Sea of Blood in the City of the Red Chamber: North Korean Opera Troupe Hits Beijing

On May 2, the Sea of Blood Theater Troupe arrived in Dandong.  Aren’t they lovely?

via Huanqiu Shibao front page; click image for mini-gallery

Of interest are a few Chinese netizen comments on the opera troupe, most of which are rather sweet, with occasional mild criticisms: “Of all these beautiful women, don’t you think there will be an opportunity for one to stay behind?”, or, the old adage “Northern women are best paired with Southern men [北女南男], or,  “It’s too bad that these performers have to suffer the long trip in a non-sleeper car!”, or, (in a comment perhaps by a North Korean netizen writing in Chinese, I’ve been advised this is more and more common!) “环球不太平 有米国走狗 捣乱 大家小心 [Huanqiu readers, don’t be too at ease: America’s running dogs are looking to cause a disturbance, everyone be careful!].”

Not long thereafter, Kim Jong Il crossed over as well.  Contrary to the misinformation on American NPR, Chinese media are in fact reporting that Kim is in China, they’re just doing the ventriloquist bit whereby the reports are ascribed to “South Korean and Japanese media.”  And regular readers of this blog will know that it’s simply bunk to ascribe real ignorance (e.g., “a media blackout” to the Chinese people as regards Kim’s trip, which is stated in otherwise-awesome reporter Barbara Demick’s Los Angeles Times report on Kim’s visit.   Just because Kim Jong Il doesn’t roll like Carla Bruni doesn’t mean that laobaixing is walking around blindfolded.

And the combination of opera troupes with dictators, evoked the following passage in a text which has gripped me badly of late, even twisting my own syntax: Thomas Carlyle’s nigh-hallucinogenic evocation of the French Revolution, describing the peregrinations of a King doomed by his own opulence, traveling, like Kim Jong Il, with an immense retinue:

Time was when men could (so to speak) of a given man, by nourishing and decorating him with fit appliances, to the due pitch, make themselves a King, almost as the Bees do ; and, what was still more to the purpose, loyally obey him when made.  The man so nourished and decorated, thenceforth named royal, does verily bear rule ; and is said, and even thought, to be, for example, ‘prosecuting conquests in Flanders’, when he lets himself like luggage be carried thither : and no light luggage ; covering miles of road.  For he has his unblushing Chateauroux [e.g., Marie Antoinette], with her bandboxes and rougepots, at his side ; so that, at every new station, a wooden gallery must be run up between their lodgings.  He has not only his Maison-Bouche, and Valetaille without end, but his very Troop of Players, with their pasteboard coulisses, thunder-barrels, their kettles, fiddles, stage-wardrobes, portable larders (and chaffering and quarrelling enough) ; all mounted in wagons, tumbrils, second-hand chaises, — sufficient not to conquer Flanders, but the patience of the world.  With such a flood of lout jingling appurtenances does he lumber along, prosecuting his conquests in Flanders : wonderful to behold.  So nevertheless it was and had been : to some solitary thinker it might seems strange ; but even to him, inevitable, not unnatural.

As for how his Chinese interlocutors are perceiving Kim Jong Il, perhaps another extract from Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution, centering upon the increasingly ineffective and motion-induced French King, is fitting:

But what agitates his Highness d’Orleans?  The rubicund moonhead goes wagging ; darker beams the copper visage, like unscoured copper ; in the glazed eye is disquietude ; he rolls uneasy in his seat, as if he meant something.  Amid unutterable satiety, has sudden new appetite, for new forbidden fruit, been vouchsafed him ?  Disgust and edacity, laziness that cannot rest ; futile ambition, revenge, non-admiralship : — O, within that carbuncled skin, what a confusion of confusions sits bottled! [Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution (Oxford University Press, 1989) pp. 95-96.

Relevant citations:

Adam Cathcart, “North Korean “Dream of Red Chamber”: Chinese Netizens Comment / 北朝鲜领导做梦的红楼,Sinologistical Violoncellist blog, 11 December 2009.

Nancy Guy, Peking Opera and Politics in Taiwan (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005).

Adam Cathcart, “North Korean Hip Hop?  Reflections on Musical Diplomacy and the DPRK,” Acta Koreana Vol. 12, No. 2 (December 2009): 1-19.

Adam Cathcart, “Respect-worthy Friends or Duplicitous Snakes? Chinese Views of North Korea,” Korean Quarterly Vol. 13, No. 4 (Winter 2010): 12-13.

Anything by Leonard Schmieding, ein Held des Geschichtes Hip-Hops im DDR [a heroic historian of hip-hop in East Germany and the brains behind this film history entitled Here We Come: Hip-Hop in the German Democratic Republic]:


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