Excellent Resource: DPRK TV on YouTube

I have had the signal pleasure of running across a few YouTube snippets from Korean Central Television before on that Zeitgeist-friendly medium of YouTube, but the site maintained by this particular North Korea fan in Mexico (or so it appears) is particularly rich and frequently updated.

Here is the 5-minute coverage of Wen Jiabao’s welcome at the Pyongyang airport:

 The above film really does much better justice than photographic sources of how North Koreans are encouraged to perceive the visit.  Note the dwelling, at length, of the major (or whatever his rank may be) huffing out his welcome at Wen Jiabao as the military sword quivers at his side.  For a Chinese audience used to associated sabers with Japanese imperialism (and a quick perusal through commemorative magazine covers from summer 2005 ought to do the trick), this is potentially intimidating stuff.  Which is why the KCNA editors left it in, and Xinhua/CCTV leaves it out.

Similarly, the cuts of the national anthems are interesting, if predictable.  The wind band plays the opening salvo of the PRC national anthem (“March of the Volunteers,” the Nie Er War of Resistance original) which is clipped immedately into the DPRK national anthem and the five-pointed star set in red.  No sight of the Chinese flag, symbol of the old Minsaengdan incident!

Here, by contrast, is how CCTV depicted Wen Jiabao’s trip to the Martyr’s Cemetary outside of Pyongyang, which I covered more extensively here  (in a link endorsed by Danwei.org) and here:

[Video forthcoming....trouve trouve trouve]

And, since it’s YouTube, I begin to wonder how this particular attack of North Korean soccer goalies against international referees while Chinese fans scream, win, and wave their red flags at the wailing DPRK defense played out at the time among Chinese newspaper readers and netizens.  Life is always so calm on that blue No. 2 subway from Guloudajie to Chaoyang (my summer morning bureaucratic and beautiful commute) that it’s hard to imagine someone snorting aloud at the news, but I wouldn’t put it past the Chinese press to emphasize.  Wait a minute — depicting North Koreans as wild and out of control?   I thought that was something of which only “Western media” was capable!     

Finally, here, via  is a lovely bit of song from the DPRK, also carried via that prolific Mexican fan of Juche: 

Call me easily manipulated, but you just can’t argue with the orchestration, the melody, or the voice.  This is lovely stuff which might even surpass Rimsky-Korsakov, the original orchestrator-genius (after the Frenchman Hector Berlioz, that is) whose work trickled down into socialist manuals.  Everyone always, always rips on the North Koreans for being all extra Soviet, when in some ways they are more deeply connected in their arts and literature to the Russian romantic tradition, not to mention the pop trends of Japan in the late 1970s. 

Finally, mentioning this here, although it could just as well arrive in a Sino-Japanese post, as the man straddles the line of nationality:  Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa [小澤征爾], born in Manchuria in the 1930s and one of the great musicians of our time, has been diagnosed with cancer and is cancelling all performances for the next six months.  Time to mount up some intense positive thoughts/prayers for this man and, if you can, amp up your own musical performances.  The world is going to lose a bit of expressiveness and intensity for a spell, so let’s connect to cleave the deficit and hurdle the divides. 

Seiji Ozawa, via Xinhua -- click image for story

Gratuitous Citations, or, “How Non-Interactive yet potentially Toxically (or intoxicating in a lockbox) Erudite Print Scholarship with Zero Exciting Hyperlinks Finds its way onto the S.V. Blog”: 

If you desire analysis of a more academic vintage of the musical competition and provenance of the respective national anthems within the matrix of der Aufbau des Sozialismus [era of building socialism: 1945-1950], see :

Adam Cathcart, “Song of Youth: North Korean Music from Liberation to War,” North Korean Review Vol. 4, No. 1 (Fall 2008), 93-104.

Adam Cathcart, “Japanese Devils and American Wolves: Chinese Communist Songs from the War of Liberation and the Korean War,” forthcoming in Popular Music and Society, Vol. 33, no. 2 (May 2010).

North Korean “Dream of Red Chamber”: Chinese Netizens Comment / 北朝鲜领导做梦的红楼

While the Anglophone media is predictably aflutter with speculation over the meaning of Envoy Bosworth’s Pyongyang visit, Sino-North Korean diplomacy continues apace.

One of the more interesting threads of late is, to my mind, the cultural turn.  North Korea is using cultural diplomacy in an effort to reinforce to the Chinese that the traditional fundament of their alliance remains strong in spite of nuclear intransigence, and that North Koreans maintain a genuine respect for, and interest in, Chinese culture.

Last week we had a Korean People’s Army cultural troupe doing the rounds in Shenyang and Beijing while the Beijing vice-mayor — keeping in mind that there are probably six people with this title, as vice-chairmen tend to proliferate in the PRC — was in Pyongyang for talks.

And the crown jewel of this cultural offensive toward the PRC from Pyongyang has been the staging as an opera of “Dream of the Red Chamber”  a canonical Chinese novel of an upper-class Qing dynasty clan set in Beijing.  North Korea took great pains to get this done for Wen Jiabao’s visit, and it seemed calculated to go beyond Wen and reach the Chinese audience in the midst of its own boom of interest in Qing-era culture.  This was “the Chinese wave” minus the Confucius Institutes!

Now that the Americans are in town, the Huanqiu Shibao reports, the regime in Pyongyang is amping up Chinese culture further by pledging to make a movie production of “Dream of the Red Chamber.

Sea of Blood Theater Troupe (Pyongyang) does "Dream of the Red Chamber" -- What's next, Tennessee Williams? -- via Huanqiu Shibao

Based upon Chinese internet reaction, it isn’t going quite as intended.

Among the netizen comments on the story, roughly translated, are:

“[North Koreans are ] a race/nationality unable to progress — 一个不思进取的民族”

“Cao Xueqin [the author of "Dream of the Red Chamber," ancestrally from Liaoyang on the old Koguryo frontier] will also be claimed as a Korean —  曹雪芹很快也会成为高丽人的”

["I am also afraid about this!" chimes in another.]

“For the millionth time, you cannot say the ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ belongs to them — 千万不要说红楼梦也是他们的啊”

“Truly a bunch of idiots — s b真多”

“Who cares? North Korea is already going down — 无所谓啦,朝鲜再这样下去就完了”

“The clothes don’t look bad, but the actors are ugly — 衣服不错,就是人不怎么好看啊”

“Don’t watch this useless stuff!  North Korea will never truly sympathize with China.  When it serves their purpose, they call China ‘grandfather,’ when they don’t need to use us, they bite at China’s feet.  Don’t replay the old story of the farmer and the snake! [!!!]  — 别看那些没用的,朝鲜永远都不应该值得中国同情。用的时候中国是他的爹,不用的时候,把中国踩在脚下,农夫和蛇的故事不能再上演了!!!!”

And in the middle of all of this, right after a few overheated comments that got deleted, is a bit of total farce:

“Long live Sino-North Korean friendship! — 中朝友谊万岁!”

If you think Kim Jong-il doesn’t take opera seriously as a tool of statecraft, ask yourself why he invited the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang to play Wagner, or why Jang Song-thaek emerged from his purge at an opera with the Dear Leader, or why Russian maestros have more up-to-date intelligence on Kim Jong Il’s health than Bill Clinton, or why children learn Sea of Blood in all its forms.

Or you could just run a word search “opera” on Michael Madden’s excellent North Korea Leadership Watch blog and see what you net.

And now the day is upon us, light from the East! and the Valkyries are off.

Chinese Moves in Pyongyang: Prepare Ye the Way

As U.S. Envoy Stephen Bosworth touches down in Pyongyang, what is the up-to-date state of relations between North Korea and its ostensible Chinese ally?

The Nov. 30 revaluation of the North Korean currency by Pyongyang appeared to shock the Chinese government and subsequently elicited disapproval in the Chinese news media. Then, apparently not taking the hint, North Korea abruptly announced it was cutting off tourism from China.   (There are still a few tour groups milling around inside North Korea until December 10, but Xinhua considerately let us know they would be just fine and should not in any way be considered economic hostages.)

Of course shock waves  continue to reverberate throughout North Korean society from the currency restructuring; depending on the source, North Korea is either in total revolutionary ferment, or the Workers’ Party is handling things in stride while further alienating their population.  According to this eagerly-awaited Good Friends report from inside North Korea, the regime seems to be fully in control, and appeared to anticipate trouble with public reception of the move.  In fact, the regime cut off the telephones in Pyongyang preemptively:

On November 30, at around 9 am, prior to the announcement of currency exchange measures, the Central Telephone Bureau completely blocked all automatic process in their branches in all areas of Pyongyang City. This action was to prevent “the leak of any secret regarding currency exchange and (causing) exchange of conversation regarding the national sovereignty” through telephones.

Perhaps I’m overreading, but I also read that last sentence as “Don’t tell the Chinese ambassador.”  North Korea has a well-documented habit of springing spontaneous “gifts” upon China, well, like the Korean War, for instance, or the capture of the U.S.S. Pueblo in 1968.

So what in fact was the dapper PRC Ambassador in Pyongyang, Liu Xiaoming, doing in this chaotic milieu?  What was China up to in anticipation of Stephen Bosworth’s visit from Washington, via Seoul?  It seems pretty obvious that China would give its eyeteeth to see a Bosworthian breakthrough and get the DPRK back into the structure of the Six Party Talks [六方会谈].

One indicator exists in a visit of a Chinese delegate that seems to have gone under the radar in all but the diplomatic circles: Chen Zhili to Pyongyang on November 30 for a five day “friendship visit.”  KCNA reported on the conclusion to her visit in its typically stilted way:

Vice-Chairwoman of CNPC on Sino-DPRK Friendship

Pyongyang, December 6 (KCNA) — The year of Sino-DPRK friendship will always remain recorded in the history, said Chen Zhili, vice-chairwoman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress, when giving impressions of her visit to the DPRK.

This year is the year of Sino-DPRK friendship as it marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the DPRK, she noted, and continued:

The traditional Sino-DPRK relations of friendship and cooperation were provided by Chairman Mao Zedong, the great leader of the Chinese people, and President Kim Il Sung, the great leader of the Korean people. Kim Il Sung was the great leader of the Korean people and a close friend of the Chinese people. The Chinese people will never forget the exploits performed by him by making a great contribution to the Chinese revolution.

The Sino-DPRK relations are growing stronger as the days go by under the deep care of the top leaders of the two countries. President Hu Jintao and General Secretary Kim Jong Il jointly declared the beginning of the year of Sino-DPRK friendship on January 1 this year. The functions held this year reconfirmed the unbreakable nature of the friendly and cooperative relations between the two parties, two countries and two peoples forged through the struggle for their common cause.

I was deeply impressed to see the drive of the strong-willed and diligent Korean people, she said, and continued:

The Korean people are dynamically waging a 100-day campaign, united close around Kim Jong Il. We are pleased with the fact that the Korean people have made great progress in the revolution and construction in the spirit of self-reliance and fortitude under the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea headed by Kim Jong Il. We sincerely hope that the fraternal Korean people will register greater success in their efforts to open the gate to a great prosperous and powerful nation in 2012, the centenary of birth of Kim Il Sung.

Only — big surprise here — that’s not quite what was reported in the Chinese news media.  Here, via the National People’s Congress Chinese website and People’s Daily, and following some bromides from Kim Yong-nam, is what she said.  I think it’s interesting for the subtle clues:

陈至立表示,中朝传统友谊是两国老一辈领导人亲手缔造和培育的,经受了国际风云变幻的考验。在两国领导人直接关心和双方共同努力下,中朝关系保持良好发展 势头,今年友好年活动取得了圆满成功。中方愿同朝方一道,继承和发扬友好传统,推动中朝关系不断向前发展,更好地造福两国人民。中国全国人大愿同朝鲜最高 人民会议进一步加强友好交流与合作,为两国关系发展不断注入新的活力。

Chen Zhili at memorial in Pyongyang for Chinese People's Volunteer troops / Korean War -- via National People's Congress website

More sources on Sino-North Korean ties this week:

Chen Zhili’s November 30 dialogue with Chae Thae-bok [최태복/崔泰福 ], himself the head of the Supreme People’s Assembly ;

Notes on cultural relations: PLA generals attend KPA arts troupe shows in Pyongyang [via PRC Embassy in Pyongyang]; and PLA-KPA cultural cooperation in Shenyang [via KCNA;

Meetings with Beijing’s vice-mayor [via PRC Embassy in Pyongyang];

Useful Resource:

DPRK online translation handbook — A wonderful if incomplete feature for people such as myself for whom hanja will always reign supreme over hangul, no matter the attractions of the latter.

[It's a unique day over here, so I anticipate doing a bit more translation of the Chen Zhili stuff in light of making good on my rather promising title; the idea being that of a US-China partnership at this moment, embarking on a 3-Kingdoms style campaign to persuade the North to mend its ways.  Futile?   Perhaps.  Interesting?  Undoubtedly.]

Jack Lang Speaks Out on his Pyongyang Voyage

Via the always-interesting-if-not-completely-comprehensible Association for French-North Korean Friendship blog, a forty-minute interview with Jack Lang is now available on the subject of his trip to Korea.  His French is pretty Parisian standard, but I’m at a point in my own learning curve where I think I’ll just make it available to you all and dig out what I can, such as Lang’s admission that he got zero concrete concessions on the subject of human rights with the North Koreans.

The link to the interview is here; a few helpful links are below taken from the Friendship Association’s page:

De retour à Paris après sa mission de cinq jours en République populaire démocratique de Corée (RPDC, Corée du Nord), Jack Lang a accordé, le dimanche 15 novembre, un entretien à Radio France Internationale, TV5 Monde et Le Monde.

Répondant aux questions de Bruno Daroux (RFI), Xavier Lambrechts (TV5 Monde) et Nathalie Nougayrède (Le Monde), l’envoyé spécial du Président Sarkozy pour la Corée du Nord aborde, entre autres points : la déclaration solennelle des Nord-Coréens qui lui ont affirmé ne pas procéder à la prolifération d’armes de destruction massive ; la perspective d’un règlement global de la question nucléaire nord-coréenne, de la paix et de la sécurité en Asie du Nord-Est, auquel la France pourrait contribuer ; le travail en Corée des ONG françaises qu’il conviendrait de soutenir davantage.

Si la seconde partie de cet entretien ne concerne la Corée du Nord qu’au début, ce que Jack Lang dit ensuite sur l’embargo imposé à Cuba peut très bien s’appliquer à la Corée.

Par ailleurs, Jack Lang évite de répondre aux questions des journalistes sur “la nature du régime nord-coréen”, mettant en avant son rôle d’envoyé spécial, sans chercher à se poser en juge.


Pyongyang to Honored Chinese Guests: Thanks for Leaving!

It’s a fairly unusual day at the Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang when they have to emphasize that a large delegation of Chinese leaders are leaving the country.

Pyongyang, November 26 (KCNA) — Col. General Liang Guanglie, minister of National Defense who doubles as a state councilor of the People’s Republic of China, flew back home Thursday.
Leaving with him were Col. General Huang Xianzhong, political commissar of the Shenyang Military Area of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Lieu. General Feng Zhaoju, deputy commander of the Jinan Military Area, Vice Admiral Xu Hongmeng, deputy commander of the Nanjing Military Area and commander of the East Sea Fleet of the Navy, Lieu. General Jiang Jianzeng, deputy commander of the Nanjing Military Area and commander of the Air Force of the area, Maj. General Chai Shaoliang, organizational director of the General Political Department of the CPLA, Maj. General Wang Jin, vice-director of the Operation Department of the General Staff, Maj. General Jia Xiaoning, deputy director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Ministry of National Defense, and other suite members.

Do you suppose they’re worried about rumors that Chinese are taking over the place?

The fact that KCNA was so quick on the draw with this news — “they’re leaving! seriously!” — and that North Korean propaganda releases are usually about two days behind Xinhua and the press releases of the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang (which as yet has said nothing about the departure of the Defense Minister from the capitol) indicates perhaps a bit of North Korean nervousness.

Or maybe I’ve just been reading a bit too much of The Book of Corrections and am wrong to imagine that the appearance of Chinese military command supremacy over Korean troops rubs North Korean observers the wrong way, kind of like a hand wrapped in duct tape moving up a cat’s spine.

Screams at South Korea about sadaejuui, or “flunkeyism,” can be quickly turned against the North Koreans and the traditional target of “submission to the great,” China. Anti-Chinese sentiment in North Korea is a very, very real phenomenon, ranging from fear of absorption by Chinese companies to contempt for Chinese disorder. Mix  all this in with nervousness over the degree of Chinese influence in the successor generation, and you’ve got some combustible themes in the North Korean body politic.

At least the relevant folks have had some relevant conversations about securing the border, although these meetings didn’t seem to get much press in North Korea:

9月22日,中国人民解放军副总参谋长马晓天上将(右)在北京会见由朝鲜人民武装力量部副部长朴在京大将率领的朝鲜军事代表团一行。 中新社发 富田 摄 -- via Huanqiu Shibao

Verdant Parks and Skimpy Harvests from North Korea

Yesterday, Xinhua graciously carried a photogallery of autumn scenery in Pyongyang.  If this counts as propaganda, call me aware of my own complicity; but also be content just to enjoy the pictures for once:

Pyongyang, October 31, 2009 -- via Xinhua/KCNA -- click image for link to gallery

Of course, Xinhua follows up these exquisite gems with unadorned accounts of Kim Jong-il’s visit to a chicken farm in restive North Pyong’an province (are you even aware, much less concerned, about those weird leaflets that turned up in that province, Dear Leader?) and the DPRK’s demand for direct negotiations with the U.S.

As nice as life is in Pyongyang, the North Koreans are undoubtedly playing for grain again.  It’s a rotten harvest in the breadbasket of Hwanghae and the always-precarious North Hamgyong province.  (Testimonials to the Good Friends Buddhist organization portend “the worst harvest in 80 years,” no small matter considering the massive traumas inflicted by the long famine of the late 1990s.) If no grain payoff appears in Pyongyang for sitting down with the Americans, we may have more of the same: restive officers making off with what they can, while the state flails out with ancient techniques of repression.

But for an afternoon, at least, something resembling normalcy, even beauty, was experienced along the banks of the Taedong River.  Pyongyang has been a beautiful city for centuries, and it isn’t about to stop now.

Call it the calm before the storm.

Creepy Picture of the Week

I’m tempted to start my own version of “Kim Jong Il Death Watch,” but that would ignore this man’s proven staying qualities.  Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times) relays a report from Pyongyang, where Kim Jong Il reportedly visited two enterprises yesterday. [Another photo from later in the day, in which Kim Jong Il looks absolutely ghastly, is here.]

Kim Jong Il at Dadonggang Enterprises, Pyongyang, 29 Sept. 2009, via Xinhua/KCNA

Kim Jong Il at Taedonggang Enterprises, Pyongyang, 29 Sept. 2009, via Xinhua/KCNA

As a Pyongyang meeting between Kim and China’s No. 2 leader Wen Jiabao is in the cards for October 4-6, I suppose that China’s carrying this news goes slightly beyond typical courtesy.  After all, what knowledgeable Chinese reader (and generally, people literate in Chinese are by definition knowledgeable even if sometimes hemmed in by mainland information blockades)  would read the following sentences without spitting out their erguotou [二锅头]?

金正日表示,朝鲜劳动党以为人民创造更好的生活条件为最高目标 ( Kim Jong Il stated that the Korean Workers’ Party highest goal was to serve the people in raising living standards).

[Note: A slightly worse, but more complete, translation of Kim's remarks at the factory is available here via KCNA.]

It’s a bad joke.  North Korea’s material privations are known to all Chinese, although not with the same gut-wrenching immediacy that films like Seoul Train or CNN secret-camera specials might bring forward.

At a time when China is celebrating its progress over the past 60 years, North Korea provides a quiet example of socialism’s failings, and, though China is loath to emphasize it for fear of impinging upon diplomatic goals, an implicit testimony for the justification for China’s unique path to reform.

According to U.S. State Department spokespeople, Wen Jiabao is going to Pyongyang to lecture the North Koreans for two full days about nukes, but he’s probably more likely to ink some new commercial deals for new Party members or Shandong magnates and try not to be too offensive when talking about how rich China has become since it opened up Shenzhen.

In the meantime, Kim Jong Il will, apparently, be drinking hard liquor in Pyongyang.

Rounding up East Asian News in the French Press

French Vigilance to Beijing’s October 1 Preparations

Robert Neville reports in the French newsweekly L’Express about heightened security measures in Beijing in the leadup to the October 1 commemoration of the 60th birthday party of the PRC.  Entitled with a type of pun, the article “Beijing Tightens the Net [Pékin serre la Toile]” is, of course, accompanied by the obligatory photo of soldiers marching in lockstep [en défilé].  It describes slogans in Beijing about the government’s transcendent desire for stability, and reflects back upon Deng Xiaoping’s fateful decision in 1989 to send troops to crack down on the student demonstrators.  (On June 3, 2009, Neville published an interview with dissident Ma Jian, whose statement served as the article title: “In China, every day is June 4, 1989.”  As I have argued in these [1] other [2] essays [3] on the durability of the Tiananmen incident in the German press, Ma’s statement might indeed be said to sum up many European views of China.)

Neville then delves into Beijing’s crackdown on certain NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations / organisation non gouvernementale). On 29 July, Xu Zhiyong, the lawyer and founder of Gongmeng, an NGO which helps “victims of injustice” (e.g., petitioners), was arrested at his home.  His “fault,” Neville writes ironically, was to take on a case about melanin-contaminated milk in 2008.

Gongmeng has also defended Tibetans detained by the government and conducted inquiries into the “black prisons” in the capital.  A few days later, the authorities shut them down on the pretext of tax evasion, and revoked the law licenses of 53 of the Gongmeng lawyers.  After Xu’s arrest, his blog was shut down and his name was erased from the internet in China, including on Google.  “It is as if,” Neville concludes, “that Gongmeng itself never existed.”

Moreover, Beijing has shut down micro-blogging sites like Twitter and censored the blog of Ai Weiwei.  (Although Neville does not mention it, Gongmeng is up on Twitter but, perhaps a bit ominously, has no “tweets,” a reminder that the Beijing government doesn’t kill birds, just the ones that sing.)  At present, a propaganda department circular (tongxun) recommends that media outlets “do not approach regrettable subjects” during the celebrations (ne pas aborder les suject fâcheux pendant les fêtes).  Neville concludes his destructively compact paragraphs by asking: “Is this tightening merely conjectural?  Or does it represent a logical evolution for the CCP which seeks to reinforce its ascendency [empris]?”  A harmonious society indeed!

Neville’s article is only available on newsstands and on this friendly blog, but the L’Express website has a few other articles which are worth checking out.  On internet censorship in China, “Green Dam Youth Escort” has lots of good French links, including to the French tech site ZDNet.fr, which carries an article on Western and Japanese corporate complicity with the censorship and an eye-catching title “Porno: Google Blocks Certain Google Services.”

French Press Retrospectives on Tibet, Xinjiang, the Olympics, and Internet Censorship in China

Naturally Le Figaro and Liberation have some fantastic new articles this week as well, and I’m hoping to stew on these for a bit before posting again on the French analysis of the PRC commemoration in particular.   I’m surprised at how little press the October 1 preparations are getting in the United States, but then again, we’ve got health care legislation to crucify, cars to repair, and school loans to sign in September, so perhaps it shouldn’t be too shocking.

A June 29 L’Express article, “Uighur Dissidents Accuse Peking,” is a nice takedown of the Ribiya Khadeer issue which reminded me that the phrase “turkophone” should always be employed when discussing the still-majority ethnicity in Xinjiang. And the several hundred Danwei readers who enjoyed my earlier translation of an article from Liberation about the Chinese destruction of Kashgar might also enjoy, or prompt a translation of, Neville’s dispatches (here and here) from Kashgar in late June, 2009.

Cache-cache a Kashgar, via LExpress/Reuters

Cache-cache à Kashgar, via L'Express/Reuters

And although it’s a bit of a blast from the past, this French blog post regarding the CCP blocking YouTube from the mainland (where it is still blocked) during the March 2008 Tibetan uprising is fascinating, mainly for the extended comments section.  Some typical back and forth involved statements like this: “Boycotter les JO est la chose la plus humaine et digne a faire ! [Boycotting the Olympic Games is the most humane and dignified thing to do!]“

Which was followed by statements like this:

Ah oui ? Donnez-moi un seul exemple d’un boycott ayant radicalement changé la polique d’un régime totalitaire. Vous n’en trouverez aucun. Je ne vois aucune humanité et encore moins de dignité dans le fait de boycotter un évènement sportif sous prétexte que l’on est pas d’accord avec la politique du pays organisateur. C’est avant qu’il fallait manifesté pour que les jeux aient lieu ailleurs. Heureusement que la très grande majorité des gens sauront faire la différence et ne pénaliseront pas des sportifs qui sont par définition apolitiques, car une telle attitude est incompatible avec l’esprit des jeux tel que l’a voulu Pierre de Coubertin. La Chine s’ouvre à une économie de marché planétaire et elle besoin de ces marchés, sa politique s’adaptera petit a petit car sa survie va dépendre en grande partie. C’est l’économie de marché qui viendra à bout du régime totalitaire chinoi et non des boycotts dérisoires et improvisés. Mais Paris ne s’est pas fait en un jour et changer les mentalités chinoise est une chinoiserie qui prendra du temps et beaucoup de patience.

Oh really? Give me a single example of a boycott having radically changed the politics of a totalitarian regime.  Not one can you find!…Fortunately, a great majority of people will know how to differentiate [between the games themselves and the host state] and will not penalize sportsmen who are by definition apolitical, because such an attitude is incompatible with the spirit of the games such as desired by [Olympic founder, Frenchman, and star of many a patriotic-internationalist CCTV documentary] Pierre de Coubertin.  As China is open to a global market economy [une économie de marché planétaire!], it is in need of these markets, and its politcs will adapt little by little due largely to its need for economic survival. It is the market economy which will bring about the end of the totalitarian Chinese regime, not derisory and improvised boycotts. But Paris [e.g., Rome] was not built in a day and changing the Chinese mentality will take time and plenty of patience.

This brings back such wonderful memories of that heady spring!  So many great debates were springing up, sort of like a hundred flowers taking bloom…It’s hard to imagine a May 4th-era intellectual taking the statement seriously, but when China blocked YouTube, the world seemed to shift somehow.

John Bolton’s French Lament

And finally, at least for this afternoon, and because I know there are Koreanists out there who may be wondering when I am going to return from the Chinese “dark side” and back into the happy and shining fold of DPRK analysis, there is this precious article from L’Express about the Clinton visit to North Korea.  Apart from some gossipy French-style suspicions of factionalism (e.g. Hillary Clinton was in Africa!  Did she even approve of the mission?), there isn’t much new information.

The greatest thing about this article is, instead, its extended quotations from Mr. Rollback himself, John Bolton.  Bolton is the Fox News go-to guy on North Korea, because he was and remains so reliably opposed to any form of engagement with North Korea.  And Bolton has got great neoconservative credentials, too — Bush 43 appointed him as Ambassador to the United Nations in spite of the fact that Bolton opposes the very existence of the UN.  And I will admit that I rapidly tire of seeing his face and hearing his voice in outlets like the New York Times, especially when more informed people (like the reliably skeptical Bruce Cumings and even the reliably moderate but always-in-the-know Sig Harrison) would have more intelligent things to say.

But now, thanks to L’Express and Clinton’s visit to North Korea, I have had a personal conversion, a John Bolton renaissance!  When his Anglophone splutterings are rendered into French (that is, when they translate “I think that the North Koreans completely won”), he somehow becomes a Left Bank imperialist, a reactionary pied noir, a Legion veteran who votes de Gaulle every time!    Can’t you just see him getting really animated in a little café, an espresso on a dirty table in front of him, waving smoke wreathing around his face as he gesticulates, raises his eyebrows and his mustache in mock woe and says “Je pense que la Corée du Nord est totalement gagnante” in a deep Calais accent?

In my perfect world, Bolton shows up from Paris on Fox next week to tear down the UN and bilateral talks with the North Koreans.  Let’s hope Bill O’Reilly switches into Francophone territory (and drags us all back to the best debates of the 1950s) by serving up a fat softball where Bolton can denounce Sartre’s turnabout on the Algerian War.

Several French performers dressed up as swordsmen pose for a group photo in the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, Oct. 10, 2004. (Xinhua Photo) -- click photo for more cross-cultural fechten

French "musketeers" at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, Oct. 10, 2004. (via Xinhua) -- click photo for more cross-cultural fechten

Windows on the Monolith

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the unseemingly and immense Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang has, finally, been adorned with windows:

Here it is

Before and After

All hail the 150-day battle!  If it can finish the business that all started with the disastrous investments for the 1989 Youth Games, someone should be very pleased.

However, the Herald reports that only one side of the building has thus far been completed, leaving it open to doubt if it will take another twenty years to shield the remaining two sides of this eyesore.

One of the most poingant comments on the building comes in the form of an anecdote from a North Korean cadre, reported in the little-noticed Good Friends report of September 3:

Pyungyang News – Ryukyung Hotel or Ryukyung Tower?

One day in July, at around 5 am, the Pyung-Kang (Pyungyang – Kangye) train slowly approached the main terminal in Pyungyang, cutting through thick fog. After a big stretch to awaken my muscle, I collected my luggage and stepped out of the Sleeper (Hard) train. It was a homecoming for me after a year. Last year I worked on the design, construction and review process of hydroelectric power plants in the northern area and went to various hydroelectric power plant construction sites located in the provinces of Jagang, Ryanggang, and North Hamgyong Province, for about a year. My return to Pyungyang was due to personnel rotation. At the platform a staff from our department was waiting to welcome me.

After exchanging pleasantries, the staff said, “Comrade Deputy Director, you’ve worked really hard. How about going home today to get some rest and do the reporting to the Party Committee tomorrow? I’ve got the car waiting and can take you home.”

I responded with a smile. “It’s 150-Day Battle period now. If I went home, wouldn’t you guys criticize me at the Party Activities time? Let’s go to the Bureau quickly. Going home is not important.”

The car was a Whistle. I asked what had happened because when I was here it was a Nissan.

“What happened to Nissan? Why was the car replaced?”
“Nissan was turned in already. As the import of Japan-made automobiles was prohibited, (we received) a Whistle manufactured by the Pyunghwa Automobile Company.” he said. He then added, somewhat awkwardly, “It has run 8,000 kilometers and it’s all right. The Whistles are not inferior in terms of quality to Western cars.”

When we arrived at Sinseol Bridge over Botong River, the gigantic Ryukyung Hotel appeared before my eyes. Up until a year ago, Ryukyung Hotel looked gawky, but now glasses were installed and the crane at the top of the building was gone. It had been completely upgraded.

Being excited by the good-looking exterior, I asked: “If the exterior was finished like this, the interior work must have been done over 80 percent. This is a real miracle. How did they complete it so quickly?”

The staff said: “Oh, you don’t know what happened. The design has changed. In particular, the interior has been completely restyled. It’s no longer the original design for Ryukyung Hotel.”
In its original blue print, the Ryukyung Hotel had over 5,000 rooms, and about 47 elevators. I was curious how it had changed.

The staff immediately declared, “We shouldn’t get involved in it.” However, he added, “From now on we don’t know whether we should call it Ryukyung Hotel or Ryukyung Tower.” After I asked him a further explanation, he said: “According to the instruction from the Central Party, Mt. Bakdu Architect Research staff collaborated with the Italians to change the design. They completed several floors up from the ground and the viewing area at the top floor, and got rid of all the rooms in between, leaving only the elevators. It’s more like a tower than a hotel.”

I asked him what happened to the five thousand rooms and he said, “They wrapped the outside with glasses to make it look good, and the rooms in between became useless.” I was so flabbergasted, and unconsciously raised my voice: “How can they do this? It’s like mewing with the eyes covered (an expression similar to putting one’s head into the sand -translator.) How could you call this Ryukyung Hotel? We bragged this would be the largest hotel in the world, but if there are only several rooms in the lower floors and the top floor available, what’s there to boast about? How are we going to explain it to our future generation?”

The immediate response was: “Comrade Deputy Director, it was decided by the Central Party based on Chairman Kim Jong-Il’s command. Is it all right for you to criticize it?”

“Now that you are saying Chairman Kim commanded, I have nothing further to say. But don’t you guys have common sense? How could you do this?” I spilled out all my concerns. How come Ryukyung Hotel, symbol of the “Strong and Prosperous Nation” in Year 2012, has turned into a grotesque tower? No matter how insufficient money is, what a shame! We can no longer boast about the Ruykyung Hotel in the future.

Perhaps this man could have kept up with the construction of the hotel if he had been able to follow progress via the Internet, as the Ryugyong Hotels has its own dynamic website.