The Weeks Ahead

They say you can tell a blog is about to die when its owner keeps putting up posts about the blog itself – why they can’t post, how busy they are, etc. I’ve put up a lot of those this year, and here (obviously) is yet another.

I don’t think the blog is going to die, at least not anytime soon. But the home stretch has arrived, and from now through September I will have to all but ignore this hobby of mine. This weekend will probably be the last one I have to myself. Maybe one final blog-burst, and then several weeks of retirement.

If I come out of this summer’s fun in one piece, I should have a lot to blog about once it’s over. (I’m already collecting stories, and I actually think I might have enough material for a book.) Which is my long-winded, pretentious way of saying, please be patient, forgive the lack of posts, and trust me, I know how feeble some of my recent offerings have been. It’ll all turn around in September. (I’m trying to convince myself.)


New Youth Study Group

In an earlier post I referenced an article from 2004 that I found one of the most disturbing ever, but unfortunately it had vanished from the Internet. Some of you asked how you could find the article, and I’m happy to say the link is now restored, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough. We sometimes need reminders of what’s going on outside our line of vision.

(The original article showed the faces of the dangerous criminals. They are gone now, but you can see their photos over here.)

The author of that article, Philip Pan, has also recently put out a new book, Out of Mao’s Shadow, reviewed in today’s NY Times. I already have a copy and plan on doing my own review sometime soon, though that may have to wait until September. Meanwhile, read the old article and the new book review.


Chinabounder’s Book

The “Shanghai Sex Blogger” is back in the news thanks to a press release pimpingtouting his new book. (No, it’s not about his sexploits in Shanghai; it’s about why China “will never be great.”) In that same link, Danwei puts the pieces together and reveals the blogger’s probable identity. If, at this point, anyone still cares.


China’s shame – backing Mugabe


Despite my hope that China might just do something principled for a change on the international stage, it vetoed sanctions against Zimbabwe. If China has a policy of “non-intervention”, it should never use its vote on the United Nations Security Council. If it uses its vote, it is intervening. If that’s the best excuse they can come up with, I honestly wonder whether the Chinese leadership live in the real world or live in delusion, believing their own propaganda.

China’s foreign policy is heavily slanted to improving trade with other countries. This is all very well, but it only lasts while the economy is good. In lean times politicians often default to protectionism, as we see from the Democrats in the US, when foreign trading states become the enemy and not an ally, unless there are deeper ties. Yet China seems to think that money is all that matters. This is short-sighted. Whilst China is a useful trading partner and a help with international affairs, it will be surrounded by eager nations. But when the chips are down, when China needs help from others on a key matter, will all those “friends” make sacrifices to help it out? I doubt it.

China does not seem to understand why countries want sanctions on Zimbabwe. For several years it has had the opportunity to improve relations at the core level, by connecting with other countries, showing that it understands their concerns regarding the world and indicating that it respects and will support those countries in dealing with their problems. But each time it has squandered that opportunity, usually down to prejudice and arrogance. Even over North Korea, years of foot-dragging by Beijing helped Pyongyang obtain its nuclear arsenal, such that there is even the strong suspicion that China did this deliberately to put it in a position where it could be of use to the US and obtain concessions of its own, such as over Taiwan.

More-and-more China is being seen as a threat to the hopes and plans of democracies around the world. Chinese politicians are viewed as attempting to spread the theory of economic success through a strong and autocratic central state, which could convince the leaders of poor states without strong rule of law to reverse fragile democratic laws and cement their rule with the excuse that it would make their economies better. This is probably not true, but whether China likes it or not every time it blocks or waters down sanctions against an aggressive or oppressive state that is exactly the impression it gives.

Sadly, China’s leaders do not realise this (or maybe refuse to accept it) and will probably continue to blunder on until they are faced with a true crisis where they will need international support. By then it will be far too late to undo the damage that they have caused to their image.



A heart wrencher.

[Update: This one, too, is well worth a read.]

I originally wrote a long post with long excerpts and then just deleted it all. The story speaks for itself and I can’t add anything of value. If you make it to the end, you’ll see the reporter closes the story with a strong implication that there is involvement from the central government here, not just local officials.


The Peking Duck Tragedy + Open Thread

A friend of mine told me he went to three separate duck restaurants on Sunday and all three had run out of duck. Now we know why. A sad day here at TPD.

Open thread, if you’d like.


The Last Hero of Tiananmen

Philip Pan, for years my favorite correspondent in Beijing (he left a few months ago), has written a devastating article about a letter written by a doctor who saw with his own eyes the victims of the massacre on the streets of Beijing n June 4, 1989 and described in detail the carnage he witnessed in the emergency room that night. [Correction – this is not actually an article but an excerpt of Pan’s new book Out of Mao’s Shadow that I’ve been trying to buy.]

On page after page, over a period of months, Jiang poured his heart into the letter. Every spring, as the anniversary of the massacre approached, the party became nervous and mobilized to prevent any attempt to memorialize the victims. But people had not forgotten, Jiang wrote. They had been bullied into silence, but, with each passing year, their anger and frustration grew. Jiang urged the new leaders to take a new approach. They should admit the party was wrong to send troops into the square and order them to fire on unarmed civilians. They should address the pain of those who lost their loved ones in the massacre and acknowledge, at long last, that the protesters were not “thugs” or “counter-revolutionaries” but patriots calling for a better and more honest government..

As Pan explains, this is no ordinary whistleblower, but one with unique credibility – none other than Jiang Yanyong, the very same doctor who wrote the letter to Time magazine in 2003 blowing the lid off the SARS cover-up. Needless to say, for his efforts to save lives he was “eased into retirement,” and later harassed and detained.

“Haunting” was the word that kept coming to mind as I read the final paragraphs of this beautiful story.

The government never charged Jiang with a crime, and he was finally released from house arrest in March 2005. Afterward, though, he disappeared from public view. When I last visited him, he turned up the volume on his television set because he believed his apartment might be bugged, and he whispered that he was trying to avoid provoking the government. He said he still wanted to visit his daughter and grandson in California, and he believed that, if he behaved, the authorities would give him permission to go. As I listened to him speak, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of disappointment. The state had been unable to break Jiang, but it had succeeded in silencing him.

After I left his apartment, though, I decided it was unfair to expect the elderly doctor to continue standing up to the party. He had already achieved more than most and paid a price for it. I doubted the government would ever let him visit his daughter and grandson, but how could anyone expect him to give up that hope? There was only so much one man could do, and only so much a nation could ask of him.

There’s much more to this story; I never realized how difficult a life the SARS whistleblower had endured, and how he retained his integrity even through the horrors of the Mao years, and remained dedicated to his country (not the party) to the point of endangering his own safety. It is inspiring, and ultimately very sad. Please read the article, bookmark it and pass it to your friends.

When I read articles like this, I realize how important it is that traditional media don’t die out. There is nothing like great reporting, something Pan has consistently delivered, shocking us with the truths he uncovers and telling them in a dispassionate tone that nevertheless haunts us even years after reading them. The way this story haunts me even today.

John Pomfret set the bar high for Pan, his replacement, and I can’t imagine how the Post will ever find anyone who can fill Pan’s shoes. As good as they come.


Fox News’ Public Relations Department

Amazing.  I mean, totally amazing. I knew they were evil, but I didn’t realize they were Joseph Goebbels evil.


Local CCP Bad, Central CCP Good

It’s a familiar argument and one I’ve made myself – not quite calling the CCP “good,” but looking at horror stories around China and concluding that the main fault lies with the local authorities, not with the central party, which is trying as best they can to control their local thugs counterparts. Pomfret takes a closer look at this argument and how it has become iconic.

It’s important to note that among the people remonstrating with the Communist authorities, no one criticized the central government or, more broadly, China’s system of government. Yes, they attacked all of the Communist Party organs in the county – the cops, the government and the secret police. But throughout, in their letters to the party-state, they drew a clear distinction between the local thugs and Beijing. The implication from the demonstrators was clear: the center – Beijing – is good, but it’s just been led astray by local apparatchiks.

I’ve seen this attitude expressed throughout China’s countryside, where the bulk of China’s protests occur. It is, I think, one of the perverse reasons why the Communist Party can maintain power in China. The Party has generally succeeded in creating this distinction between local and central authorities – even though none really exists.

The tendency of Chinese to buy into this distinction is known to Chinese as the “blue sky” syndrome. The term comes from Judge Bao Qingtian, or “Blue Sky” Bao, a famed incorruptible judge in the Song Dynasty. Bao is revered in Chinese history as an idealized “pure official.”

Some have suggested the “Blue Sky” syndrome is a tactic used by Chinese protesters, who figure that if they damn the whole system, they’ll be crushed by its weight. I disagree. And time has shown that the local Party bosses are as tough with “Blue Skiers” as they are with any other protesters. I think their support of the central government, while perhaps misguided, is genuine. They really believe in a “Blue Sky” Bao who will fly down from heaven (or Beijing) and sweep away the local trolls. Dream on, my nongmin friends.

If what Pomfret says is true, then I would have to give the CCP very high marks for successfully embedding this Blue Sky notion in the minds of nearly all of us. I admit, I have at times accepted it as a given, that the party in Beijing simply has no control over local party criminals. Here’s what I wrote about it back when I was in Taiwan after attending a talk with the country’s former defense minister Lin Chong Pin:

There are two Chinas and they exist in separate universes. Now, this is not any great revelation. We’ve discussed it here many times, especially in regard to local officials who are free to act at whim with no fear of reprisal or justice, existing literally in a universe apart from The central Party. Lin said the great paradox here is that despite Hu’s awesome power, he is literally helpless to make any changes in China’s domestic situation, only in its foreign policy (which, granted, can then in turn affect China’s domestic situation).

So I’ve been thinking about this paradox all week. Should we admire Hu Jintao as the Bismarck or Metternich of his time, using political skill to achieve enviable results? Or should we laugh at him for being utterly impotent to effect any meaningful change in the country over which he allegedly rules? If he is so utterly incapable of halting corruption, of freeing the innocent, of enforcing the law, of imprisoning unabashed scoundrel and murderers, why does he even live in China? Couldn’t he set up a condo in Bermuda and run China’s foreign policy from there? What difference does it make? According to Lin, he’s literally irrelevant to China’s domestic situation.

What an odd paradox, a leader with so much power, and at the same time a leader with no power at all.

But Pomfret says this is all an illusion, that the local/central party separation is a myth, and that Hu does indeed have power over his “local apparatchiks.”

Michael Anti writes to Pomfret and says he is quite right. Time to question another myth.


NY Times bias against China?

This is a must-read article that underscores the problem with the whole “AntiCNN” craze.

There is bias in all media, and the Western media have a mediocre track record at best when it comes to giving a fair and balanced view of Tibet and some other hot-button China-related issues. However, the rush to judgement and the frenzied attempts to jump onto the AntiCNN bandwagon have resulted in a lot of sloppy and indignant accusations of bias that simply do not, under further scrutiny, hold water. This excellent article tells you how they do it.

Please read the whole thing. Thanks to ESWN for the link.