Hu Jintao’s reforms

Step by step and with a ruthless efficiency, Washington Post correspondent Philip Pan demolishes any remaining hopes we may have harbored that Hu Jintao would be a true reformer and proponent of change in China, at least in regard to openness, freedom of speech and democratic reforms.

More than two years after taking office amid uncertainty about his political views, Chinese President Hu Jintao is emerging as an unyielding leader determined to preserve the Communist Party’s monopoly on power and willing to impose new limits on speech and other civil liberties to do it, according to party officials, journalists and analysts.

Some say Hu has cast himself as a hard-liner to consolidate his position after a delicate leadership transition and could still lead the party in a more open direction. There is a growing consensus inside and outside the government, however, that the 62-year-old former engineer believes the party should strengthen its rule by improving its traditional mechanisms of governance, not by introducing democratic reforms.

This is another topic close to my heart, because I remember debating with other Chinese bloggers in the spring of 2003 whether Hu would really make a difference. There was a strong consensus (of which I was not a part) that as soon as he was free of Jiang’s overbearing control, Hu would make dramatic reforms. The crown jewel of proof was his swift and dramatic handling of SARS once the scandal erupted. He fired the health minister and the mayor of Beijing and held an unprecedented two-hour live press conference in which he appeared to be truly a new type of leader, bringing to mind the early hopes of Gorbachev’s glasnost.

I was skeptical, because I felt if he were a true reformer, he wouldn’t have allowed the government to lie about SARS in the first place. It was plain stupid, as it was a lie they couldn’t possibly contain, and it inflicted direct harm on the people of China. But I was assured, even by some of my best friends in China, that this was a signal of great change. They were turning the microscope on themselves and fessing up to the truth. My cynical response was short and simple: Do they really have any other choice? They have been caught, and now they’ve gog to get out of it somehow. There was nothing else to do if Beijing was going to return to normal and start believing its government again.

And then there’s Tiananmen Square. The same bloggers (most of whom aren’t blogging anymore) assured me that only one things was preventing Hu from opening up about the 1989 catastrophe: Jiang Zemin. Once he was removed from the scene, the doors would open and the truth would make us all free. Interestingly, the silence has, if anything, intensified, and the topic is as taboo today as it was under Jiang.

Party officials said Hu’s statements have led propaganda, education, culture and security officials in Beijing and the provinces to take a harder line against criticism of the government and discussion of sensitive subjects, such as political reform and the 1989 crackdown on the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

Over the past few months, nearly a dozen dissident writers have been arrested across the country, including journalist Shi Tao in Hunan province, scholar Zheng Yichun in Liaoning, essayist Zhang Lin in Anhui and painter Yan Zhengxue in Zhejiang. A researcher for the New York Times, Zhao Yan, was detained just before Hu’s speech to the Central Committee, and a well-known essayist, Huang Jinqiu, was sentenced to 12 years in prison days after it. The authorities have also disbarred Shanghai lawyer Guo Guoting, who tried to represent several of the dissidents.

The article also notes the futility of Hu’s efforts to help the oppressed villagers who petition him, which often backfires and gets the petitioners into more trouble with local officials. There’s a lot more to the piece, and you really should read it all. It concludes with a rational explanation from an anonymouse source:

“The party’s authority is gradually declining, and as a result, Hu is less confident and more insecure than the leaders before him,” said a former provincial party chief, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “When a leader feels insecure, he tightens controls.”

I would love to be able to post an article showing that Hu is a true reformer who has strived to bring freedom and fairness to his people. I’d really love to post a story about how censorship in China is loosening and how reporters are now allowed to investigate the government at will. I’d love to report a crackdown on corruption with long-term effects, freeing villagers from the yoke of local oppressors. I just can’t find any such stories, and that’s why my posts on the CCP tend to be critical. If you can send me links to articles on the CCP’s breakthroughs and their dedication to individual liberties, I will post them in a heartbeat. I would love to see some good news; I thought we were seeing some last year with the peasant’s survey that seemed to signal a shft in transparency, and I posted about it numerous times with real optimism. But we were disappointed yet again. I want to be fair and I want to give credit where it is due. What is the CCP doing to bring its people freedom and a greater voice and greater representation? Just let me know, and if the source is reasonable I won’t hesitate to write it up.

Thanks to the anonymous emailer who sent me the link to this story. Always appreciated.


After the riots…

…all that’s left are the photos.


You can find many others over at ACB.


Charles Johnson in bed with Fidel


I always knew Johnson was blowing smoke.


Japan apologizes to China – again

Japan apologized for the umpteenth time today about its brutality to the Chinese during WWII. Needless to say, it won’t change anything because there will always be a condition attached by the CHinese.

Japan’s prime minister apologized Friday for his country’s World War II aggression in Asia in a bid to defuse tensions with regional rival China, but a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the apology needed to be backed up with action after Japanese lawmakers made a controversial visit to a war shrine.

Just hours before Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologized, a Cabinet minister and more than 80 Japanese lawmakers visited a Tokyo shrine to Japan’s war dead. China’s Foreign Ministry expressed “strong dissatisfaction over the negative actions of some Japanese politicians” in visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which also honor’s Japan’s executed war criminals.

“That President Koizumi expressed this attitude in this arena is welcome. We welcome it,” ministry spokesman Kong Quan told reporters at a summit of Asian and African leaders. “But to express it is one aspect. What’s of much more importance is the action. You have to make it a reality.”

So Japanese leaders have to stop visiting a war shrine — if they just do that, then everything will be dandy. But the Chinese know this isn’t something they can negotiate. To the Japanese, I suspect it would be similar to asking a US president never to go to Arlington National Cemetery. (And don’t tell me how evil the people buried there are — I know. The shrine is still a symbol of national honor and to give in on this would be intolerably humiliating, and we all know it.) It’s a self-imposed sticking point designed to keep the tension alive for either present or future use.

I believe based on what I’m reading that Hu genuinely wants to come to an agreement with the Japanese and end the present hostilities. It’s good business. But I see virtually no evidence that the Chinese truly want to let this go.

Japan bashing is a cottage industry to which some have dedicated their lives. If they don’t have this outlet, where do they focus their energy? It has played a successful role in rallying the troops, and the leaders won’t just give it up, no matter how much they say they only want a “sincere” apology. When I read a story like this, I have to suspect that is exactly what the government doesn’t want.


More on the riots — and a must-read

Please take a look at this great post about the recent riots in China. It’s extraordinary. I only wish it were clearer what the blogger’s sources are. But it is absolutely essential reading. Great work.

Throwing things and getting violent can be justified under extreme circumstances. This circumstance certainly fits the bill.


China hand Ross Terrill sounds off on Japan

Ross Terrill is seen as a formidable authority on China. The author of the recently acclaimed “The New Chinese Empire” and a China scholar at Harvard, Terrill has as much insight into China, its government and its people as anyone could. He looks at the recent situation with Japan, and concludes the Chinese don’t have a solid leg to stand on.

China’s diplomatic awkwardness in the world is inseparable from its tight political control at home. Apologies, textbooks, uninhabited islands, war memories — all become painted faces and props in the Beijing opera of the paternalistic Chinese state’s cultural and foreign policies. Marxism has mostly lost its hold over Chinese minds. But truth and power emanate from one fount: historically the emperor’s court, today the Communist Party. The hold of the Chinese Communist regime over its people depends on belief in the cries and groans of the Beijing opera.

One opera act can give way to a surprising sequel. Folk in the People’s Republic were taught to love the Soviet Union and then to hate it. India was esteemed in the 1950s and vilified in the ’60s. Vietnam was “as close as lips and teeth” in the ’60s yet invaded by Chinese armies in 1979. When Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka tried to apologise directly to Mao for World War II in 1972, Mao brushed him off, saying the “help” provided by Japan’s invasion of China made possible the Communist victory in 1949.

The moment’s raison d’etat is supreme. Turning on rhetoric, emotion, and government-sanctioned demonstrations is an easy trick.

It’s a fascinating thing, how uniform most Western accounts have been on this subject, as have the accounts of most Mainlanders. But those two accounts are total opposites: many Chinese honestly believe they were showing the world their maturity, conviction, knowledge of world events and history. They also saw it as proof of their new freedoms, while most in the West, like Terrill, saw it as at least partially (if not largely) a manipulation of the masses by the CCP. I’m not trying to say which is right or wrong, just that this dichotomy is spectacular.

Terrill also blasts a big hole in China’s obsession with the textbooks:

On textbooks, a projection identification occurs. Dynastic regimes in East Asia all viewed history as the province of state orthodoxy. China and Vietnam, putting Leninist dress on the skeleton of traditional autocracy, still do. Japan and Taiwan, as democracies, do not.

No book of any kind attacking the Communist Party’s monopoly of power in China has been published in China in the 56 years of the PRC. Some of the most trenchant books anywhere in the world on Japanese war atrocities have been written, published, and widely read in Japan. Beijing seems to think that because its textbooks jump to government policy, Japan’s do too. But they do not. In Japan, unlike in China, there are government-sponsored textbooks as well as independent ones.

The blunt truth is that reasonable Chinese, Japanese, and other scholarly estimates vary widely for Chinese killed by Japan in the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 and in World War II. They also do for Chinese killed by their own Communist government in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution (no apologies, yet, for these mishaps; what’s a million here, 10million there, among comrades?). No one textbook can embody final truth.

You have to read the whole thing. This is not a reckless China-hater parroting the conservative Western line.


Magical photos

Take a look; you’ll be blown away. Via ESWN.


Pro-China article in Japan Times?

A few days ago a reader sent me an article by a former Australian Diplomat and VP of Akita International University that I found so odd I was reluctant to post about it. I’m going to take the risk, knowing that it could open a can of worms for its description of Tiananmen Square as a “nonmassacre.” It’s rather amazing that this article appeared in, of all places, Japan Times.

Shedding imposed war guilt


Tokyo is right to blame the Chinese authorities for failing to prevent damage to Japanese diplomatic and other properties during recent anti-Japanese demonstrations. But the Chinese authorities probably had
their reasons. Demonstrations in China can easily turn into ugly antigovernment riots when confronted by state power.

The Tiananmen “massacre” was a good example. The alleged killings of thousands of prodemocracy students in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, in fact, as declassified U.S. Embassy documents show, comprised the heavy casualties caused on June 3 when angry rioters, including students, clashed with troops sent to remove the Tiananmen students. One of the Western punishments imposed on Beijing for this nonmassacre of students was a ban on the sale of riot-control equipment.

Ironically, one reason why the Chinese police may have failed to crack down on the anti-Japan rioters could have been the lack of such equipment.

That said, Tokyo is not without fault either. It seems quite insensitive to the damage caused by its anti-China moves and slights. These include everything from very one-sided views of three territorial disputes and tacit promises to cooperate with the United States in military action against China over Taiwan, to homage at Yasukuni Shrine and refusals to admit to the sickening catalog of Japanese atrocities against China before 1945. South Korea is beginning to suffer the same treatment, and is reacting with even greater official vigor.

Claims that Japan has apologized for past aggressions are meaningless. If Japan was really repentant, it would have done something to punish or at least ostracize those responsible for the worst atrocities — the notorious Unit 731, for example, with its germ warfare and vivisection experiments on live Chinese prisoners. Then we would not have to tolerate the obstinate efforts to deny Japan’s wartime military abuse of abducted sex slave “comfort women.”

I always believe at looking at all sides of the issue, and this is certainly a side that hasn’t had a loud voice in recent weeks. So I just thought I’d throw it out there.

For the record, I think he is over-simplifying Tiananmen Square. From all I’ve read, he’s quite right that most of the killing occurred on the sidestreets away from the square, brought on in some instances by attacks on soldiers from emotional mobs. But there are many more sides to the story than that, and unless Jan Wong and John Pomfret and Nick Kristoff and other eyewitnesses are all lying, the events of June 3-4 weren’t nearly so balck and white as Clark would have us believe.

I found it bizarre for a former diplomat and university official to make such explosive assertions so matter-of-factly.


Did the recent anti-Japan riots mirror the manipulation of the Cultural Revolution?

NY Times correspondent William French offers a though-provoking article on the recent riots that seems to me to reek of common sense. (Emphasis added.)

The banners had been carefully printed, the slogans memorized. Then the students and young unleashed onto the streets of China’s largest, most sophisticated city, where they were to speak sacred truths and make the enemies of the people tremble.

Chinese today have little experience in mass organized protests, so when the government tolerated – some would say encouraged – a huge anti-Japanese demonstration here that flirted with turning into a riot over the weekend, for many it bore echoes of the mass manipulation of students of another era, the Cultural Revolution.

For hours on Saturday, thousands of Chinese, from teenagers to people in their 30s, lay siege to the Japanese Consulate in this city, smashing its windows and defacing its walls with a copious rain of rocks and bottles.

But for all the expressions of anger against Japan by people far too young to have memories of China’s brutal subjugation by its neighbor, at its most basic level this was a festival of runaway nationalism, of a government-nurtured Chinese-ness.

Declaring themselves to be all one people, the demonstrators proclaimed their love of the police who escorted them as they marched to the consulate, smashing Japanese shops along the way.

Banners extolled Chinese greatness, in contrast to little Japan, chanters called for their homeland to stand tall, and talk was dominated by Chinese “feelings,” a word repeated over and over, as if no other feelings counted.

Revealingly, people who had lived through the real Cultural Revolution, not the sanitized one taught in China’s history books, watched from the sidelines with looks of amazement and worry. They were old enough to remember just how badly things can go when intoxication is the order of the day, and laws are swept aside by feelings.

“I watched the police cars escorting the demonstrators and felt this all looked familiar, like an official event in the Cultural Revolution, but those drew bigger crowds and were more emotional,” said Zhu Xueqin, a historian at Shanghai University who emerged from a public library to watch the march go by. “I observed it as a bystander, and the people observing around me looked indifferent, seemingly full of reservations.”

I have to say that of all the articles I’ve seen to date, this one captures my own feelings: that this was another great leap backward and a cruel hoax on the Chinese people. They were only hurting themselves by reacting as they did, and they will pay the price economically and on the political playing field. Emotionalism feels so good at the time, and its results are always, always self-defeating.

The Maoist slogans of 40 years ago have been replaced by anti-Japanese watchwords, and then as now, few of those caught up in the excitement paused to examine the relationship of today’s slogans to the truth. Here were students mouthing such claims as “Japan has never apologized to China,” or “Japanese textbooks whitewash history.”

Many Japanese textbooks have recently de-emphasized atrocities committed in China, and some have been widely distributed. But in China, the most tendentious of them is the one cited as a representative sample, although it is used by less than 1 percent of Japanese schools.

Others said, trembling with conviction, that Japan wanted to keep China down, or even instigate the country’s breakup. Never mind that for more than two decades, Japan has been a leading source of development assistance for China – to the tune of $30 billion in low interest loans – helping build everything from Shanghai’s futuristic airport to water systems in the country’s vast, impoverished west.

Few in the Chinese crowds, including many educated in the country’s best schools, seemed aware of facts like those, or of any other side to the story, save what could be fit into the dichotomy of a China that is essentially good and a Japan that is predatory, evil, conniving or, in a word heard over and over, “disgusting.

Sorry for the long quotes, but I want you to read this. French says absolutely everything I’ve been trying to articulate here for two weeks, and it shows the author’s deep concern for China and its people.

I realize that may be a hard concept for some readers to grasp, but I can promise you it’s true.

UPDATE: You can read French’s web site here.


Will we let them do this?

I refer frequently to the sheer audacity of today’s right-wingers, and readers who are somewhat to the right tell me to stop being hysterical, that the radical ideas come from a few extremists. But that simply isn’t true; they are the legislators themselves.

The Texas House of Representatives passed a bill banning homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals from being foster parents.

If the bill gains approval from the Texas Senate, the state will be allowed to investigate the backgrounds of current foster parents and remove children living in non-heterosexual households.

All future foster parents will be required to disclose their sexual preference on an application form, a legislative aide said.

The move was denounced by local activists.

“More than 43,000 gay and lesbian couples in Texas are forming families and raising children, and this attack on LBGT (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered) Texans will tear apart our families and remove our children from loving, stable families,” the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas said in a statement.

“In an already over-burdened foster care system, the effect of reducing the pool of foster parents does nothing to protect Texas children,” it added.

Outrage, anyone? Gay people who want to be foster parents are being treated like Jews in Nazi Germany. What’s the rationale? What’s the benefit? How does this make us appear in the eyes of the world? Who is protected and how is society improved?

People, please wake up. We aren’t talking about a few kooks who are using hyperbole. This is legislation. These loonies hold real power and can write real laws and deprive real people of children.

At first I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read this. Then, I recalled an NPR story on Texas Republicans that included a tape of of their breakfast meeting. I was literally scared to death. They started with a group prayers, everyone shouting out, speaking in tongues, interjecting “Praise God” and “Bless President Bush” and sounding generally like a church congregation on LSD. Then I realized, it really was possible. The Texas Republican Party, having morphed into an evangelical country club, is capable of committing atrocities in the name of a God who would recoil in horror at such prejudice.

Those under the influence of fundamentalist ideals, be they Islamic, Christian, Jewish or what have you, have a history of doing awful things in the name of their God. If we shrug and say, “Oh, they’re just a bunch of radicals who can be controlled,” we’re making the same mistake van Papen and Schleicher did in 1932. We’ll have only ourselves to blame. Please, don’t just write these people off as harmless fools. They are anything but.