Chen’s human chain is a PR coup

Wayne offers a bird’s-eye view of this weekend’s million-man human chain in Taiwan, which he refers to as “a publicity slam-dunk for Chen Shuibian.” China can’t be too happy about that.

One of Wayne’s numerous links says the number of hand-linkers was at least 2 million. Hype or reality?

Update: Also a real good post, links and comments over here.


Behind the scenes at the 6-party talks

Beijing blogger Joseph Bosco apparently has a scoop that you’re not going to read in the papers regarding the 6-party talks — namely, that Chief American delegate James Kelly used a symbolic gesture to make it clear the talks were a joke and there was no reason for him to stick around for the last day.

What was not reported was that allegedly Mr. Kelly had his bags packed and sent to the airport well before that day’s talks began. According to Chinese sources this reporter trusts, Kelly did not do this quietly, as a simple matter of efficiency for a busy man. He did it in such a fashion that it was an unspoken diplomatic statement to his fellow negotiators–but not so that it would fly into the radar of the press corps–something on the order of: This is crap, I’m outa here.

Joseph stresses he didn’t hear this live from the horse’s mouth, but that, considering his sources, he has no reason to doubt it.

If the talks are a topic of any interest to you, head over to Joseph’s site for an informed perspective and some excellent links. Joseph was called on by CCTV-9 to be a commentator on the talks, and he offers some good insights — especially into why Kelly’s little stunt will do little to improve the Bush administration’s reputation in Asia. Quite the opposite.


China cracking down on officals’ abuse of free cars. Maybe.

There seems to be a recent flood of news on China’s efforts to crack down on of corrupt practices of government officials. Today’s story about stopping the abuse of free government cars sounds good, though as usual I’ll reserve judgement until we can see what the crackdown really means. (I wish they had deleted the words “is considering” in the first sentence — it means the difference between BS and action.)

As part of its efforts to fight corruption and cut government expenditures, China is considering reforming its current practice of free car use for government officials.

The central authorities are mapping out a detailed plan for effectively preventing officials from using government cars for private purposes while guaranteeing their transportation need for official reasons, said official sources in Beijing.

The most-favored measure is to sell most of the cars possessed by governments at all levels and pay monthly transportation subsidies to the officials.

A large number of officials and even ordinary civil servants now enjoy the privilege of free use of government cars. Official statistics showed that there were more than 3.5 million governmentcars in service at the end of the 1990s.

The government spending on keeping these cars and their drivers,which added up to 72 billion yuan (8.77 billion US dollars) between 1991 and 1995, had soared to about 300 billion yuan (36.51billion dollars) a year at the end of last century.

A 2003 survey among residents of seven major Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou showed that over 95 percent of the respondents supported an immediate reform of government car use.

Will the current populist approach of Wen and Hu actually result in lasting and meaningful change? Are they really listening and responding to what the people are saying? that’s the message of the last paragraph.

If so, it is a great sign, and if they keep it up they might even turn me around on the topic. That’s a big “if,” but I’m always willing to give credit where it’s due.


Singapore tells citizens: Shut the door and make more babies!

The Singapore government is worried: If citizens don’t start procreating more aggressively, the city-state’s economy will be in dire straits.

If Wei Siang Yu, Singapore’s self-styled “Dr. Love,” has his way, some of the city’s married couples may soon be receiving instruction in baby making as they soak in relaxing bubble baths.

Wei, an Australian-trained physician and sex guru, plans to start a midnight TV talk show where the bathtub will replace the sofa. A second program in the pipeline will have couples from different countries, including Singapore, compete in a race to conceive, according to local media reports.

In Singapore, babies are more than the newest reality-TV fad. They figure prominently on the government’s agenda, too. Parents in the nation now receive 20,000 Singapore dollars, or $11,827, per child in tax rebates for having a second, third, and fourth baby

It all boils down to economics, of course. If Singaporeans don’t accelerate their rate of procreation, in just 25 years only 8 percent of the citizens will be between 15-24. And the fewer young people around, the more purchasing decreases, and the shakier the economy gets. And, as is happening today in Europe, the effect on pension funds can be catastrophic.

So Singaporeans have a lot of work to do to catch up. Time to get busy.


Chinese transsexual Chen Lili disqualified from Miss Universe

It is certainly food for thought — is a woman who used to be a man a “real” woman? China’s organizing committee for the Miss Universe contest first thought Yes, but apparently now thinks No.

Chen Lili, a 24-year-old trans-sexual from Sichuan Province, was shut out of the Miss Universe contest by organisers, saying she is an artificial woman.

In a fax to the Sichuan organising committee, the Miss Universe headquarters says Chen is disqualified because she is a transsexual. It says there never has been any such case in the 53-year history of the contest.

Lili was granted permission early this week to participate in the international event by Miss Universe-China contest officials in New York.

“A sex-change woman registering for the Miss Universe contest is something that has never happened before,” Miss Universe selection committee chairman Mr Zhang Ruiling told reporters.

Mr Cao Gang, a beauty contest expert in Shanghai, offered his support to Lili: “She has been granted the status as a woman, and is protected and recognised by law. There is no reason to kick her out.”

Gay and lesbian groups around the world had hailed her entry in the contest as a new precedent. Maybe next time….?

(For those interested, Danwei’s got some before & after photos Chen Lili here.)



Today I had to disconnect my cable modem and my VOIP phone and my cable TV and haul the equipment back to the service provider as I prepare to leave Singapore in about 10 days. So posting will be a lot harder than before, and will depend on my proximity to an Internet cafe when inspiration strikes.

I’m very excited about getting back to China, even if it’s only for a few days.


The Orcinus review

Oh no — not another post about Mel Gibson’s The Passion! Sorry, but I find everything about this topic compelling and extraordinary, from its inception to its marketing to its reception by various audiences to the controversy it has managed to arouse worldwide. It’s making waves even here in Singapore, where various Christian groups are lobbying the government to make sure it gets past Singapore’s uptight censors.

My fascination with The Passion started when I first heard of it in a post by Dave Neiwert (Orcinus), which focused on allegations of the film’s antisemitism. Now, finally, Dave reviews the film in one of the most detailed, well-written and well-documented articles I’ve read on the topic to date.

This is an important article for those who have commented, on reading my concerns over the film’s alleged Chainsaw Massacre approach, “But that’s what happened. The Passion is about Christ’s awful suffering.” Neiwert shows us how the latter sentence is accurate, but the former is false. Many, many of Gibson’s touches have absolutely nothing to do with the Gospels. They were thrown in for effect, to keep the action going. And the very first point Neiwert makes is that The Passion is, first and foremost, an action movie.

Mel Gibson has always had a flair for making action-driven revenge melodramas. Now, he’s made the ultimate entry in the genre with The Passion of the Christ.

Mind you, this is the first time anyone has made a film about the life of Jesus that conceived of it primarily as an action flick. Most of the other previous films about Jesus have been, by comparison, boring and talky. The Passion does away with all that inconvenient and boring talk and gets right to the nitty-gritty of the exciting stuff, which is to say, the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life, with all its beatings and floggings, culminating in a real gore-fest of a crucifixion.

So if we’re going to get any insight into the meaning of Christ from this film, it’s going to derive not from all those boring sermons he preached, but from the immense sacrifice he made for all mankind. And that meaning, in this telling, becomes very simple: Bad people brutalized Jesus beyond belief, and deserve to be punished for it.

It’s a revenge melodrama — without the satisfying catharsis of revenge.

About the specifc inaccuracies and made-up material that has nothing to do with the Gospels, read Dave’s review. They are simply too long to list. As always, he is specific and precise. What you see on the screen is not “what happened.” Period.

I’ve long said that Orcinus is my favorite blog, but maybe that’s because it isn’t a blog at all. Unlike bloggers who shower their readers with single-sentence posts and lots of links, Dave takes a more scholarly approach to his material, conducting painstaking research and delving deep into the subject matter. (Of course, this probably works against him, since many blog hoppers are more interested in pithy, punchy posts and a more fast-paced experience.) Today’s post on The Passion is Dave at his very best. If you really want to understand what all the fuss is about, you have to read it.

As noted, he starts by referring to the film as “a revenge melodrama — without the satisfying catharsis of revenge,” and he ties it all up neatly at the end by returning to his premise.

You see, there’s a reason there’s no cathartic revenge in this film: That is what the audience is supposed to bring to the table. That is their responsibility for this sacrifice.

Jesus is on the march, you see. He’s kickin’ butt and takin’ names. And the question The Passion wants everyone to answer is simple: Whose side are you on? Mel’s? Or the evil ones?

That is, after all, what the Culture Wars are all about. And The Passion of the Christ wants to be the loudest shot fired yet. The Birth of a Nation for the 21st century.

Amen to that.

Update: A review from my local newspaper in the US.

Update: UK’s Jewish community erupts over The Passion.

THE first UK screening of Mel Gibson’s controversial new film The Passion Of The Christ provoked a furious response from Britain’s Jewish community yesterday.

Representatives of the Jewish faith were invited to see the film a month before its nationwide release.

Many left the cinema branding it both “disgusting” and “deplorable”, and likely to incite racial hatred.

Depicting the last 12 hours in the life of Christ, Gibson’s blood-drenched epic has been accused of anti-Semitism.


Lord Janner, a former president of the Board of Deputies and now vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, said : “I hated it. The Jews come out of it as a pretty nasty lot and I believe it could cause very great harm in relations with the Jewish community.”


Meet the Kaiser

Yesterday I added to my blogroll a blogger with whom I frequently disagree but always respect. Kaiser Kuo is a great writer, a real sinophile and a fiercely intelligent guy. His blog makes great reading, even if his conclusions about China are at times diamterically opposed to my own.

Yesterday he and I shared a couple of emails, which he’s posted on his site. Again, we have quite different perspectives, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can learn from one another.


Andrew Sullivan: The Passion is “Pornography”

In the comments thread of an earlier post there’s a discussion on whether or not it’s fair to refer to The Passion as “pornography.” I’ve been arguing that, based on all I’ve read so far from writers I trust, I suspect the label is a fair one. After reading Andrew Sullivan tonight, I feel it’s particularly justified.

In a long post of breathtaking power Sullivan condemns the movie as undisguised pornography — and worse. After briefly noting that there are several very moving moments in the film, he lets it all out.

At the same time, the movie was to me deeply disturbing. In a word, it is pornography. By pornography, I mean the reduction of all human thought and feeling and personhood to mere flesh. The center-piece of the movie is an absolutely disgusting and despicable piece of sadism that has no real basis in any of the Gospels. It shows a man being flayed alive – slowly, methodically and with increasing savagery.

We first of all witness the use of sticks, then whips, then multiple whips with barbed glass or metal. We see flesh being torn out of a man’s body. Just so that we can appreciate the pain, we see the whip first tear chunks out of a wooden table. Then we see pieces of human skin flying through the air. We see Jesus come back for more. We see blood spattering on the torturers’ faces. We see muscled thugs exhausted from shredding every inch of this man’s body. And then they turn him over and do it all again.

It goes on for ever. And then we see his mother wiping up masses and masses of blood. It is an absolutely unforgivable, vile, disgusting scene. No human being could survive it. Yet for Gibson, it is the h’ors d’oeuvre for his porn movie. The whole movie is some kind of sick combination of the theology of Opus Dei and the film-making of Quentin Tarantino.

There is nothing in the Gospels that indicates this level of extreme, endless savagery and there is no theological reason for it. It doesn’t even evoke emotion in the audience. It is designed to prompt the crudest human pity and emotional blackmail – which it obviously does. But then it seems to me designed to evoke a sick kind of fascination. Of over two hours, about half the movie is simple wordless sadism on a level and with a relentlessness that I have never witnessed in a movie before. And you have to ask yourself: why? The suffering of Christ is bad and gruesome enough without exaggerating it to this insane degree.

Theologically, the point is not that Jesus suffered more than any human being ever has on a physical level. It is that his suffering was profound and voluntary and the culmination of a life and a teaching that Gibson essentially omits. One more example. Toward the end, unsatisfied with showing a man flayed alive, nailed gruesomely to a cross, one eye shut from being smashed in, blood covering his entire body, Gibson has a large crow perch on the neighboring cross and peck another man’s eyes out. Why? Because the porn needed yet another money shot.

And that’s for starters. Sullivan also addresses the charge that the movie is antisemetic.

I wouldn’t say that this movie is motivated by anti-Semitism. It’s motivated by psychotic sadism. But Gibson does nothing to mitigate the dangerous anti-Semitic elements of the story and goes some way toward exaggerating and highlighting them. To my mind, that is categorically unforgivable. Anti-Semitism is the original sin of Christianity. Far from expiating it, this movie clearly enjoys taunting those Catholics as well as Jews who are determined to confront that legacy. In that sense alone, it is a deeply immoral work of art.

(After all that, it’s rather surprising to see Sullivan refer to it as a “work of art” at all.)

While I can’t state with one-hundred percent certainty that The Passion is pornography (I haven’t seen it, after all), I can now say that I’m pretty sure it is. Across the board, those I respect most (and I do respect Sullivan, on several levels) have come to almost the exact same conclusions about this movie. It strikes me as an exercize in depravity; the more I read about it, the greater my sense of revulsion.


Check it out

Jeremy offers a brief but telling interview with the grande dame of the Chinese blogosphere.