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Monthly Archives: October 2009

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

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

Two examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hat tip to Just Recently for the Berliner Morgenpost tip.

Anti-Chinese Propaganda for North Koreans

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


Why Does China Control North Korean Railroads?


Arrogant Chinese on the Roads


Rabelasian Chinese Troops on DPRK Soil

Chinese Youth Delegation Visits Pyongyang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Bach, and a Post-Iris Chang Meditation

C-major Bach Bourée — Monday Music

Pentatonic Meditation (Post-Iris Chang)

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

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

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

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

Cue squawker Lou Dobbs:

“ChiComs turn Juilliard Red;

they have to stop before we outsource again

the very musical DNA of our octatonic pledge

to future generations / this is an assault

on American harmony that not even John Galt

could envision in his self-built ivory tower

but the academics and professoriat have turned tail.

Musicologist philosophers hear coin:

loins are girded for harmonic hegemony,

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

after being stamped by the heavy truncheon of rectification campaigns.

Because that is the toxic loot windblown on our shores

in New Amsterdam: Qingdao beer no longer Anheuser,

the promontory statues of the Christian Tannhäuser

soon replaced by a lithe Tan Dun tanned from junkets

as a sent-down youth?

This is treachery the likes of which has not been seen

since Hoover sold out in paroxysms of premature jack-backwards

appeasement to the 12-tone harmonists Viennese:

— Gesamtkunstwerk means jobs for migrant mural painters —

and now Phil Glass talks mantras, not Boeing

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

brow collaborating again with nervous sweat.

Opera composers don futile expressions

at my exposé of pentatonic malaise,

imperial confessions of R. Emmanuel follow,

throat-singing lamas in the halls of the House.

Now the myrmidons puff, blasting imperial semi-quavers

heralding the Chairman,

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





Iris Chang and the Politics of Emotional Authenticity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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