Follow-ups on Wen Jiabao’s Pyongyang Trip

The Martyrs’ Cemetary which Wen went to is actually, according to this Chinese news site, about 100 kilometers east of Pyongyang.
Wen at cemetary
Wen Jiabao looks at a statue of Mao's son, frozen in stone -- note the unruly Chinese official in the background snapping his own momento

I had always imagined that this bust looked down upon a valley.  Now it appears it looks at a wall.  Fortunately Wen Jiabao had respectful — yet somewhat loaded — words for the dead, stated in a “轻声 [light/simple]” voice:“岸英同志,半个世纪了!我代表祖国人民来看望你。祖国现在强大了,人民幸福了。你安息吧 [Comrade Anying, half a century has passed!  I represent the people of the motherland who come to see you.  The motherland is now strong, the people are happy and prosperous.  You can be at peace!]”

This kind of thing almost certainly made the North Koreans uncomfortable.  (Photos of this ceremony confirm it, too.)  I can only imagine what the North Koreans imagine themselves saying to the dead of 1950-53.   “We rebuilt our country, but it’s still divided; we have the bomb, but the people are starving.  The Generalissimo’s kid is in power and the army steals from the peasants.  But fortunately — and this should be familiar — the Chinese are here to guarantee our security and they brought some grain.”

But somehow, China paying homage to Mao’s would-be heir, had China gone the quasi-monarchist route of the DPRK, assuages North Korea’s politics of succession.  Of course we pay tribute to our dead princes!

Perhaps it is also worth noting that Mao Anying was killed in a napalm raid by an American jet.  Having spent a few harrowing hours last year in a dark room the U.S. National Archives watching black and white film footage of such strikes (a veritable and gory “greatest hits” reel, in fact, which went on and on and on), I suppose it makes sense that the North Korean airforce yesterday sent representatives to Beijing.

Of course, instead of a reflection on the shameful lack of communist air strength in the Korean War, Wen Jiabao’s visit to Mao Anying’s tomb was interpreted instead as a way of harkening back to the Mao years in the way one is supposed to: “You worked hard and sacrificed your life for the revolution, and the revolution has now succeeded in making China powerful.”  It’s a reprise, essentially, of “China has stood up,” even if, in this instance, one foot is on DPRK soil.

Now back in time to the airport:

This photo from the very interesting web resource KoreaXin reinforces that Kim Jong Il is huggable, but also that he was using his left arm quite well in early October.

Kim and Wen at airport
Why doesn't the PLA General hug and kiss his KPA counterpart? Awkward!

For some reason I neglected to mention or analyze musical selections, always significant in moments like this: 在机场举行了隆重的欢迎仪式。朝鲜人民军军乐队奏中朝两国国歌,鸣礼炮21响。  In other words, we had the two countries’ national anthems (safe choices, as they are both anti-Japanese), and a 21-gun salute (perhaps using Chinese munitions from Liaoning arsenals).

The star of the Cultural Revolution-era film sensation “the Flower Girl,” known universally among Chinese of a certain age, was on hand to give flowers to Wen at the airport.  Here she is on September 11 in Pyongyang singing the praises of the 150-day struggle campaign:

Hong Yingchen
The Flower Girl

Wen also went to the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang, where he mingled with overseas Chinese resident in the DPRK, as well as students studying in the country.  (One of the aspects I failed to mention in my previous translations of Chinese netizen comments on North Korea was their fascination with the low cost of studying at universities there.  Chinese youth are nothing if not pragmatic in looking for life choices.)

Then they drove around some more, where, according to the CCP’s “Gaotai” website, North Korean civilians not only sang and danced under both countries’ flag, but shouted pro-Chinese slogans while Wen and Kim waved at them in a passing vehicle.

Maybe the Chinese will be so kind as to arrange similar treatment for President Obama in Beijing?  I can only imagine the kind of humorous modification the Beijing residents would do to the slogans.

Then Wen Jiabao met some Young Pioneers, who gave him a red hankerchief.  This gave Wen an opportunity to say some very nice things about Kim Il Song, China’s bosom friend: :“深切缅怀朝鲜人民的伟大领袖、中国人民的亲密朋友金日成主席 [We deeply cherish the memory of the great leader of the Korean people, the close friend of the Chinese people, Chairman Kim Il Song]!”

At the meeting with Kim, Wen really laid it down: 温家宝在致辞中代表中国政府和人民,向朝鲜政府和人民致以诚挚的问候和良好的祝愿。温家宝说,中朝建交六十年来,无论国际风云如何变幻,中朝两党、两国和两国人民相互理解、相互支持、相互帮助,推进中朝关系不断向前发展,为维护本地区和平与稳定作出了积极努力。In other words, it’s all about mutual assistance.  The two parties understand each other intimately and will remain unshakeable no matter what big international winds (e.g., the US) blow.

In revisiting the sources on this, I was surprised at how relatively open the discussion has become on the Chinese internet about North Korea.  Obviously there’s no voice like One Free Korea, but this Sohu blog entitled 废话一筐 has pure disdain for how the North Korean media tried to spin Wen’s visit as a trip to”come seeking advice” from Kim Jong Il.  In some ways, Chinese contemporary nationalism and the alliance with North Korea, on the terms that North Korea needs at least, are incompatible.

But I was also struck at how much music and movies filled an important gap in the discourse.  Here, swiped in its entirety from a Huaqiao (Overseas Chinese) BBS, is an analysis of the North Korean opera, “Dream of the Red Chamber” produced and performed for Wen Jiabao:

黛玉香销玉殒,宝玉愤离尘世。 昨天访问朝鲜的中国总理温家宝一下飞机,朝方特意请《卖花姑娘》中花妮的扮演者洪英姬献花。下午,朝鲜领导人金正日亲自陪同到访的中国总理温家宝欣赏了朝鲜版《红楼梦》歌剧。  朝鲜版《红楼梦》是中朝传统友谊的象征之一。早在60年代,这出歌剧就在朝鲜轰动一时。它是在与中国有深厚渊源的、朝鲜前领导人金日成的亲自指导下创作而成的。当年,中国前领导人邓小平曾与金日成共同观看。 《红楼梦》在朝鲜家喻户晓。83年版红楼梦电视剧,曾多次在朝鲜电视台播出,收视率极高。可以说,关于红楼梦,朝鲜人和我们有着不少相同的的记忆和感情。 在中朝建交60年和中朝友好年之际,金正日特意要求“把红楼梦歌剧加以润色公演,并作了几十次宝贵的教导。”开演前,朝鲜姑娘用颤抖的声音,深情地向观众如此介绍。 新版《红楼梦》场次如下: 第一场:大观园之春  第二场一景:潇湘馆  第二场二景:月夜之情   第三场一景:读书写字  第三场二景:宝玉受罚  第三场三景:宝玉养伤   第四场一景:花满大观园  第四场二景:寂寞大观园    第五场一景:黛玉病损  第五场二景:宝玉娶亲   第六场:黛玉灵堂   拉开序幕,悠扬的音乐和幻美的布景,立刻把观众带入如梦如幻的仙境。细看下去,更让人惊叹。谁能想到,在中国以外的地方,居然还会有对红楼梦情节、人物把握得如此细腻。 故事以宝黛爱情为主线,虽然牺牲了贾家荣盛衰败的内容,但改编之后也属合理顺畅,整个故事一气呵成。整台节目历时两个半小时。剧情随着黛玉香销玉殒、宝玉愤然离开这个“只追求荣华富贵的社会”而达到高潮,这倒是与朝鲜的意识形态暗合。 感人之处,难用笔墨形容。只见剧场内的女性观众都在悄悄抹泪,男性观众也不少低声叹息。但接近尾声时,还是忍不住潸然落泪。 《红楼梦》本是中国特色,在中国拍过电影和电视剧,有过舞剧、越剧和京剧等等。尽管很受青睐,却从未做到像朝鲜版那样催人泪下。本博秦全耀认为,显然朝鲜把《红楼梦》拍成了卖花姑娘,宝玉和黛玉如同那受害的“花妮”。 今年是中朝建交60周年,两国将今年定为“中朝友好年”,因此金总书记下令重新排演现代版《红楼梦》并亲临指导当然是为了向国内外展示“重视对华”的姿态。有日本媒体称朝鲜为了核试能得到中国的理解,可以说《红楼梦》是块很好的敲门砖。《卖花姑娘》献花,《红楼梦》催泪,这是何等的悲情公关凄惨组合。 中国人最喜欢什么呢?眼泪。早在1972年,一部《卖花姑娘》的电影就曾把10亿中国人哭了个举国流泪。虽然“莫斯科不相信演泪”,但中国人正相反,哭才打动人,在他们心里眼泪是金。因此谙熟中国特色的金正日总书记便亲临指导对症下药,一定要把《红楼梦》拍得比《卖花姑娘》还要惨,还要催人泪下。 “欲送登高千里目,愁云低锁衡阳路”,“男儿有泪不轻弹,只是未到伤心处”。这是出自昆剧《林冲夜奔》里的一段唱词,后一句几乎人人知晓。由此可见中国人的特性正如所言伤心就落泪,而且还一哭就高潮,“泪飞顿作倾盆雨”。投其所好,金正日明白,哭比笑好,哭才是对中国最好的卖点。

The Xinhua dispatch on the opera performance (via the PRC’s embassy in Pyongyang) offers these tidbits [my commentary is in brackets]:

Wen [Jiabao], who arrived here Sunday for a three-day visit, held friendly talks with Kim before the show [a la Zhou Enlai’s small talk with Nixon before watching “Red Detachment of Women” with the charming Jiang Qing, who the younger Kim Jong Il doubtless admired, in 1972].

Under the instruction of late DPRK leader Kim Il Sung, DPRK artists adapted A Dream of Red Mansions for the stage in the 1960s [quite possibly a specious assertion given the juche trends of the era]. They had presented the opera to many Chinese leaders of the older generation, including Deng Xiaoping [who, according to a reliable collaborator, North Koreans generally hate].

In 2008, DPRK top leader Kim Jong Il instructed that the opera be further improved and put on stage again as a major event for the China-DPRK Friendship Year. Kim [of course] offered much guidance for the opera and watched its rehearsal and performance on several occasions [which was probably more work than the simple, but not insignificant sign-off on the New York Philharmonic’s repertoire for their concert last February 2008 in Pyongyang].

The Chinese classic, written during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) by Cao Xueqin [he ancestrally from neighboring Liaoning province, on the edge of what was once Koguryo], is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Chinese literature.

China offered help in the adaptation and performance of the opera, which is considered a good example of China-DPRK cultural exchange and cooperation [which is not to be confused with sadae juui, or “flunkeyism.”  Better a bit of Qing dynasty elite culture than Chinese rock music flowing across the border.]

And then we have this Arirang performance with the completely unsubtle slide saying “Grandfather Wen [father’s father], we are very happy to see thee!”  (In other words, the formal version of the word “you” is used in spite of the fact that he’s supposedly a family member.  Best to go with the respectful form of address here.)

Wen ye ye
via Ifeng/Phoenix reporting (click image for story in Chinese)

A few days later this image turned up, with a few quizzical remarks by the Chinese: “不知是什么年代的古董摄影机,拍摄时会发出巨响.”  Indeed — in just what era are their North Korean counterparts operating, anyway?

click image for link to story

Related posts:

Wen We Meet Again,” NK Leadership Watch, October 8, 2009.

Wen’s DPRK Visit Rich in Content, Weighty in Outcome,” Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang website, October 6, 2009.

Tenacious Excrement and Koguryo Ur-nationalism in North Korea,” Sinologistical Violoncellist, November 2, 2009.

Wen’s DPRK Visit Rich in Content, Weighty in Outcome


  1.   蚊家堡(温家宝),请不要再派蚊子(马仔)吸人民的血汗,好不好?!


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