Sino-Japanese Sehnsucht

This post is my own small commemoration of July 7 in the Chinese context; it is a bit of a centaur in that the first half is rather traditional scholar-style analysis of what we might call “the politics of memory” in the PRC, while the second half is a somewhat quirky story of frustrated Sino-Japanese love on the train tracks of Frankfurt, Germany.  The latter story is about one Chinese man’s personal quest for “Wiedergutmachung,” or repairing wrongs from the past. In any event, I hope that one of these halves, if not both, are of interest to readers.   

Meta-Narratives of the Sino-Japanese War (War of Resistance) in Beijing 

Although it may seem an obvious statement to make, there is a qualitative difference that exists between a state-controlled media and a free press.  In China, the existence of the state (interpreted quite naturally now as the endurance of the rule of the Chinese Communist Party and its imperatives) at the helm of print, online, and broadcast media lends a certain uniform quality to the discussion of Japan.

This is particularly true in the early days of any given July.   After the weathering what is always a nervous spring, culminating with the discomfort of 4 June, early July is high season for Party commemorations.

The CCP invariably follows its own July 1 birthday with the commemoration of the “July 7 Incident,” otherwise known as the “Marco Polo Bridge Incident” of 1937 which triggered all-out war between China and Japan and led, a little over six months later, to the slaughter at Nanking.

In 1937, the CCP leadership was holed up in remote and dry northern Shanxi province and Mao was carving out essay after essay about such things as guerrilla warfare and protracted war.

Today, the PRC foreign-affairs media apparatus is anything but holed up: it is vast and well-funded, and, if it lacks Mao’s flair for literary originality, it remains more productive than ever, and, although such occasions are rare, can even display flashes of tactical brilliance.

Such brilliance, however, must be uniform and in keeping with the dominant themes laid out for emphasis from “the center.”

And thus the story of China’s immense and detailed relationship with Japan is leveled down into an essential binary emphasizing a highly certain interpretation of the past.  (Cracks exist of course, like when a small publishing house gets a scholarly monograph into the bookstores about a prominent intellectual wartime collaborator; exceptions also exist when Chinese state media is asked to promote a warming trend with Japan, even though such trends are invariably temporary.)

Generally speaking, Chinese individuals are useful to this binary narrative only insofar as they highlight the needs of patriotic education.

As depicted in state media, the ideal Chinese citizen should be ever mindful of the atrocities committed by Japanese troops in China before 1945, expectant of an apology from both the Japanese state and individual Japanese, and grateful for the armed resistance of the CCP (and, now, secondarily, because policy with Taiwan allows it) the Guomindang armies.

There are various difficulties with the above situation which other scholars like Takeshi Yoshida, Peter Hayes Gries, Joshua Fogel, and Rana Mitter have already pointed out, but I would like to add one to the list:

State media hampers the emergence of individual voices whose stories are discordant with the “main melody” of Party commemoration, and in so doing, homogenizes the discourse of Sino-Japanese relations to an inordinate degree.

In other words, by controlling the past and orienting us continually toward it in full-on aggrieved patriotic mode in the hopes of strengthening its own legitimacy, the CCP cuts off the possibility of more subtle shifts in the discourse about Japan.

Certainly one could argue that individual voices in China can be heard today, that there are millions of blogs (let a hundred schools of thought contend!), and that individuals with positive things to say about Japan – or with attitudes toward Japanese individuals which are not defined by the political relations and historical strains between the two states – are allowed to emerge.

This is, however, quite a different thing than the views of such an individual gaining entrée into one of the country’s largest and most influential newspapers, such as we find in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 4 July, 2011. I found the following essay to be pleasantly unusual in the cacophonous chorus of voices about Japan which arises continually out of our favorite harmonious society.   In any event, I think you will see what I mean.

C. Wang and Christine Holch, “Crazy, But Right: His Judgment of an Intensive Search for a Young Woman Whom He Met on the Train,” chrismon (supplementary magazine to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 4 July 2011) July 2011, p. 54.  [Translated from the German by Adam Cathcart.]

I had seen off a friend at the Frankfurt Airport who was on their way back to Peking, and then, going down an escalator to the S-Bahn, I saw her standing in front of me: a young Asian woman with the difficult task of trying to lift two rolling suitcases and a carry-on bag without clipping the floor.  Perhaps, I thought, she is in Germany for the first time – as I was once, when I came here from China in order to study in Marburg.

Because the S-Bahn was about to go, I quickly decided to give her some help, and grabbed the biggest suitcase.  It weighed about 30 kilo.  Yes, she had come straight out of Tokio, and her mom had packed lots of Japanese food for her, she told me as we stood across from one another in the S-Bahn.  We talked, and there was a wonderful connection between the two of us.  As if we had already known one another for a long time.

She lived in Frankfurt, she said, and even told me the name of the city quarter – but the S-Bahn was so loud that I could not understand.  Out of hope, I didn’t ask her again about it.  So that she didn’t feel pressured, I put the biggest suitcase between us.  Besides that, the political relations between China and Japan are bad, and she wanted to meet a Chinese person more positively.

As we got to the main train station I lugged her suitcase out the door of the car and asked her if I could help her further.  “No, thanks, it will work fine,” she said.  Perhaps she said that because she was thinking “He has to go on to Marburg; I don’t want to slow him down.”  And I thought: “She shouldn’t feel obligated.”  We in Asia are always thinking for the other person.  [Wir in Asien denken ja immer fuer den anderen.]

So I jumped back into my S-Bahn car, and the doors closed.  But the train didn’t go any further.  So that the situation didn’t become painful, I looked at the floor.  I thought, “Why doesn’t she go away?” I raised my head: she was standing there in front of the door, looking at me and winking.   The S-Bahn took off, and she winked and winked.  And then it became clear to me: I fell in love with her.  If she hadn’t have winked so much, she would have remained a normal person for me.

At the next station I got out and went back in the other direction.  She had gone on.  I didn’t know who she was, where she lived, or what she was doing in Frankfurt.  Also, I hadn’t told her my name, because in East Asia, when you help someone, it is considered appropriate not to tell them your name unless they ask.  I didn’t know if she loved me in return.  But I know that she found me sympathetic.  And hopeful.  I would simply be very happy to see her again.

So I set before myself the task of seeking her.  [Also fing ich an, sie zu suchen.]  Before my exams I went to Frankfurt and hung up small posters in which I asked if anyone knew a young Japanese woman who had arrived in Frankfurt on the twelfth of November from Tokio and who arrived at the main train station on the S8 at 3:30 p.m.  Because Germany is capitalist, I took out a small loan to help find her.  I hung up a good 1300 notices on signposts, in the universities, in Japanese instutions; I threw notices into mailboxes with Japanese names.  And I started a homepage:

Maybe this made her nervous.  But she could write to me from a fake e-mail address!  Best of all, with a photo of her big suitcase, so that I could be sure it was her.  She could tell me that I had put a notice into the mailbox of her boyfriend.  She could also write that she doesn’t want to know me any more.  That would be hard, but I would accept it; I don’t want to disturb her in her life.  Then I could give up this search.  Now I think all the time: she doesn’t know that I am looking for her.

I have regretted not asking her name in the S-Bahn.  But what I did after that, I did the right thing: crazy, but right.  In spite of that, now I am giving up my search.  Also because I am in the middle of my final exams.  I have sent up a signal, and now I have to wait, whether she finds it or whether I get no answer at all.

When I love again, I don’t plan to seek my love, certainly not in this way.  This is something that a person does only once in his life.


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.

On the Events in Egypt

I ride a train some mornings, hurtling south in darkness toward the port of Tacoma, past shadowed bridges, around fields glazed with frost, through tentative and unheard bird songs.  Today, for the first time this winter, the journey ended as a portent of a sunrise began to glow behind the mountain screen in the East.

After the burning oil wells and wrenchingly uniform destruction of 2010, the year of 2011 is already ablaze with an optimism that cannot be quenched, that refuses to be contained.  Just read Pierre Haski’s missive today on Rue 89 [translation by Adam Cathcart, some Chinese terms added to the original French] :

How can one fail to be  transported by the images from Cairo? How not to share the joy of millions of Egyptians of all social classes and of all faiths who, from weakness in eighteen days, with their bare hands, have rid themselves of a dictator who had seemed so immovable, so sure of himself, that he had even been preparing for a dynastic succession?

How, too, can one fail to be impressed by this revolution — the second peaceful in the space of one month — which overthrew the presidents who had been in power for three decades, authoritarian and corrupt, protected and coddled by the Western powers for their role as a bulwark against radical Islam?

Tunisia took everyone by surprise.  But experts warned against the domino theory, stressing that Tunesia did not weigh heavy geopolitically, that Egypt remained something else … Whatever they said, the same causes have produced the same effects, and in Egypt, the largest Arab country that has always set the tone, events have shifted even faster than in little Tunisia.

These revolutions are unlike any other. No charismatic leader, no secret organization, no secret army …

Comment ne pas être transporté par les images en provenance du Caire ?  Comment ne pas partager la joie de ces millions d’Egyptiens de toutes catégories sociales et de toutes croyances qui ont abattu en dix-huit jours , à mains nues, un dictateur qui semblait inamovible, si sûr de lui qu’il se préparait même à une succession dynastique ? Comment, aussi, ne pas être impressionné par cette deuxième révolution pacifique en l’espace d’un mois, renversant des présidents au pouvoir depuis trois décennies, autoritaires et corrompus, protégés et cajolés [cajoler: 爱抚;奉承,谄媚] par les puissances occidentales pour leur rôle de rempart [rempart (n.m.): 城墙,围墙,壁垒,防御] contre l’islamisme radical ?  La Tunisie avait pris tout le monde par surprise, mais les experts avaient mis en garde contre la théorie des dominos en soulignant que ce pays ne pesait pas lourd [重的,沉重的,笨重的]  géopolitiquement, que l’Egypte c’était autre chose… Rien n’y a fait, les mêmes causes ont produit les mêmes effets, et le plus grand pays arabe, celui qui a toujours donné le « la », a basculé plus vite encore que la petite Tunisie.Ces révolutions ne ressemblent à aucune autre.  Pas de leader charismatique, pas d’organisation secrète, pas d’armée clandestine…Mais plutôt des groupes sur Facebook, des tweets, des vidéos sur YouTube, et beaucoup d’idéalisme d’une jeunesse qui aspire à vivre autrement.  Les réseaux sociaux n’ont pas « fait » la révolution , ils ont permis à une génération de s’inventer un espace de liberté virtuelle qu’elle n’a eu de cesse de vouloir faire passer dans le monde réel.

Two questions remain in the wake of the Egyptians’ exploit: What happens to the tyrant once he leaves? And what will happen in other Arab countries, of which none, absolutely none, can remain immune to the shock of events in Tunis and Cairo in particular?

…No country is immune to the cocktail that caused the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt: a thirst for freedom of youth on the world, a rejection of nepotism, corruption, censorship, the system’s in-built dumbing down…There remains the geopolitical impact of this huge event….which even shook all dictatorships, all authoritarian countries, regardless of their latitude and culture, beyond the Arab world and Islam.

J’en veux pour preuve ce magnifique message some lu surTwitter, par dessus les continents, les langues et les cultures. C’est un dissident chinois, dont l’avatar est orné d’un ruban ja

une en l’honneur du prix Nobel de la paix emprisonné Liu Xiaobo , qui retweete (retransmet) un message de Wael Ghonim , le « héros » de la jeunesse égyptienne, l’homme qui a fait basculer [摇摆;翻倒,翻转] la situation avec son intervention télévisée à sa libération de détention.

For proof of this beautiful message which transcends continents, languages and cultures, we need only read Twitter.There a Chinese dissident [the ubiquitous Michael Anti], whose avatar bears a yellow ribbon in honor of Nobel Peace imprisoned Liu Xiaobo , retweets a message from Wael Ghonim, the “hero” of youth Egyptian man who tipped the situation with his televised speech to his release from detention. His message (on the screenshot below) is clear:

« Les vrais héros sont les jeunes Egyptiens de la place Tahrir et du reste de l’Egypte. Ce message est devenu universel.

“The real heroes are the young Egyptians in Tahrir Square and the rest of Egypt. ”  This message has become universal.


As if to prove its own sense of apprehension, Xinhua covers this huge story with a five sentence press release.

Time Magazine Asia has a story on China’s strangely spotty coverage of the Egypt protests, featuring plenty of quotes from my friend Jeremy Goldkorn at; the China Elections and Governance page has several well-thought-out essays on the same topic.

Meanwhile, in my own current North American backyard, some prominent people have taken the opportunity to piss on the whole proceedings.  Although (like the more cerebral but as ubiquitous Thomas Friedman) most of his faux-prophetic work is neither worth listening to nor reading, occasionally it is good to get an earful of what Glenn Beck, Zeitgeist-man of the paranoid right wing, is promoting.  Today, Beck is peddling a wholesale historical revisionism whereby George W. Bush’s call for sweeping democratic change across the Middle East is completely forgotten and Barack Obama’s alleged “community organizing” strategy to turn the whole world into an Islamo-Socialist state — replete with brainwashed young footsoldiers — is placed at the root, yes, the root! of the democratic revolution in Egypt.   (Here, for the record, is what Obama said today about Egypt, calling for true democracy and encouraging young Egyptians to start businesses.)   In comparison to Mr. Beck (no advanced degrees here!) and his paranoid ravings, Xinhua’s coverage of all of this appears to be positively tactful, not to mention more accurate.  And that is saying quite a lot.

Egypt, China, and 1989

Prisms matter.  From which perspective are you watching the events in Cairo and across Egypt?  For myself, the vantage point this week has been Berlin, Germany, where the dominant hope, as the Berlin Taggesspiegel noted yesterday in a front page editorial, is that the Egyptian people will be able to establish a genuinely democratic regime.  Egypt as East Germany, 1989.

In China the perspective espoused by the state — demanded by the state — is far more anodyne.  Grudgingly, reports are published.  We might not be able to know what “the average Chinese citizen” thinks about the protests, but we can understand how the state wants folks to discuss — or not discuss — the action in Egypt.

Several excellent stories have appeared on this theme.  Most essential of all is this Wall Street Journal coverage ; The Guardian has also published a solid article on the theme of Chinese censorship of Egypt-related news.  Voice of America talks to Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of, about the issue, and Oiwan Lam at the increasingly-essential Global Voices Online parses further the Egypt-related Chinese internet censorship.

Danwei implies that a main theme of Xinhua’s Egpyt coverage has been to focus on the pleasant efforts to get Chinese citizens home to the motherland, in keeping with today’s Chinese New Year.  What is missing in the Danwei analysis is the extent to which that even this feel-good story is being controlled.  The Huanqiu Shibao’s usually vigorous chorus of patriots seems not to be allowed to comment on the story.

Indeed, the Huanqiu Shibao has been the least restrained of all the outlets in China for covering the anti-Mubarak protests, but within the strict ideological limits of a paper whose focus on foreign affairs is ultimately subordinate to the editors at the People’s Daily.

(Which begs the question: What is the utility of having a Xinhua bureau in Egypt if the reporters are so heavily fettered by their mother state’s restrictions?  And, although even Al-Jezeera was slow to really tackle the Egypt story for fear of aggravating its own royal hosts, doesn’t this kind of lame response by Xinhua reveal unmistakably that in spite of all the hundreds of millions of yuan thrown into the notion that a world empire of Chinese media is a kind of joke?)

Huanqiu’s complete coverage of Egypt protests is currently headlined “Large-scale resistance activities emerge in Egypt.” Given Xinhua’s penchant for flashy graphics and sensationalism when the occasion calls for it, the grey tones of the page and singular lack of graphics (apart from an Egyptian flag and an old-school map of the country, there are but a handful of photos of happy Chinese waiting in the Cairo airport) is striking.  As usual, we have to read for what is not there.  And when the Huanqiu gives a series of Life magazine photos of Spring Festival in 1946 about equal billing with what could be considered a rather earth-trembling revolution in the Middle East’s most populace state, what else are we expected to do?

Happy New Year, everyone.

Obedient, Intransigent North Korea in the Chinese Media

Thanks to the ever-productive Joshua Stanton at the very useful but hopelessly Anglophone (and somewhat impervious) command post for North Korean counter-revolution known as One Free Korea, I got motivated to do some more analysis of Chinese sources touching upon the recent flare-up in the sea to the west (and north!) of the DMZ in Korea.

As I see it, Chinese media strategy as regards the Korean crisis for the past month has centered upon the following themes:

- Downplay the KPA’s having initiated Yeonpyeong incident, but allow some sympathetic reporting and photos regarding civilians on the island so as to reinforce the general harm that war poses;

- Yoke responsibility for tensions on both Koreas, keeping in mind the need to reconsolidate relations with Pyongyang in the wake of certain discomfiting (Wikileaks) disclosures of discussions that reveal at least the possibility of serious internal fissures in the alliance with the DPRK;

- Call repeatedly for Six Party Talks, preserving the central PRC role in mediating, and also precluding some North Korean lone deal with Washington via Bill Richardson or whomever comes calling;

- And imply in the sizable yet nevertheless endemically vague wave of anti-Liu Xiaobo articles that China, yes, China was deserving of the Nobel Prize for Peace due to its even-handed handling of the Korean peninsula situation.  (This last theme was hardly prevalent, but I picked up between the lines in more than a couple of places.

Today, the Xinhua news tack is to freak out over the ROK artillery drills, leaving South Korea standing as the final provocateur, making their firing live artillery into an empty slate of sea in the direction of Shandong province front-page news pretty much everywhere.

This means that the DRPK can get some positive reinforcement for its restraint in not retaliating.  The Global Times today spells it out in an op-ed which by North Korean standards is either fairly clever, or indicates how desperate China has become to quiet this whole thing down.  (Applause for North Korean Restraint,” which wins the prize for most unlikely headline of the year…)

Criticizing North Korea in the Chinese Press

However, it might be worth noting that while South Korea seems to get little more than verbal rifle butts from Beijing’s English-language media of late (anger over military drills, unusually straight statements that Seoul can never unilaterally unify Korean peninsula, etc.), the Chinese-language press in the PRC always makes a few things clear:

- North Korea is overly arrogant (see May 2010 writings after “nuclear fission” announcement)

- North Korea is poor, and its leadership (as opposed to its socialist system) is weird

- South Korea has vastly superior armaments (a fact which is persistently and specifically reported on in China)

- South Korea has public opinion and civil society (the absence of which in DPRK is obvious)

- Responsibility for peace on peninsula is in large measure up to South Korea, because North Korea basically refuses to change.

The tendency to go easy on North Korea in English publications, while critiquing them in Chinese, has been more evident lately. Yesterday’s Global Times (basically the English-language foreign-affairs offshoot of People’s Daily) op-ed “US destructive role in Northeast Asia” can be contrasted with today’s Chinese-language op-ed, “但愿朝韩的心理昨天扯平了(“If Only Yesterday['s Drills] Psychologically Equalized North and South Korea).”

A few highlights from the latter piece include: “The power and pressure of the ROK-US military alliance on North Korea doesn’t need to be demonstrated.  Even if North Korea has already taken up nuclear weapons, American nuclear power could wipe North Korea from the map. This, and the fact that South Korean population outnumbers North Korean by a factor of two or three, and has economic power even more times larger than North Korea, is also clear.”

I don’t know about you, but apart from the first sentence, that sounds like something Mike Mullen might say openly, that is, if he felt like making North Korea really very mad.  But this appears in a nationalistic/pugilistic standard Chinese publication on foreign affairs, and no one notices, and KCNA keeps its mouth shut about it.

Is it the case that the North Korean Embassy in Beijing simply does not read the Huanqiu Shibao?  Is it possible that couched in its criticisms of South Korea, the Chinese media is in no way rather forcefully reminding the DPRK that it would get very badly beaten in a conventional (or even a nuclear) war?

In other words, it is a mistake to judge China’s actual thinking (or its actual _stance_) on the North Korean issue by what they tell you they think in English.  The domestic discussion in China of the Korea problem is still barnacled with all manner of inconsistencies and barriers to information, but it deserves a little better treatment than the assumption that Shen Dingli in Shanghai and Lu Chao in Liaoning represent the uncritical consensus on the DPRK.

Shen, by the way, has a nice op-ed in today’s National Defense Journal (国防时报)entitled 忠告朝韩兄弟,战争不是游戏 (Even If Koreans are Loyal Brothers, War is Not a Game).  This outlet is rapidly becoming one of my “favorite” papers in China, and it has a kind of symbiotic relationship with Huanqiu Shibao. In any case, the editorial reminds us of something which you simply will not hear in the Western echo chamber, which is that China fought a war from 1950-53, one of the ultimate aims of which was to expand the range of North Korean territory for the purpose of securing a durable and dignified peace for the North, but that the cease-fire agreement could not settle upon who owned the islands upon which the artillery controversy is now playing. Complain about Shen Dingli’s dogmatism if you must, Mr. Stanton, but applaud how his dogma appears to be attached to facts which might sometimes bear repeating.

Reassessing Wars and Occupations in North Korea

If Chinese criticism of North Korea counts as progress toward a more “globalized outlook on the DPRK” inside of China, we see the same in the realm of historical analysis.  Popular magazines in China are now recounting the Korean War as having been started by a North Korean “advance” into the South.  (Sure, you might add, it is in fact 60 years late, but it is after all the anniversary season in China, and therefore time to consolidate and capitalize upon master narratives).  So Kim Il Sung is looking a bit worse for wear these days, even while core publications like the National Defense Journal hold up the justice of the intervention.  Granite Studio has a good post on evolving Korean War narratives, and some speculation on Xi Jinping’s Korea policy.

Myself, I’m waiting for the big retrospective on the Chinese occupation of North Korea from 1953-1958.  Or is the only place to learn about that in the Foreign Ministry Archive in Beijing or the Hoover Institution Archive in Palo Alto, California?

Isn’t it completely ridiculous that the very people who are constantly barking about the coming Chinese “occupation” of a post-collapse North Korea (see: Kaplan, Robert, Atlantic Monthly) know next to nothing about how the PRC and the Chinese “volunteers” operated in those five lean years?

Fortunately there are many more documents and information available about Sino-North Korean relations in the 1960s, in the form of an extensive new North Korea International Documentation Project working paper which spends over a hundred beautifully footnoted pages recalling a time (1968) when the DPRK was agitating for war and chafing about China’s new path.

There are a few possible untruths in there (such as that ethnic Chinese loaded the frozen bodies of dead ethnic Koreans on to some random “freight train” going into the DPRK in 1967-68 and wrote anti-revisionist slogans on the bodies, which is unlikely on multiple levels), but on the whole, it reveals the tensions between North Korea and China at a very different (yet somehow similar) time.

Yanbian and the Border Region

On Yanbian, don’t miss this post (from the Korean) by Lee Yoo Eun about possible volcanic explosion of Mount Paektu/Changbaishan.

And the Global Times, citing uncited reports in the Singapore Lianhe Zaobao, has a good human-interest-meets-geostrategy post on war fears ratcheting up in the Sino-North Korean border region, and indicates that Chinese troops may be filing into Ji’an on the Yalu River.

Heinrik Bork On China’s Role in the Crisis

Occasionally someone who has not enlisted in the ROK military or (Dear God!) memorized “The Pledge of Allegiance” will tender analysis of the Korean Peninsula, and will do so in a way that renders the North Korean strategy clear.  Don’t miss the linked essay below by Heinrik Bork.  Any man who can fence at length with Japanese revanchist manga man Kobayashi Yoshinori and do justice to the German view of the Rape of Nanking, and spend a couple of decades capably in Asia, has my vote of confidence.

I actually don’t agree with Bork’s assertion that China is walking on pins and needles with the DPRK simply because it fears a refugee influx (after all, China’s capacity to handle natural disasters and flood/earthquake relief in recent years has given the regime a great deal of confidence in these areas — witness the $250 million donation to Pakistan by Wen Jiabao for that country’s disaster relief), but this is solid stuff over all.  We are, as Bork says in his article “Korea Crisis: The Role of Beijing and the Useful Dictator,” only “in the early stages of atomic poker.”

Into the Sandstorm, a New Season Indeed - photo by Jason Lee, via Reuters and

Events in Pyongyang

Yesterday the Korean Workers’ Party in Pyongyang celebrated its 65th anniversary with an immense parade that included an appearance by the new big man on campus and the putative successor, Kim Jong-Un.

The festivities are covered here with some nice photos from the left-wing Paris paper Liberation (via Yonhap), and the Huanqiu Shibao carries a handful of photos from Xinhua’s photographer in Pyongyang.

Huanqiu Shibao carries an interesting piece on Kim Jong-Un revealing that the “Young General” was explicitly revealed as Kim Jong Il’s son in an October 8 speech in Pyongyang. Probably more interesting, the article is titled “80 后金正恩半月内变身接班人 崇拜乔丹喜欢成龙动作片 [The "Born After 1980 Generation" Kim Jong Un Changes into the Successor Within Half a Month; He Worships Michael Jordan and Likes Jackie Chan Action Movies"], recapitulating some old tropes about Jong Un (his basketball moves in Bern, the fact that he is fluent in French) but which ends with the analysis that North Korean policy is unlikely to change.  The story also indicates how China is moving slowly toward a more South Korean/Western point of view in limited ways on North Korea, and does so by citing the defector-and-regime-change-friendly “Daily NK” website as a source, something that happens increasingly frequently in the PRC.

A couple of days ago, Huanqiu reported that Kim Jong Un’s name, unlike that of his father and grandfather, was not being printed in bold in the North Korean media, meaning he hasn’t reached deity status yet.  A small but important detail.

Around the time of the North Korean Party Congress, Huanqiu Shibao basically disabled its comment feature on North Korea related articles, but a few netizen comments are now trickling in on similar stories.  My favorite?  It’s in pinyin to avoid the censors: “du cai zhe”, or “独裁者/dictator.”


More promising signs of a throughgoing modernization of North Korea under the digital leadership of Kim Jong Un


Finally, especially for the benefit of readers in South Korea who languish behind the “great KCNA firewall,” but also because this kind of thing matters in North Korea, a dispatch dating from Pyongyang, September 30.  Kim Jong Suk, the mother of Kim Jong Il who died in 1949 and now a kind of matron saint to the entire DPRK, is frequently called upon to do fictitious duty to bring about some lesson to the North Korean masses.  Having read her official biography (published in 2000) and knowing that there is virtually no evidence in Manchuria about her work as a guerrilla fighter in China (thanks to documents I read from the PRC Foreign Ministry Archive describing North Korean historian expeditions into the PRC in 1953 looking for just such evidence, futilely), it never ceases to amaze me just how busy she has become thanks to the Korean Central News Agency.  An impressive woman, but, perhaps, an even more impressive propaganda apparatus that uses her wraith to expound upon what is needed in the year 2010 in the DPRK, led by her offspring:

Story of Kim Jong Suk

One autumn day in Juche 35 (1946) President Kim Il Sung was supposed to leave for field guidance to Sakju County.

Before his departure, anti-Japanese heroine Kim Jong Suk checked preparations of the attendants and asked the driver whether he learnt the condition of the road to Sakju County.

The driver could not answer properly because he only consulted a map to find the road.

Kim Jong Suk, saying that the driver of the President’s car should always know well about the geographical features and conditions of roads of his field guidance tour, let him know of matters demanding special attention.

She then entered the residence and came out again with a shovel and pickax in her hands. She handed them to the driver, saying that it was expected to shower on mountainous areas of North Phyongan Province in the afternoon according to the weather forecast given by the meteorological observatory last night, so that the road might be hollowed by mountain torrents.

The attendants were deeply touched by her careful concern for the President’s safety.

In other words, North Korean people, buckle up and bring your shovels.  Be ready for anything, especially in North Pyong’an.

80后金正恩半月内变身接班人 崇拜乔丹喜欢成龙动作片

CCTV Coverage of Baghdad Bombing

Watching CCTV should be a serious pastime for someone like myself, but I tend not to have it on as often as I should.  However, last night’s dramatic rescue of miners from a collapse in Hebei Shanxi (山西) got me glued in, whereupon CCTV-4 started its broadcast as follows:

1. Workers Rescued from the Mine4 minutes, much machinery, tuanjie feeling, caring officials, missive from Zhongyang (the Central Committee) read aloud in the klieg lights at 4:15 a.m, exhorting all to great unity under the banner of the CCP.

2. Bombing in Baghdad30 seconds, Xinhua bureau endangered, no deaths at Chinese Embassy [CCTV coverage here]

3. Terrorism in Russia2 minutes, some guilty parties mixed in with civilian shots of women who look vaguely Uighur

So why is it that CCTV’s English video coverage of the bombing doesn’t mention the danger posed to Chinese interests in Iraq?  Are we supposed to forget that China has interests in Iraq?   (Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker told me that Americans should be supporting China — big time — in its drive to do business in Iraq.)  Perhaps the cauterizing 1999 experiences in Kosovo, or the previous harm to Chinese in Baghdad bombings, keeps this story under wraps in Xinhua’s English coverage?

Curious.  Cela me mine!

"Three Bombs Explode in Central Baghdad -- Xinhua Bureau Suffers Damage" -- via CCTV