While the Anglophone media is predictably aflutter with speculation over the meaning of Envoy Bosworth’s Pyongyang visit, Sino-North Korean diplomacy continues apace.
One of the more interesting threads of late is, to my mind, the cultural turn. North Korea is using cultural diplomacy in an effort to reinforce to the Chinese that the traditional fundament of their alliance remains strong in spite of nuclear intransigence, and that North Koreans maintain a genuine respect for, and interest in, Chinese culture.
Last week we had a Korean People’s Army cultural troupe doing the rounds in Shenyang and Beijing while the Beijing vice-mayor — keeping in mind that there are probably six people with this title, as vice-chairmen tend to proliferate in the PRC — was in Pyongyang for talks.
And the crown jewel of this cultural offensive toward the PRC from Pyongyang has been the staging as an opera of “Dream of the Red Chamber” a canonical Chinese novel of an upper-class Qing dynasty clan set in Beijing. North Korea took great pains to get this done for Wen Jiabao’s visit, and it seemed calculated to go beyond Wen and reach the Chinese audience in the midst of its own boom of interest in Qing-era culture. This was “the Chinese wave” minus the Confucius Institutes!
Now that the Americans are in town, the Huanqiu Shibao reports, the regime in Pyongyang is amping up Chinese culture further by pledging to make a movie production of “Dream of the Red Chamber.”
Based upon Chinese internet reaction, it isn’t going quite as intended.
Among the netizen comments on the story, roughly translated, are:
“[North Koreans are ] a race/nationality unable to progress — 一个不思进取的民族”
“Cao Xueqin [the author of “Dream of the Red Chamber,” ancestrally from Liaoyang on the old Koguryo frontier] will also be claimed as a Korean — 曹雪芹很快也会成为高丽人的”
[“I am also afraid about this!” chimes in another.]
“For the millionth time, you cannot say the ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ belongs to them — 千万不要说红楼梦也是他们的啊”
“Truly a bunch of idiots — s b真多”
“Who cares? North Korea is already going down — 无所谓啦，朝鲜再这样下去就完了”
“The clothes don’t look bad, but the actors are ugly — 衣服不错，就是人不怎么好看啊”
“Don’t watch this useless stuff! North Korea will never truly sympathize with China. When it serves their purpose, they call China ‘grandfather,’ when they don’t need to use us, they bite at China’s feet. Don’t replay the old story of the farmer and the snake! [!!!] — 别看那些没用的，朝鲜永远都不应该值得中国同情。用的时候中国是他的爹，不用的时候，把中国踩在脚下，农夫和蛇的故事不能再上演了！！！！”
And in the middle of all of this, right after a few overheated comments that got deleted, is a bit of total farce:
“Long live Sino-North Korean friendship! — 中朝友谊万岁!”
If you think Kim Jong-il doesn’t take opera seriously as a tool of statecraft, ask yourself why he invited the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang to play Wagner, or why Jang Song-thaek emerged from his purge at an opera with the Dear Leader, or why Russian maestros have more up-to-date intelligence on Kim Jong Il’s health than Bill Clinton, or why children learn Sea of Blood in all its forms.
Or you could just run a word search “opera” on Michael Madden’s excellent North Korea Leadership Watch blog and see what you net.
And now the day is upon us, light from the East! and the Valkyries are off.