tibet this past week help a bit?  Some will complain that Chinese are doing business illegally in Tibet, failing to register their cars and pay tax.  Today’s Lhasa Evening News [拉萨晚报] reports that eleven people were arrested in the past week for failing to register, and for having such illegal items as fake train tickets to Beijing and business cards.

(One never has such a strong sense of the power of the small-scale printing industry as in Tibet; all the photocopiers are in the hands of Han businesspeople and even Tibetan hotels need to take several hours to make photocopies because they first need a Han to sign off on the action.)

In the Dico’s on the edge of the Barkor (the traditional center of the city) and one of the few fast food restaurants, Chinese tourists talk in exaggerated drama about the relative merits of buying real estate in Hangzhou versus that of Shanghai.  Tibetan beggars walk in and are shooed away by the Tibetan employees clad in their Dico’s uniforms; the Muslim restaurant downstairs, by contrast, lets the beggars in freely, figuring that proximity to holy site should inure everyone to the practice.  At night, the Tibetan policemen retire into big white busses, smoking and playing with their cell phones, while posts throughout the darkening city remain manned by People’s Liberation Army troops, Han Chinese from Sichuan, cradling their machine guns.

Since October 3, the public security presence in Lhasa has been less prevalent in the area around the Jokhang Temple, the traditional Barkhor area where protests against Chinese governance have tended to break out.  An immense police station hides diagonally from the exit to the Johkang (newer and larger police stations are being built directly next to large monasteries, such as at Gyandan about an hour from Lhasa), but recently the PLA opened up a little “tea water and newspaper reading area” under the shade at the edge of the square, and a handful of off-duty PLA enjoy some shopping on a day off.

The contrast with spring 2008 was evident, but the scars of March and April of that year are still relatively fresh.  In March 2008, Lhasa exploded into violence, revealing deep ethnic and cultural rifts between Tibetans and the central government in Beijing.  The riots – and the Dalai Lama’s subsequent tour to Seattle – embarrassed China on the international stage and brought home once again the need for reforms on the plateau.   Since 2008, the CCP has made changes, but along the lines of the following formula: Emphasize economic development, increase the number of domestic tourists, reorganize nomads into villages, heighten the political repression, and glaze everything over with gaudy celebrations of an “ethnic unity” which is inevitably led by the Han majority.

The Chinese Communist Party continues to build in strength and consolidate state power in Tibet.  Education is a kind of battlefield of sorts; but is a new class of pro-Chinese Tibetans emerging to undermine the exile movement?

Perhaps this will all work.  A new railroad to Shigatze.  On the road to India, a huge PLA convoy comes from Chengdu.  Tibet is always useful for a reason other than itself.

The Dalai Lama dons mock horns for German photographers unknown, 2008

Citations:
Robert Barnett, « Melvyn C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet. Volume 2: The Calm before the Storm, 1951-1955. », China perpectives [Online] , 2009/3.

Susette Cooke, « Merging Tibetan Culture into the Chinese Economic Fast Lane », China perpectives [Online] , 50 | november- december 2003 .