Mao Zedong as a Father: Nianpu Notes from January 1951

In the six big volumes of Mao Zedong Nianpu (1949-1976) published in Beijing this past December 2013, a number of new texts can be located, and minor mysteries solved. I was fortunate to pick up copies of all six volumes on a recent trip to Shanghai. Chronologically organized, the writing in January 1951 is particularly interesting.

Having decided in October to go to war in Korea, and having been heavily involved in the planning and execution of that war, Mao in January 1951 was also consumed with interest in the campaign to suppress counterrevolutionaries, border consolidation, ongoing land reform in previously “unliberated areas,” as well as the occasional cultural policy — an area of great interest for Mao.

The first few days of January 1951 found him more taken than usual with his role as a father — not to the nation, but instead to his own children. Here, we learn how Mao was informed of his son’s death in Korea, and find him just a couple of days later writing a tender note to his daughter, Li Na.

Translations are often a bit rough, but they are my own.

1 January 1951

Mao revises an editorial for Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) on improving the livelihood of the working masses. [Nianpu, Vol. 1, p. 275]  

2 January 1951

Mao complements officials in the south/southwestern province of Guangxi on their plan for anti-bandit work. [Nianpu, Vol. 1, p. 275]  

Mao, along with his wife Jiang Qing (who may be at a rural commune nearby) is informed by a communication from Zhou Enlai and Peng Dehuai that Mao’s son, Mao Anying, had been killed in the Korean War some five weeks prior on 25 November 1950. An excuse for the delay is tendered by Zhou and Peng, who write, referring back to 25 November: “Because at that time you all had colds  [当时我因你们都在感冒中], we decided to send this to you in the future; but Comrade [Liu] Shaoqi already had been sent [this information] to read.” Mao then says what has been known about his own loss; a laconic or terse response.  But then he goes on to praises Gao Ruishi’s idea for establishing cemeteries on the Korean battlefields for the Chinese People’s Volunteers once the war is over; this appears to be some solace and also perhaps appeals to Mao’s imperial or romantic imagination. [Nianpu, Vol. 1, pp. 275-276]

4 January 1951

Mao receives a note from Huang Kecheng [黄克诚] in his old home province of Hunan, explaining that reactionaries in old military schools remain a problem, partially because not many can be arrested, given that their crimes occurred before liberation and they had not committed any crimes since liberation. Does this mean they were puppet troops under the Japanese?  [Nianpu, Vol. 1, p. 276]

Mao writes two affectionate notes to his daughter Li Na, telling her he heard she was sick, and that he really misses her. “If you recuperate really well and get better soon, everyone will be really happy,” he writes, then noting “There was a huge snow, did you see it?” On January 6, Mao wrote to her again: “Are you or aren’t you feeling a little better? Daddy really misses you.” [Nianpu, Vol. 1, p. 277]

*All references are from Mao Zedong Nianpu, 1949-1976 [Chronology of Mao Zedong, 1949-1976], Vol. 1 (Beijing: Zhonggong zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2013).


Tibet on the Horizon

Chamdo in Paris

Tonight, wandering north toward the Rue Oberkampf in search of my little home for the week in Belleville (Parisian Chinatown), I ran across a Tibetan restaurant known as “Norbulingka.”  The establishment was on the ground floor of an average-sized building, yet it somehow seemed even more squat than an average restaurant, more insulated, more buttery.  So I went in and found a manager from Kham, and after some typical grappling for linguistic common ground, I coughed out what little remains of my command of Tibetan courtesies.   Like some tea houses in Lhasa or Chengdu, the place was certainly fine for a meeting of importance — quite unlike the German-influenced “Panic Room” where I had just before been hammering at a recalcitrant book chapter in the midst of orange and pink techno underneath a mural of African kids wearing East German military uniforms with stickers on their heads describing how stupid it was to have built the Berlin Wall.

Norbulinka beats techno every time.

“Tashi dele” duly bestowed, on the way out of the place, I fixed my gaze upon a poster of a handsome bald man wearing glasses.  It was of course the Dalai Lama, and the poster spoke of his upcoming appearance in Toulouse, France, in mid-August.

And speaking of the Dalai Lama….

McGranahan on Tibet’s Imperial Encounter

I found this paper by Carole McGranahan at the University of Colorado to be rather interesting:

Dr. McGranahan, whose anthropology home page is here, is the author of Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War (Duke University Press, 2010).  She also has one of the more active Twitter feeds among academics with an interest in Tibet and clearly believes that the Tibetan government-in-exile has a strong case to make for state sovereignty and independence.

In the above presentation, she spends the first 3:55 on the gnarly theoretical question of post-colonialism; at about the halfway point (12′) she dives into the empirical research and the question of American intelligence (e.g., CIA) sponsorship of the Tibetan resistance in the 1960s.

Much food for thought!  And much thought there is, and more food for it, in this panel in Minnesota…

A Panel Rises in the East

As prognosticated, I will indeed be participating in the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs / Himalayan Studies Conference this upcoming October at Macalaster College.  The panel, which runs on Saturday October 29 at 8:30 a.m., should be excellent:

Tibet, China, India: Mapping Connections across History, Politics, and Culture

Chair and Discussant: Geoff Childs, Washington University in St. Louis.

[Childs is an anthropologist with an impressive array of publications about demography in Tibet; his recent work with Melvyn Goldstein in The China Journal looks to be essential reading.]

1. Adam Cathcart, Pacific Lutheran University, “Liu Shengqi in Lhasa: A New Window Into Tibet and Chinese Assertions on the Plateau, 1945-1949″

2. Sarah Getzelman, The Ohio State University, “Imaging the Dalai Lama: Incarnations in Art and Practice”

3. Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy, Université Laval, “TV across the Indo-Tibetan Interface: Indian TV as a cultural mediator for ‘Newcomer’ Tibetans in Dharamsala?”


Photo courtesy Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy, click image for more details about her interdisciplinary fieldwork

Kim Jong Il in China: PRC Media Tropes

If there’s one thing we know about North Korea, it is that the DPRK is intensely mindful of how it is portrayed in foreign media.  Scrutinizing its own international image is something that the North Korean regime does not simply to hunt for materials with which to bludgeon the United States, Japan, and South Korea, but also to keep its nominal “friends” from becoming unrestrained in their complaints about North Korea.

In the recent past, the North Korean Embassy in Beijing has prompted the Chinese government to censor historical journals that asserted Kim Il Sung’s culpability for the Korean War, and earlier this year, China locked up an ethnic-Korean scholar for trafficking in rumors about Kim Jong Il.

At the same time, the Chinese media has become increasingly free to criticize the Kim family, even as references to Kim Jong Eun are now mostly preceded with his full military title and a nice “Vice Chairman.”

Why am I making these points and asking these questions today?  Because the Associated Press reports that Kim Jong Il is on his third trip to China in just over a year’s time.

China is covering this visit in its now-standard way: by second-hand summaries of South Korean media passed along in selected foreign affairs periodicals, namely, the Huanqiu Shibao.  No Chinese journalists have the right to tail Kim Jong Il, to interview anyone about the trip, publish a “scoop,” or get a quote from the North Korean Embassy in Beijing, or from sources in Pyongyang (where, by the way, Xinhua has a bureau).  Thus Chinese readers are left with South Korean speculations about his itinerary.

According to Huanqiu Shibao (whose passing along of South Korea reporting, in this case, indicates an endorsement of accuracy), Kim entered China via the extreme Northeastern DPRK city of Hamyang and went into Tumen, the small city on the frontier of the PRC’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Region.  He is probably going further on, then, to Mudanjiang, where, as KCNA reported recently, North Korean tourism officials have been traveling.

As for Kim Jong Eun,  Huanqiu Shibao indicates that he may be studying the old “reform and opening up” techniques in Shanghai.  How detailed is this speculation?  Well, Kim Jong Eun’s name is not on the guest list at a guarded hotel in Mudanjiang, site of some anti-Japanese, pro-Korean resistance monuments.

Does this trip and the way that China is covering it testify, then, to a blossoming Sino-North Korean relationship where China pledges to continue to the flow of aid and back up the DPRK with its full military support?

Not quite: Witness this very unusual report which was released yesterday (two days ago in Chinese time) on Huanqiu TV, asserting that North Korea has 30,000 hackers in a special school whose purpose is to combat the United States. What is this all about?  Why does a Chinese Communist Party which is tightly controlling discourse about North Korea, and is certainly aware that the Kims are coming to town, release this report on the eve of that visit?  Is it possible they want to yell at someone?  Or is it fodder for China’s internet hawks, giving them another implement of proof that North Korea is a strategic asset for China because they can cause problems for the United States?

Perhaps the May 18 Global Times editorial, entitled “Dark Undertones of US Internet Diplomacy,” testifies that North Korea’s hacker army has its uses, so long as so long as it its ministrations are aimed Eastward and away from Beijing.  Now that unmanned aerial drones are reported (by both Huanqiu Shibao and KCNA) in the Sino-North Korean border region, it seems that cyberwarfare is more important than ever.

Of course, being ever “a shrimp between whales,” Kim Jong Il is again outflanked by other, larger, events: the  Chinese commentariat, as well as the netizens, seem  far more transfixed today on President Obama’s new Middle East speech than on the obscure itinerary of North Korean “politicians,” men who, after all, probably have far more in common with Mubarak and Qaddafi and than with Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.  At the end of the day, even as Chinese leaders encourage or berate Kim to open up his economy, the preamble must surely be one wherein the lessons of past collapses are taken into account.

Kevin Garnett’s Chinese Blog

What Happens When NBA Culture Meets Chinese Political Culture -- image via HoopChina BBS -- click for a fascinating tribute to one Chinese fan's obsession with Kevin Garnett

Boston Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett, I found out yesterday from undisclosed sources, has been maintaining a bilingual (English-Chinese) basketball blog which is very, very popular in the PRC.

As described in this entry on LeBron James, NBA stars, including some in Cleveland, have been promoting shoes in China for while.  The fact that Kevin Garnett is now wearing Chinese shoes and shilling for a Chinese company (ANTA) has gone virtually unremarked in English-language media during the NBA playoff season.

A good overview, with some pictures of Garnett running the gauntlet of press events in Beijing in August 2010, is here.  He will be back in China in July and August, meaning in all likelihood he will be crossing paths with a handful of other NBA stars on the move on the mainland.

I suppose that the lack of criticism of Garnett for giving up his Adidas or Nikes for a Chinese brand is a positive sign, and reminds us that the National Basketball Association is one of the more proactive cultural groups in the U.S. promoting ties with China.  (Yes, I think we should link sports and cultural exchanges, in spite of the fact that the NBA is a multi-billion dollar business and does not appear to have much in common with the New York Philharmonic!)

Secretary of State Clinton, quite naturally, made sure to include NBA initiatives in her recent meetings on cultural exchanges with Chinese counterparts in Washington.

As for Garnett’s blog, it is bilingual by virtue of the ANTA translators, not Garnett himself.  (Garnett, in fact, never so much as went to college, but he has probably done more world travelling – “study abroad,” if you will — than the most globe-trotting undergraduate.)  So the translation is a bit rocky, and interesting.

How, for instance, do you translate “homeboy” into Chinese?  (哥们, it seems, is the answer.)

Here is the first paragraph of the entry:

As you know, we were knocked out of the playoffs by Miami. It’s unfortunate that we are out and in my mind didn’t reach our potential. Taking the last couple of days to think about things and the season was long. Their [sic] were ups and downs all season and dealing with teammates, leaving teammates, gaining teammates. Long hours, flights, practices, workouts, etc… Another season under my belt, but not satisfying. I’ll be getting back to the “lab” (workouts and court work) to work on my craft, so I can keep improving. I will be working on my skills and constantly trying to get better.


A big challenge for any translator is to capture something ephemeral, which is to say, the whiff or the aura of an unconventional sentence.

Garnett, for instance, goes positively literary with this complete sentence:

 Taking the last couple of days to think about things and the season was long.

The translator renders it as 最后几天,我们花时间回顾了这个漫长的赛季, something literally like “In these most recent days, we spent time to look back on this long season.”  花 (hua, to spend) is added to the sentence to make it more grammatically feasible to Chinese readers.  Further rendering KG’s impressionistic writing into grammatically correct Chinese, the translator also has to add a “we” to describe who is “thinking about things,” a revealing cultural choice — faced with an individual reflecting on performance and a team reflecting on its performance, the Chinese translator will chose the group, naturally.

Specific word choices are also wonderful.   花 (hua, to spend) gives the sentence an air of futility which, I think, captures KG’s intent.  And the season is described as “漫长” which I think of along the same lines as the German word “unendlich” or (almost) “endless.”

Finally, it was instructive for this author to get out of the trenches of reading Huanqiu Shibao bulletin boards — where, presumably, one can find some insights into mass views (or the CCP-endorsed and often created “mass view”) on North Korea, Japan, and the U.S. — and understand better who is really on the Chinese internet.

Kevin Garnett’s last entry of the season has, in three or four days, amassed more than 90,000 readers and collected 2227 comments, almost all of which are completely positive.  After all the name calling and mud-throwing over at Huanqiu, it was almost redeeming to feel the positive energies of thousands of Chinese basketball team telling Kevin Garnett — Kevin Garnett! — to hold his head high and keep going.  加油!

Kevin Garnett with Anta Shoes Rep. at Press Conference in Beijing, August 2010 -- image via

Additional Reading: Gady Epstein, “Investors Profit on Chinese Answers to Nike, Adidas,” Forbes, 27 August 2011, 

Zhu Feng on North Korea

Recently the Seoul newspaper Joongang Ilbo (中央日报) carried an intriguing item which hasn’t received the attention it deserves:

Zhu Feng [朱锋], a professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University, told a seminar in Seoul on Wednesday that Pyongyang has gained increased confidence in its nuclear technology after two underground nuclear tests and will proceed to test with a nuclear warhead. “The Chinese leadership believes that the North has sufficient nuclear [weapons manufacturing] capability and is now entering a stage where it is focused on minimizing the size of a warhead,” Zhu said….

Zhu [further] said that if North Korea collapses, China would only allow South Korea to take control over the North if Pyongyang launched a pre-emptive attack on the South. China otherwise will try to deal with a collapsed North Korea in the United Nations Security Council.  He denied a claim that China wants to absorb the North if it implodes, saying such a scenario is incompatible with China’s global geopolitical strategy.

The full article is available in English here.

Zhu Feng, file photo from China Digital Times

Since Zhu Feng is such a significant figure in the PRC when it comes to prognosticating North Korean behavior and seems to have close (if still, for me, undefined) ties to the CCP leadership, it’s probably a good idea to see for ourselves what he actually said, particularly on the topics in the article which are merely paraphrased.  Fortunately a full Chinese-language version of the article is available and contains much more extensive documentation of Zhu’s direct remarks and contains a healthy dose of the type of derision for North Korea which appears to be becoming increasingly standard in the PRC. [Translations by Adam Cathcart]

Zhu Feng on Kim Jong Il: “中国(领导人集体)认为,金正日国防委员长似乎正在逐渐失去判断力和统治力”,“有代表性的例子就是(去年11月坚决进行的)货币改革事件。如果金委员长状态很好,就不会有这种荒诞行径” ["Chinese leaders believe that Defense Chairman Kim Jong Il is gradually losing his faculties of judgement and his political power...There are signs of this in last year's currency reform incident...Had the situation with Chairman Kim's been actually good, it's truly impossible that this kind of fantastic misstep would have been taken."

Zhu Feng on North Korean Succession: “如果金委员长逝世,3子金正银将会暂时建立接班体制,也许会走向领导班子体制,但这需要相当长的时间”,“在毛泽东主席逝世后,中国也用了16年时间才确立了领导班子体制。 在今年9月召开的党代表者会上,金正银的接班体制可能会初现轮廓"。 "If Chairman Kim dies, his third son, Kim Jong Eun will be established as provisional successor which will allow fpr movement toward (change of) the leadership structure, but this will take a long time...After the death of Chairman Mao Zedong, China needed 16 years to establish such a leadership system...In September this year, the party will hold a meeting; here we see the silhouette of Kim Jong-il's succession system."

Zhu Feng on a North Korean Endgame: "万一朝鲜崩溃,中国基本上会通过联合国安理会介入”,“中国的立场是,只有在朝鲜首先攻击韩国时韩国才可以单独介入(崩溃时朝鲜)”。 “如果朝鲜崩溃中国就会向朝鲜派兵或将朝鲜吸纳为'东北四省'的说法子虚乌有,这是对中国战略性利益的无知。” "In the event that North Korea collapses, China will basically intervene/get involved [介入] via the UN Security Council…China’s position is that South Korea can only independently intervene in the event that North Korea has attacked them first…Those who emptily say that  China would send troops to the DPRK in the event of a North Korean collapse with the wish to absorb the so-called ‘fourth Northeastern province’ reveal their ignorance of China’s strategic interests.”

Zhu Feng on North Korea’s Roguish Nature: “虽然我本人认为朝鲜是’流氓国家(rogue state)’,但同流氓(朝鲜)争斗时,如果拿着刀冲过去,双方都会受伤,而问题却得不到解决”,“所以韩国的对朝政策将失败,对朝制裁似乎不会使朝鲜崩溃或解决核问题”   “Although I, as an individual, consider North Korea to be a ‘hooligan state’, but whenever one fights with the hooligan, one needs to be aware that he’s holding a blade and can wound both sides, and the societal problem doesn’t get solved…Therefore, South Korea’s policy toward North Korea has failed, because sanctions have been unable to collapse the North Korean system or solve the nuclear problem.”


Merkel in the Middle Kingdom//German State Reports on China//经济合作,人权批评:近日的中德关系

If Sino-German relations cross your radar screen as a topic of significance, then it is certainly worth your time to read JustRecently’s link-rich roundup of the recent state visit to China by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  I would only add to his comprehensive rush of sources that this Spiegel investigative piece on alleged espionage by China in Germany got quite a bit of play in the month before the visit, including a front-page piece in the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung on June 21.  Fortunately for the PRC’s trade representatives and diplomats, Germans seemed to be much more engrossed in the World Cup at the time.  But the idea of “economic espionage” (which is admittedly not something I understand a great deal about) has the potential to grab a hold of certain sections of German public opinion which are engaged in the China trade.

Incidentally, along the lines of adding even a small grain of value to the discussion, I went to the Chinese Embassy in (old East) Berlin earlier this month and was impressed (but not surprised) at the number of bilingual copies (English-Chinese) they had about the March 2008 events in Tibet as well as of the 2009 report on Human Rights in the USA.  The People’s Daily overseas addition was, of course, still wrapped in plastic.

The Falun Gong protesters were outside the Embassy, as they have seemingly been outside of every Chinese consulate or embassy I have ever visited since the year 2000, in fact, handing out literature across the bridge.  It appears clear from the Spiegel report, referenced in this summary Epoch Times piece, that Falun Gong practitioners in Germany have played an important role in the recent China controversies in Germany.   Please note that the link contains some rather familiar attacks on China’s anti-Falun Gong apparatus and a particularly heavy-handed description of a Chinese state security organ as “Gestapo-like”.   Really, Epoch Times?  Is that adjective necessary?

Primarily the previously referenced article is useful for its link to Germany’s newly released report from the Department for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutzbericht), whose English-language site is here. China has been taking some hits in Germany, and this is one of the more overt ones.

Since the report probably won’t be translated into English (or Chinese) anytime soon, here are some excerpts and my summaries of the hot spots in the annual report for 2009 which relate to Chinese intelligence gathering in Germany to at least give you a vague idea of its contents, particularly the stuff on pages 294-300.  I’ll start with the headers, and please excuse the translation:

Entwicklung in der Volksrepublik China [Development in the PRC / 中华人民共和国的发展]

Diktatur und wirtschaftliche Stabilität [独裁制度和经济坚固性]

Die von der Kommunistischen Partei Chinas (KPCh) diktatorisch regierte Volksrepublik ist ein kommunistischer Staat, der jedoch seit zwei Jahrzehnten seine Wirtschaft zunehmend nach marktwirtschaftlichen Prinzipien entwickelt und einen steilen Aufschwung verzeichnet. Chinas Ökonomie zeigt sich in der globalen Finanzkrise relativstabil, was seine stetig wachsende Bedeutung für den Welthandel belegt. [Although the People's Republic ruled by the dictatorship of the Communist Party of China is a communist state, for the last twenty years the Party has developed the economy along market principles and marked a style of growth.  China's economy has remained relatively stable in the global financial crisis, which has testifies to its importance for world trade.]

From here forward, I’ll mostly just do headers, as time is of the essence…

Aufrüstung und Machtdemonstration [Armaments and Demonstrations of Power / 升级和力量表达]

Unterdrückung und Aufruhr in Xinjiang [Suppression and Revolt in Xinjiang / 镇压和动乱在新疆 ed: note the sequencing/cause and effect!]

The report then describes the function of Public Security Bureau in China and other organizations…Then it hits the heavy stuff.

Wirtschaftsspionage [Economic Espionage / 经济间谍活动]

Bekämpfung der „Fünf Gifte“ [Struggle Against the "Five Poisons" / 反对‘五毒‘的斗争]

Die chinesische Regierung diffamiert die als größte Gefahren für die eigene Macht bewerteten Personengruppen als so genannte Fünf Gifte. Sie bekämpft diese nicht nur in der Heimat, sondern späht auch die in Deutschland lebenden Anhänger aus. Betroffen sind vor allem die von China des Separatismus verdächtigten Uiguren und Tibeter sowie die Angehörigen der Meditationsbewegung Falun Gong. Darüber hinaus betrachtet die KPCh auch Mitglieder der Demokratiebewegung und Befürworter einer Eigenstaatlichkeit Taiwans als Staatsfeinde. [The Chinese regime defames these groups of people as the greatest dangers for the maintenance of their power, the so-called "Five Poisons."  They struggle against these not only in their homeland, but also conduct surveillance of members of these groups living in Germany, among whom in particular those suspected of separatism: Uighurs and Tibetans, as well as members of the meditation movement Falun Gong, and beyond those, the CCP also watches members of the (presumably Chinese) democracy movement and advocates of Taiwanese independence, treating them as enemies of the state.]

The report goes on to note the special interest taken by Chinese intelligence agencies in the Frankfurt Book Fair, the control over the internet, the surveillance of foreign visitors in China (particularly their internet usage in hotels) and the role of non-diplomatic in the Chinese embassy to collect economic intelligence.

Perhaps in response to the criticism, although it’s a bit hard to believe, the Huanqiu Shibao put out a 56-photo gallery of Hitler enjoying time with children the day after Angela Merkel arrived in Beijing.  Isn’t that a bit much, Huanqiu editors?  And why not Erich Honecker instead?

But Merkel is finally enjoying a bit of respect from the newspapers in her home country, particularly this article in Suddeutscher Zeitung, which notes that the Chancellor didn’t hold back from criticizing China for its stance toward the Dalai Lama, human rights questions, and the cases of specific dissidents.

Merkel with "the neat Wen Jiabao"; courtesy Suddeutsche Zeitung -- click on image for link to Heinrik Bork's article overviewing Merkel's visit within the long view of Sino-German relations after 1989

Robert Park in the Chinese Press

American human rights rhetoric about North Korea tends to rest upon a self-sustaining paradox: in the view of vocal bloggers and conservative newspapers, the Chinese Communist Party is guilty of perpetuating North Korean human rights abuses, yet, the American advocates of regime change in Pyongyang  make few visible efforts to detect what Chinese people are reading about North Korea, or to gauge to what extent China is actually exhibiting signs of flexibility on the refugee issue.

Admittedly, Beijing moves on this issue with a speed that rivals the Vatican in its glacial aspect.  Yet, even glaciers can melt, and comments made recently by Xi Jinping in Seoul (as well as word on the street among scholars in Beijing) indicate that China is willing to reconsider its policy toward North Korean refugees.   Much more to the present point, in the last several years, PRC media consumers have been able to consume an increasingly wide array of stories about North Korea and are slowly getting a sense of the magnitude of the problem surrounding North Korean human rights abuses.  Certainly censorship still intrudes, and the discourse has limits, but the limits are slowly moving back.

This is one context into which I’d like to see the Robert Park story placed.

The Chinese press ultimately reported on Robert Park’s gambit and his original capture, but left unprinted the excerpts from Park’s 19th-century-style letter to Kim Jong Il demanding the latter’s repentance and the light of Christ to shine over liberated North Korea.  Xinhua and its adjuncts didn’t report on unverified rumors of Park’s having been beaten.  (Perhaps such reports, if they prove to be erroneous, indicate a certain propensity of the Chosun Ilbo to publish anything that makes North Korea look bad [not difficult], not to mention the fact that the U.S. government is helping to bankroll the [essential but sometimes wildly mistranslated] Daily NK.)  State Department efforts to get Park back in the U.S., with reference to the preexisting need for bilateral normalization between US and DPRK, were reported in the Huanqiu Shibao.

Then, on January 12, 2010, Yanbian security organs enlisted the aid of local media to track down someone who quite probably was Robert Park’s collaborator in Yanji.

Robert Park's collaborator in Yanbian?

As it happens, I was the only person writing in English to catch this at the time.  The arrest by Chinese authorities of Park’s partner, reported to be a former North Korean defector with South Korean citizenship in Yanji, was reported in English on January 18, 2010.

A short dispatch relaying KCNA’s announcement of another American intruder on January 25, 2010, was relayed a couple of days later by Xinhua, adorned by a few netizen comments which emphasized a typical pastiche of internet-induced thoughts, including that North Korea had the right to “kill these American devils.”

Now that he’s being released, we’re seeing a few short reports come through on Chinese websites, but no mention on the best Chinese DPRK blogs. The Park story made it onto CCTV, which carries a nine-second report on his release via along with a report that speculated that Park’s release was correlated with the American decision to keep the CPRK off of the State Department’s “state sponsors of terrorism” list.

On one of the more patriotic websites cited in the New York Times as being a venue for populist Chinese nationalism, editors put up a small photo gallery of Robert Park entitled “朝鲜扣押一名美国人 (North Korea Detains an American Person)” including this image which notes without anger that Park is seen “praying for North Korea” in Seoul:

Robert Park in Seoul, Dec. 12, 2009年12月9日,韩国,首尔:Robert Park为朝鲜祈祷。-- via Huanqiu

The gallery also contains the original Xinhua dispatch on Park’s arrival in the DPRK, which is rendered as follows, combining North and South Korean media reports on the incident.  Following procedure, local media in Jilin followed Xinhua’s lead:


Via Xinhuanet: On December 29, 2009, KCNA reported that North Korea apprehended an illegal American trespasser.  The report said that this American passed illegally over the Sino-Korean borderline to enter North Korean territory, and was thereafter apprehended.  Currently, relevant organs are investigating.  According to South Korean media reports, this person is an American of Korean descent named Robert Park (Pak Dongyun / 朴东勋 is his Korean name), and was a responsible member of the human rights organization “Freedom and Life 2009.”

But China can relay South Korean reports all it wants to, including quotes from Radio Free North Korea, Daily NK, and Good Friends (in short, the whole gamut of North Korean defector-sources): on sites like One Free Korea, China’s attitude toward the North Korean regime is locked in time.  And after all, castigating the “ChiComs” or evoke “Red China’s” reliably evil nature feels good, sort of like bathing in a big tub of Reagan-era engine oil which is miraculously still warm from the frictions of the Cold War.   Not only do the criticisms exert a certain mental comfort, persistent critiques of the PRC’s policy toward North Korea remain so much easier if the critics don’t bother to learn Chinese, much less read essays available in English which endeavor to illuminate the dynamic nature of what Chinese people are actually reading and saying about North Korea.

Mike Kim’s book Escaping North Korea is a perfect case in point: although the MBA-turned-missionary speaks fluent Korean, supposedly learned conversational Chinese, and lived for several years in the Sino-Korean border region (presumably Yanbian) there is virtually zero discussion in his book of Chinese points of view of the North Korean refugee issue.  Believe me, there are more Chinese perspectives on North Korea than those of bachelor farmers looking to buy North Korean fugitive wives!  Does it not matter what everyday Chinese (along the border, in Beijing, or elsewhere) think about North Korea policy, or what pressures the CCP is under to modify their policy, or that understanding regional dynamics of cooperation with, and apprehensions toward, North Korea among Chinese might be of some use toward common action on the refugee front?

Or would learning about  these things impede us from using our highly developed and particularly Euro-American skills of shaking the rhetorical stick at China?

If you can’t perceive incremental (much less rapid) changes which China itself is initiating, and then act to amplify those changes in concert with the Chinese, good luck in getting what you want, missionaries!

But I suppose this would mean we would have to view Yanbian as something other than a cloak-and-dagger launching pad for the Great North Korean Revolt/Awakening and settle for a somewhat slower yet inexorable pace of change.  Moreover, I’d be shocked if writers like Joshua Stanton were to spend any time at all on this blog (a website which is, we can only assume, authored by some apologist-Owen-Lattimore-wannabe) where Stanton might actually have access to some fragments of information about Chinese coverage of the North Korea issue that might lend some nuance, if not wholesale reconsideration, to his hopelessly Anglophone (but otherwise well-documented) reports.

In such a mode of silence, Robert Park walks out of the Beijing airport, shuffling where the rest of us run:

“They Have Guns, and I, a Pen”: Highly Valuable New Source on the Tibetan Rebellion

This 297-page first-person account of the Tibetan uprising of spring 2008 is being published, like, today, in Germany:

via Lungta Verlag

via Lungta Verlag

Tsering Woeser is a Tibetan writer and blogger.  Her book is being published by Lungta Verlag, which is the publishing house for the German Tibet Initiative.  The direct translation of the title into Chinese is “你有枪,我有笔,” but in fact the original title was 《鼠年雪狮吼》 which had been published in Taiwan this past March.

or, as JustRecently renders it, and follows with analysis:

“You have the Guns, I have a Pen”. It’s a keyboard, in fact. She started documenting the Tibetan riots of March 2008 as a blog. In Taiwan, this book was published by Fair Morning Publishing in March this year, under the Chinese title “Year of the Rat, Snow Lion’s Roar” (鼠年雪狮吼), or “The Snow-Lion Roaring in the Year of the Mouse”.

I like the new title for a couple of reasons: 1) Germans don’t know much about the Year of the Mouse and 2) it reflects that Germanic penchant (or hunger) for individual moral courage, the praise for the pacifist which the United States lauds in the Germans but rarely itself hears, and 3) guns and pens should more frequently be juxtaposed in book and article titles.

Aha!  I recall a conference paper I once gave!  For all you citation-hungry academics, here it is: Adam Cathcart, “I Will Be the First to Lay Down My Pen for a Gun: Chinese Schoolchildren and the War with Japan,” presented at Conference on Children and War, Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, Rutgers University, April 9, 2005.  The phrase derives from a Xinhua dispatch, allegedly a quote from a female student who is burning with anger over the American invasion of North Korea.

While East Germans were in full solidarity with the DPRK and the PRC (especially wide-eyed at Mao, as my archival research in Berlilin suggests), I don’t think that the Lungta Verlag had a Xinhua reprise in mind.  No!  There is something pure about this title, and it is good.

Here without further ado is the press release followed by my translation:

Als am 10. März 2008 in Lhasa Unruhen ausbrechen, beginnt die tibetische Schriftstellerin Tsering Woeser – zunächst als Blog – die täglichen Proteste, ihre Ausdehnung über ganz Tibet und die Reaktionen der chinesischen Sicherheitskräfte zu dokumentieren.

Zu einer Zeit, als ausländische Beobachter des Landes verwiesen werden und China nur die eigene Propaganda über die Zustände in Tibet an die Öffentlichkeit lässt, wird Woesers Blog für ihre Landsleute in Tibet, China und im Exil zu einer Nachrichtenquelle von unermesslichem Wert. Heute sind ihre Berichte ein aufrüttelndes Zeugnis der anhaltenden Unterdrückung in Tibet.

When the Lhasa Unrest broke out on 10 March 2008, the Tibetan writer [actually writeress, since she has a gender!] next began a blog to document the daily protests, their circumference over all Tibet and the reaction of the Chinese security forces.

At the time, when foreign reporters were forbidden from the land and only [regime] propaganda about the uprising was allowed to be spread, Woeser’s blog was a news source of vast worth for her compatriots in Tibet, China, and in exile.  Today her reports are a jarring certification of the ongoing oppression in Tibet.

I happen to believe that German perceptions of Tibet are rather important as far as topics go, and anticipate providing little updates from time to time in this space on, for instance, Der Spiegel features on His Holiness.

For more information about Tsering Woeser, see the following:

•JustRecently’s essay today on Woeser and the Frankfurt Book Fair, and his prodigious fund of essays re: Woeser prior to today;

•the New York Times’ wonderfully poetic feature in April 2009 which I willfully ignored;

•an interview with Woeser in Tibetan translated into English by a Tibetan (via India/Europe/U.S.);

•an activist website profile of Woeser (favorite line: “Please note that there are no fax numbers for the Chinese authorities”);

•an English translation of the introduction of the Taiwan/Chinese version of Tsering’s account of 2008 disturbance;

•Woeser’s blog from March 10-25, 2008, in both English and Chinese via The Epoch Times;

•a short profile of Woeser by PEN American writers;

•her Wikipedia entry is woefully incomplete, but it has one redeeming quality: this magnificent citation: 2008 “Mémoire interdite. Témoignages sur la Révolution culturelle au Tibet” ([or, in my translation of title,] Forbidden Memory: Testimonies of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet), éd. Bleu de Chine, trad. Li Zhang & Bernard Bourrit. (à paraître);

and Woeser’s blog, Invisible Tibet (看不见的西藏)

Hat tip to JustRecently; 没有JustRecently就没有这文章。

Correcting the Record on News from the Border Zone


Regular sources of information from the Chinese-North Korean border zone are difficult to come by. The Daily NK is one of the more abundant, and apparently reliable sources, that Western readers have at our disposal. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, few researchers have noted crucial discrepancies between reports filed in Chinese and the English language-version which most people read in the West.

Just for reminders: The Daily NK articles usually appear in three languages (Korean, Chinese, and English). My impression is that the Korean-Chinese translations are reasonably faithful, and the idioms often indicate that the original version of the article are written in Chinese. So in both cases, the English translations are done rather quickly and need double-checking.

The English-language translations of the articles tend to amplify sensational charges that North Korean troops move freely through the PRC. And then Western commentators pick up Daily NK as a primary source backing up their own confident and heavily-documented assertions that China and North Korea are in full cahoots in hunting down North Korean refugees in China.

Of course, heavily-documented does not necessarily mean that the documentation cited is itself accurate. One has to burrow down into the sources like one of J.R.R. Tolkein’s fabled and flinty dwarves.

Like the North Koreans in the 1950s, the dwarves are drillers; to absorb their downward impulse is to burrow down into opposing footnotes and hack with heavy blades into granite-layered documentation.

Like the North Koreans in the 1950s, the dwarves are drillers; to absorb their downward impulse is to burrow down into opposing footnotes and hack with heavy blades into granite-layered documentation.

The Culprits

Let’s take two frequently-cited examples of Daily NK reportage from February 2007: Han Young Jin’s “1 Platoon of Border Guards Escape North Korea” and Kim Yong Hun’s “More North Korean Agents Dispatched to China.”

These two stories are frequently cited. The Daily NK itself, in an editorial based on the above two stories, reveals its belief that the incidents portrayed in the articles portend the coming collapse of North Korea. I’m not sure what your threshold for credibility is, but sentences like this make me nervous: “The reliability of the news seems very high since more than one inside-source provided the news.” This indicates that most of the stories are based on a single source. I also wonder what rewards sources in North Korea expect from the Daily NK. A cell phone call to Changchun and divulging such information to a foreign reporter would obviously place the source in danger; if compensation is provided to sources, this obviously compromises the quality of the information since sources could conjure up false visions merely as a means of gaining some precious foreign currency.

The Method

As in previous versions, I provide you with 1) the original Chinese; 2), my modified English version; 3) the Daily NK original version in grey and 4) my own analysis of the discrepancies and the content the reportage, in italics. Blue indicates data that does not show up at all in the Daily NK’s original English version, but that is unquestionably part of the Chinese version of the same article. Orange indicates a significant change in interpretation more faithful to the Daily NK’s original version. If as a consumer of this content, you have suggestions for ways I could make the work more clear, please, as always, feel free to leave a comment at the end of the post.

Here goes:

Article: Han Young Jin’s “1 Platoon of Border Guards Escape North Korea.

[1] 据朝鲜内部消息通4日通报给DailyNK的消息,最近为逃避中央党联合小组对中朝边境地区的检阅和逮捕,会宁地区边境警备队大约1个小队数量的军人逃往中国。为检举这些军人,朝鲜抓捕小组渗透中国,展开抓捕行动。

According to recent news from within North Korea conveyed to the Daily NK on 4 February [2007], a regiment of border guards linked to the central party fled an inspection that would have resulted in their being taken into custody [for corruption]. A number of border protection troops from Hoeryung equivalent to a regiment have fled towards China. In order to report on and seize this military group, North Korea is infiltrating China with an organized group.

[Recently, a platoon of border guards from the district of Hoiryeong escaped to China to avoid the arrest of inspection agency, an inside North Korean source informed the DailyNK on the 4th. North Korean authorities have responded by sending an inspection agency to China in search of these guards.]

Note: The most specific addition is the verb “infiltrate” on the part of the group sent by the North Korean government. This implies that if North Korean agents are being sent into China, it isn’t with the consent of the Chinese. My version also makes the first sentence more clear. It’s not that their arrest was absolutely a fait accompli, it’s that an inspection was coming up and they felt assured that they would be disciplined. Thus even regular checks on corruption creates flight from the DPRK.


On 4 [February 2007], a source intimately familiar with the security situation along the border, a resident of Hyeryong city whose pseudonym is Lee Jong Sam, said “Recently, about 20 guards from the border city of Hoiryeong escaped to China. So the Security Control Centre under the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces and National Safety Agency cooperated and urgently dispatched a team to China.”

A resident of Hoiryeong, Lee Jong Sam (pseudonym) who discovered this case informed on the 4th “Recently, about 20 guards from the border city of Hoiryeong escaped to China. So the Security Control Centre under the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces and National Safety Agency the collaborated and dispatched a team to China.”

Note: This source’s pseudonym is fantastic! It literally means “Li Truly of the Forest” or “Li In the Forest”. Beautiful — he has a sense of style. And generally speaking, “collaborated” is a verb we want to avoid when dealing with NK security organizations in favor of “cooperation,” because the latter is more accurate, and the latter is considered a smear in a country where “collaboration” usually translates into “pro-Japanese.”

This idea of interagency cooperation on the border issue is interesting — one wonders if some data exists about the relative degree of corruption or complicity with the border trade in each of the agencies listed here. I often get the feeling that North Hamgyong’s heads perpetually run the risk of having their own small kingdoms of revenue absorbed or wiped out by the center. It is such a gnarly province, hard for any regime to control whether the controlling agency is based in Pyongyang, Seoul, or, as back in the day, Tokyo. I’ll do my part to find some documents in the future from Beijing about specific difficulties with North Hamgyong separatism/regionalism during the Chinese occupation of North Korea from 1950-1958. And its unique ties with Yanbian; they are twins indeed. More in common with Yanbian culturally, linguistically, and topographically, certainly, than with South Pyong’an. There are a couple of talented graduate students at University of NK Studies in Seoul who I visited with there not long ago who are working on this transnational frontier between North Hamgyong and Yanbian. Fertile stuff!

[3] 李氏透漏,“逃出的警备队员们在中央党检阅过程中被认定有助非法渡江(脱北)之嫌,他们并不属于同一个部队而是在各个哨所服役的下士官。”

Mr. Li revealed, “The guards who escaped knew they were being investigated by the central authority on the suspicion of assisting illegal river crossings. They were not guards belonging to the same regiment but sergeants in service at various platoons.”

Lee revealed “The guards who defected where being investigated by the central authority for the suspicion of assisting defectors. They were not guards from the same regiment but sergeants in service at various platoons.”

[4] “他们都跟2月末将执行死刑的边境警备队哨所长、副小队长有关联。”

“They were all sentenced to capital punishment at the end of this month, along with others connected to the sergeant and vice-commander of a guard post” Lee said.

“These guards were affiliated with the sergeant and vice-commander of a guard post sentenced to capital punishment at the end of this month” Lee said.

Note: My translation makes clear that all of these men, not just the sergeant and vice commander, were sentenced to death. C’mon Daily NK! if your goal is to make the NK look bad, you missed a golden chance here! You reported two death sentences in English when in fact there were 20!

Perhaps more interesting, this method of control is completely reminiscent of  Qin Legalism. This is a classic example of how to create rebels!  When one faces a certain death sentence (either from hunger or disobedience), people tend to choose the route which at least offers a final act of defiant life.

[5] 李氏说,大部分警备队员逃往中国时身上没带武器,保卫司和保卫部联合抓捕小组得到中国公安当局和情报机关相助,全力展开着抓捕行动。

Mr. Li said, “Most of the guards escaped to China without carrying weapons and so the Security Control Centre and National Safety Agency connected with the arresting organizations to seek cooperation from Chinese departments and to assist intelligence organizations, all initiated in order to arrest the guards.”

The guards escaped to China without carrying weapons and so the Security Control Centre and National Safety Agency collaborated to seek cooperation from Chinese authorities and information intelligence in order to arrest the guards promptly.

Note: This was a very vague job by the Daily NK translators. First, they missed the fact that some of the soldiers who went into China brought their weapons with them. Chinese news media has reported on similar instances in the past, and really disapproves of this publically when it happens, contrary to to what you might read on One Free Korea where China is just hand in hand with the North Koreans, practically saying “C’mon over, Sargeant Park, and bring your AK and that bayonet! We’ve got us some refugees to string up — do you have that baling wire?” This is not the case.

Next, the Daily NK goes on to describe the kind of cooperation that happens — the North Koreans contacting Chinese security organizations, giving them information, not seeking information from China but giving it to the Chinese instead, which is quite a difference.

[6] “逃出的军人有逃往韩国的可能性,因此上面下令在抓捕过程中如果他们进行反抗,可以射杀他们。”

The defected soldiers could possibly will flee to South Korea, and this is why in the command to the arresting organization [it was stated that] if the defectors act to resist, it is OK to shoot them.

Lee added “There is a possibility the defected soldiers will flee to South Korea. In the case the soldiers resist arrest it seems a command was made to shoot them at any cost.”

Note: This is a big-time overstatement by Daily NK of its own information. “Shoot them at any cost” isn’t what the source said: he relays the idea that if they get into some kind of gun or knifefight on Chinese soil that the arresting agency is permitted kill the AWOL troops, which is quite different than saying that a “shoot to kill” order is in effect for the manhunt in China. Given that the “shoot to kill” is part of the article headline, I think this counts as misrepresentation of the source.

[7] 保卫司和保卫部抓捕小组把在中国的搜索范围扩大到与两江道接壤的长白地区和与慈江道满浦接壤的集安地区。

The Security Control Centre and National Safety Agency inspection teams are hunting within an expanding area in China of Changbai in the area bordering Hyesan, Yangkang province, and Ji’an near the city of Manpo, Jagang province.

The Security Control Centre and National Safety Agency inspection teams are known to be conducting manhunts in the region of Changbai, bordering Yangkang, Haesan [sic] and Jian [sic] near Jagang, Manpo.

Note: Thus far I’ve been confining myself to comment on the word choice, but here we have reason to question the basic facts offered by the source.  It just seems a bit strange for China to be sending North Korean agents all the way from Ongsan, near where Lisa Ling and Euna Lee were apprehended, all the way south down to Ji’an.  This is a huge area to cover — all this for 20 men?

[8] 另一方面,据中国内地的朝鲜消息灵通人士的消息,逃出的警备队员中的数名军人目前被中国国家安全部逮捕,但还未遣返朝鲜,正在接受中国方面的调查。

On the other hand, North Korean sources in China informed that some of the defected guards had been arrested by the Chinese National Protection Agency and though they had yet to be conveyed back to North Korea, they were currently assisting China with investigation.

On the other hand, North Korean sources in China informed that some of the defected guards had been arrested by the Chinese National Protection Agency and though they had yet to be convoyed back to North Korea, they were under Chinese investigation.

Note: Here we have a serious coup! China arrests North Korean border guards for themselves crossing illegally,  and then keeps them in custody to help them track down other renegades. In other words, these people are basically under arrest by the Chinese, who use their services not as equal cooperators, but in the fashion that the NYPD uses drug informants in return for a reduced sentence. This must result in some very uncomfortable conversations between security organizations at the provincial level. After all, wouldn’t it be embarrassing for Kim Jong Il to have to ask his Chinese comrade, “Could you please send back those border guards you arrested? We’re really hoping to put them to death, actually.”  Now who is using refugees for leverage?


The North Korean central inspection agency has been investigating rigorously the illegal act of the border guards helping citizens who try to across the border to China.

[10] 至今,边境警备队一直在收受金钱后帮助朝鲜居民逃出边境。为退役后摆脱贫穷生活,边境警备队员之间流行“服役警备队期间积攒100万元朝币(约为1000美元)运动”。最近,因朝币的再次贬值,“运动”中的积攒金额上升到300万元朝币(目前市值1000美元)。

Until now, border guards have helped North Korean citizens escape after getting paid.  In order to evade a destitute life after being discharged from the military, border guards have begun “Guards, accumulate 100,000won (approximately $1,000) campaign” and more recently, as the North Korean currency has again depreciated, another “300,000 won campaign” has been started.

[11] 对朝消息灵通人士透漏,“边境保卫指导员或哨所长等军官手里有不少美元和中国人民币。” “他们中的有些人争了1万美元以上。”

A North Korean source said “The National Safety Agency, sergeants and military commanders in charge of border security copiously have in their hands dollars and Chinese Yuan” and remarked “Of these people, there are some who have earned more than $10,000.”

[12] 边防警备队帮助渡江,其大部分主使者为中队保卫指导员和哨所长等军官。下士官收受的金钱比军官更少,因此才可能陷入危险境地。

The majority of guards who assist in escaping are the national safety agents of troops and soldiers of guard posts. It is widely known in the border area of North Korea that it is safer to bribe commissioned officers who require a lot more money for help than do petty officers.


In future posts, I’ll aim to tackle the companion piece to this one.  And of course, I would welcome the help of various readers of this site interested in North Korea who may wish to contribute their own corrected translations of similar Daily NK reports.

If at this point you are still wondering why any of this matters, read my exchange here with Joshua Stanton on One Free Korea.  Daily NK reports are used as the basis for reports that assert a wholesale Chinese-North Korean military cooperation in the border zone when, in fact, the reality — and the language — is more complex than that.

Adam Cathcart by the Tumen River south of Hoeryung (North Hamgyong province, DPRK), photo by Chuck Kraus

Adam Cathcart by the Tumen River south of Hoeryong city (North Hamgyong province, DPRK), photo by Chuck Kraus