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:



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

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:




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:


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:


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:

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:

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.)

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.

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:

And speaking of Kim….

Personal Politics

12. Kim Jong Il has regained weight, his swagger, and high heels

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 :

14. Kim Jong Il proceeded to meet with Dai Bingguo in little Mudanjiang city. (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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:   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,



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

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?

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.

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.

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:


“[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:

However, more news has emerged about a 1999 Tumen river body snatching of a South Korean agent by North Koreans:

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:

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:

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:

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  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 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

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 .

Japanese-Inflected Utopias and the Search for a Boat: Supporting Research Threads

Black Ships? Cesar Haradas Protei Protype in Rotterdamm

Pimping products isn’t the style of Sinologistical Violoncellist, or what the Brooklyn literary blog Moby Lives calls “a single scholar’s East Asia Journal,” but when a product is tied to Japan in a fashion, veers toward a utopian vision, evokes Kenzo Tange’s “Marine City (1960)” and has yet to exist, then we have a situation worthy of some consideration.

The project under view is Cesar Harada’s “Protei,” a fleet of oil-gathering robots currently under development.  Harada, should you have missed his rise, is the son of the famous sculptor Tetsuo Harada (designer of the Tazawako Dam in Akita, not so far from the recent tsunami), was educated in Paris, and is currently based in New Orleans, having walked away from some corporate influences in his MIT lab.  Apparently the fact that BP seems to be funding (and thereby putting parameters around) most of the research in the Gulf got on his nerves.

A good introduction to the Protei project was published yesterday on the Good Environment blog.

If this person or this project interests you in the slightest, I would urge you check out this TED website, which has all the necessary links.  Donating even ten bucks or ten euros or ten RMB to Protei would help Harada and his team to “get into the black” (if you will pardon the carbonic expression) in the next four days, which is necessary for the project to move forward.

By way of disclosure, I don’t donate myself to many causes besides the World Food Program for North Korea, but this project is one that I backed on Kickstarter, which is a cool and inclusive way to fund and crowdsource small projects which can then become big.

Unlike Kevin Costner’s similar project (and most profit-incentivised oil cleanup projects backed by the brilliant-yet-hemmed-in-by-political-pressures-and-not-yet-choice-of-the-masses-for-2016-Democratic-nominee Steven Chu), Harada’s project is explicitly a non-profit venture.  Just in case you were thinking of dumping your BP stock options for something more interesting.

As long as I’m still pimping on the utopian front (so to speak, incongruously using my North American argot in the Haus am See ["My House on the Sea"!] cafe in Berlin), don’t miss the career of one Matthew Mullane, a polyglot academic/musician/graduate student in Chicago who got me turned on to Kenzo Tange’s “Metabolist School.”   Cesar Harada’s present work, though it clearly responds to present conditions, fundamentally appears to flow out of a similar cloud of ideas and possible futures which are still worth consideration: Osaka “World Ocean Expo” of 1972 and “Marine City/City Over the Sea” of 1960 in particular.

When we’re tilting forward at such vertiginous speed into the future, it feels good to have a foot in the past, to get a push from our intellectual forefathers, the dreamers, the schemers, the planers, and the planet-embracers.  Matthew Mullane does that, and he is a thoughtful touring guitarist to boot.  A career to watch, a future to be won.

Finally, a few questions:

- Is it possible to crowdsource projects like Protei in the Chinese political and societal environment?

- Is there anyone in China like Cesar Harada working to innovate from the outside in (rather than tenured or otherwise in-some-fashion-subservient-to-the-state researchers) when it comes to cleaning up oil spills or radioactive water?

- Is it possible to set up an ad-hoc social network in China for a such a purpose, and if not, doesn’t this point to a systemic weakness in the Chinese system?

- Doesn’t China need some ocean-cleaning robots?

- Is it possible that books like Brett Walker’s amazing Toxic Archipelago could be translated into Chinese by a crowdsourced community of like minded bi- or tri-lingual people?  And that by understanding and critiquing Japanese (or American) approaches to pollution, Chinese minds might be, to misuse a phrase of today, “enlightened”?

- When do the North Koreans take their militarist utopian frenzy and turn it to their own beaches?  And when will Amanda Bradford be allowed to do her grey whale research in Hamhung?

Relevant Citations:

- Lin Zhongjie, Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement: Urban Utopias and Modern Japan, (Taylor and Francis, 2010).

建筑教育 [Architecture Education]- 黑川紀章 (1934~ )[Kawakura Kisho]

Adam Cathcart, “Essay Fragment in Long-Term Conceptual Development [Not Presently Requiring Funds But About Which Some Reading and Thinking is Being Done] About International Influence in Manchuria Which Includes a Short Section on Kenzo’s Youth in the Mainland Empire, and Seiji Ozawa in Shenyang, Among Other Things,” unpublished manuscript.

Adam Cathcart, “Environmental Catastrophe 101,” Sinologistical Violoncellist, 18 July 2010.

Adam Cathcart, “Asia’s Ahab: North Korea, Japan, and Environmental Geopolitics in NE Asia,” Sinologistical Violoncellist, 22 November, 2009.

Commencement Bay, Tacoma, looking toward the Glass Museum from my old houseboat -- photo by Adam Cathcart


Bibliotheque Blast Out #4: United Nations Library, Geneva

With but nine minutes to go and up against a French keyboard in the UN Library and Archives in Geneva, Switzerland, a few thoughts:

- Yosuke Matsuoka is a tough guy even though it took Japan (and Germany) another two years to completely withdraw from League of Nations (reams of film footage here); at the same time it’s possible that Matsuoka got schooled by his trilingual Chinese counterpart at the League of Nation’s Manchukuo debates.  Staring at some of the Lytton Commission reports, it becomes so clear how Dalian (and secondarily Korea, moving into Dandong) was an anchor for Japan as it moved North and into Manchuria in 1931, but also how this was not, as is often asserted, totally ignored by the world community.  China’s internationalization began long before 1931, and we, least of all those of us who sometimes call Seattle’s Japantown-which-post-internment-became-Chinatown, should forget it.

- Environmental protection and public awareness of oil spills was already big in the 1930s, so what excuses do we have not to be discussing Dalian in the same breath as Fukushima?

- In terms of acres of reforestation from 2005-2010, China was by far #1; of course with my own eyes I have seen them importing timber from two of the delinquents on that list, Myanmar and North Korea.  Green Totalitarianism, here we come!

- If Kim Jong Eun really soaked up the Swiss atmosphere, it is hard to imagine him becoming a copy of his father, much less his grandfather.

- The first major anthology of translations of Liu Xiaobo’s writings just came out.  Of course, they are in French, confirming that the United States is better at creating military officers (an important process in which I myself participate) than Chinese human rights translators.

- Sarkozy was bathing in relevance and decisiveness with the Libyan episode but one third of all workers (the old reliable socialist voting bloc) are already committed to Ms. Le Pen of the right wing.  As the Suddeutsche Zeitung wrote: “She is young and blond and extreme-right…”  The French Sarah Palin?

- There is an immense (well, moderate by German prose standards) spread today in Suddeutsche Zeitung on the subject of “The Biggest Museum in the World,” which is apparently the National Museum in Beijing.  There is a big, big Enlightenment painting exhibition there from three big German museums.

Finally, I would add that there is something just a bit magical about this place.  I would recommend the experience to any human: arrive in Geneva, marvel at its polyglot everything while the newspapers prevaricate against minarets, walk past the Red Cross as if you too were Tessa Morris-Suzuki, go to the archives (prearranged appointments are preferred, but a university ID along with a passport will do), and stand in a massive sunbeam reflecting off of the sandstone, a lake filling up your mind just as surely as Korea remains divided and the texts are there in your hands to prove it.

Radiation Reported in China’s Heilongjiang Province

Thus reports China Daily, stating that radiation has been found in the water in Fuyuan county [抚远县], which is China’s easternmost point in the northeastern most province, very close to the Russian frontier.

On March 22, the PRC Environmental Protection Agency [环境保护部/Huanjing baohu bu ] had reported no evidence of Fukushima radiation in Heilongjiang province.

Checking radiation in the late March snows of Heilongjiang, courtesy China's EPA

The irony is that Fuyuan was supposed to have been the site of a major wind power project (sponsored by this Austrian company) which is currently on hold for lack of investment.

According to the PRC Environmental Ministry (via Huanqiu Shibao), radiation levels in the area are within acceptable limits and no precautions need be taken, at least not yet.  Getting far more attention in China — certainly driven by the dense urban populations there, as opposed to sparse and peripheral northeastern Dongbei — are these daily radiation readings in Zhejiang and Shanghai.

China’s EPA website has a fair amount of information about the situation in and around Japan.   (The page crashed the first two times I tried to load it, indicating that, just maybe, a few million Chinese surfers are trying to look at the same thing.)  As for the Fuyuan problem, the Heilongjiang branch of the Chinese EPA seems to be counseling calm while exemplifying provincial powerlessness without central stimulation; the main feature on its page is of an employee banging on some drums and singing patriotic songs. The site has an impressive set of links, but none of them appears to be about Fuyuan county’s current problem.  Does this strike anyone else as a strategic weakness in the PRC’s ability to mobilize and inform?  So what if the provincial EPA has investigating pollution in the Songhua River?  This is old news!

Mudanjiang, another small eastern city in Heilongjiang, has some commercial and tourism ties with North Korea.  Do you suppose that it’s only a matter of time before  rumors are floating into North Korea about radiation moving west?  The North Korean media has been reporting on the nuclear crisis in Japan in sporadic but unmistakable terms.  Who cares if North Korea is using environmental issues as an excuse to talk?  Just start talking, people!

A few final points:

If you need a Chinese-language fix of the latest television reports about Japan, start with this CCTV report on the basic layout of Japan’s nuclear plants.

If you’re an Anglophone (or an environmentally-inclined Anglophile) looking for a fantastic, mind-altering, and all-too-relevant book to read, try Brett Walker’s new Toxic Archipelago, published in Seattle at the University of Washington Press.  And keep your eyes on this space for more analysis of Walker’s paradigm-busting monograph, because it’s worth all of our time.

This morning I had a student come into my office and ask to write a paper about the Sino-Japanese textbook controversy and I told her to forget it.  Maybe both China and Japan, eyes on the widening Geiger counter, can do the same.

Artificial Intelligence Poetry {I}

In his essay “The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis,” mathematician and philosopher David J. Chalmers asks the question “What happens when machines become more intelligent than humans?”

Recognizing the limitations of the human organism and the preeminence of physical death, Chalmers’ article goes on to illustrate a likely future in which intelligent machines  will absorb our individual existent writings as part of a larger process of reconstituting our individual intelligences.  Should a machine want to reconstitute a human organism from my DNA — better still my preserved and undamaged brain — it could use my writings to inform the actions and outlook of an organism which would, to the extent possible,  replicate my adult person in all ways, particularly as regards behavioral tendencies, style of speech, skills, knowledge set, memories, etc.

(Since its takeoff in 1993 thanks to this piece by UCSD mathematician Victor Vinge, singularity theory seems to be discussed most clearly and succinctly by Elizer Yudkowsky.  The impetus for my own interest in the topic can be traced to this short essay on brain enhancement and singularity which appeared on a nimble and quite possibly ephemeral Chinese blog with an emphasis on design and technology.

In any event, the subsequent reading this inspired means I will no longer casually be saying “The singularity is near” because a. I don’t need to market someone else’s already-successful book and b. it all depends on your definition: What is the singularity, exactly, and what counts as near?  Is 2030 or 2035 “near”?  Perhaps the nuclear weapons, the earthquakes, or the oceans, or all three in a mighty cluster, will have done us in already?  How wise is it to ruminate on something so potentially peripheral when such staggering problems — you know, contemporary problems like climate change and political upheaval in the arc of instability west of the Levant and of course North Korean nuclear weapons, not to mention the churning struggles for stability, autonomy, and employment within the PRC — continue to demand attention?)

Back to the point: In the case that some future “Skynet“-like entity would want to create Adam Cathcart 2.0, my own writings could be of tremendous assistance to the new self, supplying him/it with a vocabulary, a range of syntactical patterns (that is, a style), a sense of humor, a set of professional opinions and inclinations, in short a prism through which to grasp the world.  Absent a total implant or upload of the old consciousness into the new mind, I also could see a scenario whereby my current self, from out of the tomb of the Internet, would even teach Adam Cathcart 2.0 an approach to the interpretation of the Bach Cello Suites, or the Saint-Saens Cello Concerto.  Our digital artifacts shall be very useful to the machine indeed.

By writing about this possible future process here, on my weblog, I accelerate the arrival of the singularity, the moment of machine consciousness.  I thus capitulate to a slow-dawning acknowledgment of dependence, for this blog, words are not merely scanned into the matrix, but in a sense are generated from within it, multiplied by the scraping up against it, requiring it — “it” being the Internet.  My originally digital text need even not be scanned or otherwise recorded or read into the matrix. My plagiarism cri de coeur notwithstanding, my text, this blog, is continually and readily remixed.  A kind of further seed for artificial intelligence is thus being created with this very entry, providing more fodder, more energy, more of the craved data for the machine to manipulate and reshape.

In this period when artificial intelligence computers and human brains interact in such a way as I do now — my biological brain interfacing with the machine, feeding it, but not absorbed within in it — we are able to coexist with the artificial intelligence computers and watch what they do with our artifacts.  Perhaps we can see to what extent we can trust the machine to honor our artifacts, our digital offerings, our thoughts and concerns.

And thus to the machine’s manipulation of my words, taken directly from WordPress’ tabulation of internet search terms which bring readers to my blog entries, prose blocs, narrative field.  The titles are part of the sequence; the only change I have made to this technological mash-up is to select these fragments from out of the whole and to bold-face the “titles”.

The result is a kind of Artificial Intelligence Poetry, a Poetry of the Remixed Algorithm.  And this result is at times disturbing, perhaps because the Internet shoulders much of man’s expression of his distress, and because the machine recognizes beauty primarily of a type macabre.  And why not jarring?  After all, one of the most likely outcomes of singularity theory is human extinction.

tsunami ”corpse pictures”  japanese

japan china war rapes

tibatan language education

finding a wife in shandong


map of vladivostok, russia

“chaoyang district” “north koreans”

portable floating stage

jonathan littell


war crimes

korean war atrocities

simone de beauvoir

north korean propaganda posters


american war crimes

che guevara photo of hand that cut



samurai woman

we may wonder if in the process of shouldering our way forward into the pixelated heat of modernity, we haven’t /japanese art


mao anying

sendai tsunami

ss officer

north korea prostitute

portland mayor declares tibet awareness day


jasmine wangfujing12

chinese mosque  red princess  владивосток карта hu jintao 乔禹智  sven hedin / im dienst des diktators  die choreaner kommen  ryugyong hotel  / interior   violoncellist   anti rightist jasmine woman samurai japanese propaganda / kim jong il  disaster modernity / dandong / japan / flame adam female japan sdf sinologistical violoncellist sidney rittenberg