The obligatory “Chinese pianist plays anti-American tune at White House?” post

Skip ahead to 5:40 of the clip from last week’s dinner to watch him play the key bit. This story’s now three days old and I still haven’t seen a definitive account either corroborating or debunking the claims — and quotes — from this widely linked Epoch Times piece. Jake Tapper took a run at it just within the past hour and got this statement from the White House:

At the White House State Dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao, pianist Lang Lang played, among other ditties, the song “My Motherland.”

My Motherland was written for the 1956 Chinese war film “Battle on Shangganling Mountain,” about the Korean War, in which the People’s Republic of China soldiers are the heroes and the bad guys are Americans

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor told ABC News that “any suggestion that this was an insult to the United States is just flat wrong. As Lang Lang has stated before, he plays this song regularly because it is one of his favorite Chinese melodies, which is very widely known and popular in China for its melody. Lang Lang played the song without lyrics or reference to any political themes during the entertainment portion of the State Dinner. He simply stated the song’s title and noted it was well known in China.”

Tapper asked two experts, one from conservative AEI and the other from liberal Brookings, if there were political overtones to the selection; predictably, the former said yes and the latter said not necessarily. The pianist, Lang Lang, insisted today that there was no political message:

In a statement, Lang said “I selected this song because it has been a favorite of mine since I was a child. It was selected for no other reason but for the beauty of its melody.”

He also said “America and China are my two homes. I am most grateful to the United States for providing me with such wonderful opportunities, both in my musical studies and for furthering my career. I couldn’t be who I am today without those two countries.”

Lang said that he wants to “bridge cultures together through the beauty and inspiration of music.”

Clears things up, right? Not so fast. Here’s what Lang allegedly told Phoenix TV, an outfit based in Hong Kong with “close ties” to the Chinese government, according to the Epoch Times:

The name of the song is “My Motherland,” originally titled “Big River.” In an interview broadcast on Phoenix TV, the first thing Lang Lang is quoted as saying is that he chose the piece.

He then said, “I thought to play ‘My Motherland’ because I think playing the tune at the White House banquet can help us, as Chinese people, feel extremely proud of ourselves and express our feelings through the song. I think it’s especially good. Also, I like the tune in and of itself, every time I hear it I feel extremely moved.”

He expressed this idea more frankly in a later blog post, writing: “Playing this song praising China to heads of state from around the world seems to tell them that our China is formidable, that our Chinese people are united; I feel deeply honored and proud.”

Not an overt admission that he had the film in mind, but a bit beyond the neutral “it sounds pretty” explanation. And as the Epoch Times notes, whether Lang knew the full cultural context for the song is a secondary question; the point is that the Chinese diplomats who vet the program for the state dinner in advance almost certainly would have. As would, one would assume, their counterparts on the American side. Did this little cultural/political message simply slip through the cracks of our “Smart Power” advance team? Or did they notice it and decide that there are already enough points of contention with the Chinese that they weren’t going to force another over a propaganda ploy that seems cheap and meaningless to us but may have greater significance in China— especially when plausible deniability (“he chose it for the melody”) was readily available?

Complicating all this is the fact that the Epoch Times was apparently founded by Falun Gong supporters and is known for hostile coverage of the Chinese regime. Anyone seen any articles in the past day or two that convincingly rebuts or confirms its take on all this? I haven’t found any and a definitive answer would be a grand thing to have before the inevitable “what are these wingnuts complaining about now?” apologias start rolling out from Obama-protecting leftist media.

Jazz Shaw May 16, 2022 12:41 PM ET