To see a note from the editor, click here.

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.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Much More Than a Stamp

October will see the 60th anniversary of Chinese intervention in the Korean War.  As a result of concerns over the presence of US troops in the south and the need to safeguard the communist movement in North Korea (the DPRK), the CCP's politburo authorised the movement of Chinese troops over China's border with the DPRK at the start of October 1950.  Later in the month, the forces were officially designated as 'volunteers', thus allowing China to claim that there was no official Chinese intervention in the Korean War.

A Xinhua story highlights reports from North Korea's official media that the DPRK has issued a special set of commemorative stamps to mark the anniversary of Chinese involvement, with fitting 'revolutionary' slogans written in Korean and Chinese on each one.  This move by the North Korean government is an excellent example of the country's constant efforts to remind China of its historical links with the DPRK.  In 1950, China had no desire to maintain good relations with America or US-linked parts of the Asia-Pacific region.  This explains why the PRC decided to send troops in North Korea to resist American aggression in the first place.

China and Japan: Calling a Halt

The tension between China and Japan has continued to grow this week in relation to the detention of a Chinese fisherman and his crew after their boat was encountered by two Japanese vessels in the East China Sea.  With the BBC reporting that the People's Republic has suspended planned diplomatic talks between the two nations (in response to the decision of a Japanese court to extend the fishermen's detention by 10 days), it seems that neither side is willing to give ground over the issue.

The verdict of some analysts this week was that the incident is unlikely to cause a serious setback in Sino-Japanese relations, and that both parties are in many ways going through the motions in lodging protests, complaints and the like.  However, more and more this issue is becoming one of national pride, as demonstrated by the suspension of this latest round of diplomatic talks- if China is prepared to put exchanges with Japan on the line to press its point, it is clear that there is much more at stake than the interests of the Chinese sailors.  How Japan responds to this latest move by the Chinese government will be equally as telling.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Film: 'The East Is Red'

For anyone interested in Chinese revolutionary film, 'The East Is Red' is a must-see. Released in 1965, the production tells the story of the Chinese revolution from the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921 to the defeat of the 'Chiang Dynasty' (i.e. Chiang Kai-shek) and the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The film is available in its entirety on Youtube (courtesy of user richien), and is worthy of a look (the first part is embedded below). Not only is it a classic demonstration of propaganda at work, but 'The East Is Red' also gives a good indication of what the official attitude to the history of the revolution was in1964, on the eve of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Sailing Close to the Wind

One of the main talking points in the Chinese media in the last few days has been over the arrest of the captain and crew of a Chinese fishing boat on Wednesday. The day beforehand, the captain's boat had collided with two Japanese patrol boats near islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by both China and Japan as part of their territory.

According to the BBC, Yang Jiechi (China's foreign minister) has today summoned Japan's ambassador to the PRC (Uichiro Niwa) to Beijing for a 3rd time, and China is reportedly in the process of despatching a “law enforcement boat” to the region to protect the fisherman and their interests. The China Daily is also reporting that the detained captain and his crew have been handed over to local Japanese prosecutors- a move that China is (not surprisingly) condemning.

In the BBC's coverage of the story, its diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus describes the “The exchange of protests between China and Japan [as having] something of the air of a ritual.” In the opinion of Marcus, China is going through the motions as one would expect it to do in such an incident, and he comments that “neither country seems to want to dramatise the incident.” This seems a fair reading of the situation. It was never going to be the case that China would let the incident go by without strongly asserting its right to the disputed islands. In addition, as recent events have shown, China routinely makes no secret of its continued suspicions of Japanese intentions and the past history between the two nations.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Another Case of Corruption

Guangdong province has hit the headlines again with the revelation that another of its former high-ranking officials has been found guilty of corruption. Following the conviction of Zheng Shaodong (once deputy head of Guangdong's Department of Public Security) three weeks ago, Xinhua announced today that Wang Huayuan (formerly secretary of the provincial commissions for discipline inspection in Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces) been handed a 2 year suspended death sentence for corruption.

According to Xinhua, a court in the Shandong region found against Wang in relation to charges that he accepted 7.71 million yuan (about 1.13 million U.S. dollars) in bribes between 1998 and 2009, while holding positions that ironically included an anti-corruption remit. As with the case of Zheng Shaodong, Wang has been stripped of his CCP membership, although his capital sentence is likely to be commuted to life imprisonment after 2 years. While this conviction has come about as result of a crackdown on high-level corruption launched last year, the possibility remains that there are deeper political forces at work behind Wang's sentencing. However, it is hard to know what these could be.

Education, Education, Education...

This week, it appears as if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has adopted New Labour's catchphrase for the 1997 UK general election as one of its main policy standpoints. Nearly 2 months after President Hu Jintao addressed a Beijing conference on national educational, Xinhua has released the full text of the speech and an English summary of Hu's key points. To paraphrase the article, these included:

  • Treating education as a priority for the future.
  • Aiming for 4% of China's GDP to be invested in education by 2012.
  • Providing high quality teachers and infusing students with a sense of responsibility.
  • Reducing the state's role in education, and allowing for the private sector to run schools.
  • Ensuring equality of education and opportunity.

Some of the aspects to Hu's plans for reform are strikingly similar to those New Labour put forward in its 1997 manifesto. Increased spending on education as a proportion of the national budget, equality of opportunity, and having the private sector involved in schools were all key tenets of Tony Blair's pre-election pledges. The last of these three is particularly interesting. Ever since the founding of the People's Republic, the Party has been the commanding influence in education, setting curriculums, running schools, and ensuring that the sector runs in harmony with the Party's wider socialist aims. This was of course epitomised during the Cultural Revolution, when the Maoist authorities (whether or not they constituted the CCP is a different matter) maintained an iron grip on academic institutions and what they taught to China's students. Bearing in mind it was students who were the vehicle of the movement in its first two years, this is far from surprising.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

North Korea Update: Following the Follow-Up

Last week, Sino-Gist covered the Chinese and North Korean media's response to Kim Jong-il's latest visit to China, in which he exchanged views with President Hu Jintao on a number of issues, including the continuing tension between Pyongyang and Seoul (for more information, see this previous post).  Since Kim's visit, the English language website of the Korean Central News Agency of the DPRK has published several articles documenting the reaction to the visit, including "Korean People Hail Kim Jong Il's China Visit" (6th September 2010) and "Kim Jong Il's China Visit Hailed" (7th September 2010).  Both are available at the KCNA's website under their respective days in the archive, and give a good idea of what North Korea was expecting to achieve through the trip.

A Statement of Intent

China's Special Economic Zones (SEZ) have been in the news alot recently, with Shenzhen marking the 30th anniversary of its SEZ status on Monday (see an earlier post on this blog). This week (from Monday to Thursday) sees Xiamen SEZ play host to the Second World Investment Forum of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), where top political, business and organisational leaders are meeting to discuss the theme of “Investing in Sustainable Development”.

On Tuesday, the second day of the meeting, Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping gave a keynote speech to delegates explaining China's current economic development and its plans for the future, with the translation being posted on the Xinhua website on the evening of the same day. In his statistic-heavy speech, Xi's speech emphasised the merits of China's 'opening-up' economic strategy of the last 3 decades, referring to it as a “win-win”. According to the Vice-President, China received 90 billion US dollars worth of foreign investment in 2009, with foreign enterprises now providing for 45 million of the country's jobs. In addition, it is the continued aim of the PRC to encourage further investment by foreign countries, through the promotion of a fair and open market and investment environment.

Xi Jinping's speech can be seen as a reflection of the Hu Jintao generation's attitudes to economic strategy. Unsurprisingly, it featured a reference to the current 'hot' political theme of scientific development, and emphasis the support at the top of the CCP for Deng Xiaoping's principle of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. However, with Xi also picked out by many people to be most likely person to succeed Hu Jintao when he steps down in 2013, Tuesday's address can also be interpreted as a statement of intent aimed to convey to top members of the Party his vision for China's future.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Words Speaking Louder Than Actions

Supranational co-operation between China and other nations comes in various shapes and sizes, most often in the form of joint economic, political or military dialogue. Now, China has embarked on a new path of international exchange- that of dictionaries. For the beginning of September saw the unveiling of the new Oxford Chinese Dictionary at the Beijing International Book Fair (as reported by the China Daily), with the book already on sale in China and due to be released in the United Kingdom on Thursday.

When compared to previous English-Chinese/Chinese-English dictionaries released by Oxford University Press, this latest release is a little different. For one, it is bigger, with over 300,000 words and 370,000 translations. However, more importantly, Oxford University Press (OUP) has teamed up with Beijing's Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press (affiliated to Beijing Foreign Studies University-BFSU) to create a dictionary that benefits from native speakers of both languages being involved in its preparation. This has allowed for the inclusion of terms that have only entered the Chinese vernacular in recent years, much akin to the Oxford Corpus project, which monitors developments in the English language and makes sure OUP's dictionaries reflect these.

Of course, as links between countries go, a partnership between two publishing houses is fairly trivial. However, it is worth noting that Beijing Foreign Studies University is directly responsible to the Ministry of Education and has close links to the Communist Party's hierarchy. Indeed, on a topical note, BFSU includes amongst its alumni Wu Dawei, the individual currently tasked with representing China's interests in Korean Peninsula affairs (see this previous Sino-Gist post). With these close ties to the government and political authorities, the partnership with OUP can be viewed within the context of Beijing's emphasis on increased cultural interaction between China and its other nations.

Monday, 6 September 2010

30 Years and Counting

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the creation of China's first Special Economic Zone in the southern coastal city of Shenzhen (Guangdong province). In a previous post, Sino-Gist discussed the theoretical implications behind the SEZ programme, and how it fits in with China's continued stated socialist aims. The subject of the SEZs is worth revisiting, as Chinese media has been adorned with stories to commemorate the 30th anniversary landmark, with the People's Daily running a front-page editorial on the successes of this aspect of China's economic 'opening up'.

In Shenzhen itself, a special rally is being held in which Hu Jintao is scheduled to give an address. Adding to this the visit to the region by Premier Wen Jiabao over the weekend, it is obvious that the Chinese Communist Party is trying to exploit as much political capital from the the SEZ success story as is possible. It was Deng Xiaoping who first conceived the idea, and since 1980 the 5 selected areas have been transformed into hives of industrial activity, such that Shenzhen is now the second biggest port in China after Shanghai, handling over 100 million tons of cargo in the first half of 2010 (an increase of around 22% on 2009 levels). In addition, Guangdong province as a whole, where three of the SEZs are located (Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou), now produces 25% of China's total exports.

The editorial in the People's Daily makes interesting reading. Not surprisingly, the first paragraph is quick to point out that the CCP's Central Committee and the State Council have taken the lead in the development of the SEZs over the last three decades. The newspaper then goes on to describe the policy as a “miracle” in the history of industrialisation across the world. While the growth of areas like Shenzhen is certainly impressive, this cannot be regarded as a miracle in the 'stepping outside the boundaries of impossibility' sense. Rather, what should be emphasised is that the SEZ policy has worked thus far because the has Party borrowed from conventional economic theory rather than strictly adhering to Marxist principles. The success has been based on making areas like Shenzhen open to investment from abroad, which has come in the form of billions of dollars.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

A Blast From the Past

As well as featuring the most important China-related news on its homepage, the China Daily's website also has an 'Odd News' section. One of today's offerings in this category is a story, originally covered by the site halfway through August, involving three migrant workers in the central-eastern province of Henan. On the day the story broke, Sino-Gist focused on discussing the trouble caused by a Pentagon report on China's military and cyber technology capabilities, and so this 'Odd News' item slipped through the net. However, it is a worth a closer look.

According to the China Daily, the employer (a labour contractor by the name of Mr Zhao) of three migrant workers in Zhengzhou (Henan's capital) had failed to pay these employees their wages- 100 Chinese Yuan per day- for nine days. In response, the angry employees took it upon themselves to tie Zhao up with wire and parade him around a public street.

During the Mao era and the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution (GPCR) between 1966 and 1976, such an approach would have been a perfectly valid and just expression of proletarian frustration. Indeed, there is much in this story to remind the reader of the public humiliations and denunciations of tens of thousands of officials and supposedly 'counter-revolutionaries' that occurred while the Red Guards were in the ascendency in China (between 1966 and 1969). However, Chinese society post-Mao has moved away from many of the worst excesses of the Cultural Revolution, and the forced parading of authority figures is no longer seen as a valid way in which the 'masses' can take affairs into their own hands.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

What's in an Action?

Last year was the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on the 1st October 1949. In preparing for the event, the Chinese Communist Party tasked famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou with the organisation of a spectacular parade to take place in Tiananmen Square on Chinese National Day. Eventually, the lavish ceremony was to include Hu Jintao reviewing military and civilian units, a progress of themed floats and the usual pomp one would associate with such an important event. Of course, China's state television network (CCTV) beamed images of the celebrations into the homes of millions of Chinese watching at home.

There are several series of videos on Youtube where you can watch CCTV's coverage in full. For anyone interested in how governments use imagery to demonstrate power, the 60th anniversary ceremony is an excellent case in point. To take an example, watch the video embedded below (uploaded by user CCCP1917AK47) from about 1:50, just before the Chinese flag is raised:

Admittedly, such an action has a practical advantage. As the video shows, the flag catches the wind, so its fluttering as the Chinese national anthem booms out across Tiananmen Square. However, whereas some other countries prefer to have an attendant soldier 'feed' the flag into the breeze as it begins to rise, the option of having the People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldier dramatically throw it outwards and upwards serves to show how important events like the 60th anniversary parade are in cultivating both Chinese and international perceptions of China.

Friday, 3 September 2010

65 Years On

Several recent posts at Sino-Gist have dealt with China's relationship with Japan, and the issue of history that is so crucial to relations between the two countries. Only yesterday, a post on this blog discussed the conclusion of the latest Beijing-Tokyo forum that candid speaking is required for points of conflict in Sino-Japanese relations to be ironed out (click here to see this piece).

Today, September 3rd 2010, marks the 65th anniversary of China's defeat of Japan in the Second World War.  Not surprisingly, Chinese state media accorded the commemorations of the milestone significant space, with the People's Daily publishing a front page editorial warning its readers not to forget the injustices Japan inflicted on China during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). A glance at English extracts from the editorial released on the newspaper's website reveals just how important the anniversary is to the Chinese Communist Party.  Yesterday's post mentioned how the CCP uses historical events and landmarks to bolster support for its authority, and this is a feature that comes across very strongly in the editorial. The Party's role in leading resistance to the Japanese invasions right from the start is emphasised throughout the piece, with the Kuomintang's contribution to the Anti-Japan National United Front portrayed as supporting the efforts of the CCP's military forces. Certainly, one is left in no doubt which political grouping played the key role in achieving victory in the Asian arena of the 'anti-fascist war'. In essence, the Party sees the leadership demonstrated against Japan as legitimising its continued political domination of China in the 21st century.

In the same vein, appeals to the legacy of Dr. Sun Yat-sen ground communist rule in factors beyond the CCP's own achievements. The editorial's description of Sun as 'forerunner of the Chinese Democratic Revolution' links the Party with a figure revered in China for his ideas of political and social revolution. Most importantly, his use appeals to an audience wider than the communist fraternity, transforming the issue of the CCP's right to govern from being purely political to one that includes national pride. Thus, Chinese who do not warm to Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping or Hu Jintao can still relate to the Party through its links with Sun.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Review: 'Chinese Shadows' by Simon Leys

It seems commonplace on websites concerned with China to review new books coming out in the field, with these latest releases adding to the vast array of titles published on 20th century China in the last 30 to 40 years. However, with the intention of leaving these new titles to the scrutiny of others, Sino-Gist will instead take a glance at some of the best books on Chinese affairs written since 1960. To start this series of posts, Simon Leys' 'Chinese Shadows':

First published in French with the title 'Ombres Chinoises' in 1974, and released in English translation in 1977, 'Chinese Shadows' by Simon Leys (the pseudonym for sinologist Pierre Ryckmans) is a frank and (as the author admits) not objective book of observations and reflections on the People's Republic of China as it was when the author visited in 1972. As the dust jacket to the Viking edition of the work states, the book 'aroused a storm of controversy' when it was released in France. It is not hard to see why: Leys takes the reader behind the smokescreen set up by China's authorities and reveals (using his first-hand experience) some of the harsher truths behind a China still in the midst of the decade-long Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Leys' fascinating insights are commonly known to us now. The copious study of the Cultural Revolution in both China and the West has revealed some of the horrifying results of Mao's last great throw of the revolutionary dice. Thus, it is hard to gauge 35 years later the impact 'Chinese Shadows' had on perceptions of China at the time, especially following the revelations made in the author's 'Les Habits Neufs du Président Mao', which was released a couple of years beforehand However, even now, the reader is still infused with a unique sense of the catastrophe the Cultural Revolution represented for China. This is epitomised as part of Leys' observations on the changing nature of Beijing under the CCP's rule- the destruction of Beijing's historic Imperial architecture and monuments remain as heart-wrenching as they must have been in 1974.

As mentioned earlier, 'Chinese Shadows' does not aim for objectivity. Indeed, it does not take long to realise the author's deep personal attachment to China. While his (in his own words) 'negative impressions' sometimes hamper the book's descriptions and arguments, it does not pretend to be a work of history. Rather, Simon Leys is writing in the hope that (to paraphrase the post scriptum) one day he can produce a much more positive assessment of China . Today, there are certainly better books on the Cultural Revolution available to those interested in the period, and the same could be said for many of the topics (be they politics, society or something else) that Leys covers. However, there are few memoirs about China that exude as much genuine conviction- that alone makes 'Chinese Shadows' a book well worth reading.

A Contradiction in Terms

This Tuesday saw the end of the 6th Beijing-Tokyo Forum, in which leading analysts and officials from both countries offer views on relations between the two nations, including their political and economic interaction. Yesterday, the state-run China Daily ran a report highlighting one of the conclusions of the Forum: that 'candid' exchanges are required if the continuing diplomatic tensions between China and Japan are to be resolved (for more on this, see this past Sino-Gist post). Interestingly, coverage of the event was limited on Japanese news websites, showing how much more important the Sino-Japanese dialogue is to the Chinese government. Japanese actions in China in the 20th century remain one of the main ways China can infuse its citizens with a sense of national pride- appealing to such feeling directly bolsters support for the CCP's leadership.

Since the close of the talks, Xinhua's online English-language website has already demonstrated a vigour for candidness. Reporting on the decision of Sunwu county (Heilongjiang province) authorities to build a World War Two memorial park commemorating Japan's invasion of the country and Russia's assistance to China in the conflict, Xinhua mentioned how the park will include (amongst other things) 'criminal evidence museums'. In addition, the article closes with a recap of a comment made by Hu Jintao in May when he went to visit Russian war veterans, which links the Japanese invasions with fascism.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Looking at the 'Little Red Book': 2

As part of a series of posts on some of the more interesting quotes in the first English language edition of 'Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung', Sino-Gist will this week consider this extract from chapter 2 ('Classes and Class Struggle') of the anthology:

"Revisionism, or Right opportunism, is a bourgeois trend of thought that is even more dangerous than dogmatism. The revisionists, the Right opportunists, pay lip-service to Marxism...After the basic victory of the socialist revolution in our country, there are still a number of people who vainly hope to restore the capitalist system and fight the working class on every front, including the ideological one."1

Made a couple of months before the People's Daily launched the official backlash against critics of the Party who had surfaced in the Hundred Flower's Campaign, Mao's speech demonstrates his concern over individuals who represent a Marxist 'false positive'. References to revisionism and the danger posed by counter-revolutionaries in Chinese society are found throughout the course of the 'Little Red Book', and this frequency reflects the importance these issues were to acquire during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR).

As one of the opening salvoes in the movement, the famous May 16th 'circular'2 denounced Premier Liu Shaoqi as the “Chinese Khrushchev” and called for mass opposition to 'revisionists' who had supposedly infiltrated the Party, People's Liberation Army (PLA) and government from the highest levels downwards. Over the course of the following years, radical student 'Red Guards' took it as their Mao-given duty to root out such hidden 'rightist' elements from all aspects of Chinese political and social life- a task that would take the lives or livelihoods of millions of innocent victims.

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