33 Questions on The History of Modern Tibet

Here on Sinologistical Violoncellist, the subject of Tibet seems to be coming up with greater frequency, as it ought to.  After all, the Dalai Lama remains floating through the universe (and the halls of Congress, Richard Gere in tow) dropping rhetorical bombs on Beijing, and Zhongnanhai makes no bones about shutting off all avenues of dialog with the 14th reincarnation.

And thus, apropos of well, this, allow me to state that people who have not read (or are in the process of reading and attempting to digest) Melvyn Goldstein’s relatively new tome on the Chinese Communist Party’s policies in Tibet from 1951-1955 are really missing out.  I believe this is one of the most essential books that anyone can read, and should read, in order to understand the compromises that are both possible and historically relevant between the Chinese and Tibetan leadership, and the inherent conflict in their positions.

Thus, I bring you a few dozen questions (which, unlike most of the material on this blog, I encourage you to plagiarize and modify as you like):

Discussion Questions [by Adam Cathcart] re: Melvyn Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet, Vol. 2: The Calm Before the Storm, 1951-1955 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).

CHAPTER ONE – Chinese Perspectives

1. On pages 22-25, Goldstein lays out a set of points which are key to understanding the realistic conditions for CCP’s gradualist policy in Tibet.  I presently believe that the CCP were gradualist because they had to be.  Goldstein, on the other hand, never draws this explicit conclusion.  Why doesn’t Goldstein want to discuss more about the motives of the communist leaders?

2. In describing “United Front” (e.g., propaganda) work of the PLA, Goldstein describes Mao’s “carrot-stick” approach toward Tibet.  What are the carrots, and what are the sticks?  Absent the tens of thousands of troops bearing down on Chamdo, could Mao have gotten the Tibetan government to agree to anything?

CHAPTER TWO – Tibetan Perspectives

3. What is the 1914 Simla Convention and why does Prime Minister Nehru get on the phone about it during his meeting with the Tibetans (p. 45)?  Why isn’t India more supportive of the Tibetans in their hour of need?

4. In their first meeting with the new Chinese ambassador to India, Yuan Zhongxian, in September 1950, the Tibetans state that “there is no need to liberate Tibet from imperialism, because there are no British, American, or Guomindang imperialists in Tibet, and Tibet is ruled by the Dalai Lama (not a foreign power).”  Is this a true statement?  If so, then why does the CCP continue to insist that it is liberating Tibet from foreign imperialism?

CHAPTER FOUR – Dalai Lama to Yadong

5.   In Tibet’s appeal to the UN (pp. 90-91), China is pictured as immense and inherently aggressive.  In what ways is the memo’s ultimate suggestion – the dispatch of a UN fact-finding mission to Tibet – both a non-starter with the Chinese and a horrendously belated request for political recognition from the global community?

CHAPTER FIVE – The United States Intervenes

6. Why does Goldstein find it necessary to discuss China’s intervention in the Korean War in late 1950 (pp. 114-115)?  Is it possible that the connection between the war in Korea and the events in Tibet is actually much, much bigger than Goldstein implies? Or is the Korean War irrelevant to events on the Tibetan plateau at this time?

7. In point one “Against the Embassy Proposal,” the author describes how the goal of U.S. policy in China for the past several decades has been to support the “territorial integrity” of China (p. 116).  The Americans threw hundreds of thousands of troops and hundreds of millions of dollars into the Asian theater of World War II to support that policy and back up China’s right to exist.  Why would the Americans have considered throwing out all of that history and investment of blood and treasure in order to advocate a separation of Tibet from China?  Does the U.S. Executive Branch support China’s territorial integrity today?  Does the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, as she demands a consulate be set up in 2011 in Lhasa?

8.  What is the major problem with the American statement (p. 117) that “we should encourage….Tibet’s orientation toward the West rather than the East”?

9.  If it were possible to find enough information, the trip that never happened of “experienced explorer-scholar Schuyler Cammonn, University of Pennsylvania” to Tibet to spy out the situation in summer 1949 would be a fascinating and very publishable research paper topic (p. 119).  If anyone is interested in hunting down more information about this thread for a possible guest blog post on Sinologistical Violoncellist, please let me know.

10. In U.S. Ambassador to India Henderson’s secret letter to the Dalai Lama, he recommends that his Holiness go into exile in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka).  Why does Henderson recommend this course of action?  Why is this letter not a part of the Dalai Lama’s autobiography or his manga biography?

11. In the 1950s, is the Indian border city of Kalimpong really, as George Patterson called it, a “nest of spies”?

CHAPTER SIX “The Dalai Lama Returns to Lhasa”

12. At the three-day assembly and debate in Yadong, why are the Tibetan monks, including the abbots of the big three monasteries, nearly unanimous in demanding return the Dalai Lama’s return to Lhasa (p. 138)?  How would you characterize the strategy of the three big monasteries in the eight years (1951-1958) of cooperation with the CCP?

13. Namseling is hardcore, the main advocate of rejecting the agreement, and therefore of the idea of perpetuating the notion of a political and cultural Tibet in exile. Why does Namseling oppose China?  What is his particular view of the global role of the question of sovereignty in “keeping the flame of Tibetan independence alive”?   Does history change at all if Namseling wins this argument?

CHAPTER SEVEN – Initial Contacts and Strategies

1. Zhang Jingwu arrives in Lhasa on 8 August 1951.  Given that Mao had proclaimed the People’s Republic on 1 October 1949 (and with the republic, presumably, the victory of the CCP in civil war), doesn’t Zhang’s arrival in Lhasa seem awfully late?  If so, then what does Tibet’s later timetable for consolidation tell us about China’s sensitiveness about “territorial integrity”?

2. Note the pre-arrival stereotypes of the Han Chinese among Tibetans: many Tibetans thought the Chinese might be “devils” of some kind.  How are the imaginations of some Tibetans calmed, and others enflamed, by the appearance of actual Chinese in Lhasa?

3.  Why were songs especially important in Tibet’s political culture?  Hint: Because there were no newspapers in Lhasa before the Chinese showed up!

4. Who is Shelling, the source on pp. 171-172 for Zhang Jingwu’s appearance in Lhasa?  Hint: he’s my old housemate in Cleveland!  I was fortunate to live with linguistically talented and spiritually adept Tibetan aristocrats, via Dhramsala, when I was studying to become a Sinologistical Violoncellist in Cleveland in the late 1990s.

5. How does Lukhangwa fit into contemporary images of Tibet?  Which “side” in the contemporary context is more truthful?  Does Lukhangwa represent an incorrect approach among Tibetans toward relations with China?  Is there such a thing as Tibetan xenophobia, or would that phrase be politically incorrect?

6.  Would Tibet be better off had Sinified Tibetans like Lobsang Tashi been more assertive (p. 193)?

7. How does the fait accompli of the 17-Point Agreement make the sitsab even more hard-line in dealing with initial Chinese military officials in Tibet (p. 174)?

8. Chinese propagandists made promoted many positive images of Zhang’s first month in Lhasa.  In what ways was Zhang’s behavior toward the monasteries patterned after the Guomindang/Nationalist precendent in Tibet? And why, generally speaking, was there no open Sino-Tibetan disagreement in this period?

9. Why doesn’t Lukhangwa’s threat involving “the three jewels and karmic cause” scare the Chinese (p. 176)? Hint: It’s because the Chinese officials are atheists!

10. Would you attribute the first-ever growth of what we would recognize as “civil society” in Tibet to the Chinese pressure (pp. 177-179)?  Is it fair to say that the arrival of the CCP inaugurates a period of real political participation for Tibet’s non-official aristocrat class and others?  If so, doesn’t this render the CCP as a positive force in Tibet?

11.  What was Mao’s strategy with regards to the Dalai Lama?  Does it seem likely, given the reasonably reliable information on p. 179, that the CCP threat to kill the Dalai Lama – a message delivered via his brother from Qinghai (see also Manga Biography pp. 64-69) – is simply false?

12.  Were the communist leaders sincere in their desire to respect Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism (p. 180 ff.)?  Or was the policy merely a necessary short-term accommodation that preceded their true desire: to wipe out the religion and therefore the basic civilization of Tibet?

13.  In what ways is the CCP directive not to stir up class consciousness or attack landowners (p. 183) fundamentally at odds with concurrent political events in China at the time?  What would scholars like Julia Strauss or the author of Words Kill have to say about CCP policy in Tibet in comparison to that in China proper?

14.  In the early 1950s, the CCP leadership insisted that there be no specific timetable set up for Tibet’s fuller integration into the PRC.  In what ways does this strategy mirror Sun Tzu or Chairman Mao’s tactics as described in their respective texts Art of War and On Protracted War?  Does everything that important require a plan with a calendar? Or are flexible principles themselves sufficient grounds for acting efficiently and effectively?  Did the Tibetans fail in the 1950s because of a dearth of ancient and indiginous military texts and strategies?

15. In what way is Lukhangwa the real father of “the Tibetan Resistance”?  Can we speak of a “Lukhangwa model” of resistance today, or have times, tactics, and perspectives changed radically?  In what ways has his strategy failed the Tibetans, particularly in the impulsive and independent character of the resistance?

16. What do you think of Goldstein’s implicit assertion that Tibet weakened itself by truncating the modernizing influence of British-educated Tibetans from 1914-1933?  In what ways did Tibet’s “anti-imperialism” of the 1910s and 1920s – an outlook and violent activity for which the CCP lauds them still – paradoxically leave Tibet unreformed and thus open to Chinese allegations that they, the Chinese, are modernizing Tibet because the Tibetans are incapable of doing the job themselves?

17.  On pages 192-193, Goldstein describes the minor wave of Tibetan students who went to study in the interior of China at places like People’s University in Beijing.  While Goldstein seems to interpret this change positively (or at the very worst, as an anodyne development), Tibetan exiles have since depicted the associated actions as a form of “abduction” by the Chinese, part of a quasi-genocidal process of forced acculturation.  In the long run, why does this topic of Tibetans studying in China matter at all?  Shouldn’t we just be focused on what the Chinese are doing in Tibet itself?

18.  When it comes to Tibetans who admired Chinese modernization and culture in the early- and mid-1950s, the Dalai Lama needs also to be considered (pp. 200-205).  Didn’t these people understand that China was about to embark upon two massively destructive mass campaigns, known as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) and Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which would be very harmful to Tibetans?  If the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Sinified elites had had better foresight, wouldn’t they have gone into exile in 1951 instead of giving the Chinese Communist Party a chance to demonstrate its moderate nature?  Conversely, what is the historical problem with criticizing the young Dalai Lama and others for pro-China tendencies in the mid-1950s?

19.  Of the partially-Sinified and conciliationist wing of the Tibetan elites, few are more influential in the long run than Ngabo.  Do you consider Ngabo a pragmatic patriot or a sell-out?

20.  When is a scholar going to write a historically accurate rap battle between Ngabo and the culturally conservative obstructionist Lukhangwa, giving each man a verse which pivot around a chorus which starts with “khasey dingsey,” which is the Tibetan phrase for “say what your feel and think?”

Brave, Yet Isolated: Cat Surveys Shigatse, The Old Haunts of the Panchen Lama; photo by Adam Cathcart

Kim Jong Il in China: 28 Things You May Have Missed

Cross-Border Economic Development

1. Indeed, the Rodong Sinmun [劳动新闻/Worker's Daily], North Korea’s key ideological mouthpiece, has said nothing of Kim Jong Il’s since his junket to a Hamgyong fruityard. But what has flowered in place of news of Kim?  The halls of Pyongyang, at least the ones with lighting, are suddenly again flush with economic optimism.

The phrases present in this Rodong Sinmun, May 20, editorial had gone into deep remission.  The North Korean leadership, we can only assume, feels confident that Chinese aid can pitch them forward headlong into the future (notwithstanding the fact that 6 million of the DPRK’s 24 million people are starving).

2. Analysis of all of this is needed, and one of China’s top North Korea bloggers rises to the task:

 这两天很多网友通过电邮问我为什么金正日如此频繁访华,我个人觉得原因不外乎两点:其一是外界传疯了的“朝鲜困难说”,体制困难、政治困难、军事困难…这极可能被夸大演绎;另一点却很少有人提及,就是中朝关系很长一段时期的习惯,金日成时期如此频度的访华持续了整个八十年代。

Roughly, while Kim Jong Il is trying to “transmit craziness” to the world community and heighten concern about his food difficulties and military potency, he is also – and this is interesting – trying to restore Sino-North Korean relations to a state resembling that of the 1980s.  Economic junkets and implicit promises of reform were a core piece of those relations.  However, the economic linkages of the 1980s never really took off, whereas today, North Korea is ever-deeper in the economic embrace of China along the frontier and otherwise.  In the 1990s, during the height of the famine, Kim Jong Il not once travelled to China.  This was clearly a mistake.  North Korea appears to have learned something from its recent past [前车之鉴].   Perhaps, finally, there is no going back.

3. Another very astute point made by the Chinese blogger is the unifying imperative of both the internal situation in North Korea (and, implicitly, China) with the complex international situation.  This includes the democratic wave in the Middle East and the need to improve domestic stability in both countries.  Thus the answer is to present not only a united Sino-North Korean front to the world, but to render that front even more united than before:

 反之它是会与朝鲜国内的环境及其所处国际环境是紧密结合的,也就是国内国际形势越复杂、越需要有更加巩固的、更加清晰明了的中朝双边关系展示出来,团结——需要——更团结。

The mechanics of Kim Jong Il’s visit are less important than its effects and what it accompanies: another wave of economic cooperation with China.  Economic ties with North Korea are far, far more important to the Chinese leadership than blustering about North Korea’s nuclear program.

4. Criticism of the DPRK will remain a salient part of the PRC’s media arsenal, but this is done in more subtle ways that do not damage fundamentally the international united front with North Korea.  Where, after all – other than on Sinologistical Violoncellist – do you read stories in English about North Korea-bashing in the Chinese media?

Thus, to economic cooperation, which continues apace:

5. China and North Korea will launch a new borderlands developments initiative next week, and these developments near Sinuiju and on islands in the Yalu River are making the rounds on various government-approved  internet bulletin boards.  In particular, this Chosun Ilbo story is getting a great deal of attention from netizens:  http://chn.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/19/20110519000022.html

6. North Korea is doing a great deal more than it has in the past to promote Chinese investment.  Witness this – the most detailed KCNA story on the subject I have seen to date — about Chinese investment in Rason, the port in the northeastern corner of Korea.  Of special interest is the frank admission that China is footing the bill for the port’s renovation:  http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news18/20110518-22ee.html

7. Just as the North Korean regime essentially said “hell with it” to the public distribution system in the late 1990s and allowed small market activities so that people knew they should fend for themselves, the DPRK is today more or less admitting that China is going to be increasingly important certain segments of economic life.  Again, the survival imperative is at the core of this: North Koreans know the economy needs an infusion from somewhere, and internal complaints about the Chinese ascension – and they certainly exist – are easy enough to stifle.

8. North Korea has emphasized how much they value Chinese investment in Rason – or done a damn good job in covering up an accidental death – by commemorating the drowning of a Chinese businessman who is said to have saved the lives of two North Korean girls who were somehow just floating in distress of the Rason coast.  A ceremony was held in early April in Pyongyang and Zhang’s stone-faced widow and son were there to accept awards on behalf of a grateful nation.  (Link with photos.) http://kp.chineseembassy.org/eng/zxxx/t814780.htm

9. Unfortunately, according to internal sources, North Korea still can’t find enough Chinese investors who are willing to trust their North Korean counterparts.  The limits of rhetoric thus become evident.

10. Not that North Korea isn’t trying hard, and also drumming up interest from European firms as well.  At the International Trade Exhibition in Pyongyang on May 17, a whole host of DPRK international trade officials showed up to meet the Chinese ambassador, as well as a host of businesspeople, including Germans, French, and Italians.  http://kp.chineseembassy.org/chn/zt/cxdt/t823051.htm

11. But at the same time, the moribund nature of everything economic in North Korea seems clear.  No one has mentioned this, but in last site visit prior to moving east through some devastated provinces which he completely ignored on his way to China, Kim Jong Il managed to stare forlornly at some fruit, coughing up some of the same old boilerplate:  http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news18/20110518-42ee.html

And speaking of Kim….

Personal Politics

12. Kim Jong Il has regained weight, his swagger, and high heels http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/19/2011051900663.html

13. While he was crossing over the Tumen River, North Korean media released this unusual and soaring endorsement by a “Chinese VIP”  (Chen Zongxing, discussed later in this post) who endorsed Kim Jong Il’s rule and anticipates it will alst at least through 2012 : http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news20/20110520-41ee.html

14. Kim Jong Il proceeded to meet with Dai Bingguo in little Mudanjiang city.  http://nkleadershipwatch.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/kim-jong-il-continues-toward-beijing/ (with photos) in a trip that might have been prophesized had anyone been paying attention:

On May 10, the Chinese Embassy had been summoned to Mangyongdae Hall in Pyongyang for a good long meeting with the DPRK’s head of Public Security [李明洙/Li Myong Jo] at which the two countries’ Public Security Bureaus agreed on “the strictest” precautions (obviously in reference to the Dear Leader’s visit, as can be seen in retrospect).  Link with photos: http://kp.chineseembassy.org/chn/dshd/dshd/t821566.htm

Stories like the above, which go totally unreported in even the Wall Street Journal or the Guardian, along with stories like this in the Chinese media (“Kim Jong Eun Visit Speculated for Early May”) make you wonder: even given latitude for the differences in political culture, is it really fair to say that China is “habitually secretive about such trips” by Kim Jong Il?  As with everything else, it depends what you are paying attention to prior to the “disclosure” of Kim’s appearance in China, and what your definition of “secretive” is.    Perhaps more people need to read “North Korea Leadership Watch.”

15. As for possible meetings with Xi Jinping, so far the Chinese media is mum, as per protocol, but one “inside source” (maybe a friend in the Foreign Ministry in Chaoyang) states that Xi Jinping doesn’t want to be photographed with Kim Jong Eun, in any event: http://bit.ly/mwZkbM

16. Kim Jong Eun, perhaps, is busy holding down the fort in Pyongyang, making sure that the press duly commemorates a speech his absent father made twenty years ago (when the heir apparent, it bears noting, was all of six years old) about architecture theory:  http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news20/20110520-38ee.html

17. In a story about the paradox of youthful leadership transition in North Korea, the Chosun Ilbo speculates that the DPRK’s new cadres are actually likely to be more aggressive than their predecessors: http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/19/2011051901145.html

Meanwhile, the “American imperialists” were also rather busy…

The U.S. Angle

18. The new US diplomatic team on North Korea is rather remarkable, and rather expert.  I strongly recommend you get to know Sydney Seiler, a Koreanist who has studied Kim Il Sung’s rise to power, via this Chosun Ilbo rundown: http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/18/2011051800890.html

19. The core outline of what the US wants – nuclear de-escalation before resumption of normal trade – is made clear in this extensive interview about North Korea with Kathleen Stephens, the excellent US Ambassador to South Korea: http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk02500&num=7697

20. KCNA has yet to jab at Seiler – surely they will start name-calling eventually – but the North Korean media put out again a  warning about the deployment of US unmanned drones in Asia-Pacific: http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news20/20110520-11ee.html   As I mentioned a few days ago, the use of unmanned aerial drones by the US in East Asia, if in fact this becomes policy, has already become, paradoxically, a major plus for the North Korean regime.  Can you imagine a more perfect method of pumping up a mobilization-weary populace to be vigilant of foreign threats than that?  It also has already brought the Sino-North Korean security and military apparatuses closer, closing ranks against the common threat.  Drones over Hyesan?  As much as Douglas MacArthur would love the idea, couldn’t we leave MacArthur in the grave and the North Korean textbooks and just stick with satellites?

General Sino-North Korea Relations

21. Returning to the endorsement of Kim Jong Il given in Pyongyang on May 19-20 by the Chinese official: it was Chen Zongxing, in Pyongyang along with Ma Zhongping (马中平), chair of political conference in Shaanxi Province, there with a led a group of Chinese officials from May 16-20.

In a meeting with Kim Yong Nam, Chen uttered what is likely to be the most high-level characterization of the Sino-North Korean relationship that we get, absent a Wen Jiabao eruption on his junket in Seoul.  Via the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang, which, like me, translates very little of value into English,

 金永南对代表团访朝表示热烈欢迎。他说,朝中友谊历经风雨,牢不可破,今年双方将共同庆祝《朝中友好合作互助条约》签订50周年,这将再次显示朝中友谊的巨大生命力。在双方领导人的共同努力下,朝中友好关系正得到空前发展,世世代代巩固和加强朝中友好关系是朝鲜党和政府坚定不移的立场。朝方愿进一步深化和加强同中国在政治、经贸、文化等各领域的友好合作,推动朝中友谊世代传承和发展。金永南盛赞中国经济建设取得的巨大成就,祝愿中国党和政府以优异成绩迎来中国共产党建党90周年和辛亥革命100周年,取得“十二五”规划开局之年的全面胜利。

陈宗兴转达了中国全国人大常委会委员长吴邦国对金永南委员长的亲切问候和良好祝愿。他说,中朝友谊是两国老一代领导人亲手缔造和精心培育的,是两国人民共同的宝贵财富,不断巩固和发展中朝友好合作关系是双方共同的责任和使命。中方高度重视中朝关系,愿与朝方同志一道,进一步推进双方各领域、各层次的友好往来,使两国传统友谊发扬光大、世代相传。陈宗兴向金永南简要介绍了中国经济社会发展、“十二五”规划以及中国全国政协工作近况。他表示,中国全国政协高度重视发展与朝鲜祖国战线的关系,愿进一步加强双方高层互访和交流机制,不断深化中朝友谊。

22. After praising Chinese “multilateralism and supporting the unique development of China’s “green economy” in KCNA, it was time for the annual spring rice-planting by Chinese embassy in Pyongyang, for pictures, see also http://kp.chineseembassy.org/chn/zxxx/t823937.htm

23. In a May 4 speech celebrating “Youth Day,” PRC Ambassador in Pyongyang assures his North Korean colleagues of the ideological reliability of young Chinese people working for the Embassy.  Is this a response to North Korean nervousness about liberal Chinese youth?  Or is it just another statement of filler orthodoxy that kills another thirty seconds before the Ambassador can enjoy those blessed three seconds of solitude with the obligatory glass of alcohol that makes such events tolerable to officials who would rather be stationed in London?  http://kp.chineseembassy.org/chn/sgxx/sghd/t819892.htm

If Chinese youth are becoming more liberal, they are going in a very different direction than the core North Korean leadership, or so it appears.  And the Global Times, by the way, seems to agree: Chinese under age 35 have little attachment to the type of “Red culture” so praised by the North Koreans.  http://opinion.globaltimes.cn/foreign-view/2011-05/657782.html

24. For the May 1 holiday, Chinese embassy staff took a misty holiday to the DPRK mountains.  In a virtually abandoned park, they enjoy some beverages – both their water and their orange drink, unsurprisingly enough, are brought from China.  http://kp.chineseembassy.org/chn/sgxx/sghd/t820387.htm

25. On April 28, the Chinese Ambassador met with the North Korean cultural official Park.  The main business at hand was to announce the North’s intention to organize the  “13th International Film Festival” in Pyongyang to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth.

Judging from the Embassy’s summary of this meeting, it seems that Park did most of the talking.  His remarks begin by stating how well North Korean revolutionary films have already succeeded in giving the North Korean people a positive picture of the Chinese people.  (A whole list of films is then reeled off, probably while Ambassador Liu nods with false curiosity and a student at UC Santa Barbara finds new fodder for summer research.)

Perhaps most interesting are this section of Park’s remarks:

希望中国政府和中国大使馆继续给予平壤国际电影节大力支持,让朝鲜人民通过电影更多地了解到中国人民的革命精神、传统文化和多彩的现实生活。同时希望双方尽快推进合拍电影事宜,使两国电影交流上升到新的更高水平。

“[I] hope that the Chinese government and the Chinese Embassy can continue to give great support [大力支持] to the Pyongyang International Film Festival, which will allow the North Korean people to encounter films which [give them] even more understanding of the revolutionary spirit [革命精神] of the Chinese people, traditional [Chinese] culture and the colorful realism of life in China.  At the same time, we hope that both sides can quickly [尽快/jinkuai] move forward with friendly cooperation in the area of film-making, so that our two countries’ film industries can reach a new and higher level of exchange.”

And, as a coda, a few more links and fragmentary notes from the Chinese-North Korean border…

Borderland News

26. Contrary to the Chosun Ilbo report, the Chinese Ambassador to US was NOT at the launch of recent abductions report; China is not sending any signals of anger at the DPRK for snatching people over the Tumen river: http://www.dailynk.com/chinese/read.php?cataId=nk00100&num=8175

However, more news has emerged about a 1999 Tumen river body snatching of a South Korean agent by North Koreans: http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk00100&num=7714

27. In a story that, for me, does not pass the sight test –since I’ve met several dozen of these young ladies – the Daily NK asserts that North Korean waitresses in China supposedly need surgery on their eyelids before they go abroad: http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk01500&num=7716

But fashion matters: After noting a struggle between young women and state minders over extravagant earrings (just check my Twitter feed for that), Daily NK reports on a recent public trial in Sinuiju for those caught watching South Korean movies: http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk00100&num=7699

28. Finally, there are parallels between tracking a wild predator and the type of journalism and analysis that we need to do to understand the Kim trip.  This one is propitious: A trail of torn throats and paw prints in the mud: photo evidence of the rare Northeastern tiger roaming the Sino-North Korean frontier.  Photos: http://news.beelink.com.cn/20110514/2780426.shtml

The News from North Korea: Relations with China, Aerial Drone Denunciations, Green Totalitarianism, and the Middle East

Since the emergence of putative successor Kim Jong Eun into the public eye, the North Korean news media — specifically the Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA — has taken pains to publish more content about two things: youth, and the international situation.

What this equates to is an expanded view of what North Koreans are encouraging people to talk about, and how the state frames problems of the day.  It also means that there is simply much more content up on the slate-grey KCNA English-language website, and that the content needs to be culled for emerging themes.  Thus the present post.

To summarize the significance of the last two weeks of news from North Korea (just in the aftermath of the Jimmy Carter visit to Pyongyang), a few themes bear noting:

- Information about China is handled extremely gingerly in North Korea; on the one hand, the regime wants to make clear that it has positive relations with its orthodox socialist neighbor Beijing (and, implicitly, that material gains will follow this warming trend of the past two years).  On the other hand, China is depicted as the source of fake goods, fake news, and people who bow to Kim Il Sung.

- There has been a serious upsurge in news about unmanned aerial drones.  Someone in Pyongyang is either legitimately worried about U.S. spying and assassination capabilities, or cognizant that whipping up public anxiety over foreign drones makes for good summer vigilance propaganda, or, more likely, a combination of both.

- North Korean leaders are clearly very anxious about the events in the Middle East, including the Syrian protests and events in Pakistan.

- North Korea continues with its cultural diplomacy, making slight inroads; a new and interesting theme is to stress environmental cooperation with Germans.

Here, then, are the links in question, with some glancing annotations:

North Korea and China

The single most “must-read” KCNA story summarizes an article about US aerial drones in the Sino-North Korean border region.  The Huanqiu Shibao is China’s foremost (nationalistic, intensely Party line) foreign affairs daily, and North Korean diplomats and media professionals read it scrupulously.  I will endeavor to find the Chinese article in question, but the fact that North Korean propagandists are taking this up is rather noteworthy.  When it comes to facing off against American military technology, China and North Korea still present the image of a strong united front.  LINK:   http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news08/20110508-17ee.html

Staying in the North Korean-Chinese borderlands, North Korea now pledges to turn the Sinuiju side of Yalu into a showcase socialist funland.  Given all the attention given lately to foreign investmen in Rason, clear on the other northeastern end of the border with China, we might interpret this as a sign that Sinuiju development, while far slower, is nevertheless on the agenda of the Pyongyang leadership.  We will see how this idea moves forward, if at all.  LINK: http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news09/20110509-25ee.html

North Korea’s rhetorical committment to economic 


development in the border region is seen by a very unusual report of an official who is neither Kim Jong Il nor his son following up  on a site visit at the Hyesan Youth Mine http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news09/20110509-28ee.html

Although it may appear unrelated, a major article recollects Kim Il Sung’s directions on geology; in my interpretation, such articles give cover to the fact that North Korea is giving major mining contracts to China http://tinyurl.com/3vscpu5

…now, for reasons of time, the annotations get punchier and less grammatically accurate.  Enjoy!   

North Korean state publishing officials are visiting Beijing http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news14/20110514-31ee.html

An earthquake hits extreme NE edge of North Hamgyong province http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news13/20110513-12ee.html

Interesting timing — Kim Il Sung’s 1993 Works are now off the press.  But an important, infrequently asked question is: Will North Korea be able to manipulate Kim Il Sung’s legacy so as to retro-approve of the new China policy?
http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news17/20110517-24ee.html

Dependent on Chinese largess, North Korea is unable to publish much about social problems/dangers in the PRC, but such items are increasing.  Thus i

It might be argued that North Korea has been far more successful in controlling the popular image of South Korea than that of China. For a North Korean system predicated on the trope of its own unique superiority, Chinese success is almost more dangerous than that of ROK.

Chinese delegation makes “deep bows of reverence” to Kim Il Sung statue: Stories that depict Chinese visitors worshiping Kim Il Sung: about the only way that North Korea can today assert any form of superiority.
http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news17/20110517-31ee.html

More North Korean meetings about tourism cooperation with China http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news17/20110517-29ee.html


 North Korean News Items About China

KCNA: “China Intensifies Education of Children” http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news16/20110516-16ee.html

Kim Il Sung University delegation travels to China http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news04/20110504-32ee.html

China as example for North Korea: school anti-drug campaign lauded by KCNA http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news05/20110505-05ee.html

China as a land of Maoist mobilization practices when described by NK http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news09/20110509-14ee.html

A 


KCNA dispatch implies corruption among Chinese cops http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news12/20110512-11ee.html

North Korean Cultural Diplomacy

Chopinist or isolationist? North Korea is still sending pianists abroad http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news16/20110516-22ee.html

North Korea really believes in a diplomacy of sports teams and orchestras http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news04/20110504-34ee.html

NK high school students perform benefit for Palestinian youth in Pyongyang http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news12/20110512-26ee.html

NK would so love to pry Mongolia away from the ROK but cannot http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news08/20110508-02ee.html

North Korea and the US/Japan

US Navy commissions new carrier: to NK, another sign we’re about to invade http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news17/20110517-08ee.html

Safe to say: we are in for another North Korean anti-Japanese summer http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news06/20110506-16ee.html

Unlike its reports re: Japan, NK media assures no radiation in China http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news04/20110504-16ee.html

KCNA: “Japanese businesses are going bankrupt like flies” http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news17/20110517-10ee.html

North Korea and the Middle East

NATO denies hitting DRPK’s Tripoli embassy, via Xinhua of all agencies http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2011-05/12/c_13872223.htm

Huanqiu blog response supports NK system, wonders how NK will retaliate for NATO Libya damage http://bbs.huanqiu.com/thread-630814-1-1.html

Via Libyan TV: NK embassy damaged in NATO bombing (in English this time) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43002467/ns/world_news-africa

Worried about news already leaking into universities in Pyongyang about the revolutions in the Arab world, NK media is trying hard to give the impression that all is OK in Syria http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news10/20110510-11ee.html

North Korea finally reports on Syrian demonstrations, May 5: of course they are depicted only as anti-US actions http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news05/20110505-08ee.html

KCNA reports on “false reports” from Chinese media http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news05/20110505-33ee.html Does this have a whiff of Jasmine?

Is NK able to attack ROK facilities in Baghdad and Afghanistan? http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/17/2011051700584.html

DPRK Foreign Ministry watch: new ambassador to Oman http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news17/20110517-02ee.html

Drone-haters: North Korea excoriates US “murderous atrocities” in Pakistan http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news16/20110516-08ee.html

Must-read KCNA/Huanqiu Shibao on US aerial drones in Sino-NK border region http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news08/20110508-17ee.html

Highly orthodox Minju Chosun report equates Philly handguns with aerial drones http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news10/20110510-18ee.html

North Korean media have been bringing up Pakistan more than usual http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news17/20110517-01ee.html

North Korea and the Environment

North Korea praises itself in the field of green cities http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news17/20110517-20ee.html

According to Good Friends reports, North Korean “greening” projects are onerous for civilians and inspire anti-China rumors.

North Korean “green diplomacy”: Chinese ecologist granted DPRK award http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news17/20110517-28ee.html

A little bit of pro-German, pro-environment sentiment in NK press http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news12/20110512-04ee.html

VERY curious NK report about Korean dams protest in Germany http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news15/20110515-06ee.html Echt?

Kim Jong Il “called for continuously and energetically doing fish farming as a mass movement.” NK waters are already overfished! 


Jang Song Thaek dutifully listens as Kim Jong Il says NK must “make sure that every place where water is available teems with fish.” (see KCNA, 12 May 2011)

NK looks to increase crab harvest in northeastern seas: Russia not upset? http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news10/20110510-30ee.html

Miscellaneous

NK media reminding troops and officials not to plunder food from locals http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news05/20110505-24ee.html

The late spring ideological campaigns in North Korea have begun in earnest http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news13/20110513-16ee.html

“…spreading bourgeois ideology, culture and lifestyle…divest man of his soul and body and cause social chaos.” KCNA 13 May ’11

NK notes worldwide food crisis as subtle justification for domestic misery http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news13/20110513-10ee.html

Rodong Sinmun hints that North Korea wants to abrogate its int’l debts http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news12/20110512-13ee.html

Fighting the Obama Effect in NK: Obama as symbol of US “expansionism” http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news12/20110512-20ee.html

Where does France stand at the UN on the nuclear North Korean issue? http://j.mp/fW8u9C

24 Recent Sino-Tweets

  1. The footage has been refound of Clinton receiving the sacred anti-Japanese War photo from State Counsellor Liu; it resides as a beautiful moment at 20′ of this US-China conference on cultural exchanges http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/04/160631.htm
  2.   China is reported to be developing a hotline between the PLA and the South Korean defense chief: surely this drives North Korea nuts.  But what exactly do we know about frequently-quoted PLA head Liang Guanglie’s attitude toward North Korean defense? Normally this is the kind of thing reported on by Chris Buckley at Reuters. http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/09/2011050901009.html
  3. Retweet of jordanpouille La Chine change… En 2000, les chinois ouvraient un Starbucks ds la Cité Interdite. En 2011, on y ouvre un club de milliardaires.
  4. She isn’t as prominent as Gary Locke or Jon Huntsman, but the US ambassador in Seoul is clearly doing a great job http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/11/2011051100662.html
  5.   Huanqiu Shibao, showing yet again the North Korea doesn’t get complete kid gloves in the Chinese media, covers a Chosun Ilbo expose on North Korean hacking http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/11/2011051100887.html
  6.   A return to public shame for prostitutes: 49 sex workers are censured nearby the Shanghai Expo (Huanqiu Shibao photo gallery) http://society.huanqiu.com/photos/2011-05/1685332_3.html
  7.   Interested in the history of bound feet?  Huanqiu Shibao puts up a photo gallery remembering the bad old days of Three Inch Golden Lillies (“三寸金莲”) http://history.huanqiu.com/photo/2011-03/1589098.htm
  8. 
Today at least, CCP tacks back toward Hu Yaobang’s Tibet strategy: funding cultural research. http://china.globaltimes.cn/society/2011-05/655351.html
  9. 
Is it just a coincidence that Ai Weiwei’s wife is given access to the artist just two days before the beginning of a major Sino-German forum? http://www.globaltimes.cn/www/english/features/2011-05/643177.html
  10. 
Some informed speculation about Kim Jong Eun’s aborted (or is it just delayed) trip to China
 http://nkleadershipwatch.wordpress.com/2011/05/08/jong-un-trial-balloon-to-beijing-or-a-stalking-horse-to-jilin/
  11. 
U.S. Representative Roscoe Bartlett’s masterpiece, years in the making on China and Peak Oil.   http://tinyurl.com/6964oz3
  12. 
Roscoe Bartlett describes China’s “post-oil” future http://bartlett.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=67739
  13. 
The CCP may have taken Ai Weiwei, but the Huanqiu Shibao photopage still covers quirky Taiwan artistshttp://photo.huanqiu.com/exclusive/2011-05/1678910_7.html
  14. 
Chinese scholar: it’s “freakish (匪夷所思/feiyisuosi)” that Kim Jong Il didn’t meet Carterhttp://opinion.huanqiu.com/roll/2011-05/1681164.html
  15. 
Is China saying anything overtly meaningful or substantively different about Pakistan in wake of imbroglio w/ US? The U.S. Navy is already rather spooked about China building naval facilities in Pakistani port.
  16. 
The Dalai Lama, in Long Beach, appears to support the US raid into Pakistanhttp://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0504-dalai-lama-20110504,0,7229481.story
  17. Does any analysis exist on the impact of growing European right-wing political mvts. on EU-China relations? Or is there no link at all?  If France has a right-wing president, doesn’t that concern the CCP in the least?
  18. 
@TomLasseter, McClatchy Bureau Chief in Beijing, releases a great interview he did  with Ai Weiwei http://tinyurl.com/3jbkuxj “Transparency itself is the message”
  19. 
For Francophones: Le Monde reports from Turpan, Xinjiang (Harold Thibaut voiceover) http://tinyurl.com/3nun7ks
  20. Sec. Clinton’s harshest remarks toward China in a week of largely positive overtures http://tinyurl.com/3ocezkv via The Atlantic
  21.  
Mainland-Taiwan warming exemplified here: 100-member delegation from Peking U. to Taiwan. North Korea, please take note!
  22. Peking University President in Taiwan, feted by a vase-wielding Lian Zhan http://english.pku.edu.cn/News_Events/News/Focus/8243.htm
  23.  Obscure but possibly interesting: Documenting the French fete in Pekin in 1981 for Mitterand’s socialist victoryhttp://tinyurl.com/43hwshl
  24.  
Chinese tourists easily #1 in France last year; spent 650 million Euros, triple that of #2 (Russians)http://tinyurl.com/3g8mesv  It seems that Chinese tourists like to shop in France, in part, to avoid purchasing fake Louis Vuitton purses.

The above “Tweets” are taken, mostly unmodified, from my microblog: www.twitter.com/adamcathcart.  

KMT (Kuomintang) Chairman Lien Chan accepts a nice gift from President of Peking University at a party celebrating the biggest Beida delegation ever to visit Taiwan


Kevin Garnett’s Chinese Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the first paragraph of the entry:

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

正如新闻所说,我们被热火踢出局。很不幸我们没能更近一步,在我看来,我们没有发挥我们的潜能。最后几天,我们花时间回顾了这个漫长的赛季。比赛中有高潮,也有低谷;与队友有离别,也有欢聚。漫长的时间,飞行,练习,精疲力竭…贡献了一个赛季自己的经验,结果却不尽如人意。我将回到自己的实验室打磨自己的技术,我需要不断进步。我会提高自己的水平并不断地变得更强。

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Reading: Gady Epstein, “Investors Profit on Chinese Answers to Nike, Adidas,” Forbes, 27 August 2011, http://blogs.forbes.com/gadyepstein/2010/08/27/investors-profit-on-chinese-answers-to-nike-adidas/ 

Henry Kissinger “On China,” and at the Opera

The ever-prolix Henry Kissinger has a new book on U.S.-China relations forthcoming, entitled On China.  Advance copies reviewed here by the New York Times; Kissinger is interviewed by NPR here.

Since copies of the text will not be available to we mortals on the Northwest for another week or more — even those of us with Japan connections in the form of a Kinokuniya Bookstore — it might be useful to review for a moment some of the former Harvard professor, National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State in his writings on China.

And thus to musical diplomacy!

Thanks to his extensive briefing books (which are available to researchers in the Nixon Presidential Library materials currently housed in Washington, D.C., and which I have consulted), during his trip to China in October 1971, Kissinger was supremely attuned to messages intended for him in cultural shows presented to him by the Chinese Communist government.  Thus his attendance at “The White Haired Girl” by the CCP, a revolutionary ballet performed by the Central Ballet Company of China, merits a bit of analysis.

The White Haired Girl (Bai Mao Nü, 白毛努) tells the story of the suffering life of a peasant girl who is saved from a life of servitude by the revolutionary leader.  This sought after story had been portrayed in the movie before the ballet and was extremely effective in provoking hatred feelings to the old system.[1]  The government was impressed by the impact of the movie, like many others, the CCP artists sought to transform this most moving story into the other artistic sphere of ballet.  However, in his memoirs concerning this performance (White House Years, p. 779), Kissinger panned the opera:

On the evening of October 22 we were taken to the Great Hall of the People to see a ‘revolutionary’ Peking opera — an art form of truly stupefying boredom in which villains were the incarnation of evil and wore black, good guys wore red, and as far as  I could make out the girl fell in love with a tractor.

Now that is an acid pen!

Of course, at the time, he was highly complementary to the CCP leaders about the show and even described its message in some detail in his dispatches debriefing Richard Nixon about the trip.

Later, Kissinger would open the way to a trip by the Philadelphia Orchestra to China in September 1973, which itself was the result of Zhou Enlai’s victory in the internal debate with Jiang Qing, over the role that Beethoven should play in the musical and ideological life of the Chinese elites in Beijing and Shanghai.  Kissinger describes the action iduring his fifth visit to China in February 1973 in his Years of Upheaval, p. 45.

Of course, when Zhou Enlai is saying things like the following to Kissinger directly, recalling the failed attempt on the Chinese Premiere’s life in 1955 on his way to Bandung, it is hard to imagine that he also had energy to take on the cultural bureaucrats in Shanghai, but he did:

As for international hijacking, we do not approve those activities.  It’s too unreasonable.  Such adventurous acts are not a good practice, regardless of the motives behind it, whether it is revolutionary or of a saboteur nature.  I say these not as superfluous words but to explain how people of the world think of the CIA.  As for we ourselves, we are not very much excited by the CIA..[Memorandum of Conversation with Zhou Enlai, Henry Kissinger and Winston Lord, 21 October 1971, Beijing, Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1976, Vol. XVII, pp. 503-504.]

Trashing Diplomatic Etiquette, or Just Empty Cannon Shots? Huanqiu Shibao Weighs in on Clinton’s ‘Fool’s Errand’ Comment

There has been an immense amount of action which has occurred in the U.S.-China relation in the past week, actions about which, being on several “fool’s errands” of my own, I nevertheless hope to comment upon.

At the end of a week of bilateral meetings in Washington, rather than grand strategic debates, we seem to have in hand the following tempest-in-a-teapot:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview with the Atlantic Monthly about democracy in the Arab world, made brief and passing — and very critical — comments about the Chinese Communist Party.

These remarks have caused something of a kerfuffle in the Beijing media.

In response to Clinton, the Huanqiu Shibao editorial of May 15 2011 noted:

  美国国务卿希拉里用破坏外交礼仪的语言批评中国人权,称中国“做蠢事”(fool’s errand),西方与中国的人权之争呈现出更多的不规则性。西方对中国的态度像是外交、舆论战,以及它们国内政策工具的大杂烩。猜西方一个激烈指责“背后”的故事是很累的,简单说起来,西方在当下的人权之争中咄咄逼人,但这场冲突究竟谁是“胜利者”,却要历史说了算。

Which translates roughly as:

American Secretary of State Hillary [Clinton recently] critiqued China’s human rights by describing China’s ‘fool’s errand.’ By using this language, [Clinton] laid wreckage to diplomatic etiquette, and brings even more unpredictability to the Sino-Western debate on human rights. The Western attitude toward China appears to be one where human rights is used as an implement in the mish-mash of domestic politics, diplomacy, and the war for public opinion. Gathering that the story of fierce Western criticism behind [China's] back is tiresome, [we can] put it simply: Western criticism of China’s human rights has presently become totally overbearing [咄咄逼人]. However, on this field of struggle, only history will say who emerges ‘the victor’.  

Huanqiu Shibao’s editorial language is far more expressive that that of the paid-to-be-sternly-taciturn Jiang Yu, the Foreign Ministry spokesman whose remarks are reported on by China Digital Times [hat tip to CDT; an earlier version of this post can be found in the comments section on the linked piece over there].

The Global Times’ English version of the May 15 editorial in question is way, way toned-down and changed around, and includes the token reference to the now-useful-to-all-parties Ai Weiwei, who is so good at disappearing that he does not make the Chinese edition at all.

The strange thing in analyzing Clinton’s comments to the Atlantic is that they came in the midst of a much longer interview focused almost entirely on the Middle East. In fact, Clinton is in the middle of a comparison of China with — get this — Saudi Arabia when the conversation turns, and then she almost immediately swivels back to the prospects of regime change in Syria.

Is it possible that Clinton’s criticism of China is quite intentional, and intended to lay down some preemptive covering fire (in the form of “empty cannon shots,” as Mao famously said to Nixon about pro forma propaganda) for the Obama administration’s domestic opponents as the administration is engaging in multiple high-level meetings with China and signing a battery of bilateral agreements?

The anguish of the artistic community, and the Tibetans in exile, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and the Falun Gong notwithstanding (all of whose complaints are, like those of the American communist parties, very much separate and disconnected, united only by the object of mutual derision), is there nothing to celebrate about last week’s cooperative efforts in Washington, D.C.?

There is a ton of video footage available of Clinton’s various bilateral sessions with Chinese leaders last week, and in none that I’ve seen does Hillary Clinton appear to be lecturing Chinese leaders in tones reminiscent of the Atlantic Monthly interview as to how they need to change in order to avoid the historical dust heap.

(Stalin’s advice for avoiding said dust heap, by contrast, would have been an ice pick to the head of the regime’s opponents — effective and cheap, but in China there are not enough ice picks and too many heads for this strategy to work, and besides, this is the United States, where no problem, including the President’s national origin, can’t be solved without a little public bellyaching and a lot of transparency.  The relative clarity of ice, in other words, beats steel ice picks, and Jefferson trumps Lenin.)

At one point, Clinton happily looks on as her Chinese counterpart describes the good old days when [the Republic of] China and the U.S. got together to launch air raids on Japan.  When you’re remembering World War II and channeling Song Meiling, it’s best not to mention that China vaguely resembles Saudi Arabia, even if you think it does. (The video of this session was up on Friday on the State Dept. website and on YouTube, it now appears to have been taken down.)

The Huanqiu Shibao editorial therefore accurately notes the milieu in Washington last week.  The Secretary of State did indeed warmly greet her Chinese colleagues, the editorial states, concluding: “It makes one wonder if, when they talk about human rights to China, the leaders of some countries aren’t just going through the motions [走过场].”

Hey, if “going through the motions” gets us some real “Eco-Partnerships,” maybe it’s all in a day’s work.

Or maybe the State Department is banging on the table about the rights of American students — like the 25 I brought to Sichuan and Tibet last fall — to travel to China as part of the Hundred Thousand Initiative.

Or maybe they are busy talking about currency, trade, and our mutually dependent economies.

Fool’s errand, indeed, but then again, so was Henry Kissinger’s trip through Pakistan to Beijing in 1971, laden with briefing books by Chas Freeman and the hopes of a President burdened by a war (or two) and the hopes of a second term.  Who is writing Clinton’s briefing books and coordinating her strategy on China might even deserve a bit of begrudging support, as to both Sun Tzu and Chairman Mao (as well as their successors and their advisers in Zhongnanhai), “unpredictability” might be considered a word of praise for a premeditated but previously unseen Washington strategy.

via Le Monde

North Korea: Examination Materials

I recently completed a month-long lecture series on North Korean-Chinese relations at Pacific Lutheran University.  Because these lectures were occasioned by a course I teach at PLU (hell yes I teach courses, credits and grades dropping from my very fingertips!), I had the pleasure of writing an exam on the topic.

Here, in no particular order, are a few of themes or questions which were covered in the lectures and which my students consequently suggested that I should have put on the exam.  But who cares that they were on an exam?  What matters is that they have content and merit, and deserve further discussion.  (Thus their appearance in this forum.)

Is this really necessary?  Do we really need to be asking yet more questions about North Korea and Sino-North Korean relations?  Shouldn’t we first try to get answers about some questions of agreed-upon significance, like how many nukes North Korea has?  Or if Jimmy Carter’s visits to Pyongyang accomplish anything at all?  Or if Kim Jong Eun wears a foreign wristwatch?

Well, quibble though you might with certain of them, very few of these questions resemble the rather elementary questions to which North Korea and its relationship with China are treated in our present environment of English-language media analysis, a few really good blogs notwithstanding.

So, to the questions:

- What long-term opportunities (financial and political) would be presented to China by a peaceful collapse of North Korean political power?

- In what ways does the North Korean obsession with Mount Paektu strain relations with China?

- Does the history of the 7th century (e.g., the destruction of the northern power of Koguryo by the southern power of Silla, in alliance with the Chinese Tang dynasty), constitute a template for unification of which the DPRK leaders should be fearful today?

- What role does the small North Korea-Russia border in the extreme northeast of the peninsula play in balancing (or unbalancing) the Sino-North Korean dynamic?  Is North Korea able to balance China off of Russia now, or are those days of navigating between Beijing and Moscow truly in the past?

- What role did the U.S. occupation of Japan play in the formation of the North Korean state system?

- How did Mao Zedong’s rationale for intervention in the Korean War in 1950 differ significantly from that of the Ming dynasty during the Imjin War in 1592?  Is it possible that Mao in some sense retained a desire to secure North Korea in a neo-tributary system?

- What similarities exist between the present-day North Korean system (and its “court politics”) and that of the Qin dynasty as depicted in the works of Sima Qian?

- How and why are the concepts of sadae/sadaejuui and juche embedded in (North) Korean culture?

- List the current statistics for the relative military strength, in terms of troop estimates, for the ROK Army, the PLA, the Japanese SDF, and USMC/USAF/USN in East Asia.  With which one (or ones) of these military forces does the Korean People’s Army have anything approaching parity?

- To what extent was the Korean War a proxy war, and to what extent was it a civil war?

- The story of North Korean refugees seems fantastic, politicized, and laden with imaginative tropes. Is it really as bad for North Korean refugees as it seems on YouTube?

- What is the proper label for Sino-North Korean relations?  Is this a “brotherhood forged in blood”, a “pragmatic partnership”, a “friendship betrayed”?  Suggest a few taglines for the relationship and justify your new label.  Could we call both China and North Korea “unruly allies”?

- Why does North Korea go to such great lengths to propagate myths of Kim Jong Il’s “birth” at Mt. Paektu?  Does it matter that, as “the Text” asserts, his birth was foretold by a sparrow, illicited a double rainbow, and that a new star appeared in the sky?

- In what ways is the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Region a crucible for new North Korean culture?  Can it be considered “a Third Korea”?  In what ways does it run countercultural to the ways of Sinicization?

- Compare the Chinese de facto absorption of North Korea during the Korean War to  German reunification of 1990.

- Can the Tumen Tiger avoid extinction? What barriers exist to the survival and flourishing of this species?

- Are the golden cows along the Chinese side of the border really happier than their North Korean counterparts across the Tumen?

- How have Chinese goals for Korean unification changed since 1950?

- Describe the impacts of, and the Chinese reponses to, the North Korean nuclear tests of October 2006 and May 2009.

- Kim Jong Eun was recently pictured in North Korean state media holding a pair of binoculars upside down at a military exhibition.  In what ways does this image, and the way it was covered in Chinese state mdia, represent larger problems and anxieties about Jong Eun’s possible succession?

- Although North Korea militantly emphasizes its cultural independence from China, in what ways does North Korean language — both colloquial and bureaucratic — exemplify Chinese influence?

- How did Chinese and Soviet communism, Asian philosophies such as Daoism and Confucianism, Chinese Legalism and Korean fortitude combine to create or otherwise influence North Korean policies and politics?  Is it fair or accurate to summarize North Korea’s political system merely as “Stalinist”?

- Do technology and cultural transfers into North Korea along the Chinese border like USB drives full of songs or DVDs of South Korean movies constitute a “new culture wave” in North Korean society?  Is it fair to write about a “Chinese wave” in North Korea akin to the “Hallyu/Korea Wave” that has been so objectified in East Asia?  What elements in North Korea’s traditional culture (and official state culture) would resist Chinese influence?

-  Briefly describe problems associated with both the garrisoning of the Ming Army in Korea and the stationing of Chinese troops in North Korea from 1950-1958. Is it fair to say that China and North Korea have both internalized the lessons of these events?

- North Korea is indeed a “shrimp between whales,” but it is also a skilled practitioner of “judo diplomacy” whereby the “whales” are adeptly tossed around.  After describing a couple of salient examples of the above point, argue that either China or Japan (pick one and explain your choice) is most often on the receiving end of North Korea’s manipulations.

- Are the North Korean notion of juche and the Chinese notion of tributary relations inherently at odds?  In what ways does each nation temper its ideologies in the practice of foreign policy in order to keep Sino-North Korean relations relatively smooth?

- Describe the unique role that Sinuiju plays in North Korean history and in contemporary interchange with the PRC.

- Describe how and why Hyesan has become a “model city” for Kim Jong Il since the 1960s.  Why do South Koreans and occasional foreign observers travel to the city today?

- In the context of analyzing U.S. involvement in the Korean War, critique or support the statement “The first mistake was putting MacArthur in charge.”

- In what ways does heavy North Korean patrolling of the northern frontier give lie to the statement that the DPRK enjoys “brotherly relations” with the PRC?

- For people just beginning to pay attention to North Korea and its relations with China, why is a brief description of the Korean War so important?  Is it possible to understand North Korea, or Chinese policy toward North Korea, without reference to the Korean War?

- At the end of the day, when it runs out of calories, energy, and alternatives, is North Korea truly locked into a sadae/submissive relationship to China?

Cogitating Korea and Strategically Flexible Syllabi, Wiedervereinigung in the Shadow of the Reichstag, Berlin -- photo by Kuroda Chiaki

A Few Brilliant Observations

Asked to evaluate Douglas MacArthur’s tactical decisions in November-December 1950, student Adam Hoagland, while ignoring the General’s significant decision to firebomb Sinuiju and drop the Tarzan bomb on Kanggye, put forth a methodically brilliant Sun Tzu-based critique of old man SCAP:

MacArthur made the fatal mistake of underestimating his enemies and their drive to resist.  He did not concentrate his military power but spread it too thin to push forward or hold a position.  He did not study the terrain to find the best advantage or weaknesses.  He was not formless in his tactics but used a very recognizable and predicatable advancement of troops.

Had only Hoagland been a Sinologist in SCAP’s employ, a man of ambition who had MacArthur’s ear in 1950, then an understanding of Chinese military strategy might well have prevailed.  But he was not, and it did not.  MacArthur also failed to respect his senior commander (e.g., Harry Truman) and, to my knowledge, never stood up for the returned POWs from Korea when implications of communist “brainwashing” were leveled at them.

Since my students have all read Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian, the history of the Qin dyansty, I tossed out a hypothetical question: What would happen if we had a modern day re-appearance of the assassin Jing Ke, who was sent from Yan to kill Qin Shihuangdi around 210 B.C., in Pyongyang acting on behalf of the CCP?  In other words, I asked the students to consider the historical template of Jing Ke in the contemporary Sino-North Korean context.  What would happen if China sent an assassin — a modern-day Jing Ke — to kill Kim Jong Il or his son?

Amanda Fitzhenry, a student who plans to study in South Korea, answers, and does so in detail which is far, far better than I could have mustered myself:

If Jing Ke were to infiltrate the North Korean capital, it would need to be shown in a way of supporting or worshipping Kim Jong Il.  The fact that Jing Ke was in the rural area would not be able to work in the DPRK situation because of the limited ability to travel.  To be able to be in Pyongyang, Jing Ke would need to be a trusted man to the North Korean Workers’ Party and willing to risk the gulag for his family and himself.  His mission would provide China with the chance to obtain North Korea (and Mount Paektu) for China.  But, with the downfall of the DPRK would come instability for the region with 24 million people fleeing, as well as the economic duty to rebuild the country.

One final observation: In the space of little less than a decade, my North American university students have become progressively more convinced of China’s capability to handle anything.  That is to say, presenting the students with a scenario whereby China would totally absorb North Korea is never really scoffed at: China, we now presume, has all the resources in the world to rebuild North Korea and could, somehow, convince the South Koreans to stay in Seoul in the event of a Chinese takeover north of the DMZ.  A tall order indeed, and hardly likely to occur, but old Robert Kaplan’s essay in Atlantic Monthly in 2006 about just such a scenario has many more adherents in American universities that one might expect.

Three Recent Speeches on U.S.-China Relations

Jon Huntsman, U.S. Ambassador to the PRC, delivers the Oksenberg-Barnett Lecture in Shanghai, 6 April 2011, sponsored by the NCUSCR (National Committee on U.S.-China Relations):

Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, delivers the first Richard Holbrooke Lecture at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on 15 January 2011 (speech starts in earnest at 5:30):

Joseph Biden, U.S. Vice President, opens the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue forum in Washington, D.C., 9 May 2011:

Assessing Party Policies in Tibet in the 1950s: Notes on Melvyn Goldstein’s Volume 2

Anyone who has the slightest pretext of considering themselves informed on the question of current Chinese Communist Party policy in Tibet needs to enter into an extended reconnaissance of this book: Melvyn Goldstein’s History of Modern Tibet, Vol. 2: The Calm Before the Storm, 1951-1955 (University of California Press, 2007).

Essentially, this text makes clear that the 1950s are the crucial decade for understanding contemporary Sino-Tibetan relations/tensions/the ability and inability to cooperate.

Goldstein is widely read in Tibet’s 1950s history, but mainly he cities his own mammoth research databases, relying but sparingly on work by Grunfeld 1996, Knaus 1999, Shakya 1997, and Smith 1996. [1]

Goldstein expends virtually no energy describing the CCP efforts to justify the Tibet policy to the outside world.  In the 1950s, this international propaganda work would be done, in part, by fellow travelers like the French feminist Simone de Beauvoir and American friends Israel Epstein and Anna Louise Strong. [2]

NOTES

[1] Tom A. Grunefeld, The Making of Modern Tibet (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1996); John Kenneth Knaus, Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival (New York: Public Affairs, 1999); Tsering Shakya, The Dragon in the Land of Snows (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999); Warren Smith, China’s Tibet: Chinese Press ARticles and Policy Statemens on Tibet, 1950-1989 (Cambridge: Cultural Survival, 1989); Warren Smith, Tibetan Nation: A History of Tibetan Nationalism and Sino-Tibetan Relations (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996.

[2] Strong’s quirky, classic on-the-spot justification for the CCP 1959 revolt suppression,  When Serfs Stood Up in Tibet, is available in full online.  Glory be!  For discussion of Simone de Beauvoir’s trip to China and her voluminous defense of early Maoism in the PRC, see  Simone de BeauvoirLa Longue Marche: Essai Sur la Chine, 1957, discussed partially here.