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A Ghetto Pass to North Korea.

 

An odd item appeared in The Guardian the other day describing the niche industry of Chinese tourists traveling to North Korea to gawk and express disdain for poverty and tyranny.

See the article here:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/14/quite-backwards-chinese-tourists-gawk-at-impoverished-north-koreans

What stands out, apart from the perversity and decadence is the irony of citizens of the PRC lamenting the absence of freedom in North Korea…versus their perception of freedom in the PRC. One assumes that for Chinese nationals born well after the catastrophes of the Cultural Revolution, pointing fingers at the North Koreans is a kind of triumphalism and nostalgia wrapped in a perverse Disneyland of the imagination where instead of a haunted house you visit a haunted country with a sign above a large gate that says: This could Be You.

Of course if you can afford to travel then having access to Armani and Gucci but no access to contrary information or any individual political willpower that might make you think twice about any number of indigenous great leaders would seem like freedom.

But consider the following: “Chinese tourists come to satisfy their curiosity,” said Yu, a Dandong-based driver and guide who makes his living ferrying visitors to a small harbour northeast of town, where they pay 70 yuan (£8.20) for one-hour sorties that take them to within a stone’s throw of North Korean soil. “They want to see how poor North Koreans are.”

And: “Most come simply to gawk; at the North Korean washerwomen who can be seen – and photographed – scrubbing clothes in the Yalu’s khaki-shaded waters; at the bedraggled North Korean soldiers sauntering along its banks…”

“We came to see North Koreans – we wanted to see their living conditions,” said Jing Xingyi, an 18-year-old high school graduate from the provincial capital, Shenyang, as she made her first foray into the land of Kim Jong-un.

It suggests a kind of ritual debasement not only of the bedraggled North Koreans but a group think catechism for the Chinese. The purpose of it is to reinforce the idea that shorn of political engagement and with either drone like indifference or active obedience to the system the Chinese are clearly better off with their bi-polar dictatorship (one half fascism one half capitalist bacchanal) than the North Koreans. And in a sense that’s true – at least for the ruling class and new money aristocrats. But for everyone else – say, for example the would be suicides at Foxconn or anyone locked up in a prison for having the temerity to hold a contrary opinion or the hundreds of millions living in poverty – it might seem a bit like cheering for the lions while they battle the Christians. As one wit put it to The Ink: what was the Coliseum in ancient Rome except Auschwitz with a bleacher section.

Or to put it another way: This is the Chinese version of a Ghetto Pass designed to give the affluent PRC nouveau riche and would be hipsters a taste of authentic poverty as they visit the backwards gulag state of the hermit kingdom. It says that while there is poverty in China the existence of an affluent class means that all Chinese may eventually achieve economic stability – as long as they adhere to the Chinese system. Versus the time-capsule that is North Korea. North Korea thus becomes a museum for the failure of pre-Deng Xiaoping China. A safe rebuke of Mao, and a kind of perverse cheer-leading for the benefits of capitalism devoid of freedom.

As one Chinese tourist put it: “The difference between China and North Korea is the political system,” she mused. “China is a developing nation. North Korea is a socialist nation.”

The Long March is ironically transformed – into the long strange trip.

But also no doubt it is designed to send another message. The Ghost of Mao has many uses and the patience of the PRC is not infinite. A nuclear missile that can reach San Francisco can also and far more easily (and quicker and with less time to respond) reach Beijing. China does more trade with South Korea than with the North and turning North Koreans into a fetish is a sort of political canary in the mine-shaft. The air is getting stale and while the Chinese leadership (along with the rest of the world) may view Trump as an unhinged moron they know that any number of people are in place to provide restraint and keep him from doing anything more rash than pressing a button on his phone. The same can’t be said for the pudgy unhinged fool in Pyongyang.

Update: 9/15/17.

China, speaking out of both sides of the same face are playing the buck stops somewhere else, suggesting they have no means to pressure North Korea.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/16/us-must-stop-north-korea-threats-says-china-kim-jong-un-military-equilibrium

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