Soft Power Fiddling Meets Open-Throat Singing: Big Goings-On in New York

Yesterday the Sunday New York Times suddenly became worth its asking price of $6 by carrying a large advertisement laying out the immense variety of China-related musical activites going on in Manhattan this week.  In effect, the PRC is taking over the beating heart of the classical music world, with the exception of the Metropolitan Opera, an institution which has already lionized Placido Domingo as Qin Shihuangdi.  For East Asia’s biggest country, whose cultural ensembles used to be denied entrance to the U.S. on account of their insistence on singing songs about Taiwan’s pending liberation, this is a major success.

It is also a testimony to how far arts groups will go when they smell money.  For Chinese music is not simply a matter of laying some exotic ephemera out every so often for largely white audiences in North American concert halls: today there is a global marketplace for Chinese composers, and the Chinese government and corporations are flush with cash.

But soft!  What right-wing pundit through yonder window breaks?

Cue squawker Lou Dobbs:

“ChiComs turn Juilliard Red;

they have to stop before we outsource again

the very musical DNA of our octatonic pledge

to future generations / this is an assault

on American harmony that not even John Galt

could envision in his self-built ivory tower

but the academics and professoriat have turned tail.

Musicologist philosophers hear coin:

loins are girded for harmonic hegemony,

imperial pretensions fall away like J.B. Lully’s foot

after being stamped by the heavy truncheon of rectification campaigns.

Because that is the toxic loot windblown on our shores

in New Amsterdam: Qingdao beer no longer Anheuser,

the promontory statues of the Christian Tannhäuser

soon replaced by a lithe Tan Dun tanned from junkets

as a sent-down youth?

This is treachery the likes of which has not been seen

since Hoover sold out in paroxysms of premature jack-backwards

appeasement to the 12-tone harmonists Viennese:

– Gesamtkunstwerk means jobs for migrant mural painters –

and now Phil Glass talks mantras, not Boeing

Jon Adams writes Chairman, not glowing reviews of Nixon’s

brow collaborating again with nervous sweat.

Opera composers don futile expressions

at my exposé of pentatonic malaise,

imperial confessions of R. Emmanuel follow,

throat-singing lamas in the halls of the House.

Now the myrmidons puff, blasting imperial semi-quavers

heralding the Chairman,

or so suspicions have been whispered by my Auto-tune Producer.”


Iris Chang and the Politics of Emotional Authenticity

Not particularly as a matter of choice, of late I have been thinking about the aftermath.   War, genocide, and mass violence are giant forces which have thrown up immense detritus in Northeast Asia: memorialization is the norm, but so, too, is the suppression of memory and its manipulation by politician-revolutionaries of all stripes.

Japanese politicians enter Yasukuni Shrine while Chinese leaders put their husky lungs into anti-Japanese anthems; Japanese peace activists see their monuments attacked while Chinese lawyers roam the land hunting for evidence 70 years old.  And young Chinese-Americans discover their voices  in “revelation” of evidence that has been lying there for decades, in plain view or in an archive, for anyone to see.

Having just emerged from a short encounter with perhaps ten boxes of materials from the Iris Chang Papers at the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford relating to The Rape of Nanking, it’s something I am mulling over presently.  How are people like myself supposed to survey the ashes (that is, the documents) and pronounce some kind of a verdict therefrom?  How does a scholar/witness locate his viscera, and, presuming he finds it, what then is he supposed to do with it?  In other words, what is the proper relationship between emotion, even fiery moralism, and scholarship?  And is scholarship itself a form of witnessing?  What, in other words, is proper relation of emotion to historical work?

And, although I had a few quibbles with a recent commenter about Iris Chang, it’s something the one known as “Stinky Tofu” (臭豆腐) got me thinking about further.  How does personal experience (and linguistic limitation!) impact our choice of research topic and the interpretation applied?

In a box of index cards scrawled on by Iris Chang (Box 195 of her papers), Chang has created the category “My lifestyle/philosophy” under which to capture data to share on her book tour.   On a card in that category entitled “Personal Feelings When Writing Book,” she notes that she cried frequently while writing the book, apparently out of empathy for the victims.

Chang’s idea that somehow she alone was privy to “the forgotten holocaust of World War II” while researching and writing the book likely heightened her emotion.

I wonder if this is really touching and beautiful, or if, to put it bluntly, Chang is seeking to bypass the brain by connecting to the viscera.

Somehow I can imagine the concerned looks this fact would inspire on the faces of lifelong scholars at York University like Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, who, in his indispensable edited volume The Naking Atrocity 1937-38 (Berghahn Press), states: “Historians must try, at least, to rise above the personal, political, and ethnic biases that virtually all human beings harbor. “

A couple of weeks ago I heard a similar message when I had lunch with, and then attended a talk by, Carl Wilkins.  Carl was one of the few Americans in Rwanda when the genocide began in 1994, and he was the only American to remain in Kilgali, saving lives and making compromises, for the terrible duration of the violence.   I heard Carl speak last year also at Pacific Lutheran University, but his talk this time, to a smaller audience, stirred me up even further.

But he is an advocate for genocide prevention, and I, at least explicitly, am not in that business.  By the same token, historical scholarship is inevitably entangled with politics .  All we need to read as reminder to this fact is Sima Qian’s work, and be glad we have all our body parts.  And Iris Chang’s papers, tear-stained and all.

Interpreting North Korean Forest Fires

Chinese internet sites are now reporting on the extensive forest fires in North Korea.  Most interesting is how they are interpreting the fires, emphasizing the idea that they may be occurring around North Korean missile launching sites. The Reuters report in which this speculation is buried is here.   Yet somehow the Chinese media makes it the headline.   Is this another subtle means of putting pressure on North Korea, more confirmation of central over local imperatives in reporting North Korea-related news, or a sop to Chinese nationalists eager to look down on North Korea?

Comments on the relevant Chinese BBS:  “Those idiots are grilling chicken,” “America is putting on a show for the pig farmers,” and, in response, the original commenter returns to say “No, you American dog, they are grilling chicken.”  In other words, nothing very intelligent, but Chinese jokes about what North Koreans are eating (or not eating) can sometimes be considered worthy of attention.

(Hat tip to the Chollima searching skills of Juchechosunmansei, who posted the link in response to my CCP-exasperation on One Free Korea.)

None of this seems to have prevented Kim Jong Il from having a delightful time yesterday in the epicenter of state power, Pyongyang.  Life is good in the capital, where construction of new apartments is proceeding apace.  NK Leadership Watch provides a comprehensive look at Kim Jong Il’s perorations through Pyongyang’s architectural glory.   Perhaps North Korea  is considering following one specific Chinese model for social stability of floating populations: settle them in giant apartment blocs and get the video cameras going.

Further Assessment of the Iris Chang Papers

Iris Chang was an intensely productive, in her words, “almost obsessive” individual, and these qualities shine through in her private papers.

After publishing the book The Rape of Nanking, in preparation for her book tour, Chang captured her thoughts on a slew of a 3×5 inch index cards, cards which she then organized meticulously under headers like “Personal experiences writing the book.”  She asked herself questions like “Why did you write the book?” and “What emotional impact did writing this book have on you?”    (Iris Chang Papers, Boxes 194 and 195).   And of course there is what we would expect to hear: writing the book was a personally taxing undertaking, she cried while she was writing it, her parents cried about it, too.

But there are much more interesting little tidbits buried in these little cards.  Under the heading “Why [did the Nanking Massacre] vanished from World History?” a card can be found that reads partially like this:

Why is this event coming back [now]?

Tiananmen Square

And, in Box 195, under the header “My own experiences,” we have this:

Book [was] so upsetting to Nien Cheng, who survived her own hell by Cultural Revolution, that she had to put it down

Under the category “How You Can Change [the] Situation”,  predicting a call to action in her media tour, we get a card entitled “What can I as a US citizen do to change the status quo?”  to which Chang answers:

1. Support the Lipinski bill

2. Buy [my] book, donate a copy to the local library

3. Talk to [your] children’s history teacher & ask why this [e.g., Rape of Nanking] isn’t being taught

4. Refuse to buy Japan product & write to corporations & tell them

Other categories include “Shocking statistics” and “Shocking quotes,”  and “My feelings about Japan.”  In the last-listed category, she states: “This book is not anti-Japan and its’ not Japan bashing…..” which then swoops into something culminating vertically in the phrase “until no state denial!”  It was a rather violently structured card amid the bunch.

I found one other card to be particularly stimulating: another one with lots of data packed in, obviously something she was feeling passionate about in 1999: “My questions for the COX committee.”

Now we are onto something!

The idea being: the book emerged in a period of rising anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States, represented by the paranoid Cox Report.  The Cox Report and the detention of Wen Ho Lee emphasized in some ways the need for a more vigorous Chinese nationalism and reinforced the tropes of unjust victimization of Chinese globally that was emerging in the U.S. at that time.  As Joshua Fogel has written rather convincingly, part of the wildfire spread of Iris Chang’s book is connected with the globalization of Chinese identities and the identity politics among the Chinese diaspora.

And if that weren’t enough, here is a letter to Iris Chang (with original spelling maintained) from a little old lady in San Francisco, dated Sept. 14 1998:

Dear Ms. Chang   Re: RAPE/Nanking

Congradulations for your dedication, perseverence, courage to write so vivied the truth of the ASIAN Holocoust by the savage Japs.

When you mentioned the Lipinski Bill, I, who is vision impaired, had someone take me to see my Congressman Tom Lantos to urge him to help this Bill.  Mr. Lantos has an assistant, Jonathan Chu, whose family members were victims of Jap atrocities.

I was so anxious to see this Bill finally in Congress (House), that I made almost 400 copies of the most sickening but truthful photos in your book, together with my letter, and sent them to almost all of the members of the House.

Whenever, newscasters sympathizers tell of the poor victim japs relocated during Worl War II, I also sent them your phoots protesting against their UNtruthful news reporting.  Of NOT telling the whole truth-the Asian Holocoust cased by the savage japs.

B. Fung

Impressions of the Iris Chang Papers

It’s been a whirlwind, head-bending kind of two-day sprint through a minor swath of the Hoover Institute Archives at Stanford University.

Iris Chang wasn’t my only target — thanks to some very diligent young colleagues I was also lucky to find my way into a thicket of Korean War propaganda (some of which I hope to leak out on this blog), more work by Sheldon Harris, and a few hundred pages of the master diplomat-analyst O. Edmund Clubb in the tendentious 1950s.  But more on that later.

All things considered, Iris Chang’s incredible energy, her coiled personality, and her unchallenged productivity are revealed in these papers, where ultimate inwardness (better phrased in the German innigkeit) coexists with statements to her self like “Celebrity Affords Certain Advantages.”  And not that she cares anymore (she being deceased, and her papers thus available for my perusal), but the experience leaves me quite conflicted.

Certain very important hallmarks of historical research shine through in Iris Chang’s materials regarding the preparation for her groundbreaking book, The Rape of Nanking (1997).

Drawing from the sheer mass of the photocopied materials from such other archives as the Yale Divinity Library’s huge missionary archive, Chang took pains to cite cite cite her assertions, something that can’t be said for Jung Chang’s treatment of Mao. At least two boxes of printouts show her extracting, isolating her every sentence onto separate sheets of paper and explaining to herself what source it the sentence is based upon.  This is the a kind of thorough research and writing method with which most scholars can’t necessarily don’t always bother themselves, even if some of her sources are a bit suspect.

She is an active reader, using pencil and highlighter to good effect, amassing much data.  Going through a fraction of these papers has given me more respect for Chang — of course she is going to be attacked for leaving details from important sources out!  There are a lot of sources, and each has a life of its own.  What is really needed is a huge and comprehensive volume of primary sources as a companion piece to the book.

She has transcripts of video interviews conducted with then-New York Times reporter Tillman Durdin and his charming China Hand missionary wife, letters from missionaries like Fitch and Bates and Magee, of course, and makes notes on these things in abundant pencil, mixing English with Chinese.

Iris Chang reads Chinese!  This is a good thing.

On the other hand, there is a huge amount of material in these papers that reveals that Chang in the aftermath of the book’s completion was wrapped up wholly in its marketing, and was in some ways beset by various proposals (both business and personal) in the several years after its publication.

In one notebook excerpt from April 2000, she records her impressions of a meeting with a certain Hollywood agent affiliated with Mel Gibson.  After learning that “a profascist in Japan called me a Chinese slut,” Chang gets a pitch from the agent.  It appears that he wanted her to sell him the rights to her story, or work with him to turn the story of her book into cinema.  “Your passion is the story,” he appears to tell her, “you didn’t do it for the money,” before offering either $50,000 or 250,000 to make it happen.   At the end of the conversation memorandum, written in Chang’s rapid black ball-point sprawl is the sentence “contact Jerry Bruckenheimer.”

These are things that most history professors, and full-time researchers of history, don’t deal with.  They move on to the next book, teach the next class, apply for the next grant.

They forget to call Jerry Bruckenheimer because they are too wrapped up in the secondary literature.

Chang took more of  a reporter’s approach to The Rape of Nanking.  She uses more David Bergamini than anyone else, and a few boxes of photocopies from relevant secondary works (like an advance copy of Herbert Bix’s Hirohito [chapters 13-17] and the promising book by Iritani The Wartime Psychology of the Japanese People) lie basically unannotated.  I didn’t find her copy of Bergamini.

One of my students mentioned that Iris Chang should have had a colloquy with Jung Chang.  I thought that might have been interesting indeed.

In a subsequent post I hope to reflect further on her own self-analysis in these writings.  Like a mostly-empty notebook entitled “Meetings With Japanese Peace Activists,” even in the blank spaces in these papers is gathered much, much food for thought.

Coda: More of my recent essays on recent Sino-Japanese relations, and Iris Chang, as reflected in the Chinese press and in the work of Japanese manga artists like Kobayshi Yoshinori can be accessed here.

Library Kick-out

It’s a gratuitous post, but I so relish getting kicked out of libraries.  Especially when they close at 1 a.m., and are West Coast, which means the ocean is near, dawn is still distant, and people are starting to dredge themselves out of bed in New York City to pay for those apartments.

And Europe also rising up for travaille!

Stanford library full of goodies.  Including Mobo Gao’s takedown of Jung Chang and her fans.

A few cites for the road:

Henry John May, Little Yellow Gentlemen (1937)

A.T. Steele, Shanghai and Manchuria, 1932: Recollections of a War Correspondent (1977)

Michel Bonnin, Génération Perdue: La mouvement d’envoi des jeunes instruits a la campagne den Chine, 1968-1990

Nicola Spakowski, ‘Mit Mut an die Front’ Koln: 2009

Donald A. Jordan, The Northern Expedition (Hawai’i 1976 !!!)

lights out kick out

Thank You For Killing that Japanese Overlord

ROK Drop carries this photo , with some action in the comments section, from the Korea Times:

Independence activist Ahn Jung-geun remembered: Officials from the Ministry of Patriots & Veterans Affairs and citizens take part in a hand printing ceremony Wednesday, at the Yeouido Park in Seoul, to mark Ahn Jung-geun (1879-1910)’s 1909 assassination of Hirobumi Ito, a former prime minister of Japan, in Harbin, China. Ahn held Ito responsible for the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910. -- caption and photo by Korea Times

Independence activist Ahn Jung-geun (安重根) remembered: Officials from the Ministry of Patriots & Veterans Affairs and citizens take part in a hand printing ceremony Wednesday, at the Yeouido Park in Seoul, to mark Ahn Jung-geun (1879-1910)’s 1909 assassination of Hirobumi Ito, a former prime minister of Japan, in Harbin, China. Ahn held Ito responsible for the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910. -- caption and photo by Korea Times"

I should add that Ahn’s fame and memorabilia extends into the Korean communities in Yanbian and Heilongjiang province — he is a hero all around.  The cleavages of the Cold War have set Koreans asunder — North, South, Japanese diaspora, Chinese diaspora, North American diaspora, and global diaspora — but there are some things everyone still seems to agree on.  The Korea Times, preparing for the 90th anniversary of the shooting, gives a deposition here on “Ito’s 15 crimes.”

Ito Hirobumi, by the way, was an architect of the Japanese constitution who stopped in Seattle in, I believe, 1901 and left some tender and gorgeous calligraphy behind which was recently restored for a Japanese-language school in the Puget Sound.  Overlapping narratives, anyone?

If China Did Something Right, Would Anyone Notice?

Ever since the Amercian press corps wandered into dusty Yanan in the rumpled personage of a 30-year old named Edgar Snow in 1935, it seems that Western views of the Chinese Communist Party, and of China itself, have oscillated greatly.  At times, China and the West come into convergence as to how to view politics on the mainland.  In the late 1930s, both China and the non-Axis West (including the Soviet Union) viewed China as an embattled, noble, and besieged bulwark against Japanese expansionism.   A united front of news!  For proof, just read Edgar Snow’s unjustly neglected piece of war reportage/propaganda written on the eve of Pearl Harbor, The War for Asia.

Then things took a divergent turn in the late 1940s, during which time the maelstrom of Chinese domestic politics wrenched Western views out of their idealistic mode and towards criticism, while Chiang Kai-shek nevertheless tried to build himself up as some warrior-cum-Confucian scholar with such ghost-written tracts as China’s Destiny.  (Chiang’s text, I might add, was no less pretentious, and arguably more useless, than Jiang Zemin’s opus of the 1990s, the collected essays of the Three Represents, whose absolutely numbing prose at least had the purpose of getting capitalists back into the CCP.)

In the early 1950s, another vast disconnect opened up between how the Chinese people view themselves and the way they were viewed from the West.  A savage portrait emerged from without, replete with references to Genghis Khan and tales of  Christian torture and expulsion.  But no sooner had the Korean War finished than the European left revived their idealizations of the Middle Kingdom as if lifting the weight of the pillars of the Yuanmingyuan, reconstructing mental edifices of China as an industrious harbinger of a gender-equal, egalitarian, progressive utopia.  Social philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir went to China, spreading great tracts upon their return, arguing for a fundamental congruity with China’s positive and rising self-image in the years of the first five-year plan (1953-1958).  Even influential French journalists like Robert Guillain evinced a grudging respect for the ardent, if unthinking, nature of Chinese development in those years by calling the Chinese people “blue ants,” borrowing from a French idiom for “diligent.”  (Unfortunately it picked up in the West with all the exterminationist and mind-control connotations in George Horvath’s Mao Tse-tung: Emepror of the Blue Ants, about the worst example of a published mixed metaphor that one could hope to find.)

And so to today: If China did something right, would anyone notice?  In today’s Shijie Ribao [世界日报], page A2, we get basically a whole page of coverage about how actively the Chinese government is focusing on environmental issues with the American leadership, both current and former.  Hu Jintao had a talk with Obama about this issue and the Copenhaugen Forum on October 20, and yesterday, former Vice President Al Gore was in Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leadership compound in Beijing adjacent to the Forbidden City and the Egg.

Gore’s visit in particular was worth noting.  He met with Wen Jiabao in Diaoyutai guest house (where I believe Mao first met with Nixon), but then he was also given a podium from which to speak directly and at length to the Chinese assembled there to discuss global warming.   None of this seems to be available on the Anglophone internet.  (All my Chinese sources for the images, other than the kick-ass print version of the paper which I bought this morning in San Francisco which shows Gore lecturing like a champion, are on Flash players and I can’t save them on this deadly Stanford machine I’m blogging on tonight — sorry!).

The Chinese take this kind of thing quite seriously.  A former vice-president, in Chinese terms, is usually considered to be still a part of the power circles.  Hosting Gore in Diaoyutai is therefore a very significant gesture of Beijing’s willingness to engage with Washington on the environmental front.

I still believe the U.S. can outflank the North Koreans and the Chinese by insisting that environmental issues be part and parcel of any revived Six-Party Talks!  After all, if the Japanese are allowed to bring in an abduction case from 1977 as a central part of their own strategy, I think the future of environmental catastrophe can also be considered.  That, and the North Koreans have been amenable in the past to overtures on environmental conservation from the U.S. and UN.

What depresses me is the total lack of coverage of this issue in the major American news outlets.  Exactly nothing in the New York Times.  Ditto on the Los Angeles Times.  Although we do learn from the L.A. paper that Current TV is back with a vengeance in the wake of their North Korean debacle!

Fortunately we have China Daily to tell us that Hu Jintao is focused on a climate accord.  Damned if it isn’t a useful and important article.

Media consolidation and the dropping of Western newspapers like, well, hornets from a wasp nest hit with a blast of DDT, may be having an effect on the question of media outlets that drop big stories.  If the New York Times is lacking a vigorous bureau in Beijing, the danger becomes that stories about dissidents aren’t balanced by other political news of the day.  Like, what did Hu Jintao do today?  With which American officials did Wen Jiabao meet?  Is it up to or bloggers to cover the Premier’s every move instead?  Do we all just need therefore to read the China Daily instead of the New York Times?  I’m as interested as anyone else in Ribiya Khadeer, seizures of Uighurs in Xinjiang, and I am delighted to get another perspective on the tangled goings-on at the Frankfurt Book Fair.  But when there is an insubstantial difference between the Epoch and the New York Times on the Frankfurt story and JustRecently covers it nearly as well, can the New York Times be considered an essential source on Chinese news?

I would argue that it is, but a paper that just shed another 10% of its staff (even with the generosity of a new non-Sulzberger patron) is lacking the resources to put on an all-out blitz at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is what it deserves.  Germans get that in spades with Die Zeit, with in-depth coverage on the literary and political fronts.  And my august mentor Donald Jordan, of whom I need to be particularly mindful when in the shadow of the Hoover Institute and his documents on the Northern Expedition, always maintained that the Wall Street Journal was a better Asia paper.  For some reason I can’t bear to read more than a few hawkish, rollback-style articles every year by Gordon Chang and John Bolton that read like they could have been written by John Foster Dulles.

Al Gore’s interesting blog, with a crease in a print photo, says it all: nothing about the trip to China.  Has this man been so castrated through the years by chicken hawk Orange County Republicans like Christopher Cox that he lacks the cajones to publicize his own trip to promote the most important bilateral relationship this country has got?  Is it really back to the future (e.g. 1996) here?  Has he been reading giant-print-for-morons tract The Year of the Rat and hoping no one ever again photographs him with a Chinese man?  This makes no sense, Al.  Promote your own damned trip, and get people agitated.

Or are you still peeved you couldn’t go to Pyongyang yourself?  Don’t worry, with the environmental catastrophes sure to follow, you’ll be in demand.

Peter Pace, Head of Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Beijing, March 2007 -- now imagine the soldiers are trees, and Pace is the valiant Chinese-American physicist and EPA head Peter Chu

新华:3月22日,中央军委委员、中国人民解放军总参谋长梁光烈在北京举行仪式,欢迎美军参谋长联席会议主席彼得·佩斯访华 === 本博客:Peter Pace, Head of Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Beijing, March 2007 -- now imagine the soldiers are trees, and Pace is the valiant Chinese-American physicist and EPA head Peter Chu== 我们应该热烈建设两国环保保护体制,创造新世界绿色建筑等,从轻枪弹造草花!

Tree: Policy; Farmer: Revive Policy -- August 6, Xinhua

Tree: "New Resource Production"; Farmer: "Policy of Revival" -- August 6, Xinhua