China’s Great Leap Backwards

So why don’t I post anymore about China? Mainly it’s because most of the news about China in recent months has been pretty uniform: China under Xi Jinping is becoming more authoritarian so censorship is worse than ever, more human rights activists and lawyers are getting arrested, foreign and domestic web sites are getting blocked in record numbers and the crackdown on all aspects of the Internet is nothing less than catastrophic, even if you’re using a VPN. It is remarkable how stories like this have been dominating media coverage of the country. I feel a sense of China fatigue, where the news keeps getting more and more depressing, and I feel there’s little I can contribute to the conversation.

But let me try anyway by mentioning this article by China hand Orville Schell. It is the single most disturbing piece I’ve read on Xi’s repressive regime because it is panoramic in its scope, touching on the many ways China is cracking down on its people, harassing churches, implementing a draconian anti-corruption campaign complete with forced confessions, re-centralizing and consolidating power, expanding the country’s security apparatus, throwing out “anti-government” foreign correspondents, making it nearly impossible to speak truth to power….

A good friend of mine moved out of China with his wife and children a few months ago and we just caught up last week. He told me there were aspects of China I wouldn’t recognize anymore, especially the crackdown on so many websites. He was delighted to have left after more than 20 years in Beijing. Several other friends of mine have left over the past year, and most of them said they don’t miss it. Between the pollution and the repression, they’d had enough. I know, China is still a wonderful place to live and people enjoy a great deal of freedom in their personal lives — but for those who are perceived as working against the state, like human rights lawyers, Xi’s repression is very real, generating a sense of despair and helplessness. Everyone needs to fall in line and think the way the state wants you to think. This brings back painful memories of the Cultural Revolution, and of Stalinism.

“All news media run by the Party [which includes every major media outlet in China] must work to speak for the Party’s will and its propositions, and protect the Party’s authority and unity,” Xi warned. In front of a banner declaring “CCTV’s family name is ‘the Party,’” Xi urged people who work in the media to “enhance their awareness to align their ideology, political thinking, and deeds to those of the CCP Central Committee.” Then, only days later the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced new regulations banning all foreign-invested media companies from publishing online in China without government approval.

I can’t cover everything discussed in this article and recommend you read it all. It’s thorough and it’s deeply troubling. So many groups are under siege, like churches and NGOs and news services and activists. You have to admire Xi’s ruthlessness for its sheer efficiency, but it is painful to see China moving so far backwards so fast.

Do I miss living in China? Yes, and I think of my wonderful experiences there every day. But would I move back? I really don’t think so. My blog was blocked there seven years ago; if I came back and blogged like I used to, I wouldn’t be surprised if I were thrown out. One by one, Xi has extinguished many of the lights in China, and some areas, like the media, are nearly altogether black. Many live in a state of fear.

[I]ndependent-minded researchers at think tanks and outspoken professors at universities worry about the “chilling effect” of Xi’s policies on academic life in both China and Hong Kong. Feminist activists demonstrating against sexual harassment have been arrested for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” while human rights lawyers have been swept up in a mass wave of arrests for “creating public disorder,” and even for “subverting state power.”

So no, I don’t miss China the way I used to. China is a wonderful place to visit, but at the moment I wouldn’t want to live there. I only wonder, how far will Xi go to pursue his utopian vision of a China where the people think in total conformity and unity? Will we see a return to Maoism, with its asphyxiation of the Chinese people’s brain cells? We are, I’m afraid, headed in that direction.

I am planning a trip to China in June, and look forward to giving my impressions of life there on the ground. So many of my friends have left, so much has changed for the worse, I wonder if I’ll recognize what was once my favorite place on earth.

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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: 27 Comments

It’s generally not a good idea to go back anywhere to a place where one used to live. The memory of a place is usually best left as just that: a memory. The reality and the change can never live up to the idealised image of a place, which is what time does to memories. People too. George Orwell wrote a book about this phenomenom – Coming Up for Air – though it isn’t one of his better known works.

During my first stint in China I lived in a sleepy suburb of Shanghai known as Longhua where I taught English as an aviation school that had previously been a wartime Japanese airfield and POW camp. The building I stayed in was the same building where JG Ballard was interned during the war. Despite living in a former prison, I really enjoyed my time in that old airport school. When I revisited a few years later I was saddened at how commercialised it had become: it had just become yet another “new-old” style area like Yuyuan Gardens. Full of fake heritage buildings and two branches of McDonalds. I never ever went back. Even without the changing political climate in China, I think you’d still be disappointed by what you find.

April 19, 2016 @ 2:45 pm | Comment

Agree with Meursault that going back to a specific place often leads to disappointment as any change will not seem good to you, and memories often gloss over the drawbacks of a particular place.

Most of us first went arrived in the Chinese-speaking-world when we were relatively young. I had just turned 21 when I signed up to go to teach English in Taiwan. It’s natural that in ones 20’s you should enjoy a place in ways that you are not likely to be able to do when you reach middle age, and anyway nostalgia for ones youth is something that most people feel.

However, China is a big, big place. If you’re revisiting there on business you’ll rarely be going back to any place that you once lived in. I had never lived in Chengdu, or even visited there during my time in China, but when I visited there I found the pollution just incredible. Worse than anything I’d seen in my years in mainland China. That’s not nostalgia coming a cropper. That’s genuine change, in at least one respect, for the worse. The relative lack of freedom, and antipathy towards foreigners, had also gotten worse, althoguh these are harder to quantify.

Finally, the stats don’t lie: foreigners are leaving China. This isn’t just the churn of people getting to a certain age and deciding life would be better elsewhere. It’s people deciding to up sticks because China is no longer the place to be and not coming to China in the first place in the numbers they used to because it’s not so attractive for them to do so.

April 19, 2016 @ 9:00 pm | Comment

How apt.

Like FOARP, I had also been away from China for a few years and it was Chengdu I returned to when I finally did go back. Chengdu was a place I had never lived in during my ten years in China. I had been invited there by a company who wished to offer me a job in Chengdu: they laid on the hospitality and put me up for free in the Shangri-La. The hotel was amazing, but everything outside was not. I showed my wife around the city and tried to get excited about the place, but no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t feel it and neither could she. The job offered was a decent job but our mind was made up when we flew back to Singapore after a week in Chengdu. We were sat in a taxi from Changi airport as the sun rose over the beautiful green tree lined boulevard that connects Changi airport to Raffles Place. The sky was blue and the Chinese cab driver was listening to a charming Bollywood song on his radio. We never accepted the offer, even when they doubled the salary.

April 19, 2016 @ 11:58 pm | Comment

I still go back to “my” old city pretty regularly (usually twice a year), mostly for personal business, but it’s always great to catch up with my old expat and local mates who now have families and their own flourishing businesses there.

Because of my father’s career, my childhood was spent moving around often. “My” city in China was (frighteningly?) the longest I have lived in one place during my life (11 years). It has changed drastically only in certain “new city” districts not far from the old center but luckily my old ‘hood hasn’t really changed that much (I’ve been gone now six years).
I love going back but would I live there again? Definitely not. Regardless of new wealth and “improvements”, the quality of life and daily assaults on the senses just make it not worth it.

The one thing I wish I could do is wrap up my old barber and smuggle her back with me. Her cuts are still better than anything I get here and at the most reasonable prices ever! Yes, fellas…she’s a REAL, legit barber! LOL!!
Cheers

April 20, 2016 @ 2:25 pm | Comment

Thanks for pointing out Schell’s piece — very insightful.

I don’t think I realized, during the time we lived in China, that the pre-Xi period was such a renaissance in ideas and technological development and social progress — even given the imposition of the GFW and other regressive policies.

It’s clear that hindsight rules the day, here: I wouldn’t move back now, to Beijing or Shanghai or any other place I’ve lived in China.

April 21, 2016 @ 2:16 am | Comment

You can’t go home again. I still find enough there that I love and that will make a visit every year or two worthwhile. But the bloom is definitely off the rose.

April 24, 2016 @ 9:04 am | Comment

I found this blog when I was a teenager, around the time of the 2008 Olympics. This is my first time commenting. Richard, I appreciate your efforts to convey both the good and bad sides of China. Reading some of your earlier posts, I learned that you are an enthusiastic fan of Wagner. I would be curious to know whether your love of Wagner has influenced your perspective on Chinese politics.

Since my life has reached a point where it has run aground in a certain sense, I have been thinking about living in China in the near future, possibly starting my own blog. For me, the experience would be a kind of existential attempt at rebirth. I want to know that I am not perpetually stranded from living a meaningful life, as if I am a sailor trapped in a boiling ocean, from whom the horizon constantly flees. I long to transcend absurdity and feelings of futility, regaining the vigorous passion I once had. Although I do not speak Chinese, I would hope that lacking fluency in a language could somehow evoke a commonality that unites people despite their unique and fragmentary sojourns upon their mortal coil. I would also be curious to learn how my impressions of China would differ from those of older expats, given the contrast between earlier periods and the oppressive nature of Xi’s reign. Due to the abyssal midnight cloaking the beauty of the Chinese world, the heroism of those who stand up to the Party shines with even more blinding radiance. Of course, the pollution makes the decision to live in China somewhat like deciding to take up smoking. One of my friends claimed that smoking was sublime. While the claim about smoking seems rather bizarre, I wonder if there is an obscure kind of sublimity to choosing to reside in China despite the pollution: In doing so, one would be risking one’s health for the sake of gaining knowledge of another culture. However, I also wonder if there are any areas of China where pollution has not yet creeped in.

April 24, 2016 @ 3:44 pm | Comment

“Great Wall is Long” is probably one of the most popular patriotic propaganda songs made in the early 90’s in China. Its lyrics were written by Mr. Yan Su, a staffer in the composition department of Navy’s Department of Culture. Mr. Su passed away a couple of month ago at age of 86.

Its lyrics are widely considered the most powerful example of allegory.

Here I translated its lyrics into English. Enjoy.

Stanza 1:

They say that on both sides of the Great Wall flowers bloom
Do you know of the wind and snow it endured?
It carries generations of our heros’ flesh and blood
And lifts a Red Sun across our land.

Oh the the sun rises, and the Great Wall is long!
The majestic wind of the Great Wall travels through the ages
Oh the the sun rises, and the Great Wall is long!
The majestic wind of the Great Wall travels through the ages
If you ask, ‘Where is this Great Wall you speak of? Oh where is the Great Wall?’

It resides right here.. right here amongst all of us.

Stanza 2:
They say that on both sides of the Great Wall people live.
Do you know how long the Great Wall is ?
On the one end it shoulders the cold moon hanging over the barren dessert
On the other it links the hearts of the children of China
Oh the the sun rises, and the Great Wall is long!

The majestic wind of the Great Wall travels through the ages
Oh the the sun rises, and the Great Wall is long!

The majestic wind of the Great Wall travels through the ages
If you ask, ‘Where is this Great Wall you speak of? Oh where is the Great Wall?’

Just take a look, oh just take a look at those end less…
At those endless rows of Army Uniforms!

April 25, 2016 @ 8:51 pm | Comment

In a much older post, Richard likened the CCP to the monster in the movie Alien. I think the article brings out the aptness of this comparison. In the film, the parasite seeks to infect more and more people for the sake of pure survival. It is a being that strives for power over its hosts. Likewise, Xi seeks to gain control over increasingly more aspects of life for the sake of the survival of the Party, putting aside moral inhibitions regarding the tactics used to achieve these ends. Increases in the number of officials targeted by anti-corruption efforts (with the ulterior motive of purging threats to Xi’s dominance) and the restrictions placed on Internet freedom parallel the way the infection attacks an increasing number of crew members. Rather like the alien harms other beings in its effort to survive, the Party causes harm by stifling free thought, mistreating officials accused of corruption, and creating a climate of fear. The Party’s mentality is bleakly nihilistic in that it strives after pure survival, rather than some higher ideal such as justice or love. If living a meaningful life is possible, it must involve something more than chasing after power, control, and wealth. There is a joy found in uplifting others that is not found in self-centered endeavors or material goods. That is why I see creativity as most fundamentally a type of healing. A life centered on animalistic survival is strangely barren. While I am not saying all Party officials are cruel or uncaring towards their people, it is safe to say that the Party must cast aside its lust for power if it is to overcome nihilism and govern effectively.

April 27, 2016 @ 9:48 am | Comment

@ Centralian:

Do you see the song as artistic, despite its status as propaganda? Author David Foster Wallace claimed that an ad can never be art, since its goal is not to give a gift to its audience but to manipulate the audience’s psychology and actions. Propaganda serves a similar purpose in that its aim is to shape its audience’s thoughts and choices. The question of whether there can be artistic propaganda is debatable.

April 28, 2016 @ 3:02 pm | Comment

Richard, Sage, all I want to add to this sad discourse is that I miss you guys, and a hundred other China Hands who, for better and never for worse, China brought together. We grizzle today in ways not dissimilar to back then, don’t we? China is China and the hardest lesson I ever learned – I can’t change China – applies to me and my China-focused business today as it did then.

Be well, China Hands. And to those who look to you for answers, remind them its the system, stupid, not the people.

May 5, 2016 @ 9:57 am | Comment

Xi’s anti-corruption drive is bad for businesses and economy, that’s for sure.

Fortunately, a ray of hope is rising in the United States – Donald Trump for 2016. Oh how I love to see Trump scares the shit out of liberals and neocons alike.

May 6, 2016 @ 3:09 pm | Comment

incredible this webpage is still alive. I usually come here once a year or two but it’s quite clear this website dying..

As a Chinese american I would humbly suggest that do not go to China with an ambition to Change it. Many liberals, full of ideas implanted by the liberal K-12 schools and colleges, had fairly silly imaginations that they would land on China’s soil holding the Book Of Illumination from the Providence and deliver the salvation to the hundreds of millions thirsty souls…Frankly speaking that is both naive and narcissistic.

China has a distinct cultural track of its own and there is likely more than one way to get things done in the world.

I think people like Richard should sit down, take a moment to reflect what is going wrong with their “democratic” america, and even worse, the european union. If you guys cannot even find a viable solution for your own societies (the american is unmistakably stagnating and EU declining), where did you get that kind of confidence that your suggestions will work for a vastly different culture and country (what have so called color revolutions and arab spring brought to those easy-to-be-deceived little countries) ?

I visit here sporadically simply because way back in 2006-2007, I was debating against Richard and his friends (nanheyangrouchuan ,or raj, where are these people now anyway?They prorbably got hit hard by the recessions) who since the birth of this website predicted an imminent collapse of China every single year, for a multitude of reasons.

Back then I told them China will keep developing at fairly healthy speed, economically, scientifically, technologically,and militarily. And I was telling those folks once a year I will check with them until sometime in 2022-23 by which time I predicted the average living standard (GDP per capita in PPP) of China will be about two-third of an average EU citizen, and the average citizen from the east coast of China (about 350 millions of them) will enjoy a living standard above 80%-90% of a EU citizen (in 2015, it is about 40% and 60% respectively).

I know you guys will refute saying again the Collapse is coming for another new reason. But let’s patiently check once a year for another 6-7 years.

This will be a great achievement for any country. When I was a child, in the 1980s, Europe looked like a paradise to me. And now it is very likely in 2 decades, China may become richer than EU (the first tier cities will be similar to the West Europe, the least developed hinterland provinces will be like Slavic countries).

So we should not let ideology blind us and instead should let reality and history make the final judgment. Let’s check once a year for the next 7 years to see how China, EU and USA will evolve.

May 16, 2016 @ 4:58 am | Comment

CuttleFish, thank you for your intelligent, well-written comments. And you seem to be a Wagner fan, something I am always glad to hear. I don’t think my love of Wagner, per your question, influenced how I think of China, but it has influenced my whole life.

Intexas, I won’t deny this blog is dying. I freely admit, I see little reason to blog about China anymore. I will, however, some back and blog whenever I see a story where I think I can add value to the conversation. For the record, I have never, even once written that China was in danger of an economic collapse. So I don’t know where that is coming from. Your statement is false.

May 17, 2016 @ 7:17 am | Comment

Regarding the notion that this blog is dying, there are many veins through which the blood of our discussion can flow. Coming to The Peking Duck, one experiences an emotion rather like that of a person stroking the lone bone that remains of a massive, fossilized creature: a true behemoth whose former size leaves the mind flailing in its effort to grasp the greatness of its girth. We clutch the bone, but our minds yearn for a past we can never rekindle, a part of us that seems to have been torn away before we could even comprehend the void its absence instilled in us. If philosopher F.W.J. Schelling is correct to claim that nostalgia is a fundamental feature of the human condition, then we are faced with a predicament that needles into the deepest confines of our psyches. Social media like Facebook have, in bizarrely Darwinian fashion, reduced blogs to specters recalling days at least somewhat less immersed in the constant need to be wired. However, I find the unique coloration and design of The Duck to be a soothing, artistic contrast to the blandness of Facebook. The anonymity blogs offer is another feature less prevalent in social media, meaning that the apparent demise of blogs in turn limits our ability to creatively redefine ourselves through being anonymous.

Yet, even if Richard were to permanently refrain from offering us his insights through the Internet, it would not necessarily mean that this blog is a mere carcass devoid of life. The ideas of philosopher Martin Heidegger are interestingly relevant here. For Heidegger, preservation does not mean simply keeping something the way it is. Rather, to preserve something is to reinvent it and redefine its significance while still finding its original significance meaningful.

I would encourage others to start their own blogs on China or to live their lives in creative ways that take their experiences reading The Duck into account. We may not be able to resurrect the days when the comment threads were vast frays of impassioned minds vying for victory over their opponents, but we can use our recollections of those times to shape our perspectives on today’s tumultuous world. In this way, the blog will take one new meanings for us, but we can still find our original perspective on the blog significant. Thus, The Peking Duck will remain alive, for its existence will continue in our endeavors and outlooks. This may be a ghost-like form of life, a haunting remnant pervading our hearts, but it is a life nonetheless. Profound thoughts are harder to kill than one might imagine. They have a way of creeping into our existence after we believe they have been eternally exiled.

May 17, 2016 @ 2:10 pm | Comment

I have not listened to much of Wagner’s music. My interest in Wagner comes from learning about Nietzsche’s admiration of and later hostility towards him. However, going to his operas is something I definitely want to do in the future.

May 17, 2016 @ 2:51 pm | Comment

CuttleFish, you’re much too kind. At the end of the day, it’s just another blog. And blogs, I’m sorry to say, are a dying species, usurped by Facebook and other social media. I sometimes toy with the idea of taking the whole site down, but that would be a very painful decision. For nearly 10 years this blog was my life, and ending it would be giving up a part of me.

Don’t get me started on Nietzsche; he’s one of my heroes, despite his break with Wagner (which was the catalyst for two of his greatest books, Nietzsche Contra Wagner and The Case of Wagner). I actually wrote a post about Nietzsche many years ago that you may want to check out, here.

May 18, 2016 @ 10:59 am | Comment

“I know you guys will refute saying again the Collapse is coming for another new reason”

I don’t recall Richard ever saying China’s economy was going to collapse. He’s concerned about the human rights/social situation there.

“where did you get that kind of confidence that your suggestions will work for a vastly different culture and country”

So you’re saying that for China to keep working, the police HAVE to continue to beat confessions out of suspects, human rights lawyers HAVE to be kept under house arrest and people even talking about the possibility of political reform HAVE to be shut up/have their social media accounts closed?

You see, I don’t buy that. You don’t have to go from a one-party, dictatorial state to a multi-party democracy overnight. You can do so many incremental things like allow more freedom of expression, modernising the civil service, disentangle the State from the Party, etc. The reason Xi and the CCP doesn’t do that is because they don’t want to even consider giving up their monopoly on power. Everything they do is designed to keep it for their own selfish and arrogant reasons. They’re just too proud to admit that, so they dress it up as “China can’t cope with any other system, so there’s no point even trying to change”.

May 20, 2016 @ 1:05 am | Comment

Nietzsche is one of my favorite philosophers.

I am inclined to think that Nietzsche would view the Party’s efforts to enforce ‘harmony’ as a kind of herd mentality, since it involves sameness of thinking and subservience to authority. If all websites and newspapers are expected to adhere to the Party’s way of thinking, there is little room for the use of the Internet to develop one’s individuality. By contrast, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra disrupts harmony by urging individuals to question their conventional ways of thinking and perceiving the world. The disharmony he causes can be seen, for instance, in the danger the townsfolk pose to him early in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Such Zarathustrian questioning would be quite frightening to the CCP, as it would involve a challenge toward the Party’s current, money-oriented ideals. Of course, Nietzsche is an elitist thinker with contempt for the masses, so he would probably not object entirely to the Party’s structure. Yet, I think he would find much lacking in China’s political system. The early Nietzsche voices contempt for the German educational system’s perception of education as the pursuit of monetary gain rather than the development of culture. Similarly, he may well have looked upon the Party’s focus on economic development rather than higher ideals with contempt.

The oppressive environment in China poses a kind of Nietzschean challenge to the Chinese people. The Chinese people’s ‘bargain’ with the Party, in which political freedoms are forfeited so long as the Party is able to provide economic growth, resembles the mentality of Nietzsche’s Last Man, who Nietzsche sees Europeans as becoming. The Last Man is entirely focused on pleasure, and hence always clings to safety and never takes risks. The ‘bargain’ is similar to the Last Man in that it involves choosing the safety of economic stability over the great risks of developing a new political system. It is much easier to live in a self-enclosed world, relishing the risk-free nature of financial prosperity, than to implement political innovations and foster the transformation of the political system one inhabits. (To be fair, the U.S. is very much enmeshed in the thinking of the Last Man. This can be seen in the decline of the Humanities in favor of an emphasis on science and technology. Americans tend to see success as economic prosperity rather than the development of a creative or insightful life.) The question China faces is whether it can transcend this Last Man-like viewpoint to embrace a Nietzschean perspective in which one’s life is lived as if it is a work of art.

Ironically, the development of subversive responses to censorship like that discussed in the article may offer ways to approach life in the artistic fashion Nietzsche envisions. One is forced to be creative so as not to trigger the wrath of the authorities. (I remember, for example, an article on this blog discussing individuals’ attempts to disguise their online criticism of the Party by using coded humor so that authorizes did not realize the government was being critiqued.) Chinese people critical of the Party could come to see such attempts at subversion as ways to live creatively, thus thinking of innovative ways to subtly challenge the CCP’s authority. They would need to constantly reinvent themselves through new forms of artistic online subversion as the Party decoded their previous forms of criticism. The different challenges faced by those standing up to the Party could be conceived of as opportunities for embodying different elements of an artistic vision, just as different elements of a painting make up a kind of whole. Perhaps emojis could be used as a creative method of resisting Party authority, with a subversive text written entirely in emojis. The different emojis could be seen as reconstituting the various conflicting wills within the writer’s psyche.

May 22, 2016 @ 6:33 am | Comment

“It’s generally not a good idea to go back anywhere to a place where one used to live. The memory of a place is usually best left as just that: a memory. The reality and the change can never live up to the idealised image of a place, which is what time does to memories. People too.”

Well, that is one way of looking at change, but the Japanese aesthetic concept of mono no aware comes to mind. Mono no aware is the celebration of impermanence, while also acknowledging the sadness change can bring.

The ephemerality of beloved locales can sear out hearts and inject us with a bleak sense of absurdity, but the impermanence of the sights, sounds, and people we love can lend them an extraordinary poignancy. Think of the time spent with a friend prior to moving away, which takes on a kind of majestic power due to the specter of impending separation. One is compelled to reflect upon the deep impact the warp and weft of the relationship has had on one’s life and outlook. If we keep in mind that the sights we adore may be washed away like sandcastles powerless before the onslaught of a wrathful tide, we might find in them profundity that we would have otherwise overlooked, as if we were permanent sleepwalkers. Likewise, the beauty of positive aspects of our childhood would be much less pervasive in our minds if the conditions of childhood persisted forever.

Of course, the defacement of beauty to pollution, development, or tackiness is a real concern. Acknowledging positive aspects of change does not mean that beauty should not be protected, or even take on a secular sacredness unrelated to theology. Nihilistic consumerism is a problem looming over virtually all beauty our planet contains, threating to spread its tendrils to yet another cite of wonder.

As someone who has difficulty with change, I cannot say that I personally am able to fully embody mono no aware. However, it would be wonderful if I was able to do so.

May 23, 2016 @ 1:29 pm | Comment

*due to pollution

May 23, 2016 @ 1:31 pm | Comment

I should add that I hope I have not come off as anti-China. I have a lot of respect for Chinese culture, although I am nothing close to an expert on it.

On another note, there is value to continuing to blog, even if blogs are fading away like burned out stars. I agree with David Foster Wallace’s claim that the purpose of writing is to make people less lonely, although I do not see this as its only purpose. With the demise of people’s hopes that Hu would bring about an era of reform and the rise of Xi’s increasing obsession with control, I get the sense that the asphyxiation of expats’ hopes has resulted in festering sorrow and disillusionment. Thus, blogging can at least show others that they are not alone in their pain. Additionally, the therapeutic nature of writing makes blogs a way for writers to deal with the loss of their dreams for China. Writing, like art, is a raft keeping us afloat amidst the hurricanes of life. I have found that writing can uplift me even when my anguish worms its way into the very core of my being.

May 25, 2016 @ 2:56 pm | Comment

Crikey. Why did I waste 10+ yrs studying very non-remunerative subjects – Marx to Foucault and which includes the FN – when his big idea (which children was his rejection of The Enlightenment Project and its ancillary claims about ontology and Reason) can be nailed in two short posts.

God, I feel deflated.

My whole life has turned to dust thnx to Richard and Mr Cuttlefish.

May 25, 2016 @ 4:57 pm | Comment

Hi Richard,

I have been following your blog for a good number of years now, and was wondering if you are still based out of Beijing. If so, what are your thoughts of the living standard and environment? From your 2 most recent posts it seems you perceive it to be more authoritarian under Xi’s rule than before. I’m also curious to hear your thoughts on the environmentalist efforts that China has invested in and if you see any signs of improvement in the country becoming less polluted and more green.

October 5, 2016 @ 10:36 am | Comment

Laura, unfortunately I am no longer living in China (I moved home nearly seven years ago) and am not qualified to give my opinion on environmental issues there. This is why I am hardly blogging at all anymore — China seems very distant and it’s been impossible for me to offer first-hand observations on what is happening there. Thanks for reading my blog.

October 7, 2016 @ 7:27 am | Comment

You could still blog about U.S. politics, as you did during the Bush years. (The political post in which you weaved your personal experience of being bullied as a child into your analysis was quite moving.) Given the rise of Trump, commentary regarding the thinking of the Right is especially pertinent. For many years, I have wondered how Talk Radio and Fox News have come to define people’s identities. One would think this question ties into Trump’s prominence. A few years ago, I remember hearing someone say she was a “Fox News Junky.” This strikes me as rather strange, since I do not think many people would consider themselves to be “CNN Junkies” or “BBC Junkies.” Even in the days when I identified as a conservative, I was appalled by Fox News, since I believed that the massive popularity of its propaganda-like programming made conservatives look silly and alienated people who could have been persuaded to move to the right. (I am no longer a conservative today.)

Why IS the identity of so many conservatives defined by Fox News? The ideas of Martin Heidegger may be of help in answering this question. For Heidegger, humans of our late modern age embrace what he calls Cartesianism. From a Cartesian perspective, all things in the universe are meaningless objects to be controlled. Another phenomenon Heidegger claims to be characteristic of late modernity is enframing, which is Cartesianism intensified. The enframer treats even herself as an object to be controlled. In enframing, all phenomena in the universe are treated as mere resources used to unlock other resources, creating chains of interlinked events. For instance, coal yields heat, creating steam, which in turn generates power for a power plant. Coal and steam are not regarded as intrinsically valuable in and of themselves: For enframers, these entities are mere conduits to other resources.

Perhaps Fox News is so popular because it provides people with a sense of meaning in an age when everything has been reduced to meaningless resources. Instead of acquiescing to being mere links in so many chains of resources, conservatives are able to feel like there is a community of viewers and reporters that value them by taking on what they perceive to be the biased mainstream media and standing up to a government they believe has abandoned them. The warmth conservatives see in Fox contrasts with their perception of the coldness they experience due to enframing. Of course, Fox furthers rather than undermines enframing. This can be seen in the support figures on the network have displayed for fracking and deniers of global warming, practices that are part of a mentality in which the environment is a mere collection of objects to be utilized for profit. Additionally, viewers of Fox News become reduced to resources that can be fed untruths in order to unlock advertisements and money for Fox. Viewers are not treated as valuable individuals who reporters should respect by endeavoring to provide them with accurate information.

So as to remain on topic, I should point out that the occurrences referenced in the post from which this thread derives exemplify the mentality of Cartesianism and enframing. When Xi punishes officials for corruption as a means to increase his power, he treats them as mere objects used to yield increased control and prestige. Moreover, the CCP’s obsession with remaining in power reduces people and the environment to meaningless resources used to yield the Party’s increased longevity and the benefits for the Party that go along with this.

According to Heidegger, the solution to the problem of enframing is to open ourselves up to what he calls the Nothing, which is not literally nothingness but the strife between revealing and concealing that allows multiple meanings to emerge. Phenomena reveal aspects of themselves that take on multiple meanings for us if we are receptive to this revealing, but they also conceal other meanings. Entities contain more meanings than we can comprehend – a reality that can overwhelm us if we become aware of it. In contrast to sources such as Fox or CCP mouthpieces, which present only one meaning that underlies all information they provide, reporters should strive to use objectivity as a means of opening up the public to the Nothing. This way the events reported on can blossom into an array of meanings for viewers rather than a prepackaged, conservative meaning.

More posts from The Peking Duck would provide a challenge to Fox’s reduction of information to a single meaning.

October 10, 2016 @ 1:32 pm | Comment

@ King Tubby

You don’t need to feel deflated. At least you get to be a monarch. I’m just a serf constantly beaten down by the absurdity and bleakness of existence.

Of the thinkers that you studied, which one is your favorite?

December 31, 2016 @ 1:55 pm | Comment

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