Taking off

I know, this blog has gone to hell in a handbasket over the past couple weeks. And now I’m about to leave for more than 10 days, and I will have little or no Internet access (and no, I won’t be going to China this time, unfortunately). So this will probably be the longest-running thread ever. Post links, chat, etc.,and try to keep it Tibet-free; that’s one subject we have totally exhausted. Thanks to my hall monitors who will be watching things while I’m gone.


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 90 Comments

To red star,
A limp response as usual. First, we’re not talking about north Korea, so only you will know why you’d bring it up here. Relevance, thy name is not red star. Second, as Gil notes, the threat of hard labour (or worse) means that north Koreans aren’t free to do as they please. I mean, Chen guangcheng was obviously “free” to shine a light on forced abortions, assuming you ignore the unjust imprisonment and ongoing illegal detention. Ai weiwei was clearly “free” to bring attention to the children killed in the Sichuan earthquake, assuming you ignore the trumped up charges and secret detention. To most sane people (don’t worry, you’re excepted), “free” doesn’t include those Ccp accoutrements. Sometimes I wonder why you bother with such pathetic arguments. But I guess nothing is too lame for folks like you.

Btw, why no stupid red star response to the other parts of #40? LOL.

March 22, 2012 @ 6:00 am | Comment

“Any North Korean citizen is free to subscribe to any different set of religious beliefs- not a smart way to conduct yourself in North Korea, it may even get you killed – but ultimately they are free to do as they please.”
Errr, doesn’t this actually tell us that they are, in fact, NOT free do do as they please? Or is there some other definition of freedom of choice I’m missing here?

March 22, 2012 @ 8:12 am | Comment

Why is a North Korean not choosing to voice his opposition to government not a result of his freedom of choice? He has two choices: oppose government, or not oppose government. He chose not to oppose government.

Why is that any less of a choice than a US media outlet choosing not to opposite capitalism?

March 22, 2012 @ 9:20 am | Comment

@ SK

Regarding the “capitalist system” that HX touches on, I think he is referring to the many instances where stories have been canned/copy has been edited to please advertisers or corporate owners.

While really 牛逼 papers like the Times (New York and London versions), WaPo, WSJ, et al might not need to bow down before advertisers, smaller papers usually do so. For example, Gloria Steinem once wrote a long essay about her time at the helm of Ms. magazine, a feminist paper, where she had to can many stories relating to the carcinogenic effects of female hair dye and hygiene sprays because Procter & Gamble was her top advertiser.

However, simply citing a litany of anecdotes is not nearly enough to prove a coordinated effort of censorship across media publications. And perhaps if we use such a systemic criterion of proof then such allegations of a conspiracy are unprovable. In contrast to the hamfisted directives of the Central Committee, Western “censorship” has a relative paucity of documentation. Therefore discussing this strain of argument is probably unproductive.

What *would* be productive would be to think about how to build a better system going forward. One thing I have always been interested in is speeding up the news cycle while fragmenting the media into a model approaching citizen journalism; when the market standard for news stories is to have a report within 5 minutes of the event occurring, and every videographer can put it up on youtube, then it will naturally be very difficult for a centralized news bureau to push any sort of coordinated line.

March 22, 2012 @ 10:16 am | Comment

To t-co,
The example you cited is very plausible. To me, it represents a business decision. Does it mean that a story potentially worth telling ends up going untold? Yes. But does it represent any systematic censorship (in particular, government censorship) being at play? No. And I think we are in agreement. Do I think “western news media” have room for improvement? Absolutely. But do the current constraints on western media in any way mitigate, justify, or absolve the ccp’s role in stifling Chinese freedom of speech and freedom of press? Absolutely not. But the usual suspects continue to conflate the two, for reasons that can only be apparent to them.

March 22, 2012 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

About “expat”‘s entry:

Clearly about half the entries are ridiculous and about another 30% iffy. Still, there are lots of things in there that are truly, truly disturbing.

Not that anyone wouldn’t agree. One recent development is that now murkans of all political persuasions as well as furriners can all agree the US is going to hell in a handbasket 🙂

March 22, 2012 @ 5:20 pm | Comment

@HX – Amazing logic. You have totally convinced me. Previous to reading your wise words I had been mislead by the idea that people who did things only because they would be killed/imprisoned otherwise were not acting out of free will. Now I see the truth: the next time you hear someone complain about being locked up simply for speaking the truth just remember – they chose to be there!

March 22, 2012 @ 8:29 pm | Comment

To 53,
When you refrain from criticizing government for fear of personal harm and all manner of reprisals as we know that governments like NK and the ccp are capable of (as my earlier examples have shown), that is not an exercise in freedom, but in self-preservation.

Why would US media want to “oppose” capitalism in the first place? Just because you’re nuts doesn’t mean they need to be. And I suspect even Chinese people are supportive of capitalism. So I have no idea what you are going on and on about.

And if someone in the US media did happen to oppose capitalism, they wouldn’t get sent to a labour camp. If someone in NK chose to oppose the government, they would be lucky to just get hard labour. Does that help you comprehend the difference, or do I need to speak even more slowly?

March 23, 2012 @ 12:58 am | Comment

Huanqiu Shibao explains neatly as to how people under a dictatorship make choices, or have options.

March 23, 2012 @ 1:18 am | Comment

To red star,
It’s been a pathetic display with you trying to make a lame argument. So let me make it for you, and show you precisely why it is lame.

NKoreans choose not to criticize their government because of “fear”. You like to think media choose not to criticize capitalism because of “fear”. A-ha, you say. Choices borne of “fear”… They must be the same. That’s all you’ve got.

But are they really the same? First, fear of death or gulags is hardly the same as fear of losing an advertiser, or even a job. Second, you have no basis to suggest that anyone criticizing capitalism would risk their ads or their jobs. And third, you have no basis to infer that anyone would want to criticize capitalism in the first place. So you are really up the creek without a paddle. Time to try some other asinine argument, cuz this one has gotten you nowhere as usual.

March 23, 2012 @ 1:44 am | Comment

“Why is that any less of a choice than a US media outlet choosing not to opposite capitalism?”

Errrrr….dunno, mate. Methinks this line was a bit of a pointer tho’
“…not a smart way to conduct yourself in North Korea, it may even get you killed…”

I’m not sure how familiar you are with freedom of choices but “My way or death” doesn’t really do it for me.

March 23, 2012 @ 7:38 am | Comment

“And third, you have no basis to infer that anyone would want to criticize capitalism in the first place.”


March 23, 2012 @ 9:32 am | Comment

You’re right, poor word choice on my part. Rather than “criticize capitalism”, I should say “oppose capitalism” instead.

March 23, 2012 @ 2:58 pm | Comment

Just because risking your life, makes it not a choice? You have a choice to stay alive, or risk your life for bigger reward. Whatever decision you make, that is a choice, made under free will, clear and simple.

Mao risked his life fighting for the top man in China, that was a choice.
A suicide bomber risks his life fighting for something he believes in, that is a choice.
A North Korean did not risk his life by speaking up against the North Korean regime, that also is his choice.

Why is it not a choice?

March 24, 2012 @ 10:03 am | Comment

Gordon Chang reported in Forbes that Bo sent a couple of hundred Chonqing security forces to surround the US consulate in Chengdu when Wang attempted to defect. Does anyone know if this is true? If so it would go a long way towards explaining why Hu & Co. came down so hard on Bo – I mean, who wants to go back to the days of provincial warlords with private armies? It’s bad enough that the Public Security Bureau is utterly lawless, but at least they follow the SG’s directions.

By the way, did anyone else notice this week that the Government just published a loyalty oath that will be required of all lawyers in China? They will henceforth be required to pledge loyalty to the rule of law and to the Party. Of course, only in an Orwellian country is that possible. “The Party is the the Law and the Law is the Party.” Oh, of course.

March 25, 2012 @ 3:00 pm | Comment

“Just because risking your life, makes it not a choice?”
—actually, it is your life, and I agree you can choose to do what you want with it. So a North Korean choosing to protect his life rather than criticizing the NK government is indeed making a choice. That’s not the problem. The problem is that he has to make such a choice at all. In other words, criticizing the government and losing your life are not commensurate, proportionate, or equitable choices. I can’t believe I am still having to explain such a basic concept to you. “choosing” to be a “suicide bomber”, by definition, means you are making a choice to die. “choosing” to “criticize government” should NOT mean the same thing, although it does in North Korea, which is one of the things that’s wrong about North Korea.

Furthermore, you have not even come close to reconciling the North Korean example with your run-of-the-mill media rant. You could start by working your mind slowly through the last paragraph of #60.

March 26, 2012 @ 5:58 am | Comment

To Doug,
I don’t know precisely how many security folks were sent to the US consulate, but they certainly had a presence there while Wang was on the premises. The timing of that incident in relation to Bo being sacked certainly suggests some relationship, although it’ll be impossible to know the cause-and-effect machinations within the CCP.

And yes, read about the new lawyer oath. It is quite a joke. Although it simply reaffirms what has always been the truth: “the law” is not the law of the land; “the Party” is.

March 26, 2012 @ 6:03 am | Comment


Friends tell me that a lot of this goes all the way back to the shit Bo pulled as a Red Guard. Some other princelings have stated (off the record, of course) that Bo is “less than human” (不是人) for his denunciations/disowning of his own father and mother during that time period.

While that is understandably an extreme anecdote, within the pool of people consulted for viewpoints on the next generation of leadership, the consensus appears to be that Bo has too much selfish ambition coupled with too little ideological/moral restraint to be in the PSC. This is not to say that any other member of the PSC has any less ambition, but usually they are much better at being “team players” than Bo ever was.

Something puzzles me about the whole Bo affair, though. Why couldn’t he have just played a more patient game in Chongqing? Trends in China would eventually favor the emergence of a strong leader willing to take deep risks in reform.

What looms over the horizon of the leadership transition is that this upcoming generation of leaders must tackle how to smoothly shift China to a consumer-driven economy. This task has been botched in Japan (1990), South Korea/Malaysia/Thailand (1997), the United States (1929)… and delayed/become a ticking time bomb in Germany, Taiwan, and Singapore. Those countries had the additional shock absorbers of a democratic system and mature capital markets–China does not. Put bluntly, no country, no matter how well-governed, has ever made this transition without a lot of pain. Chances are China’s transition would be painful as well.

In this regard, you have to think of the 586 billion dollar Chinese stimulus package put together in 2008 as the death knell of Bo Xilai’s campaign for the Politburo. The package essentially pushed China’s day of reckoning well past the 2012 Politburo handover–meaning that there would be no broad demand for a “New Deal” before the handover, meaning that Bo would never find a national audience that appreciated his message with sufficient urgency to outmuscle the traditional power structures of the Party.

From his reaction to the stimulus package (enthusiastic gorging of his own pet projects at the trough of cash) I doubt Bo ever figured out the correct response to such a move–lie low past this handover, then wait for shit to blow up in 2015-2016 and make his move at the 2017 Party Congress, using the tactic of building a crop of younger functionaries to lead a counter-push. This was basically what Deng did, using Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, between 1976 and 1980.

March 26, 2012 @ 10:23 am | Comment

@ SK

A corollary: Messrs. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are historically savvy enough to realize that Bo could become a Deng-like figure if he retains the ability to speak to a national audience (even if that “speech” is quiet lobbying of ministry-rank officials/the PLA like Deng did in the 1970s). Therefore in order to make sure that their painful moves to restructure the Chinese economy don’t unseat themselves, they will essentially muzzle Bo. Imprisoning him might be piss off the Party elders who want to show the world that China has advanced beyond the tactics of Leninist power struggles. Hence they will need a leash on Bo.

March 26, 2012 @ 10:33 am | Comment

Just read the first 100 pages of Shaun Rein’s book, The End of Cheap China and had to stop. It’s not terrible. It’s just boring as shit. I’m going to give it two stars on Amazon. Anyone else read it? Are you going to review it on Amazon?

March 26, 2012 @ 11:24 am | Comment

To T-co,
you know far more about this stuff than I do. The reasons why Bo acted as he did may never be known. The open campaigning that he did was clearly a departure from the accepted method of how to play the game within the CCP. One end of the spectrum would be that he was simply unaware of the time-honoured acceptable way. The other end of the spectrum would be that he was so full of hubris as to assume that the rules didn’t apply to him.

I agree that China will be moving towards greater consumption as the driver for their economy. How that transition works out in the next few years will be fascinating to watch.

March 26, 2012 @ 1:28 pm | Comment


Well, I think the reasons are pretty easy to guess at. Bo was gambling that the rising pain in China from the current model would make his 2012 campaign successful, the rules be damned. He was banking that his model would just draw so much traction that his entry into the PSC would become a fait accompli. But the 586 billion dollar stimulus package delayed a lot of that pain. I’m not sure if Bo ever understood that fact.

As for China’s shift, my personal emotions on it veer something between morbid fascination and being scared shitless. I’ve already helped several friends’ parents move their assets out of China… have many more lined up.

March 26, 2012 @ 2:44 pm | Comment

Marsupial, I am not going to buy the book and I’m not going to review it on Amazon. The point of the book is already obvious — China is now expensive — and I don’t have to read a book about it. Reading SR’s columns is painful enough. To shell out money to read an entire book by him is not an appealing prospect. If anyone here has read it I’d like to hear what they have to say.

March 27, 2012 @ 4:01 am | Comment

The Epoch Times take on the Bo putsch
Would make a cracking movie…but not 100% sure there isn’t some baggage involved in the article’s sources that might paint a different picture from reality.

March 27, 2012 @ 6:41 am | Comment

Friends tell me that a lot of this goes all the way back to the shit Bo pulled as a Red Guard. Some other princelings have stated (off the record, of course) that Bo is “less than human” (不是人)

It’s an old Chinese rule (beyond the CCP) that you are less than human once you’ve been toppled. I hope that Bo Xilai‘s fundamental human rights will be respected, even if he showed no concern for those of others.

March 27, 2012 @ 9:15 pm | Comment

[…] long believed Bo Xilai to be a very unpleasant man, I suggest that we take allegations that he was less than human with a pinch of salt. It’s an old Chinese rule that people turn out to be monsters, once they […]

March 27, 2012 @ 11:19 pm | Pingback

Now that Bo has face-planted off his pedestal, the obligatory stories about his misdeeds are starting to surface. It seems his anti-corruption initiatives may have employed some rather unsavoury tactics, including healthy helpings of police brutality and “confessions” extracted with torture.

You gotta hand it to the CCP. They sit idly by while these alleged transgressions were taking place. Now they air the dirty laundry long after the fact. What a terrific system!

Though I agree with JR. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Even if Bo ran roughshod over the legal rights of others, his own legal rights deserve to be respected. And even if respect for legal rights is not a long-held CCP tradition, it’s gotta start at some point. I wonder if Bo likes his chances that such respect will start in time to save his own skin.

March 28, 2012 @ 1:10 am | Comment

@ justrecently

Those comments were said in 2007, far before Bo was in any danger of being removed from office.

That being said the true punishment won’t fall on his head–he’s too popular for that. Pain will most likely come on his wife’s law firm and his son’s future business prospects.

March 28, 2012 @ 1:53 am | Comment

Also, the one precedent that the CCP has been pretty judicious in following is the rule that no physical harm may come out of the result of high-level power struggles. If Zhao Ziyang was allowed to live out the remainder of his life in peace and tranquility (including a paid-for membership at the most expensive golf club in Beijing) I doubt anything drastic will happen to Bo.

March 28, 2012 @ 2:47 am | Comment

Are those princeling quotes from a reliable source, t_co?

March 28, 2012 @ 2:50 am | Comment

AFAIK my friend had heard them from Deng Pufang.

March 28, 2012 @ 4:53 am | Comment

All red guards are not created equal. Bo was a princeling red guard, the ones responsible for the blood letting in Beijing during Red August in 66. This group started to oppose the CR when their own parents in the CCP elite became targets instead of the typical rightists, capitalists, and landlords of previous political movements. The grassroots red guards that took over afterwards were the ones that committed crimes against the CCP elite, and paid for it after the fact while the princeling red guards got off scott free and went on to become the new political elites of today.

March 28, 2012 @ 9:44 am | Comment

@ stickyrice

That is true to an extent, but many princeling Red Guards themselves suffered enormously in the later stages of the Cultural Revolution.

Some of them demonstrated backbone and paid for it… some of them ended up denouncing their own parents.

March 28, 2012 @ 12:45 pm | Comment

@ t_co – Fascinating, and plugs into something I have wondered about – the new leadership generation came of age during the CR, and would have been politically active during that time, yet their activities during that period are unknown. Still, the fact that such rumours only became current after Bo’s toppling does cast some doubt on them.

March 28, 2012 @ 3:51 pm | Comment

The slight lifting of this lid with Bo has made for really interesting speculations

Also murky is this http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-17539232
How many different ways can a man have died after being disposed of so quickly? Heart attack, alcohol poisoning and now…well, maybe just good old fashioned poisoning.
That’s the trouble with a heavily censored media – gaps are there to be filled with specualtion which then becomes, well, news.

March 29, 2012 @ 5:57 am | Comment

Re: Bo’s legal rights. Who gives a rats and that goes for his family also. Hopefully the reverberations will extend to his supporters and we get a really good blood letting/a bit of serious upper eschelon back stabbing which really upsets Party unity. Parasitic rent seekers turning on each other.

Legal issues have no place in this unfolding discussion.

Let’s see the same rules applied to the 08 types extended to their persecutors.

March 29, 2012 @ 8:37 am | Comment


If denouncing your own parents is what qualifies as demonstrating backbone, then Bo Xilai certainly qualifies. That didn’t spare him jail time during the CR, which was unjust, but sure prepped him for the heavy handed tactics in Chongqing.

As for princeling red guards, I’m sure some of them have experienced hardships, but suffice it to say that in the end, their political connections kept them relatively unscathed compared to the grassroots red guards that were executed or went to labour camps. If your friend knows Deng Pufang, he/she should ask about Deng Xiaoping’s daughter Deng Rong’s role in the murder of Bian Zhongyun at Beijing Normal School’s middle school affiliate. Why were no red guards ever held responsible for this? Because the middle school students responsible were all children of the CCP political elite. China never really had a truth and conciliation process regarding the CR, and is condemned to repeat it. Bo simply took advantage of this fact for his own gain.

March 30, 2012 @ 7:34 am | Comment

@ SchtickyRice

I meant that the other way. Standing up for your own family in the face of overwhelming political pressure to do something terrible to them is what most people would consider backbone.

That question sounds like you are implying what happened to Deng Pufang is karma for something you think Deng Rong may be guilty of.

March 30, 2012 @ 3:53 pm | Comment

[…] they have been comprehensively covered by media including John Garnaut and numerous sites including Peking Duck where I blogged on Bo’s fall from grace just hours before BBC reported his removal as […]

April 1, 2012 @ 7:47 am | Pingback


This is not about karma at all. DPF did not deserve to be thrown out of a window and spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, regardless of what his sister, or his father for that matter, may have done or not done. The real point is that the struggle between princelings and commoners is a continuing theme in Chinese society, from imperial times to current conditions today. The revolution simply replaced yellow princelings with red ones. The CR was just a temporary distraction, and the same families are now back in control. Despite that fact that China is not a hereditary communist dictatorship like North Korea, things are not all that different in this respect.

April 1, 2012 @ 12:44 pm | Comment

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