The Day After Tomorrow

From Other Lisa…cross-posted at the paper tiger

I, and I expect many others, was taken by surprise by the scope of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction. This morning, here in Los Angeles, it seemed as if the damage was less than had been feared. By this afternoon, the extent of the devastation was becoming clear. Small towns along the Gulf Coast are literally gone, swept away down to cement slabs. No one knows how many have died in places like Biloxi and Gulfport. As for New Orleans, the situation there grows more dire by the hour, as levees fail and the waters of Lake Pontchartrain flood the bowl-shaped city.

Some of the footage coming out of the region looks as bad as anything one saw from last December’s horrific tsunami. We can assume that the loss of life won’t be remotely on that scale, but undoubtedly hundreds are dead at least, and hundreds of thousands have lost everything.

This was an act of nature made worse by the hand of man – read this report for the details. Let’s hope that we learn from this and come to understand that “Homeland Security” also means a country where we invest in our infrastructure, where we protect the environment, and where we devote whatever resources are necessary to assist people and communities struck by such unimaginable disasters.

In the meantime, a lot of folks are going to need a lot of help. Here is a great post at the Booman Tribune, listing Hurricane Katrina disaster relief organizations and links. Booman is a progressive blog, but you’ll find charities of every kind on this round-up. I urge anyone who is able to pitch in. Every dollar/yuan/euro helps…

UPDATE – Gordon of the Horse’s Mouth has sent along an Editor & Publisher piece. The title is “Did New Orleans Catastrophe Have to Happen? ‘Times-Picayune’ Had Repeatedly Raised Federal Spending Issues.” I don’t have time to blog about it now, but here’s a relevant excerpt:

New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security — coming at the same time as federal tax cuts — was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

Newhouse News Service, in an article posted late Tuesday night at The Times-Picayune Web site, reported: “No one can say they didn’t see it coming. … Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation.”

In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.


The Anniversary

From Martyn…

On 1st September, T1bet celebrates its 40th anniversary of becoming an “autonomous region” of the People’s Republic of China. Earlier Chinese promises going back half a century that PLA troops would eventually leave T1bet, for good or for ill, did not materialize. Historically, China has dominated T1bet and, on occasion, T1bet has dominated China. However, history aside, what is the situation in 2005? What about the lives of ordinary T1betans? Absolutely no doubt about it, today, T1bet’s economy is growing even faster than that of the rest of China. Roads, railways, factories are sprouting up where before there was nothing, from Xinhua:

Under the correct leadership of the central authorities and with the support of the central government and the rest of the country, the people in Tibet have united as one and worked diligently to bring about world-shaking changes over the past decades, said sources closed to the meeting, held on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Tibet has witnessed rapid economic development and remarkable improvement in people’s living standards. The system of regional autonomy for minority people has been constantly improved in Tibet, where people of all ethnic groups enjoy full rights as masters of the region. The excellent local traditions have been preserved and developed, and the people’s rights in the freedom of religious belief are well respected and protected.

However, the other side of the coin comes from Lindsay Beck at Reuters:

…analysts say that, 40 years on, society is more fractured than ever, with T1betans becoming an underclass lacking the skills to participate in Beijing-driven industrialisation.

T1bet has been ruled by China since the People’s Liberation Army invaded the Himalayan territory in 1950. Nine years later, Tibet’s god-king, the D@lai L@ma, fled on horseback after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

The vast, sparsely populated region known as “the roof of the world” was designated the T1betan Autonomous Region in 1965, a gesture Beijing made to other areas with large ethnic minority populations too to give them more say over their own affairs.

At the same time, Beijing encouraged Han Chinese migration, both to underscore its claim to T1bet and in hopes that wealth generated by entrepreneurial migrants would trickle down.

Instead of wealth building harmony, though, analysts say it is contributing to a rich-poor gap that falls along ethnic lines.

“The government expansion is being driven by Beijing, it’s not being driven locally. And that’s creating a very polarised economy,” said Andrew Fischer, a development economist at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The article goes on to claim that we are seeing an income gap that exacerbates the ethnic divide:

Only about 13 per cent of Tibetans have secondary school education or above, Fischer said, compared with 50 per cent of Han Chinese. Forty per cent of Tibetans are illiterate.

“The difference in income is there, but that’s because they (Chinese and Tibetans) are engaged in different industries,” said Xu Jianchang, of Tibet’s Development and Reform Commission.

He acknowledged that education programmes that might allow Tibetans to move off the farm and into industries were in their infancy.
“Right now the scale is very small,” Xu said, adding that about 15 million yuan ($1.85 million) per year was being allocated for training – less than $1 for each of Tibet’s roughly 2.7 million people.

However, there is large stock put into the massive railway project taken on by the Chinese authorities, at great cost, linking Lhasa to the rest of China:

“If we finish the construction of the railway, we can realise large-scale development by groups and enterprises,” Xu said.

“We can bring them to other parts of China and the farmers can get incomes from that.”

But with Xu listing yaks and pigs as among products waiting for access to an export market, Tibetans are understandably wary about whether the railway will mean greater prosperity or simply a greater divide.

With 70 per cent of Tibet’s labour force working in agriculture and rural wages stagnant, that difference is only likely to grow.

As a westerner and a 15-year resident of China, I can appreciate both points of view towards such a sensitive subject such as T1bet. Indeed, some of the most intelligent comments this site has ever received were from an outstanding earlier post from Richard concerning this very subject.

However, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of T1bet’s “autonomous region” status within the People’s Republic of China, should we be celebrating or lamenting? How do T1betans feel about their anniversary? How does the rest of the country feel? What about the status of ordinary T1betans and their material lives? Are Beijing’s massive efforts and huge expense to develop the region working and improving the lives of the population as a whole? These are the pertinent questions I feel we should be asking on this historic occasion.


The CCP Meme

I was bit struck by a post I read today over at ESWN which begins as follows:

You know the meme — the Chinese Communist Party leaders are a bunch of ruthless butchers who have slaughtered tens of millions of Chinese citizens. Okay, so we got that out of the way. Here is the question: Why do they do that? You know the meme. They want to seize onto their power. Next question: To seize onto their power in order to do what? This is where it is usually stuck — they want to seize onto the power in order to seize onto the power, and this is obviously not intellectually satisfying unless you think every one of them is Mao Zedong as portrayed in Jung Chang’s so-called ‘biography.’

Now we get to the question of Wen Jiabao. What does he want? The photo below (via Xici Hutong) was taken during his recent field study trip in Anhui. Here, he is having lunch at the Ma’anshan Steel Factory workers’ cafeteria. For his own meal, he insisted on paying four RMB as required under the rules.

ESWN then makes the case, with which I agree, that Wen is a good guy who wants what’s best for his people and that there are many more in the CCP like him. True enough.

But…I have to admit I was put off by some of his phrasing. What if I wrote, “You know the meme — the Stalin clan was a bunch of ruthless butchers who have slaughtered tens of millions of Russian citizens. Okay, so we got that out of the way.”

I find this disingenuous, because by calling it a “meme,” ESWN is strongly implying this is something of a red herring, something we automatically think, Pavolvian-style, when the CCP comes to mind. It implies we are naive to think this way.

I would counter that it is not a meme at all, it is a matter of fact, and it can be documented, justified and proven. They have done these things. Is there more to the story, and has there been progress? Of course. But they have slaughtered millions, although today they no longer do so and no one claims they do. No one.

I had this conversation with a reader earlier today as we sipped coffee in Sanlitun. There are so many truly noble people in the party, idealistic, urbane, compassionate and profoundly decent. He was telling me about his many friends in the CCP that fit this description. But, he said, that doesn’t change the party’s track record or neutralize their sins past and present. No matter how many good apples in the CCP basket, they are still authoritarian and ruthless, and at times borderline totalitarian. He asked aloud, “How can the party be so bad when there be so many wonderful pary members?”

I’m sorry, if someone said to me, “You know the Nazi meme, about how they slaughtered millions of Jews,” I think I’d be offended. I often agree with ESWN and link to his site more than just about any other, but his choice of words bothered me all day, as it borders on a whitewash. Praise the CCP for the progress of recent years, but don’t deny that it’s got more blood on its hands than just about any other political party in power today. No matter how nifty Wen Jiabao is, that fact remains and is anything but a meme.


So Long, Sister Furong…

From Martyn

Continuing one of more bizarre stories to come out of China recently (and that’s up against some pretty stiff competition!), recent claims by China’s Sister Furong that she was the victim of a harsh Chinese Communist Party-sanctioned crackdown left many of us China residents scratching our heads. After all, she didn’t cross any of the usual (and real) lines of dissent that certainly do, in a lot of cases, result in censorship action by the Beijing authorities.

Now, however, the truth has finally come to light via Red Herring and their source, the ever-on-the-ball Chinese media watcher, Jeremy Goldkorn from, additional reporting at Imagethief:

Are you a Chinese Internet phenomenon whose 15 minutes are nearly up, but who isn’t quite ready to go gentle into that good night? Just cry “censorship!” to members of the international press, and they’re likely to come to your rescue, transforming you overnight from marginal freak to free speech poster child.

“They’ve cracked down on me,” she recently lamented to a Reuters correspondent in Beijing, who reported that the Communist Party was now moving to wipe this icon off the Internet.

The corroborating evidence? The fact that “after blanket coverage earlier this year, newspapers, magazines, and television have recently given almost no time to Sister Furong,” the reporter wrote. The journalist’s story also repeated a claim made in July by the British newspaper The Independent that Party authorities had instructed the country’s leading blog host to bury Sister Hibiscus-related links in the deeper recesses of the site.

It’s clear that any government-sanctioned censorship would likely begin with Sister Furong’s blog-host provider (formerly However, the damning evidence is that a spokesman for has denied that any such instructions had been handed down. “No one from the government has said anything to us about Sister Hibiscus,” said Mai Tian, a director of Mr. Mai noted that her blog, at, is still being updated several times a day and remains, by far, one of Bokee’s most visited blogs.

A Beijing Youth Daily reporter who covers society, Internet, and entertainment also denied hearing anything about government crackdown on Sister Hibiscus. It appears, therefore, that our Sister Furong with her flamboyant, vulgar poses and loud, tacky outfits cried “Wolf!” as soon as she started to fear that her 15 minutes of fame were over and her media attention began to wane.

That the western media could fall for her line of “They’ve banned me” hook, line and sinker says as much about China’s sometimes quite bizarre censorship practices as it does for the west’s over-simplified view of China. As Red Herring goes on to address:

The trouble is, there’s much truth to it. Beijing does restrict Internet content: many web sites, including most of the popular U.S.-based blog hosting sites like Blogger, Blogspot, Typepad, and Google’s cached pages, the BBC web site, and most sites related to Tibet@n indep3ndence or the banned F@lun G0ng cult are not accessible without resort to proxy servers.

The non-China-related blogging community also made quite a fuss about the phenomenon. Indeed, I noticed commenters on some of the bigger blogs like The English Guy begging for more links to photos of the, let’s face it, very plain-looking Sister Furong. If anyone is truly interested in her photos, you’ll find them ALL at her site Chinese language only, I’m afraid but trust me on this, you’re not missing anything in the writing! I’ll be happy to translate her most recent ramblings in the comments to this post.

Despite living in China, I was unable to fully understand or explain the Sister Furong phenomenon past the fact that what she did, i.e. post suggestive poses of herself in the public domain and whine about her supposed intellectual talents, was so very un-Chinese. To me, that was always at the heart of the phenomena, a simple curiosity towards someone making a bit of a fool of themselves.

Update: Check out Asiapundit’s great round-up on this
subject, including a very harsh but fair judgement by
Ms Rebecca McKinnion.


News on the HIV Front

From the AP:

Chinese health officials on Monday plan to announce an AIDS cooperation partnership with a U.S. institute, a measure that takes aim at combating what health officials fear will be a tenfold surge in HIV infection in China over the next five years.

The partnership between the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Maryland’s Institute of Human Virology — founded by one of the co-discoverers of the virus — covers collaboration on clinical trials, technical assistance and development of better and faster tests and vaccines, institute officials said…

…While the Chinese CDC already sends researchers to the institute for training, the new agreement is expected to boost bilateral cooperation and allow American researchers to benefit from China’s centuries old medical experience.

“This is more than just missionary work,” Gallo said. “I think we have a real chance of getting help from China.”

The throw-away capper to this partnership comes in the last paragraph of the article:

The institute is also working on a commercial expansion of this partnership with a three-way collaboration with the China CDC and CK Life Sciences, a Hong Kong-based pharmaceutical company, which they hope to sign sometime later this year, Gallo said.


War Games

From Martyn…

There was much reporting in the international media of the China-Russian war games last week. Here in China, the games received blanket coverage and headlined the official state television news bulletins round the clock. The question is: why the fuss? After all, a mere 10,000 troops (8,200 from China and 1,800 from Russia) simply went through a week of co-ordinated air, sea and land exercises, including amphibious and parachute landings. Hardly groundbreaking stuff, and as Donald Rumsfield said, “Countries do that.”

YaleGlobal offered an interesting analysis:

Russia and China launched their first joint military exercise yesterday in a show of force calculated to dissuade the US from presuming a dominant role in global security.

While analysts say the exercises are mainly an excuse for Russia to showcase aircraft to its biggest military hardware client, the two countries are keen to erode Washington’s image as a world policeman.

Moscow and Beijing’s interests converge in central Asia, where both hope to quell Islamic extremism, preserve trade interests and stifle US attempts to dominate the region.

“It’s an attempt to remind the US that a different truth exists which can also be enforced by military might,” said Ivan Safranchuk of the Center for Defense Information.

Officially, Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan said the exercises were to “Improve capabilities to meet new challenges and threats and to fight international terrorism, extremism and separatism”. While Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, said “Only when we are closely united can we meet new challenges and threats,” and argued that the friendship of China’s and Russia’s armed forces would become a major guarantee for peace in the Asia-Pacific region and the world as a whole. The eight-day exercise was based on a scenario in which the two countries, acting under U.N. authority, aim to stabilize a country in the midst of ethnic strife.

It was significant that the Russian soldiers used in the airbourne assault were a reinforced company from the 76th Division, battle-hardened elite fighters and veterans of the Chechnya War. It was also touted as an opportunity for China to see Russia’s elite divisions in action and learn from them.

Ties between Beijing and Moscow have grown closer in recent years around points of common ground that include concern about instability in Central Asia. Both countries want to keep political turmoil in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan from spilling over their borders and to check the U.S. presence in the region.

China has also been looking to Russia for energy resources to feed its booming economy, while Moscow is keen to boost sales to Beijing of military hardware like the advanced bombers and fighter jets showcased during the war games. Many analysts believe Russia is using the drill to showcase weaponry it hopes to sell to China, in particular Tu-22M3 “Backfire” strategic bombers. The maneuvers saw the deployment of Beriev/Ilyushin A-50 early warning aircraft from the Russian military.

Earlier this week, Ivanov said the Tu-22M3 and Tu-95 “Bear” strategic bombers taking part in the drill would carry non-nuclear cruise missiles only. Other sophisticated Russian equipment being used includes an A-50 reconnaissance plane, which Ivanov said would be able to monitor any aircraft within 2,000 kilometers from the centre of the exercise. Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta claimed China was potentially interested in procuring up to 40 of the Tu-22M3 “Backfire” strategic bombers, which would have the capacity to threaten U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific with nuclear weapons.

Some observers see this as significant as China is reported to have sought to buy this aircraft from Russia after a planned purchase of a similar Israeli plane failed to materialize, reportedly over US objections.

The China state-run People’s Daily said on Friday the two countries would increase military trade to a volume of $60-$80 billion by 2010. China would also pour $12 billion of investment into Russia’s energy sector and infrastructure construction before 2020.

Russian media have said China paid for the entire exercise, reflecting the high value attached to it by Beijing. However, this contradicts statements from Deputy Army Commander Vladimir Moltensky who said the joint military exercise cost it some US$5.5 million.

Russian newspaper Kommersant also cited the fact that Russia has supplied 85% of Chinese arms imports since the early 90s and pointed out that if the EU embargo were lifted, Russia would receive serious competitors in the arms market. “For that reason, the maneuvers should persuade the Chinese that the Russian arms are the most reliable and the cheapest in the world and they should keep using them.”

The liberal daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta suggested that China and Russia were practicing a scenario for “World War III,” calling the exercise an unprecedented anti-American military demonstration. Izvestia, a respected daily, suggested that China and Russia could be practicing a mission to invade North Korea, should Kim Jong-il’s leadership collapse.

Japanese minister, and right-wing hawk, Shoichi Nakagawa offered his own opinions of the exercises:

Joint military exercises on China’s Shandong Peninsula mark the start of a strategic initiative in which Russia would support Beijing’s suppression of any move by Taiwan towards independence, a Japanese minister has suggested.

Economics, Trade and Industry Minister Shoichi Nakagawa noted that the unprecedented Sino-Russian war games, which ended on Thursday, were directed at curbing terrorism and separatism, “which obviously means they have Taiwan in mind, as well”.


The 8th Rebellion

From Other Lisa…

Interesting editorial in today’s UK Guardian about the Chinese textile industry, rural poverty and the potential consequences of a trade war with the West over cheap Chinese exports. The part that interested me was not so much about the textile controversy as the following commentary about the nature of Chinese peasantry and what has and has not changed since 1949:

Eight hundred million peasant farmers occupy a country almost exactly the same size as the USA. Most farm tiny plots of land leased to them by the village co-operatives, often the same plots their families have farmed for 2,000 years or more.

One of China’s best-kept secrets is that the communists never succeeded in breaking patterns of land ownership that were first legally registered in 350BC. A property-owning, one-party state has been transmuted into a lease-holding, one-party state .

China’s peasantry, unlike any other in the world, has a tradition of empowerment as well as a long experience of living on subsistence incomes. Today’s villages are testimony to the harshness of life. Houses are rarely more than a storey high and most have dirt floors with no more than rudimentary facilities; human waste is another useful source of fertiliser. Outside at this time of the year, vegetables are being dried ready for storage over the long winter. A family gets by on a weekly income of no more than £10.

China’s rulers, imperial and communist dynasties alike, are profoundly wary of these peasant millions. Regime-change in China has always been rooted in a mass peasant revolt sparked by deep resentment of inequality and poverty; the last six imperial dynasties fell this way.

There are still a few people left who think there was a communist revolution in 1949. Today, it is pretty obvious, given the increasingly tenuous link between communism and contemporary China, that it was a seventh regime-changing peasant revolt. And the communist leadership is terrified that if it doesn’t deliver more prosperity and equality, it will fall prey to an eighth.


Beihai Park

Your weekend open thread…relax, and stay cool!


Beijing Dinner, the aftermath

What an amazing get-together. At least 12 of us congregated at one of the best Chinese restaurants I’ve been to in Beijing for some incredible food and a very, um, spirited conversation. We had bloggers and blog connoisseurs from the UK, Canada, the US, France and China representing all kinds of professions – marketers, teachers, students, investment bankers, even a movie star in the ascendant.

Each of us holds strong opinions about China, its past and its future, and about the state of US and world politics. So when you get that many strong-minded people together in one room for more than three hours with plenty of beer and other exotic beverages, there’s bound to be some pyrotechnics.

The most fiery topic was, not surprisingly, the question of whether the CCP has been a net plus or minus for China, and how they compare to other regimes in history. My dear friend Joseph Bosco cut them a bit more slack than some of the other attendees, some of whom (like frequent commenter Keir and, I admit, myself) are less willing to show them much forbearance. This led to an intense and fascinating discussion/inquiry into what China and its government are all about and whether they are now on the right track.

As always, it’s intriguing to actually see the faces behind the names underneath the comments. I think we automatically construct faces for these people we never see, so when we’re actually face to face it’s a bit of a surprise to discover just how wrong our imaginations were. In a day or two you’ll actually be able to see some of these faces for yourself. We were lucky enough to have a professional photographer on hand, and photos will be posted as soon as I get them.

Thanks to everyone who took the time and trouble to meet last night, and thanks for making the conversation consistently lively. To those who are about to launch their own blogs, keep us posted and good luck (and I hope you know what you’re getting into). And let’s try to make this an ongoing event, maybe twice a year.


How About, “We’ve Decided To Go In A Different Direction”?

From Other Lisa & Martyn…

From Saturday’s unlinkable SCMP, more on the upcoming Chinese version of “The Apprentice”:

The winner of the Chinese version of The Apprentice
will be hired on a lucrative 1 million yuan annual
salary in the business empire of maverick Beijing
property tycoon Pan Shiyi.

Speaking for the first time on being chosen by Donald
Trump to front the programme, Mr Pan said he would not
adopt the aggressive TV persona of the New York
property mogul with losing contestants.

“I definitely won’t say, `You’re fired!’ It’s just not
in my character,” said the 41-year-old, though he has
routinely sacked his worst-performing employees over
the past decade.

“Chinese people give others face. To tell somebody
he’s fired in such a tone, especially when this person
has literally not been hired, is not the Chinese way.
“I probably will say something like, `You will have a
better opportunity somewhere else’, in a way he will
get it and find the manner acceptable,” added the man
nicknamed Naughty Boy for his company’s innovative