Manchurian Base Camp, Part III: The DPRK’s Northeastern Strategy

Manchurian Base Camp, Part I: In the 1930s Kim Il Song regarded Manchuria, or Northeast China, as an immense area into which to project anti-Japanese struggle and wherein he could hammer out the personal foundations for what would become the North Korean state.  

Manchurian Base Camp, Part II: During the Korean War, North Korean elites moved back into Manchuria to escape from the horrific bombing of Pyongyang (and virtually every other major and minor city in the DPRK), populating special schools in cities like Tonghua, Jilin, and Changchun.  In his recent visit to Jilin, Kim Jong Il admitted that he had spent nearly three years in Jilin province as an elementary school student, safe from American air raids.  (While this put the lie to the many stories North Korean propagandists had already spun about the Young General accompanying his (rather young) father at the front, braving bombs and giving on-the-spot-guidance at the tender age of eight or nine, his comments were meant for a Chinese audience anyway, and have been widely reported in the PRC without a great deal of editorializing. 

Manchurian Base Camp, Part II.5 is the unacknowledged symmetry that began with what Andrew Nastios calls “The Great North Korean Famine” in the 1990s; the symmetry involves hungry North Koreans who saw the Chinese northeast as their lifeline much as Kim Il Song’s arduous marches in the 1930s acknowledged that the difficult survival in Manchuria was survival nevertheless.  

And finally to today:  

Manchurian Base Camp, Part III: Today the North Korean leadership is pushing again towards Northeast China, but in a different fashion, opening the gates in obvious fashion to reinterpret the meaning of Manchuria in the North Korean propaganda topos.  Take, for instance, the summary of a new North Korean editorial, published in the Rodong Sinmun (Workers’ Daily) in Pyongyang and relayed to us via the Chinese news bureau in that city (translation by Adam Cathcart):


文章介绍了东北三省在地理、经济、文化等各方面的发展情况,称赞在中国共产党的关怀和该地区人民具有献身精神的奋斗与努力下,东北三省在政治、经济、文化等许多领域的发展都取得了巨大成果。文章说,东北工业和农业得到壮大,科技飞速发展,人民福利大幅提高。东北人民为有中国特色的和谐社会主义建设作出了巨大贡献。 文章最后对东北的明天抱以美好的展望,称东北地区将在社会主义现代化建设的道路上不断向前发展。

An article published in the September 16 “Workers’ Daily’ in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea states that, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese Northeast has taken on a whole new appearance.  The article, entitled “Daily Renewal and Change in the Chinese Northeastern Region,” states that Northeast China was the area of former national Chairman Kim Il Song’s revolutionary activities, was where he lived and struggled, and is the important and significant site of historical Korean-Chinese friendship.  The DPRK’s highest leader Kim Jong Il went twice to the Northeast [this past year], in May and in August, pursuing (追寻) Kim Il Song’s footsteps and historical relics from his revolutionary activities.  [Translator's note: There were precious few of these relics available for DPRK scholars who went in pursuit of Marshal Kim's footsteps in 1953; some of my archival work on this issue will be coming out in the next year in Harvard's Journal of Cold War Studies.  But here the important point is the pursuing of the "footsteps," an important succession theme, and Kim Jong Il was never really all that interested in historical veracity in the first place.]    

The article introduces the geography, economy, culture and other aspects of Northeast China’s situation of development, stating that under the solicitous care of the Chinese Communist Party, the people of the region have taken a collective spirit of effort and struggle, making huge achievements in all spheres in the three Northeastern provinces, including politics, economics, and culture.  The article goes on to state that industry and agriculture in the Northeast are expanding and strengthening, that science is helping to speed development and substantially raise the welfare of the people.  The Northeastern people are producing huge contributions to the establishment of harmonious socialism with Chinese characteristics.   The article ends by stating that the Northeast holds great hopes for a beautiful tomorrow, moving continuously forward on the road of modern, socialist construction and development. 

 In another sense, the North Korean state is finally stating something which has become completely obvious to residents of the border areas, and no doubt by word of mouth to residents in the population centers closer to the southern border like Hamhung and Pyongyang: Northeast China is developing rapidly.  In and of itself, such a statement does not consist of “news” to a deadened North Korean population, but its bullish statement by KCNA, the North Korean propaganda agency, is of course “newsworthy.”

Kim Jong Il’s recent visits to North Korean border regions, replacing of top party officials in border provinces, and the primacy assigned to North Pyong’an and Ryanggang (northwestern border) provinces in the rhetoric and speculation about Kim Jong Un would all seem to further indicate the northward focus of the DPRK leadership at the moment.   

In English, the DPRK makes its Northeastern strategy further apparent in this KCNA piece describing Kim Il Song’s [mostly real] contributions to the Chinese revolution in the era of China’s “War of Liberation”/Civil War.  A second, much more extensive piece, moves the argument ahead even further, placing China in the position of being in a kind of moral debt to the Kim family due to aid rendered during the civil war.  One might want to note, however, that describing these so prominently in DPRK media isn’t so much as a new move as a return to the ethos of 1949, when the North Korean media was rather outspoken in its support for Mao and the Chinese communist war effort, something which can be further explored in an article I published a couple of years back with Chuck Kraus entitled “North Korean Internationalism, 1945-1950″ in the Review of Korean Studies. 

In another post, I’ll endeavor to describe how North Korea began telegraphing the “Northeastern strategy” with great clarity before Kim Jong Il went on his impulse-tour of the Northeast, via slogans long in preparation for an Arirang for Chinese tourists in August, 2010.  I got an eyeful of these, fresh from the cameras of Chinese tourists returning into Dandong when I was at the border there on August 21.  Lots and lots of references to Kim Il Song’s footsteps in Manchuria…

"Construct a Harmonious Socialist Society" -- Arirang caption for PRC Premier Wen Jiabao in Pyongyang, October 2009; click image for photo gallery

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

Japanese Departures

Thanks to the clarion calls of the immortal James Brown, it has become clear: I’m back, and Yukio Hatoyama has indeed “gotten up off of that thing,” relieving pressure by resigning.  More importantly, the U.S.-Japan alliance is again, as NPR reports, “in limbo.”  You could see the writing on the wall, clearly, when Obama visited Japan last year — the tentative nature of the interaction and particularly the vascillating language by both sides on the Okinawa base issue presaged Hatoyama’s collapse on the issue.  Can a future politician tame the tempest?  It may very well be that Koizumi, reviled though he was by many, will end up being the longest-serving Japanese Prime Minister in my adult lifetime!

Given that discussion of the Hatoyama collapse in the U.S. just might center around the health of the Japanese economy, it’s worth noting a two other things: 1) the question mark over American forces in Okinawa doesn’t strengthen the U.S. hand in threatening North Korea (the Marine Expeditionary Force on the island being the presumptive occupying force in the advent of a DPRK collapse) and, probably more importantly, 2) this presents a challenge and opportunity for China to reach out to Japan.

The CCP leaders seemed quite fond of Hatoyama and were reprising Zhou Enlai’s attitude toward Japan (led by Hatoyama’s grandfather, fittingly enough at the time) during the mid-1950s: Downplay disagreements, seek economic cooperation for mutual benefit and, ultimately, to displace American influence from Japan.

I don’t believe that the CCP thinks that the Americans can be so easily dislodged from Japan, or that Japan can just fit neatly into the Chinese tributary orbit, but, the night before Hatoyama’s resignation and on the cusp of the aftermath of Wen Jiabao’s visit there, China Daily put the matter rather nakedly.  I’ll quote the editorial in full:

It is time for Japan to Re-engage with Asia [China Daily, June 1, 2010]

Japan must turn around, shed off its Western image and be more Japanese. It needs to be proud again but not as before like having a samurai mentality. Most importantly, Japan must see itself independent of the USA and its stranglehold. Japan must determine its own path and future.

Japan’s future? Japan has a future and that is with Asia and China, not with the USA. As things look, the USA is holding back Japan’s future. With Japan’s ‘inborn’ innovation and creative ability, Japan should have been a top country, much better than its present position.

China and Japan have much in common but because of politics, the relationship could not move faster and better. Historical matters, territorial disputes, suspicions and fear are the obstacles to better ties.

Both countries see the need to improve ties, trade and political relations. Trade and politics go hand in hand. One cannot realistically have good trade relations without good political relations. Good political relations can only be possible when mistrust and disputes are removed while understanding and respect are enhanced. So when negatives are already in place, it takes great efforts on the part of leaders to meet regularly and try to reach agreement.

Today, China, ROK and Japan are meeting. It will be fruitful when leaders show maturity, frankness, good faith and other positive attributes in their talk.

I wish all our leaders’ success and that Asia will one day find unity and peace.

Asia for Asians, unite for true peace and growth.

How about them apples?  And ending with Japan’s old slogan of the East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere gives it a particularly nice touch.

In one of the more intelligent and far-sighted online commentaries I’ve read in the past few weeks, Peter Lee writes:

The DPJ [Democratic Party of Japan] government is now in full retreat from its original non-aligned strategy. It aroused Chinese ire by tweaking Beijing on the issue of its nuclear arsenal, then leaked the news of Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s rage to the international press to gain desperately needed political and diplomatic capital.

Instead of moving the US Marine air base off Okinawa, Hatoyama clumsily and without reference to his cabinet reaffirmed the pro-US deal negotiated by the previous Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government that keeps it on the island, to the dismay of Hatoyama’s coalition partners and the disgust of the Japanese electorate.

It appears inevitable that the successor to the Hatoyama government will remain committed to the US alliance.

The Obama administration may be somewhat beguiled by the vision of Korea rising, but it remains committed to the Japanese alliance and is doubtless wary of Seoul’s growing desire to assert itself militarily – a recapitulation of threats by previous LDP governments in Japan to unleash the Self-Defense Forces.

And, just in time, Huanqiu Shibao arrives to pull us back into cultural diplomac, in fact, what it calls “cartoon diplomacy” via translation/summary of an Agence France-Presse dispatch:

法新社5月31日文章,原题:中日发起“卡通”外交 撇开外交较量,日本和中国周一同意联合举行动漫和电视剧节以推动民间文化交流。日本外务省官员说,中国国务院总理温家宝星期天抵达东京开始为期三天的访问,和他的日本对手鸠山由纪夫在会议上达成上述协议。这名官员说,两国初步计划将在下年相互专门举办节日或者活动周来介绍各自的荧屏文化,比如动漫或者电视剧。该官员说,“我们接受中国的提议,因为它将为我们提供促进文化交流的机会。” 作为努力增进文化理解的一部分,中国总理温家宝说,自己喜欢观看日本获奖影片《入殓师》(Departures),是由鸠山推荐给他的。(冯丽译)

Of course, now that Hatoyama has signaled his retreat, there’s sweet, sweet irony in the fact that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said how much he loved the gift given to him by the Japanese P.M.: the Japanese film “Departures [《入殓师》].”

All I can say is “Thank God,” because after all, nothing says “Sino-Japanese Friendship” quite like a visionary cellist.  Or, as these Chinese netizens argue, getting the next Japanese P.M. to Nanjing for the ultimate apology.

人多没办法! Viewing Chinese Power thro the Lens of Spring Festival Chaos

As pundits both knowledgeable and sketchy proclaim a new era in Chinese global assertiveness, it’s helpful to recall one thing: the Chinese people are an immense force, a force whose collective and chaotic power is never more evident to Chinese leaders than in the Spring Festival travel season.

For this reason, I have to recommend scrolling through this Huanqiu BBS photo-montage of the craziness of 2009 Spring Festival (featuring, among other things, a classic photo combining an open train window with something that babies do really well).  It’s hard to imagine that the same Wen Jiabao who so coolly strode into Pyongyang with billions in hand this past October 2009 was, a year ago, bullhorning assurances to the masses in Changsha’s cracked edifice to railway travel (and probably hoping not to be torn limb from limb).

2009年1月29日,温家宝在湖南长沙火车站看望滞留车站的旅客。 Wen Jiabao encourages passengers stranded in Changsha -- click image for gallery

The first netizen comment on the story both gave the government a pass and spoke a kind of eternal truth about China: “人多没办法 (Too many people; nothing you can do)!“

Yet thinking about the travel season leads me to wonder: Did the Chinese government want to make a bit of a show of strength before families get together for Spring Festival, when some assessments of the nation’s progress — and the effectiveness of the CCP — are inevitably made?  Certainly they were given that opportunity in spades.  This year, the United States somehow managed to bunch up the one winning issue (Google and free speech/the right not to be hacked) with three losing ones (cybersecurity cooperation with India/arms sales to Taiwan/Obama meeting with Dalai Lama) right in the same frame. Why did Obama wait to see the Dalai Lama anyway?   Now Chinese anxieties about the man get lumped in with fears of Taiwan independence, and we’re back to the 1950s.

I wonder if the period leading up to Spring Festival is, then, sort of like late spring: predictable chaos in predictable sectors.  Chinese universities, for instance, in April and May tend to become pressure-cookers for any number of issues that somehow correspond with upcoming exams.  And the gao kao, or university entrance examination, is another period when youth are feeling extreme pressure; last year, the Dalai Lama made a very stupid move by meeting with Paris mayor on the same day as the exam, making His Holiness a kind of Wailing Wall or proxy for all manner of complaints, the very projection of an enemy when anxieties among youth were high.

Finally, along the lines of understanding China’s internal dynamics and the fury that the CCP is eager to dissipate or channel: when was the last time someone mentioned China’s unemployment rate among recent college graduates?  Next time Obama is in Shanghai, let’s hope he can give Chinese youth some hope for more MBA degrees in the United States, and, for heaven’s sake, shoot some hoops.  That is, if he can muscle his way first to the front of the line to get some of this Spring Festival bling:

Note the paddy wagon with bullhorns in the background

Excellent Resource: DPRK TV on YouTube

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

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

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

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

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

[Video forthcoming....trouve trouve trouve]

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

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

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

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

Seiji Ozawa, via Xinhua -- click image for story

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

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

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

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

China-Iran-Russia: Geopolitics and Soft Power

Via Professor Juan Cole’s groundbreaking Informed Comment website, an illustrated commentary on Sino-Iranian relations by Pepe Escobar in France (in English):

Then, via Al Jezeera’s English service, a short report on China’s Iran moves in October:

The best look at the deep structure of Sino-Iran relations today is probably my colleague John Garver’s work, Ancient Partners in a Post-Imperial World, published here in Seattle at the University of Washington Press in 2006.

Finally, the Politics by Other Means Eurasian blog has a thought-provoking post on “the personalization of power” in Russia and Iran:

[Putin's method] is remarkably similar to the situation in Iran, where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad collects millions of hand-written letters throughout his trips around the country and promises to personally solve every problem.  It is a type of paternalistic populism that is endemic in countries without functioning institutions.  Unfortunately, it only perpetuates corruption and lack of faith in governance.

This prompts me to marvel at how bureaucratic and impersonal the Chinese leadership has become, and impressively so.  Wen Jiabao may occasionally preen for the cameras, but no Chinese leader appears to want the appearance that they are able to fix everything — can you imagine the number of petitioners who would flock to the gates of Zhongnanhai then?

But then again, Wen Jiabao can’t do this:

In this light, Barack Obama seems strangely unable to marshal his own hip-hip potential internationally or find time for a pickup game of hoops in Beijing.  Apparently he leaves his Jay-Z at the water’s edge.  The President’s inability to tap into the best and the deepest currents of globalized American / African-American culture functions to the detriment of U.S. soft power!  In other words, Mr. President, please don’t be afraid to seize the mic or shoot a layup next time you’re in Shanghai or talking tough to Tehran.  Because America should always be young, and mp3s and images rock the chains better than bunker-busters ever could.

Follow-ups on Wen Jiabao’s Pyongyang Trip

The Martyrs’ Cemetary which Wen went to is actually, according to this Chinese news site, about 100 kilometers east of Pyongyang.
Wen at cemetary

Wen Jiabao looks at a statue of Mao's son, frozen in stone -- note the unruly Chinese official in the background snapping his own momento

I had always imagined that this bust looked down upon a valley.  Now it appears it looks at a wall.  Fortunately Wen Jiabao had respectful — yet somewhat loaded — words for the dead, stated in a “轻声 [light/simple]” voice:“岸英同志,半个世纪了!我代表祖国人民来看望你。祖国现在强大了,人民幸福了。你安息吧 [Comrade Anying, half a century has passed!  I represent the people of the motherland who come to see you.  The motherland is now strong, the people are happy and prosperous.  You can be at peace!]”

This kind of thing almost certainly made the North Koreans uncomfortable.  (Photos of this ceremony confirm it, too.)  I can only imagine what the North Koreans imagine themselves saying to the dead of 1950-53.   “We rebuilt our country, but it’s still divided; we have the bomb, but the people are starving.  The Generalissimo’s kid is in power and the army steals from the peasants.  But fortunately — and this should be familiar — the Chinese are here to guarantee our security and they brought some grain.”

But somehow, China paying homage to Mao’s would-be heir, had China gone the quasi-monarchist route of the DPRK, assuages North Korea’s politics of succession.  Of course we pay tribute to our dead princes!

Perhaps it is also worth noting that Mao Anying was killed in a napalm raid by an American jet.  Having spent a few harrowing hours last year in a dark room the U.S. National Archives watching black and white film footage of such strikes (a veritable and gory “greatest hits” reel, in fact, which went on and on and on), I suppose it makes sense that the North Korean airforce yesterday sent representatives to Beijing.

Of course, instead of a reflection on the shameful lack of communist air strength in the Korean War, Wen Jiabao’s visit to Mao Anying’s tomb was interpreted instead as a way of harkening back to the Mao years in the way one is supposed to: “You worked hard and sacrificed your life for the revolution, and the revolution has now succeeded in making China powerful.”  It’s a reprise, essentially, of “China has stood up,” even if, in this instance, one foot is on DPRK soil.

Now back in time to the airport:

This photo from the very interesting web resource KoreaXin reinforces that Kim Jong Il is huggable, but also that he was using his left arm quite well in early October.

Kim and Wen at airport

Why doesn't the PLA General hug and kiss his KPA counterpart? Awkward!

For some reason I neglected to mention or analyze musical selections, always significant in moments like this: 在机场举行了隆重的欢迎仪式。朝鲜人民军军乐队奏中朝两国国歌,鸣礼炮21响。  In other words, we had the two countries’ national anthems (safe choices, as they are both anti-Japanese), and a 21-gun salute (perhaps using Chinese munitions from Liaoning arsenals).

The star of the Cultural Revolution-era film sensation “the Flower Girl,” known universally among Chinese of a certain age, was on hand to give flowers to Wen at the airport.  Here she is on September 11 in Pyongyang singing the praises of the 150-day struggle campaign:

Hong Yingchen

The Flower Girl

Wen also went to the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang, where he mingled with overseas Chinese resident in the DPRK, as well as students studying in the country.  (One of the aspects I failed to mention in my previous translations of Chinese netizen comments on North Korea was their fascination with the low cost of studying at universities there.  Chinese youth are nothing if not pragmatic in looking for life choices.)

Then they drove around some more, where, according to the CCP’s “Gaotai” website, North Korean civilians not only sang and danced under both countries’ flag, but shouted pro-Chinese slogans while Wen and Kim waved at them in a passing vehicle.

Maybe the Chinese will be so kind as to arrange similar treatment for President Obama in Beijing?  I can only imagine the kind of humorous modification the Beijing residents would do to the slogans.

Then Wen Jiabao met some Young Pioneers, who gave him a red hankerchief.  This gave Wen an opportunity to say some very nice things about Kim Il Song, China’s bosom friend: :“深切缅怀朝鲜人民的伟大领袖、中国人民的亲密朋友金日成主席 [We deeply cherish the memory of the great leader of the Korean people, the close friend of the Chinese people, Chairman Kim Il Song]!”

At the meeting with Kim, Wen really laid it down: 温家宝在致辞中代表中国政府和人民,向朝鲜政府和人民致以诚挚的问候和良好的祝愿。温家宝说,中朝建交六十年来,无论国际风云如何变幻,中朝两党、两国和两国人民相互理解、相互支持、相互帮助,推进中朝关系不断向前发展,为维护本地区和平与稳定作出了积极努力。In other words, it’s all about mutual assistance.  The two parties understand each other intimately and will remain unshakeable no matter what big international winds (e.g., the US) blow.

In revisiting the sources on this, I was surprised at how relatively open the discussion has become on the Chinese internet about North Korea.  Obviously there’s no voice like One Free Korea, but this Sohu blog entitled 废话一筐 has pure disdain for how the North Korean media tried to spin Wen’s visit as a trip to”come seeking advice” from Kim Jong Il.  In some ways, Chinese contemporary nationalism and the alliance with North Korea, on the terms that North Korea needs at least, are incompatible.

But I was also struck at how much music and movies filled an important gap in the discourse.  Here, swiped in its entirety from a Huaqiao (Overseas Chinese) BBS, is an analysis of the North Korean opera, “Dream of the Red Chamber” produced and performed for Wen Jiabao:

黛玉香销玉殒,宝玉愤离尘世。 昨天访问朝鲜的中国总理温家宝一下飞机,朝方特意请《卖花姑娘》中花妮的扮演者洪英姬献花。下午,朝鲜领导人金正日亲自陪同到访的中国总理温家宝欣赏了朝鲜版《红楼梦》歌剧。  朝鲜版《红楼梦》是中朝传统友谊的象征之一。早在60年代,这出歌剧就在朝鲜轰动一时。它是在与中国有深厚渊源的、朝鲜前领导人金日成的亲自指导下创作而成的。当年,中国前领导人邓小平曾与金日成共同观看。 《红楼梦》在朝鲜家喻户晓。83年版红楼梦电视剧,曾多次在朝鲜电视台播出,收视率极高。可以说,关于红楼梦,朝鲜人和我们有着不少相同的的记忆和感情。 在中朝建交60年和中朝友好年之际,金正日特意要求“把红楼梦歌剧加以润色公演,并作了几十次宝贵的教导。”开演前,朝鲜姑娘用颤抖的声音,深情地向观众如此介绍。 新版《红楼梦》场次如下: 第一场:大观园之春  第二场一景:潇湘馆  第二场二景:月夜之情   第三场一景:读书写字  第三场二景:宝玉受罚  第三场三景:宝玉养伤   第四场一景:花满大观园  第四场二景:寂寞大观园    第五场一景:黛玉病损  第五场二景:宝玉娶亲   第六场:黛玉灵堂   拉开序幕,悠扬的音乐和幻美的布景,立刻把观众带入如梦如幻的仙境。细看下去,更让人惊叹。谁能想到,在中国以外的地方,居然还会有对红楼梦情节、人物把握得如此细腻。 故事以宝黛爱情为主线,虽然牺牲了贾家荣盛衰败的内容,但改编之后也属合理顺畅,整个故事一气呵成。整台节目历时两个半小时。剧情随着黛玉香销玉殒、宝玉愤然离开这个“只追求荣华富贵的社会”而达到高潮,这倒是与朝鲜的意识形态暗合。 感人之处,难用笔墨形容。只见剧场内的女性观众都在悄悄抹泪,男性观众也不少低声叹息。但接近尾声时,还是忍不住潸然落泪。 《红楼梦》本是中国特色,在中国拍过电影和电视剧,有过舞剧、越剧和京剧等等。尽管很受青睐,却从未做到像朝鲜版那样催人泪下。本博秦全耀认为,显然朝鲜把《红楼梦》拍成了卖花姑娘,宝玉和黛玉如同那受害的“花妮”。 今年是中朝建交60周年,两国将今年定为“中朝友好年”,因此金总书记下令重新排演现代版《红楼梦》并亲临指导当然是为了向国内外展示“重视对华”的姿态。有日本媒体称朝鲜为了核试能得到中国的理解,可以说《红楼梦》是块很好的敲门砖。《卖花姑娘》献花,《红楼梦》催泪,这是何等的悲情公关凄惨组合。 中国人最喜欢什么呢?眼泪。早在1972年,一部《卖花姑娘》的电影就曾把10亿中国人哭了个举国流泪。虽然“莫斯科不相信演泪”,但中国人正相反,哭才打动人,在他们心里眼泪是金。因此谙熟中国特色的金正日总书记便亲临指导对症下药,一定要把《红楼梦》拍得比《卖花姑娘》还要惨,还要催人泪下。 “欲送登高千里目,愁云低锁衡阳路”,“男儿有泪不轻弹,只是未到伤心处”。这是出自昆剧《林冲夜奔》里的一段唱词,后一句几乎人人知晓。由此可见中国人的特性正如所言伤心就落泪,而且还一哭就高潮,“泪飞顿作倾盆雨”。投其所好,金正日明白,哭比笑好,哭才是对中国最好的卖点。

The Xinhua dispatch on the opera performance (via the PRC’s embassy in Pyongyang) offers these tidbits [my commentary is in brackets]:

Wen [Jiabao], who arrived here Sunday for a three-day visit, held friendly talks with Kim before the show [a la Zhou Enlai's small talk with Nixon before watching "Red Detachment of Women" with the charming Jiang Qing, who the younger Kim Jong Il doubtless admired, in 1972].

Under the instruction of late DPRK leader Kim Il Sung, DPRK artists adapted A Dream of Red Mansions for the stage in the 1960s [quite possibly a specious assertion given the juche trends of the era]. They had presented the opera to many Chinese leaders of the older generation, including Deng Xiaoping [who, according to a reliable collaborator, North Koreans generally hate].

In 2008, DPRK top leader Kim Jong Il instructed that the opera be further improved and put on stage again as a major event for the China-DPRK Friendship Year. Kim [of course] offered much guidance for the opera and watched its rehearsal and performance on several occasions [which was probably more work than the simple, but not insignificant sign-off on the New York Philharmonic's repertoire for their concert last February 2008 in Pyongyang].

The Chinese classic, written during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) by Cao Xueqin [he ancestrally from neighboring Liaoning province, on the edge of what was once Koguryo], is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Chinese literature.

China offered help in the adaptation and performance of the opera, which is considered a good example of China-DPRK cultural exchange and cooperation [which is not to be confused with sadae juui, or "flunkeyism."  Better a bit of Qing dynasty elite culture than Chinese rock music flowing across the border.]

And then we have this Arirang performance with the completely unsubtle slide saying “Grandfather Wen [father's father], we are very happy to see thee!”  (In other words, the formal version of the word “you” is used in spite of the fact that he’s supposedly a family member.  Best to go with the respectful form of address here.)

Wen ye ye

via Ifeng/Phoenix reporting (click image for story in Chinese)

A few days later this image turned up, with a few quizzical remarks by the Chinese: “不知是什么年代的古董摄影机,拍摄时会发出巨响.”  Indeed — in just what era are their North Korean counterparts operating, anyway?


click image for link to story

Related posts:

Wen We Meet Again,” NK Leadership Watch, October 8, 2009.

Wen’s DPRK Visit Rich in Content, Weighty in Outcome,” Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang website, October 6, 2009.

Tenacious Excrement and Koguryo Ur-nationalism in North Korea,” Sinologistical Violoncellist, November 2, 2009.

Wen’s DPRK Visit Rich in Content, Weighty in Outcome

Worth Reading re: North Korea

Haggard and Noland, authors of the comprehensive Famine in North Korea, are at it again, with a 43-page research report surveying prison camp experiences in the DPRK.  (Via East-West Center.)

Xinhua waxes poetic over a new version of “Dream of the Red Chamber,” a traditional Chinese story set to music by Kim Jong-il led composers and choreographers in the DPRK.  Why?  Because Kim Jong-il sat for a couple of hours in Pyongyang with Wen Jiabao to watch the show!  A very peculiar, yet familiar, type of musical diplomacy.  (KCNA reports on it here.)

And Mike Madden, who has recently completed a biography of Jang Song-taek, analyzes French activism on the North Korean front of late.  Madden has just started the blog, but he’s clearly an expert and the site is one to watch — I would definitely encourage DPRK watchers to bookmark it.  Meanwhile, Sarkozy is inking contracts for French oil concerns in Kazakhstan!

And, getting back to the “Resist America Aid Korea” bedrock of the Sino-North Korean alliance, Wen Jiabao lays flowers at the tomb of Mao Zedong’s son in Pyongyang.  Heaven only knows if real North Koreans are allowed into Chinese cemetaries, but Xinhua played this one for all it was worth.  (Story and video here on CCTV.)

“Kim Jong Il Felicitates Chinese Leaders” — Updates on North Korean-Chinese Relations

I wish I could take credit for the title of this post, but it’s another idiomatic KCNA creation.   It headlines a story regarding Kim Jong Il’s praise to China on the 60th anniversary of the PRC.  Incidentally, although most of the document is strictly pro forma, Kim Jong Il made one comment that may be interpreted as dwelling at the intersection of Sino-NK relations and the politics of succession:

It is the consistent stand of the WPK [Workers' Party of Korea, even though he just emasculated it further with the new Constitution] and the government of the DPRK to set store by this friendship that has stood all the trials of history and steadily consolidate and develop it generation after generation.

Perhaps Kim’s ostensible successors will be involved in the meetings as well.  At least according to one of my better sources in Beijing, Kim Jong Il has been eager to have his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, have contact with the Chinese leadership, partially as a way of bolsting the successor’s portfolio and legitimacy within the regime.  But I speculate, and offer you the verbal cue above.

In general, the Chinese media was keeping things quiet on the North Korean front last week, for a couple of reasons.  A) Nothing is more important to the CCP than reveling in their own glory and B) why not assure a free hand for Wen Jiabao when he arrives in Pyongyang?  No need to stir things up with some public debate about North Korea policy as raged this summer.

Now, for a few examples of Chinese media circumspection.  One Huanqiu story on how NK was not planning to honor UN Resolution 1887 was published, but its online version doesn’t allow comments.  And Lee Myung-bak’s remarks at G-20 that he will never recognize NK as a nuclear power are passed along by Chinese media, but again not prominently.   To balance out the ROK perspective, Xinhua runs bland representations of KCNA’s complaint that the Americans are still treating North Korea as an enemy country, without a true change in policy (没有丝毫变化).

There was a small amount of good news: tourism can now be undertaken to the DPRK, and Cuba, by Chinese without a visa.  (It looks like Wu Bangguo’s trip to see the Castro brothers in early September has paid off.  Now Cuba can start siphoning away part of that increasingly lucrative Chinese tourist trade away from the United States.  Why go to Las Vegas and wrangle with the Department of Homeland Security when you can just buy a plane ticket and show up to gamble in Cuba?)

The PRC did the courtesy of reprinting portions of the DPRK Foreign Ministry’s note of congratulations to China on the 60th anniversary.  Also commemorating China’s birthday, the North Koreans held the standard parties for the Chinese in Pyongyang.  Meanwhile, the Chinese dragged the DPRK’s ambassador in Beijing to the jaw-dropping new National Library for a little exhibition about North Korea.  Whether or not anyone takes a minute to look at it after the ambassador leaves, and the undoubtedly critical comments people will make, isn’t the important thing: what matters is that the North Korean ambassador and his staff had another chance to wet their pants about how wealthy China has become.  The new library puts the “People’s Cultural Palace” in Pyongyang way, way behind.   The old National Library in Beijing (Guotu)?  Maybe the North Koreans could compete.  But now that’s eroded, too.

Library-building is like an arms race in East Asia — really!  And the North Koreans are losing badly.  In fact, a large number of their students aren’t even going to school now because they are out helping their parents in the markets, doing conscript labor, or gathering weeds to eat.

Actions like “declarations of congratualations” or library visits by the DPRK ambassador may seem questionably significant, I will admit.   But, if we are listening for the silences in Sino-North Korean relations, they mean something.  If the Chinese had failed to print or publicize North Korea’s gesture, for instance, something would be amiss, as such things go a long way in the culture of socialist fraternalism.  Chuck Kraus had a very insightful post on this idea when North Korea failed to condemn publicly the riots in Xinjiang.

Now, one aspect in the bilateral relations that is frequently overlooked in favor of nuclear and refugee issues is culture.  There appears to be a push going on from North Korea for further cooperation in the movie industry:

A week of Chinese film show was opened with due ceremony at Taedongmun Cinema on Monday on the occasion of the “year of the DPRK-China friendship”.

Present there were Paek Han Su, vice-chairman of the State Film Commission of the DPRK, officials concerned, creators and artistes in the field of movie industry and art and working people in Pyongyang.

On hand were the Chinese moviemen’s delegation headed by Zhao Haicheng, assistant president of the China Film Group Corporation, Chinese Ambassador to the DPRK Liu Xiaoming and staff members of his embassy and Chinese guests staying in the DPRK.

Lest this be interpreted as an example of sadae, “serving the great”, or flunkeyism to China, on the same day a larger event was held for Koreans, by Koreans:

A symposium of the Juche-based idea of literature and art on the feature film “The Country I Saw” (parts 2 and 3) took place Monday.
Present there were Choe Ik Gyu, department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Pyong Hun, chairman of the Central Committee of the General Federation of the Unions of Art and Literature of Korea, officials concerned, creators and artistes in the field of movie industry and teachers and researchers at universities. Speakers at the symposium said that the film chose the international position and significance of the Songun politics pursued by leader Kim Jong Il as its theme and explained it in depth.

Dealing with the pressing issue of the modern international politics an answer to which is called for by the world progressive conscience, the film explains through high artistic representation the philosophical truth that national independence is guaranteed by the might of the single-minded unity of the army and people around the leader and powerful military power and that Songun means independence, justice and victory, they noted.

They also referred to the fact that the film actively introduced the latest science and technology, thus laying a springboard from which to make a new leaping advance in the efforts to put the nation’s level of movie production onto a higher stage.

They recalled that creators and artistes properly chose the seed as required by the basic principle for creating Korean-style revolutionary literature and art and effected signal innovations in the movie production by waging a drive day and night in the collectivist spirit.

They called upon all creators and artistes to draw on the achievements and experience gained in the production of the film and create more masterpieces of the era which will encourage the servicepersons and people in their drive to effect a new great revolutionary surge.

So much for opening up and liberalization on the Chinese model.  It’s a perfect example of North Korea appearing to reach out for help from China and then beating it back, almost viciously, with this kind of sogun-juche nonsense.  It’s bifurcated behavior, to be sure.

Another area where North Korea is hedging against Chinese influence is in telecommunications.  North Korea is cutting deals with an Egyptian telecom firm, Orascom, to set up cellular service in its country.  Why not just use China Mobile, you ask?  Well, it’s all about juche economics; the Chinese have already inflicted a great deal of pain upon the regime’s desire to remain closed to outside information with the extensive cell phone networks along the border.  And thus the chairman of Orascom gets feted in Pyongyang shortly before Wen Jiabao arrives.

Pyongyang, September 30 (KCNA) — Order of the DPRK Friendship First Class was awarded to Naguib Sawiris, chairman and CEO of the Orascom Telecom Holding of Egypt, in recognition of the positive contributions he has made to developing the relations of friendship and economic cooperation between the DPRK and Egypt with his boundless respect and reverence for General Secretary Kim Jong Il.

Did North Korea ever say anything so nice about the huggable Wen Jiabao?  Maybe Wen hasn’t expressed sufficiently boundless respect and reverence for his needy neighbor.  Well, at least Kim Jong Il was there to greet him at the airport, unlike Bill Clinton or Madeline Albright.  And the two men had a couple of hugs and pecks on the cheek.  Kim Jong Il looked good and animated, like the actor he is, like a man preparing to have a very good glass of wine at an early lunch.


从环球时报 -- note how the NK handler in the background seems to have the journalist, right and kneeling, on a leash -- And domestic internet commentary on this trip is sure to be rather restrained.