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Monthly Archives: May 2011

24 Recent Sino-Tweets

  1. The footage has been refound of Clinton receiving the sacred anti-Japanese War photo from State Counsellor Liu; it resides as a beautiful moment at 20′ of this US-China conference on cultural exchanges http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/04/160631.htm
  2.   China is reported to be developing a hotline between the PLA and the South Korean defense chief: surely this drives North Korea nuts.  But what exactly do we know about frequently-quoted PLA head Liang Guanglie’s attitude toward North Korean defense? Normally this is the kind of thing reported on by Chris Buckley at Reuters. http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/09/2011050901009.html
  3. Retweet of jordanpouille La Chine change… En 2000, les chinois ouvraient un Starbucks ds la Cité Interdite. En 2011, on y ouvre un club de milliardaires.
  4. She isn’t as prominent as Gary Locke or Jon Huntsman, but the US ambassador in Seoul is clearly doing a great job http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/11/2011051100662.html
  5.   Huanqiu Shibao, showing yet again the North Korea doesn’t get complete kid gloves in the Chinese media, covers a Chosun Ilbo expose on North Korean hacking http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/05/11/2011051100887.html
  6.   A return to public shame for prostitutes: 49 sex workers are censured nearby the Shanghai Expo (Huanqiu Shibao photo gallery) http://society.huanqiu.com/photos/2011-05/1685332_3.html
  7.   Interested in the history of bound feet?  Huanqiu Shibao puts up a photo gallery remembering the bad old days of Three Inch Golden Lillies (“三寸金莲”) http://history.huanqiu.com/photo/2011-03/1589098.htm
Today at least, CCP tacks back toward Hu Yaobang’s Tibet strategy: funding cultural research. http://china.globaltimes.cn/society/2011-05/655351.html
Is it just a coincidence that Ai Weiwei’s wife is given access to the artist just two days before the beginning of a major Sino-German forum? http://www.globaltimes.cn/www/english/features/2011-05/643177.html
Some informed speculation about Kim Jong Eun’s aborted (or is it just delayed) trip to China
U.S. Representative Roscoe Bartlett’s masterpiece, years in the making on China and Peak Oil.   http://tinyurl.com/6964oz3
Roscoe Bartlett describes China’s “post-oil” future http://bartlett.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=67739
The CCP may have taken Ai Weiwei, but the Huanqiu Shibao photopage still covers quirky Taiwan artistshttp://photo.huanqiu.com/exclusive/2011-05/1678910_7.html
Chinese scholar: it’s “freakish (匪夷所思/feiyisuosi)” that Kim Jong Il didn’t meet Carterhttp://opinion.huanqiu.com/roll/2011-05/1681164.html
Is China saying anything overtly meaningful or substantively different about Pakistan in wake of imbroglio w/ US? The U.S. Navy is already rather spooked about China building naval facilities in Pakistani port.
The Dalai Lama, in Long Beach, appears to support the US raid into Pakistanhttp://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0504-dalai-lama-20110504,0,7229481.story
  17. Does any analysis exist on the impact of growing European right-wing political mvts. on EU-China relations? Or is there no link at all?  If France has a right-wing president, doesn’t that concern the CCP in the least?
@TomLasseter, McClatchy Bureau Chief in Beijing, releases a great interview he did  with Ai Weiwei http://tinyurl.com/3jbkuxj “Transparency itself is the message”
For Francophones: Le Monde reports from Turpan, Xinjiang (Harold Thibaut voiceover) http://tinyurl.com/3nun7ks
  20. Sec. Clinton’s harshest remarks toward China in a week of largely positive overtures http://tinyurl.com/3ocezkv via The Atlantic
Mainland-Taiwan warming exemplified here: 100-member delegation from Peking U. to Taiwan. North Korea, please take note!
  22. Peking University President in Taiwan, feted by a vase-wielding Lian Zhan http://english.pku.edu.cn/News_Events/News/Focus/8243.htm
  23.  Obscure but possibly interesting: Documenting the French fete in Pekin in 1981 for Mitterand’s socialist victoryhttp://tinyurl.com/43hwshl
Chinese tourists easily #1 in France last year; spent 650 million Euros, triple that of #2 (Russians)http://tinyurl.com/3g8mesv  It seems that Chinese tourists like to shop in France, in part, to avoid purchasing fake Louis Vuitton purses.

The above “Tweets” are taken, mostly unmodified, from my microblog: www.twitter.com/adamcathcart.  

KMT (Kuomintang) Chairman Lien Chan accepts a nice gift from President of Peking University at a party celebrating the biggest Beida delegation ever to visit Taiwan

Kevin Garnett’s Chinese Blog

What Happens When NBA Culture Meets Chinese Political Culture -- image via HoopChina BBS -- click for a fascinating tribute to one Chinese fan's obsession with Kevin Garnett

Boston Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett, I found out yesterday from undisclosed sources, has been maintaining a bilingual (English-Chinese) basketball blog which is very, very popular in the PRC.

As described in this entry on LeBron James, NBA stars, including some in Cleveland, have been promoting shoes in China for while.  The fact that Kevin Garnett is now wearing Chinese shoes and shilling for a Chinese company (ANTA) has gone virtually unremarked in English-language media during the NBA playoff season.

A good overview, with some pictures of Garnett running the gauntlet of press events in Beijing in August 2010, is here.  He will be back in China in July and August, meaning in all likelihood he will be crossing paths with a handful of other NBA stars on the move on the mainland.

I suppose that the lack of criticism of Garnett for giving up his Adidas or Nikes for a Chinese brand is a positive sign, and reminds us that the National Basketball Association is one of the more proactive cultural groups in the U.S. promoting ties with China.  (Yes, I think we should link sports and cultural exchanges, in spite of the fact that the NBA is a multi-billion dollar business and does not appear to have much in common with the New York Philharmonic!)

Secretary of State Clinton, quite naturally, made sure to include NBA initiatives in her recent meetings on cultural exchanges with Chinese counterparts in Washington.

As for Garnett’s blog, it is bilingual by virtue of the ANTA translators, not Garnett himself.  (Garnett, in fact, never so much as went to college, but he has probably done more world travelling – “study abroad,” if you will — than the most globe-trotting undergraduate.)  So the translation is a bit rocky, and interesting.

How, for instance, do you translate “homeboy” into Chinese?  (哥们, it seems, is the answer.)

Here is the first paragraph of the entry:

As you know, we were knocked out of the playoffs by Miami. It’s unfortunate that we are out and in my mind didn’t reach our potential. Taking the last couple of days to think about things and the season was long. Their [sic] were ups and downs all season and dealing with teammates, leaving teammates, gaining teammates. Long hours, flights, practices, workouts, etc… Another season under my belt, but not satisfying. I’ll be getting back to the “lab” (workouts and court work) to work on my craft, so I can keep improving. I will be working on my skills and constantly trying to get better.


A big challenge for any translator is to capture something ephemeral, which is to say, the whiff or the aura of an unconventional sentence.

Garnett, for instance, goes positively literary with this complete sentence:

 Taking the last couple of days to think about things and the season was long.

The translator renders it as 最后几天,我们花时间回顾了这个漫长的赛季, something literally like “In these most recent days, we spent time to look back on this long season.”  花 (hua, to spend) is added to the sentence to make it more grammatically feasible to Chinese readers.  Further rendering KG’s impressionistic writing into grammatically correct Chinese, the translator also has to add a “we” to describe who is “thinking about things,” a revealing cultural choice — faced with an individual reflecting on performance and a team reflecting on its performance, the Chinese translator will chose the group, naturally.

Specific word choices are also wonderful.   花 (hua, to spend) gives the sentence an air of futility which, I think, captures KG’s intent.  And the season is described as “漫长” which I think of along the same lines as the German word “unendlich” or (almost) “endless.”

Finally, it was instructive for this author to get out of the trenches of reading Huanqiu Shibao bulletin boards — where, presumably, one can find some insights into mass views (or the CCP-endorsed and often created “mass view”) on North Korea, Japan, and the U.S. — and understand better who is really on the Chinese internet.

Kevin Garnett’s last entry of the season has, in three or four days, amassed more than 90,000 readers and collected 2227 comments, almost all of which are completely positive.  After all the name calling and mud-throwing over at Huanqiu, it was almost redeeming to feel the positive energies of thousands of Chinese basketball team telling Kevin Garnett — Kevin Garnett! — to hold his head high and keep going.  加油!

Kevin Garnett with Anta Shoes Rep. at Press Conference in Beijing, August 2010 -- image via sneaker-supply.com

Additional Reading: Gady Epstein, “Investors Profit on Chinese Answers to Nike, Adidas,” Forbes, 27 August 2011, http://blogs.forbes.com/gadyepstein/2010/08/27/investors-profit-on-chinese-answers-to-nike-adidas/ 

Henry Kissinger “On China,” and at the Opera

The ever-prolix Henry Kissinger has a new book on U.S.-China relations forthcoming, entitled On China.  Advance copies reviewed here by the New York Times; Kissinger is interviewed by NPR here.

Since copies of the text will not be available to we mortals on the Northwest for another week or more — even those of us with Japan connections in the form of a Kinokuniya Bookstore — it might be useful to review for a moment some of the former Harvard professor, National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State in his writings on China.

And thus to musical diplomacy!

Thanks to his extensive briefing books (which are available to researchers in the Nixon Presidential Library materials currently housed in Washington, D.C., and which I have consulted), during his trip to China in October 1971, Kissinger was supremely attuned to messages intended for him in cultural shows presented to him by the Chinese Communist government.  Thus his attendance at “The White Haired Girl” by the CCP, a revolutionary ballet performed by the Central Ballet Company of China, merits a bit of analysis.

The White Haired Girl (Bai Mao Nü, 白毛努) tells the story of the suffering life of a peasant girl who is saved from a life of servitude by the revolutionary leader.  This sought after story had been portrayed in the movie before the ballet and was extremely effective in provoking hatred feelings to the old system.[1]  The government was impressed by the impact of the movie, like many others, the CCP artists sought to transform this most moving story into the other artistic sphere of ballet.  However, in his memoirs concerning this performance (White House Years, p. 779), Kissinger panned the opera:

On the evening of October 22 we were taken to the Great Hall of the People to see a ‘revolutionary’ Peking opera — an art form of truly stupefying boredom in which villains were the incarnation of evil and wore black, good guys wore red, and as far as  I could make out the girl fell in love with a tractor.

Now that is an acid pen!

Of course, at the time, he was highly complementary to the CCP leaders about the show and even described its message in some detail in his dispatches debriefing Richard Nixon about the trip.

Later, Kissinger would open the way to a trip by the Philadelphia Orchestra to China in September 1973, which itself was the result of Zhou Enlai’s victory in the internal debate with Jiang Qing, over the role that Beethoven should play in the musical and ideological life of the Chinese elites in Beijing and Shanghai.  Kissinger describes the action iduring his fifth visit to China in February 1973 in his Years of Upheaval, p. 45.

Of course, when Zhou Enlai is saying things like the following to Kissinger directly, recalling the failed attempt on the Chinese Premiere’s life in 1955 on his way to Bandung, it is hard to imagine that he also had energy to take on the cultural bureaucrats in Shanghai, but he did:

As for international hijacking, we do not approve those activities.  It’s too unreasonable.  Such adventurous acts are not a good practice, regardless of the motives behind it, whether it is revolutionary or of a saboteur nature.  I say these not as superfluous words but to explain how people of the world think of the CIA.  As for we ourselves, we are not very much excited by the CIA..[Memorandum of Conversation with Zhou Enlai, Henry Kissinger and Winston Lord, 21 October 1971, Beijing, Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1976, Vol. XVII, pp. 503-504.]

North Korean Abductions in China? A Source Review

Thanks to the publication of an extensive report from the Committee on North Korean Human Rights on the subject of North Korean abductions, there is an excellent conversation going on at the indespensible blog for North Korean-China issues, One Free Korea, regarding the nature and the veracity of allegations that China allows North Korean agents into the PRC to hunt down and abduct people who are judged to be enemies of the DPRK.

The committee’s report, cited below and at at One Free Korea, asserts that North Korea has abducted about 200 people from China in the last twelve years or so.

See: Yoshi Yamamoto, Taken! North Korea’s Criminal Abduction of Citizens of Other Countries (Committee on North Korean Human Rights, May 2011) http://www.piie.com/blogs/TAKEN-Final-Proof.pdf

See Also

Mike Kim, Escaping North Korea (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), pp. 33-35.

Adam Cathcart, “Allegations of Rogue North Korean Agents in Chinese Border Region, Sinologistical Violoncellist, 31 August 2009, https://adamcathcart.wordpress.com/2009/08/31/allegations-of-rogue-north-korean-agents-in-chinese-border-region/

Adam Cathcart, “Fistfuls of Chinese Earth, Breaths of Conspiracy, Fusillades of Propaganda,” Sinologistical Violoncellist, 3 September 2009, https://adamcathcart.wordpress.com/2009/09/03/fistfuls-of-chinese-earth-breaths-of-conspiracy-fusillades-of-propaganda/

Joshua Stanton, “For North Korean Spies, Sending Refugees to the Gulag is Entry Level Work,” One Free Korea, 19 April 2010 http://www.freekorea.us/2010/04/19/for-north-korean-spies-sending-refugees-to-the-gulag-is-entry-level-work/

Joshua Stanton, “Ten Years Later, South Korea Questions North Korean Agent in U.S. Resident’s Kidnapping,” One Free Korea, 16 January 2010 http://www.freekorea.us/2010/01/16/ten-years-later-south-korea-questions-suspected-north-korean-agent-in-us-residents-kidnapping/

Chosun Ilbo, “North Korean Abduction Squad Roams Freely Through China,” January 19, 2005 http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2005/01/19/2005011961043.html

Chosun Ilbo, “Ethnic Korean ‘Mole’ Helped N.K. Agents Abduct Pastor in China,” 14 December 2004  http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2004/12/14/2004121461025.html

Chosun Ilbo Editorial, “N.K. Should Avoid Provocation and Return Kim,” 14 December 2011 http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2004/12/14/2004121461036.html

Chosun Ilbo, “N.K. Abducted 40 from 1999 to 2001,” Jan. 19 2005 http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2005/01/19/2005011961017.html

Chosun Ilbo, “Beijing Turns Blind Eye to North Korean Kidnappings,” 19 January 2005 http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2005/01/19/2005011961031.html

Huanqiu Shibao [Global Times, Beijing], “韩国派特工在中国调查电话诈骗案/Hanguo pai tegong zai Zhongguo diaocha dianhua zapian an [The Incident of South Korea Sending Spies to China to Investigate Telephone Blackmail],” http://world.huanqiu.com/roll/2009-09/564229.html 

Lee Hae Young, Lives for Sale: Personal Accounts of Women Fleeing North Korea for China, U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2009 http://www.hrnk.org/download/Lives_for_Sale.pdf 

Trashing Diplomatic Etiquette, or Just Empty Cannon Shots? Huanqiu Shibao Weighs in on Clinton’s ‘Fool’s Errand’ Comment

There has been an immense amount of action which has occurred in the U.S.-China relation in the past week, actions about which, being on several “fool’s errands” of my own, I nevertheless hope to comment upon.

At the end of a week of bilateral meetings in Washington, rather than grand strategic debates, we seem to have in hand the following tempest-in-a-teapot:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview with the Atlantic Monthly about democracy in the Arab world, made brief and passing — and very critical — comments about the Chinese Communist Party.

These remarks have caused something of a kerfuffle in the Beijing media.

In response to Clinton, the Huanqiu Shibao editorial of May 15 2011 noted:

  美国国务卿希拉里用破坏外交礼仪的语言批评中国人权,称中国“做蠢事”(fool’s errand),西方与中国的人权之争呈现出更多的不规则性。西方对中国的态度像是外交、舆论战,以及它们国内政策工具的大杂烩。猜西方一个激烈指责“背后”的故事是很累的,简单说起来,西方在当下的人权之争中咄咄逼人,但这场冲突究竟谁是“胜利者”,却要历史说了算。

Which translates roughly as:

American Secretary of State Hillary [Clinton recently] critiqued China’s human rights by describing China’s ‘fool’s errand.’ By using this language, [Clinton] laid wreckage to diplomatic etiquette, and brings even more unpredictability to the Sino-Western debate on human rights. The Western attitude toward China appears to be one where human rights is used as an implement in the mish-mash of domestic politics, diplomacy, and the war for public opinion. Gathering that the story of fierce Western criticism behind [China’s] back is tiresome, [we can] put it simply: Western criticism of China’s human rights has presently become totally overbearing [咄咄逼人]. However, on this field of struggle, only history will say who emerges ‘the victor’.  

Huanqiu Shibao’s editorial language is far more expressive that that of the paid-to-be-sternly-taciturn Jiang Yu, the Foreign Ministry spokesman whose remarks are reported on by China Digital Times [hat tip to CDT; an earlier version of this post can be found in the comments section on the linked piece over there].

The Global Times’ English version of the May 15 editorial in question is way, way toned-down and changed around, and includes the token reference to the now-useful-to-all-parties Ai Weiwei, who is so good at disappearing that he does not make the Chinese edition at all.

The strange thing in analyzing Clinton’s comments to the Atlantic is that they came in the midst of a much longer interview focused almost entirely on the Middle East. In fact, Clinton is in the middle of a comparison of China with — get this — Saudi Arabia when the conversation turns, and then she almost immediately swivels back to the prospects of regime change in Syria.

Is it possible that Clinton’s criticism of China is quite intentional, and intended to lay down some preemptive covering fire (in the form of “empty cannon shots,” as Mao famously said to Nixon about pro forma propaganda) for the Obama administration’s domestic opponents as the administration is engaging in multiple high-level meetings with China and signing a battery of bilateral agreements?

The anguish of the artistic community, and the Tibetans in exile, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and the Falun Gong notwithstanding (all of whose complaints are, like those of the American communist parties, very much separate and disconnected, united only by the object of mutual derision), is there nothing to celebrate about last week’s cooperative efforts in Washington, D.C.?

There is a ton of video footage available of Clinton’s various bilateral sessions with Chinese leaders last week, and in none that I’ve seen does Hillary Clinton appear to be lecturing Chinese leaders in tones reminiscent of the Atlantic Monthly interview as to how they need to change in order to avoid the historical dust heap.

(Stalin’s advice for avoiding said dust heap, by contrast, would have been an ice pick to the head of the regime’s opponents — effective and cheap, but in China there are not enough ice picks and too many heads for this strategy to work, and besides, this is the United States, where no problem, including the President’s national origin, can’t be solved without a little public bellyaching and a lot of transparency.  The relative clarity of ice, in other words, beats steel ice picks, and Jefferson trumps Lenin.)

At one point, Clinton happily looks on as her Chinese counterpart describes the good old days when [the Republic of] China and the U.S. got together to launch air raids on Japan.  When you’re remembering World War II and channeling Song Meiling, it’s best not to mention that China vaguely resembles Saudi Arabia, even if you think it does. (The video of this session was up on Friday on the State Dept. website and on YouTube, it now appears to have been taken down.)

The Huanqiu Shibao editorial therefore accurately notes the milieu in Washington last week.  The Secretary of State did indeed warmly greet her Chinese colleagues, the editorial states, concluding: “It makes one wonder if, when they talk about human rights to China, the leaders of some countries aren’t just going through the motions [走过场].”

Hey, if “going through the motions” gets us some real “Eco-Partnerships,” maybe it’s all in a day’s work.

Or maybe the State Department is banging on the table about the rights of American students — like the 25 I brought to Sichuan and Tibet last fall — to travel to China as part of the Hundred Thousand Initiative.

Or maybe they are busy talking about currency, trade, and our mutually dependent economies.

Fool’s errand, indeed, but then again, so was Henry Kissinger’s trip through Pakistan to Beijing in 1971, laden with briefing books by Chas Freeman and the hopes of a President burdened by a war (or two) and the hopes of a second term.  Who is writing Clinton’s briefing books and coordinating her strategy on China might even deserve a bit of begrudging support, as to both Sun Tzu and Chairman Mao (as well as their successors and their advisers in Zhongnanhai), “unpredictability” might be considered a word of praise for a premeditated but previously unseen Washington strategy.

via Le Monde

North Korea: Examination Materials

I recently completed a month-long lecture series on North Korean-Chinese relations at Pacific Lutheran University.  Because these lectures were occasioned by a course I teach at PLU (hell yes I teach courses, credits and grades dropping from my very fingertips!), I had the pleasure of writing an exam on the topic.

Here, in no particular order, are a few of themes or questions which were covered in the lectures and which my students consequently suggested that I should have put on the exam.  But who cares that they were on an exam?  What matters is that they have content and merit, and deserve further discussion.  (Thus their appearance in this forum.)

Is this really necessary?  Do we really need to be asking yet more questions about North Korea and Sino-North Korean relations?  Shouldn’t we first try to get answers about some questions of agreed-upon significance, like how many nukes North Korea has?  Or if Jimmy Carter’s visits to Pyongyang accomplish anything at all?  Or if Kim Jong Eun wears a foreign wristwatch?

Well, quibble though you might with certain of them, very few of these questions resemble the rather elementary questions to which North Korea and its relationship with China are treated in our present environment of English-language media analysis, a few really good blogs notwithstanding.

So, to the questions:

– What long-term opportunities (financial and political) would be presented to China by a peaceful collapse of North Korean political power?

– In what ways does the North Korean obsession with Mount Paektu strain relations with China?

– Does the history of the 7th century (e.g., the destruction of the northern power of Koguryo by the southern power of Silla, in alliance with the Chinese Tang dynasty), constitute a template for unification of which the DPRK leaders should be fearful today?

– What role does the small North Korea-Russia border in the extreme northeast of the peninsula play in balancing (or unbalancing) the Sino-North Korean dynamic?  Is North Korea able to balance China off of Russia now, or are those days of navigating between Beijing and Moscow truly in the past?

– What role did the U.S. occupation of Japan play in the formation of the North Korean state system?

– How did Mao Zedong’s rationale for intervention in the Korean War in 1950 differ significantly from that of the Ming dynasty during the Imjin War in 1592?  Is it possible that Mao in some sense retained a desire to secure North Korea in a neo-tributary system?

– What similarities exist between the present-day North Korean system (and its “court politics”) and that of the Qin dynasty as depicted in the works of Sima Qian?

– How and why are the concepts of sadae/sadaejuui and juche embedded in (North) Korean culture?

– List the current statistics for the relative military strength, in terms of troop estimates, for the ROK Army, the PLA, the Japanese SDF, and USMC/USAF/USN in East Asia.  With which one (or ones) of these military forces does the Korean People’s Army have anything approaching parity?

– To what extent was the Korean War a proxy war, and to what extent was it a civil war?

– The story of North Korean refugees seems fantastic, politicized, and laden with imaginative tropes. Is it really as bad for North Korean refugees as it seems on YouTube?

– What is the proper label for Sino-North Korean relations?  Is this a “brotherhood forged in blood”, a “pragmatic partnership”, a “friendship betrayed”?  Suggest a few taglines for the relationship and justify your new label.  Could we call both China and North Korea “unruly allies”?

– Why does North Korea go to such great lengths to propagate myths of Kim Jong Il’s “birth” at Mt. Paektu?  Does it matter that, as “the Text” asserts, his birth was foretold by a sparrow, illicited a double rainbow, and that a new star appeared in the sky?

– In what ways is the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Region a crucible for new North Korean culture?  Can it be considered “a Third Korea”?  In what ways does it run countercultural to the ways of Sinicization?

– Compare the Chinese de facto absorption of North Korea during the Korean War to  German reunification of 1990.

– Can the Tumen Tiger avoid extinction? What barriers exist to the survival and flourishing of this species?

– Are the golden cows along the Chinese side of the border really happier than their North Korean counterparts across the Tumen?

– How have Chinese goals for Korean unification changed since 1950?

– Describe the impacts of, and the Chinese reponses to, the North Korean nuclear tests of October 2006 and May 2009.

– Kim Jong Eun was recently pictured in North Korean state media holding a pair of binoculars upside down at a military exhibition.  In what ways does this image, and the way it was covered in Chinese state mdia, represent larger problems and anxieties about Jong Eun’s possible succession?

– Although North Korea militantly emphasizes its cultural independence from China, in what ways does North Korean language — both colloquial and bureaucratic — exemplify Chinese influence?

– How did Chinese and Soviet communism, Asian philosophies such as Daoism and Confucianism, Chinese Legalism and Korean fortitude combine to create or otherwise influence North Korean policies and politics?  Is it fair or accurate to summarize North Korea’s political system merely as “Stalinist”?

– Do technology and cultural transfers into North Korea along the Chinese border like USB drives full of songs or DVDs of South Korean movies constitute a “new culture wave” in North Korean society?  Is it fair to write about a “Chinese wave” in North Korea akin to the “Hallyu/Korea Wave” that has been so objectified in East Asia?  What elements in North Korea’s traditional culture (and official state culture) would resist Chinese influence?

–  Briefly describe problems associated with both the garrisoning of the Ming Army in Korea and the stationing of Chinese troops in North Korea from 1950-1958. Is it fair to say that China and North Korea have both internalized the lessons of these events?

– North Korea is indeed a “shrimp between whales,” but it is also a skilled practitioner of “judo diplomacy” whereby the “whales” are adeptly tossed around.  After describing a couple of salient examples of the above point, argue that either China or Japan (pick one and explain your choice) is most often on the receiving end of North Korea’s manipulations.

– Are the North Korean notion of juche and the Chinese notion of tributary relations inherently at odds?  In what ways does each nation temper its ideologies in the practice of foreign policy in order to keep Sino-North Korean relations relatively smooth?

– Describe the unique role that Sinuiju plays in North Korean history and in contemporary interchange with the PRC.

– Describe how and why Hyesan has become a “model city” for Kim Jong Il since the 1960s.  Why do South Koreans and occasional foreign observers travel to the city today?

– In the context of analyzing U.S. involvement in the Korean War, critique or support the statement “The first mistake was putting MacArthur in charge.”

– In what ways does heavy North Korean patrolling of the northern frontier give lie to the statement that the DPRK enjoys “brotherly relations” with the PRC?

– For people just beginning to pay attention to North Korea and its relations with China, why is a brief description of the Korean War so important?  Is it possible to understand North Korea, or Chinese policy toward North Korea, without reference to the Korean War?

– At the end of the day, when it runs out of calories, energy, and alternatives, is North Korea truly locked into a sadae/submissive relationship to China?

Cogitating Korea and Strategically Flexible Syllabi, Wiedervereinigung in the Shadow of the Reichstag, Berlin -- photo by Kuroda Chiaki

A Few Brilliant Observations

Asked to evaluate Douglas MacArthur’s tactical decisions in November-December 1950, student Adam Hoagland, while ignoring the General’s significant decision to firebomb Sinuiju and drop the Tarzan bomb on Kanggye, put forth a methodically brilliant Sun Tzu-based critique of old man SCAP:

MacArthur made the fatal mistake of underestimating his enemies and their drive to resist.  He did not concentrate his military power but spread it too thin to push forward or hold a position.  He did not study the terrain to find the best advantage or weaknesses.  He was not formless in his tactics but used a very recognizable and predicatable advancement of troops.

Had only Hoagland been a Sinologist in SCAP’s employ, a man of ambition who had MacArthur’s ear in 1950, then an understanding of Chinese military strategy might well have prevailed.  But he was not, and it did not.  MacArthur also failed to respect his senior commander (e.g., Harry Truman) and, to my knowledge, never stood up for the returned POWs from Korea when implications of communist “brainwashing” were leveled at them.

Since my students have all read Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian, the history of the Qin dyansty, I tossed out a hypothetical question: What would happen if we had a modern day re-appearance of the assassin Jing Ke, who was sent from Yan to kill Qin Shihuangdi around 210 B.C., in Pyongyang acting on behalf of the CCP?  In other words, I asked the students to consider the historical template of Jing Ke in the contemporary Sino-North Korean context.  What would happen if China sent an assassin — a modern-day Jing Ke — to kill Kim Jong Il or his son?

Amanda Fitzhenry, a student who plans to study in South Korea, answers, and does so in detail which is far, far better than I could have mustered myself:

If Jing Ke were to infiltrate the North Korean capital, it would need to be shown in a way of supporting or worshipping Kim Jong Il.  The fact that Jing Ke was in the rural area would not be able to work in the DPRK situation because of the limited ability to travel.  To be able to be in Pyongyang, Jing Ke would need to be a trusted man to the North Korean Workers’ Party and willing to risk the gulag for his family and himself.  His mission would provide China with the chance to obtain North Korea (and Mount Paektu) for China.  But, with the downfall of the DPRK would come instability for the region with 24 million people fleeing, as well as the economic duty to rebuild the country.

One final observation: In the space of little less than a decade, my North American university students have become progressively more convinced of China’s capability to handle anything.  That is to say, presenting the students with a scenario whereby China would totally absorb North Korea is never really scoffed at: China, we now presume, has all the resources in the world to rebuild North Korea and could, somehow, convince the South Koreans to stay in Seoul in the event of a Chinese takeover north of the DMZ.  A tall order indeed, and hardly likely to occur, but old Robert Kaplan’s essay in Atlantic Monthly in 2006 about just such a scenario has many more adherents in American universities that one might expect.

In the Teeth of a Semester

In his Will to Power, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche — probably enjoying summer weather in his favorite Italian haunt of Genoa — writes about the universal need for thinking individuals to attend a strenuous school at the right stage of life.  There is simply no substutite, Nietzsche says, for a rigorous university education, for the forge that such an education creates, for the habits of sustained psychic struggle that it fosters.

In an environment today where students often style themselves as “consumers” of education and express joy at the slightest indication that an easier path might be taken, do Nietzsche’s words still hold true?

They are probably more true than ever.