China’s inflation trap

We’ve seen all kinds of warnings over the years about China’s economy. Several years ago it was all the rage to talk about the “hard landing” China was in for after so many years of growth. Never happened. The banks were going to implode and drag the country down. Never happened. The property bubble was going to pop. Hasn’t happened yet (though I think it’s inevitable). Doom and gloomers also made the general prediction that China’s collage of overwhelming problems — the environment, corruption, local unrest, the class divide — would all contribute to “the coming collapse of China.” It was imminent. I thought so too, back in the earlier days of this blog. Yet China keeps on going, the same existential problems dragging on it like shoes stuck in tar. And yet it keeps going.

Since so many “experts” have been so wrong for so long about China’s economic downfall, it’s risky to point to yet another calamity and say it could bring things crashing down. Maybe the effects of inflation won’t go that far, but I’m not so sure.

Just about nothing is as catastrophic as rampant inflation. A deflationary depression is the only thing worse, but they’re pretty close. As prices inflate, your money can be turned into confetti before your eyes. And it forms a vicious vortex as everyone demands more pay which only fuels higher prices and rents, and one thing feeds on another and the catastrophe spirals out of control.

This is the topic I hear most about from my friends in China. I saw it when I was there about five months ago. The hotel where I often stay in Beijing had gone from charging about 550 RMB per night to 1,000. (I stayed at a Home’s Inn that trip. 225 a night, though you do get what you pay for.) All the food prices had soared, and all my friends were concerned about their apartment rentals gulping up much of their salaries.

Calling a top to China’s property bubble has been as fruitful as those calling for the immediate collapse of China’s banks several years ago. What we do know is that property inflation can’t last forever and there has to be a dramatic drop in prices at some point. Nothing only goes up. Witness the US real estate catastrophe.

For a good overview of the crisis I recommend this post from one of my favorite blogs (and one that practically never mentions China). Although I’ve always loved the outrageous bargain of China’s taxis — you can take a cab from one end of Beijing to another for less than $15 — your heart has to go out to the taxi drivers who are being pushed further and further down the economic ladder.

The blogger seems optimistic that the CCP will take the sane approach and allow the yuan to appreciate. I hope he’s right but am not nearly so sanguine. The party seems convinced that inflation is tolerable compared to a drop in exports and the pain that would come with it. Along with exports, infrastructure stimulus — construction — seems to be the only way for the government to create jobs and keep the economy pumping, and slowing it down could lead to massive unrest.

My own amateur opinion mirrors what I recently read in this superb post that is too complex and detailed for me to quote from, but that should be read by all. The bottom-line prediction: things will continue more or less the same, with a sharp, painful drop in property prices at some point and a steady decrease in GDP as domestic consumption fails to live up to expectations and deficit spending clogs China’s economic arteries. As always, we’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to the Chinese people. Inflation is devastating, and I hate to think of how many decent people are going to see much of what they worked for washed away.


Chinese athletes start to speak out

Way back before most of you ever heard of this blog, I put up a post about an interview I had with a Chinese Olympic medal-winner, which you can find here. She talked to me about how difficult it was to train to be an athlete in China:

“Training in China is very different than in the US,” Chen Lu explained. “The skaters move away from their families and live with their team. We had to live in a dormitory year after year and we couldn’t see our parents very much. And there were so many pressures from the coaches, and from the government – it is not easy. It’s totally different from in the United States.”

I think all of us know what kind of pressures Chinese athletes are put under. A lot of my work in 2008 revolved around the Beijing Olympics, and I heard many stories about what a hard life it is. That may be why Chinese athletes in certain categories like diving and gymnastics do so splendidly. But is it humane, and is it fair? It seems now that more and more Chinese athletes are saying it isn’t.

Chinese athletes, once dutiful ambassadors who obediently spent their lives in pursuit of patriotic glory, are no longer willing to just grin and bear it. A series of recent controversies is shedding light on how young athletes are beginning to expose abuse, challenge exploitation and reject official interference in their careers — risky moves in a country where there is no separation of sport and state. Their struggle is a microcosm of the clash in contemporary China between the push for personal liberty and the grip of an authoritarian government….

“What’s happening now is the younger generation of athletes has so many options to communicate, through microblogs and social networking, that they want to stand up and speak out,” said Jiang Yi, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated China.

Yet athletes face a formidable opponent: the state-run sports system — a bureaucracy of training schools, teams and government organizations that selects and coaches more than 250,000 young people for the purpose of winning gold medals.

The system offers many athletes the chance to bring honor to their families and country through competition. But some of these athletes find that the Olympic rings become shackles that bind them for years in indentured servitude to a government that frequently neglects their scholastic education and ignores their injuries while taking a sizable cut of their earnings, all in the name of national pride.

It is a recipe that leaves many athletes unprepared to compete in the real world once they can no longer perform in a stadium. According to the state news media, 240,000 retired athletes suffer from injuries, poverty and unemployment.

Of course, the head of China’s basketball association puts the blame on the spoiled athletes, who don’t understand that a good thrashing is good for them. They only do it because they care.

“Coaches treat their players like their children, and it’s completely normal for parents to hit their kids,” Bai Xilin, the C.B.A.’s chairman of game operations, said in an interview.

Bai acknowledged that the old guard has trouble relating to younger players who have grown up in a more open and prosperous era. But he dismissed the players’ complaints as evidence of a generation gone spoiled. “Kids these days are unable to eat bitterness,” he said. “They want the results but they aren’t willing to endure the hard times.”

I’ve written before about the abuse Chinese athletes are subjected to. It’s a topic dear to my heart. Chinese athletes are in effect indentured servants, and the government owns them. They exist not because they are human beings but because they win medals, and once they stop winning medals they are tossed aside and left to cope for themselves, despite being robbed of their childhoods, despite having cultivated no other skills.

It brings to mind the athletes of the old Soviet Union and East Germany, pumped full of hormones (female athletes often looked like men), and then left to deal with the devastation wreaked on their bodies. I’m delighted to see this scandal getting the exposure it deserves.



A jumble of thoughts on the economy.

At the end of 2006 and several times in 2007, I took a lot of heat for writing that the US economy was on the brink of catastrophe and that gold would be a smart investment. The price of gold when I first recommended it in 2006 was about $685 an ounce. Today it is $1,825 an ounce. It wasn’t long after my prediction that the housing bubble burst, dragging down America’s, and the world’s, economy with it. Gold went down, too, for several months in 2008 and then came soaring back to record highs.

Some commenters said I was crazy, others wanted to make bets that gold would fall, others cited articles in the Economist and interviews with Warren Buffet that proved I was wrong. I’m not going to gloat. At least not much. For once in my life, I was right about something.

Now that gold today hit its all-time high I am cautious about recommending it again. Obviously it’s going to have its ups and downs, and I would only buy on the momentous dips. Gold is manipulated, meaning it makes huge moves up and down as hedge funds and high-speed electronic traders speculate and short it. It is not for the weak; I had to watch my investment crash for nearly an entire year in 2008, but patience saw me through. You have to have nerves of steel. Otherwise don’t invest in gold and don’t even think of investing in silver, the most manipulated commodity on the planet.

I see one area of gold that remains depressed, and for anyone who can stomach huge risk I would recommend keeping an eye on it. These are the mining stocks which, instead of following gold higher have followed the stock market lower. I’ve been watching these stocks since 2006, and this is a pattern: gold soars, miners fall, then the miners make up for lost time by soaring up very quickly, often as high as 8 percent in a single day. They are as risky an investment as you can ever make, with outrageous rewards and crushing collapses. If anyone wants my specific stock picks, email me, but don’t complain if you lose your shirt.

Even more controversial than my advice on gold was my prediction that China would do better during the catastrophe, its economy moving up as America’s went down. When I quoted Niall Ferguson’s calling this “China’s century” I took more heat. I’m not sure I’d go so far as Niall Ferguson, but the fact is that China’s financial crisis was less painful and more short-lived than our own. Their influence has grown while ours has declined. I believe that at this moment more people, rightly or wrongly, see this as China’s century rather than America’s.

All of that may change, of course. China’s problems are legion, and its economy remains as fragile as ever. One match could turn it all into a fireball. And much of China’s continued growth has been based on government spending and massive BS construction projects leaving many cities afflicted with ghost malls and ghost luxury housing. But again, the fact remains, China’s economy went up as ours went down, manipulated though China’s prosperity may have been.

I’m now more pessimistic about the US (and European) economy than ever. Our austerity mindset is destroying everything the US stands for, and that is providing a safety net for the poor and the disenfranchised and the unemployed. I’m not saying handouts. I mean stimulus to boost spending and allow for more jobs, and increasing, not slashing, programs designed to help the underprivileged. We are doing everything wrong, guaranteeing low taxes for those most able to pay, while making everything harder for the poor and middle class, defunding social services while subsidizing the rich and the super-rich and their endless tax loopholes.

I’ve never seen morale so low in the US. Every news program leads with stories on either unemployment, the stock market crashing, or America verging on a new recession. Several of my friends have lost their jobs, and others are in constant fear that they’ll be next. I contrast this with China, which is bursting with optimism, and I know where I would rather be. Now, this optimism and energy may be misplaced and may not last forever, but there it is; it’s real (and yes, I know that doesn’t apply to everyone in China and a lot of people there get screwed worse than in the US). Bottom line: China’s spirits are high, the US’s are at rock bottom.

The depressing thing about being in the US now is that there is literally no end in sight. Inflation is up, housing prices fell again, the markets have crashed, unemployment is to the stratosphere and those who can find a job are being paid less. Most Americans in numerous polls said they want to end loopholes and special tax breaks for the rich and focus on jobs, yet Congress does the exact opposite. Obama, trapped in a cage by deficit hawks, shows little leadership, declining to fight for working people the way FDR did. FDR actually stood up to the banks and vowed not to let them decimate the working classes. He raised hope in a demoralized nation. So on top of the horrific state of the economy, we have no leadership that inspires Americans to have any hope at all. There’s a huge void. And the fact that three inexplicable wars are siphoning off hundreds of billions from the economy only rubs salt in the nation’s collective wound. Everything is grim, and if you think I’m exaggerating, watch the news. Skim through the newspaper.

It’s a grand time to be working in Asia. I wish I could put into words how much I miss it.

Finally, since I haven’t been blogging in a long time, let me offer up a couple of links:

Custer at China Geeks has done an outstanding job fisking the apologist fraudster Eric Li, whose idiotic columns in the NYT and Christian Science Monitor made me apoplectic. This link is ten days old, but it’s a must read.

Mark’s China Blog has an excellent review of Tony Parfitt’s Why China Will Never Rule the World — very different from my own.

Lastly, Imagethief has a great post on the torture of doing banking in China. And I mean torture.

As I said at the beginning, this post is a jumble, and I hope you could make it through to the end.


Math is dead?

I am not quite sure what to make of this, but I can’t see why the commenter would have made it up. If true, it’s the end of an era. Math started commenting here more than five years ago, and since his first posts came over a university’s servers I am guessing he was still relatively young. Love him or hate him, it’s sad news.

For readers interested in the history of Math’s relationship with this blog, go here.



Charles Johnson catches Pamela Geller in the act of altering an old post of an email that could have been written by Norway’s Christianist mass murderer or one of his buddies. No matter who wrote it, the fact remains: Geller is furiously trying to cover her tracks of condoning violent rhetoric against Muslims (and I mean violent — check Johnson’s post now).

In case you’re unfamiliar with Geller’s amphetamine-driven site, do check it out. Her new schtick is pointing to the Fort Hood plotter and shrieking, Why isn’t the media giving this the attention they gave the Norway massacre? Well, Pam, it’s really kind of simple: the plotter didn’t kill anyone, while Breivik slaughtered more than 70 people, many of them young, including children. And the Fort Hood story has gotten tons of press.

Geller lurks in an alternative universe in which the media are actually accomplices to the terrorists. And she employs a tar baby mentality. Anyone who can be remotely connected to a story of Islamic terrorism is by association a terrorist. (Just ask this guy, a Jewish pro-Israel columnist who endorsed the “911 mosque” and thus earned from Geller the title “Jihad Jeffro.” Really.) When this simple algorithm is applied to herself she recoils like a viper and blames it all on liberals, who are all stealth jihadists.

Sorry if this isn’t China-related but I think it’s important. Geller’s audience gets bigger and bigger, and the idea that she can actually galvanize the masses to hate Muslims is scary. She needs to exposed.

If you’re new to this site, see my last post for more details on why I see Geller and her cohorts as evil.


“Both Sides Do It”

I almost never write about non-China issues anymore. During the Bush years I blogged constantly about the Iraq War and the Bush administration’s crimes and misdemeanors (mostly crimes). In the months leading up to the 2004 and 2008 elections I wrote more about US politics than China.

My blogging on the US ground to a halt in 2009 because I’ve been overwhelmed and sickened by the insane shift in US politics since Obama was sworn in. Politics is always nasty, and there are plenty of examples of dirty tricks on both sides over the decades (or centuries). But although I detested the Republican Party in the early 2000s, some seismic shift occurred over the past three years. Suddenly, voices of relative reason like Arlen Specter or Bob Dole, so called “moderate Republicans,” were drowned out in a cacophony of bile and hatred the likes of which I’d never seen before. Suddenly it was mainstream to question whether the president was born in America, and to actually imply that he is on the side of Muslim terrorists. It became okay to pass idiotic bills banning Sharia law, to demand creationism be taught in schools, to erase women’s reproductive rights, even making it illegal for a woman to have an abortion in the case of rape or incest. (One GOP senator actually referred to such abortions as “sour grapes based on buyer’s remorse.”) What can I say when these positions are adopted by many Republicans and actually appear in proposed legislation? Oklahoma recently passed a bill banning Sharia law. The new laws against abortion in several states like Kansas and Virginia are real: these once radical positions are becoming institutionalized. Being a liberal in America today is a ticket to depression and endless frustration, despite bright spots like New York legalizing gay marriage.

One of the most disturbing trends in the US political scene is the “mainstreamization” of far-right radicals like Pamela Geller, a certified bigot and hater. Her insanities, including putting up a post about Obama being the love child of Malcolm X and outrageously slanderous columns in Wingnut Daily about Obama, deserve nothing more than ridicule. Voices like hers, that previously would have been deemed unworthy of media attention, as deranged and hysterical, have been made mainstream. I have watched Geller interviewed on television several times in regard to the “911 mosque” protests (which Geller engineered) and other Islam-related issues when in more normal times she’d have been considered, correctly, too much of a fringe lunatic to hand the microphone to. Networks call her for comment as if she’s a normal, sane human being.

If you are unfamiliar with Geller and her hate site, you can find a chronicle here.

The first sign of radical ideology going mainstream was Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990s. Suddenly, ideas that would be unthinkable for media to talk about, like the president being a traitor or even connected to murder, were given a huge microphone. G. Gordon Liddy and Michael Savage and other right-wing talk radio loons soon followed suit. Michael Savage was even given a slot on MSNBC for a few months.

Don’t know who Michael Savage is? Not convinced that the threat of home-grown terrorism stems from right-wing hate rhetoric? Please watch this amazing clip from beginning to end. (Savage makes his entrance about 5 minutes in and you’ll be horrified, I promise.) If you want to argue with me that “both sides do it,” that the left is breeding violence the same way the right is, I won’t interact until you’ve watched that clip. Then, produce a link to left-of-center demagogues who have been legitimized by the mainstream media inciting listeners to similar acts of violence and hatred. My premise is simple: right-wing radicalism poses a threat with no equivalent on the left. Again, be sure to watch that clip.

Of course, those on the right are always trying to prove the left is equally as guilty of violent rhetoric and actions. During the Wisconsin demonstrations against Gov. Scott Walker, for example, a union member pushed a wingnut who was holding an iPhone in his face and videotaping him. The right went wild. See? Leftists are thugs. I’m not making this up. Note how similar this tactic is to our trolls who, whenever you present a sin of the CCP, reflexively seek to prove the US has done even worse. (Extermination of the Native Americans, anyone?) The right’s protests are as valid as the fenqing’s. This is the best they can do, because eliminationist rhetoric is a product of today’s right, not the left.

Look at the language Michael Savage employs in the video clip above:

The police, attacked for the last 50 straight years by the ACLU viruses. And the military, attacked for the last 50 years by the Barbara Boxer viruses on our planet.

Note the reference to liberalism as a “virus.” Let me quote a man who used similar language:

Don’t be misled into thinking you can fight a disease without killing the carrier, without destroying the bacillus. Don’t think you can fight racial tuberculosis without taking care to rid the nation of the carrier of that racial tuberculosis. This Jewish contamination will not subside, this poisoning of the nation will not end, until the carrier himself, the Jew, has been banished from our midst.

I think we all know who said this. When you compare people to a virus, to a bacillus, you are dehumanizing them and legitimizing attempts to wipe them out. This is how low the far-right has sunk. Just read the comments at blogs like Free Republic or Weasel Zippers to see what I mean (you can look them up; I won’t link.)

Again, there is no equivalent to this kind of rhetoric from the left. If you think there is, show me. Show me a mainstream to-the-left pundit who you feel is as guilty as Michael Savage or Ann Coulter of licensing hatred.

Fox News was the final step in this evolution from fringe to mainstream. Let’s look at what Bill O’Reilly had to say about abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (before he was gunned down by a far-right Christianist lunatic, after which O’Reilly never used such language again. Mission Accomplished.) You absolutely must watch that brief clip to see what I mean. When you constantly refer to someone as “an executioner of babies” and a “baby killer” in the mass media,you are inviting those with disturbed minds to seek justice. You are encouraging violence. And this call to action can result in tragedy. Again, show me the equivalent on the left. Don’t tell me, show me. Michael Moore? Show me what he did/said that can be compared to O’Reilly’s message of hate. And the Tiller murder is only one example in a long string of right-wing violence in this country.

This post, I know, is rambling because there’s a lot I want to say, so please bear with me.

And so we come at last to Friday, July 22nd, when a far-right Christianist and self-described Muslim-hater slaughtered nearly 70 young people and children at a camp for politically active youth in Norway. Anders Behring Breivik, after blowing up a government building in Oslo, spent 90 minutes shooting the young people one by one, pumping bullets into those who had fallen to make sure there were no fakers. As they ran into the ocean, he stood calmly at the shore and kept shooting them one by one. In his now famous 1,500-page manifesto, Breivik cites the hate sites Jihad Watch and Atlas Shrugs and Gates of Vienna (one of the worst) multiple times. Whether these sites can be directly blamed for Friday’s catastrophe is still not clear, but what is clear is that they contributed to his derangement. Words matter.

More than enough has been written about how Jihad Watch and Atlas Shrugs influenced the manifesto. What I find most interesting is how these sites have reacted. Gates of Vienna, a site I track, quietly took down its sidebar graphic proclaiming itself to be “Proudly Islamaphobic.” Pamela Geller went ballistic, crying out how unfair it was for the media to associate her with the murders — it was guilt by association.

That’s important. The entire premise of Gates of Vienna, Jihad Watch, Atlas Shrugs and the like is guilt by association: some radical Muslims committed acts of terrorism so all Muslims are terrorists, or at the very least potential terrorists. This is the best article I’ve seen on this incredible irony, of Geller being the victim of her own tactic:

Scan Geller’s blog and her friends’ sites, and you’ll see how thickly these ideas pervaded Breivik’s online world. Jihad Watch says “Islam is intrinsically violent.” Islam Watch asserts that “terrorism … is the real Islam,” that “Islam is beyond alteration,” and that “it needs to be emasculated, marginalized or eliminated altogether.” Geller has published Fjordman’s [another blogger Breikiv emulates] views—”I do not believe that there is such a thing as a moderate Islam”—with her own proud note that “I have long derided the ‘moderate Islam’ meme as a theory with no basis in reality or history.” Four days before Breivik opened fire, she posted an item headlined, “Moderates vs. Radicals—What’s the Difference?” She joked that “one straps one on, and the other covers for jihad.” She concluded that “there really is no difference between muslims and radical muslims.”

Geller has pursued this line of attack most aggressively against Faisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who wants to build an Islamic community center two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks. Abdul Rauf, accused of radicalism by Geller and Republican politicians, has done everything possible to refute the charge. He has denounced al-Qaida as un-Islamic. He has said, “I condemn everyone and anyone who commits acts of terrorism. And Hamas has committed acts of terrorism.” He has invited the U.S. government to vet potential funders of his center. He has rejected the idea that Sharia overrides civil laws. And when U.S. forces killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, the imam declared: “I applaud President Obama for his resolute efforts in the war against terror, including bringing Bin Laden to justice.”

Despite these statements, Geller continues to depict Abdul Rauf as a terrorist sympathizer. Her evidence is a series of secondhand, thirdhand, and nonexistent connections. “Rauf is an open proponent of Islamic law, Sharia, with its oppression of women, stonings, and amputations,” she asserts, falsely….One of his books was supported by the International Institute of Islamic Thought and the Islamic Society of North America, which are “Muslim Brotherhood fronts,” and ISNA “was named an unindicted co-conspirator” in a “Hamas terror funding case….”

You can use this guilt-by-association tactic against anybody. To take the simplest case: President George W. Bush sent Abdul Rauf to the Muslim world as an informal ambassador. That makes Bush a supporter of a supporter of terrorism. But the new poster child for guilt by association is Geller herself. She has been implicated in the Norwegian massacre.

Brilliant. Hoisted on her own petard, and exposed to all the world. There is no way out for Geller. Either she is implicated, or the very foundation of her blog comes crashing down, built on a falsehood.

Another of Breikiv’s influences, cited frequently in his manifesto, is the English Defence League; go here to learn more about this motley crew of neo-Nazis, enraged Muslim-haters and societal misfits who will resort to violence at the drop of a hat. Geller and Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch have stood up and defended and praised the EDL. And despite her association with neo-Nazi thugs Geller is profiled in mainstream media, like The NY Times and the UK Guardian. Really; she has been validated and her cause trumpeted, even if the articles hint at her insanity.

On Friday I watched the Norway tragedy unfold, and I felt, and feel, endless sympathy for the innocent victims. The ripple effects from the slaughter will reach out to touch their friends and family and cause them terrible pain, possibly forever. The only “positive” component of the tragedy is that evil sites like Jihad Watch, Atlas Shrugs and Gates of Vienna have been exposed, their proprietors shown to all the world as the provocateurs and inciters of hatred and violence that they are. Do “both sides do it”? Show me a left-wing site with bloggers who have been legitimized by the mainstream media that come anywhere near these hate sites. Just one.

Criticism of these haters doesn’t mean Islamist extremism isn’t a threat. It’s a huge threat. But that doesn’t make Islam as a whole a threat. And most fundamentalist Christians are peaceful, law-abiding citizens, not terrorists. Breivik’s sins in no way taint all of Christianity. But by Geller’s twisted logic, she and Spencer and other hatred-spewing bloggers are now linked to terrorism and deserve endless condemnation and outrage.

I can go on and point out many more of Geller’s atrocities and brain failures, but I think I’ve made my point. The argument that “both sides do it” is pure rubbish. Virtually all of the toxic messages given legitimacy by the mainstream media emanate from the right, not the left. You can criticize the left for other things, like incompetence and bumbling and being corporate lapdogs, but you can’t put any in the same category as Geller and Spencer. They are wholly in a class by themselves and must be seen as the right-wing monsters they are.


Tiananmen Square (again?)

I know, it’s been over-discussed and picked over. But China Daily actually has an op-ed piece today on the subject, and it begs for comment. It’s rare to see any mention of this topic at all in the Chinese media, but it’s depressing (though not surprising) to see a story that is totally one-sided.

The gist of it is that the massacre is all a big myth, concocted by a Western press that lies its head off. Everyone’s lying about it. Reporters who I know personally are lying about it. The only ones telling the truth is the government.

Tiananmen remains the classic example of the shallowness and bias in most Western media reporting, and of governmental black information operations seeking to control those media.

The usual Western media conspiracy, always out to harm China.

The editorial’s “argument” is that they found “some reporters in the square at the time” who said they saw no massacre, and that’s good enough for them, despite a mountain of evidence. Case closed.

This is weasly, because as everyone knows by now there was no massacre inside the square, as was first reported during “the fog of war.” Sometimes an uninformed journalist continues to refer to a massacre inside the square, and that is sloppiness. That there were shootings and deaths on side streets and other parts of town on June 4 — in other words, a massacre — is a matter of fact, just as it’s a matter of fact that an angry crowd killed a handful of soldiers. What is not known is how many were killed, but even if it was just a few it’s still a massacre. (My country had its own massacre, Kent State, in which four students were killed. A massacre is a massacre.)

I won’t labor the point with my own interpretation. Instead, let’s just go to some eyewitnesses.

First, Chinese author Ma Jian writes of his interview with a man who was in the crowd who had his arm crushed by a tank and is now an amputee.

“It happened right here,” he told me, “just by these white railings. A tank charged down Changan Avenue, and sprayed tear gas into the air. There was a big crowd of us. We were coughing and choking. We rushed on to the pavement, and I was squashed back against these railings. A girl dropped to her knees. I was grasping the railings with one hand to stop myself falling and with the other I offered her a handkerchief and told her to use it as a mask. Just as I was leaning over to hand it to her, another tank roared up and careered into us. Thirteen people were crushed to death but I only lost my arm. The tank commander knew exactly what he was doing.” He stared down at the patch of asphalt at his feet and then glanced nervously at the police vans parked on the other side of the road. It was rush hour; cars and taxis were streaming past us.

What a terrifying experience, I said, gripping the white railings.

“Yes, it was,” he replied quite calmly. “But I wasn’t truly afraid until I saw Deng Xiaoping on television, telling the martial law troops: ‘Foreigners say that we opened fire, and that I admit, but to claim that army tanks drove over unarmed citizens, that is a disgraceful slur.’ My scalp tightened. I was a living witness to the truth. What if one day they came to get me? … For two years I never dared go out at night, I never spoke about what happened. Policemen came to interrogate me almost every day, but none of us ever mentioned the tanks. Every anniversary of 4 June, the police would come to my house with pillows and mattresses and sleep on my bedroom floor. Just to stop me speaking to foreign journalists.”

Timothy Brook, who received a Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages at Harvard University and taught in Shanghai:

The first rounds of fire catch everybody by surprise. The people in the streets don’t expect this to happen. There are a couple of hospitals right near Muxidi, and the casualties start showing up within 10 or 15 minutes of the first round of gunfire. The casualties run very high because people didn’t expect to be shot at with live ammunition. When they start firing, people say, “Oh, it’s rubber bullets.” Even after it becomes clear, even after they realize that the army is going to go ahead at any cost, people still pour into the streets. This is the amazing thing: People were just so angry, so furious at what was happening in their city that they were not going to step back and let the army do what it was doing. This is why the casualties from Muxidi on east towards Tiananmen Square were so high. This is the major military confrontation of the evening.

Self-described former Maoist and reporter for the Globe and Mail Jan Wong (same link as above):

That Saturday night the army started coming in … the city, and so the people rushed out again. This was becoming a regular occurrence: Every time people said, “The army’s coming,” everybody would rush out and stop them. And they rushed out this time, except the army shot them, and so they started running down the alleyways.

People in [the Muxidi] apartment buildings could hear all this. It was summertime and the windows were open, so they heard the gunfire; they heard people screaming; and they saw the soldiers shooting at people. They would lean out their windows and scream at the soldiers and curse them and throw things. I had that feeling myself. I wanted to throw things out the window of the Beijing Hotel because you just felt anger: “Why are you doing this to the people?” …

What they did was they just raked the buildings with their gunfire, and they were shooting people. People were being killed in their own kitchens because these bullets were very lethal. … They just shot at them because they were trying to get into the city. They had been ordered to take Tiananmen, and they were going to get there no matter what it took.

From Dr. Jiang Yanyong, the whistleblower who blew the cover of the conspiracy to convince the world there was no SARS in Beijing, and who was later harassed for his efforts:

I was chief of the department of general surgery on June 4, 1989. On the night of June 3, I heard repeated broadcasts urging people to stay off the streets. At about 10 p.m., I was in my apartment when I heard the sound of continuous gunfire from the north. Several minutes later, my pager beeped. It was the emergency room calling me, and I rushed over. What I found was unimaginable–on the floor and the tables of the emergency room were seven young people, their faces and bodies covered with blood. Two of them were later confirmed dead by EKG. My head buzzed and I nearly passed out. I had been a surgeon for more than 30 years. I had treated wounded soldiers before, while on the medical team of the PLA railway corps that built the Chengdu-Kunming Railway. But their injuries resulted from unavoidable accidents during the construction process, while before my eyes, in Beijing, the magnificent capital of China, lying in front of me, were our own people, killed by our people’s army, with weapons supplied by the people.

Even eyewitness Philip Cunningham, who often supports the CCP, wrote of that day,

The Tiananmen demonstrations were crushed, cruelly, breaking the implicit pact that the People’s Liberation Army would never turn its guns on the people and burying student activism for many years to come, but not before inspiring millions in China and around the world to push for reform and change, heralding the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

The editorial repeats all the cliches of the deniers. Referring to a book by Philip Cunningham, it says:

It quotes one of the student leaders, Chai Ling, as having said that creating a “sea of blood” might be the only way to shake the government. If frustrated students leaving the square carried out those petrol bomb attacks on troops, then the anger of the government becomes a lot more understandable. But I doubt whether any of those responsible for the original phony story will get round to details like that.

There were some attacks on troops, and that hasn’t been denied. But most of the demonstrators leaving the square did so peacefully. Most of the shooting was not in response to petrol bomb attacks. And one foolish and out-of-context quote from Chai Ling does not make for an excuse for a massacre. Blogger Xu Eberlein, one of my favorites, adds some nuance:

Reading excerpts of the newly published Tiananmen Moon by Philip Cunningham, the very journalist who interviewed Chai Ling 20 years ago, made me feel that Chai Ling might have been more innocent than some have thought. Although her idea of using bloodshed to arouse people was hardly a moral one, she appeared to be sincere and serious about the student movement and was indignant toward some other selfish power-thirsty student leaders. As such, I’d like to believe the young Chai Ling twenty years ago was a humanly imperfect idealist, as young activists are. If she sometimes took herself too importantly, it was largely because of the situation: being young and the leader of a mass movement can carry anyone away.

I can go on and on with more testimony from reporters and Chinese citizens who were all there and whose stories are strikingly similar. I can cite the Tiananmen Mothers. There is no shortage of proof. And this isn’t about whether the students were right or wrong, or whether there was or wasn’t violence on both sides. There remain many unanswered questions about June 4, and there’s no doubt blame on all sides. And there’s no doubt that in the confusion and violence there were contradictory stories that got large public play (just as we saw after the killing of Bin Laden). Fog of war. There are myths, such as reports of a massacre inside the square. But the fact remains, many peaceful citizens who had left the square were fired upon in back alleys and many died. Hundreds? A thousand? We’ll never know, but the CCP, which keeps meticulous records, does know.

It’s good that China Daily is at least discussing the subject. A pity it’s the same old China-as-victim, Western-media-as-villain nonsense.

June 4th may not mean much to most Chinese today, and even those who were directly involved have moved on, and some would rather just forget about it. I understand that. But truth is truth, history is history, facts are facts. The CD editorial is another effort to bury the truth and cast all the blame on foreign media. This is an easy out, and is used whenever China has something to hide. Claiming all the media are lying seems kind of crazy. It’s a conspiracy theory, as nutty as claims by some that China is conspiring to take over the world. Do they really believe all the reporters and eyewitnesses colluded to mislead the world? Only China would make a claim like that.

Update: Gotta love this line from the comments:

The Chinese press is truely independent from the truth and our wise leaders make sure that there is no wrong or incorrect information in the news. This is the correct and scientific way with Chinese characteristics. And it makes me proud to be a Chinese.

I am assuming this is parody. At least I hope it is.


Jiang Zemin and Western Media Bias

Nowadays I don’t bother much with the antiCNN clones — sites that are obsessed with the notion of Western media bias against China and that will go to whatever lengths necessary to prove it, even when it doesn’t exist. The topic is a fenqing’s wet dream, combining all the elements that make them thrive: The West (and usually that means the US) behaving as an unrestrained bully. China being victimized by former imperialists. China scorned and mocked and denied its greatness. A veritable conspiracy, rooted in the US, to suppress China and do it harm. This toxic brew makes this topic irresistible to fenqing; it washes over them with a sensual delight, confirming all of their accusations and justifying their outrage, accelerating their fervent nationalism and giving them a big high. And it’s highly narcissistic. It’s all about us. The world is against us. Our feelings are hurt. We are great and the world wants to keep its foot on China’s throat and keep us down. Yes, it’s intoxicating, and titillating. So much so that entire sites — entire lives — are dedicated to it. Each confirmation (usually imagined or exaggerated), like pornography or heroin, adds to the addiction and makes the victim thirst for more. There is no clear thinking in this intoxicated state, no rational thought, only the exuberance of an orgy of self-righteousness and self-pity, wrapped in a cloud of indignant rage.

I’d like to point out one post on perceived media bias against China and examine just how this process works. It’s a post attacking James Fallows for — and I quote — “regurgitating a provocative WSJ piece essentially rumor mongering Jiang Zemin’s ‘death.’” (Fallows’ innocuous article is here.)

After a few opening lines of praise for Fallows we get the stab in the back (“His perspective and narrative can be horribly wrong though about China”). And then he is condemned for writing these highly uncontroversial words:

For the past 24+ hours, anyone following various social-media feeds* about China has seen rumors, then official denials, then silence, about the possible demise of former president Jiang Zemin, shown in his prime at right. Jiang would turn 85 next month.

This incredibly innocuous observation, with no point of view or bias whatsoever, is cited as being insensitive. The blogger follows it with one of those assertions that make you roll your eyes in disbelief:

I would add, the hysteria as demonstrated in some Western media over this non-news is just mind-boggling.

Alright. This is one of the fenqing’s direst sins: the straw man allegation. Let’s take a look at a search of Google News for Jiang Zemin. Go there now, and tell me, where is the “hysteria” of the Western media on the topic? I’ll tell you: There isn’t any. None at all. Nothing at all “mind boggling.” Zero, zip, nada. Oh, maybe if you dig deep enough you can find an example of something you can argue seems a bit over the top, but I doubt it. Maybe you can find an excessive headline in Epoch Times or a pub like that. But the mainstream Western media, like James Fallows, have nearly all covered this story from one perspective: This is a story about censorship. It is not the West that has promulgated the idea that Jiang may be dead. It is Chinese people on China’s microblogging sites and other social media networks and on portals. And the Western media are commenting on this because the CCP is working overtime to delete all such references, and that is news.

In fact, this story exists solely because the Party has practically forced it onto the news pages by frantically deleting posts and messages and comments. Most of the Western stories covering this are about the CCP’s silence and their reaction online. This is not about Jiang Zemin, who is barely mentioned in these stories (because for now there’s nothing to report about him). These are stories about how China’s Internet works, of how creative Chinese Netizens can be, and how determined the CCP is to stamp out anything that goes against the party line.

So to reiterate, there is not a single Western article I could find that was in any way, shape or form “hysterical.” None. Straw man, pure and simple.

But let’s get back to the main source of the blogger’s anguish, Fallows’ “regurgitation” of a WSJ article. It must be awful stuff, no? Here’s exacty what they quote Fallows as saying:

An item two hours ago in the WSJ’s China Realtime Report illustrates the extreme heavy-handedness of the news control. For instance: Jiang’s name in Chinese is 江泽民, with the first character, 江, being his family name. That character, jiang, literally means “river” — and in the past few hours, any search for info about China’s big rivers on Sina Weibo (China’s Twitter counterpart, the real Twitter being blocked in China) comes up empty. As Josh Chin of the WSJ says:

In addition to “river,” the company has also blocked searches for “death” in various iterations as well as “301 Hospital,” a reference to the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing where top leaders are often treated.

Beyond blocking searches, the service’s human censors have also been busy hand- deleting posts that mention the former leader.

Chinese microbloggers have employed a variety of tricks in an apparent attempt to get around the blocks. With Weibo censors blocking searches the word for “hung” (挂了), a common Chinese euphemism for death, users have been circulating an image showing an empty set of clothing hanging out to dry, pants hiked up to chest level the way Mr. Jiang preferred.

So now we all see what Fallows has “regurgitated.” Your typical Grass Mud Horse story about Chinese netizens coming up with creative code-names to evade the censors. What on earth is wrong with this? Why do they need to put up an entire post with the headline, “James Fallows should know better speculating someones death is cultural taboo”?

Always eager to suck the CCP’s dick support their government, the blogger goes on to say, with a straight face:

“I would not be surprised if people running the Weibo service were suppressing the rumors out of respect for Jiang. In fact, Chinese laws forbid citizens from spreading false rumors.”

Ah yes, the benevolent and protective leaders saving us all from false rumors. I wish I could count the number of false rumors that ricochet around China’s Internet ever day (just as in America), and the CCP does not go into overdrive to smother them. Only when it has something to hide or to fear. Period, full stop.

Our pugnacious blogger ends his post with a sagely question, “Imagine Chinese media outside Reagan’s home while he was ill asking “is he dead yet?””

Hate to tell you this, buddy, but reporters of all nationalities congregate around the homes or hospitals that house the critically ill super-famous like Reagan, and these reporters ask constantly whether there is new information, whether the person is dead yet, etc. Chinese reporters are absolutely free to do this. It may not seem tasteful, but that’s how journalism in a free society is, though I wouldn’t expect you to know about that.

Maybe this isn’t the worst example of fenqing making a storm in a teacup, seizing on a non-story and finding all kinds of implications that aren’t there. But it stuck out at me, maybe because I hold Fallows in such high esteem and I could find nothing to criticize in his post. I also urge you to go read the original Wall Street Journal article the blogger tars as “provocative” and tell me how this story in any way meets that definition. It simply reports what’s happening, and if you see anything there that’s awful or provocative please snip and paste it in the comments. I’m really curious.

Here’s the bottom line. Is there Western media bias against China? Absolutely. But here’s the secret, that I as a former reporter can state as a truth: All reporting about just about everything is biased. There is no person or nation or thing that is covered in the news that is always covered fairly. Every single person in politics in the US and just about every other free country will tell you the media treats them brutally. Ask France about Western media bias against them during the buildup to the Iraq War (remember Freedom Fries?). Ask any Arab nation what they think of Western media bias. Everyone’s hysterical about media bias. Hop around the US political blogs — all they are about is how the media distorts the news.

Maybe China feels there is more media bias against them because in recent years the flow of stories on China has exploded from a trickle to a tsunami, so there’s simply more likelihood of biased reports. But what they need to understand is that this bias is universal. And, hard as it is to believe, some of China’s own newspapers and other media are biased in their reporting. And we don’t make a big deal about it because it is universal, it is ubiquitous. (Although China’s media biases can’t be compared with the West’s.)

And I’m not saying journalism is bad. Far from it. There is a lot of great journalism out there. Good reporters always strive to tell the whole story, free of bias. Many succeed. But in the life of a story, from conception to publication, lots of things can happen, mistakes can be made, copy editors thousands of miles away can write bad headlines or cut the story in half, excising the most important part. And yes, there’s often bad journalism, too, stories that are written too quickly without enough facts and/or verifiable references. But again, these are spread out universally, covering all public figures and all nations. None are spared biased or mistaken reporting. The difference is, most are mature enough to realize that this is always going to be the case, and they don’t let it make them feel paranoid or inferior. This is just the way it is, boys and girls. You can always find media bias when you dedicate yourself to finding it, when it becomes a cult or a fetish. And yes, often it’s there, there really is bias. But that’s life. That so many young Chinese men are so invested in the notion that China has been picked out by some grand design to be mocked and suppressed and misrepresented says much more about these individuals and the environment that fostered them than it does about the Western media that, at the end of the day, is just doing their job the best they can.

Back to Jiang for a moment, the same blogger tut-tuts that things are different in China and the West should be more understanding.

First of all, Chinese culture has a disdain for publicly discussing imminent death of a family member. Chinese believe it is bad luck to discuss someone dying. It is disrespectful to do so too. Death is usually announced after.

The West may be fine talking about someone who is old, ill, and dying as if it is some kind of spectator sport. For me, personally, I much prefer the ‘Chinese’ way.

Dude, Jiang Zemin is a highly public figure and still (if he’s alive) a major political force in China. His death or serious illness would be major breaking news. China can’t on the one hand try to be a global player and on the other remain in a cocoon. The Western media have done the same speculation over Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and many, many other leaders. Is China so thin-skinned it can’t deal with this speculation? And again, most of this speculation comes from within China, and that’s what the media are reporting on. China can nip this in the bud with a single official statement. Instead, as usual, it handles it in the most ham-fisted way and leaves itself once more open to ridicule and derision. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Update: Let me give you the latest and most disgraceful example I’ve seen of media bias against China in recent days. It’s a shocker. And yes, it’s an op-ed piece and not a news piece, but the antiCNN crowd constantly conflates the two. Go here now and take a look at punditry at its very worst. (For more, read this superb blog post about it.) This is bias and ignorance at its worst. But I excuse it, because the media give us the best and the worst. Get used to it, because it isn’t changing.


Incredible: leaked directive for 50-centers re. Taiwan

A reader tipped me off to China Digital Times’ translation of a leaked internal memo instructing China’s Internet commenters how to counter the influence of Taiwanese democracy and guide the public on this issue. Absolutely priceless. Here are the specific guidelines:

(1) To the extent possible make America the target of criticism. Play down the existence of Taiwan.

(2) Do not directly confront [the idea of] democracy; rather, frame the argument in terms of “what kind of system can truly implement democracy.”

(3) To the extent possible, choose various examples in Western countries of violence and unreasonable circumstances to explain how democracy is not well-suited to capitalism.

(4) Use America’s and other countries’ interference in international affairs to explain how Western democracy is actually an invasion of other countries and [how the West] is forcibly pushing [on other countries] Western values.

(5) Use the bloody and tear-stained history of a [once] weak people [i.e., China] to stir up pro-Party and patriotic emotions.

(6) Increase the exposure that positive developments inside China receive; further accommodate the work of maintaining [social] stability.

My personal favorite is No. 5 — China as perpetual victim. How many times a day does the antiCNN clique turn to that one?

In all seriousness, this reads like a laundry list of what my site’s trolls do, to the letter. Even those I don’t think are 50-centers, like yourfriend. In fact, was there any reason to issue these guidelines to begin with? I think they’re already common knowledge among those assigned to make mischief in blog and portal comments.


You will see this movie and critics will write glowing reviews — or else

I already wrote about the 28 movies commissioned by the Chinese government to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the CCP, a date that will live in infamy for all of us to cherish. Now, as the premiere approaches, we get to see just how far they will go to make sure Chinese citizens watch it, guaranteeing in advance it will be a blockbuster success without a single negative review in Mainland China.

This month China’s great masses are being mobilized by their leaders for an unusual purpose. Employees at state-owned companies and at all levels of government are joining students from grade school to universities as they leave their homes, head out into the heat and do their duty: ensure the financial success of the government’s latest propaganda film, “Beginning of the Great Revival.”

The movie, which opened on Wednesday on almost all of the country’s 6,200 screens, is part of a campaign to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party next Friday. It is also playing in 29 American theaters, including ones in New York and Los Angeles.

Newspapers and television are barred from being critical of the movie, and caustic online reviews have been erased by censors. (Unfortunately for the filmmakers and the government, that edict does not cross borders; in a review in The New York Times, Andy Webster said the movie “demonstrates that mainstream Chinese cinema can be as guilty of self-indulgent overstatement as anything out of the West.)

How ironic can you possibly get? A film celebrating China’s liberation that the Chinese are essentially forced to see. A government effort that squelches critics’ freedom to write what they choose. An exercise in such blatant propaganda that most of the world blushes in embarrassment. A movie designed to snap the people back to their senses and force them to love their authoritarian government. A movie that defy common sense.

As the party moves ever further from its roots – the new film is co-sponsored by Cadilllac – it exploits them to bolster its relentless, Leninist grip on political power.

“This is an absurd era,” Professor He Bing of the China University of Politics and Law told graduates in a bold speech this month.

They encourage you to sing revolutionary songs, but do not encourage you to make revolution; they encourage you to watch [the new movie] The Great Achievement of Founding The Party, but they do not encourage you to establish a party.

Needless to say Beginning of the Great Revival deifies Mao, “portrayed in soft-focus lighting as a trim, dewy-eyed and idealistic young man prone to slow-motion frolicking with his beloved in the snow.” It sounds like your typical CCTV fare, protracted to ensure maximum mind numbness.

And what does the CCP stand for today? What about it should we celebrate? Despite some of the good it has brought to China since opening up, it nevertheless remains a giant squid, tentacles reaching across the nation to restrict all aspects of life in the land it liberated, silencing opposing voices and existing solely for its own perpetuation. Celebrate away, while people who know real freedom snicker. The CCP has outdone itself this time, and once again has made a laughingstock of itself.