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transmediale buzz

The Berlin transmediale is, to my knowledge, one of the very best annual conferences (a “convergence” is more the appropriate word) which exist on Planet Earth.  I was very fortunate to have been able to attend the 2011 sessions, where, among other things, I was able to learn about “book sprints” (whereby a book, having been researched, is collectively authored and printed by 5 or 6 people in three or four days in a single city), “Facebook hacking” (imagine meeting someone whose life obsession is creating a “dislike” button for Facebook users), digital democracy, and electronic music triggered by facial impulses (see Daito Manabe, below right, with the author).

Now that, in the intervening year, revolution has swept the planet and North Korea and China are both still standing tall, East Asia watchers can catch the live stream, on February 4, 16:30 Berlin time, 2012 of Katrien Jacobs’ evocative and timely presentation entitled (in truly bracing transmediale style, and surely to the approval of all the “hacktivists” there who have not yet seethed within the Great Firewalls of the Middle Kingdom), “Patriotism, and Paranoia on the Chinese Internet.”

Not to be perceived as lightweight or merely sensationalist, Dr. Jacobs, who is on the faculty of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (香港中文大学), has produced a book on related themes and blogs about her work approximately bi-weekly.


Huntsman in Global Times Terrain, and Republican Foreign Policy

Mainly for the hell of it, I recently spent $4 (about 26 RMB) on a big red “Jon Huntsman for President 2012” bumper sticker.  It arrived in my mailbox, and I promptly stuck it on my South Korean automobile, which I park in the guts of an old Japanese bathhouse in Seattle’s Chinatown and mainly drive up and down the I-5.  I’m an American, and I can vote for whomever the hell I please, especially in the primaries.  Even though I was questioning the shenanigan he pulled at the end of his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to China, I felt just a little more modern in supporting Huntsman’s primary bid: he has a better grasp of East Asia — by leagues — than his Republican counterparts, and he seemed to be setting an intelligent and measured tone, cooling down the “eternal war in the broader Middle East” meme which has been such a present part of our public discourse for so many years.  Moreover, he talks about China, regularly, occasionally in Chinese (which, if nobody noticed, is kind of difficult to learn), and seemed to be saying something that was rare in the GOP, the traditional locus of the “China Lobby”: the United States should not take any interest in overthrowing the Chinese state, and that good commercial relations with China were going to help the US economy.

When you compare him to the shambling wreck of an intellect that is Herman Cain, Huntsman looks like a Nobel laureate, and he also goes toe-to-toe on foreign policy fairly well with his fellow Latter-Day Saints believer and former governor, Mitt Romney.  (Like Obama and Romney, Huntsman supports expanded unmanned aerial drone attacks, but he also wants to move faster in drawing down from Afghanistan.)  I also thought that a series of Huntsman-Obama debates in October 2012 would be genuinely good for the country: two intelligent leaders behaving civilly toward one another, cooling the passions and laying out the issues more in accord with a kind of global realism.

It appears that is not what we will get.

So I was somewhat disappointed to learn, last night in a Taiwan bubble tea joint across from Hing Hay Park in Seattle, at the time of night when the dim sum starts to dwindle and the crackheads emerge to exchange their crushed pills, that Huntsman made a gaffe which has led to his excoriation among Chinese netizens and young people.  Huntsman seems to have implied that by using the internet and ties with millions of young Chinese, we, the United States, could some how “bring China down.”  How does that make sense?

The Global Times vents its anger at Huntsman here, having already whipped him for showing up at an aborted “Jasmine Revolution” demonstration in Beijing last February.

Some contextualization for the statement and its reception in China can be found on Shanghailist and Ministry of Tofu.

And a bit of relevant background, courtesy Al Jazeera:

Prior to this particular statement, Huntsman was on the record as being the one GOP candidate who spoke regularly about human rights in China, doing so in a way that probably didn’t ruffle too many feathers in Beijing, but did give primary voters the idea that he could — in a nice redux on a major campaign theme of Obama’s in 2008 — stand up and best represent American values abroad when it comes to human rights.

Is he also talking about Ai Weiwei? Is it also just the case now that the German Chancellor is always going to be a stronger advocate for human rights in China than any given American president?

Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do about that Huntsman bumper sticker; it sure looks good on my Hyundai.  The I-5 beckons.  We’ll give the old ambassador a few weeks to recover.  And  I think I will be watching New Hampshire primary results from Shanghai in any event.


By way of context, and because it is related, here is my slightly acidic short commentary Republican debate last night, written in present tense:

The Republican debate on foreign policy conveniently skips the subject of IRAQ altogether. Fortunately, a man with a sense of history and a large jaw, Mitt Romney, decides to don the Bush codpiece, intoning that we “can’t cut and run” from Afghanistan and that he “hates evil.” His Iraq advisers, whose hands are still tingling at the thought of recovering power, like the lost limb of Hemingway’s Italian major, grow giddy. Facing Romney’s “moderate” stance are the questions at the debate, 80% of which float up from the forked tongues of documented Iraq War hawks (Fred Kagan, the Jabba the Hut of neo-cons, and Paul Wolfowitz, who would be publicly hanged by the crowd if his name were Timothy Geithner) associated with hawkish think tanks.

Yes, these are our experts, men who represent “consensus” even as they lap up the largesse pooling down at the foot of the bunkers of the Heritage Foundation and the (as) American (as an unmanned aerial drone strike ‘reaping’ an extrajudicial killing) Enterprise Institute. These are men with authority and confidence. With with ideas, with publications.

Take Kenneth Pollack, who wrote an influential book in 2002 pounding the war drums for Iraq, and who subsequently got a promotion at the Brookings Institution. Today, Pollack gives Congress advice with a straight face about “turning the screws” on Iran. Why, when I turn on C-SPAN, is he pounding the table? With a Ph.D. in this economy, with his track record, shouldn’t he be working at Wendy’s, or trying with desperation to get a one-year gig at a place like Antioch? But that won’t happen: he’s an establishment defense intellectual who, after shaking off the repressed memories of Saddam’s execution (not quite what he had in mind), probably has dreams about a cybernetic presidency (Romney 2012, or Cheney 2016), with himself — finally — as National Security Adviser, calling in a thrilling air strike on Tehran, flying into Islamabad with tan boots like Jerry Bremer and suitcases full of cash and nuclear codes, the war as a vehicle to the greatness he knows he can achieve.  But I speculate, and he still has an office in Washington, D.C., and a secretary, and an immense megaphone. Men and women with degrees in Soviet foreign policy (Condi and Kagan in particular) do love to denounce the mullahs. Meanwhile, “fringe” candidates get applause for advocating religious profiling in America and strengthening the “PATRIOT” surveillance act.

Clearly this Party has changed, because there are “new” robots on the stage: Mitt Romney evokes collective sacrifice of higher oil prices so that we can take on Iran, and Newt “I’m a corrupt pig wallowing in proofs of my latest Reagan animation for kids and $37 million in HMO fees” Gingrich advocates a land invasion of the Islamic Republic. Nary a word about North Korea, but the demented Texan reminds us that Red China loves abortion and hates Jesus. And this is all happening as we, the people, their presumptive auditioners who would actually like to listen to a man like Eisenhower describe how things might be different, wail and gnash teeth over massive debt and high oil prices. I don’t want to mimic the rhetorical style of (Skeletor’s unholy minion and the spawn of Scylla’s groin) Ann Coulter and tell this barbed cabal to simply shut up, but, really, have they no shame? Have they no shame at all? As farcical as their gyrations are (with Herman Cain as the ultimate sideshow, the play within a play) this shadow government is absolutely primed to return, and they know EXACTLY what they want to do.

Chinese Pluck: Must-Read Material on ‘Jasmine Revolution’

Amid the bad news from Libya, one really needs to be keeping an eye on China and developments there.

On February 21, a few abortive demonstrations were broken up by Chinese police, as reported by McClatchy and by Associated Press.

The People’s Daily in Beijing basically argues that the Chinese people are too stupid to understand the confusion of information on the Internet and should basically accept the fact that Xinhua will tell them what they need to know.  According to a bunch of very interesting Tweets from foreign reporters in Beijing today (too numerous to link, but I recommend Tom Lasseter’s feed as one of the best), most Chinese weren’t sure why the Internet was running so slowly today, and of course the minor demonstrations in Shanghai and Beijing got (to my knowledge) no domestic news coverage.

Gady Epstein at Forbes reflects in a thorough way on the meaning of the Jasmine story and its connection to covering China’s economy.  This is probably the best single piece of writing I’ve seen on the issue thus far, superior perhaps to Perry Link’s work.  After all, as Epstein points out, there would be severe economic impacts were China to suddenly just shut down the Internet in order to quash a nascent social network of would-be protestors.  South Korea is very wisely tooting its own horn at the moment, exemplifying all of the benefits described by U.S. SecState Hillary Clinton about Internet freedom and economic development.

Granite Studio parses things over quite well and wonders why the Wangfujing McDonalds (where I was once followed into the bathroom by an eccentric waving an old green Chinese-English dictionary and a carpenter’s pencil) would serve as the epicenter of a demonstration.

The Internet in China is being scrubbed and monitored like never before.  On February 22, an ad-hoc organization identifying itself as the “China Jasmine Group” called for weekly demonstrations in Chinese parks (Chinese version here) in a letter to the National People’s Congress.

Huanqiu Shibao seems to be focusing its attention on the Chinese who are coming home, again.

Finally, there is one’s own attitude toward all of this to be considered.  What do we in the West really want from China?  Are we all just provocateurs, voyeurs, who wish to see chaos in China simply because a messy world is more interesting (唯恐“天下”不乱)?  Is it necessary to analyze China’s response to the Egypt aftermath by predicting Xi Jinping’s downfall, and the collapse of the Chinese system, sometime after he assumes power in 2012?  It’s worth asking, even if the CCP somehow lost its mind, abandoned its strongly totalitarian principles, and allowed such an event to go forward, do we want a more liberalized China?  Could we tolerate the middle age of the PRC as a kind of neo-Tang era, when, at least as far as the myths go, China was an “open empire,” welcoming all manner of expression, of religion, of ideology?  Put another way, and seen more through the lens of internal change, are Chinese intellectuals today the actual heirs of the May Fourth Movement, or has the CCP so tightly controlled discourse that the principles of May Fourth, 1919, lie in abeyance?  And is it really good foreign policy for China in Africa to just sit back without comment, as Zhou Enlai said during the Korean War, “with folded hands”?

courtesy Huanqiu Shibao

Border News 中朝边防

North Koreans in border regions are doing more military drills than usual (click here for Chinese version), but so too are their counterparts on the Chinese side of the border.  In Hunchun, peasant militias are getting into gear:

via Huanqiu

In Dandong, everyone is making money and trying to get the North Koreans involved.

East Side of Dandong, moving the suburbs progressively along the Yalu -- via Dandong News Web

National news publications, not just the Embassy in Pyongyang, are reporting on the meetings between North Korean officials and Dandong city leaders, facilitated by outgoing Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming.  A number of long-studied infrastructure projects in Dandong seem poised for take off.  Dandong citizens review their recent tourist explorations of North Korea here

Even before Americans started walking across the Tumen on January 25 to join the KPA, China was reporting with photos on South Korean efforts to pressure North Korea on the human rights issue by dropping leaflets via balloons over the DMZ. 

Chinese netizens are reading the Chinese version of the DailyNK, and leaving some tough comments on the stories, especially this one that deals with Tim Peters’ recent dramatic demonstrations depicting KPA-PLA joint repression of refugees at the border. 

"朝鲜军人用脚去踹挣扎着的女人。表演." Note that the Chinese caption doesn't indicate PLA, but the netizens caught it anyway. via Daily NK

And, although it’s a bit embarassing for Kim Jong Il, Huanqiu headlines a gallery of a dozen “great secret tunnels of the world” with the North Korean tunnel under the DMZ, an ominous thing to be sure:

via Huanqiu Shibao

10,000 Chinese Netizens Know Curtis Melvin, Google Earth North Korea

Amid the obligatory fury at the Chinese government for restricting the flow of information into China, it’s worth noting that articles like this one are increasing in prevalence: a Tianya translation of a CNN article about Andrei Lankov, Curtis Melvin, and the wonders of mapping North Korean gulags on Google Earth.

According to statistics the article has been read over 10,000 times; let’s hope the current dispute doesn’t potentially rob all 344 million Chinese internet users of a chance to bump into this extraordinary resource and understand further about their peninsular neighbor.

See Google Earth上的“裸体”朝鲜

Anti-Japanese Action on the Chinese Internet

Some of us had hopes for a broader improvement in Sino-Japanese relations with the arrival of the Hatoyama government and the recession of the LDP into minority status.  After all, when you have a new political party that isn’t barnacled by the historical stigma of Sugamo-scented folks like Kishi Nobusuke and Shigemitsu Mamoru, it’s easier to talk about apologizing and looking forward.  And hopes can thus legitimately be raised that the Sino-Japanese relationship can hone in on serious contemporary problems such as global warming and the need for economic community in East Asia.

Ah, fantasy!  While the governments go about their business, the Chinese internet and media is taking hardly any time at all to whittle away at whatever goodwill the Hatoyama government managed to engender with its (in the Chinese context) ill-timed electoral victory in late September.  (I say ill-timed because the Chinese media was so obsessively focused on the October 1 anniversary preparations that the various conciliatory things said by Hatoyama and his pro-China stance was easily drowned out by the fireworks.)  Obviously troubles with the deep structure of Sino-Japanese relations on the people-to-people basis are going to remain prevalent in China.

To wit:

An image of a dog having been hit in traffic in China sparked off a major debate among China’s netizens and much criticism of Japan for it having been presented on the Japanese internet as proof of China’s heartlessness.

The two little dogs that started a Sino-Japanese flame war

The two little dogs that started a Sino-Japanese flame war

Believe it or not, this was the lead story today on the “international” section of the Huanqiu Shibao‘s website.  And a wonderful FOX-News style push poll heads the story: “Should we accept the criticism of the Japanese internet users?”  Gee, what patriotic person couldn’t but resolutely press “No!” while snuffing out that cigarette, slumped over in a modern day opium den (excuse me, 网吧) in a dazzling Chinese city like Luoyang?

As a retort, the Chinese netizens did some research on Japanese slaughter of dolphins.  A host of blood-red photos like this one and some very vituperative statements about Japan’s heartlessness are on this Huanqiu BBS.

So China doesnt care about its dogs?  Take this, Japan!  -- via Huanqiu Shibao BBS

So China doesn't care about its dogs? Take this, Japan! -- via Huanqiu Shibao BBS

Fortunately by way of relief we have some mild admiration by Huanqiu Shibao for the upcoming showing of a Nanking Massacre documentary next month in Tokyo.

Huanqiu’s special correspondent in Japan, Sun Xiuping (孙秀萍) reports that the film, entitled “Nanjing: Fractured Memory 《南京———被割裂的记忆》,” was co-produced in Osaka and includes Chinese civilian and Japanese soldier experiences, both victims and victimizers.  One of the Japanese producers, about age 30, describes how his grandfather was a Japanese soldier who had never talked about the war until just before his death.  Of course, we learn that the production was itself beset by “harassment by Japanese right-wing groups during filming” (在拍摄期间受到了日本右翼的骚扰).

But get into the comments on this and other Japan-related stories and it is something else altogether —

The first commenter on the film report sets the tone:

让我们一起努力,20年后我们来个东京大屠杀。   谢谢

Or, “Let us work together to become strong, and twenty years from now we can go to make a Tokyo Massacre.  Thank you.”

Responding to a slightly different story, one very active netizen who depicts himself with this icon 环球BBS handle for anti-Japanese commenterand posts a ton about Japan stated his immoderate view:


Or, “All Japanese people are insane with fascism!  The time is not distant when these two characters for ‘Japan’ will be wiped off the world map!”

In a different BBS, the same user further shows off his nationalistic colors with a boot-licking sycophantic praise of fomer PRC Premier Zhu Rongji for having scolded the Japanese back in the year 2000.  What a great leader! he shouts, oblivious to the deep reserves of hatred felt toward Zhu by scores of 50-something industrial workers in the northeast laid off in the late 1990s by ZHuanqiu BBS handle for 莎破狼hu’s economic reforms and the shedding of SOEs (state-owned industries).  But, the poster argues, Zhu’s greatness is obvious, as he brought down the price of a can of Coca-Cola on the mainland.

And the poster gets backed up by people whose avatars look like this, advocating that China remain vigilant about Japan’s desire to retake Diaoyu Island:

It is enthusiasts like this fellow who on Huanqiu’s BBS posted more than 800 entries of research on Japanese war criminals this past August.

In a big story that has not yet made it into the Anglophone press, the mayor of Nagoya, the sister city of Nanking, made statements questioning the number of people killed in the Nanking Massacre, reported here in Chinese.  China insists on 300,000, but the mayor, it appears, has a hard time accepting even 30,000 as a viable figure.  In fact, he appears to believe that Americans basically fabricated the Nanking Massacre as a pretext for justifying the atomic bombings of Japan.

This is a fairly explosive story!  But all that I can find on it in English thus far is an account of a corroborating dinner conversation between the mayor and an Italian NGO head in Japan last month:

Yesterday night we had dinner with the mayor of Nagoya. He’s a brilliant, funny, smart guy; truly a reformer with humour. We had a gorgeous dinner in a smart restaurant and sat down a tatami drinking hot sake. Everything looked perfect until we started talking about the Second World War. Naturally I initiated the argument that while everybody has seen the pics of the bombings in Germany, I’ve never seen anything about Japan except for the nuclear bombs launched in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

When you travel across the country you realize that not much has been left of historical Japan. Even the castles on the top of the mountains have been torn down. This is strange for such a society that is so respectful of the past and traditions. The country must have been heavily bombed. The Americans wanted to humiliate the people by destroying their tradition. This is plausible.

The problem came when we started talking about the evil Americans who made the Japanese look violent and wild by inventing stories such as the Nanking massacre (also known as the Nanjing Massacre). It was explained to me that many Japanese people argue that the event was not true but produced for American propaganda to justify the atomic bombs.

At that point I felt the cultural distance and didn’t know what to replicate. I must confess I don’t know much about Nanking but I compared the accusations with the denial of the German concentration camps. It might be wrong but that was the feeling. Fortunately, Stephen diverted the discussion on to the food. Wise Brit!  [Some video of the mayor on Japanese TV is available here.]

On the Nanking front, we have a debate between Huanqiu and what it describes as the “right-wing Japanese newspaper” 《产经新闻》 about its December 2008 front-page photo attempting to debunk the Japanese bombing of Shanghai in 1937.  And more intriguing, there is this story about a South Korean scholar who debates with Chinese netizens about Korean participation in the Nanking Massacre.  No comments are allowed by Xinhua on the latter story!

Fortunately, a patriotic overseas Chinese in the US, Lu Zhaoning (鲁照宁) has made available 70 unique photos of the Sino-Japanese war and the Nanking massacre.  War memory and pan-Chinese sentiment like this can be seen in a longer documentary from 1995 by Nanking television reporters on YouTube.  This is very significant stuff, as is the film “In the Name of the Emperor,” available here in Japanese subtitles.

And now we have some gloating that American masses are demanding that Japan apologize for the Nanking massacre as a condition of being considered a viable country for future Olympic Games.  Wouldn’t it have been nice if China had been forced to implement a big unit on Cultural Revolution history in all  of its high schools as a condition of hosting the 2008 Olympic Games?  Or would that make everyone want to barf?  Of course, killing your own professors is, we can all agree, an “internal affair” which is rather inevitable, and cyclical, and thus should and cannot stir the indignation of the Chinese people.

Facing history?  Or just ramming down into the same old ruts?  Something to keep an eye on.  What if Japan genuinely changed?  What if everyone bowed deeply, acknowledged China as the center of the world, and got on with their postwar lives?  Would Chinese netizens be capable of noticing?

Filippo Addaris image accompanying his entry on dinner with the Nagoya mayor

Filippo Addari's image accompanying his entry on dinner with the Nagoya mayor


In honor of the baseball playoffs in the United States, I thought I might just recommend a few hundred pages of reading for those intrepid souls for whom Monday means giant injections of prose.


China’s court system is settling accounts with a public trial of the instigators of the Guangdong brawl that sparked the prairie fire of riots in Xinjiang (New York Times).  It’s sure to be a stern judgment.  As they said in the 1930s Jiangxi Soviet, 先判后审 xian pan, hou shen (first the verdict, then the trial).  And however Confucian the “harmonious society” may endeavor to be, there is still that barbed thread of Legalism holding everything (and everyone) together.

Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei.org holds forth in the British press with an editorial I wish I could have written: “Comrade, why did you censor my website?” (Via the Guardian.)  This piece really crystallizes a lot of emotions I had this summer in China when I had to start a Sina.com blog to ask the same kind of question, writing out into the Chinese ether.  In a post entitled 自我批评 si wo pi ping [Self-Criticism], I screamed in rather poor grammar, hoping to get a response from a Great Firewall minder:

我真正博客的就在 https://adamcathcart.wordpress.com…不好的是,在国内形式,还是不会公开的。如果有负责干部正在读,请你们联系我(我也可以去您的办公室为谈)因为我不反对改写(反正是,我欢迎改写!)。  好的是,我不会痴查怎么没有用的艺术博客。 所以,如果您们知道我怎么可能干净即解放我 https://adamcathcart.wordpress.com 的博客(因为我的脑子已经很干),请告诉我,我要好好改改,为了中国人民的和谐,现代化,欢迎国际朋友的特色社会主义的社会国家。  那对不对?

But nothing happened.  Silence can be so onerous.

More happily, JustRecently dismantles the World Media Summit in Beijing, where Rupert Murdoch appeared alongside old Hu Jintao.  That made me think: Wouldn’t Lin Biao and Bill O’Reilley get along nicely?

And residents of Beijing are urged to get over to the French Cultural Center for a photography exhibit about Chinese hip-hop.

via AFP

via AFP

As for the big reading files, I have to recommend two very large pdf. reports on North Korean foreign policy and the Chinese-Korean border area.  The first is called “Flood Across the Border,” the other is about developing the Tumen River valley; via SAIS and the John Hopkins School.

More after my midnight coffee run!


Obama helps Japanese to learn English, and the stunningly productive Paul French (in Beijing) goes on a justified rant against “the parlous state of travel writing” today:

Is this the future of travel writing? Americans concerned about their own personal safety, tee-totalling their way around the world hating the fact that people still smoke and loudly proclaiming that, no, they did not just eyeball the tall blonde Russian girl who walked past and no, they don’t want to meet or party with anyone and would rather have a read back at camp on their own.

What a world! Pardon me while I retreat back into the 1930s in future posts if all I’m going to get now is overly serious writers concerned about seatbelts.

ROK Drop has a fascinating post on a proposed tunnel from Shandong to South Korea!  And NK Leadership Watch has another vigilant post on the Dear Leader’s peregrinations, accompanied this time (the Dear Leader, that is) by dudes in suits and ties.  Let it never be said that Wen Jiabao accomplished nothing!

And according to Radia Free Asia, North Korean leaders crave coffee.  I’m suprised it took this long, given Kim Jong Il’s penchant for all-nighters.  Get me a coffee, a pack of Paektu-sans, and some French dark chocolate, and I, too, might be inspired to edit my colleagues’ work in the best hours of the night.