When it Reins…

Shaun on Google’s exodus from China.

Phil Cunningham also outdoes himself on the same subject. I’ve tried to cut Cunningham some slack, and I greatly admired his writings about the 15th anniversary of the TSM, but I can’t be that charitable this time. I realize the link is already a few days old, but it’s still noteworthy.

Thanks to the commenters who brought both links to my attention. I’m on the road, back home tonight.

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“Puzzling and shameful reading”

Time magazine rips China’s Megatrends into shreds. Some excerpts of the review:

It is breathtaking in its simplistic, groveling and ill-informed treatment of the world’s next superpower.

….

Do we really believe that what the Naisbitts call “Chinese country music” will soon become a “moneymaking machine” simply because one peasant group’s original composition, Song of Sanitation Workers got some favorable notice in the provincial press?

….

This is a country where dissidents disappear and where the legal system can be twisted. Yet China’s brutally efficient machinery of repression and state capitalism is, in the Naisbitts’ gushing parlance, “a new form of governance and development, never before seen in modern history.” Really? Is an autocracy grimly determined to keep itself in power all that unique?

….

Ultimately, the one place this book should do well is China itself. The country’s leaders will hardly believe their good fortune at so totally blindsiding the authors, and the ever growing ranks of nationalists will lap up the endorsements of such a famous American commentator as John Naisbitt. But for everyone else, China’s Megatrends is puzzling and shameful reading.

We knew this already, of course.

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James Fallows of the health care bill

I have lots of thoughts about what happened last night, and I may keep expanding this post during the day if I have time. But this clear-headed perspective from one of our best journalists reflects, to me, the obvious – we have made an important step in the right direction.

For now, the significance of the vote is moving the United States FROM a system in which people can assume they will have health coverage IF they are old enough (Medicare), poor enough (Medicaid), fortunate enough (working for an employer that offers coverage, or able themselves to bear expenses), or in some other way specially positioned (veterans; elected officials)… TOWARD a system in which people can assume they will have health-care coverage. Period.

That is how the entire rest of the developed world operates, as noted yesterday. It is the way the United States operates in most realms other than health coverage. Of course all older people are eligible for Medicare. Of course all drivers must have auto insurance. Of course all children must have a public school they can attend. Etc. Such “of course” rules offer protection for individuals but even more important, they reduce the overall costs to society, compared with one in which extreme risks are uncontained. The simplest proof is, again, Medicare: Does anyone think American life would be better now, on an individual or a collective level, if we were in an environment in which older people might have to beg for treatment as charity cases when they ran out of cash? And in which everyone had to spend the preceding years worried about that fate?

There are countless areas in which America does it one way and everyone else does it another, and I say: I prefer the American way. Our practice on medical coverage is not one of these. Despite everything that is wrong with this bill and the thousand adjustments that will be necessary in the years to come, this is a very important step.

Period. I know all the disappointment from both sides, all the complaints, all the fears. Everyone has an idea for how this could have been done better. I’ve been watching the issue carefully for a year now, and I remember just a few weeks ago when the majority opinion was that this bill was impossible to pass. I remember all the cries of panic, again from both sides. Under the circumstances, I am amazed and delighted that we passed any bill at all, and for that we have the much demonized Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama to thank. They did it. They pulled it off. Now comes the next battle, tweaking the bill, getting it signed and implemented, dealing with what’s not workable, etc. But for the first time we actually took the step forward, and for tens of millions of Americans a huge burden of doubt and fear and worry has been lifted. This was a victory for them and for all of us, even if it isn’t the bill we wanted to see. That will come in time.

Updates:

Must-read Paul Krugman piece on the use of fear by the GOP to stoke people’s basest instincts to help kill the bill.

Even more must-read: former bush speechwriter Frum lacerates Republicans whose strategy of just saying No to everything has come back to destroy them:

Invoking Republican Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) infamous remarks last July that killing the legislation would be President Obama’s “Waterloo,” David Frum offered a dire assessment of the GOP’s fate. “[I]t’s Waterloo all right: ours,” he wrote on his blog Frum Forum.

“Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s,” said Frum, a former speechwriter and adviser to President George W. Bush. “It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster.”

“We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat,” he explained, on the day the House of Representatives cleared the historic legislation for the president to sign into law.

I’d love to see them try to repeal the bill. I’d love to see them try to take away health care from the sick and the needy. I’d love to see them try to re-enforce people getting dropped for pre-existing conditions. bring it on, as Frum’s boss used to say.

Even Jane Hamsher, with whom I had serious disagreements due to her insistence on an all-or-nothing approach (nice in theory, impossible in today’s super-charged, super-polarized political world) acknowledges this as a big step forward. I know, I wanted a public option, too, and I wanted Obama to flush out all the corporate interests and start doing what’s good for the actual citizens. I am also pragmatic and realistic, and believe these things have to be done one step at a time. We now have a foot firmly in the door.

Obama knew all along where he wanted to go. Maybe it wasn’t where I wanted it to go, but I have to credit him with pulling off a spectacular upset, for handing the right their greatest defeat in modern memory, and for proving he is a fighter. Yes, I wish he’d do more for my pet progressive causes, but in this climate, with today’s daunting threats, impossible for any one politician to conquer, I believe he’s about the best we can hope for. Watch his ratings soar, and watch the Republicans dig themselves in deeper with messages of hate and slander. Bring it on.

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China’s “tongqi” – neither comrades nor spouses

This is a heartbreaking article. Tongzhi + qizi. Not the most wining combination.

A few more links; there have been some above-average China-related storied in the blogs lately:

Aimee Barnes on the new version of one of America’s vilest movies, “Red Dawn.” This time instead of Nicaraguans and Russians, the enemy is…. Well, guess.

Stan Abrams on the Google Bastards – a funny, pointed post that flays alive a usually reliable pundit who get in over his head going after the Google-censorship-in-China issue.

Foreign Policy on whether the West is “turning on China.” This is really timely. I’ve been noticing over the past few days an almost violent rise in the pitch of pundit columns slamming China for keeping the yuan undervalued. Paul Krugman has been leading the pack, and the punditocracy on all sides, left and right, have been joining in to support him. This article manages to explain why this is happening. It sounds like we’re bracing for an all-out war of some kind (verbal, at least).

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Defending the indefensible

China’s defending its arrest of lead poisoning victims seeking treatment.

Chinese authorities have defended the six-month detention of lead poisoning victims who were seeking medical care, saying the punishment was necessary for “public education”.

Police in Jiahe, Hunan province, blocked a bus carrying 53 villagers who were on their way to get health checks last September, according to Chinese media.

Mistakenly believing the villagers were planning to protest, the police have detained two of them for the six months since on the charge of “disrupting traffic”. Though it has since been proved that they and their children were contaminated by illegal emissions of heavy metals from a smelting factory, the local government was unapologetic.

“We may have blocked the wrong visit, but they should not have been on that road,” Li Ying, deputy secretary of Jiahe county political and legislative committee told the Beijing News, which today published an investigation into the incident.

Ou Shudong, the chairman of the local People’s Congress, told the newspaper the police roadblock and detentions were justified. “The villagers’ intentions were unclear. Even if they were going for a medical examination, they should have informed the government.”

The story highlights the feudal control that local officials exercise in much of rural China. It also exemplifies the widespread strategy of stifling dissent by making an example of suspected ringleaders, a tactic known as “killing a chicken to scare the monkeys”.

A Jiahe county report cited by the newspaper says the punishment of a few people “served the purpose of public education for the majority”. The Guardian’s calls to the county government, police bureau and communist party went unanswered.

Very considerate of them, helping to educate the majority.

As we continue to be dazzled by China’s progress and mesmerized by the success stories, it’s important to remember that this sort of outrage remains commonplace. It’s a depressing story on multiple levels. There’s the unjustifiable arrest of the innocent and the sick, and there’s also the story of the lead poisoning itself, a by-product of all that success the government would rather we not know about.

Via CDT.

Update: For some good, balanced analysis of the lead-poisoning issue in China, please check out this excellent post. It’s not good versus evil (and I never say that it is). Some in the government are trying very hard to correct a horrible situation. To understand the forces at play, check out Ibsen’s classic of more than 100 years ago. It’s an old story.

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The collapse of China’s English-teaching schools

Or at least some of them, including three that were among the best-known in the industry, Kai En, Linguaphone and World Link Education. How and why these schools collapsed, resulting in several of the owners fleeing China, leaving their teachers with unpaid wages and their students locked out of shuttered schools, is the subject of this excellent article on Danwei.

[An important side-note: It isn't just the article that's fascinating. Jeremy Goldkorn's preface to it is equally so: From now on, he says, Danwei is going to have a new mission, with emphasis on providing in-depth articles on stories about China that aren't covered in the mainstream English-language media, for whatever reasons. If this article is any indication of the quality of what's to come I'd say they're off to an auspicious start.]

More than offering breaking news, the article ties together a lot of material that’s been out there and makes it seamless. I had been following the story of Kai En’s downfall on Shanghaiist and was even going to blog about it last year. Then I decided there was no point; word was out, I couldn’t contribute much, and I felt funny about the whole thing; I had met Ken Carroll for dinner (a big group dinner with much of the Chinese Pod team) the year before, and I thought it would be better not to comment on their troubles.

And I’m pretty much sticking to that now. This is an article you have to read, but I don’t have much to add to it, except that I’m sorry it ended this way for Ken. I never did business with him, but he was charming, brilliant, and we had the best talk on Shakespeare I’ve ever enjoyed. And I’m especially sorry because his flight must have sent out shock waves that affected several people I truly admire.

The overarching lesson in the article is about growing too fast. I’ve worked for more than one company that went belly-up because they enjoyed a big initial success and then tried to expand too quickly. In the case of Kai En, there’s a lot of personal intrigue added to the mix, which makes this article a page-turner. But this story should be studied by everybody doing business in China now, or thinking of doing business there in the future. It should also be read by everyone considering teaching English there.

One other point. This is also a story about the global financial crisis, how it’s changed the lives of working Chinese and forced them to change their plans, like studying English. It’s true that China hasn’t suffered like the US and much of Europe have, but it’s only a matter of degree. The crisis has shaken China into new socioeconomic alignments that will be in effect for years. That’s the tie that binds the three collapsed schools. And you have to wonder if they’re the only ones sent reeling.

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It’s only two weeks away

It’s that time of year again. How will you be celebrating Serf Emancipation Day?

I find it kind of droll that on the big day I’ll be in the Long Beach Opera House watching this. An eerie coincidence. My heart, of course, will be with those who were liberated, whether they wanted to be or not.

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“Xiaozi” – I know quite a few

Great post on a phrase I hadn’t heard before.

And let me take this opportunity to offer a few links to China-related blog posts I’m enjoying:

Mark’s China Blog on Peter Hessler.

Xujun’s excellent review of China 2013.

Custer on the Dalai Lama’s use of public relations vs. the PRC’s (truly a must-read).

Now that my big project is mostly over I’ll try to post more often. It was a big success, the only downside being I had to work out of Shanghai for a week and I find it next to impossible to relate to that city. I realize the issue there is probably with me and not with Shanghai; I’m sure if I spent more time there and got familiar enough with the city to find my bearings I’d love it as much as Beijing or Kunming. Well, maybe.

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China’s soft power and the rape of US history textbooks

Yes, I know – that’s a very disjointed, dichotomous title, and this post is quite disjointed as well. But bear with me a moment.

I read with fascination this morning an article on China’s attempts to increase its global soft power by constitutional scholar Zhang Boshu, a former member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. I strongly recommend you read it all. This stood out for me (and apologies for a very long snip):

From the perspective of liberal constitutionalism, the continuous sixty years of one party rule by the Chinese Communist Party is a type of autocracy—an unreasonable system of government. It is extremely predictable that such a country would be criticized by democratic nations’ mass media. In saying that the international media “unfairly sees China and the Chinese people,” Mr. Zhao Qizheng is obviously intentionally trying to confuse public opinion. That is because criticizing the ruling Party is not equivalent to criticizing China; it is also not equivalent to criticizing the Chinese people. It has absolutely nothing to do with “hegemony.” I have personally been interviewed many times by the international media and feel that the vast majority of foreign journalists are friendly towards China. They have a serious attitude towards reporting; even when reporting on weaknesses within our society, they hope that China will improve quickly. On the contrary, it is actually our rulers who are accustomed to using a mindset of enmity; they see all critics as enemies with hidden intentions.

In the final analysis, it is China’s current political system that is definitely outside the global tide of democratization. It is this environment that produces government-hired scholars who play up their [theories] which are at odds with logic.

So what is the substance of this “soft power with Chinese characteristics” that is being so strongly advocated by government officials and “scholars”? There are two clear main types [of soft power with Chinese characteristics]. One type is related to “persisting in the leadership of the Communist Party.” It aims at protecting the ideological “products” of the existing regime—whether it be the increasingly individualistic and commercialized literature, art, television, movie, and animation “products”, or whether it be the increasingly rigid media and education “products.” For example, beginning in 2004, the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party and the Ministry of Education jointly organized a massive program called “Researching and Building Upon Marxist Theories.” As part of this program, at universities and colleges the “public politics class” curriculum and the humanity majors’ core curriculum was required to be revamped so as to include the “the latest findings” [in the field of] “the sinification of Marxism” or “Marxism’s adaptation to China.” As far as propaganda directed outside [of China], this kind of thing was naturally at the very core, but it was packaged more carefully as being different from the “West” and as being a form of “democratic government” with “Chinese characteristics,” or as being “harmonious” or as being part of “a great nation’s rise”—the ultimate purpose was to establish “[China’s] own ideological voice.”

The other type [of soft power with Chinese characteristics] is “traditional culture” and its interpretations which are officially approved. Confucius is no longer criticized. This is obviously a good thing. However, reflecting on the rationality of traditional culture has at the same time been suppressed. That is because the current leaders are not especially concerned about the complicated historical relationship between modern China’s transformation and pre-modern China’s cultural heritage, and are more concerned with the role that can be played today by China’s ancient heritage and ancient historical figures acting as a sort of cultural symbol. [This cultural symbol] could be used to prove the legitimacy of a culture that is different from the “West” which it seems would then indirectly prove the legitimacy of a political structure that is different from the “West.” Along these lines, today in China one can see everywhere vigorous signs of “ancient worship”—not just in a cultural context but also in an ideological context. This same logic can explain why the government so strongly supports the construction of “Confucius Institutes” in many places overseas.

Nevertheless, the ultimate goal in all this effort is to whitewash the reality of existing one party rule; to provide a defense for a backward system. This is phony soft power; even though it appears in the name of a people’s nation and even though it appears in the form of the modern heir to a great culture.

The bottom line is that I tend to agree with Zhang’s conclusions. But the main reason I’m posting this is that it reminded me of a shocking news story in today’s NY Times that at first glance seems hopelessly unrelated, namely the rewriting of American textbooks to brainwash teach American children the glories of the US capitalist system, to minimize any reference to the Enlightenment, to lionize conservative freaks like Phyllis Schlafly and right-wing propaganda machines like the Heritage Foundation, and to generally turn our textbooks into vehicles for the distribution of GOP talking points.

One of my favorite bloggers offers a blunt description of this inexcusable revisionism.

The intent is two-fold:

1. To render a public school education all but worthless by teaching blatant lies and distortions, thereby advancing the long-desired rightwing meme is, in fact, worthless and should be eliminated.

2. As long as there must be a public education system, indoctrinate children to in the lie that rightwing/christianist authoritorianism is a core American value and not, in fact, the very antithesis of the Americanism the Founders intended.

Textbook procurement protocols must be changed to eliminate the influence of these ignorant, malicious lunatics from the national discourse. Otherwise, we deserve everything that’s coming to us.

Amen to that.

Over the years one of the most heated topics here has been US vs. Chinese education and which system is more guilty of “brainwashing” its students.

All education is going to have a propaganda element to it. I remember a high school textbook from the Cold War in which all the photos of Moscow and East Germany were taken on gray, rainy days, with people walking with their faces turned down against the wind. However, I also remember being taught to question the government, to understand the importance of checks and balances over a system that could easily be corrupted, and to remember the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow and, yes, the massacre of Native Americans.

And then I remember the descriptions in River Town of all the political slogans built into the Chinese curriculum, of the extolling of the one-party system, of the deification of Chairman Mao, etc. This is a radically different approach from the US system, and we see its manifestation in the writings of Hong XIng and Math and others who seem incapable of a nuanced discussion that doesn’t paint the US as inherently evil and China as inherently great. I’ve had no choice but to conclude that while the US educational system is deeply imperfect, it’s way lower on the brainwashing scale than China’s.

And then I read today about the aforementioned rape of US textbooks by the Texas Board of Education and I have to conclude that if they really pull this off my argument will be greatly weakened. This is nothing less than pure propaganda, complete with racism (see the part of the article on writing Latinos out of the textbooks) and an endorsement of Americans’ Manifest Destiny. And these changes were initiated by a hopelessly ignorant dentist with no background in history. Something is so wrong with America at the moment. The neanderthal beliefs of the right-wing fringe, dripping with prejudice and hate and ignorance, have become mainstream and are about to be taught to our children as Truth.

Can we criticize China when crimes like this are being committed in the US? Sure; but this certainly gives more power to those who retort with the “America does it too” meme. And maybe they have a fair point.

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Truth in Iran

This is a guest post from long-time Peking Duck reader and contributor Bill Stimson. It’s not about China, but maybe there are some parallels?

Truth in Iran
by William R. Stimson

A fake president rants to a fake crowd about his administration’s mobilization to confront a fake enemy. Fake journalists are present to ensure that the fake story gets out. The real journalists are all in jail. The real media are all closed down. The real president gets attacked by thugs for trying to come out and speak to the real crowds that are trying to gather. The fake crowds have been assembled, paid, bussed in, and provided with flags to wave; but the real ones have been intimidated with arrests and even hangings and have had their means of communication cut. What few still do manage somehow to form are quickly chased down and attacked by the administration’s only real mobilization, the one against its only real enemy – its own people.

These descend from one of the world’s oldest and most magnificent linguistic, literary, and cultural traditions. In 13th Century Persian, its great poet Jalalud’din Rumi expressed the deepest and most utterly authentic pole of Islam. In lines still sung by schoolgirls all over Iran, he celebrated the intoxicating delight of the heart that breaks free from stale religious dogma and its niggling rules to flow with divine love emanating from the eternal now – a winged heart that heals everything it touches, and half the time doesn’t bother to categorize itself as religious, political, or personal. Many who sang and danced in the streets of Teheran prior to last summer’s election felt and expressed this heart that flies with truth and can see through the present order to a better world.

This joyous outpouring of people celebrating in the streets deeply alarmed Iran’s uptight supreme leader and his cohorts, who represent the diametrical opposite, most superficial and deadeningly fake, pole of Islam. For these sterile ideologues and harsh disciplinarians, religion is not an indwelling enlightenment dancing naturally out of the awakened heart, but entails forcing upon the mind and behavior of the populace an acquired belief system, outside authority, shallow legalistic codes, and (their own) political tyranny.

By rigging the election, the supreme leader thought to crush what he saw as a velvet revolution. But it wasn’t a velvet revolution. The velvet revolutions of Eastern Europe aimed to and did overthrow Communist regimes to install democratic ones. Iran’s opposition never set out to change Iran’s system of government – only make it function as it should according to its own constitution.

The green opposition movement could never have undone the supreme leader to the extent it has were it not for the fraudulent behavior he condoned and perpetuated, the mendacity, and the unbelievably cruel and brutal tactics unleashed against innocent civilians. Whatever in the end becomes of him and his cronies can only be what he and they deserve. That this victory is being won by a whole people, unarmed, standing together on the side of truth, will be seen as the defining moment of our times.

The unique power of Iran’s green opposition, and the reason it cannot be defeated, is that it is composed of so many disparate sectors of society, all sharing a certain core belief in a new and more wholesome direction and all acting from a deeply shared part of themselves. The government can take away the people’s Twitter, their Facebook, their Gmail, and even their cell phones. It can prevent them from gathering, it can imprison them, it can torture them, it can sodomize and rape them. It can even hang them. But it can’t seem to cut them off from their only real resource and means of communication – the heart that flies with truth.

* * *

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