Harbin: Anatomy of a coverup

No way you can spin this to make thte officials look good.

The reason that officials in northeastern China decided not to announce that a 50 mile slick of toxic benzene was headed downriver toward the city of Harbin earlier this month was their fear of damaging tourism and investment in the region, sources tell TIME. Instead, as the potentially lethal spill approached the metropolis of 10 million people, the city said in an online statement that the entire water supply was being shut down for “water main maintenance and repair.”

The spill had occurred on Nov. 13 when an explosion at a state-owned chemical factory in the province of Jilin released huge amounts of benzene into the Songhua river. But for the next nine days the government balked at telling citizens of Harbin, in the neighboring province of Heilongjiang, about the approaching pollutants, despite the fact that the river is the source of drinking water for the center of the city. The crucial decision to keep the spill secret was explained to provincial officials by Heilongjiang governor Zhang Zuoji at an internal meeting in Harbin’s Peace Village Hotel on November 22, according to one attendee who spoke to TIME and shared his notes about the meeting on condition of anonymity.

Chinese Communist Party officials have been frequently criticized for trying to cover up bad news after the fact, but in this case they chose to withhold what they knew even while the danger persisted. As the poison flowed downstream, information flowed in only one direction: up. While the public remained in the dark, officials reported to their superiors, who in turn reported further up the command chain. At each level, officials understood that there was less risk of official censure in awaiting orders than in making snap decisions that might have enabled residents to prepare.

Read the whole depressing thing, and then tell me about all those lessons learned from SARS about transparency and coming clean and protecting their people.

The Discussion: 56 Comments

Don’t be fooled by some of these so called “reports”, many times they are based on speculation and rumors. You need to use your own head to think. During big incident like this leak accident, it is especially important to stay calm and rational, and follow the wind randomly. What China needs is a stability, creating rumors and causing chaos will do no good absolutely.

This benzene incident is indeed unfortunate, but not as unfortunate as many US news say it is. Similar incidents happen very often in many other nations, it is nothing to care too much about. The Chinese economic reform is still very successful, and sometimes some sacrifices cannot be helped.

Just have a calm heart and enjoy your life!

December 1, 2005 @ 5:41 pm | Comment

Oh, brother….

Tell that to the farmers along the Songhua who didn’t know what they were drinking.

And keep in mind that this information came to light thanks to courageous Chinese journalists.

December 1, 2005 @ 5:49 pm | Comment

Yes some of them did get damaged because of the water. And the gov’t has already pledged YMB 200,000 for each family, which is 10 times their life-time income! When a French journalist from AFP heard such a pledge, he raised his thumb and exclaimed “Such a big pledge is unthinkable in France, the Chinese gov’t is indeed a people-centric gov’t!’

Also, the farmers indeed do make some sacrifices. But they are Chinese citizens, and they also enjoy all the happiness of their nation! When Shenzhou Space Vessel was successfully launched, they felt genuine pride for their country and their sacrifices were worth it.

December 1, 2005 @ 5:53 pm | Comment

creating rumors and causing chaos will do no good absolutely.

You mean creating rumors like Sun Zhiyang had been seeing a prostitute when he was arrested? (That’s a rumor HX proudly created to smear a victim of the Party’s love and generosity.) You little turkey….

December 1, 2005 @ 6:10 pm | Comment

Hongxing, when are you going to make your sacrifice?
“Stop joking me.”

December 1, 2005 @ 6:36 pm | Comment

More stability would have been achieved if the Chinese government had dealt with the incident transparently and honestly from the beginning. As it is they tried to cover it up so rumours and speculation abounded, then they were shown in front of the world and their people to be untrustworthy yet again when the truth came out. Idiots.

December 1, 2005 @ 7:25 pm | Comment

You’re telling me that those farmers who have been poisoned by benzene and potentially had their health ruined think that’s okay because of the space launch???

HongXing, please. If you’re going to come here and pimp for the CCP, at least try and be a little more clever about it. Act like one of those “good officials” who is willing to admit when things are screwed up. Take a lesson from Minister Pan Yue, for example!

If you are really trying to advance an argument and a point of view, please do it with some logic, intelligence and sense. Otherwise, what’s the point? Who are you expecting to convince with lame rhetoric like your justification above?

December 1, 2005 @ 7:27 pm | Comment

I’m sure the Motherland will applaud HongXing’s sacrifice if he downs a cup of benzene some time.

December 1, 2005 @ 7:32 pm | Comment

Kind of reminds me of the way the building management in Cheng always told me the power would be cut off from 10:00am until 9:00pm due to maintenance and that the entire block would be down.

Then I take the elevator down at 12:00pm, pass the bank beside the office (in the same building as my apartment) which was running at full capacity. Then I look around and notice that the only building without any power was my apartment building and it wasn’t out completely, just to the apartments (how else could I have taken the elevator down). The bastards had turned the power off to conserve energy consumption, they just wouldn’t admit it because that would look bad to prospective buyers/renters.

Give it up, Hongxing, nobody on this site is going to fall for your line of crap.

December 1, 2005 @ 8:12 pm | Comment

It’s all about Chinese political institution. local officials are reporting to higher level officials of central government, not his local people…

The 1st choice:
Covering it all up
if succeed will = never happened

results: keeping the position, waiting for the promotion

if failed:
results: waiting to be fired

That’s what Jilin officals did

The 2nd choice:
Reporting it to upper level government and waiting…..

results: no danger for their positions, and that’s what officals in Harbin did…

The 3rd choice:
Deal with it with transparency.

results: possible social unrest…and punishment from upper level officials.

That’s what central government did…and only central government can afford to do.

Final words:
Don’t expect SARS and Harbin water crisis changing the practice of chinese officials. You can’t change how Chinese political institution is running overnight.

December 1, 2005 @ 9:33 pm | Comment

“Such a big pledge is unthinkable in France, the Chinese gov’t is indeed a people-centric gov’t!”

Yes, HX, I am sure that is exactly how a Frenchman from AFP would put it…….when recycled through the propaganda dept. Long live the party, baby!

December 1, 2005 @ 9:56 pm | Comment

Thomas, you beat me to it. That’s what I was just about to write. A FRENCHMAN saying something is “unthinkable in France?”


December 1, 2005 @ 10:23 pm | Comment

Oh yeah, and HX, it’s not just the French who are overawed by China’s handling of Harbin. The RUSSIANS are very impressed TOO!

Why, last time I had a few drinks with a Russian journalist, he said,
“We Russians are very impressed by the correct media handling of the Harbin incident! It is unthinkable that Russia’s media will ever be as open as China’s!”

And then he started choking and died on the spot. It was one of my trips to Khabarovsk, you se…

December 1, 2005 @ 10:31 pm | Comment

i had very low expectation in the SARS lesson.
1) only 1 person in MoPH was sacked, while many were repsonsible for the cover up
2) the party boss and provincial governor of Guangdong deserve death sentence, but they held on to their jobs.
3) 3 months after SARS, they opened trade of civet cats in GD, only to reverse it after an isoloated case broke out, again the bastard in charge of GD was not punished.

however, i believe there is significant change after sars, and every event will push China one more step forward. Consider without the lesson of SARS, we may not even have known the whole story about bird flu and songhua river today.

yes, you can say i have low expectation. and i wish it could have moved faster. but this is a deep-rooted culture of 85 year CCP, it is not easy to change overnight.
but it is changing.

December 2, 2005 @ 12:20 am | Comment

however, i believe there is significant change after sars, and every event will push China one more step forward.

Evidence? Harbin indicates your theory isn’t working.

December 2, 2005 @ 12:46 am | Comment

I just can’t believe there exist such people as this Hong Xing guy. He is making a perfect ridicule of common sense, compassion, respect for people etc … and thus of China. Farmers facing poisoning by benzene and rejoicing for the Chinese space progam ??!! Can somebody please turn off the noise !

December 2, 2005 @ 5:12 am | Comment

Lao Lu, are you chinese?

December 2, 2005 @ 6:31 am | Comment


No, but my wife is.

December 2, 2005 @ 10:12 am | Comment

If HongXing is the type of person the CCP employs to “manage” public opinion on the Internet, they must think they are ruling a nation of imbeciles.

December 2, 2005 @ 12:09 pm | Comment

I am further convinced that HongXing is a parody.

In my more fanciful moments I even think that Hongxing, MAJ, and Ivan are one and the same.

December 2, 2005 @ 12:27 pm | Comment

First the mine explosion, now the benzene spill…god, if finals aren’t making me depressed as it is…I don’t even want to talk about how the government is bungling the damage control – that these manmade disasters happened in the first place is bad enough.

December 2, 2005 @ 12:32 pm | Comment


as i said, the situation could have been a lot worse with the SARS lesson. e.g. we might not even know about the whole fiasco.

the fact that Harbin was pressured into disclosing the information and eventually (belatedly) the media is allowed to report and discuss, all represent significant improvement over pre-SAR period.

yes, i agreed with you this is not enough. and i would have wished for more. and this does not mean they did a good job in Jilin. I deeply believe some head needs to be chopped.
but there is difference, significant difference, compared with 3 years ago.

December 2, 2005 @ 3:36 pm | Comment

Lao Lu, I’m going to hazard a guess, and say that your wife is probably either somewhat sympathetic with Hong Xing, and can explain it to you, or she can explain the context to you. It’s like when I find myself explaining the context of the religious right to europeans. I don’t agree with the nutcases but I can kind of explain them to people.

December 2, 2005 @ 4:03 pm | Comment

seems the head of SEPA resigned,
but i am still waiting for resignation and punishment in Jilin

December 2, 2005 @ 4:26 pm | Comment

HongXing and Ivan are the same person? now that explains everything. he must be one complex dude. actually, i was beginging to think HX might be just a computer program, messing with our minds. im reminded of that old staR trek episode when they found the planet full of robots that were defeated with illogic. HX does not compute…illogical….illogical…blam!

December 2, 2005 @ 6:20 pm | Comment

HX sounds just too earnest to be for real. I’m thinking his tongue must be poking right through his cheek just about now.

Sun bin, on the other hand…you seem reasonble and for real, and I am much more pessimistic about China as a result. No, the Harbin incident is NOT a sign of improvement compared to SARS. It’s not exactly like the Russians are going to keep this quiet once the benzene reaches Khabarovsk. Once again, China’s bloated government bureaucracy have shown themselves to be inept, secretive, and incapable to reform from within. It’s bad enough that the country is being run by a castrated bureaucracy incapable of leadership and responsibility that is more concerned about dodging blame than saving lives, but must the people act like eunuchs as well? I really wish your views are not as typical as I suspect it is, especially amongst the so-called intelligentsia. I hope China has changed enough over the years that your “low expectations” are no longer the norm, that after all this time its people will finally have enough balls to stand up for itself.

December 2, 2005 @ 7:43 pm | Comment

HongXing and Ivan are the same person?

Oh Jesus H. F—ing Christ. First of all Richard can confirm that our IP addresses are different.

And second, I couldn’t make up the kind of shit HongXing writes if I tried.

December 2, 2005 @ 9:57 pm | Comment

Also, even when I’m parodying someone or playing an imaginary role here, I consistently use my own handle.

And actually I DON’T think HX is a parody – which makes him all the more creepy.

December 2, 2005 @ 10:04 pm | Comment


is there improvement? well, NYT agrees with me
“The initial verdict on the spill and its aftermath is mixed. After an inexcusable and potentially disastrous attempt by the authorities to conceal the nature of the water problem, the Chinese government and local Harbin officials recovered relatively quickly. They organized a well-disciplined response, including trucked-in emergency water supplies, that lessened the hardships of affected city residents.

The government might not have recovered so quickly without a rare and very useful push from below. The official cover-up came undone after dead fish began appearing in the Songhua River, and local environmentalists and journalists began sounding alarms. Chinese citizens still have very little opportunity to operate independently of the government, and do so at their own great peril. This episode demonstrates the importance of expanding that independent space as China’s economy surges ahead and its environment becomes increasingly stressed.”

but we can agree to disagree.


from the time article quoted in this post. IMO it is an organizational failure. i have just written a post about this

December 3, 2005 @ 12:02 am | Comment

I’m reasonably certain that Ivan is just the inimitable Ivan.

December 3, 2005 @ 12:02 am | Comment


let me play HX this time.

you said, “It’s not exactly like the Russians are going to keep this quiet once the benzene reaches Khabarovsk.”

HX “why should we care about the russian? after all, this is OUR land. Khabarovsk used to be call Boli and the whole out manchuria, 1.5M sq km, is our land. if you don’t like it, move back to the Grand Duchy of Moscow”

no, China did not say that. it tried to limit the damage and offer help and even hinted compensation to the russians.
playing stakeholder?
should this be encouraged ot condemned?

December 3, 2005 @ 12:07 am | Comment

my expectation is low because, as i said before, it is easy to change a law or a single event.
but it is difficult as hell to change a rotten bureaucratic culture.

December 3, 2005 @ 12:10 am | Comment

and please, schtickyrice, do not use condescneding languages such as ‘for real’, or ‘wish your views are not as typical as I suspect it is’.

this is not polite.

December 3, 2005 @ 12:13 am | Comment

Lisa: Thanks, you’re 100 percent right. I’ve never commented here except under the same handle, always. And anyone with any intelligence can spot my way of writing, regardless of whether I’m being serious or clowning around.

Sun bin: HAHA! Alright, now let ME take a crack at parodying HongXing:

“Ivan, I do not get you. Are you the Russia or the America? Maybe you need to clarify your thought. If everyone is like you then everyone is crazy and they don’t enjoy their Happy Life under the correct leadership of the CCP. How can you be so crazy and call yourself a Superpower? Maybe you are why Russia go down, too many Russia like you, you don’t believe in the Socialism, you only want vodka and making love and clean water. China is better Communist because China is 5000 year country but Russia only 1000 year country, China have 4000 years of Socialism-With-Chinese-Characteristics than you Russia got. China CCP is 5000 years old, that is why China is power now and Russia is no power. So maybe it is OK for China to send some mistake-water to Khabarovsk. The Russians can still enjoy their Happy Life when they trust China.”


December 3, 2005 @ 3:49 am | Comment

And more seriously, about the Russian conquest/annexation of parts of Manchuria:

1. Manchuria was never part of China until 1644, and even then its boundaries were not clearly defined, because the Manchurians – in the 1600s – had no conception of national boundaries. Manchuria was never a traditional part of “China”, AND, Manchuria’s borders were never clearly defined until late into the Modern Age.

2. In more common-sense terms: Manchuria was never a nation, and a fortiori, Manchuria was never a traditional part of “China.” Manchuria was like Asia’s version of the American West – up for grabs to be settled and modernized by whoever grabbed it.

3. But yes, one special difference between Manchuria and the American West, is that the American Indians (of various tribes) did not conquer the USA. But in China, the reverse happened. In the 1600s, the Manchurians – Asia’s analogue of the American Indians – conquered China. So yes, in THAT sense it’s not quite the same – because in 1644, China was conquered by uncivilised nomads of the wild lands of Manchuria. (And some of us could suggest, that that is why Chinese civilisation has been so backward and so brutal in the last 350 years. Or we could even extrapolate this, and say that the reason why Chinese politics is STILL so backward today – and the reason why a madman like Mao could take over – is because of the Mongol conquest of China 800 years ago. Thus, for the past 800 years, ALL rulers of China have essentially been the heirs of the barbarian Mongols and Manchurians – including the CCP.)

4. Ah, well, next question is: “What made Russia different from China, as both were damaged and retarded by the Mongol barbarians 800 years ago?”

Answer: Around year 1200, the Russians were Christians (mixed with some Jews, and I’m sorry for how the Russian Jews were marginalised for so long – although, the best Russian writer in history, Boris Pasternak, was a Jew AND he was a perfect Russian….)

…the Russians were Christians/Jews, AND they were Europeans – heirs of Greece and Rome – with an ancient sense of SOME kind of Human Rights and Human dignity. THAT is why the Russians resisted and transcended the barbarianism of the Mongols for 200 years, and then Russia restored its old culture. (And then Moscow became “The Third Rome” after the fall of Constantinople.)

…but in year 1200, the Mongols were really not so different from the Chinese. Neither the Mongols nor the Chinese had any respect for individual Human Life, as the Russians did – as good Jews and Christians do. THAT is why the Mongols (and later, the Manchurians) were so able to degrade the civilisation of China into even more cruelty and savagery – while Russia rose above the Mongol barbarians relatively fast, and restored its essentially Humanist culture in the 1400s.

5. In sum, the main reason why the Russians annexed part of Manchuria – and the reason why they still occupy and defend it – is because the last 800 years of Russian history have taught them (now I’ll say “us”, in honor of my Russian friends and relatives)….
….the last 800 years have taught the Russians to expand their Asian borders as far as possible, to defend against the barbarians of the Far East and of the fanatically Muslim countries, who do NOT respect Human Life as much as Russians do. (Christian and Jewish – Russia is both – not perfectly Judeo-Christian, but enough to make a big difference…)

And when I wrote that last line – that very poltically incorrect line – I wrote it like a Russian would. It’s not nice, but it’s very true. Russia MUST expand its borders as far East and South as is possible, because history has shown that the Far East (AND the Fanatical-Muslim World, cf the terrorists in the Caucasus, and Afghanistan) is far more destructive and more merciless than the Russians are.

Politically incorrect, but true. (And Stalin murdered millions, BUT Russia never had a Cultural Revolution – thus, civilisation continued without interruption in Russia, but it was almost destroyed by Mao in China. In 1966, the Bolshoi Ballet was still performing brilliant classics from the 1700s in Moscow, while Beijing was a cultural desert with nothing but ugliness and shouting and destruction. THAT is the difference between Russia and the East, and Russia is always on the front line of defense against the Mongol and Taliban Barbarians…….)

And it’s easy for White Westerners (such as I am, for the most part), like Americans and Brits, to sit back and morally condemn the Russians for being so brutal in their defense against the Far East and the South.
But Americans and Brits do not have millions of people who hate our civilisation to death, living just across our borders.
THAT is the Russian predicament.

6. Alright, now I’m going to watch Sergei Eisentsein’s 1938 movie, “Alexander Nyevsky” again.
๐Ÿ™‚ And more seriously: No one who is not a Russian, can quite understand the peculiar geo-political, strategic situation of Russia. THEY are the ones who end up eating the most bullets whenever Western civilisation is threatened, by Napoleon or by Hitler or by Muslim Terrorists or by the Mongols……

…and the Taliban in Afghanistan, too.
America is just beginning to understand why the Russians fought so fiercely in Afghanistan….because the Taliban and Al Qaeda ARE the mortal enemies of America and Russia and all heirs of Greek-Roman Judeo-Christendom’s Humanism………..

…think twice before you criticise the Russians for being so brutal toward the East and the South. For hundreds of years, the Russians have been the cannon-fodder in defense of Western civilisation. Russians are more merciless toward the East and the South, because they have to be – and the West is secure today, because of the bloody-mindedness of the Russians……

December 3, 2005 @ 4:55 am | Comment


“And more seriously, about the Russian conquest/annexation of parts of Manchuria”

Well China conquered lots of places that weren’t once part of its territories – X1nj1@ng, T1b3t, etc. So it can’t complain that Russia did the same, really.

December 3, 2005 @ 6:59 am | Comment

Right, because serfdom was such a shining example of Russia’s Judeo-Christian-Greco-Roman-whathaveyou tradition of respecting human rights and dignity.

Also, the Song was arguably China at its most refined and creative and civilized, so I’m not sure where the claim that the Chinese were as “barbaric” as the Mongols (and that therefore Chinese civilization was easily degradable) comes from, especially when orthodoxy has it the other way around – that it was the Khans and the Mongols who degraded their own heritage by becoming “too Chinese” under the Yuan. And speaking of humanism…Confucianism is a humanist philosophy, no?

And while Russia didn’t experience cultural genocide under Stalin like China did under Mao, it did experience cultural stagnation. Soviet cinema left a mixed legacy at best. And forget socialist realism – thanks to Stalin, hacks like Gorky became famous instead of brilliant writers like Bulgakov.

I was actually being tongue-in-cheek when I wrote that you were Hongxing. But now, y’know, what with your “Mother Russia had to defend itself against those savage barbarians!!1!1” stance, I’m not so sure that you guys aren’t just two sides of the same coin. You come across as being somewhat of a Russian nationalist, despite being American.

December 3, 2005 @ 7:51 am | Comment


No offense here – you and I are still friends, debating as friendly scholars without getting dirty – but:

1. You say I come across as a Russian Nationalist! HA! HAHAHA!
Oh, if only you knew, how and I had three, well, “encounters” with the nationalist FSB/KGB….(not to mention OMON, although I actually have high respect for Russia’s OMON)

2. With all due respect to ancient Chinese culture, even at its highest points under the Tang and Soong dynasties, China NEVER had any conception of reverence for individual human life – ESPECIALLY the weak. China has NEVER, NEVER had any respect for the weak. Not even Confucius, even Confucius never articulated any respect for the Weak.
Respect for the weak is a peculiarly Christian idea, with Jewish roots. Not even the Buddhists have this conception of conceiving of God as a weak, humiliated Human. It is unique to Christianity – and partially the Jewish roots of Christianity.

3. You say, “and while Russia did not experience cultural genocide (sic, I never said anything about “genocide”, my point is about the destruction of civilisation) – you say, “it (Russia) DID experience cultural stagnation.”

Yes it did. Russia experienced cultural stagnation under the Communists. But China experienced cultural DEATH under Mao, and the two things are not comparable.

Even under Stalin, the Russians never went around burning books and shutting down universities and stopping ALL old culture, like China did under Mao. Even under Stalin, the Bolshoi Ballet went on, and most of the old books of Russia were NOT burned, like old Chinese books were burned in Mao’s China.

Under Stalin, Russia STILL had some claim to be a country with culture, with fine arts. But under Mao, China just became a country of savages who destroyed EVERYTHING of any beauty.

And THAT is why, today, Russia is far more civilised than China.

Very simply: Throughout ALL of Russian history, even during the worst times of Stalin, you could find some real beauty and culture. But in Mao’s China, everything, EVERYTHING was ugly and barbarian.

Russia became a cruel country under Stalin, but Russia NEVER had a campaign against beauty, like Mao’s China did.

Russia has been a cruel country, during Communist times and throughout most of its history. But Russia has never waged a campaign for Ugliness, like China did under Mao. Russians can accept tyranny and cruelty (alas), but Russians have NEVER accepted UGLINESS, like China did under Mao.

Even in Stalin’s time, the flower shops never shut down. But under Mao, the Chinese were not allowed to have flowers.

And, even Stalin – a typical Russian tyrant – even Stalin had respect for Russian poets. Stalin never arrested Boris Pasternak, even when Pasternak contradicted Stalin. And THAT is why Russian poetry is still alive today. But WHO, tell me, WHO ever contradicted the Barbarian Mao and got away with it?

Communist Russia was cruel, but it was never entirely ugly. But Mao’s China was dedicated, fanatically, to ugliness and to destroying all beauty.

December 3, 2005 @ 10:09 am | Comment

Okay, when we start getting into, “My dictator wasn’t as heinous as YOUR dictator,” I think perhaps the discussion has reached its stopping point…

December 3, 2005 @ 10:34 am | Comment

More – and yes here I am getting deep into my Russian blood, and the blood and heritage of my loyal Russian friends and family:

Today, in the Tretyakov Museum in Moscow – Russia’s main National Art Museum – there is an icon, a painting by the brilliant (“saint”, some of us say) Andrei Rublyev, who lived circa 1370 to c 1430.

It is the most beautiful, most sensitive, most expressive icon of Jesus ever painted in any country.
I have seen it, and when I saw it, I knew that I was looking at the handiwork of a saint, an Angel.

That icon, shows a perfectly Human face, in a way which is impossible to imagine in this world. It is entitled,
“Face Made Without Hands”, because Perfect Humanity – Christ – cannot be presented in any temporal way. But Andrei Rublev came very close, to painting the face of God.

(And by the way, Rublev was probably part Jewish. And 100 percent Russian.)

Ah, well, WHY is this story relevant? Because, in 1917, that painting was thrown into a pile of firewood, by some Russian Communist hooligans. BUT, before it was burned as firewood, a Muscovite found it in a pile of firewood, and he saved it, and THAT is why it is in the Museum in Moscow today.

Because: Most Russians love beauty, and most Russians will die for beauty. And most Russians will die for Truth, as they see it.

Ah, and you see, EVEN in Communist times, in Russia, that painting was protected in the museum in Moscow. Even under Stalin – in fact, ESPECIALLY under Stalin, because Stalin, with all his faults and his crimes, was a practical man. So, even Stalin allowed that old Christian icon to be protected in the museum in Moscow.

But during Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China, ALL old religious icons and beauties, were outlawed and destroyed, ALL old relics were destroyed under Mao, except those which were hidden. But under Stalin, most of the old culture and the old relics survived. And that is why, even today, China is so culturally backward, while Russia is around 1000 years ahead of China culturally.

SOME Russian Communists destroyed around ten percent of the ancient artworks and religious icons of Russia. But they never had any campaign of absolute destruction and ignorance, like China did under Mao. And under the horrible Stalin, old Russian religion was actually PROMOTED and SUPPORTED – because in the long run, Stalin was a practical man, even though he was an evil man and a mass murderer.

Thus, the difference between Stalin and Mao, was that Stalin was a PRACTICAL evil man, who did NOT try to destroy the ancient culture of his country – but Mao was just a lunatic and under Mao, almost ALL of China’s old culture was destroyed.

Stalin was evil, Stalin was a mass murderer. But Stalin was not a lunatic. But Mao, and the CCP under Mao, were lunatics who tried their best to destroy all civilisation.

There you go. That’s the difference between Russia and China. Russia never committed cultural suicide. But China did. China committed cultural suicide under Mao and the CCP.

Oh and just a nasty little PS – I have seen China’s National Ballet, and they’re shit. They can’t dance for shit. They dance in very rigid ways, just like Chinese Communists. And I’ve seen the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, and they dance like Angels. Why? Because Russian Communists never tried to destroy the culture of Russia – but China’s Communists were just barbarians who destroyed most of the culture of China.

Very simply: Russia’s Communists never tried to destroy civilisation. But Mao and his Chinese Communists were just a pack of ignorant thugs who hated all civilisation.

And by the way, I’ve met many old Russian Communists who ALL told me:

“The Chinese Communists were just a bunch of vulgar hooligans…..they had no manners…they were nyekulturnii…..”
(“they – Chinese Communists – had no culture….”)

December 3, 2005 @ 11:01 am | Comment

Ah Lisa, NO:

Some dictators really are more heinous than others. We Americans are a bit spoiled about this. We Americans tend to take a categorical line against all dictators – because we don’t have do deal with the various kinds of realities of living under different kinds of dictators.

We Yankees are really spoiled.

Some dictators really are better than others. I’d rather live in Stalin’s Russia of 1950, than under Kim Jung Il’s North Korea of today.

And I’d rather live under Stalin than under Hitler. Because, under Hitler’s laws I would be called a Half-Jew and lose my citizenship – but at least under Stalin I would be able to join the Red Army and kill some Nazi bastards.

Not all dictatorships are alike.

December 3, 2005 @ 11:08 am | Comment

Also: Difference between different kinds of dictators: Difference between Nazis and Communists:

When I see a Communist hammer-and-sickle, I don’t hate it. Communism is not essentially evil – it’s just unscientific and foolish.

But when I see a Nazi Swastika I go crazy and I want to kill.

And if you want to do an experiment, just go into the middle of any major American city and paint a Communist hammer-and-sickle on a wall. And then go somewhere else and paint a Nazi Swastika on the wall. I’m 100 percent certain that you’ll get a violent encounter where the Nazi sign is, but nobody will care about the Communist sign.

Communism is stupid. Nazisim is evil.
There are different kinds of dictators, and some dictators ARE better than others.

December 3, 2005 @ 11:18 am | Comment

Point taken, Ivan. But in a Stalin vs. Mao contest…I’m hard-pressed to choose!

December 3, 2005 @ 11:24 am | Comment

To Ivan: wow, having previously witnessed your prowess at verbally disemboweling other posters in language as humourous as it is cruel, I’m surprised we’re all being so polite here. Thanks.

1. You say I come across as a Russian Nationalist! HA! HAHAHA!
Oh, if only you knew, how and I had three, well, “encounters” with the nationalist FSB/KGB….(not to mention OMON, although I actually have high respect for Russia’s OMON)

Oh, do tell. Another chapter in the Epic of Ivan Denisovich, Knight Templar Descendant and Scholar Extraordinaire, perhaps? I wait with baited breath. (and I’m only half kidding. Your stories are gold, man.)

2. With all due respect to ancient Chinese culture, even at its highest points under the Tang and Soong dynasties, China NEVER had any conception of reverence for individual human life – ESPECIALLY the weak. China has NEVER, NEVER had any respect for the weak. Not even Confucius, even Confucius never articulated any respect for the Weak.
Respect for the weak is a peculiarly Christian idea, with Jewish roots. Not even the Buddhists have this conception of conceiving of God as a weak, humiliated Human. It is unique to Christianity – and partially the Jewish roots of Christianity.

I’m really puzzled as to where you’re getting this from. Although to be sure neither Confucianism nor Mahayana Buddhism are individualistic (Daoism is, but that nifty little philosophy never quite caught on among the masses as much as should’ve, imo), both are highly altruistic and principled around “humaneness” (ren) – which would include, especially include, caring for the weak, either physically or spiritually, as in the case of Mahayana Buddhism.

3. You say, “and while Russia did not experience cultural genocide (sic, I never said anything about “genocide”, my point is about the destruction of civilisation) – you say, “it (Russia) DID experience cultural stagnation.

Yes it did. Russia experienced cultural stagnation under the Communists. But China experienced cultural DEATH under Mao, and the two things are not comparable.

Well, I was the one who used “cultural genocide”, mostly to reference the Cultural Revolution (the darkest and most tragic episode in modern Chinese history, imo – yes, even beyond the Rape of Nanking…that showed the inhumanity of the Japanese soldiers, but the Cultural Revolution showed the inhumanity and the utter *stupidity*of our own, in destroying, or attempting to destroy, everything sublime the best of our ancestors ever left us), so you’re pretty much preachin’ to the choir here.

Although, to be fair, beauty still grew threw the cracks…folk art, for example, still flourished during the Mao era, and not all communist literature was horrible…for example the oeuvre of Mao Dun, our version of Gorky. Furthermore, much of Chinese culture underwent rehabilitation following the madness of Mao – art (not the postmodernist crap, I mean “guo hua”), calligraphy, classical music, Chinese opera, and to an extent philosophy and religions, so all was not lost. And no, not all cultural relics were destroyed. If that were true museums wouldn’t exist in China. And n,amidst the fanatics, there were voices in the wilderness, mostly intellectuals, who cried “no!” and who tried to save and hoard what little they could…

But yes, China does have a problem with failing to appreciate its own rich cultural heritage, taking it for granted, neglecting it, or even exploiting it. Witness all those unscrupulous dealers who don’t just steal relics and sell them, but often break them in pieces before exporting them for what they think is more profit …*bangs head against the wall*

And yes, the situation in Russia and in China were not comparable in terms of scale or destructiveness (I made the distinction between destruction and stagnation), but there are some similarities. Certainly intellectual oppression did exist in Stalinist Russia. For every Pasternak spared of arrest and imprisonment there were dozens and dozens of Solzhenitsyns (sorry, I’m arse at spelling his name) and Akhamatovas.

However, I don’t really want to argue this. It’s depressing either way. In the end, as Lisa implies, no one really wins.

And THAT is why, today, Russia is far more civilised than China.

Having never been in Russia, I can neither refute nor affirm this grand claim. However, I do have the greatest of respect for Russian culture and the Russian people, and I’ll end it there before I say something really uncivil.

Also,it just struck me: how did we get on this topic again, from the spill in Harbin?

December 3, 2005 @ 12:03 pm | Comment

P.S. You’re comparing the Chinese National Ballet with what, the Bolshoi and the Kirov? Are you kidding me? Ballet is Russia’s legacy to the world. Get back to me when Russia has a National Kun Qu Opera Company. ๐Ÿ˜‰

December 3, 2005 @ 12:10 pm | Comment

The Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, the extermination of the native peoples of the Americas, and the Holocaust are some fine examples of Judeo-Christian humanism.

December 3, 2005 @ 12:14 pm | Comment

Ivan, I’m not an expert on Buddhism, and I suspect that you are not either, which percludes any real debate, but I gotta side with Nausey here, as Buddhist principles are about as individualistic and humane as can be. 1000 paths for a 1000 people? Never hurt anyone? sounds pretty good to me.

December 3, 2005 @ 12:20 pm | Comment

Sonagi – here,here. Let’s not forget the atrocities, lest we get too high on our horse. Christians have done some really awful things in the past 1000 years, in the name of a loving god.

December 3, 2005 @ 12:40 pm | Comment


your diatribe certainly lived up to your Terrible name. Me thinks your pseudo-humanist Christian proselytizing is a stain on your self-proclaimed semi-Jewish ancestry. Are you a member of Jews for Jesus?

Are you a Russian-chauvinist or a self-hating Jew? If you really want to embrace the Judeo-Christian Russian civilization, why don’t you move to Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Republic that Stalin created for you and thank your Jesus for the Treaty of Blagoveschensk/Aigun? The benzene would have just about entered the Amur by now. Lest you forget, it is the inhumane and uncultured Buddhists, Confucians, and Taoists of Harbin and Shanghai who offered a refugee for tens of thousands of Jews fleeing Hitler’s extermination camps.

December 3, 2005 @ 8:48 pm | Comment

I think Buddhism is the religion for our time, actually. One that we could actually use and would help humankind…

December 3, 2005 @ 10:11 pm | Comment

And the Dali Lama agrees with you Other Lisa! So does Thich Nhat Hanh or however you spell his name.

December 4, 2005 @ 3:29 am | Comment

That Vietnamese monk dude…yeah!

December 4, 2005 @ 1:03 pm | Comment

Just one more note: while I’ve never accused anyone of being “China-haterzzz” on this forum, it saddens me that anyone would think Chinese culture to be inhumane and barbarian; however misguided and horrid the last half of the ninteeth and most of the twentieth century had been for China, and however oppressed it still is now, to extrapolate that is pretty sad.

Look at how ancient Chinese historians passed judgement on rulers who acted harshly towards their citizens – for example labelling Qin Shihuang and the last Shang king as irredeemable “bao jun” (tyrants), then consider the popularity (pre-Cultural Revolution, before Jiang Qing did away with them all) of the plays depicting the legendary bleeding-heart Ming Mandarin (Hai Rui), read “Rickshaw Boy” (Luotuo Xiangzi) and “Crescent Moon” (Yue ya-er) by the late master Lao She (our Chekhov) and tell me that compassion for humankind and respect for life have never, ever been part of China’s national consciousness.

I mean, c’mon – historically in China behavior had to conform, or at least had to pretend to conform, to Confucianist principles (the state philosophy during the Han, Tang, and for the most part the Song, before it morphed into the scarier Neo-Confucianism during the Ming): principles of “li”(courtesy), “de” (virtue), and above all “ren” (humaness). Furthermore, Confucians believe that anyone could and should strive to become a “junzi’ (gentleman) regardless of the nobility of his birth (of course, in practice Confucianism was more hierarchical than that, and let’s not go into its subpar treatment of women.) But in theory Confucianism was still pretty damn humanistic.

And the cultural revolution was insanity, it was blood fever, it was suicide (or attempted suicide). But it does not in any way prove that therefore the Chinese are a barbarian and inhumane race, culturally-hardwired to be unable to apprecaite beauty or culture – just like popular support for the Third Reich, or for the right-wing imperialism of wartime Japan does not prove that the Germans, or the Japanese, are somehow subhuman and evil personified. In fact, historically the Chinese were great aesthetes -“poetry slams” were the order of the day among the intellegentsia, and artists like Bada Shanren – brilliant in their own right – still felt the need to copy the works of earlier masters, that’s how much reverence they had for the beauty of antiquity. And even during the nadir of the Mao years good calligraphy was still considered by many of the learned set to be de rigeur.

P.S. To Laowai – to clarify, Theravada (mostly practiced in S.Asia and SEA, not China) is the individualistic branch of Buddhism. One of the criticisms levied against it, however, is that it is highly obtuse and elitist. Mahayana Buddhism (practiced in China, particularly during the Tang) puts by contrast much more emphasis on the collective (so no, it is not as individualistic), but it is commonly thought to be the more humane branch of Buddhism because it believes that everyone – the poor, the uneducated, and not just the monastic elite – has the potential to achieve enlightenment. The boddhisattva even delays his own buddha-hood to help those who are spiritually weak. And not to mention that respect for all living beings (both flora and fauna) is first of the Five Precepts dictated by the Gautama Buddha. Now tell me, Ivan, if that doesn’t sound like a religion to
give the supposedly much more civilized religion of Christianity a run for its money.

December 4, 2005 @ 3:11 pm | Comment

Nausicaa, you’re awesome – just wondering, where does Chanzong fit it? Cause that’s the precursor to/but basically equivalent to Zazen, which is pretty individualistic, and owes a lot to Taoism.

Is it Mahayana or Theraveda?

My aunt is a pretty devout buddhist – in the mahayana branch.

December 4, 2005 @ 3:40 pm | Comment

Chan is mahayana
in japanese it is called Zen.


December 4, 2005 @ 3:46 pm | Comment


December 4, 2005 @ 3:47 pm | Comment

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