“China is teh Evil!”

Or, “How I learned to stop worrying and love the CCP”

Back in 2003, when I wrote my most damning post ever about the CCP, my rage was visceral and I did nothing to hide it. I had just watched with my own eyes the government of “the world’s next superpower” lie to its people in a manner that led to panic and death. I was so outraged, I wrote:

Right now, I just don’t care, and I want whomever happens to stop by this little site to know the truth about China, or at least what I perceive that truth to be: China is the Evil Empire, a tottering, power-drunk, paranoid nation of thugs dressing themselves up as saviors — a bad country. It was for the bastards we saw smiling and waving at the “People’s Congress” that my God made hell.

Any questions?

However, I was careful to make it clear that this was not a blanket denunciation of China, but simply a matter-of-fact comment on its leaders:

Footnote: I refer only to the Chinese government here. The people I know here are gracious, kind and good. They know, to a large extent, what their “leaders” are all about. Luckily for these good people, the SARS fuck-up has been of such great magnitude that it could end up resulting in long-term change and improvement here. Maybe. It has certainly opened the eyes of the world as to what “the new China” is all about.

I meant every word I wrote at the time and to this day I leave the post among “The Emperor’s Jewels” section of my sidebar because it was one of those pieces I wrote with a near-religious conviction, and felt as I wrote it that I was truly in touch with my emotions. (Which is the sole criteria for any post I place in that category, aside from the one post that’s there only for the comments.) At that moment in the spring of 2003 the CCP did something that was categorically evil.

Over the past four years, however, instead of simply shaking my fist and repeating the mantra that China’s government is evil, I tried to broaden my perspective and understand how China’s own people perceive the government. This is a necessary exercise. It is impossible to judge the CCP as “bad” or “good” based on anecdotal evidence for either argument. The horror stories are copious, and for a long time this blog focused mainly on them (and will continue to do so when I feel such stories tell us something new). However, the fact must be considered that the CCP enjoys tremendous popularity with its people. I can only speak for people in the big cities, but these same people assure me that this trust pervades the most distant outbacks. They tell me that while poverty is a crushing burden to many, the poor harbor more hopes than ever before, and many have a TV set and a mobile phone and comforts that would have been unthinkable a short time ago. (Which is not to say everybody in China is happy and comfortable, no matter how many times a day China Daily says so.)

What China’s leaders did during SARS was evil, and there are some signs that it never really did learn its lesson. However, the reaction of the government in 2003 was no different that it would have been by the first Qin emperor more than 2000 years ago. No, that doesn’t excuse it. But it does offer badly needed perspective – perspective that I admit i didn’t have when I wrote my post during the peak of the SARS catastrophe. Covering up SARS to make the government look good during its “People’s Congress” (which is neither) was and is unforgivable. But for me to judge China based on this act and a handful of shocking anecdotes about corruption and injustice in China would be like judging America only by the Iraq War, the lynchings of blacks and the Salem witch trials. You can make some mighty powerful arguments and ringing condemnations, but your argument would be flawed because there are many other components to the picture.

So all of his has been a build-up to a much blogged-about article that appeared in the City Journal ten days ago or so. I received a personalized email from a City Journal editor on April 30 telling me “Peking Duck readers will find this story to be of interest.” I was too busy to respond (you can see how little I’ve been posting lately) and two days later I received another email from the same, this one with all recipients blind cc’d, causing me to presume he was now trying to reach the wider blogger community.



Year of the Pig

More bad news about the safety of China’s food supply and the willingness of the Chinese government to share necessary information to the rest of the world:

A mysterious epidemic is killing pigs in southeastern China, but international and Hong Kong authorities said today that the Chinese government is providing little information about it, or about the contaminated wheat gluten that has caused deaths and illnesses in other animals…

…Because pigs can catch many of the same diseases as people, including bird flu, the two U.N. agencies maintain global networks to track and investigate unexplained patterns of pig deaths.

Hong Kong television broadcasts and newspapers were full of lurid accounts today of pigs staggering around with blood pouring from their bodies in Gaoyao and neighboring Yunfu, both in Guangdong Province. The Apple Daily newspaper said that as many as 80 percent of the pigs in the area had died, that panicky farmers were selling ailing animals at deep discounts and that pig carcasses were floating in a river.

The reports in Hong Kong said the disease began killing pigs after the Chinese New Year celebrations in February, and is now spreading. But state-controlled news outlets in China have reported almost nothing about the pig deaths, and very little about the wheat gluten problem…

See the comment thread on pet food below for discussion and some great links on these issues (particularly the poisoned medicine story from the New York Times) and feel free to continue the discussion here.


The Best Things in Life Are Free

A guest post from Bill Stimson…


The Rich Life
by William R. Stimson

While photographing an early morning tai chi group in an empty parking lot near my home here Taiwan, I noticed a man and a woman dancing their hearts out in the adjoining parking lot, also empty. Ballroom dance music issued from a portable player sitting on the pavement. I snapped this photo and then walked on down through a series of parks taking pictures of a succession of tai chi groups. When the camera was full and wouldn’t take any more pictures, I headed back home. As I passed by it again, I saw that the parking lot with the early morning tai chi group was now empty but the adjoining one with the dancers was filled with couples spinning gracefully around, arm in arm, as if they were at a grand ball.

If I could distill the essence of Taiwanese culture, at least as I see it — that is to say, what makes it so special for me — it’s this quality it has, that nothing is wasted. Often I’ve wondered why Taiwanese eat so many different kinds of things — even rattlesnakes, sea cucumbers, and tiny pointy ocean snails are relished here. In time, I came to understand that a people like these, who have lived through adversity, would over time have learned how to utilize every little thing. Nothing is wasted here.

The week before I left New York City to move to Taiwan, the recycling program was suspended in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. The reason the city gave: the program was too costly to operate. That would never happen in Taiwan. The Taiwanese make big money from recycling and are committed to it. They even recycle waste food, not just from restaurants, but from ordinary homes. Some of it is made into fertilizer, some of it is used as feed for pigs. So with the Taiwanese, it’s quite natural that even an empty parking lot, early in the morning, that’s not being used, finds a function and becomes a valuable commodity.

This ballroom dancing group can be free because it doesn’t have to rent a hall. The parking lot is empty early every morning. No expensive air conditioning system is needed. Outdoors early in the morning the air is fresh and sweet. Ordinary people can perfect their dance steps, get exercise, polish their social skills, and enjoy the company of friends and neighbors. Down a ways in one direction is a different parking lot where another group plays badminton. Over the opposite way is one where still another group goes through an aerobic exercise routine to the accompaniment of disco music. The streets and parks of Taiwan are alive early every morning with all kinds of life. It is a wonderful thing to see these enterprising people snatching a few moments from their busy schedules and coming out onto the streets to do what they love and to share that love with others, without any money exchanging hands.

What impresses me most about Taiwan is the way the simpler people here have of making so much out of so little. Every time I see it, I am inspired to do the same. For instance, I have started saving the coffee grounds and using them to fertilize the ferns. Now I’m growing the biggest ferns I’ve ever seen. And for the moment or two it takes for the coffee to brew, instead of standing around waiting, I have gotten into the habit of doing a simple stretching exercise. After only a few months of this I find that for the first time in my life I have become limber enough to touch my toes at will. These small victories make me know how rich I am. It’s not about owning things or having money, but the joy of discovering how much profit there is in more fully using what I already have.

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William R. Stimson is an American writer who lives in Taiwan. More of his writing can be found at www.billstimson.com.