What if the BP oil spill had happened off the coast of China?

Funniest thing I’ve seen in weeks. I really needed that laugh. Go there.


“Patriotic re-education” in Tibet

A once militant Tibetan monk named Norgye stops worrying and learns to love the CCP.

Norgye demonstrated with other monks in 2008 shouting “Tibet is not free!” Now, after some struggle sessions, he admits he was wrong, and says he’s grateful to be taught about the law in China. Classwork completed, lessons learned. He insists he wasn’t tortured or beaten; he simply saw the light.

Norgye spoke of his successful re-education to a group of foreign journalists being led on a government tour of Tibet this week. Is this for real? You decide. (Genuine or not, many of his fellow monks seem less contrite and subdued.)

Then came the journalists’ tour, and the incendiary statements by 30 monks in the Jokhang [a Lhasa temple] who had suddenly burst in on the journalists: “The government is telling lies; it’s all lies,” and, “They killed many people,” the monks said, according to reporting by an Associated Press correspondent on the trip.

Patriotic re-education — hours of classes on the law and Communist thought — was ordered for many monks like Norgye following the March uprising. Monks were told to denounce the Dalai Lama. The authorities emptied rebellious monasteries, and some monks fled to India.

On Tuesday, asked by reporters whether Tibetans have religious freedom, Norgye said, “Yes,” with a quiet voice and bowed head.

The Chinese government forbids all worship of the Dalai Lama, who lives in India. Photos of the Dalai Lama are banned.

Norgye was asked whether there was freedom to worship the Dalai Lama. He replied, “It’s freedom for one person to believe or not to believe.”

Pity the CCP. They try so hard and spend so much money to portray a jolly, peaceful, contented Tibet, and then the serene picture gets smudged by those pesky Tibetan people, all of them no doubt in the service of the jackal and his clique, and probably even the CIA.

Maybe Norgye will be Tibet’s Lei Feng, someone all Tibetans can emulate and learn from as he tells them, head bowed low and his voice a whisper, that Tibet is free, the Chinese government its savior.

Update: Forgot my mandatory disclaimer: I am no Free Tibet bleeding heart and realize how complex the situation there is. I understand that Tibet is a part of China, and that a lot of the 2008 violence was generated by angry monks and other Tibetan demonstrators. I also well understand the West’s dreamy-eyed and utterly false perception of Tibet as a Shangri-La. I always try to see the situation in Tibet from both sides. The CCP has definitely done some wonderful things in Tibet, and nothing hurts it more than its ham-fisted attempts to completely control the perceptions of outsiders and to airbrush away any signs of discontent. They are SO their own worst enemies.


“700 million Chinese taught to hate”

You simply have to see this video. As Jeremiah says:

Another classic attempt to “explain and understand” China from the CIA/NSC archives, this one is like some sort of unholy mash-up of John King Fairbank, Max Weber, Henry Luce, Edward Said, and the KMT propaganda department…but there is some useful archival footage as well as interviews with seminal American “China watchers” such as Theodore White and Pearl Buck.

Watch it for the archival footage, laugh at it for the absurd stereotyping.


A modern tragedy: Pressure on Chinese gays to marry

This is not a new topic. But it’s not one you normally see in your US newspaper, and I was surprised to see a syndicated article on it today in the front section of my local rag, the Arizona Republic. It was a topic I was all too familiar with.

They think that Yu Xiaofei, with her cropped black hair and dark-rimmed glasses, looks too much like a tomboy, and they think that Jiang Yifei’s distaste for children is suspicious.

So what are these young Chinese women to do? They’re 24, out of college, employed, living at home – and they’re in love with each other and desperate to find a way to stay together.

“The most important thing is that we cannot hurt our parents,” Yu said. “They put a lot on us.”

That means finding two men in a similar predicament. Their plan is simple. Yu and Jiang will find a gay male couple, arrange a living situation and lay down some ground rules. Then, they’ll pair off with the men and get married, just as their parents expect them to do.

They still have time, and they’re using it to take in every last kiss and touch before these gestures become even more complicated than they already are. Still, their proposed arrangement is no grand tragedy for the pair – it’s practical.

Beneath it all are the Confucian family values that still underpin Chinese society: As a son or daughter, it’s your duty to maintain and carry on the family line by having children.

“We have to – that’s tradition,” said Jiang, who sports long caramel-colored hair and clinking bangle bracelets. “That’s what (our parents) think we should do.”

The story does not have a comforting ending. Yes, in Shanghai and maybe some other big cities it’s possible to live a relatively open life. But for those without the means to get there and live there, there are few good options. China is more liberal and open now than ever before, but social stigma remains a powerful force.

Few topics about China have disturbed and fascinated me as much as the tragic situation most gay Chinese face due to family pressure to marry. I actually debated writing an extended article or even a book about it during my last few months in China but gave up the idea for the simple reason that there wasn’t enough to write about – nearly everyone I interviewed about it had the same story and the same point of view: We have to get married. We cannot disappoint our parents. The few that decided never to marry were aware they were putting their family to shame. They felt bad about it but decided they couldn’t lead a double life, one that would inevitably cause terrible suffering to the woman they married. I respected them for this. But this forced them to be totally dishonest with their parents. To keep up the act, they developed a script to dodge the questions about when they were getting married. It, too, was an act of deception. To the day their parents passed away, they would have to lie to them.

Before this blog had any readers, I wrote a post back in 2002, when life for gays in China was much, much different. I described their lives as a plight. The social safety net then was less wide than it is today, and things have improved a thousandfold. But still, there is an element of plight to the lives of most gays in China. The pressure to marry makes it virtually inevitable.

One of the most common and, to the Western mindset, most bizarre arguments I heard from gay friends I knew in China was that this was a temporary situation, as if they were “going through a phase”: When it is time for me to marry I will. I will love my wife and I will have children and I will never be gay again. I didn’t argue back, or say I thought this was impossible. I tried to ask questions, like, “Do you really think you can simply change your sexuality the way you would a light bulb? Do you think this would be fair to your wife, to hide from her such a key a part of yourself?” The response was usually the same. I will become straight.

Again, if you are in Beijing or Shanghai it’s easy to get a very skewed perspective of this situation. I remember talking on the phone to a friend in Hefei who was sobbing hysterically; he had nothing in his life but loneliness. “Why did I have to be born in Hefei? Why couldn’t I have been born in Beijing?” I cannot put into words the misery of this conversation. It was nothing less than seeing one’s life as a death sentence, as torture, as a life without a future.

I gave up the idea of writing at length about this for two reasons: experts like Li Yinhe were much more qualified to do this sort of thing than I, with my intermediate-level Chinese, and because of the uniformity of the responses I heard – too similar to sustain a lengthy analysis. Not all were hysterical or hopeless, like my friend in Hefei. But nearly all the responses boiled down to this: we have no choice but to marry, to do something we know is wrong, that goes against who we are, and that sentences us to a life of duplicity, desperation and unfulfilled dreams. And yes, it’s better than it used to be and it’s better in the big cities. But for the vast majority of gay men and women in China, life promises to be a well of loneliness.

By nature, anyone who is gay needs to come to terms with shame. The shame of bullying, of knowing they are different, of having to create a double life, of knowing they are disappointing their parents. Despite the idiotic arguments of Focus on the Family and moralists on the far right, no one ever chooses to be gay. No one chooses bullying, deception, stigmatization and pain. So being gay is hard enough as it is, no matter how liberal your society. But to be gay in China is a unique tragedy, especially for those who can’t afford to live and study overseas or to live in a city like Shanghai.

As the article says, maybe there will be some years of freedom, a short time in the life of gays in China when they can be themselves, before the time arrives when they need to marry.

Yu Jing said that despite the hardships she’s suffered with her parents – watching her father cry, her mother screaming at her – it’s these youthful days without weighty expectations that she’ll recall throughout her life.

“I think it’s worth (dating girls),” she said. “Maybe five years later I’ll be a very normal person in this society, but I can still remember my past.”

How terrible, to have only a memory of a brief, happy time when you were free to be yourself – until the day comes when night falls like a hammer, and for the rest of your life you are sentenced to live a lie.

There is so much I love about Chinese culture. The fixed notion of family and face before all else is not one of those things.

Update: If this topic interests you, you absolutely must read this piece from several weeks ago by my friend Zhang Yajun


Violence and discrimination against ethnic Chinese in France

This is an interesting post in response to recent attacks on ethnic Chinese in Paris. A sample:

If French discrimination against Africans and Arabs comes from their sense of superiority as former colonizer, then their feelings towards China are much more complex. 20 years ago, Chinese were considered poor refugees coming from a third world country and treated with generosity tinged with pity. However, as China has developed and prospered, French people’s attitudes towards Chinese have changed. During my two years in France, a number of people reacted to the discovery that I was Chinese by asking whether China would overtake the US and become the world’s strongest country in twenty years. Once, my French professor singled me out in front of the entire class, telling me “you Chinese took away all of the jobs from France.” As the Chinese residents of Paris can attest, the combination of fear and resentment towards China is growing in French society.

Will antagonism toward ethnic Chinese everywhere intensify as/if China continues to grow, or is this something uniquely “French”? Here in the US I’ve heard a lot of anger directed at China for “stealing jobs,” but not at the Chinese living here. That would be hopelessly declasse.


Bill Stimson: The Supreme Leader’s Mistake

This is a guest post from my friend in Taiwan, William R. Stimson.

Since he stole the majority of the people’s votes in last year’s election, Iran’s Supreme Leader has also stolen for himself, or tried to, every other public occasion all through the year. Already by far the most powerful tyrant Iran has ever known, he demonstrated again and again, all year long, before the shocked eyes of the world to what unbelievably murderous and perverted lengths he will go not just to snuff out every last vestige of his people’s freedom – but to break their very spirit. On the first anniversary of the stolen election he had his riot police and government toughs out in greater numbers than ever before to arrest and intimidate anyone who dared speak out. People largely kept off the streets. His forces quickly dispersed the very few, and very small, scattered protests. Unlike the previous occasions all year long, from the clashes this time there emerged no telling incidents or images to be quickly posted on the internet and spread around the world. The New York Times could only report that at 2:30 p.m. a little old lady under the Hafez Bridge chanted some anti-government slogans. The riot police moved in to lay hands on her and drag her away. From every side, hundreds of bystanders rushed to her rescue. The police had to retreat. The little old lady went free.

No matter how much it’s been beaten back by the brutality of the Supreme Leader, there is still a voice in Iran that’s free. Thanks to one little old lady, it continues to tell the world, like it has all year long, that the people of Iran don’t approve of their Supreme Leader. They want their country back. They want to elect a leader who will address the real problems of the nation and serve not his interests, but theirs. It also continues to tell the world, like it has all year long, that Iran’s Supreme Leader doesn’t approve of his people. He wants to mold them to be something other than what they are. He wants to domesticate them, make them into a herd of tame goats, and keep the country essentially to himself for his own corrupt profit, his own narrow and twisted ideology, and his own Medieval geo-political vision.

This man tries to command Iran not with compassion and mercy but with fear and brute force. An impressive stone fort once similarly tried to command the Atlantic coast of Florida. Backed against a trackless and impenetrable swamp, its massive walls and many cannons all faced the sea – making it impregnable. But it fell to a conquistador who slogged his men, in heavy armor, through the steamy and tangled swamp to attack from behind.

Backed by his shallow misinterpretation of Islam, Iran’s Supreme Leader directs all the forces at his command to defend himself against his own people’s legitimate demands for fair play, compassion, and decency – and would seem on this first anniversary of the election to have won the day. In fact he has doomed himself to the fate of the fort. Had he not defended himself the way he did, he could never have been defeated. As it is now, nothing can possibly save him.

It’s only a matter of time before enough Iranians with Islamic compassion and mercy in their hearts come up from behind to expose him for the fraud he is. Against this, the willingness of his revolutionary guards and Basiji to assault the innocent people of Iran will not avail.

Iran is bigger than its supreme leader and his twisted vision, and so is Islam. In the end it is inevitable that both win out over him. All this present craziness will be over.


“Is China the next Greece?”

I didn’t ask the question, The Global Times did in an interview with Professor Xu Xiaonian of the China Europe International Business School. This is one of those surprising articles where you wonder how the propaganda people let it get through.

I don’t want to get into the argument again of whether China faces a coming collapse or perpetual prosperity, as there is no answer. But I do think Xu’s remarks are interesting because they are coming from a Chinese economics professor and not a columnist in London. He can’t be dismissed as some outside meddler who doesn’t understand China. I enjoyed his pithy, no-nonsense outlook:

Let us first assume that those numbers are real and the economy is indeed recovering. I believe that the excessive credit supply of last year and the extremely loose monetary policy both resulted in recovery, which I regard as the result of squandering money. Whether the effects of squandering money will last depends on the government’s decision on whether to keep throwing money about.

Needless to say, squandering money will definitely stimulate the economy.

However, China’s economy has structural problems that cannot be easily solved by palliatives. Too much investment, too little consumption and purely relying on domestic investment and external demand-driven economic growth will no longer support sustainable development.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has repeatedly stressed the need to accelerate the reform of the economic growth model.

But contrary to our fantasies, squandering money did not change the previous growth model, and it has resulted in the structure of the economy deteriorating further. Blood transfusions and oxygen therapy may make a patient feel better, but the illness is not cured. Toxic water may cure your thirst, but it may still kill you.

That’s pretty eloquent. Like me, he’s skeptical that domestic consumption can dig China out of the hole that the “squandering” is creating, though I often wonder whether China can’t simply keep on squandering and absorbing the blows. That’s what every every other country seems to be doing at the moment. The US and UK and others, however, are spending on credit, while China is spending cash.

Some other choice quotes I enjoyed:

Cantonese like the number eight because they believe the number is lucky. I have no idea why decision-makers in the government like the number eight when it comes to growth figures. What is their logic? Where is their evidence?

…Intellectuals in modern society are required to be physically and mentally independent. Our goal is to discover truth and to publicize it. We as economists should have nothing to do with interest groups, governments or ordinary people. We should never fawn on authorities or kiss up to the public.

That is how we should behave. However, many Chinese economists nowadays distort their original convictions and moral principles to meet the need of other people.

Nice example of speaking truth to power. This comes via an Economist blog, which is not particularly optimistic about China’s economic future.


James Fallows on Rock Paper Tiger

This is nice.


It’s a mystery/action novel that pretty much pulls off something I would have thought improbable: combining an account of Iraq-war drama (the emphasis is on Abu Ghraib-type themes), with a portrayal of the urban China of these past few years, complete with overhyped art scene, dissident bloggers, lots of young expats, and constant uncertainty about what the government will permit or crack down on. Along the way, lots about the online gaming world that often seems the main passion of youthful Chinese, especially males.

It’s short; read it all.


David Wolf on China’s economy and foreign businesses there

I think it’s safe to say that with it’s huge leaps and bounds China is always at some sort of crossroads, whether it’s dealing with organized labor, promising national health insurance, launching a soft power campaign or what have you. One of the smartest China hands, David Wolf, has an excellent piece in Ad Age China on perhaps the most important crossroads of all, the economic one, and on what it means for foreign companies doing business there.

Suddenly, just as people in China were starting to wonder if they still needed foreign capital and know-how, we went and proved to the Chinese that we were greedy, dumb, and actually needed China’s help to pull us out of our own mess…

Not only did that that gave the government the opportunity to put an end to policies that favored foreign companies in China, it was also a signal to the Chinese people that they could no longer take for granted that foreign brands were better than their local counterparts. Maybe they were just overpriced.

China, in other words, is starting to say “no” to our employers and our clients, and the above trends suggests that this is likely to get worse. Smart Chinese competitors are figuring out that they have an opportunity to take back some of their home turf, and they are refocusing their efforts on domestic operations.

This doesn’t mean, however, that China has all the answers, and is gliding through the crisis. Wolf spells out why China isn’t out of the woods, and why the current economic crossroads is so critical, and tenuous.

The global financial crisis has revealed the fundamental weakness of the nation’s export-driven economy: even in a healthy financial environment, the world cannot buy all of the goods China needs to sell to sustain 8-10% growth indefinitely. With no social safety net, Chinese consumers are focused on saving, and industrial productivity is so embarrassingly bad that nobody even talks about it.

Political stability in China is built on an unspoken social contract: the government delivers constant improvements in opportunities and lifestyle, and the people accept single-party rule, warts and all. Delivering on that promise is getting harder as China’s export engine sputters, as inflation grows, and may become impossible if the stock-market and real estate bubbles burst and the middle class demands that the government cover personal losses.

A thought of my own that popped up while I was reading it: The “Chinese financial crisis” is a phrase we don’t hear much anymore. I think we’ve been almost hypnotized into believing there is no economic crisis in China, that it was all about the US, and then Europe, with Asia remaining largely invulnerable. Indeed, a powerful meme took hold among financial writers over the past year, portraying China’s authoritarian system as superior in many ways to democracy because the party can make things happen fast without getting tied up in lawsuits and hearings and protests (usually). And this one-party system protected China from the crisis, allowing the government to launch a massive government spending program that kept the country afloat and free of the misery faced by weak democracies.

Wolf reminds, however, that the Chinese economy right now is quite tenuous, and that the shock absorbers that have seen it through so far – namely, government spending – may not be enough to hold everything together when the economy sours (and all economies sour).

“Read the whole thing.”


Obama: “The alien in the White House”

I admire Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz the way I admire Sarah Palin. I detest them both, but must admit they are good at what they do. Palin is good at getting out her messages with no accountability or explanation thanks to her Facebook page. Rabinowitz is a master at the subtle art of character assassination. She does it beautifully, with chiseled sentences, immaculate syntax and a truly fine sense of drama. She understand the power of words to put readers into a sort of trance, and she uses this to stunning effect. You don’t even realize she’s performing an assassination.

Today, in a column shamefully titled The Alien in the White House, she sets her sights on Obama, joining the media pack’s obsession du jour, namely his remoteness and lack of connection with Americans. As usual, she starts off with elegant diction disguising a brutal point.

The deepening notes of disenchantment with Barack Obama now issuing from commentators across the political spectrum were predictable. So, too, were the charges from some of the president’s earliest enthusiasts about his failure to reflect a powerful sense of urgency about the oil spill.

There should have been nothing puzzling about his response to anyone who has paid even modest critical attention to Mr. Obama’s pronouncements. For it was clear from the first that this president—single-minded, ever-visible, confident in his program for a reformed America saved from darkness by his arrival—was wanting in certain qualities citizens have until now taken for granted in their presidents…

A great part of America now understands that this president’s sense of identification lies elsewhere, and is in profound ways unlike theirs. He is hard put to sound convincingly like the leader of the nation, because he is, at heart and by instinct, the voice mainly of his ideological class. He is the alien in the White House, a matter having nothing to do with delusions about his birthplace cherished by the demented fringe.

Yes, all the other presidents had these qualities, but not Obama. He is an alien. You can then put in the disclaimer that you don’t mean he is actually an “alien,” as in “illegal alien,” but her words are carefully chosen and they cunningly speak to the GOP base for whom Rabinowitz always writes (though, to her credit, she was as critical of Palin’s being a birdbrain as I was). Her point comes across.

As proof of his coldness, and of his failure to understand what Americans value, like our sacred relationship with Great Britain, she finds an anecdote, and though she admits what actually happened remains unclear, she nevertheless reads into it all sorts of dark meaning. This man is not an American in spirit. He is not “like us.” Here’s the proof:

One of his first reforms was to rid the White House of the bust of Winston Churchill—a gift from Tony Blair—by packing it back off to 10 Downing Street. A cloudlet of mystery has surrounded the subject ever since, but the central fact stands clear. The new administration had apparently found no place in our national house of many rooms for the British leader who lives on so vividly in the American mind. Churchill, face of our shared wartime struggle, dauntless rallier of his nation who continues, so remarkably, to speak to ours. For a president to whom such associations are alien, ridding the White House of Churchill would, of course, have raised no second thoughts.

Sinister indeed, and the right-leaning media like The Corner pounced on it with a vengeance. Obama must be ignorant of WWII and Churchill’s greatness. He is from outside our – the real Americans’ – Judeo-Christian society. He is some mystery, an anomaly, and though she never says it, is there any doubt his being black and partly from Kenyan descent aren’t at cause? And returning to the bust, was there perhaps a simpler explanation than Obama hating England and wanting to spit in its face? Perhaps.

Intended as a symbol of transatlantic solidarity, the bust was a loaner from former British prime minister Tony Blair following the September 11 attacks. A bust of Abraham Lincoln–Obama’s historical hero–now sits in its place. A White House spokesperson says the Churchill bust was removed before Obama’s inauguration as part of the usual changeover operations, adding that every president puts his own stamp on the Oval Office.

Perhaps Obama’s returning the bust was a bad idea. Maybe he should have kept it. But it’s not like he replaced it with a bust of Mao. To read so much into something so trivial – well, that’s the MO for nearly all the assaults on Obama. Critics ignore the big things, like continuing the drone attacks and renditions and illegal wiretaps, and focus on pure and utter bullshit. He didn’t sound angry enough in Louisiana. He was laughing at a party the day the rig exploded (weren’t we all? It only became a national crisis days later, when BP admitted they did not have it under control.) He bowed too low in front of a foreign leader. He doesn’t wear a US flag lapel pin. He sent a loaned bust back to England.

Rabinowitz waits until the end to thrust the dagger in as far as it can go.

The beliefs and attitudes that this president has internalized are to be found everywhere—in the salons of the left the world over—and, above all, in the academic establishment, stuffed with tenured radicals and their political progeny. The places where it is held as revealed truth that the United States is now, and has been throughout its history, the chief engine of injustice and oppression in the world.

But there can be no doubt by now of the influences that have shaped him. They account for his grand apology tour through the capitals of Europe and to the Muslim world, during which he decried America’s moral failures—her arrogance, insensitivity. They were the words of a man to whom reasons for American guilt came naturally. Americans were shocked by this behavior in their newly elected president. But he was telling them something from those lecterns in foreign lands—something about his distant relation to the country he was about to lead.

The truth about that distance is now sinking in, which is all to the good. A country governed by leaders too principled to speak the name of its mortal enemy needs every infusion of reality it can get.

This is nasty stuff, and of course it’s the fault of the usual suspects, those on the left, and especially academia. Your typical Republican slander against anyone who thinks progressively, branding them as enemies of the state. But she says it so beautifully.

This is one of Rabinowitz’ most skillful columns. It’s devastating. It’s eloquent, yet it’s as inciteful as anything Goebbels ever said. Don’t believe me? Be sure to see the comments. I remember all the nonsense about Bush Derangement Syndrome. That was easily refuted because the outrage in question was based on facts that couldn’t be refuted, like starting wars, permitting torture, consigning habeas corpus to the scrap heap. With Obama, all the derangement is focused on nonsense, like bowing too low. Rabinowitz makes you think the people hate Obama, when his poll numbers have stood up remarkably well. His predecessor left office with a 26 percent approval rating. And, of course, never an acknowledgment that he inherited more problems than perhaps any president ever. It was Obama who brought death into this world and all our woe, and it all started the day he put his hand on the Bible (which was probably a Qur’an with a fake cover) and took his oath of office.

To see just how susceptible people are to this kind of rhetoric, I urge you again to read the comments. As I jumped from page to page, I realized (again) just how dangerous America’s political polarization is, and thought back to the elections from 1980 to 1996, when each side vigorously attacked its opponent, but never referred to them as traitors, as aliens, as Muslims (which the right sees only as a very bad word), as actual terrorists, or at least pals of terrorists. If people truly believe their leaders are animals, monsters, rapists, how long will it take for there to be violence? And Ms. Rabinowitz, no matter how silver-tongued your hatchet job may be, we’ll all know you made your fair contribution.