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Cultural Power Battle Threads

From the May Fourth Generation to Today

– 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.[9] 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.[10] 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。[9]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。[10]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.

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/ 

China to U.S. Cities: Hoist the Tibetan Flag, Lose N.B.A. Broadcast Rights in China

American mayors, human rights activists, and N.B.A. fans take note: A recent decision by the Portland City Council to declare March 10 “Tibet Awareness Day” is making big waves in China, and may result in a boycott of Portland Trail Blazers broadcasts in the Middle Kingdom’s immense market.

The message is delivered in the form of the following short news item from China’s Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times), published today in Beijing.

Huanqiu Shibao, “American City of Portland Establishes ‘Tibet Awareness Day’; China May Stop Broadcasts of Its NBA Games,” [美波特兰为“藏独”设纪念日 中国或禁播其NBA球队比赛], March 12, 2010 [translation by Adam Cathcart]:

环球网消息,美国波特兰市日前不顾中国方面的强烈反对,将3月10日设立为所谓的“西藏自觉日”(Tibet Awareness Day)。12日,网友“阅思”在环球网报料台发帖称,因为这个原因,中国将全面停止转播波特兰开拓者队的所有比赛。 “环球网消息,美国波特兰市日前不顾中国方面的强烈反对,将3月10日设立为所谓的“西藏自觉日”(Tibet Awareness Day)。12日,网友“阅思”在环球网报料台发帖称,因为这个原因,中国将全面停止转播波特兰开拓者队的所有比赛。 市政委员莱昂纳多力挺亚当斯,并对外宣称这一切都是自己的功劳,“在同中国打交道时,就是不能放弃言论和宗教自由的原则”。中国驻旧金山总领馆派出7人代 表团前去交涉,要求撤销错误决定时,却遭到了拒绝。网友“阅思”爆料说,由于波特兰市的这个举动,根据CCTV解说员杨毅等在微博发布的消息源,中国大陆可能会因为此次事件将停止所有波特兰开拓者队的比赛 转播,包括季后赛在内。网友爆料称,杨毅在微博说,虽然“藏独”纪念日和开拓者没关系,“但从此之后,中国大陆地区再也没有开拓者的转播了。这没辙,谁让 你们政府胡来?CCTV主持人于嘉也在微博说,“波特兰市政厅举办’藏独纪念日’的活动!导致的结果是:这支城市仅有的NBA球队,尽管这活动和他们毫无 关系,尽管这活动不在波特兰玫瑰花园球馆举行。但是在中国,你再也不会看到有关他们的比赛。

Despite strong opposition from the Chinese side, the U.S. city of Portland decided to establish the so-called “Tibet Awareness Day” on March 10. In a post on the Huanqiu Shibao’s webpage on March 12, Netizen “Thoughtful Reader” stated that for this reason, China will institute a full cessation of all games played by the Portland Trail Blazers.

As the “Oregon Live” website reported on March 8th, last week Portland Mayor Sam Adams announced that March 10 would be established as “Tibet Awareness Day,” stating that this action would echo the “increasingly loud international voice demanding independence of Tibet from China.” City Council member [Randy] Leonard backed Adams but claimed the external credit for himself, stating that “in dealing with China we cannot abandon our principles of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.” The Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco sent a seven-member delegation to request that Portland withdraw its wrong decision, but they were rejected.

“Thoughtful Reader,” the Netizen who broke the story, said: Because Portland made this move and caused this incident, according to sources cited by CCTV commentator Yang Yi [杨毅]on his and other micro-blogs, China may as a result stop all broadcast of games by the Portland Trail Blazers, including the playoffs. In the Netizen’s newsbreak, it stated that Yang Yi said on his microblog that:

“Of course the ‘Tibet Independence Day’ has no connection to the Trail Blazers, but after this incident, there will also be no broadcast of Trail Blazers games on the soil of the Chinese mainland. This being an unsolvable problem, one has to ask [the city of Portland]: ‘Who let your government mess things up?’ “

Another microblog hosted by CCTV commentator Yu Jia said: “Portland City Hall organizes ‘Tibet Independence Day’ activities! The result is: although this city’s NBA team has no relationship to this activity, although the [pro-Tibet] event was not in held in Portland’s Rose Garden Arena, in China, you’ll never see their games. ”

Translator’s Analysis: Yang Yi, the CCTV commentator, has a microblog here on Sina.com, but in no way did he appear encourage a boycott of Trail Blazers games by CCTV. (It is possible that he did so in the comments section of his micro-post of March 11 [comments which cannot be accessed without a Sina.com.cn blog, which I have but which is being finnicky today]). So I’ll simply quote his original micr0-blog that started it all, here:

关于这件事儿,给大家一波特兰当地报纸的链接看看吧。http://sinaurl.cn/hlK00 我的立场是,不煽动,也不容忍。 [Which basically means, “Hey, check out this newspaper in Portland; my stance is ‘don’t provoke, but also don’t tolerate.’ As a result, the Willamette Weekly has a few Netizen comments in English which you can read at the link above.]

This little post then apparently started an avalanche. We now have the above story in the Global Times (meaning the threats are basically validated and being entertained by the Central Government), the associated rabble on the story’s comments page, as well as this extensive roundup of subsequent news stories (in Chinese) and this consideration on the HoopChina site (in Chinese) of extending the alleged boycott to Nike products.

No one seems to be paying attention in Portland, but this whole thing already appears to be blowing up, big time.

Portland TrailBlazers dancers with Chinese fans during a cross-straits and so totally hexie tour of the PRC (and Taiwan) in August 2009

Yi Jianlian dunksagainst the Portland Trail Blazers in some Pudong-style stadium in New Jersey, Feb. 23, 2010

Further Reading:

Huanqiu’s March 12 beat-down of Paris Mayor Bernhard Delanoe for flying the Tibetan flag over Paris’ Hotel de Ville in spite of opposition from the French national government (Quai d’Orsay and Elysee); Netizen BBS comments on the story here [click only if emergency doses of anti-French sentiments are needed]

A Feb 20 2010 story on Li Ning’s new store in Portland, its first in the United States and hope to God it does not become the target of reprisal demonstrations of latent American economic nationalism by Sarah Palin’s minions, Mitt Romney clones, or Oregon’s teeming hordes of organic farmers led by the new American incarnation of Jose Bove.

Adam Cathcart, “Portland, Tibet, and ‘Meddling in Internal Affairs,” Sinologistical Violoncellist blog [h/t Danwei.org], March 10, 2010.

LeBron James in Shenyang; Beijing

Cleveland is a great American city, and its best-known ambassador is in Asia.  Cleveland Cavaliers superstar forward LeBron James is in China on a tour promoting Nike shoes.  He met with students of migrant workers who have a special school outside of Beijing which Nike apparently supplies.

LeBron with migrant student in Chaoyang district, Beijing

LeBron with migrant student in Chaoyang district, Beijing

In 2006, boarding a plane in Cleveland-Hopkins Airport bound for Beijing, I met LeBron’s then-teammate Damon Jones, who was the first American basketball player to promote shoes in China (for the Chinese brand Li-Ning, no less). It is quite interesting that everything we discussed that day as being pie-in-the-sky (NBA games in China, tours by LeBron to China) has now come to pass.

LeBron also spent time in Shenyang, where he was presented with a locally-designed variant on his shoe, which the artist called “Loyalty.”

LeBron with Chinese shoe designer in Shenyang, Liaoning province

LeBron with Chinese shoe designer in Shenyang, Liaoning province

According to the press release:

At a presentation that took place during Nike’s grassroots activities in Shenyang, Ray Lei gave James a uniquely designed pair of Air Max LeBron VII shoes. Lei used Chinese warrior images on the shoe to symbolize loyalty and bravery. He also represented LeBron’s loyalty by using symbols personal to him: “Irish” and the green color represent loyalty to his high school team, St Vincent St. Mary; “23″ stands for his loyalty to his team; and “330″ (his hometown area code) signifies loyalty to Akron, Ohio, where he grew up. In order to connect the shoe back to Shenyang, cloud and water elements were used in the design, as they frequently were on the uniforms of the Qing dynasty. The rose is Shenyang’s city flower. Additionally fog patterns were infused into the design, a reference to Chinese fairy tales in which troops would appear from fog before battle – similar to LeBron’s signature chalk dust before each game. Ray Lei is a 22-year-old graduate of the Academy of Arts & Design, Tsinghua University, and is currently taking masters classes with Professor Wu Guanying, the father of animation in China. His talents encompass a range of mediums, including cartoon, graphic design, illustration, short comic, graffiti and Hip-Hop music.

And Shenyang, like Cleveland in the 1990s, is coming up.  More direct flights, more foreign investment, more destruction of Manchukuo-era architecture, more North Koreans with money, more South Koreans with even more money, etc.  LeBron’s presence there is further proof.  More in subsequent posts on China-Ohio connections.

Beijing Suburb (photo by Adam Cathcart)

Beijing Suburb (photo by Adam Cathcart)

Hoop Dreams by the North Korean border, Jilin province (photo by Adam Cathcart)

Hoop Dreams by the North Korean border, Jilin province (photo by Adam Cathcart)