Who do You Cry for, Kim Jong-il or Havel

The Death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il stirred up a wide range of public discussion in China. On my main research site Weibo, the debate between pro-democracy individuals and nationalists are again fierce. The pro-democracy individuals tend to talk about Kim’s extravagant life style and various incidents of power abuse, they also emphasize the poverty and repression suffered by the North Korean people with not-so-subtle allusion to similar problems in China. Meanwhile, the nationalist side is mainly concerned about how a destabilized North Korea might affect the geopolitics in the region and how China should continue compete with the US and South Korea in shaping North Korea’s future.

Kim Jong-il

Here is an excerpt of what Hu Xinjing, the Chief Editor of Global Times and an opinion leader among nationalist communities, said after Kim’s death: “China should maintain two principles in dealing with the North Korea situation. First, it is our principle not to interfere with the internal political games of North Korea, we should let it evolve naturally. Second, we are firmly against any pressure from South Korea, the US and Japan, who are aiming to frighten the new leadership of North Korea. With these two principles we can make sure that North Korea can control its own fate as a country and realize its transition in terms of rights and path of development. North Korea shares a common ground of geopolitical interest with China”.

In this statement, we again see the framework of nationalist thinking in which the nation-state is the natural unit of interaction for human society. So the relationship between North Korea, South Korea Japan, China and the US became the focus of discussion rather than the human relationships within North Korea. In this framework, “North Korea” as a whole shares a single “fate” or “intereste” despite the fact that the Kim family lived quite different a life than most North Korean people. 

We’ve seen this framework of nationalism thinking in work during the revolution of Lybia. You heard them talking about how the US and Europe bullied Libya, while the internal repression in Libya was brushed aside as a Western myth. At that time, Qaddafi was often praised by the nationalists as a hero fighting against Western imperialists. Meanwhile many nationalists’ imagination of “Libya” is centered on a symbolic hero figure like Qaddafi rather than normal people in Libya. Though this is completely subjective of me, I cannot help thinking that nationalism is an expansion of egocentrism: the need for a strong “leader” and that for a strong “ego” stems from the same cognitive inclination.

Here is an interesting post from 中油卫士 (Guard of China Oil), a microblogger who have quite a following on Sina Weibo: ” I cannot take it any more. When Kim Jiong-il, the Korean Leader who helped protecting China’s backyard, died, there is wild celebration across Chines social media. But when that Havel (Czech Statesman) who had suspicious relationship with Tibetan and Uighur seperationists died, many people commemorated him, some even went to the Czech Ambassy to gave condolence. Where are Chinese people’s sense of right and wrong? We are not the brainless ones, those who want democracy and freedom are brainless. They don’t want a stable world. ”

What does it mean, that anti-imperialism discourse became a justification for domestic repression, and promotion of democracy and freedom was deemed unpatriotic and naive? This is a question I will continue to explore in this blog.

Northern Koreans deep in sorrow for kim’s death, but those who don’t cry hard enough face up to six years in prison according to North Korea TV.


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