I sure am glad that we’re led by one of the brightest, smartest, most intellectual leaders we’ve ever had in office:
How to evaluate the results of last week’s China-U.S. summit in Washington? Improbably, the key for the entire event may lie in what is usually the least memorable portion of these carefully choreographed occasions: the cultural program at the concluding state banquet.
During the dinner’s musical interlude and following a duet with American jazz musician Herbie Hancock, Chinese pianist Lang Lang treated the assembled dignitaries to a solo of what he described as “a Chinese song: ‘My Motherland.'” (You can watch this on YouTube.)
The Chinese delegation was clearly delighted: Chinese President and Communist Party chief Hu Jintao, stone-faced for many of his other photo ops in Washington, beamed with pleasure upon hearing the melody and embraced Lang Lang at the song’s conclusion (see it on YouTube too). President Obama, for his part, amiably praised Lang Lang for his performance and described the event as “an extraordinary evening.”
But what, exactly, is this “gorgeous” and “beautiful” (Hu’s words) tune that so entranced China’s visiting leadership?
“My Motherland” is not a “Chinese song” in any ordinary meaning of the term. Instead, it is a Mao-era propaganda classic: the theme from “Triangle Hill” (Shangganling), a film in which heroic Chinese forces fight, kill, and eventually beat Americans in pitched battle during the Korean War.
“My Motherland” epitomizes the “Resist America, Aid [North] Korea” campaign that Beijing embraced during and after the Korean War. It celebrates Sino-American enmity. The gist of the tune can be seen in its lyrics (see the Wikipedia translation):
When friends are here, there is fine wine
But if the wolves come
What greets it is the hunting gun.
(Two guesses who “the wolves” are.)
“My Motherland” is still famous in China; indeed, it is well-known to practically every Chinese adult to this very day. Unfortunately, this political anthem and its significance were evidently unknown to the many members of the administration’s China team–the secretary and deputy secretary of State, the assistant secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, and the National Security Council’s top two Asia experts–who were on hand at the state dinner and heard this serenade. Clueless about the nature of the insult, they did not know to warn the president that he would embarrass himself and his country by not only sitting through the song, but by congratulating Lang Lang for it afterward.
Although Americans are often tone-deaf to cadences of symbolism in international relations, the Chinese are not. And for Chinese audiences, the symbolism of performing “My Motherland” to a host of uncomprehending barbarians in the White House itself hardly required explanation. This was a triumph of sorts for a newly assertive, and more nakedly anti-American, strain in Chinese foreign policy. The episode has reportedly already gone viral over the Chinese Internet, where the buzz on this crude and deliberate snub is overwhelmingly and enthusiastically positive. Hu can thus return home confident his visit to America will widely be regarded as a success domestically– for reasons his American counterparts do not yet seem to comprehend.
The piece goes on to note why it is that this administration’s incomprehension on this and other matters dealing with China is most problematic.