Romney Hood and Ryan Hood

Robbing from the poor to give to the rich. That about sums them up.

I’ve refrained from posting on US politics because it is simply too depressing. Watching nutty conservatives transform the once sane if misguided Republican Party into an Ayn Rand-worshipping club of ueber-rich white men — and seeing so many Americans get on board donning their Tea Part costumes — has been a jaw-dropping spectacle. Watching all the newly minted young Tea Party Republicans oust their moderate opponents two years ago was an ominous sign of the country’s dangerous veering to the right.

Paul Ryan will undoubtedly enjoy his honeymoon, just as Sarah Palin did. But I see him as a huge red target on Romney’s back. Willard Romney’s campaign has been all about hiding what he would do to restore America’s economy. He has been intentionally vague and weasely, always changing the subject to how bad Obama is. Now he has a plan and a vision, he is joined at the hip with it, the shameless Ryan budget that offers huge tax cuts for the very richest Americans while slashing benefits the middle and lower classes have come to depend on. Now Romney has to defend this program and convince those who will be hurt by it the most to see it as the Holy Grail. Democrats should probably be rejoicing, but as H.L. Mencken once famously said, “No one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” Maybe they’ll be sucked in by the whacky argument that Ryan’s budget plan is “courageous” and “serious.”

James Fallows obliterates this argument.

One request: I hope that when reporters are writing or talking about Paul Ryan’s budget plans and his overall approach, they will rig up some electro-shock device to zap themselves each time they say that Ryan and his thoughts are unusually “serious” or “brave.” Clear-edged they are, and useful in defining the issues in the campaign. But they have no edge in “seriousness” over, say, proposals from Ryan’s VP counterpart Joe Biden.

…I’m making a simple plea: examine the Ryan plan, and its Obama counterpart, on their merits, and for the different values they express and interest groups they defend, without pretending that there is some bravery or seriousness gap between them. All these people are serious now. I also encourage you to snicker discreetly, or if you’re in the right setting to start a drinking game, at each pundit occurrence of “brave” and “serious.” People who say these things are revealing their non-serious susceptibility to cliche.

He also argues that the choice is good for the American public because it will create a serious debate about the two parties’ economic vision. I’ll buy that. We had no vision from Romney before, just platitudes. Now he has a plan he must defend.

I also like this:

And how does Romney say the problem with Barack Obama is that he’s “never spent a day in the private sector” and then put Ryan a heartbeat away from the presidency?

(Ryan has never had a day of private sector experience.)

Romney, ever the coward, bowed to the far right, to the William Kristols and Fox Newsies who insisted he select an Ayn Rand conservative Tea Partier as his running mate. Now their wish is granted, and Romney has to convince the public that Medicare vouchers and obscene tax cuts for people like Romney are good for them. The Ryan pick is an act of desperation. It seems like a gift to Obama, but again, there are a lot of gullible Americans out there. Let Ryan have his honeymoon, but then Obama and Biden should tear Ryan apart in a systematic, logical manner, exposing his “bold” budget plan for what it is, a steamroller that crushes a huge swath of the public while further enriching those who need it the least.

If by some bizarre quirk of fate Romney and Ryan win, I’m on the next plane out of here.


China Yearbook 2012

Be sure to check out this wonderful 2012 China yearbook, a joint project between Danwei and the Australian Centre on China in the World. As described by its creators:

The China Story Project is a web-based account of contemporary China created by the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW) at the Australian National University in Canberra, which has the most significant concentration of dedicated Chinese Studies expertise and is the publisher of the leading Chinese Studies journals in Australia.

One of my blog posts managed to be included in this project, which you can find here (scroll downward). I thought it was my best post of 2011, and it sure got me more traffic than any other. I’m honored to see the post on the Global Times sandwiched in-between incredibly great blog posts by David Bandurski of the China Media Project and Han Han.

There is a lot of rich material to mine here. You can download the whole thing and read through it when you’re offline. It is wonderful that people would take the time and trouble to “chronologize” so much of what went on on the Internet in regard to China last year, and I can only hope they make this an annual tradition.



A few hours ago I had my adored cat Nick, who was nearly 23 years old, put to sleep by the vet. A few years ago I posted on the death of his sister cat, Daisy. (Anyone who is a fan of The Great Gatsby knows where the names come from.)

Daisy, the grey cat, was the loving one, so affectionate that people who came into contact with her said she was more a dog than a cat. Nick, on the other hand, was the beautiful one, a brilliant orange color with a white thrush of a throat. He was sublimely arrogant; it was his house and all the food in it was his and I never owned him, he owned me.

Nick had been losing weight for months and I knew he wasn’t going to last much longer. Over the past few weeks his legs gave out and he struggled to stand up. When he lost interest in food a few days ago I knew it was time.

I won’t get all sentimental. I’ll just say that Nick was my life, and I always loved his grandeur, his egotism, his self-centeredness. No, I know these aren’t admirable qualities in a person, but in Nick’s case they made him regal, as though he was always holding court. It was funny that he behaved like a monarch. He was spoiled as hell, but what beloved pet isn’t?

I was massaging the back of his ears as the vet injected him with the anesthesia, which put him down in about 30 seconds. Yes, it was agonizing, but it was a relief to put him out of his pain. He’ll be buried in my back yard, right alongside his long-time companion Daisy. May they both rest in peace forever.


Understanding a Chinese city: map out its sex trade

Ethnographer Tricia Wang, whom I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing in the past, describes herself as:

an ethnographer, sociologist, and researcher. I am passionate about demystifying the ways non-elite or edge communities (i.e. migrants, rural villagers, or informal workers) make use of digital tools in everyday life.

As part of her studies of city life, she writes an intriguing post about how she maps out a new city she visits with the help of local taxi drivers. One of her first steps in getting to know a new city, in this case Wuhan, struck me as novel:

One of the ways I map the city is to quickly figure out where people go to pay for sex and have sex. In China, the sex worker industry encompasses all economic levels. It’s a bit complex to figure out which hotels and karoke bars are for high-end clients to which ones are for every day citizens.

There are several levels where people pay for sex in most first to second tier Chinese cities:

1. super high end brothel (10,000RMB and up)
2. the mayor’s brothel (based off of conversations I estimate it to be around several thousand RMB)
3. the policeman’s brothel (based off of conversations I estimate it to be around 200-1000RMB)
4. the business person’s (200-1000RMB)
5. the citizen’s brothels (5-100RMB)
6. street walkers who charge around 20-50RMB – client pays for hotel

When the police do sweeps and arrest sex workers, only those who work in what I call the “citizen’s brothels” get arrested. Street walkers can be easily arrested anytime and they are the most vulnerable because most of the time they don’t work with the protection of an overseer.

Pity the poor streetwalkers, who work under the constant threat of being arrested at any moment. The low-end brothels are also in danger of raids, as they can’t pay the big bribes the higher-end establishments can. The latter often work in cahoots with the police, and are tipped off in advance when higher officials decide to do a major raid of local sex parlors.

Tricia’s field notes about how she mapped out the city of Wuhan with the help of a taxi driver and secretly observed a prostitute in action are intense and well worth a read. (I could blockquote them here, but better to read it on her site, with all the photos.) Great work.


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.


High theater

There’s a fascinating post over at this website that I’ve added to my daily read list about the way China often goes about arresting dissidents — with pomp and melodrama and brute force that would give inspiration to Hollywood producers of action films for teenagers. Houses are burst into, doors knocked down, black hoods placed over heads and the victim herded off by throngs of policeman when one or two could have handily done the trick.

He describes the 2006 arrest of Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, after a throng of bare-chested police surrounded his sister’s house he was visiting. Pardon the long clip, but it’s good stuff.

“At the very instant when my sister unlocked the door, three men kicked the door open…with thundering noises.” When they came in and seized Gao, “one man sat on my mouth, another pulled my hair backward, quickly wrapping my mouth with yellowish tape. Then they pulled me on the floor, two big men stepped on my calves to keep me in a kneeling position. Then they wrapped the same tape around my eyes. After that, they put a sack over my head.”

He was taken to Beijing, barefoot, in a pair of shorts. His T-shirt had been torn into pieces. The same night in the 2nd Detention Center of Beijing (北京第二看守所), he was interrogated, locked in a metal chair by metal shackles with bright light shining on him on both sides. He was no longer referred to by his own name, but the number 815.

Four interrogators came in. One of them, who Gao Zhisheng believed was the head of the pack, paced back and forth in front of him. “815, now you have an idea how powerful our party is, don’t you? From what has happened today, have you not seen how powerful our party is?”

To apprehend a bare-foot man in his shorts who was not known for extraordinary martial prowess, two policemen would suffice. Okay four. But instead, you have dozens. Instead of wearing their uniforms which represent the legitimacy, dignity and authority of their job, they resorted to bare chests and dark glasses. From the head interrogator we know that the whole sequence was choreographed to show force. A lot can be said about the need to “shock and awe,” but why bare chests? Why dark glasses? What’s going on? Why does the head interrogator sound like a mafia boss? Why did he talk like that?

The detention of AiWeiwei last year was similarly theatrical. We’ve all seen stories about these arrests. We even know some people who had the honor of being hooded and whisked to secret jails.

Following the logic of Occam’s Razor, wouldn’t you think the reason for the pyrotechnics is simply to instill terror? Terror for those being hooded and those witnessing it and those who hear about it later? Terror works. It’s a scary thing to go up against the Chinese leadership, and you have to know that once you cross that red line anything goes, and you will be made an example. You will experience repression CCP-style.

Read the entire post. It’s witty and wryly written, but it is in no way funny.

(And I realize a lot of this is done at the local level, and not all dissidents are treated this way. But the party seems to welcome the publicity of such grandiose operations. Maybe it’s all part of its strategy to stay in power?)


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.


Interview with Sidney Rittenberg

Danwei has a great interview with the “man who stayed behind,” Sidney Rittenberg. His story is an improbable one. He was at exactly the right place at the right time, a Chinese speaker who believed passionately in Communism who was in China as the Japanese were defeated in 1945 and as the Communists under Mao were poised to take on the Nationalists. His skills as a native English speaker were badly needed and helped make him a darling of the party’s highest leadership, for whom he wrote propaganda. I read his memoir a few years ago and it’s a page-turner, required reading for anyone who wants a bird’s eye view of what Mao and Zhou and Jiang Qing and others were like and how they interacted before and after they came to power. I can’t imagine a more gripping book about the Communists’ rise to power.

I was lucky enough to meet Rittenberg at a lecture he gave about two years ago, and I asked him how he could have endorsed the Cultural Revolution so enthusiastically when it was obviously a cult movement celebrating Mao as a god and going against the communist doctrine of equality and a representative government that serves the people. He answered very frankly, saying he got so swept up in the excitement that he gave up his critical faculties and joined the masses in their rush into madness. It was ironic that within 14 months he would be labelled a spy and put in solitary confinement for about ten years, thanks mainly to the machinations of Jiang Qing.

The Danwei interview is tied to the release of the new documentary about Rittenberg’s life, The Revolutionary, a film I cannot wait to see.

Now, after dedicating so much of his life to creating a classless society, he lives in the US working as a well-heeled consultant, helping foreign firms get in on the action in China. Hypocrite? Pragmatist?

Read the interview. Rittenberg remains an idealist, and a brilliant one at that, and I agree with much of his analysis of today’s economic mess and the need for stimulus as opposed to austerity. His insights into what communism meant half a century ago and how it morphed into something unrecognizable after the Cultural Revolution are eye-opening. No matter what issues I may have with him and his poor judgement, I always want to hear what he has to say. It’s a great interview.


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.