Foreign Devils

Update: I want to take back a part of this post. I wrote the Nazi comparison in great haste, and I probably shouldn’t have, because Nazi is such a super-charged word. Anyone reading the text will see I am not saying Chinese people are like Nazis, and actually say the opposite: “Let me add, however, that while most gullible Germans ate this up, I strongly believe most Chinese are going to reject the race baiting that is setting the Internets ablaze today.” The Chinese will react responsibly and not like Nazis. What I thought was comparable was the use of race-baiting terms like “foreign trash” and sstereotyping many foreigners as spies, law breakers and enemies of China. Racial stereotyping was what I was alluding to. But in retrospect, I should have avoided that term and should have know that its use would be misunderstood by many.

Scapegoats are marvelous tools for energizing the masses. Especially when they are based on race. Der Stuermer, an Nazi rag published by Julius Streicher, often depicted images of grotesquely stereotyped Jews (big noses, fiendish) molesting pure, young beautiful German maidens. It was a successful campaign. Many really believed this was what Jews were, what they did. And it was a conspiracy, designed to pollute German blood and tear down German greatness. Let me add, however, that while most gullible Germans ate this up, I strongly believe most Chinese are going to reject the race baiting that is setting the Internets ablaze today. They are too suspicious of their government at the moment and are getting good at seeing through the government’s propaganda.

Although comparisons with Nazis are used too frequently and can induce groans, it’s nevertheless the first thing I thought of as I read the appalling call by Yang Rui, host of CCTV 9’s popular show Dialogue, calling in violent language for the ouster of “foreign thugs” from China’s sacred soil. This was brought on by two disgusting incidents of foreigners acting like idiots, even rapists, one attempting to molest a Chinese woman, another treating a Chinese woman on a train like scum. Shameful. Sickening. As vile as a crime can be. But these two sorry incidents are being used as red meat by the likes of Yang to rally the masses and breed hatred of all foreigners, even if Yang doesn’t say that in so many words. In his words:

The Public Security Bureau wants to clean out the foreign trash: To arrest foreign thugs and protect innocent girls, they need to concentrate on the disaster zones in [student district] Wudaokou and [drinking district] Sanlitun. Cut off the foreign snake heads. People who can’t find jobs in the U.S. and Europe come to China to grab our money, engage in human trafficking and spread deceitful lies to encourage emigration. Foreign spies seek out Chinese girls to mask their espionage and pretend to be tourists while compiling maps and GPS data for Japan, Korea and the West. We kicked out that foreign bitch and closed Al-Jazeera’s Beijing bureau. We should shut up those who demonize China and send them packing.”

[Note: I am having serious problems with the GFW and my VPN is making it hellish for me to supply links. This is from the Shanghaiist.]

Just last week friends began warning me to carry my passport at all times, as the PSB was stopping foreigners randomly, especially around Western hangouts like Sanlitun, to make sure they hadn’t overstayed their visa. Papers please. This all smells like a concerted campaign.

China Geeks has some excellent analysis and translations of weibo users’ reactions to this nonsense, and makes a strong argument that all foreigners should boycott Dialogue. I have at least four friends who have appeared on the program, and I really think they need to reconsider. After you read Charlie’s post you’ll have to agree. [Again, sorry but I can’t link.]

An interesting moment to be in China. Something seems to be in the air, an extreme edginess brought on by doubts about the government and concern for China’s future. I’ve never heard so many Chinese people tell me they oppose their government, even hate it. Obviously that’s not scientific, but my expat friends agree. China almost seems on the brink, unable to control its dialogue (no pun intended) and floundering in the wake of recent embarrassments we all know about. Rifts and fissures are becoming more apparent, and there’s a sense that “something’s got to give.” Will it?


Do Westerners care about human rights in China?

This journalist clearly believes they do not.

Let’s stop jacking the Chinese around. We do not care a whit now — nor have we ever cared — about their human rights or any other aspect of their lives as long as they satiate our unbridled appetites. To pretend otherwise is to deny centuries of exploitative history in which the West drugged the Middle Kingdom and plundered it for its resources and cheap labor while obliterating any sign of popular resistance to our imperial sway.

From the Opium Wars to the contemplation of using nuclear weapons to bomb China back to the Stone Age because of our differences with it over Korea and Vietnam, the response of the West has been one of brute intimidation. Never have we been willing to acknowledge that China, for all of its immense contradictions, upheavals, sufferings and errant ways, represents the most complex and impressive example of national history.

Instead we intrude upon China in fitful moments of pique or treat it as a plaything. Who owns China? That was the question that marked the first period of U.S. involvement, when we joined other Western imperialists in carving up China into economic zones. And then came the bitter argument in the U.S. in the late 1940s and the ’50s about “Who lost China?” Now Americans find themselves preoccupied with how best to exploit China’s amazing economic prowess while feigning interest in the well-being of its people.

My problem with the article is the use of the word “We,” as if this lack of interest in human rights in China is monolithic and universal. Is it not possible that many of us care about human rights violations in China? Who is the “We” that doesn’t “care a whit” about the subject? Who are these “Americans” who feel this way? Are they to a large degree strawmen?

I would probably agree that most of the government and the oligarchy of multinational companies don’t care much if at all. But there are many sincere people in the West who do truly care. They are probably the same people who care about human rights in other countries, the kind of people who were appalled at the treatment by the US military of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and who spoke out against atrocities committed in the name of the “war on terror.” Most Western journalists I know in China care deeply about the plight of dissidents in China. I know I do, just as I care about the repression of women in Saudi Arabia, or the arrest and torture and murder of innocents in Syria.

How cynical can we get? Even more so.

Ever since the Republican Richard Nixon went to Beijing to suck up to Mao Zedong, every American president has acknowledged the power of China’s rulers to sweep aside the human rights concerns of foreigners as mere political theater for the folks back home. What a great spin it is to pretend that we are the champions of universal human rights as we tweet about our great concern for the Chinese people on the very mobile devices that their exploited labor created.

I am not so convinced China’s greatest human rights abuses are directed at its labor force, as the author contends. Most Chinese laborers are thirsty for the work and eager to work overtime. Of course there is exploitation and abuse. There is in any developing country, and in China it sometimes amounts to slave labor, at least in some instances. But many if not most migrant workers in China would much rather keep the jobs they have than move back to what they left.

There is nothing wrong or hypocritical about caring for human rights in China, for caring about Chen Guangcheng and Liu Xiaobo and the thousands of other activists/dissidents who had the temerity to challenge the status quo. I feel the same, as I said, for victims of US repression and have spoken out against it many times (go back and read my posts from 2004 criticizing the Bush administration). Read Philip Pan’s Out of Mao’s Shadow, a book of incredible compassion for the Chinese who stood up for human rights in China at a terrifying cost to their own lives. Does he, too, not care a whit about human rights in China?

He also pulls out the old chestnut of how “the US does it, too.”

The fact that Chen Guangcheng was targeted by Chinese authorities because of his opposition to his nation’s oppressive population control policies added the United States’ “pro-life” lobby to the army of morally subjective China watchers. Now if we can get the pro-lifers to care about the human rights of fetuses after birth, the condition of the millions of severely exploited Chinese workers who float U.S. consumption and our national debt just might stand a chance of improvement.

Morally subjective China watchers. Those who speak out are hypocrites because America, too, has a spotty record. I and most others I know are aware of and disgusted by this spotty record. But that doesn’t neutralize what goes on in China.

There’s a lot of truth to this article when it says the government and multinationals care more about their economic ties with China than with human rights. Very true. But many, many Westerners care deeply about human rights in China, as they care about it elsewhere. As they care about it in America as well. They are not all hypocrites and cynics. Scheer seems to dismiss them with a wave of his hand. I found this a deeply irritating and one-sided article.

And let me just add, a few minutes after posting this, that there is a lot of faux outrage and even more ignorance when it comes to the subject of human rights in China. Most Americans have no deep understanding of the actual story of Chen or Liu and see them in black and white, as good versus evil. There’s always more to it than that. These men may not be angels and some of those repressed by the government may not have been saints. But the illegal house arrests, beatings, solitary confinement and harassment are real. And yes, I know we are holding Bradley Manning in solitary confinement, and I find his treatment despicable, too. But at least it is common knowledge told countless times in the media and we can all speak out about it without fearing a 2am knock on the door.


Tibet, one big bundle of joy

From today’s Global Times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Is it fascism?

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

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

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

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

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


Anti-CNN Spokesman Shaun Rein

First-off, go see this excellent post over at the excellent blog China Geeks about CNN’s controversial cooperation with actor Christian Bale as he sought to interview blind activist Chen Guangcheng. I happen to agree with Charlie that whether CNN crossed an ethical line or not (and I’m not convinced they did), the ends in this case justified the means: the video was released and the world has learned about this inexcusable crime against humanity. If you want to talk about ethics, talk about the way the CCP has treated this man whose crime was exposing forced abortions in the countryside. And keeping his six-year-old daughter under house arrest, too. How noble.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and if CNN violated journalistic ethics they deserve to be called on it. But as Charlie says, at the end of the day who cares? The story is Chen Guangcheng and the fact that thugs are holding him, his wife and his daughter under house arrest for his being a whistle-blower. Aside from some indignant Chinese bloggers and microbloggers, CNN hasn’t taken a lot of flak for breaching journalistic ethics, nor should they. (See the China Geeks thread for journalist Adam Minter’s complaints about the story.)

Watch the video and see the “unethical” journalism for yourself. What Bale has to say is pretty spot-on.

Of course, there’s one pundit who is aghast at CNN’s sins, and is getting all Anti-CNN about it. From the Harvard graduate who married into a rich Chinese family and goes fishing with high-ranking CCP officials and runs a marketing company and has written a new book on China, we get the following:

CNN’s China team, in a complete failure of journalistic integrity, decided last week to become the news rather than just report it. The actor Christian Bale called CNN to follow him as he drove for eight hours to confront police to try to see Chen Guangcheng, a blind legal activist being held in his home in the eastern Chinese village of Linyi. Bale was in China to promote his movie about the Rape of Nanking by Japanese troops in 1937.

CNN did Bale one better. It became complicit in Bale’s activism by actually planning the trip and driving him to Linyi. CNN reporter Steven Jiang then translated for Bale as he argued with Chinese police officers and refused to comply with their directives to leave. CNN posted video of the trip on its website, calling it exclusive, showing police forcing Bale to leave while Bale chastised the government, saying its treatment of Chen ”represents the power structure and their attitude towards their own citizens, which is disgusting.”

So they drove him to his destination and translated for him. I understand that this is perhaps (big perhaps) questionable journalism, but only borderline, and like Charlie said, “Who cares?” They didn’t lie or trick anyone, but they followed what sounded like a great story, a celebrity confronting thugs holding a blind man and his family under house arrest. Would it have been okay if they followed him in a taxi and he brought his own translator? Those are very small things. And Bale’s calling the treatment of Chen “disgusting” was, to say the least, justified. An understatement, really.

But Shaun Rein can see only treachery. In Shaun’s eyes, by working with Bale, CNN is facilitating the (false) notion held by many Chinese that the US media works in cahoots with the CIA and the NED and intentionally manipulates the facts they report on.

Shaun gives his cards away pretty early on:

My issue here is not with Bale. In general, I believe one should follow the laws of nations that one visits, and that Bale should do so, but I also generally believe in free speech, no matter how misguided.

Ah. He believes in free speech, no matter how misguided. You see, what Bale was trying to do is misguided. Exposing the inhumane detention of a blind activist is misguided, a publicity stunt. Note the “I generally believe in free speech” as well. That puts him in the clear to decide when to be for it and when not to. A smart thing to do if you’re going to cozy up to the powers that be in China.

In order to get why I bother to write about Shaun Rein’s columns at all, you must think very seriously about his next remark:

I have no idea about Chen’s detention, and if he is being wronged or not, but if there are issues with his case, I am not convinced that calling the entire political class “disgusting,” as Bale does, can help.

He has no idea. Wait. Stop. Fail. Unless you are willfully ignorant there is no way on earth you don’t know about the plight of Chen Guangcheng. Especially if you live in China and write for at least two media organizations. Yes, this speaks volumes. He can banter on about all the good the CCP does and cite example after example of things that prove his point. But here, he knows nothing. Nothing. No idea. And he’s writing a column in Forbes about it.

I made a promise to myself not to go after Shaun Rein any more because I don’t want to hurt his feelings, and I’ve been pretty quiet even though he keeps doling out lots of ammunition. But this is inexcusable. It’s like looking at an MRI of the Anti-CNN mentality. Oh, and note how he plugs his book throughout the column.

More vintage Shaun drivel:

Far too many in the West indict China’s whole governing class and system when a single local official does something stupid or brutish. Yet they criticized only a lone thuggish police officer in New York for pepper-spraying Occupy Wall Street protesters. They didn’t called President Obama evil for what that one officer did, or call for an overthrow of all of America. Yet Bale did that in China’s case, and, worse, CNN helped him.

False. The national outrage over the Oakland pepper-spraying was NOT directed only at one officer. It was directed at the abuse of authority in America. Scroll down a few posts to see my own story about it, where I direct my shame at “my country.” And this wasn’t an isolated incident, we saw just as bad in NYC a few weeks earlier, and the rage has never been solely at the individual sprayer but at the system that allows them to brutalize innocents. Really, this paragraph is among the dumbest yet. As if one lone local official is behind this detention, and the poor little CCP off in Beijing is powerless to take charge, all they can do is watch, knowing it’s atrocious, but, you know, what the hell, it’s just a local official doing it and he’s a few hours away so, like, what can we do? “A single local official.” Think about that. The CCP can be off the hook for anything that doesn’t happen within walking distance of the Great Hall of the People.

And then he puts up another of his signature straw men: “They didn’t called President Obama evil for what that one officer did, or call for an overthrow of all of America. Yet Bale did that in China’s case….” Did Bale call Hu JIntao evil? Did he call anyone evil? Did he call for the overthrow of an evil Chinese government? Did we watch the same video? Shaun, as usual, is simply making things up so he can get on his moral high horse. This is straight out of the Anti-CNN playbook.

He closes sanctimoniously:

The last thing the world needs is increased tension between the world’s two superpowers. CNN should be ashamed for becoming more like a tabloid and inserting itself into the story rather than maintaining journalistic integrity and providing an objective view of its subjects.

So there we have it; calling China to the carpet for its shit threatens fragile global relationships so we should shut the fuck up and keep things status quo so marketing companies can keep making money. Sorry, but I’ll take CNN’s journalism over this any time.

Again, go to China Geeks and see how Charlie replies to the criticisms of CNN one by one. No need for me to repeat them here.

Shaun, do you really have “no idea” they are holding a six-year-old girl under house arrest? Look into your heart and tell us the truth, do you really not know? Really? Whether the answer is yes or no, you are the one who should feel ashamed. Hear no evil, see no evil….

A six-year-old girl.

(Correction. The six-year-old girl is now being allowed to go to school, under police escort, of course. How good of them.)

UPDATE: Please be sure to check out China Geek’s post on the same article. And note the comment below. The commenter dared to ask Shaun if he really had “no idea” about this story — Shaun immediately blocked him on Twitter. The maturity of a five-year-old.

Note: If you are new to this site, you will want to see my other posts about Shaun Rein, most notable this one and this one. Don’t miss those comments. Nothing seems to light up the discussion like this subject.


New thread

Because the one below is driving me nuts, and I can’t put up a new post right now.

One commenter below linked to this intriguing article. I think it’s well worth discussing.

For months, the 20,000 villagers who live in Wukan, near Shanwei city in Guangdong province, have protested first at having nearly £100 million of their land seized and sold off by the local government, and then at the brutal tactics used by police to regain control of the village.

The latest protests began on Sunday, when police attempting to arrest a villager were repelled by villagers armed with sticks. The police fired tear gas before retreating.

At the same time, the local government brought the village’s simmering anger to a boil by admitting that Xue Jinbo, a 43-year-old butcher who had represented the villagers in their negotiations with the government, had died in police custody of “cardiac failure”.

Mr Xue was taken into custody last week and accused of inciting riots. Mr Xue was widely believed to have been tortured, perhaps to death, and his family were rumoured to have found several of his bones broken when receiving his corpse.

I know, we do this sort of thing — and much worse — in America every day.
[Update – that closing line is strictly for my trolls, who feel compelled always to make this comparison.]


The ironies of China’s Web censorship

The irony is that for all the time and energy and resources China throws into censoring its Internet, the more creative, ingenious and brilliant those striving to subvert the system become. And the more brilliant and ingenious they are, the more attention they get, and the attempts to censor information blow up in the censors’ faces.

This is an absolutely marvelous article, a look at how the wit and humor of irreverent, mischievous bloggers, microbloggers and online artists is confounding China’s fleet of Web censors and doing achieving exactly what the censors are fighting: the delivery of mocking, critical messages revealing the injustices of the Chinese government.

No government in the world pours more resources into patrolling the Web than China’s, tracking down unwanted content and supposed miscreants among the online population of 500 million with an army of more than 50,000 censors and vast networks of advanced filtering software. Yet despite these restrictions — or precisely because of them — the Internet is flourishing as the wittiest space in China. “Censorship warps us in many ways, but it is also the mother of creativity,” says Hu Yong, an Internet expert and associate professor at Peking University. “It forces people to invent indirect ways to get their meaning across, and humor works as a natural form of encryption.”

To slip past censors, Chinese bloggers have become masters of comic subterfuge, cloaking their messages in protective layers of irony and satire. This is not a new concept, but it has erupted so powerfully that it now defines the ethos of the Internet in China. Coded language has become part of mainstream culture, with the most contagious memes tapping into widely shared feelings about issues that cannot be openly discussed, from corruption and economic inequality to censorship itself. “Beyond its comic value, this humor shows where netizens are pushing against the boundaries of the state,” says Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, whose Web site, China Digital Times, maintains an entertaining lexicon of coded Internet terms. “Nothing else gives us a clearer view of the pressure points in Chinese society.”

I have posted before about the CCP’s total lack of a sense of humor. Every year in America the president of the United States gets roasted at the White House Correspondents dinner. No government figure here or in most free countries is spared from being laughed at. But can anyone actually imagine the CCP laughing at itself? How surprising, that it’s authoritarian and totalitarian regimes that are utterly devoid of humor. Anything that challenges such governments’ monolithic image of paternalism and benevolence is a threat: jokes unveil weaknesses in the rulers, they reveal vulnerabilities, and if they’re really funny they spread like wildfire. Small wonder that those making the jokes are considered lethal enemies.

Satire is sometimes a safety valve that government might grudgingly permit. Better a virtual laugh, after all, than a real protest. But being laughed at, as Orwell found during his stint as a colonial police officer in Burma, can also be a ruler’s greatest fear. And the Chinese government, which last year sentenced a woman to a year of hard labor for a sarcastic three-word tweet, appears to suffer from an acute case of humor deficiency. “Jokes that mock the abuse of power do more than let off steam; they mobilize people’s emotions,” says Wen Yunchao, an outspoken blogger who often mounts sardonic Internet campaigns in defense of free speech. “Every time a joke takes off,” Wen says, “it chips away at the so-called authority of an authoritarian regime.”

This exhaustive article reads like a thriller and is a good reminder of why we need professional journalists. While it’s largely about humor, and while some of the examples are pretty hilarious (be sure to read the one about Mao), it is anything but funny. The political reality is utterly grim. The use of humor is a last resort, a desperate attempt to enlighten and inform the masses, and a dangerous game. These are acts of incredible courage, and there’s no way China can wipe them out unless it turns the entire Internet off, and cell phones, too. These are real freedom fighters (or “freedom-of-speech fighters”).

Update: Relatedly, you’ll want to read this. These censors must be very busy men.

And then there’s this. What’s going on tonight?


Norwegian salmon rots in Chinese warehouses

The Chinese government, one year later, is still simply furious with Norway over awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to NED puppet and criminal Liu Xiaobo. I can’t help but be struck by the maturity and diplomacy with which they are expressing their outrage.

Norway has reported China to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in an escalation of a row about fish which has pitted one of Europe’s smallest countries against the biggest nation in the world.

The Chinese imposed additional import controls on Norwegian salmon last year in apparent retribution for the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in Oslo to the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo. The result has been a collapse in sales of salmon to China, and the sight and smell of North Sea fish rotting in Chinese warehouses. The Norwegian Foreign Office said overall trade with China had grown by 46 per cent over the past six months. But sales of fresh salmon, meanwhile, have collapsed 61.8 per cent.

Officials said they would not speculate as to why Beijing had ignored trade rules relating to Norwegian salmon. But it seems clear that the threat from the Chinese embassy in Oslo last year, of “damage” to diplomatic ties should the Nobel Prize be handed to “a criminal” has focused on a narrow, iconic target.

And China wonders why the world sees it as a prickly, pouting child. Unfortunately, due to the country’s economic heft, the world always has to walk around China on eggshells lest the CCP have its feelings hurt.

Via CDT Be sure to click that link and read about Liu’s life one year after his arrest. And then, to top it off, read this.


So much for the “Confucius Peace Prize”

What if they gave an award and the recipient didn’t show up? As we all know, that’s what happened last year when the Nobel committee set up an empty chair for the imprisoned Liu Xiaobo, infuriating the Chinese government, which saw the committee’s choice of Liu as an act of provocation, something that caused China a lot of hurt feelings.

What followed next was a vintage only-in-China fiasco, in which a group in China quickly created the “Confucius Peace Prize,” presented as China’s version of the Nobel, which they awarded to former Taiwan vice-president Lien Chan, who didn’t want it. Once more, there was “an empty seat,” and China once again had its feelings hurt by the ridicule this created.

Now it seems the ill-conceived Confucius Peace Prize is in jeopardy.

The Confucius Peace Prize, which started last year and was widely heralded as China’s Nobel Peace Prize, faces the prospect of cancellation this year, as an official group reportedly behind it has denied any ties with the award.

When the prize was announced on Sept 17 last year, one of the organizers was Wang Shenggui, a division chief for the Beijing-based Association of Chinese Local Art.

However, according to a recent statement, the group said Wang was acting outside of his official capacity, and that plans to start the award were never discussed with association heads, who answer directly to the Ministry of Culture.

“Wang didn’t tell us anything about the prize,” said Zhang Houbang, the association’s standing vice-president.

The group only became aware of it through media reports, he said, adding that the ministry called him on Sept 19 to demand an explanation.

Zhang stressed that the association’s focus is limited to promoting Chinese art, and that Wang’s involvement in the prize was not allowed.

Wang was subsequently dismissed for violating the rules, while his division, which focused on the preservation of traditional culture, was scrapped, said the statement.

This is what we call a train wreck. Everything the CCP has done to suppress the Liu Xiaobo story has only succeeded in keeping it front and center. The Confucius prize only exists, of course, because of Liu, and any coverage it gets dredges up the embarrassment China suffered with the empty seat in Oslo. Now once again China faces smirks as the world witnesses the internal disarray that seems to spell the end of the Confucius Peace Prize. And once again, the story of Liu’s imprisonment and his wining the Nobel prize gets churned up all over again.

I’m not making any comment for or against Liu; we’ve discussed that many times here. This is a story of incompetency and gob-smackingly bad public relations. How could the Confucius Peace Prize have been trumpeted with such fanfare last year if it was never blessed by the government? Something doesn’t add up, and the only thing that emerges as crystal clear is the government’s complete mishandling of something they should have known would result in international ridicule. Well done.


Escape from China

As I’ve said before, China can be a wonderful place, as long as you play by its rules. There are many things to praise about the CCP — the one that’s helping bring technology to the countryside, or the one that helps certain (but by no means all) minorities maintain their culture. But as I also have always said, there is more than one CCP. And the CCP you’ll read about in this superb essay by Chinese writer Liao Yiwu is the worst of the worst.

Liao was once imprisoned for daring to write a poem about the government’s harsh handling of the student protestors of 1989, and his books, needless to say, can only be published abroad. After being barred from entering the US to attend a PEN conference, his handlers told him if he tried to go to the airport he would be “disappeared” just like Ai Weiwei.

For a writer, especially one who aspires to bear witness to what is happening in China, freedom of speech and publication mean more than life itself. My good friend, the Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, has paid a hefty price for his writings and political activism. I did not want to follow his path. I had no intention of going back to prison. I was also unwilling to be treated as a “symbol of freedom” by people outside the tall prison walls.

China for him had become a prison in which he was destined to rot. That was unacceptable. He had to write, and he would do whatever he needed to to secure the freedom to express himself.

Only by escaping this colossal and invisible prison called China could I write and publish freely. I have the responsibility to let the world know about the real China hidden behind the illusion of an economic boom — a China indifferent to ordinary people’s simmering resentment.

Escape he does, crossing from a border town in Yunnan to Vietnam, and finally making his way to Berlin, where one of his books is being published. This is a remarkable story of bravery and refusal to be silenced by government terror.

Which leads me to an observation I made in China last week. Somethings seems to have changed. Censorship, which my Chinese friends used to laugh at as a nuisance, has become a front-and-center national issue. As always on these trips, I talk to as many Chinese people as I can about their feelings toward the government. Granted, these spot interviews are thoroughly unscientific, but I have always found them revealing. In the past, most of the responses I got were along the same lines: We don’t really love the government, but it gets things done, and anything it sets its sights on doing will happen. In general, this is a good thing. We don’t love our government but we support it and are proud of our country.

During the run-up to the Olympics I heard more positive things about the government than ever before. People defended it aggressively in light of the riots in Tibet, and national pride seemed to be at its zenith, which wasn’t too surprising. Along with Tibet, this was when AntiCNN began its successful campaign to convince China it was the victim of a vast media conspiracy to make them look bad. Everyone seemed to close ranks and display their love of China, even placing a “heart China” alongside their names on MSN.

Has there been a sea change? Again, this is not scientific in the least, but all I heard this time, from taxi drivers to old colleagues to new friends, was harsh criticism. The one word that permeated each discussion was “Weibo.” Something about the Wenzhou train crash and its harmonization on Weibo seemed to have struck a nerve with many Chinese (and foreigners, too). Finally, suddenly, censorship moved from being a nuisance to outright repression.

The reaction to the cover-up was across the board: the government had lost the trust of its people, and all the glory they were claiming for its new high-speed rail system was built on sand. Some said they would never ride the fast trains now that they know they are unsafe, and they place the entire blame for that on the government. A government that pledged the trains were safe, and then covered up its flaws. And then censored all conversation about it. This was one whammy after another, and the Chinese people seemed to reach a breaking point. And I don’t see how their trust can be re-won.

With sites like Weibo, it’s becoming impossible for the Chinese government to hide under a cloak of secrecy. They can try to stamp out conversations but it will be like whack-a-mole; one will flare up as the other is extinguished. And the more they censor, the more outraged the public will become.

People might be furious at the government, but that doesn’t mean they’re optimistic. The vibe I got was one of outrage mixed with resignation. And for the umpteenth time, I know this was not a representative sample. But it seemed so prevalent, it couldn’t have just been a coincidence that everyone wanted to complain about the handling of Weibo.

The CCP faces a rocky road as it seeks to repair the damage it created for itself. Millions of their people will be watching them, and attempts to silence them all on the microblogs will be an exercise in futility. China’s relationship with its own citizens seems to have entered a new phase, and it will be fascinating to see how it unfolds.