Thunder Rumbles out of Chinese Archives

Xinhua’s English-language service reports:

Chinese military archivists have identified more than 100 documents that could lead to the repatriation of the remains of the United States personnel who disappeared during and after the Korean War (1950-1953).

More than 50,000 U.S. personnel were killed in Korean Peninsula and along the border of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The U.S. Department of Defense still lists more than 8,100 as missing.

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Archives Department has been combing more than 1.5 million archives of the then People’s Volunteer Army (PVA), the Central Military Commission (CMC) and the PLA headquarters during the Korean War.

Archivists have given at least four valuable archives found in the first 10 percent to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Chinese archivists have also located the site where a U.S. bomber crashed 59 years ago in south China’s Guangdong Province.

After visiting the site and interviewing 19 witnesses who helped them identify the burial site of U.S. crew, they believe the possibility of finding the remains is high.

The dispatch goes on to chronicle other searches initiated by Donald Rumsfeld for an American pilot shot down off the Chinese coast in 1956. I’ll leave it to others to decode why Xinhua feels compelled to use this dispatch to specifically recollect the bloodshed on the Sino-Korean frontier in the way it does, implying that the heaviest fighting occurred near the Chinese border, which isn’t quite true.

Here is my own original data on this question:

PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive, Document 118-00235-03, 关于中国扑获的朝鲜战争时期加拿大战俘麦金的释放事. Roughly, “On the Apprehension and Release of Canadian POW MaiJin.”

The file contains quite a detailed discussion of how MaiJin, a pilot from the “5th Air Force,” was shot down over the Korean-Chinese border on December 5, 1952, near the North Korean city of 昌城.

The other POW files I have read in the Chinese archives tend to deal with individual POWs, particularly those whose status was not settled with the repatriations that followed the armistice in 1953.

That, anyway, is what I gleaned after about two hours of requests for documents regarding “Korean War” (朝鲜战争)and “prisoners of war” (战俘). .

I net about twenty documents which deal in some fashion with Red Cross correspondence, or the repatriation of POWs such as Richard Tenneson, who was repatriated via Hong Kong in December 1955.

Often times the individual cases went through Zhou Enlai, which accounts for their presence in the Foreign Ministry Archives — obviously the PLA archives are the motherlode.

One document I later snagged from the MFA archives includes some complaints about prisoner transfers from North Korean custody in Sinuiju before transferring into Chinese custody in Dandong (then Andong). The Chinese weren’t happy that the North Koreans didn’t feed the prisoners, but they also thought the North Koreans did a bad job of searching the foreigners (a motley crew of French missionaries and journalists) before they turned them over to the Chinese.

Thanks to Paul Salmon, author of To the Last Round: The Epic British Stand on the Imjin River, Korea 1951, for the e-mail about the story in Beijing.

Wen Jiabao vists Beijing Childrens Hospital Oct 31 2009

Today's headline photo on Xinhua's English site -- Premier Wen Jiabao at a Beijing Children's Hospital, but that mask might be helpful also for keeping the passageways clean when digging through the archives

The Economist and S.V.

Just a quick note that The Economist’s site for news about East Asia is linking today to an earlier post of mine, stating I had:

An interesting view into Chinese “netizens” and their complicated feelings about North Korea

“Interesting,” in the Minnesotan context, is often construed as a damning phrase, but in the sense used today by Great Britain’s foremost weekly, I think I will take it as a complement.

Thanks to the essential for picking up my Chinese netizens and North Korea post in the first place.

North Korea-China-Successor Buzz

I normally don’t do hit and run/wholly derivative posts, but Mike Madden has two excellent new essays up on his North Korea Leadership Watch blog which are worth scouring. The first surveys the diplomatic scuttlebutt that Kim Jong Il may soon be riding the rails to Beijing; the second is a detailed look at the latest information on the politics of succession in the DPRK. Plenty of virtuosic wordplay is present in both posts!


Great writers extend one's thought to new areas -- image courtesy Lost City Books, Akron, Ohio, via the book Lateral Thinking: Art of the 1990s

Meanwhile Joshua Stanton Dan B at One Free Korea reports on 1) demonstrating efforts to marshal South Korean opprobrium at the PRC on the refugee issue and, via Dong-A Ilbo 2) the complicity of the South Korean consulate in Shenyang in repatriating refugees to North Korea. Nice photographs here as well, along with, more recently, revelations of various North Korean gulags with the help of Google Earth.

Note: DanB has a tremendous archive of photographs of anti-Chinese protests in Seoul during the Olympic Torch run in April 2008, including images of Norbert Vollertson.

Justice for North Korea via One Free Korea Oct 2009

Mobilizing South Koreans to Pressure China on the North Korean Refugee issue -- via One Free Korea

Chinese Netizens Sound Off on North Korea [I]

In a recent post I characterized a rather strange story in the Chinese press that held up an idealized view of North Korea.  Why was Xinhua holding up the DPRK as a kind of patriotic utopia, and what would be the response of the largely young readership of the Huanqiu Shibao, a publication known for its nationalism?

Well, 39 pages of comments later, I have a few thoughts, just excerpts, from the scrum (translations are far from exact!):

“Of course North Korea is screwed up; America, South Korea and Japan daily write words to undermine and destroy North Korea, saying that North Korea is hungry, that Kim Jong Il is already dead…I don’t know whether there was a famine or not, but if your [Western] media doesn’t portray Kim Il Song closely and repeatedly, isn’t it easier to believe?  So how can you [e.g., the West] tell us what is going on in North Korea?  You don’t need to use American and Japanese second-hand reports that just serve to destroy people’s character!  And sure, North Korea is poor, but is China poor or not?  China, compared to Europe and the U.S., still has a big difference, whereas the [economic] difference with North Korea is much smaller.  Truly, you don’t see poor people there, but we are supposed to think that everyone is poor?  Isn’t this a joke?”

[The same commenter goes on for a while, recalling "during the three years of natural disasters" (e.g., 1958-61, the Great Leap Forward) that Chinese peasants from Shandong and the Northeast went to North Korea in search of food -- which is true!]

“Our past is truly North Korea’s present; we have advanced but still have difficulties.  Our corruption and trends toward a dual-class society are much worse than North Korea, but economically we have developed much faster than North Korea.  And who has departed further from communism?  It’s hard to say clearly.  In looking at North Korea, we must take our own shortcomings under consideration and remove them!”

and then there is this off-the-handle, stream of consciousness post which I can only approximate, but I think it’s a bit of genius:

Chinese people today, you can’t report nasty words, so instead find someone to study Lei Feng — as today’s people find that Lei Feng’s name has become representative of something handsome indeed — and every day in the Chinese news you find whatever pollution/rape/murder/secret societies with no cure.  In this society you can’t study, can’t find work, can’t stay married, can’t buy an apartment, can’t have a kid or raise a kid, old people can’t die, and the places and values of 30 years ago are all stuffed full of cash or anger.  So imagine instead a place with no pressure to work, where all you need to do is study, where the country takes care of all your housing and your marriage to make it all OK…And sure, there today there is no money, there are no rights, no work, no place to live, no car or garage, no daughters to give; and bright people have no use for kindness because it has become an old and useless word…The life of the past was bitter, but it had meaning (Serve the country, serve socialism as the highest logic).


We used to be patriotic, now we have all become selfish…Foremost, we should earnestly study how North Korea opposes America’s shitty power.

Doesn’t North Korea make America scared?

and the more critical comments

Self-deception, turning black into white — ha! This is truly a joke, truly funny.

In the 1960s, Japanese left-wing cultural figures also thought China was a kind of heaven.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Xinhua stories that look at North Korean society, nurturing a kind of implicit “revolutionary nostalgia,” serve instead as a platform for discussion of the Cultural Revolution.  Many comments deal with China’s 1960s.

There is also a dispute going on within the comments about the interviewed student in the original article; faced with accusations that her remarks were basically planted, her classmates arrive on the BBS to defend Chen Mo’s naive impressions of the DPRK.

Further comments on the story, along with plenty of calls for “civilized behavior” (e.g., placeholders for deleted comments), are here on the Huanqiu’s site.

"Pyongyang city residents go to greet Chinese President Wen Jiabao, October 6," 中国青年报 photo accompanying the story entitled "North Korea is Truly a Country Worthy of Our Respect" -- photo by Li Jianquan -- click image to link to the story

Related posts:

Anti-Chinese Propaganda for North Koreans — (October 27, 2009)

North Korea Test Fires Two Missiles: Chinese Media Reports on DPRK — (October 12, 2009)

–(October 10, 2009)

More Data on North Korean Succession Struggles (September 30, 2009; includes translations from the French press)

Germany Commemorates, China Forgets


Chinese Rock Band performs at the German Embassy in Beijing, October 3, 2009

The Chinese Communist Party seems intent on preventing any spillover from Europe’s orgy of commemorations of 1989. China Daily has featured just a small handful articles about German reunification in the last two months, including one about how one in eight former East Germans “wants the wall back.” In announcing the arrival of the rock band U2 in Berlin, China Daily yesterday noted, almost in passing, that “The wall was eventually torn down in November 1989.”

Torn down by whom? And for what reason? Unbelievable.

This October 22 story from China Daily on commemorations in Berlin seems not to have counterpart in the Chinese langugage press.

The Chinese press appears to be unblemished by any story about China’s historical relations with the old East Germany. Is it above China to mumble a “kyrie elaison” for a departed comrade? Admittedly, I haven’t checked the various obscure journals, but to me this lacuna is unsettling.

Vice-President Xi Jinping, who was in Germany in mid-October, wasn’t going to bring up such topics in spite of being surrounded with ample stimulation. Leave such things to the mangled artists!  And after all, there are only certain Germans one is encouraged to discuss in the PRC. Xinhua describes Xi Jinping’s remarks at the Frankfurt Book Fair:

Xi said China upholds the idea of building a harmonious world with sustained peace and common prosperity.

Thanks to the exchanges among various cultures, people from different countries could get to know Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) from Germany, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) from Britain and Confucius (551 BC-479 BC) from China, Xi noted.

And so we get Goethe instead of Erich Honegger or Egon Krenz. No congratulations to Germany for having survived and thrived through two decades of unification, no recollection of the old state. How is one supposed to “seid umschlungen” in such an environment, anyway?

Maybe with this “harmonious architecture” Germany is marketing to China.

In the meantime, the Great Firewall of China gets assailed by Chinese netizens posting on a Berlin Twitterwall, which I blogged about yesterday.

Why is 1989 so pregnant and so dangerous for the CCP?  Perhaps because the European revolution was peaceful, and the German revolution remains linked to memories of China’s violent suppression of the peaceful revolution that same year.

Shades of June 4, yet again.

Thus, in the meantime, it is up to the Germans in China to educate on the high significance of the Wall (1961-1989) and its fall (all links in Chinese!):

- The German embassy launches a “Germany for Beginners” program in Peking

- Think what this list would look like in China: Sites of commemoration of the East German past

- And interview with author Frederick Taylor on his history of the wall, Die Mauer

- Artistic commemorations of 1989

- On Checkpoint Charlie

- “Struggles for Freedom

- Children of 1989 — affecting! and, just because it was so damn fun and the company so lovely, I’ll conclude with

- the techno party at the Goethe Institute in Beijing (the accompanying slide show may be of note!)

However excellent these resources might be, there are a couple of politically-minded omissions in these materials which need to be pointed out. First, so as not to offend the Chinese with untoward references to the CCP’s repression of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, the Chinese version of the timeline of events on the impetus for the fall of the wall does not reach back to spring 1989 starting only in autumn of that year.

As I wrote about with healthy doses of images from Berlin’s Alexanderplatz this summer, many deep connections (thematic, personal, political, artistic and otherwise) existed between the twin democracy movements in the PRC and the German Democratic Republic in 1989; the repression of the Beijing students on the square helped to galvanize the East German student movement in particular.

(Meanwhile, as a document I found in the Berlin archives attests, the North Korean Democratic Youth Leader who met with his East German counterpart that spring was blithely confident that China, East Germany, and North Korea could whether the storm of change. As it turns out he was only two-thirds correct.  North Korean retrospectives on 1989 are another matter entirely, but also not without merit — one imagines a collective sigh of relief, of momentary congratulations among the upper echelons of the Korean Workers’ Party elite before getting back to the latest “100-day speed campaign” while Turkish kids in eastside Berlin Skype with their paramours in Ankara.)

Secondly, the German magazine editors elected to leave untranslated and thus unpublished in Chinese a version of an article on historians reconstructing Stasi (secret East German police) documents — perhaps someone fears the censor? I had always imagined it was a mark of honor to have an article or poster returned to your address, thick with blue pencil markings of the censor. In other words, such a packet would indicate at least that an effort had been made on the part of the author. But in the meantime I shall have to settle for peer reviews.

Some of my previous work on the East German archives and their relation to 1989 can be accessed here ; a short essay on revolutionary nostalgia, replete with excellent citations, is here.

The Wall is dead; long live the Wall.

Strange Photographs of Chinese Power

Chinese icebreaker, The Snow Dragon, off to Antartica, replete with fuzzy mascot and pseudo-Torii

Read more here about this Zheng He-style effort to create the greatest map of Antartica, with 251 scientists and engineers on board, that the world has ever seen.

Reuters, via Arnaud le Grange's blog for Le Figaro

And Arnaud le Grange describes action in the automotive industry (click on the picture to link the story; in French).

via Arnaud Le Grange on Le Figaro on "China's Post-Industrial Aesthetic"

And Le Grange again scores, with a an analysis of exhibitions of young Chinese artists at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (slow upload, but worth it), including the Shanghai artist, Yan Pei-ming, resident in Dijon, France, since the 1980s.   The gallery is located in Beijing at the 798 art colony.  Soft power indeed!

Beijing No Longer Releasing Figures on North Korean Trade

Well, this Reuters report gives some empirical depth to recent media analysis that China is clearly eager to repair its ties with the DPRK.:

China has stopped publicly issuing trade data about North Korea, veiling the potentially sensitive numbers about its wary neighbour under another category while the two countries seek improved ties.

Destination and origin statistics on China’s imports and exports for September issued on Monday gave no separate numbers for second straight month for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the formal name of the North, as they have long appeared in the tables.

The trade tables for coal, crude oil, oil products and cereals issued by China’s General Administration of Customs instead used another category, “other Asia not elsewhere specified”, which for those commodities at least appeared to cover exclusively trade flows between China and the North.

Analysts and officials have used Chinese statistics to gauge otherwise opaque ties between the two communist neighbours. But North Korea has stopped appearing in the Chinese data since last month, when statistics for August also avoided mention of it.

The change may help Beijing to obscure shifts in economic flows with the North, which relies on China for most of its trade and aid.

An official in charge of data services at the Customs Administration told Reuters that the change would last, but would not say why. Reuters and other companies buy the data.

“We’re no longer issuing trade data about North Korea,” said the official, who declined to give her name. “We’re not allowed to issue the data anymore.”

She declined to answer further questions, referring them to another data services official.

That official, Xu Xianghui, said the data could not be released because of a “technical fault”. But Xu said it was unclear if that fault would ever be fixed.

Last year, trade between China and North Korea reached $2.79 billion, up 41.3 percent on 2007. But in the first nine months of this year bilateral trade slipped to $1.85 billion, a fall of 2.9 percent compared with the same months last year.

The data provided suggested Chinese exports of crude oil to the North have fallen slightly this year, while Chinese exports of rice to the North reached 48,240 tonnes in the first nine months of the year, a jump of 140 percent from the same period of 2008.  (Editing by Ken Wills and Ron Popeski)

If you’re the type to keep track of such things, this story has yet to be picked up by One Free Korea or the Daily NK.  [Note: It did, however, show up on NK Economy Watch subsequent to a tip by yours truly.] The story was reprinted yesterday in the Hong Kong standout paper, the South China Morning Post on page A4  (you know, pages?  as in, leaves in the paper edition that some of us still read?) under the headline “Beijing hides North Korea trade statistics,” and next to a picture of a huge field of drying persimmons in Guangdong.  Incidentally, South China Morning Post is one of those sources that you can only access via subscription to its site, paper copies, or to PressDisplay.

Just for the record, I have had some issues before with translations and word choice of Chinese sources by the Reuters staff in Beijing, including Ken Wills, who edited the above piece (which nevertheless includes the massacred header “BID TO IMRPOVE TIES”), but I don’t see any reason to question the basic legitimacy of this particular report.   In fact, we’re fortunate to have the information, particularly the figures on oil and food aid.

And, although rice imports from China were way up, by no means is everyone being fed in North Korea.  Quite the contrary.  The Good Friends’ latest report gives some in-depth analysis of Chinese grain dispersal to the DPRK in 2008, showing China’s strategy of delivering only a third of the requested amount in the spring quarter, but then amping up deliveries later in the year.  While John Feffer argues convincingly that food is a basic human right, unfortunately, it has become a political weapon for all sides in the North Korean imbroligio.

Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, KCNA via Mike Madden's insouciant post "Kim Jong Il's Love in an Elevator" -- click image for link to the incomparable NK Leadership Watch blog

Smashing Chunks from the Great Firewall in Berlin / Ai Weiwei in Munich

A great convergence is occuring again between Germany and China.  As the 9 November anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (“der Mauerfall” / “le chute de la Mur”) approaches, further thoughts are twisting around the notions of democracy and democratic change.

Two examples:

The first is the Berlin Twitterwall, a magnificent little online monument to the fall of the wall.  The site was basically overtaken by comments by Chinese netizens denouncing the Great Firewall of China (GFW for short), that is, until the site was blocked in China yesterday.  As the Berliner Morgenpost reports (in German), the organizers of the Berlin Twitterwall were mainly concerned that the site would be taken over by Neo-Nazis — and thus were overjoyed when their own handiwork became a platform for social change in the PRC.

Veteran journalist Mark MacKinnon has a solid post up on this matter on his blog, which also includes tales of his late August 2009 journey into North Korea.    The title?  “Mr. Hu, Tear Down this Firewall!”

Unfortunately, Barack Obama and his familiar, the Dartmouth Chinese Studies major and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, have no such ability to channel Ronald Reagan in speaking with their Chinese counterparts.

I have as yet found no indication in the Chinese media that discussion of any kind of Germany’s unification or the fall of the wall (both major anniversaries approaching for the Germans) will be permitted in the mass media, still smarting from the Frankfurt Book Fair fiascos.  Don’t be suprised if somehow China is offended as Germans wonder aloud why China hasn’t undertaken a similarly rapid road to democracy, or their reminiscing on how the Tiananmen Square events of 4 June 1989 helped to stimulate protestors in Leipzig and East Berlin.

The second convergence relates to artist Ai Weiwei, a man wholly lionized in the German press, such as in this article from Die Zeit:

I’ve got the whole thing digitized, but will probably release it in dribs and drabs, as it’s a very long article and, by and large, the readers of this blog are Anglophones rather than Wagnerites (assuming most Germans love Wagner’s music, which they really ought to).   I also find my mannerisms a bit annoying and my office cluttered, but that can’t be helped.  As Ai’s exhibition is entitled: So sorry!  There is a great deal of bitterness toward the PRC buried in this article, which among other things recounts Ai Weiwei’s childhood in exile — he was born in 1957, on the cusp of his father being exiled to the desert during the Anti-Rightist campaign.  As the CCP was fawning over itself on October 1, Germans were sitting down to their morning coffee to learn about the Cultural Revolution from Ai Weiwei, a man, in their eyes, of singular stature and moral weight.

Hat tip to Just Recently for the Berliner Morgenpost tip.

Anti-Chinese Propaganda for North Koreans

The Hoover Institution Archives houses one of the world’s finest collections of political propaganda.  Here are a few selected images from the Far East Command, Psywar Division, in the Korean War.  I find these particularly interesting because the themes are in some ways returning in North Korean society — Chinese economic preeminence in the DPRK, China’s predilection for loud and large vehicles on the border, and China’s big appetite for food in contrast to North Korean penury in the border region.


Why Does China Control North Korean Railroads?


Arrogant Chinese on the Roads


Rabelasian Chinese Troops on DPRK Soil

Chinese Youth Delegation Visits Pyongyang

The Huanqiu Shibao reports that a Chinese youth delegation is back from a six-day trip to Pyongyang. The article, written in the form of an interview with a starstruck student is, frankly, a scandalous sop to the DPRK, reprising the most naive observations about Pyongyang (did you know the city has beautiful traffic cops?) and heaping praise upon North Korean youth for their spirit of national independence and willingness to study hard.

Chinese university students go shopping in Pyongyang; photo courtesy China Youth Daily (a publication which is part of Hu Jintao's old power base, in fact!)

In the article it is as if South Korea does not exist, and as if the Huanqiu Shibao is asking its readers to willfully forget any contradictory information regarding North Korean famine, human rights abuses, or missile/nuclear tests. No, it seems to say, just smile and remember that Wen Jiabao wants us to love and learn from North Korea.

And don’t the North Korean women wear such lovely dresses, comporting themselves which such dignity? And don’t you think that the Huanqiu’s sidebar promising gauzy photographs of potentially naughty Han nurses just adds to the argument of North Korea’s socialist dignity, in a strange way?

Of course North Korean diplomats read the Chinese press carefully and are constantly looing for rewards to bring home or insults which they can protest with their Chinese counterparts. Chinese scholars have been censored, even placed under practical house arrest, for publishing writings which were later deemed to be provocations against the DPRK — asserting in a small academic history journal, for instance, that North Korea started the Korean War (which of course they did) can get you this kind of treatment. (That’s why Chinese historians, even the giant gadfly and archival human vacuum-cleaner Shen Zhihua, get stuck mired in rather indirect modes of writing in the passive voice: “The Korean War broke out….”)

But when Huanqiu publishes an article entitled “North Korea is a Country We Should Respect” and pitches it to the youth, they are bound to gag at the spoon-feeding.

The comments on the BBS on this story are coming fast and furious, and they display a wierd mixture of indignance at North Korea (“If they are so patriotic then why didn’t they develop their country?”) and commentors who want to take the lesson of the article to heart (“Chinese youth are 30 years behind North Korean youth when it comes to civilized qualities [文明素质 wen ming su zhi]). Of course there are random comments that probably flew off the fingers of a gamer taking a break from his Warring States video game, to wit: “Align with North Korea (Chaoxian) to wipe out South Korea (Hanguo).”

I will endeavor to translate some of the more insightful comments in a subsequent post, but then again I might not. Because, unlike the editors of the Huanqiu Shibao who, as Hamlet told Horatio, had to “crook the pregnant hinges of the knee,” “lick the hand of absurd pomp,” and “follow [Xinhua] fawning,” I am just a man with a cello, a pen, a few dictionaries, and a belly which needs filling.

Speaking of empty calories, here is the little taste of online democracy offered by the Huanqiu at the outset of the article:

1. 你了解朝鲜吗?Do you understand North Korea?
了解 [Understand/yes]
不了解 [Don't understand/no]

2.你是否想亲自去朝鲜去看一看? 2. Do you or don’t you personally want go to North Korea to take a look?
想去 Want to go
不想去 Do not want to go

3.你觉得朝鲜有值得中国学习的地方吗? 3. Do you think North Korea is place worth studying for China?
有 Yes, it has worth
没有 No, it has no worth
不好说 Hard to say

Hard to say??? Bu hao shuo….This phrase might be considered a good motto for the PRC’s media campaign to rehabilitate the North Korean image in China, in fits and starts — that is until they want to put the screws on again.