Chinese Youth Delegation Visits Pyongyang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. “The Korean war broke out…” is certainly not passive voice by any stretch of the imagination.

    Good post otherwise, though. I enjoy reading anything about North Korea, no matter the slant. It is an intriguing country. I live very close to it and hope to visit it sometime (the closest I’ve gotten is standing on the bridge at Tumen).

    1. Thanks, Randy — and you’re quite correct from the grammatical standpoint! What I want to indicate is the rhetorical awkwardness, the verbal strait-jacket, of this notion that “war” just spontaneously combusted (e.g. “broke out”) without any push from the North Koreans. To raise a different controversial parallel, it would be as if, in the name of contemporary friendship with Japan (an important U.S. ally to be sure), American scholars all got a memo, St. Petersburg style, to state that “on December 7, 1941, the Pacific War broke out.”

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