Thread: Lei Feng, Democracy, the One-Child Policy

I saw a few stories on China today that are thread-worthy and wanted to share.

First of all, this is a story on how China is giving the one-child policy a facelift — not changing the policy itself, but softening its sloganeering. The story made my eyes pop out when I read this:

People’s Daily cites several examples of “harsh slogans,” including those “which sometimes even threaten criminal acts.” The newly instituted program, slugged the “face-washing project,” will offer more proactive slogans to help enforce the policy, which has been in place since 1979. China claims the policy, which applies to those living in urban areas, affects approximately 35.9 percent of the population and has resulted in an estimated 400 million fewer births since first being implemented.

Some examples of the more offensive slogans currently in use include:

“If you don’t receive the tubal ligation surgery by the deadline, your house will be demolished!”

“We would rather scrape your womb than allow you to have a second child!”

“Kill all your family members if you don’t follow the rule!”

And…

“Once you get captured, an immediate tubal ligation will be done; Should you escape, we’ll hunt you down; If you attempt a suicide, we’ll offer you either the rope or a bottle of poison.”

The new less offensive slogans replacing the more callous ones will reportedly seek to “avoid offending the public and stoking social tensions.”

I want to ask my friends in China, is this for real? Is this an example of extreme Western media bias and ignorance, or do these sickening slogans actually exist??

[Update: CDT offers a source. Reliable?]

Next, there’s an interesting blog post on whether or not China is ready for democracy. Yes, we all know this is a tired subject, but this post is quite thoughtful and knowledgeable. I have never said I believed China was ready for democracy, but I do believe it’s ready to become more democratic, to give it’s people better representation (as opposed to giving them Western-style democracy). The post is well worth a read. The government’s position for decades is that the people aren’t ready. Will there ever be a time when they are? Excerpt from the blog post:

As popular blogger Han Han argued at the start of the year, China isn’t ready for democracy, because the people aren’t capable of making their own good decisions (Charlie Custer, from ChinaGeeks.org, wrote an excellent post exploring this particular issue). This idea has been put forth time and again by Party sympathizers, that simply the character of the average laobaixing is too low to make these kinds of decisions (Similar arguments were made in the US around the turn of the century in relation to voting rights for minorities and women).

The part of this argument that I find the most sickening, is that many Chinese are poorly educated and are therefore ill-equipped for democracy. But who is responsible for the current state of China’s educational system? The very people who would lose the most in a democracy.

Given this, it is also worth noting that China’s current system seems incapable of promoting people worthy of public service. With rampant corruption leading to weekly scandals that effect the lives of the laobaixing, what evidence is there that democracy would make things worse? Are farmers really more likely to vote for candidates that can’t protect their land rights? Would urbanites put up with officials that approve the construction of heavily polluting factories that send their children to the hospital?

In fact, the results of low-level elections have already achieved encouraging results in the countryside. As John Kennedy noted in a 2001 study, village elections result in leaders that are more accountable to the villagers, and results in more equitable land distribution (cited in this 2009 paper by Kevin O’brien and Rongbin Han which is worth reading). The problem is that elected village leaders are still dominated by local Party secretaries in a way that minimizes the voice of the laobaixing.

I love the line, “With rampant corruption leading to weekly scandals that effect the lives of the laobaixing, what evidence is there that democracy would make things worse?”

And finally, you should all check out this delightful post on the recent resurrection of Lei Feng (I know, it seems he’s always being resurrected) to keep people patriotic and willing to take what they get even as they see trillionaires driving by in Ferraris and eating a restaurant meal that costs more than they earn in a year. No matter what, they should be happy to live as Lei Feng did, if he ever existed, content to be a screw in the wonderful Communist Party machine. Do any Chinese still buy this nonsense today?

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Tibet, one big bundle of joy

From today’s Global Times.

The country’s Tibetan-populated regions are in a party mood as the Tibetan New Year, or Losar, falls today, striking a stark contrast with the call by the “Tibetan government in exile” to cancel celebrations.

Decorations decked Lhasa’s main streets, and local people were busy with last-minute preparations for their most important festival of the year.

Yonten, the head of publicity and education with Drepung Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa, told the Global Times that families have cleaned up the buildings, prepared heaps of food and purchased new Tibetan garments as the Tibetan Year of the Water Dragon drew near.

“Markets in the city were crowded Tuesday with shoppers snapping up fruits, beverages and other goods for the holiday. We will get up before sunrise tomorrow morning in brand new clothes,” Yonten said.

Take a look at the photo, too. China’s minorities always wear such bright, colorful costumes.

This is not a post about Tibet per se but about how the Chinese media sugarcoats stories about it to the point of making these stories self-parodying and downright embarrassing. (This old post is my favorite example.)

About Tibet, let me just say I understand the Tibetan and the Chinese points of view. About who is right and wrong, we can leave that for another discussion, as it has been over-discussed already. My sole point here is how the Chinese government portrays Tibet in the media. Do they truly believe anyone fails to see it as rather desperate propaganda?

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Can there be a Jeremy Lin in China?

Let me start by condemning this incredibly offensive photo that was much discussed on the news tonight.

This photo, put out by the network that broadcasts the Knicks’ games, makes a grotesque issue of Lin’s race and I am delighted to see that it was quickly condemned by even right-leaning media. This was outrageous.

Next, let me say that I never thought I’d ever put up a post about basketball. It will be brief.

Even I, who have never had the slightest interest in team sports of any kind, have been impressed by the incredibly rapid and dramatic ascension of Jeremy Lin, unheard of a few days ago and now the most-heard name on television, and everywhere else. It’s not surprising. On top of his pyrotechnics on the court he has other qualities that ensure he will be a media darling, especially his deep Christian faith and the fact that he is Harvard-educated yet modest, soft-spoken and irresistibly charismatic.

I’ve been reading that although he’s already a superhero on China’s social media, the Chinese media’s response to Lin has been muted. He is, after all, an American, a devout Christian, and his success raises questions as to why there is no Lin equivalent in China, i.e., a brilliant young man educated in the country’s finest university who went on to turn himself into a sports sensation.

The best piece I’ve seen on this topic is here (h/t to James Fallows). The reporter, Adam Minter, quotes a Chinese microblogger:

If Jeremy Lin lived on the mainland, he would either be a semi-literate CBA [Chinese Basketball Association, China’s state-run professional league] player or an ordinary undergraduate who likes basketball in his spare time. We admire him not because he is an ethnic Chinese, but because he has proved for a fact that the main reason that Chinese don’t play basketball well is because of the system, and not their physique!

I’ve written before about China’s sports factories that churn out athletes who have no skills outside of their sport, and how those who don’t make it usually end up with limited skills and poor job prospects. So I kept wondering, could China produce a Jeremy Lin? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Not yet.

I was listening to interviews on NPR this morning with fans in China who insist Lin is Chinese due to the color of his skin and the fact that his roots go back to Zhejiang (and Taiwan). Their hero worship of Lin will continue, as he is all they have. As Minter says in his closing line, “Until there is a Jeremy Lin born and made in China, Jeremy Lin the Chinese-American will almost certainly remain a favorite of native-born Chinese basketball fans.”

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Is it fascism?

This is an open thread that I’d like to kick off with this most unusual article claiming China is a fascist state.

I never claim that China is fascist. I do not say it is a police state, though sometimes, when they arrest people I know, I think it’s a fair label. China is many things and defies being pigeonholed. There may be fascist characteristics, but I’ve certainly felt that at times about many other countries, at times even the US. China can be remarkable free, as all of us know. But it’s more complicated than that. You know as soon as you start talking with Chinese people about Tibet and Taiwan and the looting of the Summer Palace that there’s a lot of groupthink going on. They may be completely right on those topics, and I sympathize with their viewpoints; that’s not my point. My point is the uniformity of opinion. In the US we have violently different thoughts about Iraq and politics and government and foreign policy. In China, there are certain topics where you know in advance what the response is going to be, right or wrong. But even here absolutes are unreliable; Chinese are increasingly speaking up and even making fun of their government’s clumsy efforts to control its people’s brain cells.

I equate fascism with complete totalitarianism, and China doesn’t meet that criterion. Several of the points the writer brings up, however, are quite true, especially in regard to Chinese perceptions of China’s deserved place in the world and its collective sense of national humiliation. I’m just not sure this constitutes fascism. So many Americans believe in our manifest destiny and America’s unquestioned right to bear the mantle of leader of the world. That isn’t quite fascism, it’s just crazy.

But the article did make me think. Sometimes I thought I was reading the musings of a frustrated English teacher worried about the “China threat,” sometimes I thought he made some astute observations.

Thanks to the reader who sent me the link. I hope I don’t regret posting about it.

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Anti-China Superbowl ad?

I really don’t like the sound of this ad, which played locally in Michigan during the game. It plays off of stereotypes and the growing paranoia about the rise of China. I’m calling it ill-conceived at best, racist at worst. The explanation of the ad sounds pretty feeble, too.

The campaign of the Michigan Republican hit racial notes as a new advertisement argued that the policies of incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) were helping China to the detriment of the United States.

The advertisement, which will run in Michigan during the Super Bowl and afterward, features an Asian female with a conical straw hat riding a bike through a rice paddy field.

“Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good [sic],” the actress says, in broken English.

“Thank you Michigan Senator Debbie ‘Spend-it-now’. Debbie spend so much American money [sic],” the actress says, without a Chinese accent. “You borrow more and more, from us… we take your jobs. Thank you Debbie ‘Spend-it-now.’”

The Hoekstra campaign called the advertisement “satirical” and explained the broken English in the video as a reflection of China’s increasingly competitive education system.

“You have a Chinese girl speaking English – I want to hit on the education system, essentially. The fact that a Chinese girl is speaking English is a testament to how they can compete with us, when an American boy of the same age speaking Mandarin is absolutely insane, or unthinkable right now,” Hoekstra spokesperson Paul Ciaramitaro told POLITICO. “It exhibits another way in which China is competing with us globally.”

You can see the ad at the link above. I find it racially charged and plainly “anti-China.” As if the fact that the Chinese girl is speaking English tells viewers China’s education system is superior (that’s what the Hoekstra camp is claiming). Nonsense. This ad is designed to instill fear and touch a racial nerve.

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Dikköter’s Mao’s Great Famine vs. Yang’s Tombstone

I recently started reading Frank Dikköter’s book Mao’s Great Famine, The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962 and am about halfway through. Reading it is not a pleasant experience. Nothing about the Great Leap Forward makes for pleasant storytelling. You can feel the author’s rage on every page, even while his style remains calm and restrained. It is clear he sees the GLF not only as a man-made calamity, which it was, but one for which Mao deserves nearly all the blame. It is a crime that Dikkoter believes ranks with the Holocaust, one that Mao supported with full awareness of its consequences, and even with malice.

The other famous book on the GLF, Yang Jisheng’s Tombstone (discussed in an earlier post here) takes a more measured look at the nightmare years, and is not so quick to accuse Mao of intentionally and maliciously wreaking suffering on his people. Or so at least we are told in this superb book review by Xujun Eberlein, one of my favorite bloggers and someone I had the pleasure to meet in Chongqing a few years ago. Everyone who reads this blog will want to see this side-by-side comparison. She clearly sides with Yang Jisheng.

“Understanding the complexity of human behavior in times of catastrophe is one of the aims of the book,” Dikötter states, and he does a good job fulfilling that goal in terms of ordinary people. But when it comes to the behavior of Mao and his colleagues, he has a tendency for simplification and caricature. The Mao under his pen is simply one of history’s most sadistic tyrants; consideration is not given to the complexity of his behavior. The reader gets the impression that Mao knew about the famine all along, but either deliberately let people starve, or was indifferent to their fate. Dikötter’s indignation toward Mao is understandable, but this representation is neither factual nor insightful.

In contrast to Dikötter, Yang Jisheng, despite his sorrow and resentment over the catastrophe, does not let personal sentiment get in the way of factual reporting and serious exploration. Aptly casting Mao as “China’s last emperor,” Yang nonetheless provides a more complete portrait.

Mao’s policies were the main cause of the famine, and nothing can excuse him from that responsibility. But the catastrophe was not a deliberate act of mass murder like the Holocaust, as Dikötter suggests. Rather, it was the result of policy failures from a governance system based on the control of ideology and information. Culminating in the Great Leap Forward in 1958, the utopian policies, enthusiastically shaped and promoted by the entire leadership, were intended to bring about China’s high-speed development. They instead resulted in the collapse of the nation’s economic pillar: agriculture. The central government’s inflated production targets and export quota led to unreasonably high procurements of grain from the peasants, while local governments under political pressure responded with inflated grain production statistics. The two types of inflation fed each other to form a vicious cycle that exhausted agricultural capacity, while the backyard steelmaking that took workers away from the land further worsened the grain shortages. After the famine started, it was prolonged because bad news was blocked from feeding back to top policy makers. Mao, thus, went through a long period of delusion and denial before, in late 1960, making a partial concession: “I myself made mistakes, too; I must correct.”

So perhaps Mao’s saving grace is that when he actually did recognize the tragedy of his policies in 1961 he took steps to reverse them. Either way, epiphany or not, Mao must assume the lion’s share of the blame, especially considering how he purged anyone who dared question his revolutionary plan to modernize China. And he didn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. Only a few years later he would seek to rehabilitate himself by launching a new campaign, one that equaled the GLF in terms of insanity, cult worship and suffering.

Like the Holocaust, the GLF is a subject of endless fascination for me, making me wonder how men can surrender their critical faculties and their humanity. And no, I am not saying the GLF equals the Holocaust.I’m not say Mao has blood on his hands the way Hitler does. But both featured certain key ingredients: blind obedience and blind faith, an ideologically twisted leader who assumed cult status, and an unfathomable lack of compassion for the suffering.

After reading this remarkable review I’m keen to read Tombstone, though the fact that it’s 900 pages in two volumes might be beyond my stamina. It is set to be published later this year. Luckily, Xujun has broken the books down to at least give us a taste of both. Read the review, and tell me how two brilliant researchers/writers could come to such different conclusions.

Update: Please note that Xujun’s excellent blog has moved to this address. You can read the sad story of how she lost her domain name here. Maddening.

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