Daily Archives: 2 October 2005

The Hong Kong Listening Post in the 1950s

Hong Kong was the best listening post into “Red China.” It was, as the long-distance telephone ad used to say, “The next best thing to being there.” The island-colony was roiling with action in 1953. Unlike on Taiwan, there were many trade and transportation links to the mainland, and because of its location, Hong Kong was a crossroads for Chinese of all stripes. It was a base for agents from China and Taiwan and, therefore, served as one of the few places where the two sides could rub elbows, and, if the situation called for it, pass on communications to each other’s governments. Wealthy capitalists from Shanghai sought refuge in Hong Kong after the Communist revolution and spent much of their time trying to find a way off the island. Furthermore, refugees were streaming in from the mainland. Since 1949, more than one million Chinese had arrived in the city and its surrounding territories. There were an estimated 300,000 squatters in Hong Kong and its territories. Most of the refugees, the majority of whom were farmers and laborers from southern China, came in search of work and a better livelihood. Amazingly, with its improving economy and free enterprise methods, Hong Kong was able to accommodate most of them….

I started out working with the Pao Mi Chu, Taiwan’s intelligence apparatus. I worked under “deep cover,” meaning that I kept my true identity a secret from the Chinese people with whom I worked. I used aliases when I contacted agents or met with counterparts in Taiwan intelligence. The one I used most often was “John Wright.” I would meet with agents in hotel rooms or in safe houses, apartments that had been scouted beforehand to make sure they were not under surveillance by the Communists’ huge underground apparatus in Hong Kong. We debriefed refugees and travelers to China, placed agents on ships going to Chinese ports, and helped establish a base in Macao to take advantage of the flow of Chinese between Macao and the mainland….

In the course of my work, I was learning that we could accomplish far more by debriefing travelers or people returning from China than we could by planting frightened resident agents in the country. The resident agents naturally tended to be fearful of getting caught. Travelers, on the other hand, moved more freely and without that fear. Using debriefings, I started to gather useful information for the CIA about what was going on in China. Unfortunately, in those days CIA was obsessed with the idea of a resident agent with a radio no matter what the level of his access or his ability to survive. They focused on process over substance.

SOURCE: China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia, by James Lilley with Jeffrey Lilley (Public Affairs, 2004), pp. 84-86

Leave a comment

Filed under China

What Constitutes "Ethnicity" in Japan?

This summer I traveled to Japan as a World Fellow in order to study issues of Japanese ethnic identity first-hand. I was interested in the concept of Japanese ethnic homogeneity and wanted to gain a better understanding of the challenges to this concept that the Ainu and Okinawan peoples in Japan represent. In order to do this, I spent a total of two and a half weeks based in Tokyo, staying with a Japanese family and visiting important “majority” Japanese tourist destinations as well as museums that dealt with both majority Japanese culture and Japan’s ethnic minorities. In the middle of this homestay, I spent two weeks traveling through Hokkaido (where most Ainu live) and Okinawa in order to examine the way that the Ainu and Okinawans present themselves to the outside world and assert their separate identities.

The question of ethnicity in Japan turned out to be much harder to address than I had imagined. I planned to look at tourism as a means of cultural exchange between different groups in Japan, and I wanted to understand the way majority Japanese sites are experienced by tourists (who are mainly majority Japanese) in order to understand what a Japanese tourist might expect or be surprised by at a minority Japanese site. I visited popular tourist destinations that are important historically or culturally to the Japanese, such as Nikko, a famous temple complex that is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan; Hiraizumi, home to another famous temple complex; the Tokyo National Museum; the Asakusa Kannon temple which is the oldest temple in Tokyo; and the Imperial Palace where the emperor and his family still reside….

My host family also constantly reminded me that “ethnicity” is not just the symbols or places that express “Japanese-ness”; to be Japanese is also to live the daily life of a Japanese person. This trip was my first attempt at studying an intellectual construct (ethnicity) by looking for it in the everyday lives of real people and by asking them to help me find it there. During the homestay portion of my trip, I realized that scholarship on Japanese ethnicity paints an incomplete picture. Scholarship focuses on revivals of nationalist fervor or on contrasting pairs of stereotypes (geishas vs. salarymen, calligraphy v. technology, etc.). However, there is more to Japanese ethnicity than revering the emperor or being an expert at flower arranging.

For instance, when I asked for suggestions of where to visit, my host mother urged me to visit my host sister’s middle school, and the afternoon I spent there including ceremonial tea with the principal, dropping in on six, seventh, and eighth grade classes in all subjects for several hours, participating in English lessons, and finally having coffee in the principal’s office again was one of the most memorable of my time in Japan, and not only because of the myths it shattered about the Japanese educational system. My host mother’s suggestion reminded me that although “ethnicity” might not be formally recorded or presented as daily life for majority Japanese, it is still thought of as being important in defining “being Japanese”. This was reinforced by an afternoon I spent with a Japanese woman and her two children, who are half Australian. To the oldest child, being Japanese included celebrating birthdays and Christmas in a Western style (as these holidays are not really “every day” events), but also required using his mother¹s Japanese maiden name in school. His younger brother, less conscious of fitting in and being Japanese, was perfectly happy to use his English first and last names in school. Thus the homestay portion of my trip revealed that while tourist destinations on Honshu might focus mainly on a “high culture,” the “daily life” portrayed in Ainu museums is also a recognized part of Japanese ethnicity.

SOURCE: The Myth of Japanese Ethnic Homogeneity, by Catherine Williams, September 1999

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan