Thread?

Because that’s as good as I can do at the moment. Leave your links and comments and anything else here.

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China’s growth: An economic miracle built on sand? (Not necessarily)

Dror has written another provocative post about China’s economy that is well worth a read, even if I don’t completely agree with him. It’s about an issue many of us reflexively shy away from, i.e., the true sustainability of China’s boom, and the West’s refusal to acknowledge the possibility that much of the boom is smoke and mirrors. As Dror points out, there seems to be something irrational about leading economists writing in all seriousness about a recovery, for example, in China’s real estate industry when so many huge half-built and empty new structures dot the skylines of most of its cities (Chongqing seems to take the cake for this one but Beijing seems determined to catch up). And yet new malls and luxury housing are still being built left and right. Should they count as proof of China’s booming construction business and overall growth? In manufacturing, over-production and sometimes really bad production (dry wall and melamine toothpaste) are often par for the course, though on paper the results may look impressive – people are employed, factories are busy, production is rising.

On the other hand, China’s manufacturing has gone far beyond shoes and toys and they now make most of the electronics we’re buying, and increasingly the more complex items like sophisticated semiconductors. Many of their factories are truly world class (and I know, many are not). They seem to be serious about correcting their environmental mess (if not, they’re doomed). The infrastructure improvements in many Chinese cities are as impressive as America’s. And while I agree with Dror that consumer spending won’t start until the masses are assured they don’t need to save every cent for healthcare and education costs, there’s still a massive amount of money being spent here by a rising middle class. While the dream of 1.2 billion customers is exactly that, a dream and a fantasy, even if it’s just 400 million customers it can be one of the world’s most robust markets.

We all know the downside, the environment, the impossible problems, the corruption and the crimes of the government. But there is still enough change and progress that is real here to justify a lot of attention from the West, and everywhere else. As I quoted James Kynge in an earlier post:

It must be said that from a global perspective, China’s emergence is of enormous economic benefit. The value created by the release of 400 million people from poverty, the migration of over 120 million from farms where they perhaps raised chickens to factories where they churn out electronics, the quantum leap in educational standards for tens of millions of children, the construction of a first-class infrastructure, the growth of over 40 cities with populations of over a million, the commercialization of housing and the vaulting progress up the technology ladder have helped unleash one of the greatest ever surges in general prosperity.

Before anyone jumps on the quote with evidence to the contrary and the laundry list of reasons why China cannot succeed, please go back and read the entire post – this is one of many quotes, and all those problems are acknowledged. Kynge is not looking at China like a wide-eyed and naive child, and he sees much of what Dror sees. But he believes China will continue to “shake the world.” And “shaking the world” is not necessarily a good thing; in fact, it can be pretty awful. But China has the leverage, the tenacity, the ambition and the government coffers (and government protectionism) to shake the world for many years to come, so I suggest we get used to it and think about how to deal with it rather than denying it.

A part of me says those husks of buildings looming over us and the warehouses full of unbought refrigerators and dysfunctional state-owned businesses that employ millions of unnecessary workers – it all has to catch up with them and plunge them into a far worse crisis than they expect. Like China’s recently collapsed “modern art” industry, I see many, many of bubbles in Chinese construction and manufacturing. The structural deficiencies in the Chinese system are as deep and as many as the structural flaws in the Three Gorges Dam. But at least for now, the dam keeps operating, and China does too.

Fragile, improbable, sometimes absurd – yet in its own surreal way China “works,” no matter how much of its success is built on corruption, protectionism and/or Western self-delusion. If you write it off and conclude it is not a real, dynamic and ever-present force in global economics and politics, you do so at your own peril.

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The economic crisis and China’s role

I’m having a debate with a commenter/blogger about that topic over here. Very interesting, especially considering the great pains to which China is going to make sure the US gets 100 percent of the blame. And let me add, I believe the US deserves the lion’s share of the blame. But when you keep repeating it ad nauseum and reflexively, people begin to wonder what the motivation is. To those who say, “But it’s true!” I would respond with an analogy: It’s also true, for example, that Hillary Clinton is a white woman, but to add a parenthetical phrase about that every time her name comes up would be bizarre. “Today Hillary Clinton, who is a white woman, met with so and so…” That’s what the Chinese media are doing across the board with the economic crisis. “Washing machine manufacturers in Dongguan are losing their jobs due to the global recession, which the US caused.” “The crisis, which was caused by greedy bankers on Wall Street, may go on for years.” Again, it’s factually not inaccurate, but journalistically absurd. It’s called overkill.

Back to the debate - check it out and you can leave your comments there.

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US caves, offers asylum to defacers of Mao’s portrait

As a commenter pointed out in the comments yesterday, the US has succumbed to pressure from bleeding hearts and will grant asylum to two convicted Chinese terrorists, one of whom served the longest sentence of anyone involved in the TAM incident.

Two men who spent years in jail for daring to throw paint at a portrait of Chairman Mao have been granted political asylum in the United States….

News of their flight emerged almost exactly 20 years after the two men, childhood friends, and a bus driver, Lu Decheng, hurled eggshells filled with paint at the 30ft (9m) portrait of Mao Zedong that gazes out from the Gate of Heavenly Peace….

They bought 30 eggs from a street food stall and filled the shells with paint. Mr Lu, who found asylum in Canada three years ago, has said that Yu Zhijian prevented people from walking through the gate under the portrait while he and Yu Dongyue hurled the eggs at it.

They were quickly seized by student protesters anxious to distance themselves from the act. The trio were handed over to the police.

….[Yu] served the longest-known political sentence after the Tiananmen Square crackdown.His treatment in prison, including two years in solitary confinement as well as subjection to electric shocks and beatings, took a toll on Yu Dongyue’s mental health.

I already explained years ago why Yu was a threat to us all. In honor of the impending 20th anniversary of China’s deliverance from the descent into Russian-like anarchy and uncontrollable corruption that would surely have ensued had the streets of Beijing not been soaked in blood, I am offering up the entire post again (and you may want to check out the comments to the original, among the trolliest this site ever experienced).

As the big date approaches I’ll be reposting other favorites of mine, written over the past seven years, on China’s liberation from the chaos and destruction the naive students would inevitably have wrought had they not been courageously brought to heel by our omnipotent government.

Do the crime, do the time
February 22, 2006

I was disappointed to see that China has allowed to go free a former journalist who committed the ultimate offense – defacing the image of Mao. This man poses a threat to all of us, and now that he is out, no one is safe.

A Chinese journalist was freed Wednesday after spending nearly 17 years in prison for splattering paint on a portrait of Mao during the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, a family member and a human rights advocate said.

The journalist, Yu Dongyue, now 38, and two friends hurled eggs filled with red paint at the famous painting of Mao, which still stares at Tiananmen Square from across the street, where it hangs above the entrance to the Forbidden City. Mr. Yu and his family are expected to reunite in Hunan Province on Thursday, but his younger brother said the family was deeply concerned about Mr. Yu’s mental health.

“He no longer recognizes me,” said Yu Xiyue, the brother, who made a prison visit last year. In 2004, Reporters Without Borders, the journalism advocacy group, said Mr. Yu had gone insane as a result of torture in prison.

Don’t be sentimental as you read the descriptions of this rightist going mad from years of torture and solitary confinement. He was 21 years old when he committed his treasonous act, he knew what he was doing. He sought to split apart the Chinese people and disrupt the harmony that binds us. One people, one party, one voice.

Especially be suspicious of the whinings of John Kamm, an enemy of China who seeks to protect those who would threaten the established order – the very order that has brought China unparalleled success and made it a great superpower. Kamm’s sniveling, maudlin attempts to pull at our heartstrings are despicable.

Mr. Kamm said Mr. Yu’s return to society would be tightly restricted, as is the case with all freed political prisoners. He will not have any political rights and will be forbidden to work at a university or any state-owned enterprise. He is also prohibited from speaking to news organizations.

“He will be, for the rest of his life, a targeted person,” Mr. Kamm said.

Mr. Yu had worked as a reporter and art critic for Liuyang News, a local paper in Hunan. In 2004, Lu Decheng, one of the two friends arrested with Mr. Yu, visited him in prison and told Radio Free Asia that he was “barely recognizable.”

Mr. Yu had “a totally dull look in his eyes, kept repeating words over and over as if he were chanting a mantra,” Mr. Lu said, adding: “He had a big scar on the right side of his head. A fellow prisoner said Yu had been tied to an electricity pole and left out in the hot sun for several days. He was also kept in solitary confinement for two years, and that was what broke him.”

Well, well, well, Mr. Kamm, why don’t you be good enough to tell us why Yu shouldn’t be a “targetted man” for the rest of his life? None of your mawkish claptrap, larded with bourgeois sentimentality, can alter the fact that he sought to deface an image of the man who gave China its backbone. He was given a fair trial and legal representation, and his too-lenient sentence was determined within the framework of the law. China is a nation of laws. Don’t sit there in your posh American office and tell us how to run our country.

Mr. Hu, I urge you to re-imprison Mr. Yu. The sickness that motivated him is a thousand times more lethal than bird flu. Bird flu is a disease of the skin, Mr. Yu’s splittist treason is a disease of the heart. How sad, to see our leaders get weak at the knees due to foreign pressure and hooligans like John Kamm.

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Memories (or lack of memories?) of June 4

This morning I received a request from a reporter I know asking if I could comment on how my Chinese friends and acquaintances were responding, if at all, to the upcoming 20th anniversary. (The reporter was not in China.) I replied that to the best of my knowledge they mostly were not responding at all, because to them there was nothing to respond to. As far as airbrushing June 4 from the collective Chinese psyche is concerned, Mission Definitely Accomplished.

But being thorough and obnoxious, I spent the next hour or so buttonholing people and calling friends and asking them all the same questions: were they hearing any “buzz” about the impending anniversary? Are their friends talking about it? Have they heard of any plans to commemorate the dead?

The answers were unsurprising. June 4 will be a day like any other that will come and go without any particular fanfare. The day is mainly meaningless for them and the event has “been faded from people’s memories,” as one said to me. (I like that used of words, that it’s “been faded,” as though someone had done the fading, not just the passage of time.)

Finally I asked how many of them knew who “Tank Man” was. Out of the 12 or so people I asked, only one – someone who studied in the US – had heard of him. When I asked what images of June 4 they remembered, they said without question it was the photos of burned and/or disemboweled PLA soldiers left hanging by militant protesting workmen.

Once again I marveled at the party, so efficient at some things, so hideously inept at others. I tried to explain the significance of “Tank Man” to a couple of people, but it didn’t seem to register, the anonymous “everyman” holding his shopping bags, and for one insanely dramatic moment capturing the minds and hearts of the world and bringing the military machinery of The Party to a halt. It didn’t work; my friends didn’t seem to understand why it was particularly admirable. The one who knew of him said she wondered why he was so revered. This isn’t because my friends aren’t smart or sensitive; they are both. But our views of what makes a hero are quite different. Again, River Town says it all. The hero would be those who unite people, bring them together and create constructive harmony. It wouldn’t be the lone rebel throwing a monkey wrench into the state machinery.

I understand this, and I was not surprised. One friend said, “Maybe some of the older people here care. My friends and I don’t really know much about it.” I took solace in Alice Poon’s post (courtesy of China Geeks,” which tells us in Hong Kong it’s a bit different, as people react with revulsion to Donald Tsang’s remarks that “economic prosperity” has in effect neutralized the tragedy and caused most Hong Kongers to allow it to drop into the memory hole.

I can still recall the scene in Toronto in which I broke down in tears when I watched TV news while in my brother-in-law’s house – I saw tanks rolling towards Tiananmen Square and the frightened students scrambling to get away, some carrying the wounded on carts. The first thought that came to mind was: “Why on earth are they using tanks to kill those helpless and unarmed young people? Why are the soldiers killing the peacefully demonstrating students?”

Twenty years have passed. Those questions still remain unanswered as of today. Meanwhile, Hong Kong has been able to reap economic benefits from China’s open and reform policy. But most Hong Kongers would never conflate economic prosperity with a serious matter of right and wrong. Tsang could not have made a worse judgment on this issue. Even when the Mainland authorities have been trying to twist the truth around (like laying the blame on the students’ alleged intention to revolt against the CCP – an allegation that is refuted by Zhao Ziyang in his secret memoirs) and to forbid discussions of the subject in the Mainland, this has done nothing to obliterate the shameful deed from Hong Kongers’ memory.

With the passage of time, people’s vehement disgust with the ignominious murderous act has indeed been diluted, as is evident from the declining attendance at the Victoria Park June 4th vigil over the years. Yet, as if to help reverse the trend, a couple of recent incidents have managed to re-ignite Hong Kongers’ feelings of revulsion. In 2007, pro-Beijing DAB legislator Ma Lik blurted out a preposterous “pigs-crushed-by-tanks” analogy which caused a public outcry and, last month, the HKU student union president surnamed Chan tried to defend and rationalize the Beijing government’s violent crackdown, which caused an outburst of anger in Hong Kong society and led to his being ousted from his post.

Still, I find it heartbreaking that here, in what 20 years ago was the vortex where it all took place, there remains in the minds of the young no image of the men and women who died in the crackdown, no stories of the bravery or even of the daily turn of events, the “Goddess of Democracy,” the sort-of hunger strikes, the meeting of Wu’er Kaixi wearing his pajamas with Li Peng, etc. Instead, it’s basically a void, interrupted with a few government talking points and state-issued photos, like those of pre-”Liberation” Tibetan serfs with their limbs hacked off by evil landowners. And I say, What can I do? And I answer, Write it down, and do your tiny, microscopic bit to keep the memory alive.

Demonstrating students in Shanghai with their makeshift statue of liberty

Demonstrating students in Shanghai with their makeshift statue of liberty

Photo courtesy of Diane Gatterdam’s ongoing series of stories and photos about the demonstrations on Facebook.

Update: The erasure of TAM from China’s memory is getting noticed.

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Is this bad journalism?

A non-China quickie during a workbreak. Seconds ago this article in the NY Times jumped out at me for its dramatic headline, and then for the big hole in the opening grafs.

4 Accused of Bombing Plot at Bronx Synagogues

Four men were arrested Wednesday night in what the authorities said was a plot to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down military planes at an Air National Guard base in Newburgh, N.Y.

The men, all of whom live in Newburgh, about 60 miles north of New York City, were arrested around 9 p.m. after planting what they believed to be bombs in cars outside the Riverdale Temple and the nearby Riverdale Jewish Center, officials said. But the men did not know the bombs, provided by an informant with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were fake.

The arrests capped what officials described as a “painstaking investigation” that began in June 2008 involving an F.B.I. agent who had been told by a federal informant of the men’s desire to attack targets in America. As part of the plot, the men intended to fire stinger missiles at military aircraft at the base, which is at Stewart International Airport, officials said.

Alright. We all know the inverted pyramid of journalism, the importance of who, what, where, when, how and, if possible, why. All of that is supposed to be delivered upfront, hopefully in the lede. Not here. The immediate question I had the second I saw the headline was, Who planned the bombing and what was their motivation? Were these Islamists or skinheads or an enraged former employee or…? But to find out, you have to look a full ten grafs down:

They are all Muslim, a law enforcement official said.

Mr. Cromitie, who is of Afghan descent, had told the informant that he was upset about the war in Afghanistan and that that he wanted to “do something to America.” Cromitie stated “the best target” — the World Trade Center — “was hit already,” according to the complaint.

The point isn’t about Muslims or Jews. It’s about what appears to be the media’s insistence on tiptoeing around what they see as sensitive topics. But to bury in the 10th graf some of the most revealing and useful information, stuff readers expect to see in the first, is inexplicable. I’m trying to imagine a report on the first arrests made for the September 11 attacks, but not mentioning Al Qaeda or the suspect’s home countries until midway into the story. Impossible. In this story, the suspects are simply referred to generically as “the men,” without a word of background, until halfway through.

This is not the way they taught us at NYU Journalism School.

(Note, I use a question mark in the title because maybe it really is good journalism and I’m just not seeing it. A part of me says the NYT couldn’t be so amateurish, and I must be missing something.)

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The Chinese Internet as June 4 approaches

The Internet has slowed down dramatically here in Beijing and everyone I know is complaining. Blogspot/Blogger are nicely blocked again. A search for “tank man” on google immediately makes the screen go white. Even my daily email of google alerts of sites linking to mine won’t open, and makes the screen go white. And yet, a search for “Tiananmen Square massacre” is fine, and you can even get onto this site with no problem.

The consensus seems to be that they’re tightening things up as the big day gets closer, funneling just about everything through the filter as they sniff out unharmonious content. But it seems, as usual, random and irrational. And soooo annoying.

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Philip Cunningham on the Zhao memoirs and TSM

We all know I’ve had my rifts with Philip Cunningham before, ever since I first saw him on CCTV-9 at the start of the Iraq war in 2003. But I have to thank him for writing a superb piece (proxy required here, I’m afraid) that makes mincemeat of the revisionist movement I referred to in an earlier post to shift all the blame onto the students and the US media.

I said from the very first day this blog shifted from a place for personal doodling to a place to chronicle my feelings about Chinese life and politics that the students at Tiananmen Square were not angels – but that I loved them anyway. Cunningham knows better than I do. He was there, he stood with them and watched them and knew them. I was only “there” as a spectator watching CNN the first year I was able to afford cable TV, and later, through the books and articles I read after moving to Asia. So I was delighted to see that Cunningham’s observations are so close to my own. This is a sampling; please read the entire article.

The students were indeed imperfect, and in unwitting ways mimicked the best and worst tendencies of their communist elders. But they did not carry out the bloody crackdown, rather certain units of the PLA did. As for the units of the PLA that refused to join the crackdown, they should be considered people’s heroes on a par with the man in front of the tank.

———

To blame it on the students, as many young people in China do today, is to fall for a propaganda line, to take one’s eye off the ball.

———

As best I could judge, from studying the crowd every day for a month on the square, is that the ever-shifting crowd largely organised and ordered itself, at once subject to the vagaries of mass psychology and the kinetics of crowd dynamics, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Countless individuals poured into Beijing’s most central plaza to create a vivid living tableau with their passion and dedication to peaceful change; they became part of a whole beyond individual control yet coherent and compelling.

——–

The only real crime was demanding a military solution and then turning the guns on unarmed civilians.

The value of releasing Mr Zhao’s belated memoir, which goes for the jugular by singling out a hard-line clique within the CCP, on this, the 20th anniversary of an unnecessary tragedy, is to get the public eye back on the culpability of those most culpable.

Philip (and this is rhetorical, because I don’t think you hang out here much), I always knew you were brilliant. I also felt you were maddeningly unfair in your taking it easy on the CCP while going after the US with no mercy. But that doesn’t matter right now. I’ve been reading your blog and articles like the one referenced above, and I have to say I have a deep respect for you. It may still piss me off when I think back on those conversations you’d have with Yang Rui on CCTV 9 – the ones where I nearly threw something at the set because I felt you were applying such blatantly different standards to the US and China – but I think your contribution to clearing the air over the tragedy of Tiananmen Square is without parallel, and I admire you for it. There is a lot of obfuscation out there as the anniversary day nears, an insistence that the Chinese people don’t care about the “incident,” that it can all be blamed on the students and the Western media, that the CCP “had to act boldly” or else there would have been no economic miracle, that the bloodshed was all for the best…. So much bullshit. For your clearheaded, unsentimental yet passionate recounting of what actually happened and who is and who is not to blame for the bloodshed, I have only two words: Thank you.

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Audio/print excerpt of Zhao Ziyang’s memoir – in Chinese and English

This is absolutely extraordinary. A friend just tweeted it, asking, “So, is the Washington Post website going to be blocked in China?” I’ll be stunned if it’s not. We all know China can be quite tolerant of news on Western sites, as long as it’s in English, knowing you can never galvanize the masses if you’re not speaking in their language. Thus, this will almost inevitably be harmonized. And if not, it’ll be unprecedented.

Go there while you can if you want to hear Zhao dictating a portion of his story on cassette before it was smuggled out and published. Controversial stuff, too, as Zhao challenges the decision to crack down on what had been orderly if chaotic and messy demonstrations. Money quote:

Of course, whenever there are large numbers of people involved, there will always be some tiny minority within the crowd who might want to attack the PLA. It was a chaotic situation. It is perfectly possible that some hooligans took advantage of the situation to make trouble, but how can these actions be attributed to the majority of the citizens and students? By now, the answer to this question should be clear.

And it is clear, to everyone who has a mind. There were some disgusting acts of violence perpetrated by some enraged participants as the soldiers advanced. And sympathy must go to the soldiers who were attacked, as it must go to the vast majority of demonstrators who were killed or injured, who were peaceful and orderly. More on this later.

About the site: I know, it’s been quiet. And we have a big anniversary coming up, and I’ve been seeing some atrocious revisionist stuff over here on the Internets about that date that just begs to be fisked. Zhao’s memoir couldn’t have come out at a better time (coincidence, right?); itcertainly helps blast apart some of the more audacious claims I’ve been seeing. More to come.

Update: Be sure to see Granite Studio’s amusing response to the memoirs.

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A reporter looks at the Sichuan earthquake, and her own life

Most of my friends here know that of all the reporters I’ve worked with in China, Mei Fong of the Wall Street Journal always has always occupied a special place in my heart. Now, after reading this extraordinary article of her trip to the site of the earthquake, tied in with the personal heartache she was going through at the time, that “special place” is more special than ever.

Each of us who has ever worked with or known Mei Fong in any capacity is not just lucky. We’re blessed.

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