Archive for ‘media’

Friday, June 23, 2017

Pyongyang: Otto Warmbier “a Victim of Obama’s ‘Strategic Patience’ Policy”

Until yesterday (June 22), North Korean newsagency KCNA carried only one article concerning Otto Warmbier, dated June 15: “U.S. Citizen Released”. A short statement said that

U.S. citizen Otto Frederick Warmbier, who has been in hard labor, was sent back home on June 13, 2017, on humanitarian grounds according to the adjucation made on the same day by the Central Court of the DPRK.

Today, KCNA published a lengthy article, titled DPRK FM Spokesman Accuses U.S. of Slandering Humanitarian Measure. KCNA provides no permalinks. The article was published in English and Chinese, and probably in the other regular KCNA languages, too. The English and Chinese versions aren’t completely identical. Both complain about American misrepresentations of the Warmbier case, the English version referring to that as a “smear campaign”, the Chinese one calling American news coverage “black propaganda”.

The tenor of both of KCNA versions – more at length in English than in Chinese on that aspect – is that Washington hadn’t taken all possible measures that could have helped to free Warmbier, and maintained an uncompromising position instead.

Pyongyang, June 23 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry Friday released the following statement over the fact the U.S. administration authorities are heating up the anti-DPRK smear campaign by abusing the humanitarian measure taken by the DPRK as an inhuman act, concerning the death of Warmbier, an American citizen: 朝中社平壤6月23日电 朝鲜外务省发言人23日发表谈话,对美国政府当局借美国人瓦姆比尔死亡事件把朝鲜的人道主义措施说成非人道主义,热衷于反朝黑色宣传予以谴责。谈话内容如下:
Warmbier is clearly a criminal sentenced to reform through labor in accordance with the DPRK law on March 16, 2016 for the hostile act he committed against the DPRK on an assignment from an anti-DPRK plot-breeding organization of the U.S. 瓦姆比尔是分明因受美国反朝阴谋团体的任务,从事反朝敌对活动,于2016年3月16日被朝鲜依法判刑的罪犯。
As was made public to the world, during the press conference on February 29, 2016, Warmbier confessed in tears that he had committed hostile act against the DPRK, with connivance of the U.S. administration, after he received an assignment from the Z-Society of the Virginia University of the U.S. controlled by the Friendship United Methodist Church, an anti-DPRK plot-breeding organization of the U.S., and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 众所周知,瓦姆比尔2016年2月29日在记者会上流着泪招认,他接受美国反朝阴谋团体“友爱联合监理教会”和中央情报局操控的弗吉尼亚大学Z协会交给的任务,并在美国政府默认下从事了反朝敌对活动。
CNN and other U.S. media outlets are still broadcasting the video of Warmbier admitting his crime and apologizing for it at the press conference in Pyongyang. 美国有线电视新闻网等美国媒体迄今还在放映瓦姆比尔在平壤举行的记者会上认罪和谢罪的视频。
The DPRK-U.S. relations are in the most hostile and belligerent state, and the U.S. is making every frantic effort to disparage the prestige of the dignified DPRK and stifle it while imposing heinous sanctions and pressure unprecedented in history.
Although we had no reason at all to show mercy to such a criminal of the enemy state, we provided him with medical treatments and care with all sincerity on humanitarian basis until his return to the U.S., considering that his health got worse. 朝鲜没有任何理由对这样一个敌对国家的罪犯大发善心,但考虑他的健康状态不佳,出于人道主义立场提供精心治疗,直到他返回美国为止。
As for the groundless public opinion now circulating in the U.S. that he died of torture and beating during his reform through labor, the American doctors who came to the DPRK for repatriation of Warmbier will have something to say about it. 至于美国国内流传瓦姆比尔死因是他在服刑中受到酷刑和殴打的毫无根据的舆论,曾因他的释放事宜访朝的美国医生倒是应该有话要说。
They examined Warmbier and exchanged medical observations about him with our doctors. They recognized that his health indicators like pulse, temperature, respiration and the examination result of the heart and lung were all normal and that we provided him with medical treatment and brought him back alive whose heart was nearly stopped. 他们检查瓦姆比尔的身体后,与朝方医生交换了医学见解,并对他的脉搏、体温、呼吸、心肺检查结果等生命指标均为正常以及朝鲜治愈几乎停止心脏跳动的瓦姆比尔予以承认。
Now the former officials of the Obama administration publicize as their “achievement” the release of 10 American citizens granted by the humanitarian measures we had taken. They cannot but acknowledge the fact that we treat the detainees in accordance with international laws and standard. 奥巴马前政府时期的美国官员现将朝鲜采取人道主义措施释放10名美国公民粉饰为自己的“成绩”,他们应该不会否认朝鲜按照国际法和国际标准对待囚犯。
The fact that Warmbier died suddenly in less than a week just after his return to the U.S. in his normal state of health indicators is a mystery to us as well. 瓦姆比尔在生命指标正常的情况下返回美国不到一周就突然死亡,对朝鲜也是个不解之谜。
It reminds us of an incident that Hunziker, an American citizen who had illegally crossed the border and entered the DPRK on August 24, 1996, died in less than a month after he returned home in perfect health accompanied by Bill Richardson, the then U.S. Congressman, on November 27 the same year thanks to our humanitarian measure.
At that time, the U.S had totally ignored and not even mentioned a word about his death. The point here is he was also an American citizen, was he not?
Warmbier is a victim of policy of “strategic patience” of Obama who was engrossed in utmost hostility and negation against the DPRK and refused to have dialogue with the DPRK. 奥巴马被对朝鲜的极度敌对感和反感所俘虏,拒绝同朝鲜举行对话,瓦姆比尔是其“战略忍耐”政策的牺牲者。
Why the U.S. government which claims to care about the welfare of its citizens had not even once made an official request for the release of Warmbier on humanitarian basis during the Obama administration? The answer should be given by the U.S. itself. 试问,如此关心美国公民安全的美国政府为何在奥巴马执政时期从未向朝鲜正式提出瓦姆比尔的人道主义释放问题?答案应由美国自己找。
Although Warmbier was a criminal who committed hostile act against the DPRK, we accepted the repeated requests of the present U.S. administration and, in consideration of his bad health, sent him back home on humanitarian grounds according to the adjudication made on June 13, 2017 by the Central Court of the DPRK. 虽然瓦姆比尔是犯下反朝敌对行为的罪犯,但朝鲜接受美国现政府的反复请求并考虑他健康不好,根据2017年6月13日中央法院裁定,出于人道主义立场送瓦姆比尔回国。
However, the U.S. totally distorted this truth and dared to clamor about “retaliation” and “pressure” on the dignified DPRK while deliberately kicking up the smearing campaign against the DPRK. This is a frontal challenge and political plot against us. 全面歪曲这样的事实,成心对朝鲜血口喷人,悍然渲染对神圣的朝鲜“报复”和“施压”,简直是对朝鲜的正面挑战和政治阴谋活动。
To make it clear, we are the biggest victim of this incident and there would be no more foolish judgment than to think we do not know how to calculate gains and losses. 需要明确的是,此次事件的最大受害者是朝鲜。如果以为朝鲜连得失都不会计算,那可是再愚蠢不过的判断。
The smear campaign against DPRK staged in the U.S. compels us to make firm determination that humanitarianism and benevolence for the enemy are a taboo and we should further sharpen the blade of law. 美国上演的反朝黑色宣传攻势令朝鲜坚定这样的决心:对敌人的人道主义和宽容绝对要不得,应更加磨砺好法律的利剑
The U.S. should ponder over the consequences to be entailed from its reckless and rash act. -0- 美国应对其轻举妄动可能招致的后果深思熟虑。(完)

A discussion about (tourist) travels to North Korea can be found on Foarp’s blog. Please comment there.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Obituary: Chu Ke-liang, 1946 – 2017

A comedian’s life doesn’t have to be fun – Taiwan’s entertainer Hsieh Hsin-ta (謝新達), better known as Chu Ke-liang (豬哥亮), had seen tough times before successfully returning to the stage in his later years. According to a Taipei Times article in 2009, he had ruined his finances in the 1990s, incurring debts by gambling heavily. Hiding from his creditors, and a family feud, defined that decade.

This video is from the Chu Ke-liang’s Karaoke Show (or Cabaret Show) which was popular in the 1980s. The maître du show appears towards the end of the 6th minute.

The View from Taiwan quotes from a “Facebook” post:

On one end he was the affirmation of the KMT colonialist stereotype of Taiwanese as vulgar, low class, silly, impish and absurd. He was the validation of Waisheng class supremacy, not unlike the way African Americans have been depicted as caricatures to reinforce White supremacy in classic American film–the minstrel. Zhu Ge-liang was the caricature of Taiwaneseness to satisfy the desires of a Waisheng elite.

On the other end, Zhu was loved by Taiwanese audiences for creating Taiwanese space in media at a time when the Waisheng aesthetic was still (and is still) the predominant image. He was, in a way, a rejection of that Waisheng aesthetic.

[…]

Chu was born in Kaohsiung in 1946. He died after a long battle against cancer, aged 70. Reportedly, he may eventually be buried in Keelung.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

KCNA: North Korea “has contributed to protecting China’s peace and security”

North Korean newsagency KCNA published an article on Wednesday evening this week, criticizing Chinese press coverage and commentary. According to China’s state-owned newspaper Huanqiu Shibao, it is the third article in recent days that criticizes Chinese pundits and media on North Korea, but the first to mention China by name.

Rather than criticizing Pyongyang, Beijing should cherish the long-standing alliance with North Korea, which had benefitted China, rather than causing problems, KCNA wrote, and added:

One must clearly understand that the DPRK’s line of access to nukes for the existence and development of the country can neither be changed nor shaken and that the DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China, risking its nuclear program which is as precious as its own life, no matter how valuable the friendship is.

The DPRK, which has already become one of the most powerful nuclear weapons state, does not feel the need to think over how many options it has now.

KCNA, who provide news and articles in Korean, English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish and Japanese – but no permalinks – wrote as follows (the name “Kim Chol” should probably not be attributed to the country’s former vice minister, or  Kim Jong-un’s murdered elder brother):

Pyongyang, May 3 (KCNA) — Kim Chol released a commentary on Wednesday, urging Chinese newspapers to refrain from making reckless remarks undermining the DPRK-China relations.  Noting that a string of absurd and reckless remarks are now heard from big neighboring countries, perhaps frightened at the U.S. blackmail and war racket, every day only to render the acute situation of the Korean peninsula more strained, the commentary says: 朝中社平壤5月3日电 金哲3日发表题为《不要再做乱砍朝中关系支柱的贸然言行》的评论。文章摘要如下:
或许是因为被最近美国高调的威胁恐吓与轰隆的战争机械动音吓坏了,临近的大国内部连日传来不谙事理、失去分寸的言论,使日趋尖锐的朝鲜半岛局势更加紧张。
The People’s Daily and the Global Times, widely known as media speaking for the official stand of the Chinese party and government, have recently carried commentaries asserting that the DPRK’s access to nukes poses a threat to the national interests of China. They shifted the blame for the deteriorated relations between the DPRK and China onto the DPRK and raised lame excuses for the base acts of dancing to the tune of the U.S. 被人认为代表中国党和政府正式立场的《人民日报》和《环球时报》最近发表几篇评论声称朝鲜拥核威胁中国的国家利益,把朝中关系恶化的责任完全推给朝鲜,同时极力辩解中国对美国随波逐流的卑鄙做法。
  Those commentaries claimed that the DPRK poses a threat to “the security in the northeastern region of China” by conducting nuclear tests less than 100 km away from its border with China. They even talked rubbish that the DPRK strains the situation in Northeast Asia and “offers the U.S. excuses for deploying more strategic assets” in the region.  评论说,“朝鲜在距离中国边界不到一百公里的地方搞核试验,威胁到中国东北的安全”, “朝鲜刺激东北亚局势,给美国加强在这一地区的战略部署提供了借口”。
 Not content with such paradox, the commentaries asserted that to remain averse to the DPRK’s access to nukes is to preserve interests common to the U.S. and China, calling for slapping harsher sanctions against the DPRK in order to avert a war which would bring danger to China.  甚至诡称反对朝鲜发展核导技术是中美两国的共同利益,就是为避免危及自身的战争也得强化对朝制裁。
 The newspapers, even claiming China holds the initiative in handling the DPRK-China relations, made no scruple of letting out a string of provocative remarks urging the DPRK to choose one among such options if it doesn’t want military confrontation with China–“whether to face protracted isolation or to preserve national security by making a U-turn” and whether to break Sino-DPRK friendship or to dismantle its nukes.  更有甚者,悍然放出“中朝关系的主动权掌握在中国的手中”,如果朝鲜不愿与中国军事对立,就要在“长期孤立和另走一条国家安全道路之间”、中朝友谊和弃核之间作出抉择的极为挑衅的妄言。
 This is just a wanton violation of the independent and legitimate rights, dignity and supreme interests of the DPRK and, furthermore, constitutes an undisguised threat to an honest-minded neighboring country which has a long history and tradition of friendship.  这是对朝鲜自主合法的权利、尊严和最高利益的严重侵害,也是具有悠久的友好历史和传统的善良邻国露骨的威胁。
 China is hyping up “damage caused by the DPRK’s nuclear tests” in its three northeastern provinces. This only reveals the ulterior purpose sought by it, being displeased with the DPRK’s rapid development of nukes.  中国有些人大谈东北三省的“核试灾害”,只能暴露出中国不喜欢朝鲜核武高度化的内心。
 As far as “violation of national interests” oft-repeated by politicians and media persons of China is concerned, it is just the issue that the DPRK should rather talk much about.

It is just the DPRK whose strategic interests have been repeatedly violated due to insincerity and betrayal on the part of its partner, not China at all.

 至于中国政治家和媒体人动辄提到的“侵害国家利益”,反而朝鲜有更多的话要说。由于对方背信弃义的行动,国家战略利益屡遭侵害的不是中国,而是朝鲜。
 Some theorists of China are spouting a load of nonsense that the DPRK’s access to nukes strains the situation in Northeast Asia and offers the U.S. an excuse for beefing up its strategic assets in the region. But the U.S. had activated its strategy for dominating Asia-Pacific long before the DPRK had access to nukes, and its primary target is just China. 中国有人荒唐地主张朝鲜拥核加剧东北亚局势,给美国加强在这一地区的战略部署提供借口,但美国的亚太支配战略早在朝鲜拥核很久以前就开始启动,其主要目标本来就是中国。
China should acknowledge in an honest manner that the DPRK has just contributed to protecting peace and security of China, foiling the U.S. scheme for aggression by waging a hard fight in the frontline of the showdown with the U.S. for more than seven decades, and thank the DPRK for it. 中国倒是应当老实承认长达70多年在反美对抗战的第一线艰苦作战,挫败美国的侵略阴谋,为维护中国大陆的和平与安全做出贡献的到底是谁,先向朝鲜表示感谢才合乎道理。
Some ignorant politicians and media persons of China daringly assert that the traditional relations of the DPRK-China friendship were in line with the interests of each county in the past. They are advised to clearly understand the essence of history before opening their mouth. 悍然胡扯传统的中朝友好关系“当时契合了各国的利益”的愚昧无知的一些中国政治家和媒体人,应首先搞清楚历史的本质后再来理论。
Their call for not only slapping stricter sanctions but also not ruling out a military intervention if the DPRK refuses to abandon its nuclear program is no more than an extremely ego-driven theory based on big-power chauvinism that not only the strategic interests but also the dignity and vital rights of the DPRK should be sacrificed for the interests of China. 只要朝鲜不弃核,不仅加强对朝制裁力度,而且不惜使出军事干涉手段的说法,不过是极为霸道的大国主义逻辑而已,即为了中国的利益,朝鲜的战略利益乃至主权和生存权都要牺牲。
One must clearly understand that the DPRK’s line of access to nukes for the existence and development of the country can neither be changed nor shaken and that the DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China, risking its nuclear program which is as precious as its own life, no matter how valuable the friendship is. 必须明白,不管是谁,决不能改变或摇动朝鲜为国家的存在和发展拥核的路线。无论朝中友谊怎样宝贵,朝鲜也不会拿如同生命的核武来交换或乞求。
The DPRK, which has already become one of the most powerful nuclear weapons state, does not feel the need to think over how many options it has now. 毋庸赘述,朝鲜已是最强的核国家,有很多路可以选择。
China should no longer try to test the limits of the DPRK’s patience but make proper strategic option, facing up to the situation. 中国不要再无谓地企图考验朝鲜的忍耐的界限,而应当冷静看待现实并作出正确的战略选择。
China had better ponder over the grave consequences to be entailed by its reckless act of chopping down the pillar of the DPRK-China relations. -0- 中国要深思,现在乱砍朝中关系支柱的危险妄动可能带来的严重后果。(完)

The wordings in English and Chinese aren’t always identical. For example, according to the English version, People’s Daily and Huanqiu Shibao are widely known as media speaking for the official stand of the Chinese party and government, while in KCNA’s Chinese version, the two publications are believed to represent China’s party’s and government’s official position. And while the English version says that [t]he DPRK, which has already become one of the most powerful nuclear weapons state, does not feel the need to think over how many options it has now, the Chinese translation says that with no need to go into unnecessary details, the DPRK is already the strongest nuclear country and can choose from many roads.

Huanqiu Shibao, one of the two Chinese papers mentioned by KCNA, lost no time to react: an article, written by “Shan Renping” (that would be editor Hu Xijin‘s (胡锡进) pen name, according to Feichang Dao),  appeared in Chinese at 8 a.m. the next day – KCNA’s commentary had been published the evening before. At 10:18 a.m., an English version of the same article followed on the “Global Times” website.

Neither Western nor Chinese media may take a great interest in reproducing the case Pyongyang is trying to make: that doesn’t fit in either America’s nor into China’s interests, as KCNA noted in the Wednesday editorial: […] the commentaries asserted that to remain averse to the DPRK’s access to nukes is to preserve interests common to the U.S. and China, calling for slapping harsher sanctions against the DPRK in order to avert a war which would bring danger to China.

From the official North Korean perspective, America, not North Korea, poses problems – and KCNA adds a warning to Beijing (whose politicians have left it to scholars and media so far to voice discontent with Pyongyang):

Some theorists of China are spouting a load of nonsense that the DPRK’s access to nukes strains the situation in Northeast Asia and offers the U.S. an excuse for beefing up its strategic assets in the region. But the U.S. had activated its strategy for dominating Asia-Pacific long before the DPRK had access to nukes, and its primary target is just China.

On Friday, Taiwan’s Liberty Times quoted a South Korean foreign ministry spokesman as saying that sanctions on the North were showing effects, as demonstrated by North Korea’s reaction. According to the Liberty Times report, US secretary of state had previously revealed that Pyongyang had received a warning from Beijing to either refrain from further nuclear tests, or to face sanctions voluntarily imposed by China.

____________

Related

Big country, small countries, Wikipedia, last edt. March 19, 2017

____________

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Argentine foreign Broadcaster’s Return to Shortwave

RAE (Radiodifusión Argentina al Exterior), Argentina’s foreign broadcaster that has been plagued by technical problems for a number of years, has two of its programs relayed by WRMI in Okeechobee, Florida, two hours a day. It’s currently only on air in Spanish and in English on five days or nights a week respectively right now, but podcasts should be available in Chinese, French, English German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish (see menu at the top of RAE’s website). RAE plans to make a full comeback on shortwave from their own transmission site at General Pacheco after successful restoration of the equipment.

Apart from information from a rather official angle, RAE also airs cultural programs, and samples from the country’s admirable musical landscape – traditional, contemporary, and somewhere in between.

WRMI carries a number of broadcasters, in what is called a brokered broadcasting format.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Deutsche Welle’s “Emotionally Appealing Content”

Emotionally appealing …

The German federal government plans to increase its funding of Deutsche Welle (DW) by 11.2 mn Euros in 2018,  Medienkorrespondenz (MK), a media news magazine from Bonn, reports. That would be a total of 325.6 mn Euros. In addition, DW has earnings from sponsors, according to Deutsche Welle law (article 11). Originally a foreign broadcaster, DW wants to develop into a “digital media corporation”, with a priority on “mobile utilization situations” and “social media”. Apparently, the linear television programs are doomed to become a platform for feature stories and clips that would also be useful for DW’s “Facebook” account, and vice versa.

Some of the quotes from the press release read like a jargon outside the command of their adopters themselves. According to MK, DW wants to increase its audience from currently 135 mn users to a target of 150. On its digital media, DW wants to “put a stronger focus on emotionally appealing content and on DW profile themes” (“einen stärkeren Fokus auf emotional ansprechenden Content und auf DW-Profilthemen setzen”).

MK appears to have had a question, and got a reply:

By “emotionally appealing content”, the broadcaster means topics that can be experienced on an emotional level”, it explained on inquiry. This was about “empathy with protagonists, or a narrative level at eye level.” Deutsche Welle denotes, for example, reports about human rights, freedom of expression, equal rights and democratic values as “profile themes”.

Unter „emotional ansprechendem Content“ versteht der Sender, wie er auf Nachfrage erläuterte, wenn in Beiträgen Themen „auf einer emotionalen Ebene erlebbar“ seien. Es gehe um „Empathie mit Protagonisten oder eine Erzählebene auf Augenhöhe“. Als ihre „Profilthemen“ bezeichnet die Deutsche Welle beispielsweise Berichte über Menschenrechte, freie Meinungsäußerung, Gleichberechtigung und demokratische Werte.

The trend has emerged for some time. And when you are sufficiently emotive, concerning Deutsche Welle “profile themes”, you don’t even have to know who Liu Xiaobo is, as shown in a “news story” named “Beauty Queen and Activist fight for human rights in China” (“Beauty-Queen und Aktivist kämpfen für Menschenrechte in China”). The story initially contained a Liao Yiwu photo, while the caption was referring to Liu Xiaobo. Sounds all alike anyway.

Liao Yiwu, mistaken for Liu Xiaobo

DW caption, February 2016: he’s here, not there

… and better off

After so much emotion, it’s time to meditate on some numbers. DW’s budget was reportedly at about 321 mn Euros in 1998, it decreased considerably in the years after that, and began to rise to new heights after Peter Limbourg, a former news anchor on German commercial television, had become the broadcaster’s new director.

The following numbers are sort of my guesswork, even if based on sources – they may, at times, include special budgets (funding programs targeted at refugees living in Germany, for example, or the Deutsche Welle Akademie), and sometimes they may not. (The drop from 321 mn to 302 mn from 2015 – 2016, for example, doesn’t look logical to me.) The 2016 – 2018 numbers are from the same source – Medienkorrespondenz -, these two reports, covering three fiscal years, follow the same formula and make it easy to compare the three years.

All numbers shown below (rounded) are millions.

Year
Operational
Investment
Total
Source
1998 321  Die Welt
2010 261  BMF
2011
2012  271  Bundestag
2013  296  BT WiWi
2014  311  DW
 2015  321  DW
 2016  285  17  302  MK 16
 2017  299  27  325  MK 16
 2018  305  32  336  MK 17
 2019

DW is a publicly owned broadcaster – it could actually afford to be a showcase for solid, trustworthy journalism. But a goal of this kind doesn’t appear to define the mission. In an interview in November 2014, Limbourg told German television that we obviously have to see to it that the German perspective and German values for which we stand, i. e. democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of opinion, that these are heard in the world.

____________

Related

Negotiations with Politics, Dec 26, 2011

____________

Monday, April 10, 2017

This Blog is turning Nine

I wouldn’t have been aware of it, but the WordPress stats informed me that I wrote my first blogpost nine years ago. Nine years of decline, if you go by the statistics.

No, not quite. 2011 was the maximum years in terms of clicks (they didn’t count visitors back then), and 2012 was a close second. In 2013, clicks halved, and since then, there has been a gentle descent.

And it’s a sad fact that in all these years, there hasn’t been a single reader from Greenland, from a number of African countries, and from Svalbard. Not according to these statistics, anyway.

Top-five countries: America, Australia, Germany, United Kingdom, and Taiwan.

Top-five posts: China: authoritarian or totalitarian? / China – a nation state? / Reality check: is Taiwan a province of China? / The BBC Globescan poll champion / How ugly sex and dogs can be.

WordPress is a great platform. Hopefully, it will remain the place for many good bloggers and blogs for the years to come.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Seconds of Fame

Link

Monday, March 27, 2017

Populism in China (1): The Downfall of Bo Xilai

There is no Weltinnenpolitik yet, but there are cross-civilizational trends.

The City of Red Songs

There would be no second chance. Gerhard Schröder, former chancellor of Germany, was in a hurry in June 2011, on the sidelines of a forum in southwestern China’s metropolis of Chongqing. He was therefore lacking the time to attend one of the red-song nights that were customary there. But he still pleased his interlocutors with a German proverb: Where people sing, you can settle down – wicked people sing no songs.

In full, the red-songs custom advocated by Chongqing’s party chief Bo Xilai was Singing revolutionary songs, Reading classic books, telling stories and spreading mottos. There would be nine more months of that before Bo Xilai was toppled by his CCP comrades.

A Hudong article explained the activity at the time. It was a mass concept, started in Chongqing in 2008, which was greeted with enthusiasm there, and elsewhere in China. The concept wasn’t outdated, because

if a country and a nation have no correct thought and advanced culture, it will lose its backbone. The current deep changes of the economic system, the structure of society, and the profound adjustment of interest patterns must be reflected in the ideological field. There is diversity in peoples’ minds, and although the mainstream is positive and healthy, while some peoples’ material life conditions have improved, spiritual life is somewhat empty. To change that condition, and to ensure a safe passing of the torch in the cause of the party and the country, the red flag must be righteously upheld, the ideology of Marxism must be consolidated in its guiding position within the ideological field, and the attractiveness and the cohesive power of socialist ideology must be strengthened.

一个国家和民族没有正确的思想、先进的文化,就会失掉主心骨。当前,经济体制深刻变革、社会结构深刻变动、利益格局深刻调整,必然反映到意识形态领域。人们的思想日趋多元多变多样,虽然主流积极健康向上,但一些人物质生活改善了,精神生活却有些空虚。为了彻底改变这种状况,保证党和国家的事业薪火相传,必须理直气壮地举红旗,不断巩固马克思主义在意识形态领域的指导地位,增强社会主义意识形态的吸引力和凝聚力。[Links within these lines omitted.]

According to the HuDong article, CCP politbureau member and Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙来) had deplored the phenomenon of young people who sang decadent songs (唱 .. 靡靡之音, chàng mímí zhī yīn), who were reading “fast-food” kinds of literature (读 .. 快餐文化, dú kuàicān wénhuà), told “low and vulgar stories” (讲 .. 低俗故事, jiǎng dīsú gùshì), and “spread pornographic or dull scripts/pieces” (传 .. 黄段子、灰段子, chuán huáng duànzi, huī duànzi).

So, apparently, there were dirty songs, too. Maybe things weren’t as simple as Schröder had believed. At least one  reader and forum commenter of China’s Huanqiu Shibao didn’t trust Schröder’s expertise and wrote:

OK, listen [to the red songs], you won’t comprehend them anyway. It will be as if you were listening to folk songs.

听吧,反正听不懂,就当听民歌了

The “Chongqing Model” was controversial, at least in the perceivable medial public of China. The party elite wasn’t entirely in love with Bo’s pretentious neo-Maoism. A vice president of Law School at China University of Political Science and Law was quoted by the English-language party mouthpiece “Global Times”:

There have been 104,000 “Red Song Concerts” in Chongqing, with 80 million participants. It cost 1,500 yuan ($231) per person for onsite renting and costume expenses, 210 million yuan in total. Adding in the offwork compensation and transportation the final cost is 270 billion [sic – probably means million – JR] yuan. Why don’t they use the money for health insurance?

Bo Xilai’s “Populism”, 2007 – 2012

At the grassroots, however, Bo’s leadership style appears to have worked (maybe it still does). The Chongqing Model wasn’t just about folklore, red or otherwise.

Chongqing (Sichuan province) residents set off firecrackers today, celebrating the execution of the provincial-level city’s former chief justice Wen Qiang (文强), cqnews.net reported in July 2010. The Wall Street Journal explained:

Wen Qiang was put to death following the rejection in May by China’s Supreme Court of an appeal of his conviction on charges including bribery, shielding criminal gangs, rape and inability to account for millions of dollars in cash and assets, according to Xinhua news agency. Xinhua didn’t say how Mr. Wen was executed.

Punching black crime and uprooting vice (拳打黑除恶) was the name of the campaign that cost Wen his life – according to the historical records as Bo would have it, he and his police chief Wang Lijun not only battled against gangs, but infiltrated cadres, too.

The now defunct website Chinageeks published an English translation of Zhang Wen, a former chief editor of the Xinhua magazine Globe:

Bo Xilai and the “northeast tiger” Wang Lijun entered Chongqing and started a war and began a “battling corruption and evil” movement that has gradually begun to spread nationwide and worldwide. This action is in line with the people’s wishes, and at the same time, also in line with what central authorities wish.

At first, the public opinion was very one-sided; no one could find any fault with Bo. The controversy and difference of opinions came with the case of Li Zhuang. Proponents of the democratic rule of law questioned and criticized the legality of Chongqing [court] proceedings, but Bo Xilai’s supporters hold that punishing lawyers who defend “bad people” is appropriate.

Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai is a high-level lawyer who has been working for many years. The two have been together for many years and Bo himself was once the head of the Ministry of Commerce, and thus often negotiated international legal issues with foreign opponents. Because of this, Bo Xilai should have a solid conception and knowledge of the law.

But in the end, in the Li Zhuang case, the organs of justice in Chongqing left a bad impression that they might violate legal procedures. Precisely because of this, some people’s opinions on Bo Xilai changed dramatically. I myself once wrote an essay expressing pity that Bo Xilai hadn’t turned out to be the sort of high-quality modern politician [we had hoped].

Chongqing was a small pond for a big fish – Bo Xilai appeared to have hoped for a permanent seat in the CCP’s central politburo, but landed the job as party secretary of Chongqing instead. Chongqing wasn’t an insignificant city, but it was far from where central Chinese power was. Only an alernate politburo membership linked him to Beijing. From 2008, his Maoist song events raised nationwide attention, and even beyond China – Henry Kissinger apparently leapt at the chance Schröder had missed.

In 2011, Bo Xilai started his second campaign for a permanent seat at the CCP’s top table. While the Economist found Bo’s style refreshing, it noted nervously that

The region’s party chief, Bo Xilai, is campaigning for a place on the Politburo Standing Committee in next year’s leadership shuffle. He looks likely to succeed. Like every other Chinese politician since 1949, he avoids stating his ambitions openly, but his courting of the media and his attempts to woo the public leave no one in any doubt. Mr Bo’s upfront style is a radical departure from the backroom politicking that has long been the hallmark of Communist rule and would seem like a refreshing change, were it not that some  of his supporters see him as the Vladimir Putin of China. Mr Bo is a populist with an iron fist. He has waged the biggest crackdown on mafia-style gangs in his country in recent years. He has also been trying to foster a mini-cult of Mao, perhaps in an effort to appeal to those who are disillusioned with China’s cut-throat capitalism.

Bo didn’t appear to aim for the top job as secretary general, the Economist noted, as that position appeared to have been reserved for Xi Jinping. Indeed, Xi succeeded Hu Jintao as party secretary general in autumn 2012, and as state chairman in March 2013.

Bo Xilai’s plans didn’t work that smoothly. In November 2011, a British citizen, Neil Heywood, died in a hotel in Chongqing. Given that Chinese courts don’t work independently from the party, the circumstances of his death can’t be considered resolved. A Chinese court found Gu Kailai, Bo Xilai’s wife, guilty of killing Heywood, and after only one day in court, she got a suspended death sentence.

The BBC‘s China editor Carrie Gracie tried to shed light on the circumstances of Bo Xilai’s rise and fall, and the role Heywood’s death played in the latter, but didn’t find too many interlocutors. Instead, she presented a Rocky Horror Picture Show of elite power struggles with Chinese characteristics. Bo Xilai as the avenger of the common man, a crashing, media-savvy scourge of organized crime, who addressed the public directly, without party media filtering. That hadn’t happened since Mao’s days – “think Donald Trump”.

With support from local police chief Wang Lijun, who fancied leading roles in martial-arts television, too, Bo had exercised a regime that labeled opponents as mafiosi and not only jailed them, but expropriated them too, in favor of Chongqing’s budgets.

It isn’t contested that Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun prosecuted the real or supposed gangsters’ advocates, too, with questionable means. Gracie quotes one of these advocates, Li Zhuang (see above, Zhang Wen’s criticism of Bo Xilai), as Li describes how he was arrested by Wang Lijun personally:

The scene was so over-the-top, loads of police cars surrounding the plane, riot police in helmets and camouflage, armed with submachine guns. I asked, “Why the big show? Is it Obama’s state visit or are you capturing Osama Bin Laden?”

We were surrounded by a huge scrum of reporters. He wanted to show his authority on camera. He was in a trench coat, hands in his pockets. He said: “Li Zhuang, we meet again.”

There were admirers of Bo and Wang, there were critics and enemies, and there were people who detested the two. But at the grassroots, the fans appeared to be numerous. According to Gracie, there are still many.

Making inconvenient lawyers disappear was no unique feature of Bo Xilai, however. The party leadership with Xi Jinping at the core has been proving for years that to them, the rule of law is a theroretical nicety they may or may not care about.

Gracie reduces the causes of conflict between the noisy polit-soloist Bo Xilai and the basically “collectivist” leadership in Beijing on a personal rivalry between princeling Bo and princeling Xi.

Certainly, top politicians’ egos can hardly be overestimated, and when they are Chinese, ostentatious modesty shouldn’t fool anyone.

But Xi alone wouldn’t have gotten Bo under control. Neither with the sudden Neil-Heywood scandal – that became known as the Wang-Lijun incident in China after the police chief fled into the next US consulate and being passed on to the central authorities from there (but only after having spilled the beans). Nor otherwise.

The question suggests itself if Bo Xilai’s career wasn’t finished in summer 2011 anyway, given wide-spread disapproval among the party elite, of his egotistic leadership style in Chongqing.

“Unity is strength” was one of the “red songs” Bo Xilai had them sing in Chongqing (above: October 8, 2009). But it wasn’t only the Xi faction that saw a lack of just that on Bo’s part. Bo was putting himself forward, and that had been a taboo during all the post-Mao years.

He didn’t denigrate his leading comrades – appearances like that of Donald Trump as a campaigner, cursing fellow members of his political class, would have been inconceivable. But putting himself into the limelight (and casting it away from others) amounted to the same thing, by Chinese standards. Besides, given his anti-corruption renown, sanctimonious as it may have been, could have threatened his “comrades”. A tribun within their ranks – that couldn’t work.

Xi Jinping and his predecessor Hu Jintao are said to be rivals. But within the Hu camp, Bo’s populism didn’t seem to resonate either. On the contrary: Wen Jiabao, chief state councillor (aka “prime minister”) during the Hu Jintao era, had been a tireless, even if unsuccessful, advocate of political reform, way beyond economics or technology.

At a press conference in March 2012, after the closing ceremony of the annual “parliament” plenary sessions, Wen warned that China wasn’t immune against another cultural revolution. That John Garnaut, an Australian correspondent in Beijing, got the opportunity to talk with Hu Dehua, one of Hu Yaobang’s sons, may also count as an indication that the comparatively liberal factions in the party leadership were at least as sick of Bo Xilai’s revolutionary operas, as were the Xi supporters.

Garnaut, two weeks after Wen’s press conference, in an indirect account of his conversation with Hu Dehua*):

Hu Dehua told his father how pessimistic he felt about his country’s future. Hu Yaobang agreed that the methods and ideologies of the 1987 anti-liberalization movement came straight from the Cultural Revolution. But he told his son to gain some historical perspective, and reminded him that Chinese people were not joining in the elite power games as they had 20 years before. He called the anti-liberalization campaign a “medium-sized cultural revolution” and warned that a small cultural revolution would no doubt follow, Hu Dehua told me. As society developed, Hu Yaobang told his son, the middle and little cultural revolutions would gradually fade from history’s stage.

From there, everything went fast. Still in March, Bo was dismissed as Chongqing’s party chief. He also lost his alternate membership in the politburo. In summer 2012, his wife Gu Kailai got her commuted death sentence, and in September 2013, Bo was sentenced to life in prison – based on the usual charges for unrigged politicians: corruption.

Is there a Chongqing Heritage?

At first glance, Bo Xilai’s “populism” or “Maoism” is finished. But Bo counted as a champion of many Chinese from the political left. A comment in German weekly Die Zeit, in September 2013, saw the verdict against Bo as a signal from the top that resistance against economic reform was futile.

To assess Bo Xilai’s political heritage objectively. The CCP may be beyond the era when beaten opponents were airbrushed from all photos and records. But the question about how publicly or privately-owned China’s economy should be might impose itself with any questions about Bo Xilai, and the now seven-member standing committee of the politburo can’t use such questions.

A political scientist of Beijing University, He Weifang (贺卫方), hinted at problems in assessing the Chongqing Model’s performance, from 2007 to 2012:

It is generally believed that the so-called “Chongqing Model” is mainly shaped by three aspects: “red culture” on the political level, “targeted actions against dark and evil forces in Chongqing“, and the reduction of the income gaps between the poor and the rich. The most criticized aspects are the former two, although there is support for the two of them in Chongqing and elsewhere. The third aspect isn’t that controversial. However, all data published concerning the efficiency of the measures taken to narrow the income gap are actually issued by the Chongqing authorities, and therefore lacking neutral assessment. Also, we can see that the whole process is strongly government-led, whose focus isn’t on creating a market logic of equal opportunities. If this approach will or will not lead to mistakes in financial policies, including the rural land policies‘ impartiality, is also questionable. And then there are concerns about life today being lead on future earnings, short-term inputs being made to curry favor with the public, which may come at high future costs.

答:一般认为,所谓的重庆模式主要由三方面内容构成:政治层面上的红色文化,执法层面上的“打黑除恶”以及民生方面的缩小贫富差距。最受诟病的是前两者,虽然在重庆和其他地方,似乎也有一些人人对于“唱红”和“打黑”表达支持。第三方面内容相对较少争议。不过,那些举措究竟对于缩小贫富差距产生了怎样的效果,目前得到的信息都是由重庆当局发布的,缺少中立的评估。另外,我们可以看到整个过程是在政府强势主导下进行的,其重点并非创造机会均等的市场逻辑。这种做法是否会带来财政决策中的失误,包括重庆所推行的农村土地政策的公正性,都是大可怀疑的。还有寅吃卯粮的隐忧,短期内的高投入讨好了民众,但是却需要未来付出巨大的代价。

If Bo Xilai was a populist, one of Donald Trump’s kind, or Putin’s, or Neil Farage’s, or whoever, one has to ask oneself how much influence he has maintained over Chinese politics to this day. After all, populists like Geert Wilders aren’t ineffective, merely because they can’t lay their hands on the imperial regalia.

When looking at European populism – that’s only a snapshot, of course -, one can get the impression that populists may not be elected, but they do leave marks on politics, from Merkel’s Willkommenskultur back to the traditional Christian Democrats’ policies, and Britain’s Brexit, implemented not by its original proponents, but by Theresa May, who had used to be a lukewarm supporter of Britain’s EU membership.

Populism is hardly ever the common peoples’ business, but that of the elites. The battles are fought within the political class, as observed by Hu Yaobang in the late 1980s. That is about as true in Europe. However, these battles within the superstructure may create or intensify certain trends in the public mood – and once policies have moved sufficiently into the “populist” direction, the support for these parties wanes, and the electorate turns back to the long-established parties. After all, Joe Blow doesn’t want to look like an extremist.

When Xi Jinping announced China’s new role as a guardian of free trade at the Davos forum in January, German Handelsblatt China correspondent Stephan Scheuer hailed the party and state leader’s “dressing-down for populists”. In Davos, Xi had become “a pioneer of fair-minded globalization”.

What could be beginning to show in China is a comparatively strong Maoist component in propaganda, as long as this doesn’t come at the cost of China’s privileged, and as long as this doesn’t require substantial reallocation of means or wealth to poor classes of population, or laggard regions. But whenever the name “Bo Xilai” should appear in any token event, the exorcists will be just around the corner.

%d bloggers like this: