Sino-French Soliloquies

Word counts don’t mean so much at the end of the day, the release of a big article manuscript into the hands of a capable editor should always be grounds for a minor celebration.   It also seems clear that in writing as in life it is good to have a little bit too much of everything — of friendship, of commitments, of food, of music, and of words.

So this morning I woke up and decided to shave — that is, to shave three thousand words off of the end of a piece I have been writing about Sino-French relations in the 1950s and to put it over there. Yes, to submit it, to rend one’s work into the thresher that is the academic journal publishing forum.  Rather than ruminate on word counts though, for fear of disturbing readers who see such statistics as meaningless (another 11,000 words under review? who cares?), I thought some further thinking about the subject and the content might be nice before the prospect of publication of manuscript turns into die ferne Geliebte, which is to say, unattainable.

On Sino-French Dynamics

Why is it that the European press – and particularly the French press – retains such a deep ambivalence toward China?  Since even before the French recognition of the PRC in 1964, China been portrayed as a dangerous violator of human rights, but also as a promised land of perfect socialism and future human development.  If we dig a bit deeper, we can see how the roots of several themes present in contemporary reportage regarding China today in the French press stem from the 1950s.  The individuals who wrote about China in the 1950s in France were an interesting bunch, and understanding their outlooks and their foundational role aids us today in understanding the multiplicity of voices within France, and can help us to trace back these strands of often cacophonous French public opinion today towards China.

One of the most famous depictions of China in France in the 1950s emerged from the studio of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.  This work strongly influenced French views of the founding of the PRC and the end of the old order, and remains an important historical source.  Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote an introduction to the publication of Cartier Bresson’s photographs in 1954, crafting a spirited defense of China as a normal country.  Sartre deconstructed the exoticization of previous images of the Chinese in France, and going on to declare, in essence, that the new China was bringing about the end of mankind’s history of poverty.

[See Sartre, preface to CB, D’une Chine a’ l’autre (Paris: Del Pire, 1954); reprinted and translated in JP Sartre, “Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism,” (Routledge, 2006), pp. 22-25.  Interestingly enough, the Sartre compilation is now promoted by the Foreign Languages Press Bookstore in Beijing. ]

That the CCP was being rendered aid by such a distinguished public figure must have come to the attention of the Party, but no documents on him or his visit are as yet available.  He became an increasingly active voice in terms of critiques of French foreign policy in the late 1950s, and the decolonization debate.  He was well disposed to discuss it.  In a short but penetrating essay that appeared as a preface to the text and was often reprinted thereafter, Sartre deconstructed the French image of China.

It seems that French intellectuals were unable to disconnect their support of the PRC, vague though it might have been, with their own desire to end or modify colonialism.  Whether it was looking at the Algeria problem or critiquing French intervention in the Suez Crisis, French leftists could look to the PRC as a bastion of reliably anti-colonial rhetoric and inspiration.  Chinese publications in French (Mao’s Works, etc.) began to trickle into French bookstores and libraries, but such Asian liberation stuff was (likely) seen as anathema by local officials in French cities.  Nevertheless consciousness was expanding in the universities of China and elsewhere.

French journalists and leftists would go to China in larger numbers in the early 1960s.  One, Jacques Jacquet-Francillon, traveled there with his wife to Beijing in 1960, meeting with Deng Yingchao and seeing a parade to welcome Kim Il Sung to the Chinese capital.  [See Jacques Jacquet-Francillon, Chine: A Huis Clos (Presses de la Cité, 1960).]

Jean Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir at a rally in Cuba with Che Guevara, et al, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Today, new sources help us to better pinpoint how the Chinese regime viewed these efforts and the role they played in furthering Sino-French relations (or, one might say more critically, dispersing a sanitized and purely positive picture of China) on multiple levels.  The holdings on PRC relations with France are, in comparison to previously published primary sources in Chinese, vast in the Chinese Foreign Ministry Archive.  (The years 1953-1964 encompass 1226 documents directly on the subject of France.)

Tibet in Sino-French Relations

One last subject I wish to examine here has to do with Tibet, a very sore spot in Sino-French relations today.  Paris mayor Bernard Delanoe, a senior Socialist Party member with aspirations to run for President himself from the left in 2012, meets almost every year with the Dalai Lama in visits that invariably bring stern condemnations (are there any other kind?) from the Chinese side.

To what extent did the French give a damn about Tibet in the 1950s?  What was Tibet consciousness like in France prior to, say, the Dalai Lama’s “Strasbourg” speech in the late 1980s?  Certainly there were few French citizens in Tibet in the early 1950s.  One document in the archives from the PRC in 1952 describes the numbers of foreigners in Tibet, indicating that there were more Swiss than any other nationality, and just a handful of French and Germans, hardly enough to constitute a core of any kind of “counter-revolutionary rebellion.”

[See PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive, Beijing, Document # 105-00233-02, 西藏和平解放后英国,法国,印度,德国人在西藏边界活动情况 [Xizang heping jiefang hou Yingguo, Faguo, Yindu, Deguo ren zai Xizang bianjie huodong qingkuang / “Situation of Activities of British, French, Indians, and German people inside the borders of Tibet after Tibet’s Peaceful Liberation”], 1952 [undated]- 31 May 1953, 8 pages.]

The Chinese were far more worried about the Indians, and remain so, when it comes to Tibet, and in the 1950s, to my knowledge, no European countries were actively aiding the Tibetan resistance movement, much less doing so with anywhere near the arms and funds flowing out of Washington into the exile movement and into Tibet itself.  Nowhere yet in my own research – tho I have yet to do a really thorough reading through of, say, Le Monde for 1951 – have I found some alarm bell of an article in the French press calling attention to imperiled Tibetan culture.  In the mid-late 1950s with France, even though the French had nothing to lose, as relations had yet to be achieved during a slight warming trend, no French Prime Minister or President stood up to denounce Chinese “repression” in Tibet.  On the other hand, it seemed, starting in 1955, French leaders were seeking to remove any obstacle they could to reaching the Chinese market.  However, it may be worth investigating further the 1959 Tibet uprising as it was reflected in the French media or among French politicians interested in China.  In other words, if Sino-French relations are going to continue to threaten to tailspin every time the Dalai Lama hits the continent, perhaps an earnest look at the origins of the Tibet problem so far as the French public is concerned might be useful.

Self-Regard and Foreign News in Today’s Chinese Press

By “today’s Chinese press,” I mean today’s (December 28th-29th). So let’s get on with it:

1. Dr. Kim will take your questions

One of the big questions we all should have as we communicate outwardly with this great medium of online technology, is: does the internet really serve as a connector and knowledge facilitator, or does its use just drive us more inward, rendering societies more nationalistic, even tribal, as a result or in spite of online globalization?

China’s relations with South Korea are a fascinating and important test case for this question. Lately South Korean and Chinese netizens have been going toe-to-toe on multiple historical issues, not least of which is the Koguryo/Great Wall stretching into Korea debate. And then there is straight-up ridiculous — yet ready made for internet controversy — stuff like this hotpot place in Taiwan that has allegedly stopped allowing South Korean patrons.

Faced with all this nonsense, what’s a Chinese government to do? Send Xi Jinping to Seoul, that’s what! And call Dr. Kim!

Dr. who?

Dr. Kim!


Huanqiu Shibao’s BBS is getting warmed up for the new decade by inviting a South Korean scholar to field netizen questions about history in Northeast Asia on January 6. Fantastic! Real-time dialogue furthers the Sino-Korean field…and Huanqiu shows that the CCP isn’t content to just let the nationalistic flame burn the candle down all the way: a bit of rationality should keep South Korea and China bound together in what are largely positive relations since 1992.

Unlike with Japan, the history issue with South Korea can be resolved or at least managed without the kind of venom whereby netizens are calling for nuclear bombs to be dropped on the offending country.

The Dr. is In -- taking questions from Chinese netizens


…but can he overtake views like this board’s assertion that “little little South Korea, only as big as China’s Hebei province — how could they ever hope to compare to China?”? Is that what we call cultural chauvinism?

2. Paper Still Drives the Conversation: French Media Papyrus Aggregator Issues

The French newsweekly Le Point carries an 80-page special on China, as rich and heavy with data as a crême brule after a Magreb-inflected feast which in turn is followed by some late-night Nutella-banana crepes. Yes, that rich.

And when confronted with such munificence, what’s a netizen to do?


Get to a scanner, that’s what!

The Huanqiu BBS carries a gangload of scans from the Le Point special, and much discussion thereafter. As anti-French as these netizens are supposed to be, folks on the board seem to be pretty grateful to be presented with this much data, in some excellent permutations.

Forget ye not the rush of self-realization that comes with the Shanghai Expo -- God, I hope Jiang Zemin makes an appearance. Do you not long for his beautiful visage as well? Come to think of it, wouldn't he have made a much more striking cover photo for Le Point? Perhaps the editors could be urged to reissue the cover, or at least to adorn the present covergirl with Jiang Zemin-style specs.

3. Racism Deserves China’s Attention

One of the rarely-discussed side benefits of China’s global rise is the credibility and fresh perspectives it can bring to discussion of race in America or in China. This bilingual story on racism against Chinese-Americans in China is one area where that conversation is continuing.

Frankly, I’m hoping to encourage or to see more Chinese engagement in America’s urban problems: let’s get netizens and real university students in Chengdu engaged with the housing crisis in Detroit, educated about the civil rights struggle in the United States, and doing service learning projects on Native American reservations. Start treating Third-World America (e.g., the parts of the U.S. that are stubbornly broken and thus the Third World tag comes to the fore) like something that needs global pressure to fix, and we might make progress. Heaven only knows there isn’t a huge groundswell from within the U.S. for Barack Obama to make fixing ghettos or improving Indian reservations signature issues of his presidency, but get a Chinese celebrity in touch with some Indian figures with clout, issue a few press releases, and see what happens…

Time for a paradigm shift, sift the parameters around and see where they fit. Jiggle the handlebars on a dirt bike, tighten what needs attention, and then speed up and over obstacles which themselves caused great uprootings. Take it up!

4. The Perils of Soft Power, or Ballad for the Perfect Ambassador

OK, so you find Dr. Kim boring, stuffy, uninteresting, lackadaisical in his approach to “edu-tainment” versus bookish attainment. His vestments are grausam, his gaze unappealing. What’s that you’re squealing? Bring on the boy bands? But how could I do so and remain true to the course? Of course! Find a boy band on the cultural diplomacy Trojan Horse!

It wouldn’t be hard, just fickle, open your browser a little and search for words like “hanjian” and “Confucius,” that would be ruthless, and scatter the marrow down over cliffs grown over like Dokdo or Weihai, trophies of naval conquest on rigid display like Admiral Yi’s rock beard in Seoul. But hirsute heroes don’t appeal, professor! We need youth at all costs, for without destruction of arterial ventricles beat senseless with hormonal agitation, how can we live, and live truly? Suffer me this, an unruly band, man with Rain moniker, not Rainman or Honegger, being his own winsome self on camera 2:

South Korean mega-star Rain, embroiled yet never ruffled, beyond doubt the "Ambassador to Shandong" -- somebody dial up Epstein for another sweet missive on soft power!

It sounded so perfect, a blending of souls: “Call Rain for the concert, the crowd’s out of control!” For provincial committees, it was all far too good: “The Korean in Shandong,” like Rabe in Nanking, would witness to some strange new venture in time, a reeling of line which would stretch cross archipelagos and peninsulas hence, an underground freeway which would put this place head and shoulders above the competition terrestrial. North Korea won’t make it easy, so call Inchon, they won’t be leery of more investments on this earth of the Yellow River. Rabelasian feasts bring us closer to peace, and sweet strains of harmonicas tumble from I-Pods hacked out of their matrix in Kaesong like Bisquick; no that’s wrong, but your song had it right all along when it said that perfection can be found in the arts.

So why not send the troubadour jangling, his costume so merry, to Shandong? This haggling for fees won’t do! Just stick a thick stack or two of R.M.B. in his envelope already bulging with won, with inflation abscond away from the land of morning dear god my stash of bills has been embalmed by a policy wash yet again — Currencies run rings around the yuan so slowly floating that we Chinese must be gloating with our ability to summon such rich entertainers.

But provincial gain for Shandong becomes pain for nation-huggers at home, watching cultural commodities snaffled up by gamers in Seoul.

Which is all to say that the main discussion of the day is occurring this way on a BBS — yea! — with the real forte of the CC Pays moyen, denizens of the bended knee, I bring you Rain, and this notion of imperial gain or humility stain:

South Korean entertainers can’t kick off the decade on Confucian turf!

Two thousand years of examinations imperial don’t give Koreans the right to smash off a few eight-legged essays ethereal in Hangul, hanja or other tongues brute. No, the right to entertain or to abstain from Rain has been gainsayed again by the commissars trained to blast debate like a shower of tomes tumbling from Yanbian libraries down to the earth of 1968 struggle. Humble? China needn’t cross any sea to prove that rough soft power wrassling brings serious hassle from netizens armed with keyboards humped over from Taibei like pearls swum up from Cheju, so you might consider minding the landmines when crossing the border: send Rain first to Pyongyang, then we can ready-order various weaponry to which we’re accustomed: just don’t truss up Confucius to your cultural ransom, oh hostage-son prince! Our heritage might otherwise be lost in your hair rinse, for though your mane is spectacular and your visage is calm, we know as netizens that your voluminous charm might prove deleterious to our imperatives cultural. We’re in touch with our ancestors just as yours met the point of Sui Yangdi’s spear: Step off from the Han frontiers! Our heartland is already in arrears to merchants from your land of the half-peninsula; Wheat-fed, our insulin dwindles, yours seems poised to grow. But just keep your tributes central, now, to Pukkyong you go.

Rechauffement: China and France Make Nice

French diplomacy in East Asia has been proceeding apace.  Last month’s visit to North Korea by special envoy Jack Lang seems to have borne fruit: Paris announced it was on track to set up a liaison office in Pyongyang for economic, cultural, and linguistic exchange as a step toward full relations with the DPRK.  Lest this step be ridiculed, it’s worth considering that the Obama administration has now announced its interest in following a similar path with North Korea.

There have indeed been fences to mend in France’s diplomacy in Asia.  In the case of North Korea, six decades of estrangement as a result of the Korean War; in the case of China, twenty months of recent controversy and more than a century of perceived bullying.

Sure, there have been bright spots along the way: Charles deGaulle’s recognition of the PRC in 1964 was seen as a real affront to the “imperialist” United States, a move that simultaneously brought China and France into a mutual embrace while mocking American anti-communism.  The Chinese may not like Sarkozy, but they do tend to recall deGaulle as a stand-up guy with bona fides from the Second World War and his willingness to later stand up to the United States.  But remembering the Algerian War which China denounced at the time?  Not so much.

So, when French Prime Minister Francois Fillon showed up in Beijing this past week to sit in the obligatory overstuffed chairs, meet, drink tea, and ink deals, he stepped into a long line of Sino-French continuity.  This is a big, complex, and mutually exciting and frustrating relationship, and this week appears to have been no exception.

Wen Jiabao, right, with Francois Fillon, left

We know something already about the huggable and saavy Wen Jiabao, but who is Francois Fillon?

BBC describes Fillon as “an old-school Gaullist,” a centrist figure, pro-business, and confidant of Sarkozy.  The New York Times calls him a low-profile “coordinator.” His wife is Welsh and he has five children, perhaps remarkable.  Most recently, he has gained some renown for his December 17 remark that “the burka is not welcome in France.” Presumably this type of remark does not go unnoticed by the Chinese government, which likely appreciates a bit of thinly veiled (if you will pardon the unintentional pun) anti-Islamic sentiment coming from its trading partners, particularly if said sentiment keeps them quiet on the subject of religious freedom in Xinjiang.

[Incidentally, regarding Fillon, his English Wikipedia page is atrocious; the French one is better and informs us that he is a Ferrari nut who did a 24-hour race in 2003; he also has a Facebook page with lots of video feeds.]

What were some of the issues on the table for this trip and what does it tell us about China’s foreign policy?

China remains exceptionally sensitive about French attention to, and adoration of, the Dalai Lama.  There are few other countries in the world where His Holiness gets such renown and acclaim, and, thus, where the idea of Tibetan independence is taken so seriously.  There are a growing number of Buddhist converts in France who follow the Dalai Lama’s religious teachings, which Beijing is, presumably also keeping tabs on.

In February of this year we had the major imbroglio over the Yuanmingyuan statuettes, property representing part of China’s Qing-dynasty cultural heritage, which were auctioned off at the Paris Christies.  This was a very big deal that added fuel to the flames of the Olympic Torch controversy (the Paris run was heavily disrupted by protestors) and pro-Tibetan actions taken in spring of 2008.

All of this resulted in an attempted boycott of French goods by Chinese students and other generally nasty media denunciations.

The French government has been trying very hard lately to steer away from the Dalai Lama and back onto the golden path of commerce.  The Dalai Lama’s visit to Paris this summer was discouraged by Sarkozy and virtually the whole of his administration, which meant that the inviting Paris mayor bathed in the glow of some serious Chinese nationalism, as reported on this blog.

For its part, China seems concerned that its exports to France are down sharply, and was looking to get some cooperation on a particular nuclear plant.

Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang (R) and visiting French Prime Minister Francois Fillon attend the launch of Taishan nuclear power plant in Beijing, capital of China, Dec. 21, 2009. Li Keqiang and Fillon commenced the construction of Taishan nuclear power plant here Monday, a Sino-French joint project in south China's Guangdong Province.(via Xinhua/Huang Jingwen)

Energy, aviation, cultural cooperation, and water conservation projects were on the table, and deals were inked. In other words, this was a trip about business. Xinhua summarizes the action here.

Lest you imagine I am entranced by the orange and blue codex of Xinhua’s hypnotic English site, Le Figaro comes to the rescue again, since for some reason the New York Times is incapable of covering such stories.


Bruno Jeudy, “In Peking, Politics Plays its Proper Part: The Prime Minister is Employed to Put the Sino-French Relationship ‘Back on Track’ After the Bad Scene Leading Up to the Olympic Games ][À Pékin, Fillon le diplomate joue sa propre partition: ,” Le Figaro, December 22, 2009 [translation from the French by Adam Cathcart]

It was the one small false note in a successful diplomatic mission.  Standing in front of the students of Beihang [北航/North Air] University, François Fillon let slip a confirmation of the next visit of Nicholas Sarkozy [to China] in May 2010.  “The reinforcement of the Sino-French relations will be symbolized in the venue for the inauguration of the Universal Expo in Shanghai at the beginning of May…by the President of the Republiic, Nicholas Sarkozy,” he said in a happy lapse.  Destabilized for several seconds, Fillon rapidly put on again his diplomatic facade.  After playing a game of avoiding the landmines of provincial autonomy, the Prime Minister won his diplomatic stripe.

Over the course of two days, he spent some diplomatic capital in order to revive/warm up Sino-French relations after the imbroglio of the past year and a half.    “I had as my mission to get Sino-French relations back on track.  My mission has now been accomplished,” he rejoiced just after returning to Paris, a sentiment in accord with the coming week of vacation he will be taking in Austria.

François Fillon was sent on a mission to seduce the Chinese authorities, and, as such, to do so without abandoning his values.   When a student asking about “the highs and lows” of Sino-French relations, the chief of state admitted the “misunderstandings [malentendus].” He then advanced that “France…she is an old democracy where speech is free, [and] the Chinese government must understand this.”  In the manner of making an understanding, this little critical music rested completely upon the diplomatically correct rendering of the matter of human rights.  In this exercise in equlibrium, he carefully weighed his words around various angles with his hosts, especially after the failure at Copenhagen.  “Who can speak with certitude about recollection of the past?” he explained.  “When we consider things now, it is to set down a work of accord.”  This is a tone very different from the Secretary of State, Chantal Jouanno, who castigated “China’s totally closed attitude.”

In Beijing, Fillon appeared to present the image of a viable partner.  The Chinese rolled out the red carpet [déroulé le tapis rouge] for Fillon.   He also was received by the numbers one, two, and three of the communist state [Ed.: Recall that Xi Jinping was dispatched to the airport to pick up Obama, not the more powerful Wen Jiabao], and was accompanied further by four ministers and six parliamentarians.  Fore Christine Lagarde, the visit assumed a historic character:  “It was in 1964 that General DeGaulle made his trip [reconnaissance] the PRC.  And then we had the meeting last April between Nicolas Sarkozy and Hu Jintao. Today, there is the vist of François Fillon to Beijing.”  Josselin de Rohan, President of the Commission on Foreign Relations in the Senate, testified affirmatively: “His personality was pleasing to the Chinese.”  François is a man of state.  He is not an exhibitionist.  Thanks to him, France can mark another development in the nuclear field,” judged the Senator.  The centrist deputy Maurice Leroy said “He made no mistakes.” Another parliamentarian cruelly summed things up: “Fillon is not responsible for the variations of political Sarkozy-ism that we see in China.”

Very much at ease with his double role as diplomat and VIP, Fillon did not sulk in his pleasure [n'a pas boudé son plaisir] while posing in the midst of students of the Central Party School in Beijing who baptized their own promotions with the aid  of the Prime Minister.  This man, who is so miserly in giving insights into his private life, confided that his youngest son Arnaud (age 8) has begun to study Chinese.

Fillon leaves Beihang U., Beijing


In other Sino-French matters, Aurnaud de la Grange reports that China has constructed since 1995 a 5,000 kilometer-long tunnel to store its various missiles. It makes you wonder: every time you think the North Koreans are the best in the world at something — like digging down into granite or making a somewhat less spicy kimchi that puts South Cholla to shame — the Chinese find a way to surpass them.  I further suppose that once we reach Obama’s desired nuclear-free world, that, like the Cultural Revolution tunnels under Beijing, the tunnels for the missiles will someday be a quaint tourist attraction for happy Indian-Pakistani couples who hold hands and walk through in wonder that we, as a species, were ever so insane.

Air France offers 500-yuan discounts to Chinese students of the French language for flights to the motherland.

On the cultural front, a group of Francophone rappers made a tour through China this past March (which I sadly missed!).  Chroniques Chinois, a sporadic but pretty solid French blog about China, carries a review of the show and, to my excitement, speculates that the Chinese hip-hop wave  may ultimately carry to North Korea.  How about French rappers in Pyongyang?  Jack Lang, the point man for French North Korea relations, is already a kind of connaisseur of the art.

More Le Figaro stories on Fillon’s trip are available here (on the climate issue) and here (on the emphasis on business interests at the expense of human rights).

He’s Making a List, and Checking It Eight

Before you “check your loot” for the holiday, consider checking out the following eight stories:

1. This Global Times story (in English) digested from Yonhap and AFP reports of the inevitability of North Korean miniaturization of nuclear weapons.  That China is reporting on this as well indicates that the CCP recognizes that, as bad as things have been lately with North Korean nuclear tests, things could and probably will get much worse if North Korea isn’t brought back from its habitual yet no less dangerous brinksmanship.

2. This China Digital Times digest of the PRC reaction to Cambodia extradition of twenty (20) Uighurs back to China not only deals with a significant subject, it has a multitude of helpful links, including to Rebiya Khadeer’s reactions to these events as she travels in Europe to solicit support.  Montreal’s best daily, Le Devoir, covers the U.S. State Department’s rather plangent response to the episode, which probably came after some frantic cables/e-mails back to the U.S. from the embassy in Phnom Penh.  Naturally the French reportage on this issue links traditional notions of human rights protection with some inside knowledge of Cambodia, which was, in an earlier time, part of Francophonie.  Probably more relevant here is the State Department statement, available on the U.S. Embassy’s website in Phnom Penh in both English and, if you’re really impressive, Khmer.

Ambassador Zhang Jinfeng / 张金凤, herself a true Southeast Asia hand, can expect a promotion for spiriting out 'Uighur separatists'

3. Le Monde reports on China’s self-satisfaction with the results of the Copenhagen conference (in French).

Preparing for the future of post-socialist, post-Kim art in North Korea

4. Choson Ilbo carries a short piece on apartment construction in Pyongyang, but a far more interesting story is carried regarding an upcoming solo show in Seoul by a North Korean defector-artist, Kang Jin-myong.

I already like this guy:

After graduating from an arts college in Pyongyang in 1974, he worked as an artist employed by the military, drawing the usual portraits of North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, and propaganda paintings of battle scenes.

“I tried very hard to take my family with me, but I failed in the end,” he recalls. Kang went to Qingdao in China and had a fairly stable life posing as a Korean-Chinese while working in an accessories factory run by a South Korean. Then he was struck by liver cirrhosis in 2007. At the advice of an acquaintance, Kang arrived in South Korea in April 2008.

Three months later, he moved into public housing in Sindang-dong, Seoul, and took up painting again immediately. “What else could I do except painting?” he says.

Kang now spends all day painting.

Indeed!  And Kang’s work in a factory situation as a highly-educated person seems typical of North Korean defectors.  You have professors who become valets; it’s rather like China in the late 1940s when the professors could only “eat their books,” as their skills became worthless amid the chaos of a disintegrating state.  Of course, at least Chinese professors were within the borders of their own maternal nation-state.

But doesn’t a state of exile seems in some ways appropriate for an artist?  Being too secure, or too close to power, or to close to a dominant patron, can be rather stifling.  (Fans of Mozart’s “Prussian Quartets” need not respond, as those as well as Beethoven’s Berlinian/Prussian Op. 5 Cello Sonatas  all prove me wrong anyway.)

5. French P.M. is in Beijing for trade talks.  No wonder Sarko didn’t want to let Ribiya rock the boat, keeping her well away from the French Foreign Minister last week.  Reciprocating, all of a sudden the Chinese media cares that the French people are getting very cold this winter!  Funny.  [See 法国部分地区近日最低气温接近历史同期纪录, via Huanqiu Shibao.]

6. Meteors land in northwest Beijing! See 寻找“天外来客” (Chinese) or an English version from a no-coverup-this-time China Daily.   Is it a coincidence this extraterrestrial slap  happened during Copenhagen conference?

7. More modernist architecture is cropping up in China, this time in designs for the School of Architecture for the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  Keep drawing, kids!  One of the funnest aspects of being in China usually comes when these kind of drawings get plastered up in giant canvas/plastic outdoor sheets which cover up what begin as giant dirt holes.  (I’ll never forget one such vision of modernity which appeared spreading outside a giant farm field on the outskirts of grimy, gritty, brave-hearted Liaoyang, Liaoning province: it was of the Cleveland, Ohio skyline.  Cleveland as a modernist fantasy!  Yes, and that the 1920s in Cleveland might very well approximate the polyglot and hardscrabble ambitions of a Northeastern frontier city in the 2020s.) I suppose that even something as beautiful as the present drawing, when it comes to being realized, starts with overturning rock and mud.  As Allen Ginsburg once wrote, “shadow changes into bone”:

Chinese University of Hong Kong School of Architecture: eat your heart out, UCLA and CalArts!

8. Finally, and ending on “eight” so that we all get rich and retire to modernist villas near Shenzhen where string quartets of second-generation post-socialist elites will play Philip Glass on floating bowls of resonant carbon-neutral ceramic amoebas while various light-globes flicker out their cross-rhythms, a very, very significant essay emerges out of China:

“Rumor as Social Protest,” by Hu Yong / 谣言作为一种社会抗议

Though the article is in Chinese and really needs to be translated and published somewhere important, the abstract is bilingual:

摘 要



Rumor has several controversial functions in new media events. This paper takes a theoretical analysis approach to study how Chinese researchers stress the false, unverified, and defamatory nature of rumor, with a special focus on the ways researchers’ emphasis on motivational factors tend to demonize rumors. This paper points out the role of rumor as a social protest in various new media events. The paper further contends that a careful examination of the definitions of rumor and its social contexts will help form an alternative view that challenges the official story and questions the authorities of mainstream media.

Keywords: new media event, rumor, social protest


“Red Princess” at the Debutante Ball, Paris

Le Figaro‘s always-divergent China blog carries a high-society/CCP mash-up with a recent entry regarding Jasmine Li, the youngest daughter of Jia Qinglin,  No. 4 in the Party hierarchy and one of the nine permanent members of the CCP Politburo.

"Jia Qinglin urges ethnic unity in Inner Mongolia" - courtesy Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center


Jasmine Li, following in the footsteps of other “red princes” (wealthy scions of the revolutionary elite), spent last weekend at the Bal du Debutantes in the Hôtel de Crillon, on the rue Royale in Paris. (En plein coeur du Paris! the hotel website reminds us.)

For Jasmine Li, such fêtes are a far cry from her dad’s work as a machinist in Shijiazhuang in the late 1950s or his efforts to lift steel companies in moribund Taiyuan into profitability, but sometimes one has to make sacrifices for the sake of international relations.

Entraînée par Stéphane Bern, la Chinoise Jasmine Li a fait ses premiers pas de danse sur le sol parisien. Etudiante à New York, celle-ci porte une robe Carolina Herrera. © Jean-Luce Huré, courtesy Le Journal de FEMMES


Her date was the omnipresent Stéphane Bern, a Lyonese media personality and writer who has, among other things, published a couple of books about Princess Diana.  (Perhaps his work made for interesting conversation with Diana’s niece, who also attended the ball?)   Le Figaro doesn’t make much of the pairing, but in some ways it is nice to see a daughter of the Party elite take some time off from school in New York, hop on that direct flight to 戴高尔 (De Gaulle), and mix in a little bit of dancing with a well-connected expert on royal blood.  Certainly the Dalai Lama has friends in Paris, but even his would-be successors were left, like Cinderella, to stare at their shoes and think of the muddy earth of Shijiazhuang.

Bern's new novel: "Forget Me" -- perhaps she will


[Coup d'chapeau/hat tip to the inepuissable Arnaud de la Grange!]

New Work on Sino-French Relations in the 1950s

One of the most enjoyable things I get to do in the summer is to travel to archives and research facilities in various countries to seek out new sources which serve as the basis of new articles and manuscripts.  As summer, that lovely season, is apparently coming to an end (how?  with a bang not a whimper),  I  wanted to share the abstract of an article that I have been working up.  This is something that I have squeezed out this season in between my core work on anti-Japanese nationalism, excursions amid California’s mountains and urban canyons, Couchsurfs and archive-spelunking in Berlin, splash-downs and salutations all over the smashingly beautiful and spiritually destructive City of Light (recalling my favorite graffitti of the summer: “tell a friend! tell a foe!”), camping trips, swimming like a bear in Lake Superior, getting jackets from homeless guys across from “Mao Livehouse” in my favorite neighborhood in Beijing, all-nighters in the shadow of Bastille,  work on new and renewing syllabi in Tacoma, e-mails with ambitious pupils, precious time with family in Scandanavian America, and excursions up and down the North Korean-Chinese border.  So if the writing is trashy, the logic sloppy, and the sources imperfectly arranged, I can blame only myself.

Thus the following excerpt is rough, but something about which I hope to learn more and refine the translations of a gaggle of documents from the MFA Archives in Beijing.  Please kick me an e-mail at my university address [cathcaaj(at)] if you are interested in knowing more about this project, have read the entire run of Le Monde , Liberation, L’Humanite, or Le Figaro for the years 1949-1958 with an eye toward the East (I have only begun, and may never finish this particular task), or are  able to explain to me why Simone de Beauvoir’s lover’s letters are inaccessible long after his death although her magnificent epistles lie dormant, in miraculous English, at Ohio State University.

Existentialists and Dragon Slayers:

PRC People’s Diplomacy and the Struggle for French Public Opinion,



In the mid-1950s, the People’s Republic of China [中华人民共和国] was emerging with increasing confidence onto the global stage.  Having successfully defended its frontier in the Korean War and enhanced its international stature in the Geneva Conference in 1954, the PRC was embarking upon a program of unprecedented domestic reforms while working in an effort coordinated by Zhou Enlai to improve China’s international image.  Chinese propaganda, information operations, and bilateral “people’s diplomacy [民间外交]” worked together in the 1950s in order to improve the legitimacy and the image of the PRC, expressing China’s confident growth and seducing states that had yet to recognize the PRC.

France was a particularly significant target for the PRC in this regard.  The PRC extended great efforts to move the French polity in the direction of recognition, simultaneously acting to exacerbate “contradictions [矛盾]” between France and its imperialist allies, particularly the United States.  A small amount has already been produced about this period of relations in French and Chinese languages.  [The authoritative text to date is Xu Qing’s  Le temps du soupcon, cited in full below.]  In English, however, the topic has languished at the periphery of historical studies that have focused instead on British-Chinese relations or military implications of French entanglement with Indochina/Vietnam.

Yet relatively little has been published in English about the intricate and extensive Chinese outreach effort to France, or the reception that the PRC received in the French public, in the 1950s. Indeed, the very topic of Sino-French relations in the 1950s has been largely eclipsed in English-language scholarship in favor of examination of Sino-British ties during the same period. More commonly, the subject of Sino-French relations in the 1950s is logically subsumed into discussions of the clouded Indochina/Vietnam conflict.  However, focusing on such things has not allowed for a look at China’s cultural and propaganda strategy toward France, and its effectiveness and opponents,  in the 1950s.  Particularly today, as China’s bilateral relationship with France is one of its most contentious and prominent, the time has arrived for some more extensive excavation of the foundations of the relationship in the 1950s.

This article seeks to document the difficulties faced by the PRC in projecting a positive image in France in the 1950s, and does so largely via discussion of new documents from the PRC Foreign Ministry Archive.  These documents, in tandem with a survey of the oeuvrage of several of the most key players in the competitive French press, reveal the care and complexity taken by the PRC in managing French journalists and visitors to the PRC, and the role of Chinese delegations abroad in spreading a positive image of China and furthering the drive toward Sino-French normalization.  In exemplifying some of the anti-Red images and stereotypes promulgated in such mainstream dailies as Le Monde, the article surveys the work of noted correspondent Robert Guillain and le Figaro columnist Raymond Aron.  Juxtaposed against this, and at the heart of the article, lies the 1955 trip of prominent existentialists and public intellectuals Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre to the PRC in autumn of 1955.  Threaded throughout are generous extracts/translations from the French press, and new documents from the Foreign Ministry Archive in Beijing which explain in great detail how China’s images was manipulated on all sides in the lead up to the Great Leap Forward.  Throughout, an effort is made to combine the best Chinese sources with French and English-language literature existing already on the subject.  Enjoy!

Selected Citations:

Barlow, Jeffrey.  Sun Yatsen and the French, 1900-1908.

Claisse, Alain. 1973. Les relations franco-chinoises, 1945-1973. [Paris]: Documentation française.–

Gigon, Fernand.  Et Mao Prit le Pouvoir. Paris: Flammarion, 1969.

Hudelot, Claude.  La Longue Marche vers la Chine moderne. Paris: Découvertes Gallimard, 2003.

Hughes, Alex. 2007. France/China: intercultural imaginings. Research monographs in French    studies, 22. London: Legenda.

Lew, Roland.  1949, Mao prend le pouvoir. Brussels: Editions Complexe, 1981 and 1999.

Xu, Qing.  Le temps du soupçon: les relations franco-chinoises, 1949-1955.  [The Time of Distrust: French-Chinese Relations, 1949-1955.]  Paris: You Feng, 2006.

Frenchtown Exit, Interstate 90, Montana (Photo by Adam Cathcart)

Frenchtown Exit, Interstate 90, Montana (Photo by Adam Cathcart)

Paris-Pekin: Supplice chinois

Commentary: Note how in knots the Chinese have the French.  Setting aside the standard discount for French self-flagellation, the following article very much indicates that after forty-five years of relations, the relationship between the two republics, while profitable to each, is very much driven by Chinese imperatives.   



Marc Epstein, “Paris-Pekin: Supplice chinois: pour mettre fin a la brouille entre les deux pays au sujet du Tibet, la France semble prete a tout.  Quitte a s’asseoir sur ses principes ?

[Paris-Beijing: In Order to Put an End to the Row between the two states regarding Tibet, France appears ready to do anything.  Does it plan to abandon its principles?]“

Two of the values associated with traditional China, serenity and sagacity, seem to be lacking in the relations between Paris and Beijing.  After a row lasting a year mostly over the Tibet question, Presidents Sarkozy and Hu managed to finally to meet privately on the 1st of April, in London, during the G 20 summit.   But this normalization has a bitter flavor.  

Apres une brouille d’un an ou presque autour de la question du Tibet, les presidents Nicolas Sarkozy et Hu Jintao se sont enfin retrouves pendant une quarantaine de minutes, le 1er avril, a Londres, en marge du sommet du G 20.  Mais cette normalisation a un gout amer.


Dalai Lama with Mayor Delanoe in Paris, 2008

Dalai Lama with Mayor Delanoe in Paris, 2008