Donald Trump Rears His Head

Three weeks later, and the shock and worry won’t wear off. For months I had devoured every bit of news about the election. I donated three times to the Democratic campaign. I watched the three cable news giants obsessively. I had it all figured out, thanks to the media and the ubiquitous polls thrown at us every day: Trump had only the narrowest of windows for winning the race and he had a 90 percent chance of losing. Women and Hispanics were mobilizing and would vote in record numbers for Clinton. Millennials were coming off the pain they felt at Bernie Sanders’ defeat in the primaries and were now going to vote for Clinton. Obama was going to galvanize black voters and send them to the polls. For all her baggage, Clinton was the odds-on favorite up to the very last day. And then, as I sat transfixed watching my television screen on election day, the unthinkable happened, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. I keep trying to wrap my head around what a world led by a lying, bullying, hateful reality TV star would look like, and I still can’t quite visualize it. We know some terrible disaster is right around the corner, thanks to Trump’s ignorance of foreign policy, underscored by his chat with Taiwan’s president and his heaping praise on the president of Pakistan.

Even three weeks later I feel numb, helpless and betrayed. After all, Clinton won the popular vote handily. And if it hadn’t been for James Comey’s shockingly inappropriate letter to Congressional committee chairs announcing that yet more Clinton emails had been discovered, I am convinced we would have seen a happier outcome. We would have seen a more progressive Supreme Court. We would have seen the continuation and improvement of Obamacare. We would have seen protection of entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, which the GOP can’t wait to privatize. We would have seen a calm, cool-headed leader who knows how to skillfully interact with heads of state and who understands how to walk the tightrope of international relations (like how to deal with Taiwan). Instead we get a misogynistic, narcissistic, race-baiting carnival barker. Our lives are in the hands of a madman. All we can do is hope he can be restrained by those he surrounds himself with, but I’m not sure anyone can restrain Donald Trump. His chief strategist, Steven Bannon, is closely aligned with the alt right, and will be whispering in Trump’s ear every day. God help us.

We are all beyond saturation with the coverage. My Facebook feed fills up every few minutes with more stories about Trump’s improbable victory and what it means. Key words and phrases that keep running in my head include uncharted territory, fear, dread, despair, unprecedented, terrifying, no one knows, unimaginable, white supremacists, surreal…. And I admit that despite the saturation, I still keep reading the articles and watching the news shows, hoping that maybe I can finally understand and accept what happened. (So far I have been glaringly unsuccessful.)

I suppose we have two alternatives: to burrow ourselves into a hole and try to block it all out, or to actively work to change things for the better and to get ready for the next election fight in 2018. The closing stanza of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach keeps replaying in my head:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

There we have it: the most I can do at the moment is turn inward and try to keep the angst at a minimum, to forget about the “ignorant armies” that clash by night and just get on the best I can. Maybe in a few months I’ll get active in politics again, but for now I am simply trying to keep from being overwhelmed in a tsunami of terrible news that seems to get worse every day. The steady onslaught, the latest telling of Trump’s horrifying behavior or appointment or tweet, is numbing, stultifying. Hope is supposed to spring eternal, but at this moment I can’t see anything to feel hopeful about.

On the eve of World War I, British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey famously remarked, “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.” Will we see them lit again in America? For now, all we can do is stand and wait. And maybe pray. I do not mean in any way to be an alarmist, but I do believe Trump is going to be worse than any of us imagine. I fear we are going to be in nightmare mode for years to come, if not for generations (thanks to a Trump-selected Supreme Court). A tragedy, in every way. A complete and total tragedy.

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Ghosts of Tiananmen Square

Allow me to put up a brief post on the anniversary of June 4th, as I’ve done every year for some 12 years or so. The Tiananmen Square protests were a landmark in my life. I had just bought cable TV for the first time in the winter of 1989, and I will never forget watching CNN, transfixed by what looked like an unstoppable movement. I watched the students carry out the Goddess of Democracy, I watched the tanks rolling down the streets, I watched Tankman standing up to the PLA (and the amazing sight of the tank driver veering away, not wanting to harm the young man). I was full of hope that the students were really reshaping society. I knew nothing of China at the time, except that it was ruled by an authoritarian regime and was rarely featured on US television. Then the demonstrations began and for reasons I still don’t fully understand the media were all but invited to cover it. Thus the nonstop coverage from CNN.

If you go to the Tiananmen Square entries in the archives, you’ll see that I’ve said practically all I have to say about the TSM. It was a traumatic event for me and for the world. It still moves me, to remember reading about the shootings in the side streets around the square, and the rolling in of tanks as though there was a state of civil war (and there nearly was). It was so painful, watching what had been a great expression of hope suppressed with such ruthless violence. Many years later the images still haunt me. For those of you new to the site, please check out my interview with a demonstrator, written some 13 years ago. The demonstrator I talked with echoed almost to the letter the observation I read in a new article on the incident that came out today:

But young people in China today are defined by two major characteristics: caution and ambition. Cui, a young auditor working for accounting firm Ernst & Young, told me the anniversary “isn’t directly related to me, or to my life. I don’t know any young people around me who care about the June fourth anniversary either.” Instead, Chinese youth “think about how to set our roots in the big cities and grab a better position for ourselves in the future. China is still developing fast, and the opportunities to have a better life are now or never,” Cui explained. “Who wants to risk losing everything we have achieved for a vague dream?”

This is pretty much what the demonstrator said in my interview; we care about having our needs met, not human rights, and at a time of prosperity why dig up skeletons we don’t really care about?

Another of my memories is from 2009, when I was working at the Global Times. I’ve recounted it in earlier June 4 posts, so bear with me for the repetition. I had printed out the iconic photo of Tankman standing in front of the tanks and asked my colleagues if they were familiar with the image. Nearly all said they were not, and had no idea of the incident. Only one editor, my manager and a good party member, was familiar with it, and she asked me why this was seen in the West as an act of courage. It was, she argued, an example of a protestor going against the common good of the people of China. I couldn’t argue with her; she had it all figured out.

Let me share one more link of another article that came out today, this one an interview with perhaps the most thorough and prolific chronicler — and first-hand participant — of the TSM and the demonstrations, of which he has written three books (he wrote them in Hong Kong, of course). I would put it in the “must-read” category.

I calculated that around 200,000 troops took part in the martial law forces. And the book gives a more precise number of units that made up the martial law troops. These answers aren’t estimates: they’re precise figures based on evidence….The killing actually continued after June Fourth. In Beijing, many workers and urban residents continued to protest after June Fourth, as did people in other cities around the country. Many of those protesters paid a high price. After June Fourth, the Communist authorities carried out a large-scale campaign of investigations and arrests. This is another important part of the history of June Fourth.

I have to admit it, I am feeling Tiananmen’d out. Still, every year I feel compelled to put up something about it because I believe the incident needs to be remembered, and China still needs to come clean about what actually happened. (I’m not holding my breath.) We bore witness to history, thanks to the television cameras and news crews, and that history must never be forgotten. Again, check out my earlier posts on the subject, written when I was younger and had more energy; you’ll see just how passionate I am about Tiananmen Square and it’s tragic conclusion. Never forget.

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China’s Great Leap Backwards

So why don’t I post anymore about China? Mainly it’s because most of the news about China in recent months has been pretty uniform: China under Xi Jinping is becoming more authoritarian so censorship is worse than ever, more human rights activists and lawyers are getting arrested, foreign and domestic web sites are getting blocked in record numbers and the crackdown on all aspects of the Internet is nothing less than catastrophic, even if you’re using a VPN. It is remarkable how stories like this have been dominating media coverage of the country. I feel a sense of China fatigue, where the news keeps getting more and more depressing, and I feel there’s little I can contribute to the conversation.

But let me try anyway by mentioning this article by China hand Orville Schell. It is the single most disturbing piece I’ve read on Xi’s repressive regime because it is panoramic in its scope, touching on the many ways China is cracking down on its people, harassing churches, implementing a draconian anti-corruption campaign complete with forced confessions, re-centralizing and consolidating power, expanding the country’s security apparatus, throwing out “anti-government” foreign correspondents, making it nearly impossible to speak truth to power….

A good friend of mine moved out of China with his wife and children a few months ago and we just caught up last week. He told me there were aspects of China I wouldn’t recognize anymore, especially the crackdown on so many websites. He was delighted to have left after more than 20 years in Beijing. Several other friends of mine have left over the past year, and most of them said they don’t miss it. Between the pollution and the repression, they’d had enough. I know, China is still a wonderful place to live and people enjoy a great deal of freedom in their personal lives — but for those who are perceived as working against the state, like human rights lawyers, Xi’s repression is very real, generating a sense of despair and helplessness. Everyone needs to fall in line and think the way the state wants you to think. This brings back painful memories of the Cultural Revolution, and of Stalinism.

“All news media run by the Party [which includes every major media outlet in China] must work to speak for the Party’s will and its propositions, and protect the Party’s authority and unity,” Xi warned. In front of a banner declaring “CCTV’s family name is ‘the Party,’” Xi urged people who work in the media to “enhance their awareness to align their ideology, political thinking, and deeds to those of the CCP Central Committee.” Then, only days later the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced new regulations banning all foreign-invested media companies from publishing online in China without government approval.

I can’t cover everything discussed in this article and recommend you read it all. It’s thorough and it’s deeply troubling. So many groups are under siege, like churches and NGOs and news services and activists. You have to admire Xi’s ruthlessness for its sheer efficiency, but it is painful to see China moving so far backwards so fast.

Do I miss living in China? Yes, and I think of my wonderful experiences there every day. But would I move back? I really don’t think so. My blog was blocked there seven years ago; if I came back and blogged like I used to, I wouldn’t be surprised if I were thrown out. One by one, Xi has extinguished many of the lights in China, and some areas, like the media, are nearly altogether black. Many live in a state of fear.

[I]ndependent-minded researchers at think tanks and outspoken professors at universities worry about the “chilling effect” of Xi’s policies on academic life in both China and Hong Kong. Feminist activists demonstrating against sexual harassment have been arrested for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” while human rights lawyers have been swept up in a mass wave of arrests for “creating public disorder,” and even for “subverting state power.”

So no, I don’t miss China the way I used to. China is a wonderful place to visit, but at the moment I wouldn’t want to live there. I only wonder, how far will Xi go to pursue his utopian vision of a China where the people think in total conformity and unity? Will we see a return to Maoism, with its asphyxiation of the Chinese people’s brain cells? We are, I’m afraid, headed in that direction.

I am planning a trip to China in June, and look forward to giving my impressions of life there on the ground. So many of my friends have left, so much has changed for the worse, I wonder if I’ll recognize what was once my favorite place on earth.

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China: A Nation Afraid

As is evident from my last few posts, I believe that now more than ever (aside from the days of Mao) China’s leaders are using fear as a tool to silence dissent and hold onto power. Not that that’s anything new, but it is a matter of degree. I don’t mean to be a broken record and parrot the same line again and again but the past few days have seen a deluge of articles about this precise subject: the ascension of China’s rule by fear. Of course, the irony of this phenomenon is that no one is ruled by fear more than the CCP. They are ruling by fear out of fear. They are afraid of losing their grip, especially as their economy slows and the threat of social unrest rises.

Perhaps those living in the most fear are party officials and bureaucrats who know they are being watched. The high-profile arrests of officials on corruption charges have sent shock waves through the government. The arrests of activists and lawyers have instilled fear in anyone who dares speak out.

Outspoken China critic Minxin Pei notes how the rule by fear is spreading among the bureaucracy, universities, rights lawyers and activists.

China is once again gripped by fear in a way it has not been since the era of Mao Zedong. From the inner sanctum of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to university lecture halls and executive suites, the specter of harsh accusations and harsher punishment is stalking China’s political, intellectual, and business elites.

The evidence of pervasive fear is easy to discern. Since President Xi Jinping’s remorseless anti-corruption drive began in December 2012, arrests of government officials have become a daily ritual, sending shivers down the spines of their colleagues and friends.

….Even as China’s economy has boomed and modernized, its political system has retained its core totalitarian features: a state exempt from the rule of law, a domestic security apparatus with agents and informants virtually everywhere, widespread censorship, and weak protection of individual rights. Having never been repudiated, these institutional relics of Maoism remain available to be used and intensified whenever the top leadership sees fit, as it does today.

Censorship has become so severe that even the editor-in-chief of the Global Times is complaining that journalists can’t do their jobs.

China’s ruling Communist Party is cracking down on internal criticism, and the editor of one of the country’s most nationalist tabloids isn’t going to take it anymore. In a post on his Weibo microblog over the weekend, Hu Xijin, editor in chief of the Global Times, called on Chinese authorities to show greater tolerance for dissenting opinions.

“China should open up more channels for criticism and suggestions and encourage constructive criticism,” Mr. Hu wrote on Sunday. “There also should be a certain amount of tolerance for unconstructive criticism.”

I know Hu and I believe he is being sincere. He is a good party man, but he really has strived to bring the GT — at least the English edition — up to journalistic standards, with varying degrees of success. From personal experience, I know there was often a sense of frustration among the journalists there that the censors had the final say of what would go into the paper. Sometimes articles were published that truly pushed the envelope, to my surprise, but now it seems the censorship has reached a whole new level and the staff can only push the envelope so far.

Yet another article (and an excellent one) out this week traces how Xi has slowly but surely implemented “an anti-liberal shift of rhetoric and attitude,” enforced by fear and made known to the public in ways that bring the Cultural Revolution to mind. It is especially scary that they are now targeting foreigners; no one is safe.

We could see the results as one after another distraught individual was wheeled out on national television to ‘confess’ to wrongdoing, express repentance and (in some cases) humbly ask to be given another chance, shortly after being disappeared. The Party-State seems intent on advertising its repression. As was quickly observed, these confessions made very little sense, but then again that was the point. Precisely because they made no sense and offended basic principles of criminal justice such as the presumption of innocence, recorded ‘confessions’ were effective in projecting unlimited, in principle arbitrary and all the more fearful state power.

In televising and advertising its repression, the Party-State clearly seeks to amplify these fear effects. By detaining foreigners in China and allegedly orchestrating cross-border abductions of Chinese and foreign nationals, as well as submitting the victims of these abductions to the same kinds of measures, it has taken its visual repression even further. It is not only transmitting images across its borders, but also signalling to the world that foreigners may become targets. It is thus exporting rule by fear techniques and making them a transnational phenomenon.

Fear has long been a tool to protect the state, in China and elsewhere. What I find so alarming is the crescendo of repression in recent months, culminating in the disappearance of Hong Kong booksellers and activists and rights lawyers on the mainland. I had thought we’d seen the culmination of repression under Hu Jintao, who tightened Internet controls and forced the media to only report “good news,” punishing those that did not comply. Well, I was entirely wrong. Things have become worse, and once again I am glad I left, though I still miss it terribly. But the bloom is off the rose. Can the situation get any worse? I wouldn’t think so, but Xi has managed to surprise me more than once.

Update: I felt I had to add that China remains a magnificent place, and if you walk around Beijing and Shanghai you will see a happy, irrepressible people full of hope and optimism and ambition. The fear is harder to see, lurking beneath the surface, experienced by those who dare raise their voice to criticize the state or to publish stories that put the country in an unflattering light. This, to me, is the great paradox of China, where there is so much happiness, and so much brutality. I will always love China and its people; maybe that’s why I write posts like this.

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No Chinese activist is safe, inside or outside China

Even if you have fled China, if you are perceived by the government as being overly critical of the CCP you just might disappear, until you reappear in a Chinese prison. This upsetting article shows just how far China will go to persecute and silence its critics. Leaving the country might not be enough to escape its grasp. The article notes the disappearance of Li Xin, a human rights activist and columnist for the Southern Metropolis Daily, who vanished into thin air shortly after talking on the phone from Thailand with his wife. Even more terrifying is the case of political activist Wang Bingzhang, who had fled to the US, when he was lured to Vietnam to meet with other human rights activists.

“They were conferring over lunch in a restaurant near the China-Vietnam border when several men speaking Chinese ordered them into a car,” Wang’s daughter, Ti-Anna Wang, recounted in a Post op-ed. “Beaten, blindfolded and gagged, my father and his two colleagues were abducted into China by boat. They were left in a Buddhist temple in Guangxi Province for the Chinese authorities.”

Wang Bingzhang was sentenced six months later to life in prison and has been confined ever since — going on 14 years. He is 68 years old.

This blood-pressure-raising piece makes it clear that no one is safe, that China under Xi is exerting a take-no-prisoners approach to dealing with its enemies, even though “none of the victims has engaged in violence or committed crime.” And reaching its tentacles outside of China to kidnap activists is not very unusual. Brazen as these kidnappings are, the world has remained largely silent. The writer says you can understand this only if you follow the money. It’s all, he says, about business. China is just too big a player in international business for politicians to challenge it.

Britain may feel slighted when China makes a mockery of their agreement on Hong Kong autonomy. Sweden might wish that its passports would be respected, and the United States might regret China’s increasing repressiveness.

But business, apparently, come first. As long as that remains true, it appears that no critic of China, of any nationality, in any nation, will be safe.

China has become hell for thousands of activists and lawyers. When it seems it can’t get any worse, Xi always surprises us. Every day we see more stories of repression, whether it’s bookstore owners in Hong Kong or lawyers on the mainland. Forced public confessions in the style of the Cultural Revolution’s struggle sessions have been making a comeback as Xi pushes China ever further toward Maoism. I read stories like this and I have no regrets for leaving China, despite my love for so many of my friends there.

There are no limits to how far the party will go to silence any form of dissent (I know that’s nothing we don’t already know, but it is only getting worse). In a post below, I compared the disappearance of Hong Kong booksellers to the Nazi campaign called Nacht und Nebel. That is not extreme; check the link. People vanishing into the night is an exceptionally brutal form of repression, filling activists and lawyers throughout China with terror. When will the world speak out?

Update: America speaks out about the vanished booksellers. Good.

The United States has called upon China to shed light on the mystery surrounding the five missing Hong Kong booksellers, and to allow them to return home.

In a daily press briefing on Monday, the spokesman for the State Department, John Kirby, said that the US is “deeply concerned” about the disappearances of the five men associated with the Causeway Bay bookstore.

“These cases, including two involving individuals holding European passports, raise serious questions about China’s commitment to Hong Kong’s autonomy under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework,” said Kirby.

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Self-immolating Tibetans

I was delighted to see that longtime commenter Kevin Carrico has translated into English Tsering Woeser’s book Tibet on Fire: Self-Immolations Against Chinese Rule, and a generous sample has been published in the NY Review of Books online. The article helped me understand why these Tibetans light themselves on fire and what they are hoping to achieve. It comes down to politics.

In my interviews with international media on the topic of self-immolation, I have always tried to emphasize one area of frequent misunderstanding: self-immolation is not suicide, and it is not a gesture of despair. Rather, it is sacrifice for a greater cause, and an attempt to press for change, as can be seen in these two peaks in self-immolation. Such an act is not to be judged by the precepts of Buddhism: it can only be judged by its political results. Each and every one of these roaring flames on the Tibetan plateau has been ignited by ethnic oppression. Each is a torch casting light on a land trapped in darkness. These names are a continuation of the protests of 2008 and a continuation of the monks’ decision that March: “We must stand up!”

Tibet is always a tricky topic to blog about because it is so not black and white. It’s important to understand how the majority of Chinese see Tibet and how they wonder why Tibet would recoil from its supposed benefactors. The Han have built schools and roads and hospitals, ended serfdom and raised the standard of living for thousands of Tibetans. Why then do so many Tibetans see the Chinese as oppressors bent on snuffing out their culture, even their language? The reality of life in Tibet is far different from that imagined by so many Chinese people. Maybe the Tibetans really were “liberated,” but many of them ask, “Liberated by whom? Liberated from what?” This fine translation sums up their despair.

After the 2008 protests, a “patriotic education” program, forcing monks to denounce the Dalai Lama openly, was intensified and expanded beyond Lhasa to cover every monastery across Tibet. Outside of the temples, the people of Tibet face regular searches of their residences: images of the Dalai Lama are confiscated from their homes, and there have even been cases of believers being imprisoned simply for having a photograph of His Holiness.

Second, the ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau is being systematically destroyed. The state has forced thousands to leave behind the sheep, grasslands, and traditions of horseback riding with which they have practiced for millennia to move to the edges of towns, where they remain tied to one place. In their wake, a sea of Han workers has arrived from across the country armed with blueprints, bulldozers, and dynamite. They have immediately gone to work on the empty grasslands and rivers, mining copper, gold, and silver, building dams, and polluting our water supply and that of Asia as a whole….

So how should we feel about Tibet? As I said, it is a very tricky subject, and I have always exercised a good deal of caution while writing about it. I have never advocated that Tibet be made an independent nation and I have criticized articles in the media that I see as biased against Tibet, only offering the point of view of the Free Tibet crowd, while there is more to the story than that. On the other hand, I’ve never congratulated the CCP for generously helping Tibet end serfdom and get on its feet. That, too, is simplistic.

Pieces like this remind me of just how harsh China treats Tibetans, to the point where more than 140 of them have chosen self-immolation since 2008. Like under apartheid, Tibetans are second-class citizens to the Han Chinese, and typically, the CCP responds to unrest only by making the oppression worse, to the point of not even allowing Tibetans to make photocopies, lest they make and distribute copies of anti-government literature. I want to be fair in my blogging about Tibet, but no matter how much I strive to remain unbiased, the stubborn facts remain: Something is terribly wrong, and the Chinese government bears direct blame for treating an entire class of its people as second-class citizens and worse.

Please read the entire excerpt. It is obviously told from the point of view of a supporter of the Dalai Lama, but it sheds important light on the steadily tightening of the screws on the Tibetan people and offers great insights into what is motivating these people to make the ultimate sacrifice for their ideals and setting themselves on fire. Congratulations to Kevin for this fine translation.

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The asphyxiation of Xinjiang’s Muslims

Xinjiang separatists who practice terrorism exist, as we saw in the horrific knife attack in Kunming in 2014. Does that justify the widespread suppression of all Muslims in Xinjiang and other parts of western China? China seems determined to radicalize its Uighur population, all under the rubric of state security. How far can China go as it tries to impose its will on Xinjiang Muslims, who feel they are under siege as Han Chinese settlers continue to “colonize” the province? It looks like they are willing to go pretty far.

Families sundered by a wave of detentions. Mosques barred from broadcasting the call to prayer. Restrictions on the movements of laborers that have wreaked havoc on local agriculture. And a battery of ever more intrusive ways to monitor the communications of citizens for possible threats to public security.

A recent 10-day journey across the Xinjiang region in the far west of China revealed a society seething with anger and trepidation as the government, alarmed by a slow-boil insurgency that has claimed hundreds of lives, has introduced unprecedented measures aimed at shaping the behavior and beliefs of China’s 10 million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that considers this region its homeland.

Outrageous restrictions are being imposed on Uighurs in Xinjiang, as the article delineates, and this iron-fisted approach only serves to exacerbate tensions between the Han and the Muslims. Read the article to see just how extreme these restrictions are. Imagine bein know that if I were a Uighur in Xinjiang I would resist with every fiber of my being.

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Night and Fog in Hong Kong

In 1941 Hitler instituted a program referred to as Nacht und Nebel — “Night and Fog.” Put simply, it called for dissidents and enemies of the state to be disappeared without a trace, with no notice to their families. They were simply captured and killed. This policy was implemented to instill fear in potential “enemies” and partisans in conquered territory.

China is not Nazi Germany, of course, but the recent articles about Hong Kong booksellers who have disappeared brings the notion of Night and Fog to mind. No one knows where these booksellers have gone, and that’s probably the point: their vanishing is meant to instill fear in others like them, who have sold books critical of the CCP. Bookseller Lee Bo is the latest of five disappearances.

Albert Ho, a pro-democracy lawmaker, told CNN that he believed that Lee Bo, 65, a major shareholder in Causeway Bay Books, had been taken across the border to China against his will.

“It’s a forced disappearance. All those who have disappeared are related to the Causeway Bay bookshop and this bookshop was famous, not only for the sale, but also for the publication and circulation of a series of sensitive books,” said Ho.

Ho said that the publishing house had been planning on publishing a book about the “love affairs” of China’s President Xi Jinping during his time working “in the provinces.”

Lee was reported missing to police Friday. Swedish national Gui Minhai, the owner of the publishing house Mighty Current that owns the bookstore, disappeared while on holiday in Thailand, the South China Morning Post reported.

Maybe the five victims will reappear and get back to their work. But for now, this is a truly alarming story. As Jack Ma takes over the South China Morning Post and as political “enemies” disappear in Hong Kong, one must wonder if One Country, Two Systems is working. I see it as being slowly chipped away, and I’m afraid similar clampdowns on those who have the temerity to stand up to the mainland government will only increase, all a part of Xi Jinping’s ruthless campaign to control what people say and think about the CCP. I hope I’m wrong.

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The scourge of white “China experts”

[Update - someone pointed out that this article is a year old. It was posted today on my FB timeline so I thought it was new. Sorry about that - still a funny read.]

This is too rich to pass by. Apparently foreign “China experts” are part of a vast conspiracy to take over the country. Written by a German “cultural critic,” it’s by far the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in recent weeks, the Republican candidates notwithstanding. Here’s a sample:

There is a cult of Western evangelists and self-righteous crusaders who are determined to dislodge non-Western nations and usurp their governments.

In China they act as if above the law. That’s because they see the Chinese government as corrupt, non-elected, and communist, and thus illegitimate. So why care about what it says or stands for? Moreover, these evangelists believe Westerners can do whatever they want in China because America and the entire Western propaganda apparatus will bail them out should trouble arise.

These so-called China experts are now a political force in direct opposition to the Communist Party. They form clusters and networks, with a strong hierarchy and code of ethics: They reward their Twitter followers and lickspittles and praise each other’s work, while policing social media and punishing “traitors” or “China apologists”.

This could have been written by a certain marketing shyster executive in Shanghai but it’s too nutty even for him. And that excerpt is just for starters. Who knew that these “China experts” would poison the entire country?

Taking part in the Western mission to civilize the East is highly spiritually rewarding. And what is political destabilization and social unrest but a sweet revenge for China’s disregard for Western hegemony. Favorite targets are: corrupt officials, suppressed minorities, Han chauvinism and misogyny, demonstrations, currency manipulation, and censorship. It makes China experts feel good about themselves. They feel like social justice warriors. The problem: this is not their country, and their negativity is poisoning everything.

There’s lots more there, if you are looking for a good laugh. He even mentions the periodicals these white China experts write for to spew lies and hurt China. One of the crazier pieces about China in recent memory, bordering on self-parody. Please read the whole thing, for entertainment’s sake.

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China and other stuff

Needless to say, I haven’t been blogging about China (or anything else). I’ve said before that social media has made many blogs superfluous, and the old method of using blogs to share links and commentary has been usurped by Facebook. There are still some wonderful blogs out there, like this one, that has staff and resources I can’t compete with.

But I’m not sure I am totally done with blogging about China, and perhaps US politics. I have lots of ideas for new material but have to resurrect the momentum to actually turn them into posts. I am hoping to do that now with a brief post about China.

The past couple of years, since Xi Jinping took office, I have watched China drift further and further toward a new level of authoritarianism. I have been horrified at the seemingly endless parade of stories about human rights activists, lawyers and professors being arrested on trumped up charges. Some simply disappear, others, like the aforementioned professor, are not so lucky and get sent to prison for life on charges of “separatism” or disturbing public order or other bullshit.

When I moved back to China in 2007 I was thoroughly enraptured with what seemed a new age of personal (not political) freedom and even hints of reform. I still am enraptured about that — obviously there has been a lot of change for the good over the past three decades and when I returned this was personified as the people of Beijing were caught up in the euphoria of the coming 2008 Olympic Games. But I tried not to be naive, and never forgot the injustices and paranoia of the CCP.

My distrust of the CCP, and my loathing of much of it, has reached new pinnacles recently. Step by step, Xi’s government has been dimming the lights on political debate, activism, NGOs — just about every force for good I can think of, all in the name of national unity and state security. I saw an article on this topic yesterday that neatly sums up the catastrophe of Xi’s war on any form of dissent.

Xi and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continue to tighten the screws on a high-tech system of mass surveillance and thought reform aimed at eliminating any critical voices and views. If state controls are like a ‘giant cage’ in China, the bars are closing in under the CCP’s new strongman.

In 2015, the Party locked up not only tens of thousands of ‘corrupt’ officials, but also harassed, detained and imprisoned thousands of ordinary citizens in the name of ‘ideological security’. More than 200 lawyers were detained in May after high profile lawyer and activist Pu Zhiqiang was indicted on trumped-up charges of ‘inciting ethnic hatred’ as well as ‘picking quarrels and stirring up trouble’.

The campaign to eradicate ‘Western values’ continues unabated in Chinese universities. Numerous academics have been punished or pushed out for holding dissenting views.

The piece goes on to review an array of new laws and social programs that make mass surveillance easier and help give the Party near total control of society, all in the name of national security. When Hu JIntao came to power I and many others hoped for greater reforms, a loosening of censorship and greater accountability by the government. For the first few weeks, as the government took responsibility for covering up the SARS crisis, there were signs of promise. That quickly faded as censorship worsened and the Internet became even more restricted. But Xi’s ascent demonstrates that there is still much further the Party can go when it comes to controlling its citizens’ lives.

For me, the bloom is off the rose when it comes to China. I still love the country and its people, and I still feel at home in Beijing. But I no longer yearn every day to get back, and I have cut down on my travels to China (I used to go twice every year; now I haven’t been back for 14 months, a record). Several of my friends have left China, where the polluted air was damaging their children’s lungs. Frustration over an increasingly censored Internet and the strengthened “great firewall” has risen to a new level. Each day, it seems China is becoming less inviting.

The article concludes by questioning whether the Party’s ultra-paranoid war against it own people could lay the groundwork for the ultimate collapse of the CCP. (I strongly doubt that.)

Xi Jinping has praised the CCP’s desire to control everything from ecology and resources to culture and thought as ‘total national security’. But this might ultimately prove incompatible — if not detrimental — to the agenda for ‘comprehensively deepening reform’ outlined at the Party’s Third Plenum in 2013.

If the end is really nigh for the CCP — as China expert David Shambaugh and others insist — the cracks will emerge from within. An increasingly intrusive and insecure elite stratum fears its own people more than it does any outside influences.

The end is not nigh for the CCP. Who could replace them? How can you undo the security apparatus that controls so much of society? Why would the people stand up to the government when so many are doing so well? (And I know many are not doing so well, but they have no political power.) The only scenario I can envision that might bring the government down would be an economic or environmental catastrophe so devastating that people have nothing to lose by standing up to the government and openly revolting. I see no hope for that occurring, at least not now, when the economy still manages to chug along and blind nationalism, fueled energetically by the state, flourishes. For now I see more of the same as the CCP’s tentacles only grow and tighten.

This is partly why I don’t blog anymore: Nearly all the news out of China is bad, and I see little purpose adding my voice to the choir, especially with my living halfway around the globe. When I was there I could fill this blog with personal anecdotes and stories
of travels across China. Now I feel distant and wonder whether I have anything to contribute that really matters. I don’t want to be a dragon-slayer, only citing stories about China that are bad. There is still so much good there, and the government, for all its faults, has in many ways made people’s lives better. So until I can figure out what exactly I have to offer to the discussion about China my blogging will be sporadic at best. Let me just conclude by saying it’s heartbreaking for me to watch China move backwards when it comes to anything seen by the state as dissent. The insecurity and pathological paranoia of the state grows worse, even when you think it couldn’t get any worse. A very sad story to which I can see no end.

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