Introduced by Miao Miao 苗渺

This People’s Daily article detailing Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot’s visit to Beijing in 1977 can be evaluated on three levels: the nature of the primary source, the significance of the event, and the way the event impacted the capital’s residents.

To address the first evaluation, we can refer to the McLuhanist argument that “the medium is the message;” in other words, the format of the message influences the way it is understood.[1] As a print piece to be read, the message emphasizes one sense (sight) over others (sound).[2] Had the same content been read aloud in a speech, requirement of greater interpretation and diversified use of senses may lead to a different reaction from the audience.

In Pol Pot’s only official diplomatic trip as leader of the country, Democratic Kampuchea sought to solidify support from its biggest allies, the PRC and the DPRK, in the context of an increasingly tense situation with its Southeast Asian neighbors, particularly the traditional Khmer foe Vietnam.[3] While discouraging Pol Pot from escalating international tension,[4] Hua Guofeng nevertheless gave him diplomatic and military support, maintaining Democratic Kampuchea as a friendly proxy state in the Chinese sphere of influence.[5]

Pol Pot’s lavish welcome depicted the reality of mid-seventies Beijing, where part of everyday life for the capital’s citizens was to participate in grand rallies welcoming foreign dignitaries. Mittler’s evaluation of propaganda art can be similarly applied in understanding how the commonfolk viewed mass rallies: “the subjective pleasure experienced by each of them may be derived from sources that have nothing to do with the original message… they will notice its political content or ignore it.”[6] Hence it was likely that despite the spectacle’s intended political significance, many civilian participants did not contextualize their experience in a historical or political manner, but rather enjoyed them as fun, participatory activities.

Cambodian Comrade-in-Arms, Beijing Welcomes You!

Bibliography

Becker, Elizabeth. Pol Pot Remembered, BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/81048.stm, 1998.

Burchett, Wilfred. The China, Cambodia, Vietnam Triangle. Zed Books, 1981.

Haing Ngor. A Cambodian Odyssey. Macmillan, New York, 1987.

Kiernan, Ben. The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia Under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79. Yale University Press, 2008.

Li, Danhui. Sihanouk, “Pol Pot and China in the 1960s-70s” in National Humanities History China Vol 11, Academic Journal Electronic Publishing House, 2013.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media, Routledge, London, 1964.

Mittler, Barbara. “Popular Propaganda? Art and Culture in Revolutionary China” in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 152 no. 4 (2008).

Osborne, Milton. Sihanouk Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness. University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

Short, Philip. Pol Pot: History of a Nightmare. John Murray, 2005.

Thayer, Nate. “Pol Pot Tells China in 1977 that Killings Underway” in Nate Thayer’s Archives. http://www.nate-thayer.com/pot-pot-briefs-china-in-19977-that-khmer-rouge-killings-underway/, 2012 .

Yu, Haiqing. “Doing Chinese Media Studies: A Reflection on the Field’s History and Methodology” in Media International Australia, no. 138 (2011).

Zhang Qing. “Remembering China’s First Generation of Leaders Aiding Cambodia” in Around Southeast Asia. China Academic Journal Electronic Publishing House, 2003.

[1] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (Routledge, 1964), 1.

[2] Ibid. 8, 17.

[3] Nate Thayer, “Pol Pot Tells China in 1977 that Killings Underway” in Nate Thayer’s Archives (2012), par. 13.

[4] Philip Short, Pol Pot: History of a Nightmare (John Murray, 2005), 376.

[5] Nate Thayer, “Pol Pot Tells China in 1977 that Killings Underway,” par.10.

[6] Barbara Mittler. “Popular Propaganda? Art and Culture in Revolutionary China,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 152 no. 4 (2008): 481.

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