According to Oh My News an interesting thing happened at Panmunjom today - the North Koreans handed over two black and white photographs. These are pictures that they had previously promised to donate to the Kim Ku Memorial Hall showing Kim Ku and Kim Il-sung meeting one another in P’yôngyang in spring 1948. An interesting scene for anyone (like me) interested in the two Koreas in the late 40s.
September 30, 2005
September 29, 2005
The latest issue of New Left Review has an excellent interview with Han Dong-fang, Chinese labour activist, veteran of Tiananmen Square and founder of the China Labour Bulletin, run from Hong Kong. As luck would have it, this is the article they have put up online free for nonsubscribers to read, so there’s not excuse not to get stuck into it.
The most gripping part is Han’s description of his involvement in the uprising of 1989 - his apparently meteoric rise from a nobody railway worker to someone whom the students felt it necessary to hide from the tanks and who they compared to another famous labour organiser:
At around 11.30 pm on June 3rd, a group of fifteen or twenty young people arrived looking for me. My comrades tried to push them out, but they just broke in, saying I had to go with them, that there was going to be a bloody massacre here. Without saying who they were, they insisted I should not stay, and mentioned Solidarność, comparing me to Lech Wałęsa. Of course, I was flattered to be accorded such importance, but I didn’t think my life was more valuable than anyone else’s. Besides, it would be shameful for me to run away. I told them I was staying. Eventually the young people left, but returned five minutes later and one of them said: ‘Excuse me, but I’m afraid you have to go with us. That’s our mission, your destiny’. A very strong fellow gestured to the others, and several of them just picked me up and physically carried me out of the tent. Then they walked me to the east side of the square—the army came from the west—surrounding me to protect me from bullets. It was an extremely touching moment. In the north-west corner we saw a burning tank. We went past the Public Security headquarters, and then the Beijing Hotel, where I saw a man riding a bicycle eastwards with one arm, the other bleeding copiously. By this time it was around one in the morning. When we reached the Dongdan intersection on Chang’an Avenue, near where I lived, they said: ‘Alright, now leave the city. We have to go back to the square to protect some other people’—and then they disappeared. I never found out what happened to them, whether they survived in the square, were injured or went to prison.
Much of the rest of the interview outlines the nature of and reasoning behind the China Labour Bulletin’s strategy of confronting the Chinese state and the big foreign employers through legal means. This means hiring a lot of lawyers, filing lawsuits, and, ultimately a strategy of taking over the official state unions from below. Han describes this as a way of building up the confidence of Chinese workers that they can fight back for better pay and conditions and even workplace democracy. It seems to be quite a successful strategy at the moment, but it obviously has huge limitations when faced with a vast and powerful state machine. Ultimately at least the threat of more drastic action from workers and peasants will always be necessary to get serious concessions from Chinese bureaucrats and foreign bosses alike. It also seems unlikely that the idea of taking over the official unions from below will get very far and at some point this means that there has got to be some new form of labour organisation in China. In this context it would be interesting to look at how workers have organised themselves in other times and places where the state has attempted to repress all expressions of worker collectivity (perhaps Tsarist Russia or the partially successful example of Solidarnosc in Poland).
September 20, 2005
Sorry for slight lack of posts recently. It’s not that I have a lack of things to write about. Quite the contrary.
Anyway, just in case you hadn’t noticed, the US and North Korea have finally got their act together and done what a lot of people thought they would probably do this time around in the six-party talks: cut a makeshift deal…
But then again, the North has thought better of that within a few hours and decided to push its luck by declaring that it expects to get a civilian nuclear reactor before it will give up its [alleged] nuclear weapons. Of course, in principle this shouldn’t really be a problem as Monday’s agreement does actually say they are entitled to this:
The DPRK stated that it has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
The other parties expressed their respect and agreed to discuss at an appropriate time the subject of the provision of light-water reactor to the DPRK.
However, there are a few major problems here. One being that the US and DPRK obviously have a different understanding of what “discuss at an appropriate time” means. US negotiator Christopher Hill apparently said that this meant:
“when North gets rid of its nuclear weapons and all of its existing programs and [has] gotten back into the NPT with good standing with IAEA safeguards”
This would indicate that they have a very different interpretation of this sentence from the agreement:
The six parties agreed to take coordinated steps to implement the aforementiond consensus in a phased manner in line with the principle of “commitment for commitment, action for action”.
Although, it could be, as Oranckay has it, that this is all a matter of a dodgy translation and the North Koreans are not really asking for the light-water reactor before they give up nukes, just insisting that they do get the LWR.
But the more fundamental problem here is that the US has no intention of giving the North a light-water reactor, just as it had no intention of providing one after the 1994 Agreed Framework.
It all looks suspiciously like two sides that only agree on one thing: they want an agreement, whether or not it’s worth the paper it’s written on.
September 15, 2005
I really just have some questions about this as I’m rather ignorant about Japanese politics. The principal one is: what are Koizumi’s reasons for wanting to privatise the Postal Savings system? My initial guesses would be:
a) He’s a fully paid-up neo-liberal ideologue and believes that the private sector is better no matter what
b) This is some way of gaining the upper hand in some sort of intra-ruling class conflict, ie the postal savings system represents a vested interest that Koizumi wants to crush
c) He (or rather his economic advisors) really believe that privatisation is the best option for the Japanese economy
Or perhaps some combination of the above.
Sorry to pre-empt any answers like this, but I just wanted to throw out a few ideas.
My other question would be, if postal privatisation is quite unpopular (which I believe is the case), why did the Japanese people vote Koizumi back in?
Unfortunately the hoped for discussion hasn’t materialised yet over there. But in the meantime I found an interesting article at Asia Times by Hisane Masaki which is mainly focused on Koizumi’s foreign policy challenges. Interesting, but I’m more keen on finding out what lies behind the whole postal reform business. The author does have this though, which at least goes some way to clarifying things:
Postal reform is the key component of an overall reform. Koizumi wants to privatize the savings and insurance programs of Japan Post, which has US$3 trillion in deposits. Reform would seek to put that money into more sound investments, presumably sparking a boost to Japan’s economy. Japan has the second largest economy but it has stagnated for years.
Koizumi’s successful election strategy tapped into public concern that fat government bureaucracies were sapping the country’s economic growth as an aging population worried about how citizens would be taken care of when they retire. Koizumi, who is certain to be reelected prime minister in a special Diet session to be convened later this month, wanted to halt the use of postal savings as an LDP slush fund for public works projects, which critics say were sources of waste and corruption.
Any contributions welcome, either here or there.
September 14, 2005
For some reason I’m slightly reluctant to blog about the current unfortunate goings on at SOAS (my college) - perhaps because they’re so depressing - but I feel obliged to nonetheless. The fact that SOAS Library has summarily sacked a number of respected specialist librarians as part of its restructuring is now causing controversy beyond these shores and upsetting people concerned with area studies in many other universities.
It seems at the moment that only the librarians responsible for Japan/Korea and China have been dismissed but the management may also want to get rid of other specialists like the Arabic librarian. This is obviously a huge threat to area studies in general and East Asia in particular, especially after the recent closure of East Asian programmes at Durham and the (averted) threat to Korean studies at Oxford. SOAS must have the best collection of Japanese, Korean and Chinese language books outside Asia and North America, making it a resource for the whole of Europe and beyond. With the loss of these librarians the school will not be able to properly maintain these collections and of course the level of teaching and research will likely be affected. All this doesn’t even begin to go into the unpleasant manner in which the librarians in question have been treated and the secrecy with which the school and library management have been carrying out this ‘restructuring’.
I don’t really want to comment further than this at the moment, but I can give the current situation. The sacked librarians have lost their appeal against the sackings and the school administration appears to be refusing any negotiations with academic staff. As a result it looked likely that some 20 academics in the Faculty of Languages and Cultures would officially resign their posts this afternoon (meaning their actual posts of responsibility rather than their teaching jobs). It’s very good to see that the academics have woken up to what is going on and are willing to fight this. Unfortunately it seems that the School admininstration has dug itself in and it would probably take considerably more drastic action to change their minds.
September 13, 2005
The words of Martin Luther King Jnr in Korean at the memorial to him in the gardens of the Yerba Buena centre in downtown San Francisco.
What struck me reading this is that we are always bombarded with the received wisdom that MLK was all about peace, tolerance etc - in other words the sort of platitudes that can just as easily fall from the mouths of intolerant warmongerers these days. But if you read this passage he is saying a whole lot more than ‘let’s be nice to each other’. Martin Luther King may be held up as a campaigner for ‘enlightenment values’ or the true values of the founding fathers, but, pardon me if I’m wrong, this is a critique of capitalism. Of course, he came to his critique from a Christian standpoint, but that should not be unexpected according to the arguments of the book I’m currently reading.
From the Yerba Buena website:
The undeniable centerpiece of Yerba Buena Gardens is the 22-foot-high, 50-foot-wide waterfall that leads to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Behind the waterfall are 12 shimmering glass panels engraved with quotes [sic] from Dr. King’s writings and speeches, in English with translations in African and Arabic dialects as well as the languages of San Francisco’s Sister Cities. The Memorial is anchored with a carved image of Dr. King at one end and an image of San Francisco’s community leaders during the 20th anniversary of the March in Golden Gate Park at the other. The Memorial is the first of its kind to truly embrace Dr. King’s vision of peace and international unity in the United States. Collaborating artists were sculptor Houston Conwill, poet Estella Majoza and architect Joseph de Pace.
September 12, 2005
Next up, the joss house in Auburn, Northern California:
Unfortunately since it’s being restored I didn’t get a chance to have a look inside during my stay in Auburn. In case you’re wondering, joss houses were established by the Chinese community in California at the time of the gold rush, ostensibly as places of worship, although in reality they seem to have extended to a large variety of community functions - schools, meeting houses etc. If the joss house in Mendocino is anything to go by it is quite possible that this one enshrined an image of Guan-yu (關羽), the god of war and commerce.
This picture shows the inscription on the outside of the building. Auburn (located between Sacramento and the Sierra Nevadas) had a Chinese community from the late nineteenth century when workers came to construct the trans-continental railroad or hunt for gold. There is a little more information about the Auburn joss house here.
I was intrigued by the origins of the term ‘joss’, which is also commonly used in the term ‘joss stick’ and was slightly surprised to discover that it has no relation to the Chinese language whatsoever. This etymology via yourdictionary.com:
Pidgin English, from Javanese deyos, from Portuguese deos, god, from Latin deus; see dyeu- in Indo-European roots.
Unfortunately a nearby living piece of Chinese-American history in Auburn has recently been lost: the Shanghai Restaurant (in the picture above you can just about make out its painted-out sign). Apparently this Chinese restaurant and bar had been in operation in the centre of old town Auburn since 1896, but a dispute over the lease forced it to close in June after 109 years. You can read more about this sad turn of events in the local paper here. The closure also gave rise to a flurry of angry letters, including this one from a correspondent in England.
September 11, 2005
So, I’m back. I thought I might treat readers (if there are any left) to some holiday snaps from my recent trip to a corner of the North American continent. Before you groan and surf away into the sunset at the thought of this, I’d like to reassure you there are very few and none of them feature me. Rather, in keeping with the theme of this blog I decided to post a few pictures that relate to the East Asian diaspora in the US.
First, a shop window from the ‘International District’ in Seattle, apparently the only multi-ethnic Asian-American neighbourhood in the United States. I visited the excellent Wing Luke Asian Museum and ate good Vietnamese food at a restaurant a couple of doors away.
The window of this Chinese shop has no less than three posters advertising the Korean historical drama Taejanggûm, shown on MBC last year. Strangely I only noticed this when I looked at the pictures on my computer.