Tibetans, second-class citizens?

Yes, I know all about the schools, the hospitals, the highways and the end of serfdom. I know about improvements in the quality of life and all the economic benefits. I know how Chinese people see Tibet and I know that there is some justification for it. But I also know that many, many Tibetans do not see the CCP’s involvement in Tibet to be liberating. Many rage against the interference of the Han Chinese even while they profit from it. (This phenomenon is described in one of the best chapters of the new book Chinese Characters.) Some even go so far as to self-immolate.

But the debate as to how much the Tibetans have benefited thanks to the largesse and munificence of the CCP is largely irrelevant to the discussion of how so many Tibetans are treated as second-class citizens. And the fact that they are is simply undebatable. It is a matter of fact.

I urge you all to read this excellent interview of a leading Tibetan scholar by my former blog buddy Matt Schiavenza. Tibetans are being denied passports because the Party fears they’ll travel to India to hear the teachings of the Dalai Lama. Han Chinese, of course, face no such restrictions. Tibetans are the Untouchables. Matt asks the scholar, Robert Barnett, about other restrictions:

There have been many. These include the Chinese government putting Communist Party cadres in every monastery, requiring every monastery to display pictures of Chairman Mao Zedong, putting troops on every corner of the Tibetan quarter in Lhasa, limiting foreign visitors to guided groups, having to give their names before photocopying, not being allowed to enter Lhasa without a police guarantee if they’re from another Tibetan area, and many more.

The strategy of pouring money into Tibet has failed to bring the Tibetan people to that stage of enlightenment wherein they view the Communist Party as liberators. It will never happen so long as the CCP tries to force its own culture down the Tibetans’ throats. Things have only deteriorated since the riots of the Spring of 2008, and no matter how thrilled the CCP propagandists say the Tibetans are with their liberation (and you gotta check that link), the truth is far darker. The Party can trumpet its generosity and label all protest as the work of the jackal the DL, but the fact remains that many Tibetans do not believe they have been liberated, and instead see the Han as colonizers. Is it that hard to wonder why?

Read the whole piece


Mo Yan and his stories

A.E. Clark, the translator of one of my favorite contemporary Chinese novels, has written an essay about Mo Yan and his defense of himself in the light of attacks that he is not concerned enough with human rights in China or with the plight of his fellow Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo, about whom Mo has remained silent. In response to such criticism, Mo told three stories, each of which Clark translates and analyzes (they were translated By Howard Goldblatt).

I cannot urge you strongly enough to go to his site and read these translations and commentary. I can’t do justice to them in a blog post. I love the way Clark writes, and I stand in awe of his panoramic knowledge of China. Each of these stories (parables, really) is an attempt by Mo to put into perspective his reactions to the criticisms of him, but Clark sees them as telling us much more about Mo than the author intended.

The first story is about a young boy who, along with his classmates, is expected to cry when viewing “an exhibit of suffering” presumably during the Mao era. Clark explains:

This scene was not an uncommon one for its time. The “exhibit of suffering” (in ‘63 or ‘64) would have consisted of dioramas that showed landlords extracting rent from peasants, KMT officials lording it over the poor, and other scenes representative of life under the old regime. The exhibit might have included Japanese atrocities and perhaps even the depredations of the British during the Opium Wars. What is important – and what Mo Yan as a novelist would grasp perfectly even if this anecdote were not autobiographical – is how meaningless and bewildering the exhibit must have seemed to a bunch of eight-year-olds from a farming village…

The unnamed situation to which the scene is being compared is none other than the situation in which Mo Yan finds himself today. Now he is the boy who will not cry. In the weeks since the award’s announcement, he has been badgered about human rights by Western reporters, pressured to sign a petition on behalf of Liu Xiaobo, and invited to join in Western handwringing about Chinese censorship. He has refused. But with this story, he does more than refuse. He dismisses all these issues as fake indignation manufactured in the service of a conformist ideology. He doesn’t feel the distress or the outrage voiced by his critics and, crucially, he doesn’t think they do either (“the tears are only for show”). This is not as extraordinary a statement as it might appear. Apologists for the Communist Party of China often say that foreigners’ purported concern for human rights is a pretext for China-bashing. To put it personally: Mo Yan doesn’t care what happens to people like Liu Xiaobo, and he doesn’t believe you care either. To him, the clamor for rights is humbug and bullying like what he witnessed under Mao, and he asserts his right to stand aloof from it.

This is very powerful stuff. I am somewhat on the fence about Mo because I still haven’t read his works (I have one ordered) and I’ve read wildly contradictory opinions about him. One writer/translator I have huge respect for recently wrote an eloquent post about Mo’s constant criticisms of China’s government, its policies and its cruelties, and how he is anything but a government patsy. And that’s a matter of fact. But I see those as two separate issues. As scathing a critic of the government as he might be in his novels, might it not be possible that at the same time he functions as an apologist for the party? Are the two mutually exclusive? I find Clark’s arguments more than compelling.

I’m not offering a definitive answer. But reading Clark’s essay certainly made me think, especially his take on the third story (too long for me to paraphrase here). He concludes by asking why it even matters if Mo Yan is making apologies for the CCP.

It matters, finally, because – even if he never wanted this role – winning the most prestigious international prize moves Mo Yan to the forefront of China’s pursuit of soft power. The leadership is surely pleased that he dismisses as hypocritical nonsense the values underlying the defense of human rights against the State. We will hear more of this, from Mo Yan and others, and it won’t always be so subtle. That is not to say there will be no improvements in the area of human rights. Liu Xia has probably already been assigned better guards.

Again, please read the whole brief piece. Even if you disagree with Clark’s conclusions, his arguments are beautifully crafted and certainly thought provoking.


“The Chinese Way”

Kevin Carrico (who I believe is an occasional reader of this blog) has written an opinion piece for the Christian Science Monitor that poses a wonderful counter to the bizarre Daniel Bell-Jiang Qing op-ed op-ed on a “Confucian constitution” that set off a spirited debate in this thread. You remember: the one about a Confucian meritocracy system, in which leaders in at least one “house of authority” would need to be descendants of Confucius. (Every time I think of that I have to wonder if this was a parody, but it’s not).

Carrico counters:

Such ideas are part of a much larger discussion of “Chinese characteristics” in recent decades. Promoted by the state and state-friendly intellectuals, the notion of Chinese characteristics portrays the people of China as so unique, on account of their longstanding cultural traditions, as to be immune to the political and cultural change that has swept the world in recent decades. And while supposedly determining China’s sole proper path for handling any and all issues, these unique characteristics, according to their proponents, remain conveniently unable to be fully grasped by outsiders.

Whether applied domestically or internationally, this is a harmful line of thinking.

The primary political effect of these ideas is to deny the inevitable trend of democratization in recent decades – in Asia, Latin America, Europe, and Arab countries. Ironically, however, the notion of Chinese characteristics appeals to many of those whom it would deceive and ultimately disenfranchise. Internationally, it rationalizes authoritarianism under the guise of cultural sensitivity to a uniquely Chinese way. Domestically, it fulfills a desire for uniqueness and exceptionalism in order to distract citizens from the growing desire for basic political and human rights.

He eviscerates the Bell-Jiang nonsense with a biting wit:

The notion that China’s future must inevitably be found in its past, after all, is not particularly liberating, especially when one considers that this past represents a period prior to accountability in governance and recognition of human rights. Anyone who proposed a similar framework for the future of a western country, or even for such traditionally Confucian – but democratic – neighbors of China as South Korea, Japan, or Taiwan, would not be taken seriously.

Equally restrictive is the quirky proposal that the House of the Nation be populated by direct descendants of Confucius and other sages. One such male-line descendant is Kong Qingdong, a professor at Peking University and a contentious Chinese pop-culture figure. Besides his ancestry, which he never hesitates to cite, Prof. Kong is best known for his outspoken hatred of “traitorous” liberals, his fondness for the North Korean political model, and his recent characterization of the people of Hong Kong as “dogs” and worse. Clearly, cultural sensitivity is not a two-way street.

As “a PhD. candidate in sociocultural anthropology at Cornell University, researching neo-traditionalism, nationalism, and ethnic relations in contemporary China” Carrico has credentials. This opinion piece is a joy to read and a much needed antidote to the op-ed that I still can’t believe the New York Times allowed to grace its pages.

The bottom line is that “the Chinese way” is a fancy way to rationalize keeping China an authoritarian state. Whether that’s good or bad isn’t really the point. But let’s call it what it is.


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.


The Great Democracy Debate

How many times have we discussed whether China would be better off with some form of democracy as opposed to its one-party authoritarian system? I know, too many times. But this article on the recent debate between CCP apologist and shill Eric Li and professor of government Minxin Pei is well worth reading. If you don’t believe me about Li being a shill, or if you are unfamiliar with him, read this. This is one of my favorite of Li’s assertions:

China is on a different path. Its leaders are prepared to allow greater popular participation in political decisions if and when it is conducive to economic development and favorable to the country’s national interests, as they have done in the past 10 years.

However, China’s leaders would not hesitate to curtail those freedoms if the conditions and the needs of the nation changed. The 1980s were a time of expanding popular participation in the country’s politics that helped loosen the ideological shackles of the destructive Cultural Revolution. But it went too far and led to a vast rebellion at Tiananmen Square.

That uprising was decisively put down on June 4, 1989. The Chinese nation paid a heavy price for that violent event, but the alternatives would have been far worse.

The resulting stability ushered in a generation of growth and prosperity that propelled China’s economy to its position as the second largest in the world.

For a marvelous take-down of this drivel go here. As if all of China’s great progress rests firmly on the shoulders of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Anyway, sorry for that digression, but you have to know who Li is to appreciate this debate.

I’ve always been careful to say I don’t believe Western-style democracy would necessarily be the answer to China’s problems of corruption, human rights violations, and the injustices inherent to any one-party system that operates without the checks of rule of law. Pei makes a strong argument, however, that the huge political and economic challenges China is facing are weakening the government and will ultimately result in an “unraveling” of the one-party system. So China should have a democratic infrastructure in place if the party implodes. In a nutshell:

The economy has been driven primarily by investments at home and exports to developed countries, which isn’t sustainable. In the political sphere, we’re seeing manifestations of a fundamental vulnerability of one-party systems globally: a tendency to drift into benefiting a relatively small, and ultimately predatory, elite at the expense of society generally, and the associated phenomena of high-level corruption and inequality.

Together, Pei claimed, these two domains of contradiction tend to impede the growth of China’s economy and undermine the legitimacy of its government. You can see the last two decades as a story of the rise of the Chinese system, Pei said; but the next 10 to 15 years (no less than 10, no more than 15) will be one of the system’s unraveling. And this is what the United States and the West generally need to worry about — not China’s strength but its weakness, because when the transition to a more democratic system comes, it will be very difficult to manage, particularly given the country’s deep ethnic divisions, its disputed borders, and its complex integration with the global economy.

Li’s arguments are familiar: all of China’s mistakes have been dwarfed by its accomplishments, the party has put China on a long trajectory of growth and it would be insane to shift gears when the current system is working, Western democracies are thrown into chaos by politics and therefore can’t get things done, etc. Pei argues that by clinging to an unrepresentative system of government, China may be on a path to collapse should the economy falter dramatically, and having no other alternative to the CCP political bedlam could ensue. A comparison to the collapse of the Soviet Union is not inconceivable.

Li showed his true stripes several times, and he was proud of them. This was one of my favorites:

In response to a question from the audience, Li also criticized the very ideas of political liberty and individual rights. Unless you think rights come from God, he insisted, you really have no theory of why any one view of political liberty any discrete set of individual rights should be sacrosanct at all. “If they’re from men, they’re not absolute; they can be negotiated.” It was only too bad there wasn’t time to discuss what “negotiated” means here.

“I want to break the spell of the so-called right to freedom of speech,” he added later. “Speech is act. It has harmed from time immemorial.”

It’s too bad he sounds like such an apologist. Some of his arguments are fair. We all know how well China has done compared to 30 years ago. I believe the CCP has to be given a lot of credit for improving the quality of the lives of so many of its citizens, and wonder whether its people are ready for pluralism. But who gets to decide that? And if the people so adore the CCP, why do Li and other shills so strongly oppose free elections? And if the government is so confident in China’s future, why are so many party elites moving their assets out of China? Li got kind of tongue-tied over that one.

Anyway, read the whole thing. Nothing new, exactly, but thought provoking. And you really are left wondering what the answer is. Neither Pei’s nor Li’s answers are totally convincing and it’s hard for me to say who “won.”


Soft Power

I’ve already posted about how much I love this new blog. Go now and read their ominously hilarious post about how China manages to shoot itself in the foot whenever it comes to its neverending quest for soft power. An example is a business conference in the city of Leeds that gave a speaking slot to the king of jackals, the Dalai Lama. China’s leader were not amused. As is so often the case, they resort to threats, a very poor strategy in the quest for soft power around the world. They did the same with Norway after Liu Xiaobao won the Nobel Peace Prize and they still do). Rectified.Name comments:

But today an op-ed appeared in the nationalist rag The Global Times which made it quite clear that anybody who messes with China’s dignity should expect a flaming bag of cat hurled in the general direction of their front door sometime in the very near future:

“They must pay the due price for their arrogance. This is also how China can build its authority in the international arena. China doesn’t need to make a big fuss because of the Dalai or a dissident, but it has many options to make the UK and Norway regret their decision.”

You get the idea.

This is China at its soft power worst, scoring goals in its own net and making it exponentially harder to convince the rest of the world that the country is being run by grown-ups.

Need further proof? Take the case of the new documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, produced by Alison Klayman. It’s gotten some decent buzz at Sundance and other stops on the festival circuit, but that wasn’t sufficient for the Chinese government who apparently want EVERYBODY to go see this movie.

Faced with the possibility of appearing at the same film festival as Klayman’s documentary, a Chinese delegation, including representatives from CCTV, pulled out of a planned appearance rather than validate the promoter’s decision to…I don’t know, show films. Anybody not high from inhaling industrial solvents could have predicted what happened next, because as sure as cows shit hay the festival organizers then called a press conference, chastised the Chinese delegation, and reaped a bonanza of free publicity for their festival, Ai Weiwei, Klayman and her film.

Seriously, if the powers that be really wanted to kill this film they’d have SARFT publicly give the documentary its seal of approval.

“Many options.” That is really scary.

I really would like to write a post praising the CCP for its soft policy efforts. They seem to try so hard, but then they seem to try even harder to offend just about everyone. I see so many glimmers of hope, and then they just switch the lights off. There’s a way to express your dissatisfaction without sounding like a snarling bully. Why do they keep getting soft power all wrong? It’s not just that they fail at establishing soft power, it’s that they create exactly the opposite effect from what they set out to achieve.

For bloggers on China, this is a gift that keeps on giving. Same story over and over again, each time with some added bells and whistles. This is supposed to be a government run by engineers employing scientific methods to solve the country’s myriad problems, and in many ways they’ve done a damn good job. Why can’t they apply this scientific approach to the pursuit of soft power instead of setting the laboratory on fire everytime they try?

Update: Be sure to read this one, too!


Censorship Directives from the “Ministry of Truth”

China Digital Times has collected a series of directives from what Chinese journalists, in true Orwellian fashion, have dubbed the “Ministry of Truth.” These guideline start with the death of Chinese activist Li Wangyang who recently “died” in police custody and has made international headlines. This and other topics are off limits in China:

Regarding the news of Li Wangyang’s death in Shaoyang, Hunan and the foreign media reaction: all media outlets must without exception refrain from granting interviews, reporting or commenting, and must not reprint relevant information from foreign media and websites….

Central Propaganda Department: Yili Milk Powder and Shaanxi Forced Abortion

Regarding heavy metals found in certain batches of Yili Brand milk powder and the seven-month pregnant women in Yuping Village, Cengjia Town, Zhenping County, Ankang City, Shaanxi Province who underwent forced labor: if any media outlet reports on these stories, only Xinhua News Agency’s wire copy may be used. Do not hype these stories, do not exaggerate them, and do not offer in-house reporting or commentary….

Central Propaganda Department: India Arrests Eight Chinese Citizens

According to the Indian media, on June 12 Indian police arrested eight Chinese nationals. No media outlet may report or comment on either this or related incidents, nor may any reprint relevant information or commentary from foreign media and websites.

Back and forth, A freer press, a more restricted press. Nothing new. It even reminds me of some memos I’ve seen distributed by the masters at Fox News telling their “journalists” to cover Republican-related scandals with kid gloves while going after Democrats with everything they’ve got, slanderous or not. The difference is Fox News is not America’s monolithic overseer of the media and cannot dictate what all media in the country can and cannot cover.


What constitutes a police state?

There have been moments when I wondered whether the US was creeping toward becoming a police state. For many minorities in poor neighborhoods, America is a police state, where they can be pulled over and searched at random and then thrown into jail for years for possessing a little pot. For innocent detainees at Gitmo whose “crime” was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, America must indeed look like a police state.

A key difference between the US and certain other candidates for the dubious title is that the victims often get to tell their story and in some instances justice is served. Not always. Not even usually. And that in no way exonerates the fucked-up system that allowed such abuses to happen in the first place. But people’s voices can be heard, and we can debate openly, as I’m doing now, whether something is just or unjust, and we can donate money to the victim’s cause and lobby for justice. The most harrowing descriptions of Gitmo’s victims, such as the brutal treatment of Jose Padilla, can be told on the front page of our newspapers, not that that is much consolation to the permanently traumatized Mr. Padilla.

I was thinking about this as I read this shocking (but not surprising) article in today’s NYT on just how dire the consequences can be for officials in China who win the negative attention of those above them, as Bo Xilai did. I urge you all to read it.

We’ve heard the stories of China’s black prisons and decades of solitary confinement and the lack of any meaningful rule of law to make appeals. (At least the Gitmo inmates managed to get their case heard by the Supreme Court — and by all the major media — though that didn’t help very much.) This article is a grim reminder of just how brutal China can be to detainees who in at least some instances have committed no crime other than to “violate Party rules.

Few who have been dragged into the detention system emerge unscathed, if they emerge at all. Over the last decade, hundreds of officials have committed suicide, according to accounts in the state news media, or died under mysterious circumstances during months of harsh confinement in secret locations. Once interrogators obtain a satisfactory confession, experts say, detainees are often stripped of their party membership and wealth. Select cases are handed over to government prosecutors for summary trials that are closed to the public.

“The word shuanggui alone is enough to make officials shake with fear,” said Ding Xikui, a prominent defense lawyer here….

Shuanggui (pronounced shwang-gwei) is rooted in the ancient imperial justice system and was used by the Red Army to punish wayward soldiers during the civil war. Over the past decade, it has become increasingly institutionalized through party-issued guidelines that have scaled back some of its excesses.

Nonetheless, secrecy, isolation and harsh interrogation techniques remain hallmarks of the system, according to Flora Sapio, a visiting scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Unchanged as well are the main objectives: to extract confessions from those accused of violating party rules, most often through financial corruption.

The secrecy, Ms. Sapio said, is intended to shield the public from details that might harm the party’s image and to limit any collateral damage to those higher up the food chain. If history is any guide, many of the accusations against Mr. Bo are unlikely to be made public or lead to formal charges.

“It’s as if you’ve fallen into a legal black hole,” Ms. Sapio said, noting that those in custody are not allowed to see family members and do not have access to a lawyer. “Once you are called in, you almost never walk out a free man.”

The Dui Hua Foundation, an organization in San Francisco that promotes changes to the Chinese prison system, says simulated drowning, cigarette burns and beatings are common tactics for getting detainees to talk. “The system is just Kafkaesque,” said John Kamm, the group’s executive director.

One former propaganda bureau official from Zhejiang Province who was subjected to interrogation a decade ago said he spent nearly two months confined to a series of hotel rooms. He was whipped with a TV antenna and kept awake for 12 days until he began to hallucinate. The windows were papered over and a red light bulb was kept on 24 hours a day, heightening the disorientation.

And it goes on. I was careful to point out the atrocities in the US penal system and places like Gitmo. A national disgrace. Inexcusable. But I at least understand why monsters like Cheney and John Yoo rationalized torture and barbarism: they felt they were fighting a righteous war against terrorism. They were/are depraved, but at least they can say why they did it (not that I’d ever believe a word of it).

These instances in China are so troubling because they represent a widespread pattern of breaking down perceived enemies, torturing and driving them mad, and leaving them with no recourse such as access to an attorney or even with contact with their family. Their cases will never be on the front page of the People’s Daily, their appeals to the courts will never be covered on television and radio (that is, if there actually were such appeals), their attorneys will never appear on 60 Minutes.

The article points out that many of those interrogated and kept in secret jails were indeed found to be guilty of graft and corruption, and there is little pubic sympathy for them. It also points out how ineffective shuanggui is in deterring corruption: “Shuanggui is useless because corruption is everywhere,” a young official said. “They might shuanggui some leaders, but the new leaders will be as corrupt as the old ones.”

Corrupt officials should be exposed and punished. None should go through prolonged periods of torture and misery to extract confessions. I condemn it in the US and I have for years, just as I do in China.

Read the whole article.


June 4th

I’m not going to rehash what happened on that day in 1989, except to repeat my bottom-line belief that there was blame to be shared by all sides, but that the massacre of Beijing citizens in the side streets around Tiananmen Square was an unnecessary and avoidable tragedy that continues to haunt the Chinese government to this day. In some corners of Beijing there were terrible incidents of violence against Chinese soldiers and I can at least understand why shots were fired. But the violence around the Square is a different story. This blog has chronicled all the eyewitness accounts, including Philip Cunningham’s excellent description of what can only be described as a massacre, and we’ve all seen the BBC footage of the shootings and read the reports from demonstrators and bystanders crushed and maimed by tanks or injured by shots, we know all about the Tiananmen Mothers, etc., etc. The students may have been foolish and misguided at times (they were), but the response was not commensurate with the threat posed by the “incident,” to put it mildly. For my complete take on the suppression of the demonstrators and bystanders along with lots of links and first-hand descriptions, go here. No need to repost it.

Only one thing I’ll add that’s new, and that’s the story of a new book by Beijing’s mayor at the time of the crackdown. The Party is trying to stop the Hong Kong publisher from printing it because it is not in synch with the official story.

A new book that offers a surprising reassessment of the Tiananmen Square crackdown through interviews with a disgraced former Beijing mayor went on sale Friday in Hong Kong despite efforts by Chinese authorities to stop the sale.

“Conversations With Chen Xitong,” which is not available in mainland China, is based on interviews with Chen, who was mayor of Beijing during the 1989 crackdown. Chen has long been portrayed as having supported the military assault, but in the book he says the crackdown was an avoidable tragedy and that he regrets the loss of life, though he denies being directly responsible.

In the book, Chen tells Yao that the Tiananmen crackdown should never have happened and that he hoped the government would formally re-evaluate the event, in which the military crushed weekslong protests, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of people….

The book adds to a growing debate ahead of a once-a-decade transfer of power in China later this year from one generation of party leaders to younger successors.

The author said Friday that Chen still considers himself a communist and isn’t trying to be a dissident. Chen believes the protests could have been resolved peacefully by using dialogue, Yao said.

We all have to draw our own conclusions. I know what mine are, and have expressed them many times over the past ten years.


People call me a traitor

So says Li Chengpeng, described as “a writer and a blogger who has over five million followers on Sina Weibo.” In this shocking excerpt from a long article he wrote on the 2008 Sichuan earthquake he describes firsthand watching the horrors unfold in Beichuan, where he saw children trapped under the rubble of the tofu school buildings moving their fingers, pleading to be rescued. All of them died.

Li describes himself as a former Chinese patriot who had sucked in all the propaganda and lies verbatim. He describes how he was manipulated like a soft lump of clay.

I was a typical patriot before 2008. I believed that “hostile foreign forces” were responsible for most of my peoples’ misfortunes. As a soccer commentator covering games between Japan and China, I wrote lines like, “Cut off the Japanese devils’ heads.” I saw Japanese soccer players as the descendants of the Japanese soldiers who brutally killed Chinese civilians in the 1937 massacre of Nanjing. I used to curse CNN for its anti-China commentaries. I was one of the protesters who stood in front of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu and raised my fist after the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999.

Now he wants to know how it happened, why some schoolhouses crumbled “like crackers” while others, built with the supervision of the PLA, stood unscathed. He wants to know what stands at the root of the problem, the graft, the corruption, the kickbacks, the sleaze. And by asking these questions he exposes himself as an agent of “foreign devils.”

A month after the quake, I returned to Beijing. One day I bumped into a respected journalist from CCTV, the state television news channel. We talked about the shoddy “tofu structures” that claimed many lives during the quake.

“Corrupt officials deserve to be shot dead,” I barked.

“No,” responded the respected wise man while gazing intently at me. “Tackling such issues in China must be a gradual process. Otherwise, there will be chaos again. After all, we have to rely on these officials for post-quake reconstruction.”

I used to have a lot of respect for that man. Now we are strangers.

Some people now call me a traitor. Some call me an agent of the foreign devils. But how can I be an agent of the foreign devils when I don’t even have a U.S. green card, when unlike much of the Chinese elite my child doesn’t drive a Ferrari or study at a prestigious foreign university, when I don’t own any real estate in the United States or Europe. I love my country, but I cannot love a government that is responsible for so many shoddy “tofu structures.”

He is still a patriot. He still wants Taiwan to return to its mother’s arms. But now he sees his patriotism in a new light.

Patriotism is about taking fewer kickbacks and using proper construction methods when building classrooms. Patriotism is about constructing fewer extravagant offices for the bureaucrats and building more useful structures for farmers. Patriotism is about drinking less baijiu (a fiery Chinese spirit) using public money. Patriotism is about allowing people to move freely in our country and letting our children study in the city where they wish to study. Patriotism is about speaking more truth. Patriotism is about dignity for the Chinese people.

I love this article. I love its love for the Chinese people. I love its drawing a distinction between being pro-China and being pro-corruption, the folly of believing you can only be a patriot if you accept carte blanche all the propaganda and injustices brought by venal officials who abuse their power. I love its definitions of true patriotism as opposed to blind allegiance. I love its honesty and the author’s willingness to challenge his own principles.

Read it. Cut it out and paste it on the wall. Refer to it whenever any idiot tells you it’s impossible to be critical of the Chinese government without being “anti-China,” a “China basher.” Li has exposed them as lemmings incapable of thinking for themselves even in light of the strongest evidence. This blind acceptance of all the government’s crap isn’t patriotism at all, it’s self-delusion and the surrender of one’s critical faculties. We all know that. But it’s wonderful to hear it from a former true believer who came to see for himself what the truth actually is. And that makes him a traitor and a threat.