To see a note from the editor, click here.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Continued Hiatus

Sino-Gist will be on a break for another week or so due to editorial commitments.

Monday, 1 November 2010

184 Days of the Shanghai Expo

Sunday saw the closure of the Shanghai World Expo, an event that the People's Daily has hailed as a "magnificent gathering of human civilizations".  Certainly, the figures speak for themselves.  The 6-month run has seen over 70 million people (many of them ordinary Chinese) visit the international showcasing event, with over 200 countries and organisations exhibiting on the site.

Since Shanghai first got the go-ahead to host the 2010 World Expo the subject has been given huge coverage and attention within China.  The face of the infamous Haibao can be seen on pictures, souvenirs and trinkets, symbolic of the desire of the Chinese authorities to ingrain the importance of the Expo in popular imagination.  In much the same way as the Beijing Olympics came to be viewed as representative of China's new role in the 21st century world, the goings on in Shanghai are a continuance of the same theme.  More than usual, this year's Expo was all about image and soft power, with China able to establish itself (temporarily at least) as a focus for international exchange.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Sino-Gist will be on a hiatus for the next few days.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Best of the Blogroll 21/10/2010

Two links for this week:

You Can’t Make an Omelette with Only One Egg
: At the China Beat, Vignesh Pillai reviews Denise Chong's 'Egg on Mao'

A Conversation with Edgar Snow: Mark's China Blog covers the chance to meet the best-selling author.

The Legacy of 1911

As Xinhua reported yesterday, the Standing Committee of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) has agreed plans for the commemoration of the 1911 Revolution next year. The event, 99 years ago, saw the overthrowing of the last emperor of China to bring the Qing Dynasty to a close. The end of imperial authority also saw the end to (in Xinhua's words) “thousands of years of Chinese feudalism.” The credit for instigating the revolution is given to Dr Sun Yat-sen (later founder of the Nationalist Kuomintang party), although some historians have tended to ascribe 1911 to a more general desire for change in China.

It was never really in doubt that the People's Republic would look to mark the 100th anniversary of such a key point in China's modern history. Although the Chinese Communist Party only came into being a decade later, Chinese communist history sees the spirit of 1911 as being the start of the political and social change that it would then carry through to 1949. The CCP is thus extremely keen to align itself with the name and persona of Dr Sun, as doing so gives the government today increased credibility. It becomes harder and harder for the CCP to identify itself with China's revolutionary past, making key anniversaries like this one chances that cannot be passed over.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

An Unwelcome Contribution?

Recently, English-language Chinese state media sources have been airing some quite outspoken views on China's place in the world and Liu Xiaobo's Nobel peace prizee. The latest addition to this trend comes in the form of a comment piece written by People's Daily Online writer Li Hong. The central purpose of Li's argument is a refutation of the view that sees China as an irresponsible superpower, still too “trigger-happy”. These latter ideas formed part of a recent column in the New York Times by Professor Paul Krugman (a Nobel prize winner himself), in which he was critical of China's decision to block exports of rare earth deposits to Japan during the Diaoyu Islands controversy.

The tone of Li Hong's writing shows that both he (and by logical extension aspects of the Chinese government) have taken grave exception to Krugman's reading of China's attitudes to world diplomacy, saying that they went “too far”. Of course, both have the right to air their views. However, one cannot help but think that such intense criticism of China at a crucial point in international relations will not help (from the tenets of Krugman's point of view) bring the People's Republic into the fold of responsible players on the world stage.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

More Than One Distortion

Chinese ardour over Liu Xiaobo's Nobel peace prize continues, with the China Daily website today airing the view that the award is 'politically distorted' (to read the full editorial, click here). Almost as soon as the Nobel committee had made its decision, China claimed that it had not acted in the spirit of Alfred Nobel's original reason for creating the prize.

Effectively, today's China Daily piece is a reiteration of these points, though they are written with more of a sense of a rational case rather than simply appearing as a knee-jerk reaction to the recent international praise for Liu's achievements. According to the state newspaper, Nobel conceived the peace prize to mark the effort of those working for world peace, through the convening of conferences and a constant striving for international and domestic friendship. As the article goes on to allege, today's Nobel committee (composed of members of Norway's parliament) has replaced this criteria with its own politicised agenda, making the award merely a “tool of some Western politicians” to further their own agenda.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait...

The identity of the Chinese politician who will succeed Hu Jintao in the top job of Chinese politics is not as clear cut as previous successions have been. Hu is due to step down in 2013, and there are several contenders for his 'throne'. However, many analysts have been putting their money on Vice-President Xi Jinping to be the future leader of the People's Republic.

At the close of the Central Committee's Fifth plenary session, Xi's odds dramatically improved. The fact that he was not elevated to the Central Military Commission (CMC) at the last plenary session was came as bit of a surprise to those who were predicting his rise to power in Beijing. However, to much expectation, this month's proceedings have seen Xi appointed as Vice-Chairman of the CMC, a sure sign that the Vice-President is on the way up. In much the same way as North Korea's Kim Jong-un was recently given senior military and political positions to signal his new status as Kim Jong-il's heir apparent, so Xi Jinping has been given more authority to prepare for a handover of power.

This does not mean that he will definitely be the man to succeed Hu in three years time. The composition of the future leadership is still uncertain, although it is likely that Xi will have a major role in it. But, there seems no other candidate now as well positioned to push for China's highest political office (General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party), especially as Xi also has a positive public image in China.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Best of the Blogroll: 17/10/2010

Sino-Gist's top posts from other blogs for this week:

The Gao Brothers' Artwork in Kansas City: Mark's China Blog features a look at a fascinating exhbition.

China’s Communist Party: Two Glimpses Inside: The China Beat compares two very different books on today's CCP.

The Unbearable Lightness of Nobel Prize Jokes: Xujun Eberlein looks at the lighter side of the Nobel peace prize controvery.

China’s Communist Party Prepares for a Showdown
: Over at China Real Time Report, Russell Leigh Moses predicts a political 'showdown'.

Friday, 15 October 2010

The People's Daily: "Gradual political reform good for China"

Amongst China watchers, all eyes are on the annual plenum of the Chinese Communist Party that has just begun in Beijing. When a couple of months ago some would have dismissed it as a more routine affair designed to continue the transition of power to the next leadership generation, things are now different. Liu Xiaobo's Nobel peace prize has driven discussion of political reform right to the top of the political agenda, both in China and internationally. Many are watching the moves of Wen Jiabao, a known enthusiast for some level of change, to see if and how he will push the cause further. Over at the Wall Street Journal's China Real Time Report, Russell Leigh Moses has even suggested that the plenum will witness a “showdown” within the Party.

Today's Global Times features a stand-out editorial that is eye-catching for its content. Entitled “China has to pursue gradual political reform”, the piece not only features a reference to Liu Xiaobo that is free from the standard criticism of his activities, but also argues that China must proceed at its own pace while learning from the Western democratic experience.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Pressure Builds

With relations between Beijing and Tokyo at their worst for quite some time, one would have thought that Japan would be looking to keep a low profile in the case of this year's Nobel peace prize winner. China's decision to lay blame for the giving of the award to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo at Norway's door has added an international relations dynamic to what is an independently judged honour. As the BBC has reported, Naoto Kan (the Japanese Prime Minister) supposedly told a parliamentary committee in Japan that he welcomed the Nobel committee's decision to recognise Liu's commitment to political reform. He also went on to describe the dissident's release as 'desirable'.

While no formal request for Liu Xiaobo to be freed has emanated from Tokyo, Kan's comments will not be welcomed by the Chinese. Making a comment about Liu's case in a legislature is almost akin to a diplomatic appeal for the same, especially as the Japanese Prime Minister must have known that his words would be picked out and transmitted by the world's media. Of course, Japan is not the only country to have expressed unhappiness with the Nobel winner's detention, with the United States and the European Union urging Beijing to release him.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

An Alternative Take

Today's edition of People's Daily Online features an interesting piece entitled 'West risks its own downfall with arrogance.' Rather than being an editorial, the article is a comment by Professor Zhang Weiwei, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Asian Studies, Geneva (linked to the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations). According to Zhang, the recent decision to award dissident Liu Xiaobo the Noble peace prize is another example of “western prejudice against China”. This is based on a fear of the rise of China- a phenomena which the author sees as an inevitability.

Certainly, Liu Xiaobo's has drawn strong criticism from various quarters in China, but Zhang Weiwei's strongly-worded condemnation of the award particularly stands out as representative of the differing opinions surrounding the actions of democratic reform campaigners like Liu. Here, in this People's Daily piece, we have a notable academic defending his government's policy and simultaneously attacking Western attitudes, with arguments that some his international colleagues would dispute. Clearly, it would be foolish to ever assume that intellectual support for the Chinese government is only found within the People's Republic itself.

Zhang also urges the West to question “its own assumptions about economic and political modernity”. This is an interesting point. Democratic government is naturally enough set up by the liberal democracies as the ideal political system, yet many forget that the Western value judgement on this form of government is not universally shared across the world. This is not to argue that the Chinese political system is superior to those of Great Britain or America, but the fact that Liu Xiaobo and others have their opponents as well as their supporters in China means that Chinese progress with political reform will have a different dynamic to past developments in other countries.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Words of Encouragement?

The recent controversy with Japan over the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea caused a serious breakdown in Sino-Japanese relations, with the disagreement impacting at the most senior level of bilateral relations. However, after a couple of weeks since the affair was resolved, China has signalled a new desire to reach out to its neighbour again. Today, as Xinhua reports, Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie had a conversation with his Japanese opposite number at the 1st ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus conference in Hanoi. Liang apparently stated the need for Japan to properly handle relations between Beijing and Tokyo, especially on sensitive issues. This was expressed in the hope of repairing the damage caused by the Diaoyu Islands incident.

Of course, China was always going to place the ball in Japan's court with regards to strengthening bilateral relations again. To do anything else would be to admit some share in the blame for the recent trouble- such sentiments will never be forthcoming from the Chinese government. Liang's comments today are nothing more to test the water, in the hope of finding out Japan's attitudes to the same problem. There is going to need to be extensive work by both sides in order to heal the divide between the two- a process that will take years rather than months. However, today's news is at least a sign that the PRC is thinking about making a step in the direction of reconciliation, even if its tone is still very cold. Why this is the case is not totally clear, but the situation can be read as China attempting to repair the damage to its international image. Extending a very partly open hand to Tokyo makes the PRC look fairer and less like its being obstinate for the sake of it. Whether Japan will reach out or shy away remains to be seen.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Best of the Blogroll: 10/10/2010

Sino-gist's top posts from other China blogs this week:

Liu Xiaobo Wins Nobel Peace Prize: Early Reactions on Twitter: ChinaGeeks examines responses to the news about Liu Xiaobo's peace prize.

Amid Finger Pointing, Tianjin Climate Meeting Makes Scant Progress: The China Bystander comments on the Tianjin climate talks.

Was Liu Xiaobo the right choice for the Nobel Peace Prize?: The Peking Duck considers an alternative take on this week's big news.

Cultural Differences: Living In China Vs. Living In The US: CNReviews reposts a comparison.

Look out for more 'The Best of the Blogroll' next week.

A Unique View On a Unique State

Yesterday's post on Sino-Gist covered the preparations and celebrations being made for North Korea's (DPRK) 65th anniversary. The milestone has come at a time of intense political manoeuvring in the country, as Kim Jong-il attempts to gain backing for his son (Kim Jong-un) to takeover as leader when he dies. The North Korean leader had previously taken a visit to China in an attempt to secure Chinese backing for his succession plans.

For the first time in its history, the DPRK has allowed in foreign television crews to film the 65th anniversary celebration parade held in Pyongyang today. The BBC was able to broadcast pictures of military formations and the Worker's Party of Korea's (WPK) leadership- footage which is available on the BBC website. The remarkable pictures are certainly worth a look, if only because they present an extremely rare window into a very secretive state.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

All-Important Chinese Backing

China has been engaging in diplomatic pleasantries with North Korea (DPRK) this week in anticipation of the 65th anniversary of the latter, which falls tomorrow. There is currently a PRC delegation in Pyongyang (being headed up by Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang), and the DPRK's embassy in Beijing has been hosting receptions to commemorate the event.

These various exchanges come within the context of the recent leadership changes in the Worker's Party of Korea, which have seen Kim Jong-un (one of Kim Jong-il's sons) promoted to senior party and military positions. The senior Kim had previously made a trip to China with the intention (it is widely speculated) of securing the CCP's backing for his 'keep it in the family' succession plan, in the face of likely opposition to Kim Jong-un from some of North Korea's generals when the handover is implemented.

Friday, 8 October 2010

A Controversial Decision

Today saw the Nobel Prize committee announce that Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has been awarded this year's peace prize. According to the Guardian Newspaper's website, the awarding body praised Liu for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” Currently, the campaigner is serving an 11 year term in a Chinese prison for his role in the authorship of Charter 08, the controversial call for increased democracy in the People's Republic. As the Guardian suggests, it is unlikely that Liu even knows that he has been awarded such a prestigious honour- visitors to his cell are restricted in what they can discuss, though the information may will filter through in due course.

China had previously warned the Nobel committee not to follow up on expectation that Liu would receive this year's peace prize, arguing that his example did not accord with the aims of the award. As analysts are predicting, Beijing's reaction to its 'advice' being ignored will be one of anger. The Chinese government has long been sensitive to other nations interfering with its political affairs, one of the main factors that makes foreign involvement in the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland so delicate. Despite the fact that the Nobel body is independent, China is bound to construe the commendation of a pro-reform activist as an attempt by the international community to undermine the position of the Chinese Communist Party and the structure of Chinese domestic politics.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Applying the Pressure

China's alleged over-valuation of the RMB is continuing to hit the headlines, with Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday urging European Union officials not to back America's calls for further economic appreciation for the Yuan. According to the BBC, EU finance ministers had already added their voice to the US' concerns before Wen made his speech. It seems that the Premier's fears over a 'chorus' of economic pressure on China (expressed in Xinhua's coverage of the issue) have already begun to be realised.

In his address, Wen was keen to stress the lack of a link between the value of China's currency and the its huge trade surpluses- the problem around which the entire debate centres. America contends that a cheap Yuan is artificially enhancing the business interests of Chinese exporters, at a cost to the job sectors and economies of other nations. 'Not so' says the Premier, who pointed out that previous exchange rate reforms in the PRC have not solved the problem of growing trade surpluses. He also denied that the Chinese government is using its currency as a 'policy weapon', by which it can exert pressure on a more general supranational level. Finally, Wen even went as far as to lay the blame for recent fluctuations in the value of the Euro at the door of the US Dollar, arguing that reform would also harm China's economic interests and (by a ripple effect) those of countries across the world. One only has to look to the recent global recession to see the damage instability in a particular nation's finances can inflict worldwide.

The Premier's arguments are unlikely to deter the European Union from pushing for Beijing to speed up the process of reform. As the world economic landscape changes, huge trade deficits with the PRC will become a less and less desirable state of affairs for nations to be in. The Yuan is set up to eventually become a major world reserve currency, and a global economy based on an overvalued currency would be extremely dangerous. It may be a disadvantage to attempt to burst the Chinese bubble in the short-term. However, the EU countries (like their neighbours) have little choice but to do just that.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

"With you in charge, i'm at ease"

In 1977, following the death of Mao Zedong, Beijing played host to China's first National Art Exhibition. According to the website Sinophilia, Chinese Literature (an official Chinese state literary journal) summed up the paintings by stating that “pride of place was given in this exhibition to the splendid achievements of our great leader Chairman Mao, our esteemed and beloved Premier Chou [Zhou Enlai]... as well as to Chairman Hua's [Hua Guofeng] revolutionary record...” Furthermore, the owners of Sinophilia have also uploaded images of the pictures featured alongside the text in the journal.

One of these is particularly striking. Follow this link and you will see at the bottom of the page a picture entitled 'With you in charge, i'm at ease'. This is a well known phrase in Chinese political history. As part of an effort to strengthen his claims to be the leader of the Party in the post-Mao era, Hua Guofeng claimed that the Chairman had written this message (in Pinyin: ni ban shi, wo fang xin) to him during a private meeting held a short time before he died. While Hua's opponents contested the validity of the story altogether or argued that Mao was referring to a a specific aspect of the government rather than to the whole thing, he attempted to portray the moment as Mao's symbolic handing over of power. To this end, Hua's regime commissioned (amongst other pieces of propaganda) this idealised depiction of Mao's faith in his successor. The Chairman is shown upright and attentive, and with his hand firmly on Hua's- quite literally a revolutionary 'laying on of hands'. Of course, there is little chance that the meeting transpired anything like this. In his waning years, Mao's movements were severely restricted, hence Hua's contention that he only just had the strength to write down those all important characters.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The 'Young Man'

In addition to its usual selection of stories on Chinese affairs, today Xinhua also published online an editorial-style reflection on China's rapid path of development, with particular focus on foreign perceptions of the People's Republic. Entitled “China: a developing nation with growing pains”, the piece commented that China is “still in its adolescence, developing rapidly and full of the vigor of a young man”. As Xinhua pointed out, compared to its industrialised contemporaries, the PRC is in good economic shape, recording growth of 9.1% last year in the face of the global recession. GDP in the same year stood at 34 trillion Yuan, a staggering figure when compared to 365 billion Yuan , being the figure for 1978.

The article also picked up on the questionable nature of China's status vis a vis the issue of whether it is still a 'developing' nation. There is some worldwide concern (both popular and political) over the shape the China of the future could take, especially if its economy continues to grow at a similar astonishing rate for the near future. According to analysts interviewed by the news agency, China should be be looking to expand its efforts to introduce the world to aspects of Chinese attitudes and culture (as its Confucian Institute scheme is aimed to do). In addition, the PRC needs to act on criticism levelled at it by those without “purposely harmful intentions”, to avoid becoming complacent over its seemingly prosperous future.

For Xinhua to publish such clear sentiments is unusual. While the subject of China's attitudes to its own development and foreign perceptions of the same has been tackled before, today's piece is perhaps reflective of a realisation in Beijing that the PRC needs to do more to slot itself into the international community. The Diaoyu Islands controversy with Japan has had a definite adverse effect on China's standing on the world stage, and this desire to alter foreign attitudes towards the Middle Kingdom can be seen as an attempt to overcome the recent setbacks.

Monday, 4 October 2010

The On/Off System

The matter of China's very complicated holiday schedule has been subject to much comment online recently, with the Peking Duck describing the whole system as a “complicated mess”. Essentially, it is being summed up as: one day off, three days on, three days off, six days on, seven days off, two days on, one day off. The weird layout of working and vacation days stems from the one week workers have off as part of the National Day celebrations, although they are required to work additional days in the preceding and succeeding weeks to make up for this (only three days are official holidays).

According to Chinese law, those who work during the holiday week (1st-7th October) are entitled to receive triple-time for statutory holidays, and double-time if they are working at the weekend. Recently, as reported by the China Daily, Beijing News conducted an online survey which found that over half of respondents had been required to work during the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holiday period, but the majority had not yet received the overtime pay they are entitled too. The poll also revealed that most people work on one or two holiday days, but some industries (for example transportation and catering) see their employees having much less time off.

It seems that many employers are not meeting the state's requirements on overtime pay as they should be. Some Chinese analysts put this fact down to a lack of harsh penalties for those who underpay their workers, and also highlighted the reluctance amongst individuals to resort to legal mechanisms to force the issue. The same Beijing News survey found that only a small percentage of those polled take the issue of overtime up with their managers, preferring instead to “slack off at work” in order to make a point.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Best of the Blogroll: 3/10/2010

There are many great China-related blogs on the internet, and a glance at the 'Other Blogs on China' section in the right-hand column reveals some of Sino-Gist's favourite regularly updated sites. In the form of a weekly 'The Best of the Blogroll' section, we bring you a selection of what some other people have been posting this week:

That's all for this week. Look out for more 'The Best of the Blogroll' on forthcoming Sundays, and suggestions of blogs worth a look are always welcome.

A Double-Edged Sword

On Sunday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was in Greece for a second day as part of an 8-day tour that sees him paying visits to four nations, having already attended an EU-China summit. No doubt, economics was the principle item on the agenda when Wen met Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou- Greece has been in severe financial difficulty in the last year as part of the global recession, to the extent that it has been forced to borrow from Eurozone governments as a temporary bridge to recovery.

Following the Chinese political habit of breaking every policy statement down into a number of distinct features, Xinhua reported today that the Premier has proposed a 'Five Point Plan' in relation to bilateral relations between Greece and the People's Republic. These include:

  • China's setting up of a special fund (which will eventually total 5 billion US dollars) to promote “cooperation in maritime transportation”.
  • PRC assistance in making the Greek port of Piraeus a centre for the distribution of Chinese goods to Europe.
  • An increase in Chinese imports from Greece, to double trade in the next five years (in the hope of reaching a target of 8 billion US dollars).
  • China's encouragement to its businesses to invest in Greece's economy.
  • Cultural exchanges between the two nations, as well as co-operation in international organisations.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Review: 'Revolution and the People in Russia and China' by S.A. Smith

Throughout the narrative of the 20th century, the histories of Russia and China are intertwined. Bolshevik support (both ideological and financial) was crucial in getting revolutionary movements in the Middle Kingdom up and running, and the USSR played no small part in bringing the Chinese Communist Party to power in 1949. Since that point, the People's Republic has gone through phases of co-operation and division with its Communist neighbour, and in the future it looks likely that Russia will now come to depend more and more on the PRC, rather than the other way around.

With the above in mind, the decision by Steve Smith in 2008 to publish a study comparing the origins of the Communist revolutions in both nations was a decidedly logical one. In his 'Revolution and the People in Russia and China', Smith analyses particular aspects of the respective movements, including (amongst other things) their relationship to city workers and their affect on traditional gender identities. Taking into account recent scholarship, he poses a challenge to previous conclusions. An excellent example of this is Smith's discussion concerning the extent to which the CCP's ultimate success in China was dependent on its work with the peasantry. While not denying that the Party benefited from the links it forged with the countryside, he is also at pains to stress the role of workers in places like Shanghai in bringing the Communists to power. Those who subscribe to the notion that the Chinese Revolution was essentially a peasant-based rebellion are urged to reconsider their view.

China's National Day: Coverage

CCTV 1's coverage of the ceremony held in Tiananmen Square to mark China's National Day has already been uploaded onto Youtube by user sasalove2a2.  Both videos are embedded below:

There is a notable contrast with last year's 60th anniversary parade, with the ceremony being decidedly somber.  This is not surprising- as Sino-Gist mentioned yesterday, the activities in Beijing were focused on remembering those commemorated in the Monument to the People's Heroes.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Review: 'The Dragon and the Snake' by M.A. Gates and E.B. Geelhoed

From 1974 for five years, American diplomatic interests in China were represented by the United States Liaison Office (USLO). Established after Nixon's famous visit to the People's Republic in 1972 and the 'Shanghai Communiqué' that resulted from it, the USLO prepared the way in Beijing for the normalisation of Sino-American relations in 1979-1979. Between May 1976 and April 1977, the Chief of the USLO was Thomas Sovereign Gates Jr., best known for his tenure as Secretary for Defence under President Eisenhower. 'The Dragon and the Snake' is an account of Gates' time as USLO Chief, written from the perspective of his wife, who was with him throughout his time in Beijing.

May 1976 to April 1977 was, as the book jacket suggests, a time of much “turmoil” in the PRC. The death of Premier Zhou Enlai in the preceding February and the decline of Chairman Mao Zedong throughout 1976 sparked off an intense period of factional struggle, with radical and moderate elements in the Chinese Communist Party vying to to position themselves to take over on Mao's death. The Chairman's passing in the early days of September led to a month of political conflict between supporters of Hua Guofeng, the extreme Maoists (led by the 'Gang of Four') and those allied to Deng Xiaoping and other long-time revolutionaries. This eventually resulted in the Gang's arrest on October 6th 1976, sparking off a six-month period that would see Deng rehabilitation and the beginnings of his rise to prominence.

61 Years of the People's Republic of China

On October 1st 1949, Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People's Republic of China from atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Beijing. The event marked the culmination of the CCP's long struggle against the Nationalist Kuomintang (led by Chiang Kai-shek) and the Imperial Japanese Army, which had occupied vast swathes of Chinese territory in the years preceding its defeat in the Second World War. Since that point, the CCP's brand of Marxism has changed significantly, with the Party currently favouring increased interaction with Western 'capitalist' ideals at the expense of Maoist doctrines. China's reform process has in many ways been remarkable, although the current leadership is as committed to the notion of the Party's superiority as its predecessors were. Economic reform is coming on leaps and bounds- the same cannot be said for political reform.

Today thus marks the 61st anniversary of the PRC's inception- a fact that a visitor to China would have found it practically impossible to miss. Although budgetary pressure means that major ceremonies are now only held every five years (the next one due in four years time for the 65th birthday), the Tiananmen area was nonetheless witness to a lavish spectacle. The celebration activities revolving around the paying of respects to those who (in the words of Xinhua) “sacrificed their lives to build the nation”, with the top leadership laying flowers by the Monument to the People's Heroes. As Xinhua pointed out, October 1st provides China with a chance to remember its past as well as look to its future. The CCP's political legitimacy is founded on its past struggles, and an opportunity to look back makes the Party of Hu Jintao relevant to the Party of Mao Zedong in 1949.

 The Monument to the People's Heroes, Tiananmen Square

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Military Maneuvers

With the world economy forecasted to be more and more dependent on the dynamic between the United States and China in the future, it is in nearly everyone's interests to see Sino-Japanese relations on a long-term stable footing. Recent months have seen renewed tensions between Washington and Beijing over the People's Republic's valuations of the RMB, with the US Congress currently considering a bill to allow for economic sanctions against countries that undervalue their currencies. In addition, last month, relations were soured by the publication of a Pentagon report expressing concern over China's military capabilities and intentions. Unsurprisingly considering its efforts to cultivate an image of the PRC as a responsible political player on the international stage, Beijing was quick to denounce America's findings. This led to a startling counter-accusation by some Chinese academics that the US was over-exaggerating the Chinese threat to provide an excuse for enhancing its own military and cyber technologies.

In the last few weeks, Washington will have been eyeing the deterioration of China's relations with Japan with some concern, especially as it has close links with Tokyo (it is not unknown for the Chinese to jump the gun with respect to American loyalties and support). The fallout in Asia over the Diaoyu Islands affair will impact on the worldwide economic and diplomatic scene, and much of this is yet to be seen.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Standing Firm

A post on this blog from the 23rd August looked at proposed changes to China's criminal law, whereby the National People's Congress is considering removing several economic crimes from the list of those punishable by death. These include some types of financial fraud, and the smuggling of gold and precious relics. As this blog noted, the number of people executed on these counts makes up a small percentage of the total each year, so the numeric effect of this amendment will not be substantial.

It seems though that some Chinese citizens have started to worry over the long-term implications should the changes be ratified. Corrupt officials are often punished with capital sentences (usually commuted to life imprisonment after two years), as part of the Chinese government's efforts to demonstrate its support for healthy, fair government. However, according to Xinhua, the amendment has drawn criticism from those who believe that it will result in an increase in levels of corruption, and that it could be used as a means for officials to escape severe punishment for their crimes.

Thus, Chen Sixi (member of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee and Vice-Chairman of the NPC's Committee for Internal and Judicial Affairs) was online on Tuesday defending the change in the law and reaffirming the state's commitment to fighting corruption with capital sentences. Amongst other things, Chen was keen to stress that the amendment does not change the status quo vis a vis sanctions for dodgy officials, only that less severe crimes will no longer warrant the death penalty.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Update: Kim Jong-un's Rise Continues

Within the last hour, the BBC has reported that Kim Jong-un's rise to prominence in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is now completed.  As part of the proceedings of the Worker's Party of Korea's (WPK) ongoing conference, the son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was today officially appointed as the Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, as well as being elevated to the Party's Central Committee.

Yesterday, Kim Jong-il made conferred on his son the rank of 4 star general, despite the latter's lack of military experience.  This move has been interpreted as the Supreme Leader setting up Kim Jong-un as his successor, in an attempt to compensate for his lack of experience in North Korean political life.  As Sino-Gist commented earlier today, other military figures in the DPRK may have differing ideas over who should lead the country post- Kim Jong-il.  Despite this latest news, the succession issue is far from settled.

Back to Bases

Xinhua today featured comments by Chinese Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu calling for increased social and economic development for China's old revolutionary base areas.  Made in the context of a letter to the China Association for the Promotion of the Construction of Old Revolutionary Bases (which has just convened its fifth meeting), Hui's remarks are telling in demonstrating two rather interesting elements of the Chinese Revolution.

Firstly, the need to invest specifically in locations of historical value to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) reflects the extent to which it relies on the appeal of revolutionary icons to bolster its political legitimacy and image.  State media articles and editorials routinely mention the likes of Sun Yat-sen, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, specifically with the intention of reminding readers of the current leadership's connection to these iconic individuals.  In the same vein, identification with the holy sites of Chinese Communism (for example Yan'an) bridges the divide between the pre-1949 revolutionary CCP and the modern, established ruling party.

Putting the Wheels in Motion

Last week, Sino-Gist covered the wide speculation amongst the world's media that Kim Jong-il may have been trying to manoeuvre his youngest son (Kim Jong-un) into a more prominent position in the Worker's Party of Korea (WPK). Many picked out the decision by the WPK to hold a rare conference as symbolic of the North Korean leader's mind turning more and more to the issue of who will succeed him.

As numerous newspapers and websites are reporting, on Monday Kim Jong-un was made a four-star general in the Korean army by his father, a sign it seems that the latter has settled on his youngest son as the man who will lead the DPRK once he is gone.

Yesterday's move came as part of an order issued by the DPRK's leader emphasising the importance of the military in North Korea's history. Featured on the website of the Korean Central News Agency (see the article “Kim Jong Il Issues Order on Promoting Military Ranks”), the directive highlighted the role of the army as “devotedly defending the headquarters of the revolution with arms”. Clearly, to compensate for Kim Jong-un's lack of military experience and relative youth, Kim Jong-il is keen to drive the importance of his son's promotion (and the new respect he should be given) home.

Monday, 27 September 2010

A Way With Words

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) misses few opportunities to make its feelings known about Japan.  As with China, Japan invaded Korea at the turn of the century and annexed part of the Peninsula- a fact that sits bitter with North Korea's WPK.  Yet, even considering this historical legacy, an article released on the website of the Korean Central News Agency yesterday (entitled Japan's Shameless Bid to Sit on UNSC Denounced") contained statements of a tone rarely seen in any country's media these days.  Commenting on Japan's continued attempts to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, the KCNA  accused Japan's former foreign minister of using "sugar-coated words" in an effort to gain support for Japan's bid in the Caribbean.  In addition, the article also contained several extracts from Korean newspaper Minju Joson, which yesterday carried a feature on the same story.  According to the piece, Japan "has not yet shaken off the disgraceful fame of an enemy state."  The paper goes on to label Japan as the "chief culprit upsetting the strategic balance in Northeast Asia and threatening peace", and even claimed that "it is as clear as noonday that Japan will more openly rush headlong into overseas expansion if it is allowed to sit on the UNSC."  Even on the website of the KCNA, comments of such an inflammatory nature stand out like a sore thumb.

The reason for their inclusion is clear- spurred on by Japan's recent decision to release the Chinese captain it was holding, the DPRK is looking to exploit Tokyo's weakness to the full.  Chinese state media is limited in how strongly worded its criticism of Japan can be- thus, Pyongyang has evidently stepped in to take up the slack, in attempt to harm the Japanese position as much as possible.  While this article represents an extreme case, it is also representative of the harm the Diaoyu affair may have done to Japan's international image.  Certainly, its bid for more importance in the United Nations set up will not have been done any favours by the incident.  There is the added problem that even if the UN were to elevate Japan to permanent status, countries like the DPRK would only be alienated further from channels of international diplomacy.  In this sense, the long-term effect of the collision in the East China Sea may be great indeed.

Planning Ahead

While Chinese economic policy contains a degree of flexibility, the overall direction of its development is planned out via a system of 'Five-Year Plans'. This method, which have been in use since the Communist Party came to power in 1949, determines the economic aims and objectives of the government in a particular half-decade period, and sets out how these will be achieved. The PRC is currently in its 11th Five-Year Plan (FYP), with the twelfth due to start in 2011.

The current FYP has seen Hu Jintao's leadership team continue to oversee China's transition to a modern world superpower in line with Hu's own approach of 'scientific development'.  Deng Xiaoping's 'opening up' principle is still very much in favour in Beijing. Only a couple of weeks ago, Chinese Vice-Premier Xi Jinping was emphasising the need for further foreign investment in the PRC to facilitate increased economic growth. This will allow for more development for China's Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and other designated economic targets.

The next FYP will have an additional dynamic, in that it straddles a major leadership change that is due to occur in 2013. Thus, both current top officials and likely future leaders of the Communist Party will be seeking to have an input into the 12th FYP. At the moment, it does not seem that these interests are too far apart. Xi is tipped by many to be the probable successor to Hu Jintao, and the formers recent speeches and economic announcements demonstrate a strong intention to pick up where Hu and Wen Jiabao have left off. However, Xi's rise to the top is not guaranteed- a fact that is likely to generate at least some differences of opinion when politicians meet to discuss the course of the 12th FYP in the coming months.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A Reply to the 'China Bystander'

The China Bystander has today posed the question: with its demands for a formal apology from Tokyo and compensation for the Chinese trawler captain detained by the Japanese for over two weeks, has Beijing in fact overplayed its hand? China is continuing to insist that Japan accepts the responsibility for the tensions that have arisen between the two nations in recent weeks- moves that the Japanese government has (according to the BBC) dismissed as “totally groundless”. Following this theme, the People's Daily is placing the ball firmly in the Japanese court, running today with the headline “Japan needs to mend China ties with genuine, practical moves”.

China's apparent determination to press its point home now that Japan has released the trawler captain without charge reflects how quickly the whole affair became a matter of principle rather than practice. However, Beijing's persistence is likely to have a severe adverse effect on its international image. Some observers saw in Japan's decision to release the captain a clear attempt to diffuse the situation with a minimal loss of face. Rather than acknowledging this by letting the dust settle, China has sought to capitalise on Japanese weakness. As a result, it is rapidly losing its image as a 'victim' and gaining a reputation for manipulating diplomatic rifts to its maximum possible advantage.

Therefore, to all intents and purposes, China has indeed overplayed its hand. By stringing the row out, the PRC has undermined its initial objections to Japan's detention of its citizen- namely by showing its motives were more about the politics than the person. Of course, many observers were able to read through the lines of China's appeals for the release of its citizen, and were hardly surprised that the controversy morphed into a debate over sovereignty. Nonetheless, the Chinese government now looks like it is deliberately trying to cause further tension- a fact that will not endear it to its Asian or global counterparts. The long-term harm to China's reputation and standing on the world stage may be great indeed.

A Sign of the Times

2009 saw Chinese telecoms giant China Mobile record an operating revenue of a staggering 452,103 million Yuan, up 9.8% from the 2008 equivalent figure. This statistic is one of many that could be used to demonstrate the rapid expansion of the Chinese mobile technology market in recent years. With China's middle-classes having more and more disposable income, these consumers have set their sights on the latest gadgets and gizmos. Therefore, quite understandably, western companies are increasingly looking East in the likely direction that their biggest profits will come from in the future. As the Wall Street Journal's China Realtime Report described on Saturday, Apple is one of these corporations working to dramatically expand its base of operations in the PRC. Yesterday saw it open two new stores in Beijing and Shanghai, to coincide with the launch of the new iPhone 4 into the Chinese market. One only had to read reports of the queues of Chinese keen to get their hands on the latest iPhone product to realise how important the country's consumers will be to the profitability of businesses like Apple in the future. Not surprisingly, further new Apple branches are planned for China in the coming year.

While Apple was doing a roaring trade, elsewhere in Shanghai Yang Xueshan (Vice-Minister of Industry and Information Technology) was putting numbers on the spectacular growth in demand for new technologies in China. According to the China Daily, Yang estimated that, by the end of August this year, the number of “phone subscribers” in the PRC stood at around 1.13 billion. Of course, it is difficult to know where the overlap occurs in these figures (the actual number of people who own mobile and landline phones is much lower), but the magnitudes involved are still staggering. Yang also estimated the January to June revenue of China's electronics manufacturers to be nearly 3 trillion Yuan- a fact which underlines the crucial role this sector plays in the Chinese economy as a whole.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Premier & The President

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's presence at the United Nations in New York this week has allowed him to meet with several country's leaders individually to discuss matters of common interest. Conversely, amid rising tensions with Japan, China publicly stated its refusal to meet with the Japanese delegation, deeming it "not the time" for such interaction. Of course, Wen's principle sideline engagement was always going to be a session with President Barack Obama- an event which took place at the UN's headquarters on Thursday.

Sino-American relations are generally on a level footing at the moment, although incidents like the Pentagon's publication of its annual report on the PRC's military capabilities still have the potential to prompt displeasure from Beijing. Many observers looked ahead to the meeting with interest, as recent weeks has seen renewed concern over China's under-valuation of the Yuan- a policy that America believes is a threat to its economic health. Indeed, as the BBC has reported, the US contends that Chinese moves to keep the RMB weak is aimed at giving its exports a price advantage in the marketplace. This in turn directly impacts on American jobs.

Friday, 24 September 2010

50 Posts and Counting: A Note From the Editor

Launched in August 2010, Sino-Gist yesterday reached the 50 posts milestone with its post 'A Different Perspective'.  Conceived as a way to channel the efforts of a keen China-watcher, this blog has covered all manner of topics and themes, including aspects of Cultural Revolution history and (most recently) the tensions between China and Japan over sovereignty in the East China Sea.  What started as a daily updated site has become a labour of love that (at least at the moment) sees often two or three pieces appearing each day.  Readers now have the option to subscribe to posts by email or RSS (see the right-hand column), and discussion on pieces via the commenting system is also most welcome.

To celebrate this 50 posts landmark, here are links to four of the best offerings thus far (with an accompanying abstract):

Sino-Gist is still in its infancy compared to some of the other China-related blogs in the blogosphere.  Nonetheless, it is the editor's hope that you have enjoyed reading thus far, and will continue to do so in the future.

An End to the Matter?

Japan has decided to free the Chinese fishing trawler captain it has held amidst Chinese protests for over two weeks. As Xinhua reported on Friday afternoon Beijing-time, the Chinese government is planning to bring its citizen home by a special chartered flight- presumably to a hero's welcome. According to the BBC, Japanese prosecutors found no deliberate premeditated intention by the captain to ram the two Japanese coast guard boats which intercepted him in the East China Sea, and made the decision to send him home rather than strain Sino-Japanese relations further.

The last week has seen Chinese denunciations of the captain's arrest become increasingly vocal, with Premier Wen Jiabao himself calling for his release during a visit to the United Nations in New York. To many, Japan's move to resolve the crisis will look like Tokyo caving in to increased pressure from the Chinese government. However, as this blog mentioned in a previous post, with Japan's economy so closely tied to China's, the former had the potential to lose much more in the crisis than just pride. In this sense, Japan has taken the practical way out. Nonetheless, by making the release, Tokyo looks weak- an image that is likely to stay with it for the foreseeable future. This was always going to be a consequence ever since the row escalated from a simple breach of borders incident to one of national pride. Unfortunately for the Japanese government, it has played the diplomatic game and lost.  Indeed, Mariko Sanchanta has been asking (over at the Wall Street Journal's China Realtime Report blog) "Did Japan Cave to China Too Soon?"  As she suggests, while Japan's government may have taken the best decision economically, nobody quite knows the effect the move will have on the governing Democratic Party of Japan's poll ratings.  If the reaction of Japanese netizens is anything to go by, they're in for a drop.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

A Different Perspective

Over at the Asia Unbound blog (linked to the Council on Foreign Relations), Joshua Kurlantzick observes (in his post 'What is China Thinking') that in recent months China has destroyed much of the goodwill between itself and other Asian nations- the ongoing tension with Japan is a prime example of this.  Building on this theme, Kurlantzick attempts to explain why Beijing has decided to follow this foreign policy strategy, and his insights are definitely worth a look by anyone interested in this aspect of Chinese current affairs.

According to his article, Beijing's approach is based on a mixture of forward thinking, domestic pressure, and an underestimation of the resilience of other Asian countries to Chinese actions.  Kurlantzick's arguments are both valid and incredibly useful in helping to explain the context of the current Diaoyu Islands dispute which has been the main concern of this blog over the last fortnight.  However, recent events and their coverage in China's media have shown that Beijing's policies are also based on the residual issues connected with the history of Asia in the 20th century.  Xinhua articles on the Diaoyu affair have striven to prove China's historical claim to sovereignty over the disputed territories in the East China Sea, and tensions with Japan are rooted in long-standing anamosity between the two countries regarding the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s.  This is not to say that China is stuck in a rut vis a vis its past experiences, but it is vital to emphasise that as well as looking forward, the PRC's Asia policy is as much about looking backward.  Until China and Japan can find an interpretation of their interactions in the 20th century which they both agree on, we should expect further tension in the future.

Setting Up Shop

Premier Wen Jiabao's comments at the United Nations yesterday regarding China's ongoing dispute with Japan demonstrate the value good relations with other countries can have for the PRC. On this theme, the last decade has seen China trying to increase its presence in nations across the world with its Confucius Institute (CI) programme. The several hundred currently in existence act as centres for the spread of Chinese language and culture, though they have also drawn fierce criticism as a platform for the PRC to increase its 'soft' power (the CIs are, after all, run under the auspices of the Chinese government).

The first CI opened in South Korea in 2004, and they can now be found in over 90 countries including the USA, the UK, Sweden and Serbia. While there are many located within Europe, the Baltic region of Northern Europe has been devoid of CIs- that is until yesterday. As the Xinhua News Agency was proudly reporting this morning, Wednesday saw Li Changchun (a member of the CCP's elite politburo) open the Baltic's first Confucius Institute in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. Linked with the University of Tallinn and China's own Guangxi University, the new CI will be focusing on disseminating knowledge of the Chinese language through Estonia, building on the University's own established Chinese studies courses. 3 month language courses will also be available to the general public.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Review: 'Party Leadership and Revolutionary Power in China', edited by J.W. Lewis

As mentioned in the first book review on this site, Sino-Gist review activities are focused on looking at some of the best books on the history of 20th century China published since 1960.  Today, 'Party Leadership and Revolutionary Power in China', edited by J.W. Lewis:

Published in 1970 as a project of SOAS' Contemporary China Institute (CCI), 'Party Leadership and Revolutionary Power in China' is an anthology of papers presented at a CCI conference in 1968.  The list of contributors contains names who were (and still are) some of the biggest names in modern Chinese studies- it includes (amongst others) John Wilson Lewis, Benjamin Schwartz, Stuart Schram, Merle Goldman and John Gittings.  The essays in the volume are concerned with power-related themes from across the spectrum of Chinese Communist history in the 20th century, with Stuart Schram's 'The Party in Chinese Communist Ideology' and Donald Klein's 'The State Council and the Cultural Revolution' representing particularly notable offerings.  As Wilson's introduction makes clear, not all of the contributors are of the same mind when it comes to issues like the motives and implications of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR)- a fact which makes for thought-provoking and wide-ranging reading.

Wen the Premier Speaks...

Over two weeks after trouble first flared up between China and Japan, the situation has developed such that calls for the release of the fisherman being held in Japanese custody have now started to come from the very heart of China's government.  After protests from the Foreign Ministry have proved fruitless in softening Tokyo's stance on the Diaoyu Islands issue, Wen Jiabao (China's Premier) took the opportunity on Tuesday while at the centre of internal diplomacy (the United Nations in New York) to once again demand the release of the Chinese captain.  According to Xinhua, Wen made a personal plea to Japan to put an end to the affair, while at the same time warning of the harsh measures to come should Beijing's demands not be met.

There is no doubt in the mind of the Chinese government over who is responsible for the mounting tension- Wen laid the blame firmly and exclusively at Japan's door, and it is clear that the PRC is still looking for Japan to end the crisis itself rather than force China's hand.  If the former does occur, this will be an indirect acknowledgement that Tokyo bares the brunt of the blame for causing the controversy, making such an occurence seem unlikely at the moment.  The Premier's decision to raise the issue while at a United Nations conference also reflects the desire of both sides to gain international recognition for their respective standpoints.  In an environment swarming with diplomats, Wen's words won't have fallen deaf ears, though it does not seem that international opinion has entirely succumbed to this latest Chinese publicity move.

Sino-Japanese Relations in the Picture

Taiwan-based company Next Media Animation (known for their satirical look at current news events) have produced their own summation of the fishing trawler controversy as it has unfolded thus far.  Here is the video embedded below (to see it in its original context, click here):

There's alot to look out for in this 1 minute of footage, including some very subtle satire (and some that is not so subtle!)  With the tensions mounting between China and Japan every day and news stories providing major points of concern, sit back and enjoy this more light-hearted look at the news...

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Signs of a Succession?

Previous posts on this blog have touched on the issue of who will succeed Kim Jong-il as North Korea's leader.  Kim's recent visit to China was seen by some as an attempt to gather Chinese support for the succession of Kim Jong-un (his third son) to the top position in North Korean politics when he eventually dies.  Unconfirmed reports that Kim Jong-il has been severely ill in recent years further lend weight to the notion that he is trying to set-up Kim Jong-un as the DPRK's next leader, in the hope of keeping the top job in the family.

The BBC has highlighted a statement released today by the Korean Central News Agency which declares that "the conference of the WPK for electing its supreme leadership body will take place in Pyongyang on Sept. 28."  As the BBC points out, it was at a similar conference in 1980 that Kim Jong-il was elevated to a senior position in the WPK- a move that effectively anointed him as the successor to his father (and then leader) Kim Il-sung.  If Kim Jong-un receives a similar such promotion next week, this will give a strong signal that the WPK sees its future as resting with another member of the Kim dynasty.

Looking at the 'Little Red Book': 3

After a small editorial break, Sino-Gist's analysis of 'Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung' continues- this week, consider the following extract from the first quote in chapter 29 ('Cadres'):

In order to guarantee that our Party and country do not change colour, we...must train and bring up millions of successors who will carry on the cause of proletarian revolution.

In the final analysis, the question of training successors for the revolutionary cause of the proletariat is one of whether or not there will be people who can carry on the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary cause started by the older generation of proletarian revolutionaries, whether or not the leadership of our Party and state will remain in the hands of proletarian revolutionaries...or, in other words, whether or not we can successfully prevent the emergence of Khrushchov's revisionism in China...Basing themselves on the changes in the Soviet Union, the imperialist prophets are pinning their hopes of "peaceful evolution" on the third or fourth generation of the Chinese Party. We must shatter these imperialist prophecies. From our highest organizations down to the grass-roots, we must everywhere give constant attention to the training and upbringing of successors to the revolutionary cause.

What are the requirements for worthy successors to the revolutionary cause of the proletariat?...

They must be revolutionaries who wholeheartedly serve the overwhelming majority of the people of China and the whole world, and must not be like Khrushchev who serves both the interests of the handful of members of the privileged bourgeois stratum in his own country and those of foreign imperialism and reaction...

Not only must they unite with those who agree with them, they must also be good at uniting with those who disagree and even with those who formerly opposed them and have since been proved wrong in practice. But they must especially watch out for careerists and conspirators like Khrushchev and prevent such bad elements from usurping the leadership of the Party and the state at any level...

Successors to the revolutionary cause of the proletariat come forward in mass struggles and are tempered in the great storms of revolution. It is essential to test and judge cadres and choose and train successors in the long course of mass struggle.1

For Sinologists hoping to explain the background to the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) and the reasons why Chairman Mao launched it, the above quote is invaluable. Dating from 1964, these statements give a superb reflection of which way the ideological compass in the CCP was pointing in 1964, and what Mao envisioned the GPCR would entail.

One thing is immediately clear- by the mid-1960s, with most of the top leadership into their 70s, Mao was starting to consider the course of the PRC's development in an era when himself (and most of the 1st generation leadership) would no longer be alive. As this quote's emphasis on training “revolutionary successors” illustrates, the Chairman was concerned that the Chinese Revolution would fall by the wayside without his guiding Marxist-Leninist influence to steer it. Thus, it makes sense to conclude that the GPCR was about igniting within China's youth a fire of revolutionary vigour, in the hope that this fire would not be extinguished with the 1st generation's passing. Indeed, as Mao goes on in the extract, his policy of cultural revolution was a defence against the dangerous emergence of revisionist Marxism that he had witnessed happening in the Soviet Union.

As is well known, the objective of the GPCR to train revolutionary successors came in the form of the Red Guard movement. From 1966 until about 1969, these groups of university and middle-school students dedicated their very existence to the study of Mao's teachings and ideology, and took it upon themselves to hunt out China's revisionist and counter-revolutionary elements- a hunt that was as deadly at the top of the Chinese political system as it was at the bottom. What is interesting to consider is whether the Red Guards followed Mao's blueprint for being “worthy successors” to the revolution. As Mao said:

They must be revolutionaries who wholeheartedly serve the overwhelming majority of the people of China”.

While this criteria was theoretically realised (the Red Guards were obedient to Mao, who as a party leader 'served' the people), studies of the reaction of workers and peasants to the Red Guards have unearthed many instances of hostility to the student radicals- a reception which often led to conflicts between the Red Guards and other social groups. For example, as the last post in this series highlighted, students and workers famously came to a head in cities like Shanghai and Wuhan in 1967, with the rival factions competing to fill the power vacuum left by the near destruction of the CCP in 1966. Eventually, Mao himself had to use China's People's Liberation Army to extinguish the Red Guard's revolutionary fire- the radicals were dispatched to the countryside to learn from the peasantry, and took no further real part in the GPCR after about 1970.

As with so many of Mao's instructions, the ambiguity in his order to revolutionaries to unite with those who disagreed with them while at the same time guarding against those who were trying to usurp power is reflective of a contradiction that was at the heart of the movement. Despite orders from the centre that revisionist elements should be exposed and peacefully criticised, the Maoist authorities also encouraged students to use violence in their interrogations and denunciations. Supposedly counter-revolutionary individuals were routinely paraded through the streets of China's cities and made to suffer all kinds of humiliations at the hands of the Red Guards. The area between 'opponents' and 'usurpers' was sufficiently grey to allow either charge to be levelled at almost anyone. In this sense, the GPCR was a dismal failure- with its use so frequent, the label 'counter-revolutionary' lost all real meaning.

The final paragraph serves to show that Mao was planning the GPCR several years before he decided to launch it. That successors could only emerge through mass struggle was not a novel realisation, but a core tenet of Maoist ideology. In that sense, his colleagues in the CCP may have been expecting such a mass movement to be launched when it was. However, few could have imagined the devastation that it would cause to the infrastructure and social position of the Party itself, and nor could they have anticipated that the GPCR would consume the top echelons of Chinese politics, right up to the level of Liu Shaoqi (China's second most senior ranking leader after Mao).

If we use this training of revolutionary successors ideas as the main motive behind the Cultural Revolution, it can be judged as a definite failure. After the radicalism of the 1960s, the early 1970s saw a swing back in favour of the conservative faction in Chinese political life. In addition, the leadership of the Party in the post-Mao years featured few of the individuals who had been “tempered in the great storms of revolution”, but was instead comprised of the Party's 'old guard' and those who had received their political wings before the GPCR. In many ways, Mao's fears over the Party losing its revolutionary vigour have come true- the China of today is built on system with definite capitalist characteristics. Yet, Mao himself is to blame for failing to secure his ideological legacy- arguably, implementing a policy of cultural revolution was the epitome of counter-revolutionary behaviour

1'Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung', 1966, pp. 276-279 ('On Khrushchov's Phoney Communism and Its Historical Lessons for the World' 14/7/1964)

This is the final instalment in this series.  For the first part, click here.  For the second part, click here.

Monday, 20 September 2010

The Reaction Says It All

As has become almost routine over the last two weeks, Chinese online media sites are once again filled today with reports condemning Japan's actions in the East China Sea affair. In response to the decision taken yesterday to extend the detention of the captain of the Chinese fishing trawler by a further ten days, the People's Daily Online ran its own piece condemning Japan's “inflexible foreign policy” and reporting opinion that Japan chooses to “take a tough stance to irritate China's Government and [the] Chinese People”. Xinhua chipped in with two articles entitled “Chinese vice FM strongly protests Japan's extended detention of Chinese skipper” and “Chinese public screams for immediate release of Chinese captain under illegal Japanese detention”, and the China Daily ran with “China warns Japan of strong response”. These headlines are some of the most strongly worded seen since the controversy erupted two weeks ago, and demonstrate how the story continues to sour bilateral relations between China and Japan even more.

References to Chinese citizens themselves in both the headlines and the main stories show how the Party has managed to portray Japan's actions as a threat to the very integrity of the Chinese people. China's response to the perceived Japanese intransigence on the issue can now be legitimised as having the support of (in the words of the People's Daily) “overwhelming public opinion throughout China”- by linking foreign policy to the nation, Beijing has cleverly provided itself with a remit to take effective action and bring the row to an end should it so desire.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

And So It Continues...

Today, September 19th,was seen by many as a crucial crunch-point in Sino-Japanese relations, with Japanese courts having to decide whether to extend the detention of the Chinese trawler captain or set him free. Over the last few days, China has been putting mounting pressure on Japan to end what it has called an “illegal” imprisonment, with the whole affair becoming more and more important for relations between the two countries as each day passes.

Hopes of a resolution to the disagreement have been scuppered with the news that a Japanese court has ruled in favour of holding the captain for a further ten days, while investigations continue into the collision between the Chinese trawler and two Japanese coastguard ships in the East China Sea. Needless to say, in China the move has been greeted by the government with further anger. Xinhua reported comments made by a foreign ministry spokesperson, who said that Sino-Japanese relations have been “severely hurt”. The statement also carried a warning that China will take “strong counter measures” if Japan continues to hold the captain.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Process of Change

One of the statistics most commonly quoted by those wishing to demonstrate China's increasing energy consumption is that the PRC opens on average one new coal fired power station each week. As environmental issues creep up the international political agenda, there is increasing worldwide concern about China's rocketing levels of carbon dioxide emissions. The reality of the situation is that, without a firm Chinese commitment to reduce emissions in line with other nations, the environmental cause is all but lost.

At the present time, the country is embarking on a programme of increased use of coal conversion technology to turn coal into liquid fuels. By a process known as coal liquefaction, the raw solid is processed chemically to leave a liquid product which can be utilised in a similar way to oil. If carbon capture technology is involved in the process, the creation and combustion of the end result releases significantly less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. According to Xinhua, the current output of the coal conversion industry stands at 1.68 million tonnes (coal to liquid) and 15 billion tonnes (coal to gas). However, as the newspaper's coverage reports, Chinese academics are forecasting that in a decade's time the country will have the world's largest coal conversion industry, with these outputs reaching 20 million tonnes and 50 billion tonnes respectively.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Sending In the Fleet

As promised in the last post but one, Friday evening's contribution on Sino-Gist has been on a subject other than China and Japan.  However, in the interest of completeness, it is worth mentioning that the Chinese government has (according to Xinhua) decided to send "marine surveillance" vessels to the East China Sea area in order to protect China's rights and interests in the region.  The site's coverage of the move did not focus on the trawler controversy as such- a reflection of the extent to which the disagreement has now started to impact on Sino-Japanese relations as a whole.

It is unclear exactly what these surveillance ships are capable of, but one would think that they have the potential to do far more than simply observe events if required.  The direct decision to deploy some of the Chinese fleet will partly have been made to add extra pressure on Japan to back down and release the still-detained Chinese captain from custody without charge.  But, if this were not to happen, the PRC's willingness to move ships into the region to protect its rights shows a new defensive mentality in Beijing which might widen the divide between China and Japan even further.

Incoming Investment

Wednesday of this week saw Airbus' chief executive officer Thomas Enders in Beijing to visit Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang.  According to Xinhua, Li reiterated China's desire to improve opportunities for foreign investors in the country, with Thomas Enders apparently singling out China as a special focus for Airbus' activities in the future.  The same day also witnessed the company sign a new product contract with the CAC Commercial Aircraft Company (CCAC), one of China's largest aviation industry businesses (click here to read Airbus' official press release).  Clearly, the company is prepared to back up its chief executive's words with actions, and Airbus' willingness to further commit itself to the Chinese market is an excellent reflection of the increasingly Eastern-orientated focus of world economic affairs.

Li's statement fit with the comments made by both Vice-President Xi Jinping at UNCTAD 2 weeks ago and by Premier Wen Jiabao at the 4th World Economic Forum on Monday.  These earlier speeches highlighted the PRC's intention to encourage further investment by foreign companies by creating an open and fair business environment.  International corporations provide over 40 million jobs in China each year, making them essential to the success of the Chinese economy since the 'opening up' of the country 3 decades ago.

The Repetition of History?

Posts on Sino-Gist over the last few days have focused on the building tension between China and Japan- hopefully, a piece on a different subject will present itself on this blog later on Friday.  However, it is worth alluding to Xinhua's latest offering on the disagreement over the contested islands in the East China Sea.  As well being a clear warning shot of the potential long-term consequences if Japan continues to detail the Chinese fishing trawler's captain, it is interesting how this article (a first for Xinhua's coverage on the issue) refers to the Shenyang railway incident of September 1931, when Japanese troops destroyed a section of the track and used this purposeful sabotage as an excuse to attack Chinese forces.  The event is also seen as being the pretext for the larger-scale Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the Imperial Japanese Army's further occupation of large swathes of Chinese territory (an occupation that only ended in 1945).

Xinhua quotes comments from Jiang Yu (a spokesman for the foreign ministry) which called on people to look at history and learn lessons from it.  By highlighting the Shenyang example as symbolic of Japan's subversive foreign policy, Beijing is appealing to China's 'victim identity' (seen by many as a common feature throughout much of the country's 20th century history).  Such a tactic reflects the growing political importance of the East China Sea issue- it has been used previously to fire Chinese nationalist sentiments and provide a definite mandate for the CCP's rule, and its deployment here once again illustrates how useful a tool China's recent history is in providing support for the government's actions.  Relations with Japan have entered a new stage as the controversy has escalated from being a routine spat to one where both nations' pride is at stake.  Jiang's call to learn the lessons of the past is a possible sign that China is positioning itself to take increased action if its detained citizen is not released- the example of Shenyang will play no small part in justifying this move.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

China and Japan: Further Tension

A post on the website 'China Bystander' yesterday provided a neat summary of the severity of the threat that the ongoing row between China and Japan poses for long-term relations between the two countries (for the context of the problems, see this earlier Sino-Gist post).  A headline from today's English edition of the People's Daily online suggests that Chinese patience may be starting to wear very thin.  The site's decision to run with the choice of "Beijing demands immediate return of captain" is by far the most strongly worded media expression of Chinese dissatisfaction with the whole affair.  Whereas previous stories concentrated on the repeated summoning of the Japanese ambassador in China to Beijing, and on the unsurprisingly hostile (and in many ways routine) denunciations of Japan's actions by various government officials, the use of the word 'demands' implies a new level of Chinese anger over the detention of one of its citizens.  Rather than continuing to argue the historic right of the PRC to the islands in the East China Sea, by demanding the return of the Chinese trawler captain China has closed the discussion entirely. 

The People's Daily paraphrased the Foreign Ministry in Beijing as saying that the controversy has now "caused a serious situation in bilateral relations", an assessment that accords with the breakdown in dialogue between the two countries suggested above.  There is no way of knowing what Japan will choose to do when it has to make a verdict about the captain's fate on the 19th September.  But with China now so committed to defending his cause, a Japanese decision to prosecute might prompt the PRC to take matters more into its own hands.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Images For All Occasions

Last Saturday saw this blog mention North Korea's decision to issue a special set of commemorative stamps to mark the 60th anniversary of the intervention by Chinese troops in the Korean War next month.  It seems that the DPRK is also using its stamps to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Kim Il-sung (due to fall 2012).  Xinhua has published online images of the stamps, which depict various scenes from the President's life, including him leading troops and addressing North Korean citizens.  They will be in circulation from now until 2012, no doubt serving to try and legitimise Kim Jong-il's own rule of the country and to lend credence to the notion of his son (Kim Jong-un) succeeding him as leader of the nation.  What is even more certain is that the stamps represent only one of the first steps on the long road of activities that will celebrate the life of North Korea's Eternal President over the coming two years.  Kim Jong-il's regime will be looking to maximise the propaganda capital that can be gained from such events.

Finding the Balance

Yesterday saw Premier Wen Jiabao addressing the World Economic Forum's 4th summer Davos in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin. Xinhua picked out one of the key themes of Wen's speech as encouraging scientific innovation in China- a policy that is aimed at shifting away from a 'made in China' economic ethos towards a 'created in China' mentality. According to the Premier, this will be realised by approaches including promoting an open and fair investment environment in China for foreign companies, and developing the education system to ensure a flow of creative talent into the workplace.

Wen's statements follow similar lines to those of Vice-President Xi Jinping's made at the Second World Investment Forum of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD held in Xiamen Special Economic Zone. Xi was keen to emphasise the impact and benefit of the foreign investment that has come into the PRC since Deng Xiaoping's reforms, and also stressed the need to create a beneficial environment for further outside businesses to come into China. Wen Jiabao's comments similarly echo those made by Hu Jintao in a speech on education in July, when he outlined a programme of increased investment in education in the future, with China's private sector being invited to become involved.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Returning Home

Flown home on a Chinese government flight from Japan, the crew of the fishing trawler seized by Japan in the East China Sea appear to have returned to a hero's welcome. Xinhua's online coverage featured a picture of a beaming crew member emerging from the plane safely on Chinese soil, and official reports are emphasising the innocence of the fishermen in the whole affair. One was quoted as saying that Chinese had been fishing near the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands for “generations”- clearly, efforts are being made to demonstrate the abnormality in the actions of the Japanese authorities, and not those of the Chinese sailors.

The safe return of the crew is a attempt by the Japanese to demonstrate that their actions up to now have been driven purely by legalities, rather than a desire to to rock the boat of Sino-Japanese relations. This idea is further reinforced by the fact that the captain of the Chinese trawling vessel remains in Japanese custody, despite Beijing summoning Japan's ambassador in China no less than 4 times to make protests over the issue.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Down the Economic Path

Today sees the implementation of the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement (ECFA) between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan- a trade agreement being widely described (in the words of the BBC) “as the most significant agreement since civil war divided them [the China and Taiwan] in 1949”. The provisions of the new treaty sees the elimination of tarrifs on over 500 Taiwanese exports to China, and over 250 types of goods going the other way.

The reaction to the ECFA has been generally positive, with both Taiwanese and Chinese media highlighting the benefits the freer economic exchanges will bring to both countries. Taiwan News emphasised the groundwork the ECFA has laid for future cross-strait economic talks, and Xinhua has run coverage showing the benefit the agreement will accord to Chinese financial companies. Groupings including the Bank of China and the Bank of Communications have already applied to the Taiwanese government for permission to set-up operating centres in the country, while Taiwanese businesses have also begun to make moves towards establishing a presence in the PRC.

However, according to the BBC, the ECFA has encountered opposition in Taiwan from those who fear that the treaty will make the country more dependent on mainland China. These are legitimate concerns. The defeat of the nationalist Kuomintang party by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949 saw the former retreat to Taiwan and establish a rival government of China. Chinese overtures towards the invasion of the country in the 1950s and 1960s were hampered by America's military and financial support for Taiwanese independence- as result, the island remains a separate state to this day. The People's Republic still maintains its claims to Taiwan, and re-unification with the mainland is a stated government objective, yet the CCP has come to accept that such an eventuality is unlikely to be realised anytime soon.

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