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Monthly Archives: July 2009


and in the meantime

If all of the Teutonic sludge being slung around this blog is getting a bit heavy for you, then be comforted.  Prose was composed to the accompaniment of the oft-beloved, more often criticized, German rapper Bushido.   Bushido is a bit of a fraud — for all of his bravado and mini-forays into crudities, he still lives with his mom in Berlin — but I am simply very motivated by the tempo, tambre, and overall ethos particular song, and the Super Mario visual theme just puts the whole thing on the right pitch.   Among the best lines in here are “ich habe die Hauptstadt auf die Karte gesetzt” (I put the capitol on the map: Berlin!) and “du machst nicht was ich nichtgestern gut gemacht hat” (there’s nothing you can do that I didn’t already do yesterday).  But the best, a lyric in the chorus which I someday aspire to “bite” or sample in my own academic rap work, is “nimm die Zeitung an” (pick up the newspaper!).

NOTE: If you don’t like rap, are repelled by gangster lyrics in German by a guy who actually lives with his mom and is in truth a model Confucianist, or believe that Super Mario should only be viewed with the original score, then please refrain from clicking on the link.

Historical Documents

Changing of the Guard near Pont des Arts, Paris

Changing of the Guard near Pont des Arts, Paris

Remembering Tiananmen and 1989 in Europe [1]

June 4, 1989 may lay buried under new epochs already, but the meaning of that date for China and its observers is clearly going to continue reverberate for decades.

The Germans, perhaps most of all.  China was, and remains, highly sensitive to commemorations of June 4, 1989, but for Germans, the inspiration of the Chinese student movement of the 1980s, and the violent end to the spectacle, acted as catalysts for deep introspection and mobilization by East Germans in particular.  Today, Tiananmen 1989 is recalled in Germany as invioably mixed with the “peaceful revolution” which came that fall with “der Mauerfall” the falling of the wall) in November.  The Germans call this “die Wende” or “the change/the turning point”, and so they remain 1. mindful of the inspiration of Chinese students of that epoch, courage which added to their own impetus to act against the German Democratic Republic, and 2. still somewhat quizzical: Why is it that China failed to have its own peaceful revolution in 1989?

From an "Ausstellung," or exhibition, on Berlin's Alexanderplatz, June 2009

From an "Ausstellung," or exhibition, on Berlin's Alexanderplatz, June 2009

East German Students demonstrate in support of Chinese colleagues at a Protestant youth gathering, DDR

East German Students demonstrate in support of Chinese colleagues at a Protestant youth gathering, DDR

Banned East German flyer protesting Tiananmen Massacre; this image and above reproduced from the Alexanderplatz ausstellung

Banned East German flyer protesting "mass murder" at Tiananmen; underneath the corpse reads "China is not far!"; this image and above reproduced from the Alexanderplatz ausstellung

Taken in combination with the Germans’ unparalleled and actively cultivated culture of public memory, the aforementioned adds to German exasperation with China: Why is it that Chinese on the mainland are so unable to commemorate the event?  The active suppression of memory is a subject that veritably cascades from German presses, and so we ought to heed this impulse when it is applied to China.

(This leads me to wonder, as someone who has written a modest amount about Chinese memory of the War of Resistance / World War II, if any kind of theoretical literature exists which juxtaposes or equates the repression of memory of the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen with, say, Holocaust denial in Iran, orm for instance, the American selective memory of the Vietnam War.   A recent essay in Beijing’s Wenyi Pinglun (Cultural Critique) at least begins to tie these threads together, but that is the subject for a future post.)

And thus the Western press reports about the 20th anniversary of June 4, 1989 from the German press are especially interesting.  Let us begin with Heinrik Bork, the correspondent for the center-left Munich newspaper Süddeutscher Zeiting. His dispatch from Beijing, published on June 5, notes the standard battery of police in the square on that day, but he goes on with some deeply critical commentary:

Auch zwanzig Jahre nach dem Massaker in Zentrum Pekings, bei dem Soldaten mit Panzern und Maschinengewehren gegen unbewaffnete Demonstranted vorgegangen waren, bleibt dieses Datum fur die kommunistische Fuhrung in Peking problematisch.  Waehrend viele Student heute vor allem am Geldverdienen und nicht so sehr an Politik interessiert sind, gibt es gleichzeitig eine nicht zu unterschatzende Zahl von Unzufriedenen und Reformverlieren.

Bork further notes that Liu Suli, “the owner of a beloved cafe in the university district, hung curtains in the window with the roman numerals ‘VI’ and ‘IV’, seeking to remember the massacre.”  The reporter goes on, “the police forced (zwangen) him to take them down.”

On June 4, 2009, notes Bork, German Chancellor Angel Merkel remarked on the massacre in the somewhat resonant city of Krakow, Poland.  And Bork cedes to Ai Weiwei 艾, who is becoming somewhat of a superstar in Europe, the entire last paragraph of the newspaper storyfor a stunningly moralistic/ironic quote from the artist’s blog “Let us forget!”

(In dissembling Ai Weiwei’s rage, his public nudity, his crude gestures [“Fuck Pekin,” noted the left-wing Parisian journal Liberation gleefully, giving Ai’s flick-off of Tiananmen square an entire striking black-and-white page on June 17], it is too rarely remarked that he inherited the core of these contrarian characteristics from his father, the poet Ai Qing 艾青.  One need only read Ai Qing’s Resistance War poetry / 抗战 诗歌 , its description of a bloodly, smiling and defiant inexplicably giant China of 1937, to get a sense of how little such an artist’s will can be bent against his morality.)

In her long exposition on Tiananmen in the voluminous weekly newspaper Die Zeit, Angela Köckritz begins with a colorful recollection, some strong writing, about the visit to the apartment of “Xue,” who was 13 years old in 1989, and whose apartment got shot up on June 4 of that year.  Students today, notes Köckritz with opprobrium, know nothing of it.  The reporter she lists the things the Germans know so well; in the absence of these standard objects of commemoration in China, one gets a sense of the vacuum here: “Nichts erinnert an den 4. Juni, keine Plakate, kein Bild, kein Gedenktag [Nothing recalls June 4: no placards, no picture no day of rememberance.” “For Xue,” Köckritz concludes the paragraph, “nothing remains of that day except a few pestering questions [by a reporter].”

Some Chinese critics claim that European reporters don’t speak Chinese and have no understanding of Chinese culture. I know that such critics exist, because I met one last night in the form of a very intelligent Chinese Ph.D. student in engineering, last night at a party in a very interesting space at the end of the #19 train tracks at the Gare Montparnasse in Paris.  He insisted that French reporters were smug and sprachlos in Chinese.  In the case of the French press, there are times he might be right; for example, on June 17, Le Monde published an insular, snide, smug and technically-accurate-yet-basically-misleading dispatch about rich and disinterested young Berliners, a piece seemingly uninflected by solid reporting or linguistic acumen.  This is to say, that in the case of French reporters in China, a lack of understanding or linguistic acumen is certainly possible.  But I am still hunting and hope to debate this further with Mr. Song at a later time.

Anyone who thinks that European reporters are simply ignorant of Chinese culture or unable to apply their substantial knowledge to China should take a closer look at Köckritz’s work.  Her article slides into a two-paragraph analysis of the Beijing theater scene and the nature of art and protest.  And she does so without resorting to the easy way; e.g., Ai Weiwei is here left on the sideline:

“So alt wie die Zensu ist der Versuch, sie zu umgehen.  Und eine Kultur, in der Zensur immer eine Rolle spielte, entwickelt feine Mechanismn bei dem Versuch, sich ihr zu entziehen.  Gemeint ist die Kunst, zwischen den Zeilen zu lesen, das Unausgesprochenen mitzuhoeren, einin Text zu drehen und zu wenden, bis er seine geheim Botschaft offenbart.”

She then goes on to recollect how seditious writings were spread and hand-copied from Sichuan to the east coast during the Cultural Revolution.  (Perhaps these are the fore-runners of the “pornographic hand-copied stories” which Hu Jintao referred to in 1984.)  And prior to this, we learn that forced forgetting (“zwangsvergessen”) in China is hardly a phenomenon unique to Tiananmen; the Great Leap Forward is also eclipsed and repressed, for “the official written history only wishes to build the picture of China on the road to Great Power status [caution; I did a sloppy translation of this particular phrase, best to consult the original if using for academic purposes].  The author concludes with a Wang Dan reference, and does a bit of comparison with Falun Gong.  But her most powerful sentence may be this: “Krise und Jahretage — eine potenziell explosive Mischung [Economic Crisis and Anniversaries — a potentially explosive mix].”  And here she arrives at the key point: any allowance of demonstration or public commemoration of virtually any event, let alone one that has been so forbidden and potentially impassioned as June 4, is particularly unwelcome by the CCP under conditions that, in spite of 7.1% economic growth (reported in Tsing Tao Ribao, July 18, 2009, issue found strewn on the floor of the #12 subway line last night), they do not wish to unlock.

Heinrik Bork makes a similar point in concluding his June 3, editorial, beginning with the potentially offensive opening salvo: “In this year China will again send soldiers to the Square of Heavenly Peace.  Don’t worry, they won’t shoot anybody.”  He then goes on to explain the primacy of the anniversary of the 60th year of the PRC’s birth, concluding the editorial with a note that economic dislocation, if severe enough in China, “could roil the societal consenus of the last 20 years, and unsatisfied urbanites might again go to the streets.”

One final note on Kockritz: One of the great things about writing for Die Zeit is that length is never an issue: just spill it, go all out with those Teutonic impulses, 记者!  Articles in tiny typeface can spread across two full pages.  Which is why Die Zeit is a weekly.


Heinrik Bork, “‘Die Herrschenden hoffen, dass jeder vergisst’: Nur wenige mutige Chinesen wagen es, an das Tiananmen-Massaker zu erinnern [‘The Rulers Hope That Everyone Forgets: Only a few audacious/ballsy Chinese venture to remember the Tiananmen Massacre]” Süddeutscher Zeiting, 5 June 1989, p. 7.

Heinrik Bork, [editorial by a reporter in the field!] “‘Pekings Rueckwaerts-Laeufer: Zwanzig Jahre nach dem Tiananmen-Massaker gibt es viele heimliche Demokraten in China [Beijing’s Run Backwards: Twenty Years after the Tiananmen Massacre there are many clandestine democrats in China]” Süddeutscher Zeiting, 3 June 1989, p. 5.

Angela Köckritz, “Die zensierte Trauer: Vor 20 Jahren uberrollten Panzer demonstrierende Studenten in Peking.  Wer an di Opfer erinnern will, muss eine Geheimsprache beherrschen [The Censored Trauma: 20 years ago tanks rolled against demonstrating students in Peking.  Those who wish to remember the victims must use Pig Latin,” Die Zeit, 4 June 2009, p. 6.


Victory is doing good things you never thought you could do.

Sunbeams strike the carrefour here in this foreign land, and,

amid stone chambers, shapely vowels,

the ungeheurerlich complexities of Gaul,

arcs of joy cut inexplicably into my sternum.

How can this be?  Is it not unseemly to declench oneself?

Striding toward towers crowned by mute and lovely angels,

I heave up great irrevocable laughs

as I became somewhat less foreign to myself.


China’s Xinjiang Crisis [1]

Since the Xinjiang crisis erupted into violence on July 5*, I had a chance to view this problem from a few unique perspectives:

1. When the violence broke out, I was in China smack in the heart of another stronghold of nationalities, that is, the Korean Autonomous regions and counties on the border with North Korea, checking out the appeals for ethnic harmony.   The Koreans didn’t seem to give a damn about the Uighurs and if anything were bothered.

Indeed, everyone in China seems to reference last year’s Tibet unrest in indicating the Uighurs have bad timing and aren’t mindful of China’s needs.  In the week after the initial incident in Xinjiang, I had a nice ride  with a load of Tibetans from Qinghai on the No. 5 subway in Beijing; it was pretty palpably uncomfortable between the Han and the sprachlos/not really very good with oral Mandarin delegation of about twenty Tibetans.  So things are still tense depending on which ethnic group you are talking about, but the Koreans were rock-solid with Beijing.  Very little sympathy from any quarter.

2. I spent half a day in Dubai last week and therefore had a chance to delve, old-school, into their press stories on the Xinjiang problem. (The Khaleej Times is a great paper whose articles I hope to excavate here a bit further.)   Then I flew over Iraq and Turkey — wow! you might say, that don’t make him an expert, and I would agree, yet my surroundings were certainly encouraging to think about the Xinjiang problem, and the whole notion of borderlands in desert kingdoms, from another perspective.  And in sum I got a more visceral idea of how closely the Islamic world, broadly speaking, is watching this Uighur problem.

3. I spent a few days in Berlin, that partially Turkish city, and quite a few fine articles appeared in Germany on the Xinjiang issue and its Turkish ties when I was there; similarly, the French press (since today I’m back in Paris and doing my best to read ye olde Le Figaro, etc.) has fine insights into the Sino-Algierian issues in particular that have arisen as a result of Xinjiang (see below).

Since time is a bit limited, today’s post is going to save these things for later (particularly digests of 2. and 3. above) and promise to talk about the 1950s and 1960s  as well.  After all, China’s new placement with the West in the “War on Terror” is in many ways a consquence of Beijing having abandoning its sponsorship and support of revolutionary and anti-colonial movements in north Africa and across the world.

[*] I will resist using the favored CCP term for the violence;  their “7.5 incident” lies in a kind of conceptually ritualized nationalistic netherworld plotted in between the three disastrous points of 9.11 (signifiers of terror attacks, implications of justice for whatever acts occur in the following undeclared war on an internal population), 7.7 (the just  eight year War of Anti-Japanese Resistance not entirely forgotten by the media even in this year) and 6.4 (Tianamen in ’89, the unspoken anniversary that needed most badly to be topped).  Finally, in 2009, Communist Party officials seem to have found a date worth commemorating.  And they are fetishizing away. [*]


Pierre Rousselin [talking head], “La Chine face à l’islamisme (China faces Islamism),” editorial, Le Figaro, 16 July, 2009, p 23.

Therry Oberle [correspondent in Maghreb], “Al-Qaida cible les Chinois en Afrique du Nord,” Le Figaro, 16 July, 2009, p 5.

China Daily, “‘East Turkestan’ a concept forged by the deceit of separatists, not history”

Qianmen: The Foreigner’s Lament [I]

(Note: Chinese characters may not display properly due to Turkish-style computer in Berlin via which this entry is being uploaded.)

Preface: The connection of Tiananmen Square with political theater has been well documented by all number of scholars and observers, most often with reference to the 1989 student movement which culminated in the chaos of June 4. In my own visits to that space in Beijing, I have tried to resist what might be considered a false connection between past events and the space at Tiananmen Square; in other words, I have tried to resist the seemingly foreign preoccupation of memory and taken the more “Chinese” outlook of pragmatism, simply enjoying the space for what it is: a fine place to take in the twilight too strongly. However, here I let myself go, somewhat more freely than my academic analysis permitted in a forthcoming essay for Cornell University Press.

I. The Sarcophogus

A swarm of sparrows glides and unclusters, diffusing space between Qianmen and the moon ascendant. Looking south, and up into the twilight, I murmur: “they are a collective intelligence.” Though I am anchored on the stone tiles of Tiananmen Square, my final syllable acts as a thunderclap; the flock flees north, warping the air towards Mao’s sarcophogus.

There, in the distance it takes for a bell to resound, a lone soldier stands, centered in the tomb’s yawning portal, stairs sluiced out beneath his gaze; he is a gleaming scale on the dragon’s back. The grandeur of his solitude, the mingling of his defiance with apparent vulnerability is all illusory: certainly behind this lone and vast portal stands a regiment drenched in iron, a body bristling with blades whose weight is meant to crunch down upon a palace coup. Playing within the drama of intimidation even in death, Mao indeed resembles Qin Shihuang.

(Yet the First Qin Emperor sits at this very moment bewildered on the blue line, the Number 2 subway. Under Qianmen’s depths, at the bottom of some toothy escalator, he is clad in peasant vestements, nervously fingering his imperial seals amid a sea of empty plastic bottles in an enormous sack; he knows not where to detrain. Qin Shihuang has buried his soldiers, killed his translators, gone amnesiac. He can no longer read his own scripts. Thus he sits in a long blasting sarcophogus on uniform gague, and rides the loop around the Second Ring Road with beggars who sing the forgotten songs of the Eighth Route Army, flanked by oblivious readers of the Huanqiu Shibao. 真是个悲剧.)

Above on the square, created by the revolution, the soldier guards the body of its progenitor, sustaining some flame that would eitherwise be mocked as futile or anachronistic. I plunge into my pocket, finding implements of German democracy – der Bleistift / the pen – fluttering with the visage of some Socialist Democratic Party bureaucrat. Though it emerges, somehow I am inhibited from wielding this tool; like the shouts of one million websites, it is blocked, strangely; it will not echo in this space.

Instead I peer up above that lone PLA guard, and to the icons. Above Mao’s tomb stand ten giant seals, and further still upward are carved five further seals. Fifteen – some oblique reference to the number of members of the Central Committee? No power lingers in the numerology. If five be a reiteration of the five major ethnicities evoked in the national flag, then it is a wholly stale one that reeks of artifice. These fifteen plates instead represent an unparalleled stone canvas of immortality; yet they are simply repetitve, meaningless patterns of flowers and stars. They are thus indicative of the intellectual exhaustion of their era, the inability to say anything with specificity or real conviction other than “bury the man, and make it glorious.” Were the cranes still up over this massive construction project, blocking out the view south from Tiananmen, when the walls blossomed with big character posters again in Xidan? Did someone wonder if the great leader might be buried alongside the head of his loyal general Peng Dehuai?

The public security / 公安 does not interpret such phenomenon.

Oblivious youth in bold greens and pinks pose in tacit ridicule of everything. After all, fresh pixels of one’s own image capture an allure far greater than some thousand-year old monolith or the millenial tomb of some ideologue. After all, the monuments will still be here when one ceases to look like a pop star on a Pepsi can.

Dead Mao and the nouveau riche: even this pastiche of minisculism drives me nauseous into the dark and accepting portal of Qianmen. I look out, north. Four guards pass, protectiing the republic, lingering over my brandished pen, thrumming with its own schaffensdrang, their only possible enemy in this lengthening and lonely salient of the square at twilight. Behind them, Mao’s tomb blocks out everything — Tiananmen, the monument to the people’s heroes, the flag – suffocating space.

I turn away, and to the stones. They are grey and black, mute, yet so tolerant. Their loving silence at the application of such potentially dangerous inks…

II. Shades of the Republic – Min’guo

I stumble out from the sterile guts of the square, tiled, aniseptic, and seek dust.  “Staub”, as the Germans say, as Mahler hurled out, to dust I shall return!

And in following trails of pebbles south of the square, I find a crevase of dirt.  And one could be in Anshan, or Shanxi…the pavement is gone, an ancient hotel not yet razed, everywhere destroyed.  No one is here.  And then after suffering the stares of a few ghostly souls who still live among smashed bricks and gravel behind the giant canvas pictures of future dream developments, I find it:

A bank hewn from stone, the National Bank of China, a nation unto itself, built in 1932 as the Japanese made their way south with lugubrious power.   This building is of a rare vintage indeed; very little remains in Beijing of the Republican epoch, at least not visibly.  Even the Square itself is a creature of the People’s Republic, not its predecessor rival which Mao chased off to Taiwan like Zhu Yuanzhang.

And so I am pleased to find this bank here, to make its great aquaintence.  It is as if it has been dropped out of space, as if its compact shoulders and barfing stone dragons, defy and expose the manifest weakness of everything in its aura.  Everything else is crushed underfoot in this abandoned warzone.  But neither Mao nor Deng nor their followers had the guts or the ability to raze this structure, fearful somehow of its compact brawn.

Min guo!  Your sinews are yet imitable.  For you, I would slide into iambic meters, compose paeans, acknowledge that you dug out the hollows in which I yet sleep.  For you, state of old, I would inhabit the 1930s, hack at typewriters, lick the wounds of Wade-Giles, callous my fingers on all rotary phones, suffer through interminable dinners with American brass, avert my eyes from scandalous qipao, voyage for weeks to collect bullets from Chinatowns, dive like Hart Crane into waters as blue as the tiles on the Guofu’s tomb, drink sandy beverages with Sidney Rittenberg before he pushes off for Yanan, gauge the tenor of the American ambassador’s strange war whoop, work in this damned united front, shave and pray, deliver speech after speech in dolorous orphanage meter, find something celestial about your banks, your tombs, your dizzying modernity.  And I would of course strive to recover your northern frontier.  I would do these things for you, all for the love of your architecture, and purely so, because my daoshi and his ilk are of the Minguo, and because I perceive within it the roots of the present beast — this bellowing panda, laughing dragon, rural dumping ground for microchips — and the idea that unity might yet be achieved between the red stars and the white sun on blue.

And because my lands were once locked in civil war, I wonder when yours will end, in a a chat room or by some less pleasant means.  But today it is no longer my fight and I have gazed upward for long enough at the remnant of Republican glory.  I turn to beholden the lights, leaving in my wake a dusty field of memory.

III. Qianmen (forthcoming)

Relevant Citations:

Adam Cathcart “Walls as Multivalent Icons in the early People’s Republic,” forthcoming in Chinese Walls in Time and Space: History, Medicine, Media, Law, Art, and Literature, Haun Saussy and Roge DesForges, eds. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009).

Hu Jintao 1984 = Hu Jintao 2009

For reasons which will be made clear to me only gradually, yesterday I managed to pull a 9-5 shift at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin.  I say “will gradually become clear” because most good archival visits are like making wine: one stamps through fields of grapes, leaving with pungeant feet and drunk on fumes, yet it takes months or years for the product to age properly and for the full value of the research to become known to the researcher (the eventual author) and those he entreats with the new data.  But in the meantime there is the euphoria of another notebook scarred with black pens filched from French librarians in Beijing, of knowing that the harvest has only begun, of having been kicked out of yet another research facility by archivists raring to get in their Volkswagen turbochargers.

Now, the intention of my research is never to discredit the great Communist Party of China; I only long to create social harmony and aid China in its rise as a strategic partner to any and every country in Orient or Occident who is wise enough to befriend the leaders of the Middle Kingdom.  Yet sometimes in my research I dig up little bits of what might be considered “dirt”: a good example is Peng Zhen chortling to a French delegation in 1956 that China would be glad to wipe Chicago and San Francisco off the map once they finished work on the Chinese atomic bomb.  Oops!  But let it never be said that China scrubs scrubs scrubs its historical image; Peng simply made a gaffe and the Party historians of the Foreign Ministry (more liberal by most accounts than those of the Central Archives) let it ride.

And, although I had no intention of digging up dirt on Hu Jintao, I nevertheless crossed paths with the man in the Bundesarchiv in Berlin.  The context was via  documents he created in his earlier capacity as President of the All-China Youth Federation.  (As reading previous entries will make clear, among other things this summer I have been delving into youth group and cultural connections between China and Europe during the Cold War.)

The German archives are incredibly rich in their portraits of Chinese society and particularly Chinese students in the period from 1979-1989.  One report by the East German embassy in Peking, dating December 18, 1979, notes the student disatisfaction centered around the “Unzufriedenheit mit dem materiellen und kulturellen Bedingungen, mit der Perspectivlosigkeit und der politischen Rechtlosigkeit.”  (In other words, the regime had lost its perspective, and the students have lost their rights.)  And thus a cultural battle followed in the early 1980s, which continues today.

And I love learning about China in the 1980s for lots of reasons: trying to discern the continuities from the total ruptures, for one.  But here, with Hu Jintao, we have a case of pure continuity.

To the excerpts from Hu Jintao, circa 1984!  The context is a hard-hitting interview with reporters from the Xinhua News Agency on the subject of a reading campaign Hu was heading up.  I think you will appreciate how little his attitude has changed since that time, a quarter century ago:

Q: What is the guiding ideology of the reading drive?

A: It is a traditional hobby of our youth to read books, especially good books.  We hope reading will enrich the spare-time activities, deppen their general and technical knowledge, and raise their ideological and political awareness.  We do not think that all books are beneficial to the youngsters who are maturing and have not got their outlook on the world and life into shape.  We should therefore reisist the bourgeoise ideological contamination spread by such books that advocate sex and violence and the pornographic hand-copied stories.  Proceeding from education in patriotism, we will guide the young people to foster a firm communist world outlook and become a new generation with ideals, moral integrity, good education, and a sense of discipline.

Q. How long will the reading campaign last?

A. Considering the needs of the youth, the reading campaign is by no means a temporary expedient and will be carried on permanently.

Q. What measures will you take to guide the reading?

A. Youth organizations at all levels should encourage extensive and lively activities such as guidance lectures, tests on the books…The talks…at present should stress the significance of resisting the bourgeoise cultural contamination.  Their contents need to be continuously renewed and their forms diversified.

And thus we have Hu Jintao today.

At the same time that this interview was occuring, Hu’s newspaper, the Zhongguo Qingnianbao, published an editorial (“Desire for Fuller Life is No Ideological Contamination”) in which some confusion among the masses was pinpointed.  What the hell was meant by “ideological contamination” anyway?  The editorial answered this question simply enough: “pornography” and, in a last gasp of jumbled nonsense, “and bourgeoise liberalism in the theoretical and cultural fields whereby cultural products are turned into a commodity.”

I hope that in future debates over the Chinese internet and censorship, that my colleagues recognize that, while the internet is a new channel of communication, it did not create some giant crisis for the CCP.  Simply apply the old methods consistently enough, treat the people like “youngsters who are maturing and have not got their outlook on the world and life into shape,” and everything will be fine.

A wonderful contrast, a spark of hope from the 1980s, is found in the same communist journal.  In 1985 the party experimented in its normal laboratory for such reforms, the middle schools of Beijing.

(This is true: Beijing is the launching pad for everything, including the Cultural Revolution of course.  Myself, I recall publishing some work based on anti-American songs from the early Korean War whose first singers were just that audience, but in 1950.  Oh indeed! to have been blessed with a fatherly danwei, a Beijing hukou, and an education from the Fourth Middle School of Beijing city!  To be the first to sing a new song!  To sing, and then to hammer out the gaokao, annihilate various assignments as if one were conducting guerilla warfare {surround, outwit, and destroy piece by piece of the larger body of troops/the homework}, get into Beida, marry a girl with some serious guanxi in the PLA, and clamber up the ranks of the elite.  Or, get a gig teaching “Deng Xiaoping Theory / the Three Represents.”  But I digress…)

Yet it should be remarked that the CCP at least experimented with a more open communications environment for youth in the same epoch.

In 1985,  one hundred student journalists at the No. 35 Middle School of Beijing founded a news agency, led by Yang Yixin, an upperclassmen.  While Yang and everyone else were working under the leadership of the Beijing Qingnian bao, they were bold in their pronouncements.  Their goal, as stated in the China Youth Bulletin, was for China to become “a cradle for famous journalists in the 21st century.”  This is bold stuff!  China returning to its great tradition of journalists, gaining a foothold on the world stage as they had during World War II via such flinty and persistent reporters as Wang Yunsheng.  And seeing the development of student journalism as part of the Four Modernizations is even more bright.

Going on, the 1985  bulletin noted that “[the policy’s’] aim is to tap intellectual resources, foster students’ creative abilities and keep themselves well-informed so as to bring up a new generation of jounalists and student activists.”  The students were authorized to send a tongxun, or circular, to all middle school students in Beijing.

What became of this group and Yang Yixin?  Did this activity expand and thrive, only to be cut short by the events of 1989?  And can you imagine the CCP today allowing access to any part of its communications appartus to even the most loyal middle school students?  The whole notion of student control over newspapers and their ability to command school or government printing presses is one which remains highly contested in the U.S., but in the context of the PRC with its endemic censorship and information control policies, such tentative essays toward reform are worth noting, even if they amount to nought.

I’ll conclude with the students’ own triumphant procolomation of 1985, most likely drafted by the ambitious teenage hand of Yang Yixin: “The current economic reforms have opend up a bright future for us.  We should find a new way to enhance our abilities.  Our slogan is ‘Go our own way hitherto untrodden, forward to a magnificence never attained before.'”


Hu Jintao, “Answering Questions On the Reading Drive,” Chinese Youth Bulletin (Zhongguo qingnian tongxun 中国青年通讯) Vol. 4 No. 1 (Jan. 1984): 4. {Referenced at Bundesarchiv, Berlin.}

“The 1st Student News Agency,” Chinese Youth Bulletin (Zhongguo qingnian tongxun 中国青年通讯) Vol. 5 No. 3 (Jan. 1984): 15.  {Referenced at Bundesarchiv, Berlin.}