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– The Telegraph reports in alarmist fashion about Hu Jintao warning, as the newspaper headline puts it, of “cultural warfare from the West”
– A closer examination of the story indicates that Hu Jintao’s “battle cry,” above, was a speech given on October 18, 2011, that was republished yesterday in the preemminent journal for CCP theory, Qiushi (Seeking Truth / 求是).
In fact most of the speech is not at all about the West, but the need for more powerful socialist culture. However, the key detonating sentences in this long and rather boring speech are, after a discourse on China’s rising soft power, as follows:
同时，我们必须清醒地看到，国际敌对势力正在加紧对我国实施西化、分化战略图谋，思想文化领域是他们进行长期渗透的重点领域。我们要深刻认识意识形态领域斗争的严重性和复杂性，警钟长鸣、警惕长存，采取有力措施加以防范和应对. At the same time [that we develop our cultural industries and gain international advantage thereby], we must see with utmost clarity that hostile international forces are currently stepping up the implementation of Westernization in China, attempting to do so via in a variety of strategies; their long-term focus is on infiltration [渗透/shentou] in the ideological and cultural fields. We should thoroughly understand the seriousness and complexity of this ideological struggle, remaining vigilant (lit. “always keep the bell ringing“), ever alert, and taking effective measures to prevent and respond to [the challenge of cultural infiltration].
The full text of the article is available in rough English via Google Translate here.
– My own evidentiary contribution to the discourse on Hu Jintao’s retrograde and conservative tendencies with regard his extensive work in “socialist culture” are described in this essay about some materials I found about Hu Jintao in East German archives in 2009.
– As usual, with reference to cultural diplomacy and the soft power discourse, JustRecently is already well ahead of the curve. His website has the most extensive open-source translation available of the Party’s “cultural document”, a document which stemmed out of the same meetings at which Hu Jintao weighed in above.
– In reading headlines about Hu Jintao’s fear of Western “infiltration,” I think it’s important to note that there are far more nuanced Chinese examinations of soft power out there. PRC scholar He Zengke published a rather wide-ranging article this past December 23 in a reformist journal surveying French and German modes of exerting soft power, noting:
France was one of the first countries to understand the role of cultural soft power. Napoleon once said that a pen was equal to 1,000 Mauser rifles*), and a former French minister of culture said that culture and the economy are one and the same battleground. French people believe that a cultural mission can take the place of a country’s military power. In 1883, France established the Alliance Française to promote French culture. Starting in 1959, France began to define the “First Five-Year Plan for the Expansion of French Cultural Activities”, and afterwards, 25- and 35-year plans etc. were gradually developed. From the total amounts spent and per capita, France belongs to the first-ranking countries worldwide. From that, it can be seen that France attaches great importance to the development and use of soft power.
法国是最早懂得文化软实力的地位和作用的国家之一。拿破仑曾经说过，一支笔等于1000支毛瑟枪。法国前文化部长曾经说过：文化和经济是同一场战斗。 法国人认为，文化使命可以代替国家武力。1883年法国就建立了法语联盟，在世界各地讲授法语，推广法国文化。从1959年起，法国开始制定“关于 在国外扩张和恢复法国文化活动的第一个五年计划”（1959－1963），后来又陆续制定了“二五”、“三五”计划等。法国的国际文化交流支出从总数和人 均来看都居于世界第一的位置。由此可见法国对发展和运用文化软实力的高度重视。[Translation here by JustRecently]
He’s essay reminds us again:
-For all the huffing and puffing about Confucius Institutes, the “hanban” is still behind such institutions as the Alliance Française when it comes to enrollments and influence globally, a fact which I reported in July 2010 (from a cafe in Seoul, awash in K-pop, WiFi signals, kimchee and bubble tea) via a translation of a Huanqiu Shibao interview with the Hanban head.
– Finally, the magazine Monocle (which I fittingly tend to read in international airports; this one was in Tokyo) recently did some comprehensive “soft power ratings” in which the US was #1 but France not far behind. China, by the way, was #17.
I’ve got a few more changes in store for Sinologistical Violoncellist in the new year (most of them involving the bass clef and Japan, not necessarily in that order), but in the meantime, readers may appreciate being directed to two longer essays I recently published on China Beat, cited here in modified Chicago style:
Adam Cathcart, “Bow Before the Portrait: Sino-North Korean Relations Enter the Kim Jong Eun Era,” The China Beat, December 23, 2011.
Adam Cathcart, “Soft Power Struggle: Ai Weiwei and the Limits of Sino-German Cultural Cooperation,” The China Beat, December 15, 2011.
For those who have not been introduced, China Beat is the top-flight blog headed by Jeffrey Wasserstrom. As a widely-published public intellectual, head of the History Department at University of California-Irvine, editor of the Journal of Asian Studies, and author of several important historical studies on student nationalism in Shanghai, Wasserstrom is someone I draw a great deal of inspiration from, so I’m particularly delighted to have a chance to write for him, as well as for some of his readers.
This guest posting comes from the sizzling keyboard of Paul Manfredi, head of the Chinese Studies Program at Pacific Lutheran University and the author of China Avant Garde, one of the Internet’s best analytical stops for insights into the Chinese contemporary art scene. Manfredi’s blog is a rich blend of image and word, and highly recommended. My apologies, by the way, to readers for taking so long to post this essay which I received several weeks ago! — Adam Cathcart
Reevaluating Ai Weiwei
The news of the release of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on June 22 brought a collective sigh of relief, though one quickly tempered by the fact that the once outspoken Ai is for the time being unable to express anything at all. This unfortunate situation for Ai, however, is not a surprise or even much of a concern to many people in China itself, and that includes artists whose fates are most closely linked to Ai Weiwei. Consumers of news media in English, meanwhile, could hardly be faulted for misunderstanding this fact given the relentless reporting on the fate of this largely unrepresentative Chinese artist. What, in fact, Ai Weiwei’s experience does occasion is a deeper reflection on what it means to be a Chinese artist in the present globally linked, internet savvy, but also often blatantly ignorant media culture.
To begin with, a question: of all the ways we might describe the experience of any contemporary Chinese artist, why has “oppressed” become so prevalent? Clearly, Chinese government control of artistic expression is a factor in contemporary China, as it has been for decades. It is not, however, the only factor, or even a major factor for most artists. Moreover, as a factor, one must recognize that part of the reason Chinese artists like Ai Weiwei are popular on the world stage is precisely because of Chinese government oppression, or at least the perception of such impression.
I say perception because for those artists not inclined to play chicken with Beijing authorities, which is to say most Chinese artists, such oppression is not part of their experience. Indeed, any casual visitor to north-eastern Beijing can see that this is not an artistic culture blighted by government authoritarianism. Instead, such a visitor will see is the thriving 798 Art Zone, a major tourist destination, and the neighboring Caochangdi, Songzhuang, Blackbridge, and Huangtie art districts all vying for position of next “center” of Chinese art. If global media organizations would taken an in these places a very different picture of the life of the contemporary Chinese artist would emerge. Take for instance Huang Rui, the actual founder of the 798 district and former colleague of Ai Weiwei in the critical avant-garde art movement of the late 1970s. When asked his views on the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Huang expressed appreciation for China’s accomplishments and optimism for the direction of contemporary Chinese art. Huang’s interviews were never published. Huang, it should be noted, is no stranger to conflict with the Chinese authorities, and he regularly tests the boundaries of freedom of expression and assembly. Yet, his lapse into something like pride for his country’s achievements earned him censure from Western media outlets not interested in such a message. By contrast, Ai Weiwei’s interviews of early 2008 enjoyed broad coverage, and it was from that point that Ai began to rise as heroic, anti-government activist.
But the ultimate problem with reporting on Ai Weiwei as oppressed artist struggling against faceless government authority is that it’s inaccurate. Much of what Ai has produced in recent years actually targets the ideologically rigid value systems that constant repetition of the heroic artist narrative itself reflects. From photographing a middle finger waved at the US White House, to branding valuable Chinese antiques with Coke and other corporate insignia and then shattering them, to hand carving hundreds of thousands of sunflower seeds to be crushed underfoot, Ai challenges a wide range of assumptions, some of which underlie even his own valuation in the world art market. But this challenge extends beyond the world of art. Ai’s true value now is as a kind of global public intellectual, a place from which he challenges all of us to take more seriously the way we handle information in this transnational and transcultural media marketplace. Let’s hope that sometime soon we will be able to take up his challenge.
– Paul Manfredi
It takes more than a few days, or perhaps a few weeks, to sift through all the reports, speculation, and rumors surrounding Kim Jong Il’s “new deal” with China. At the end of the day, though, it seems that a single question aids in interpreting the phenomenon: To what extent has Kim Jong Il’s visit to China spurred the North Korean regime to embrace even the appearance of a reformist direction?
In other words, is there any indication, however small, that Kim Jong Il or his Korean Workers’ Party is internalizing themselves or mobilizing society toward a policy approximating that of Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s? Given how much the North Korean leadership is said to despise Deng Xiaoping, perhaps the “Dengist direction” is not the ideal way to phrase a move toward North Korean reform, but certainly the CCP leadership does not shirk from the label or the idea. But let us review the recent evidence:
New Slogans in Pyongyang
A couple of weeks ago, the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang was the only place this new North Korean slogan (something like “Based on the Local, Step Into the World”) was being discussed. (For an English rendering of the story via Google, click here.)
Now the slogan is getting aired in a more prestigious publication, the “International Herald Leader,” one of the more rational and widely-read foreign affairs weekly tabloids published in Beijing. In his full-page spread on the DPRK entitled “North Korea Wants to Rush Toward ‘A Powerful Nation’ [朝鲜要向‘强盛大国’冲刺]， the paper’s man in Pyongyang, Zhang Li [张利] writes extensively of the new slogans.
There is of course the idea, too, that the North Korean regime could just be doing this to string along people like you and me, offering up the appearance of, or the possibility of, reforms, and then taking no actual further steps in that direction. Certainly it would not be the first time such a thing happened. And we should be mindful that North Korea does quite a lot (the 2009 nuclear tests being a signal example) without necessarily considering what the impact is on their Chinese patrons. But even when we are striding through a Potempkinian landscape, we need to take note of the details! There is some evidence that Pyongyang’s more persistent propaganda emphasis on living standards and economic growth is at the very least reaping some benefits in giving Chinese elites (e.g., 知识分子 or literate people who consume news) some idea that their support of North Korea is resulting in tangible and positive changes in the DPRK.
Confucius in Pyongyang
In other good news for Beijing, Chinese language education appears to be making solid inroads in Pyongyang. Estimates such as those in Bruce Bechtol’s 2010 book Defiant Failed State, and articles by people like Robert Kaplan, tend to toss off statements about the Chinese taking over North Korea with ease. Why else would the PRC be rebuilding roads along the border and fixing up bridges? This group of analysts frequently make hay from the notion that China has huge competitive advantages in its business and other interactions with North Korea. In fact, if language is the barometer the Chinese are at a disadvantage; Kim II Song cut off Chinese language education in North Korea at the knees in the late 1950s. This makes the PRC even more reliant on Yanbian Koreans for commercial interaction with the North, using Yanbian as a channel. Reliable statistics about numbers of Chinese speakers in the North are hard to come by, but we do know that the small Chinese minority (North Korea’s only bona fide ethnic minority) has been among the most closely watched sectors of the society and, unlike in places like Malaysia or Philippines, has been unable to spread its mercantile spirit into the greater society. It has also been in a kind of linguistic quarantine.
We do know that North Korean teachers of Chinese were studying at Beijing University, laying the foundation for the big event in Pyongyang. See my 18 February 2010 essay, “Confucius Institute Outreach to DPRK.”
Thus it is a turn of events to find that the Confucius Institute in Pyongyang appears to be thriving. And lest you think this is not a particularly big deal in the orbit of North Korea’s foreign relations, consider how obstinate the DPRK has been about language and cultural education toward European states with whom it is also distinctly in a warming phase: The German Goethe Institute was forced out of Pyongyang because of restrictions and the French Alliance Francais (disclaimer; I am a card-carrying member) cannot get into Pyongyang no matter how many delegations of French socialists make their obeisance to Mangyongdae. So the Workers’ Party is embracing finally the building of the linguistic infrastructure necessary to do business with China, in in China.
(Click here for photos of the Confucius Institute party in Pyongyang, via the Chinese Embassy in the DPRK.)
One of the more palatable aspects of my fieldwork along the North Korean border are the conversations I am able to have with probably a couple dozen North Korean waitresses in China. Setting aside the somewhat asinine claim that these girls are all spy-seductresses whose command of taekwando is worthy of a James Bond plot, one of the main reasons they come to the mainland to work is to acquire Chinese language. One said to me not long ago “it will be very useful for doing business when I go back to Korea,” nodding earnestly. I very much doubt that this person is some completely brainwashed cog whose study of Chinese is part of some grand plan of North Korea to deceive China into thinking relations are friendly. She and others are well aware that Chinese is the business language of the region and are acting accordingly. It seems that, rather belatedly, the North Korean state is having the same revelation.
Return to Chinese Cultural Superiority?
One possible problem that the North Koreans are already facing, and have been facing since the Koguryo locked swords with the Sui, is that of Chinese cultural superiority.
China’s recent action with Vietnam indicates how strong this kind of cultural chauvinism can be, seeing China inherently as the older brother. How deep this notion is ingrained in China’s diplomacy can be seen in a recent standoff with Vietnam in the South China Sea. As Wang Hanling, director of Chinese Academy of Social Scienes’ Centre for Oceans Affairs and the Law of the Sea, said to the South China Morning Post on 13 June 2011 (p. A4) stated of the Vietnamese:
If the big brother bullies the younger brother, that is not good and is something that should not happen. If the little brother challenges or bullies the older brother, it’s just ridiculous.
At a time when China is under attack from Western European states for not following European models of Enlightenment – seen expressly in the case of Germany and Ai Weiwei and art exhibits in Beijing – it is all the more important for Beijing to be able to pose itself as a benevolent tutor for the region, to behave, in other words, as a Confucian hegemon. In a recent podcast with some big names in China analysis, Jeremy Goldkorn paraphrases Martin Jacques in terming this “Tributary System 2.0.” In the context of bilateral relations with the DPRK, the label can be considered rather true.
Wen Jiabao stated it most clearly on his overseas junket, but the trope of China’s civilizing influence in the DPRK comes through in smaller channels as well. A semi-official blog carried by Huanqiu Shibao states Kim Jong Il came to China for “enlightenment” as well as aid:
Kim Jong Il came to China this time, and what did North Korea get from China? To use just one sentence to describe it, one could say that ‘North Korea has gained a future….’
This kind of Chinese salvationist rhetoric for North Korea sounds almost white and missionary.
An early analysis of Kim Jong Il’s presence in Nanjing by the Huanqiu Shibao offers up further, somewhat simplistic, reflections on Chinese success in helping the North Koreans stagger forward into modernity. But in so doing, the story necessarily becomes a frank admission of Kim’s need for aid and “education,” even if the slogans are optimistic: “金正日版南巡讲话,” etc.
The same ambivalence, the balancing of Chinese auto-glorification with acknowledgement of Kim’s recalcitrance, appears on a different Huanqiu BBS. Covering a story on North Korea’s high tech industry, the report is said to emerge out of the quarter of Zhongguancun [中关村], a high-tech district near Beijing University positively bursting with circuitry, programmers, and ambitious hawkers of soft- and hard-ware. (Anyone who has purchased a laptop in Zhongguancun, receiving deep assurances of total loyalty from a serviceperson, and then returned to get a hand with something only to find that the young Turk with whom you had just last week been having lunch with to bond after a big purchase has already moved to Shanghai will know what I mean.) The Huanqiu blog promotes North Korean computer production as yet another sign that China is helping the DPRK into the modern age, or, as the North puts it weirdly, “CNC Technology.” But the netizens cannot resist: the first commenter on the blog, obviously aware of the North Korean propaganda line on Kim Jong Eun as the harbinger of all things digital and binary, asks: “Is the Little Dictator Going to Increase Production/小霸王升级版?”
Quite naturally, there are more than a few North Koreans who find this whole state of affairs galling, and one of them is, in all likelihood, Kim Jong Il. He is nothing if not his father’s son. Kim Jong Il can only continue with what DailyNK aptly calls his “China Angst,” gaining some small solace from his pet areas: cooperation and funding for broadcasting work and 2012 movie festivals.
Kim’s angst, his pushback against China, and his effort to carve out the latitude for freedom of action outside of Beijing’s orbit, is, however, the subject of a subsequent post which draws the very productive people at KCNA and my new Weibo feed of links on Sino-North Korean relations.
For the last two months, a stack of German newspapers and internet print-outs about the case of Ai Weiwei seems to have accrued first in my bags in Berlin and Paris and then in my offices in Seattle and Tacoma. What a treasure-trove of perceptions and misperceptions, opportunity and loss, of connection do these papers constitute! In a fantasy world that demands little more than internet and newspaper commentaries from the East Asia professoriat, the bulk of these essays would be translated and summarized on this blog, leading rather naturally to a much larger and heavily-footnoted project on the role of culture and politics in the Sino-German relationship.
Teutonic methods demand Teutonic scale, and an endurance for the word and its steady stacking, rather like a city prepares for siege.
The story of Ai Weiwei deserves such stacking, as it represents Germany’s willingness to stand up for the rights of individual artists even as Germany integrates (and competes) with China most skillfully in the economic realm.
And the story extends to the city of Berlin, one of my favorite regular haunts. So, why not add Ai Weiwei’s potential studio in that city to my list of places to go, along with the Music School where cello sonatas are rehearsed, and the Bundesarchiv where documents about things ranging from North Korean cultural ties with East Germany to Japanese reporters in Nazi Germany are hunted down?
Well, because one’s time is perpetually limited, and my best student writer on the contemporary art world has transferred to Whitman College. (O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer!)
Fortunately, other writers and commentators have picked up the ball — or the Han dynasty vase — and are running headlong forward with it in a fresh study of perspective.
Tops among them in terms of consistency and content is the new blog Free Ai Weiwei , hosted on Posterous. This appears to be the ultimate internet resource on all Ai-related news. The site is updated daily (“Day 52,” today’s ominous title) and provides a nice range of links and developments. If “Der Fall Ai Weiweis” interests you in the least, I would bookmark the page and see what it has to offer.
For those who wish not to click, a healthy excerpt from the blog’s analysis should suffice:
We are living in the age where nothing has something to do with something else when it comes to doing business with China. That is the impression you get while reading Artinfo’s interview with Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The VMFA will be the first museum to exhibit its collection in the Palace Museum in Beijing. It was announced only last week.
With Ai detained, should VMFA deal with China?
Asked if this deal with China could not be seen as an endorsement of Ai Weiwei’s detention and “a propaganda coup for the Chinese”, Nyerges answers:
No, never once would that thought have crossed my mind...
On a practical level in terms of the staff, certainly Ai Weiwei’s arrest was a topic of conversation, but quite simply our partnership and relationship with the Palace Museum has nothing to do with the Ai Weiwei situation whatsoever.
Martin Roth, currently director general of Dresden’s State Art Collections and soon to be director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, was asked if it would not be anappropriate answer to Ai’s detention to withdraw the exhibition “Art of the Enlightenment” from Beijing. He answered (paraphrased): A: Ai Weiwei is making a lot of noise all the time, that’s why the media have an obsession with him. B: Without China the production of the Phaeton would have to be closed down. (The Phaeton is a luxurious automobile built by Volkswagen in a factory near Dresden.) A little more blunt and you could think he was in the furniture (or firearm) business.
The notion of Germany’s economic needs as taking primacy over its ability to take a principled stand against Ai’s detention was early on expressed in a furious editorial in Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin, the day after the following article was published in the same forum describing Germany’s total impotence in the case of Ai, indeed, the humiliation inflicted upon Germany’s foreign relations, the tangible slap in the face which Ai’s arrest consisted of in the immediate aftermath — the very afternoon, in fact — of German Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s departure from Beijing after the opening of the massive Enlightenment art exhibit there:
In early May, the immense temporary sculpture “Leviathan,” at Grand Palais Paris until 23 June 2011, was dedicated to Ai Weiwei:
The Guardian further describes the link to “Leviathan,” and the call to close galleries worldwide for a day in protest of Ai’s arrest.
Berlin may have summoned the Chinese ambassador to issue a rebuke last month, but no contracts, or exhibitions, are being cancelled as a result. Not that the CCP is sending thank you notes to Westerwelle, or sitting on its hands in the Sino-German dynamic of mutual criticism.
The respected blog The Peking Duck has a must-read post on a recent People’s Daily denunciation of Deutsche Welle, the German media service.
Was People’s Daily referring to this Deutsche Welle piece about how the German government felt snubbed by Chinese behavior, and the German cultural establishment prompted to debate the merits of exchanges, in the wake of Ai’s detention?
Finally, this Spiegel interview (in English) about Ai Weiwei with an architect whose frame of reference for all of this is bad-old-East Germany will certainly open a few eyes.
[Update: A rather comprehensive analysis of Huanqiu’s Ai Weiwei coverage, as of April 8, can be found here via the scrupulous work of JustRecently.]
Imagine my surprise, when, today, I opened my friendly neighborhood Huanqiu Shibao website only to find an article about detained artist Ai Weiwei right there in a very prominent position. This latest one describes how German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been denying Der Spiegel reports that she called for the release of Ai Weiwei. (Certainly domestic pressure in Germany is building for her to take such a move, and Merkel’s tendency is to follow popular sentiment in virtually all things, but then again, German corporate interests [the Handelsblatt-reading crowd] are not particularly keen on Merkel butting heads overtly with China.)
A couple of government-approved Netizen comments on the story sum things up nicely:
Who is Ai Weiwei?
What is “Der Spiegel”?
If the West supports it, we must oppose it.
The same countries that were part of the 8-power intervention [of 1900]…
Ever since the Opium War…
Of course, context is everything with Huanqiu, and it’s worth recollecting when considering how Chinese readers absorb the news about Ai Weiwei. The neighboring story to Ai Weiwei’s on the Huanqiu website is about the need for vigilance against the post-quake revived Japanese air force. The besieged and aggrieved world view finds another outlet: is this healthy? Isn’t the official Chinese press response to criticism of the Ai Weiwei detention in large measure quite reflexive, coiling back into tried-and-true formulaic accusations of West intervening in China’s internal affairs?
The Berlin Tageszeitung carries a fascinating short report from a rather large get-together of art-world higher-ups at the Art Cologne meetings which just ended today, dealing in part with the impact of Ai Weiwei’s arrest on the (rising) price of his artworks.
Finally, don’t miss this fascinating interview with architect Meinhard von Gerken with Der Spiegel, which, among other things, engages in a lengthy and disputed comparison of contemporary China with the old German Democratic Republic. Gerken designed the new National Museum in Beijing, which is where the Art of the Enlightenment exhibit is being held. And thus we have multiple German views of the Ai Weiwei affair.
As promised, I am working my way through some of the prolix torrent of analysis and concern levied upon the case of Ai Weiwei by authors in Germany, and by German authors in China.
In general, the confrontation between Germany and China over cultural matters and human rights seems now primed to grow exponentially. Museum directors are now musing openly about bringing the Enlightenment exhibition back home to Germany, and elites are wondering how in the dickens China is going to make its “German Culture Year in 2012” anything other than a farce. There are only so many times, the article notes, that even the Confucian axiom (“The Path is the Goal”) can rescue one from a process that seems to be getting nowhere.
The full text of his last documented interview before his detention (a conversation with Heinrik Bork) is available via the Sudddeutscher Zeitung.
The following video is a reading of this early Berlin Tagesspiegel article by Peter von Becker, which you are free to throw into Google translate, which is something I haven’t tried myself. There are, however, subtitles by me for about the first 40% of the piece, with, maybe, more to come.