Shocking. CCP says political liberalization a long way off

Who would have thought it? Same old, same old. However, this time there are new ingredients in the broth, namely a rapidly growing middle class and a wave of support among intellectuals for reform and even the “D” word.

The Communist Party cautioned China’s increasingly impatient reformers and intellectuals Tuesday that political liberalization and democracy are still a long way off despite the rapid pace of economic change during the past two decades.

The warning, in an article attributed to Premier Wen Jiabao in the official People’s Daily, constituted the party’s first-known response to a bubbling up of political debate as China prepares for an annual session of its legislature and an important Communist Party congress — held every five years — that is scheduled for this fall.

Most of the debate has remained behind closed doors, in keeping with the party’s tradition of secrecy. But two recent articles by prominent establishment figures brought out into the open suggestions to President Hu Jintao’s government that moving faster on political reforms would help smoothe the transformation to a market economy.

One, by Zhou Ruijun, a former People’s Daily editor known for reformist views, said greater democratic opening is necessary to defuse tensions over a growing gap between rich and poor, which he warned could lead to instability. Another, by former Renmin University vice president Xie Tao, suggested that China should move speedily toward a Scandinavian-like social-welfare democracy.

Wen, who recently was reported to be in charge of preparing a leadership platform for the party congress, reached into familiar Marxist vocabularly to build an argument that China is not yet ready for such democracy, even though it remains a distant goal for the “socialism with Chinese characteristics” that the party hopes to build.

I know, I know, China’s not ready and they need a tough, no-nonsense leader to be “the Decider” and the people are too uneducated. Still, the demand for reform is being accelerated every day by China’s progress. Could there come a time when these inherently different philosophies – demand for representation and personal freedoms vs. the authoritarian quasi-police state – collide (or perhaps I should say collide again)? I don’t see it happening anytime soon – not when so many people here are having such a good time. But I do see the two forces grinding away at one another like tectonic plates, and ultimately we will witness a major shift, precipitated by an unforseen event like


Tibet: One big, happy family

You have to read Richard Spencer’s blog post on his trip to Tibet. We all know the script whenever the Tibet issue arises, how the good liberators paved the roads and ended theocracy and serfdom, which is not inaccurate (though I might not use the term “good liberators”). But the bottom line question remains, do these liberated people feel they have indeed been liberated and are they grateful for the present-day situation? Do they feel one with China, or is there a sort of apartheid that keeps them separate from the Han Chinese who have settled in? Read Spencer’s post and draw your own conclusions.

For many (most?) Tibetans the tie that binds them together is their religion. When their religious leaders constitute “the main source of opposition” and “hostility” to the PRC, is it possible for their followers to feel none of the same?

Of course, the management committees of the monasteries are now effectively controlled by the Communist Party through their appointees, who don’t have to be religious at all. It seems very unlikely to me that this religious revolution could be allowed to happen, in any case. There is obviously a conflict everywhere in China between the government’s professed desire to preserve and promote thousands of years of Chinese culture and yet also promote atheism, its official creed, since that is a denial of the mainspring of much Chinese culture.

But at least elsewhere religion poses little threat to the established order. In Tibet, the monasteries remain the main source of opposition. How can the authorities promote Tibetan culture without accepting that the religious part of it, at least, is profoundly hostile to Chinese control?

So maybe the family isn’t as happy as most Chinese are taught in school. However, I’ve all but given up arguing with friends and colleagues here about Tibet (and I am no great fan of the Dalai Lama or the “Free Tibet” movements). Like Taiwan and Japan, the mere mention of the topic elicits a robotic response that is uncannily identical from person to person. Just like the Taiwan baby returning to its mother,

It’s good to see that travel restrictions in China are being eased, as Spencer reports, and the fact that he can tell this story is a sign of progress. But the underlying message of the post is a grim one: China’s collective amnesia and willful ignorance of what Tibet went through and what it is today is staggering. It’s fine to hold onto your fantasies of what you’d like to think Tibet is, but be aware that this is a scripted mirage concocted by the same spinsters who bring you China Daily.


How the PRC uses economic pressure to strong-arm the ROC

An interesting post about a new RAND study. This further confirms my own belief that any move on Taiwan’s part toward closer ties to the Mainland will be based on one thing alone – money. And that’s a very big consideration. And China, shrewd as ever, understands it well.

Precious few Taiwanese are yearning to return, like a lost babe in the woods, to “the motherland.” They will move closer and may even “reunite” (some day) if the economic advantages are enticing enough. Ironically, as the reports points out, Taiwan has some economic sway over the Mainland, so the strong-arming can’t be too coercive. It’s a balancing act. Check out the post and, if you have the stomach for it, the book-length report to which it links.


Right-wing smear machine tries to crucify Al Gore

Will we let them? Just take a look at this anatomy of a smear. Absolutely shocking. A non-existent group puts out a sham press release. Drudge trumpets this “news” atop his Wurlitzer site. Instacracker at. al. slavishly lap it up, and – voila! – you have a perfect smear. Full of sound and fury, signifying far less than nothing. A pure, unashamed hatchet job. And everyone goes after the “nutroots” and the “kos kids” as irresponsible and far out. They have never, and I repeat, never smeared anyone on the right like this, not even close. Gore was getting good press last night, so he had to be destroyed, out of the blue with whatever “evidence” was on hand. Disgusting. Intolerable. Vile and shameful.


China, thank you for doing the sane and humane thing

I have been covering the harassment, trials, tribulations and greatness of China AIDS activist Gao Yaojie for many months, and I am thrilled to see China doing the right thing and allowing her to fly to the US to receive an award for her work.

A 79-year-old prominent Chinese AIDS activist is to fly to the United States as early as Sunday to receive a human rights award after she was freed from house arrest thanks to U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Gao Yaojie is to receive the Vital Voices Global Women’s Leadership Award for Human Rights in Washington in March for helping bring to light official complicity in the spread of AIDS in her home province Henan in central China, where thousands of poor farmers sold blood in the 1990s and have been infected.

To prevent her from going and embarrassing China, police in Zhengzhou, provincial capital of Henan, placed Gao under house arrest on February 1. The move sparked an international outcry.

Henan authorities relented and freed her on February 16, days after Clinton, a Democratic presidential-hopeful, wrote to Chinese President Hu Jintao and Vice Premier Wu Yi, urging them to intervene and let Gao leave for the United States.

“World pressure was too heavy. Henan was ordered by the central government (to let me go) because China did not want relations with the United States to become too tense,” the retired gynaecologist told Reuters in her Beijing hotel room.

A vice health minister paid Gao a courtesy call last week to extend the vice premier’s greetings, a sign of a change of heart.

But fellow AIDS activist Hu Jia declined to reveal Gao’s departure details in case the authorities decide to change their mind about letting her go. She plans to return in late March.

Hu Jia has faced his own misery from local authorities, and is another of my heroes.

Can we imagine just how wonderful it would be if China simply allowed people like Gao Yaojie their basic freedoms, and treated them as the heroes they are? Wouldn’t it be inspiring to see China honor people like Gao and Hu Jia and send them off to such events as China’s goodwill ambassadors, showing the world how China is becoming open and confident and a willing participant in noble international causes like AIDS awareness? Wouldn’t it be thrilling if China would…well, I think I’d better end it there. Because the questions bring tears to my eyes.

I know it was local officials who harassed her, and central officials who ended her dilemma. Unfortunately, the two are inextricably bound by a one-party system in which the central party has no choice but to tolerate all sorts of noxious behavior by local officials, upon whom they rely for keeping the system oiled. And yes, it’s getting better, and yes, I am praising China for ultimately doing the right thing. I just have to keep asking, why do they always do so many things wrong (as with SARS and AIDS and other cover-ups) before finally doing what’s right? Why don’t they do the right thing first, and show all the world how they have matured? (And for all my friends who insist on drawing parallels, yes, the US under Bush is often just as bad.)


Beijing vs. Shanghai

A great post on a topic that’s of great interest to me: how do Beijing and Shanghai really compare in terms of cost of living and cost of entertaining? Interesting to see the blogger’s arguments, as well as the commenters’. To all my friends who are moving from Beijing to Shanghai, read this post first.


The Departed wins best picture

Love it or hate it, The Departed, the Martin Scorsese remake of Infernal Affairs (Wu Jian Dao) has won the Oscar for Best Picture. Also, after five tries, Scorsese finally grabbed a statue for Best Director. I liked both versions, but I’m hardly a film critic (in fact I am told I have horrible taste in movies) and my New England roots–I grew up on folktales of Whitey Bulger–might also make me less than objective here. Anyway…thoughts?


Warm winter melts China ice festival

It really struck me this morning – Beijing’s winter seems as mild as North Carolina’s. Walking to work today, I wondered why I bothered carrying gloves and scarf; a windbreaker would have been fine. Of course, this has its ups and its downs.

The hands had melted off a delicately entwined couple of ballet dancers crafted by an ice-sculpting team from Vladivostok. Eaves fashioned from packed snow drooped into icicles at the Roast Meat Fire House restaurant. Authorities banned people from approaching the ice-cube tower at Ice and Snow World because big chunks kept falling off.

The popular ice festival here — based on a local tradition of making ice lanterns and sculpting snow that reaches back almost 1,400 years to the Tang Dynasty — has been undercut by climbing temperatures. Heads are falling from statues and intricately sculpted ice animals are turning into shapeless blobs.The global warming trend that a panel of U.N.-convened scientists last month called unequivocal may or may not be inextricably linked to what is happening in Harbin. It is impossible to say. But the people of Harbin blame climate change for what they say has been a pattern of rising temperatures over the past several years.

“So much melting,” lamented Wang Xuhai, director and Communist Party secretary of the Harbin Ice Lantern Art Exhibition Center. “It’s part of a worldwide problem.”

For Harbin, a usually frigid city in northeast China about 400 miles east of the Russian border, the rise in temperatures is a direct threat to a tourist attraction that brought in 5 million visitors last year and injects millions of dollars into the local economy through tickets, hotel stays, restaurant meals and taxi rides..

Everyone knows I hate the winter and wish Beijing could be warm all year. But if I were invested in the ice festival, I’d be scared as hell – this is what Harbin is world famous for, and now it’s threatened with extinction. And according to the article, this is part of a trend, not a one-time phenomenon. Whether global warming is specifically to blame I can’t say, but I would be inclined to think it is. It’s right in keeping with so many other stories I’m seeing about the changing trends in world climate. If so, Harbin had better come up with a new branding plan fast.


Tenement Palms

One of my favorite blogs, long in hibernation, is back.

Dave, thanks for all your great posting over here, and I hope the rebirth of your blog doesn’t keep you from guest-posting now and then.


Defining terms: China, The West, civilization, and modernity

In the journal First Things, David Gress reviews the new book What is the West? by French philosopher, Phillippe Nemo. In answering his own question, Nemo suggests, perhaps unsurprisingly, that we must first look to Greece:

The story begins with the Greeks, who invented scientific speculation and the ideal of the city, in which “individual lives are no longer submerged in a vast sea of humanity. . . . Each person now has individuality and character.” To this-a point of capital importance-the Romans added their “invention of private law,” whereby they “invented the individual human person.”

The next stage, of course, is Christianity or, rather, the impact of biblical religion and spirituality on ancient culture, an impact that was crucial in transforming that culture into what we call medieval. Biblical religion introduced an ethical and an eschatological revolution, “cherishing the individual, morally responsible human being, by emphasizing human individuality as desired and created by God for all eternity.” But, Nemo adds, that ethical revolution “might never have bestowed such theological significance on the individual person had these beliefs not taken root in a society that had already granted importance to the human ego.” Without Christianity, there is no civilization of human rights, but without the Greek city, Greek science, and Roman law, there is no Christendom.

I’m assuming Nemo has never heard of Mencius. Gress then suggests that Nemo uncovers a “fundamental logic of western civilization,” and here I think a comparison to China is worth mentioning. Gress writes:

The West is a civilization of borrowings and mixtures, whose result, never fixed and never self-satisfied, is more than a mere function of those borrowings.

Well, I suppose that is true. But isn’t it true of many places, including China? Certainly in what is today China there have been many groups and ideas coming and going, both changing and being changed by what was there before. The idea of static, unchanging, unyielding CHINA absorbing all who come into her borders doesn’t seem to work when compared to the historical record.

But then Gress cites Remi Brague, who I think makes a point that distinguishes at least how China and Europe interpreted their respective historical legacies:

The West, Remi Brague has written, is by definition a “secondary” culture, a culture of followers who know they are followers. Neither Greek poeitical philosophy nor Christianity were western inventions, yet their confluence created the West.

A culture of followers who knew they were followers. In one way, we could argue that this fits in China. Confucius called himself a “transmitter” of an ancient way. But I think the extent to which “China looks only backwards” has been quite overstated (beginning but sadly not ending with Weber.) It is the second line that I think gives some distinction between China and Europe: China never defined itself as a “secondary culture” to anyone. To anyone that is, until the intellectuals of the late-Qing and the New Culture Era started casting their nets wide for new ideas on how to reform old institutions in, using the words of Yan Fu, the search for wealth and power. Even then, reformers such as Yan, Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, Chen Duxiu, or even Mao Zedong would probably have explicitly rejected the idea that Chinese civilization was “secondary” to any other. It is a kind of lasting cultural confidence that I think goes a long way to explaining why China has managed to remain (more or less and with definite gaps in the record) unified for so long. Of course, defining what we mean by “China” or “Chinese civilization” (as we saw in the recent post on “5000 years of history”), is almost as tricky as trying to define some vague notion of “The West.”

Much more controversially, Nemo’s book suggests:

Holding democracy to be a result of how Christianity evolved in the West, Nemo is equally firm in holding that modern totalitarianism was not the evil essence of the West. The West, in this semi-Marxist view, is characterized by power and exploitation, democracy being merely a sham. Totalitarianism was simply the West without the mask. Any decent political philosophy that rejects totalitarianism must, in this widespread interpretation, also reject much of the West. In both elite ideology and much popular common wisdom, modern totalitarianism and Christianity are lumped together as bad, authoritarian, inhuman ideologies of unnatural constraint that must be rejected, and, since they were western, the rejection takes the form of multiculturalism and liberal guilt.

The final stage of Nemo’s historical analysis is to ask whether western culture is universal now and, if so, what that means. “Does modernization require westernization?” asks the Indian-born economist Deepak Lal. Nemo remains agnostic but suggests that we need not wait for the final answer, if any, to the question of what the West is today and what it should do to survive.

I’m not sure I like the way Nemo, after such a provocative argument, ducks Professor Lal’s question. I’m also, frankly, not enough of a Europeanist to give Nemo’s ideas the thorough workout they deserve. But I’ll put the questions here: “Does modernization require westernization?” What does it mean to be “modern”? What does it mean to be “Western” or “Chinese”? How do we define and use these terms?
via Arts & Letters Daily