Remembering Mao’s victims

Last week I got a call from a local radio station that said they wanted to interview me about expat bloggers in China. I went to their studio to tape the interview, and when I was asked what I thought about life in China today, I said, more or less, “Considering where China was thirty years ago, after the Cultural Revolution, the progress that’s been made is nothing short of astonishing.” And on and on. After the 30-minute taping, the reporter told me how good my answers were (so polite), and noted matter-of-factly, “Of course, we’ll have to cut out that sentence where you mention the Cultural Revolution.”

This was a bit surprising since I hadn’t made any statement about the CR itself, but simply used it as a reference, a point in time. The most that could be inferred from what I’d said would be that a.) the Cultural Revolution existed and b.) since it ended much in China has changed. Now, those aren’t exactly state secrets – in fact, those are commonly heard talking points among party defenders. So why the censorship?

Which brings us to this short but worthwhile article , the main point of which is that the CCP’s policy when it comes to the CR is omerta. Like it never happened. Here’s how the article starts.

“What is your name?” the Great Helmsman asked a young student as she pinned a Red Guard armband on him in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace. “Song Binbin,” she responded enthusiastically. The name her parents chose meant “properly raised” and “polite,” qualities that Mao Zedong found unappealing. “Be violent!” he ordered the girl. A short time later she changed her first name to Yaowu, or “Be Violent.”

It was Aug. 18, 1966 and the 72-year-old Chinese leader had called male and female students to assemble on Beijing’s Square of Heavenly Peace to launch his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Hundreds of thousands waved Mao’s little red book and cheered the old man.

Mao’s call to violence fell on willing ears among many young people. Thirteen days earlier Song, 19 at the time, was presumably present when the female students at her school, which was part of the Beijing Teachers University, killed their teacher, Bian Zhongyun. The girls brutally beat the 50-year-old woman to death using wooden sticks spiked with nails. On the day before the killing, members of the Red Guard had already maltreated the teacher, who was the party leader at the school — they suddenly viewed her as a “counter-revolutionary revisionist” who they believed had gambled away her life.

The rest of the article is about the denial of history that became the party line after the CR ended. A film about Bian’s murder was recently banned in China and a request to hang a memorial plaque in her schoolyard denied. I suppose the fact that the film maker merely had his work banned and wasn’t arrested is proof of progress of sorts, but it’s a pity the party can’t face up to its own past. We all know what Santayana had to say about forgetting the past….


Xinhua reports: “More than 85% of China’s gov’t organs have websites”

I’m assuming the actual story has something to do with internet sites for purposes of disseminating official information, because when I first saw the headline this morning, all I could think of was “” or “” Perhaps a new moneymaker for Tiananmen Square tourism, “”? Gives new meaning to taking home a part of history. The possibilities are endless. Alright, I’ll stop now.


Rage against the machine

Google’s Chinese to English machine translation, that is. Quite funny.


Mao’s huge T.S. portrait desecrated

Boy, I just walked by Tiananmen Square last night, and, as always, stood up a little taller when I saw the ever-inspiring portrait of the Great Helmsman that looms over the front gate. Shocking to learn that only a short while later the painting was desecrated.

A man damaged a portrait of Mao Zedong that hangs over Tiananmen Square in central Beijing, prompting police to close the nearby imperial palace, a news report said Sunday.

The man, identified as Gu Hai’ou, from the northwestern city of Urumqi, threw a burning object at the portrait of communist China’s first leader on Saturday afternoon, the Xinhua News Agency said. It said the lower left corner had a small burn mark, and authorities planned to replace the painting.

”Armed police are guarding the area and visitors are forbidden to enter the Forbidden City,” Xinhua said.

Gu, who is 35 and unemployed, was detained and was being questioned by police, Xinhua said. It said he was treated last year in a mental hospital.

Let’s hope the Chinese justice system goes a bit easier on Gu than it did the last criminal who attempted to deface the iconic image.


My Beijing gym

Just a day or two ago I wrote about the company in Guangdong that paid its employees in counterfeit bills and fired those who dared complain. I started by saying how living in Beijing, you forget these things happen. But they happen in Beijing, too, only usually we don’t hear about them.

When I went to the gym today (no snickering) to meet my personal trainer, he seemed really stressed, which is unlike him. Trainer X is usually a calm, laid-back guy, often with a Zen-like expression of peace on his face. Not today. This is my fourth month of working with him, and today for the first time he began to talk on a very personal level, telling me how upset he was with his job. He told me his salary was 1,000 RMB a month, and that the trainers make their money by selling their services, which is nothing unusual. What was unusual, he said, was that he and the other trainers hadn’t been paid their commission money for more than three months and that he was at the end of his financial rope.

This wasn’t told in a way that was gossipy or bitter. Just matter of fact and despondent. He told me about the gym manager/owner, who hired him over a year ago and has never said anything to him other than “Ni hao.”

“He has never talked with us, never held a meeting, never asked how we were doing or what our plans are for the future. It’s like he is in another world. And now we don’t know what to do, because the trainers have brought in hundreds of thousands of RMB and we aren’t seeing any of it. There is so much skimming and so many unethical practices, you wouldn’t believe it.”

He told me he was quitting and had already decided where he wanted to go. And I told him that I’d follow him (he is as great as a trainer can ever be).

It was a shock, hearing him talk about anything other than the exercise program and the usual chit-chat. He looked overwhelmed with sadness, something I would never have expected to see. And as he told me his story, I kept thinking of the little post I put up about the fake RMB and how perhaps I had fooled myself about Beijing, thinking the outrages only happened in the factory and mining towns. I know, as outrages go this isn’t that heartbreaking or evil, but we’re talking about a very popular place frequented by expats and white collar workers in the Central Business District and, well, I just had the naive impression such places had adopted the practices of the modern-day business world. (They certainly charge like a Western gym.) And who knows, maybe all the other businesses in Beijing are well managed and fair to their employees, and my gym is simply the glaring exception.

I was debating citing the name of the gym in my headline and then decided not to, only to avoid causing Trainer X any trouble, even though he said he was quitting. But oh, it was tempting.


Arianna Huffington on Zeng Jinyan (“Tiananmen 2.0”)

It’s not everyday that the big US liberal blogs and portals carry a story about China, so I was happy to see Arianna’s profile today of a a young Chinese woman Time magazine has deemed one of the 100 most influential bloggers in the world.

Zeng Jinyan is the online progeny of Wang Wei Lin, the protester who blocked a column of advancing tanks during the Tiananmen Uprising in 1989. When Zeng’s husband, AIDS and environmental activist Hu Jia, was taken into custody and detained by the Chinese government without any legal proceedings last year, Zeng, who is now 22, started a blog detailing her experiences and the oppressive activities of the country’s secret police. Since then, her blog has been blocked in China, and she and her husband have been harassed, intimidated, and subjected to round-the-clock surveillance. But she has steadfastly continued to blog, attracting an international audience with her sardonic style — and especially her courage (“These people are like flies after a piece of meat,” she wrote of the “goons” who are constantly watching her.)

She is Tiananmen 2.0.

I’ve written about Hu Jia before here and the oppression of AIDS activists in China many, many times. I see it as one of the nation’s stupidest blunders, harassing or imprisoning citizens who should be made national heroes. It is pig-headed in every way, perpetuating the notion (for which there is ample evidence) that the government would rather cover up AIDS than deal with it, and that crusaders for noble causes are rewarded with harassment, house arrest or worse.

I suppose if there’s light to be seen at the end of this tunnel, it’s this: China has made big strides in the past five years to raise public awareness of AIDS; international pressure helped convince the party to ease up on AIDS activist Gao Yaojie, and despite Zeng Jinyan’s going on the record and capturing global media attention on the plight of Hu Jia, she is still telling her story, even if it’s blocked in China. That wouldn’t have happened even a few years ago.

I know, those victories don’t seem enormous, but I see them at least as proof that the government is becoming increasingly less repellent. It’s a slow process and there are lots of steps backwards along the way. And there’s one thing I’ve now made up my mind about: pressure from bloggers and the mass media and activists around the world really does make a difference. More than ever before China cares about the face it puts forward and is increasingly sensitive to spin that threatens its image as “a friend to all the world.” Silence equals death, and every little bit helps, no matter how small your blog is.


“Fake RMB for pay”

Living here in Beijing, surrounded by prosperity and optimism, it’s easy to forget that China isn’t all sweetness and light. Stories like this still infuriate me and they still need to be told. So many things are better, and so many things still totally suck. While the story in question can’t be blamed on the government (or at least not entirely), it would be nice if there were a system of enforceable laws that would discourage morally bankrupt criminals from exploiting the powerless.


Danwei blocked in China

Let’s hope it’s just a temporary glitch.


Chinese companies exported contaminated food ingredients to US

That’s what China itself is saying, a much different tune from what it was singing just a few days earlier.

China said Tuesday that it had found two companies here guilty of intentionally exporting contaminated pet food ingredients to the United States.

The country’s quality control investigator released a statement on its Web site late Tuesday saying that officials at the two companies were also detained for their role in shipping tainted goods that might have contributed to one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said its investigation found that the two animal feed companies – Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. and Binzou Futian Biology Technology Co. – had intentionally exported food ingredients laced with melamine, an industrial chemical used to make plastics and fertilizer.

The two companies illegally added melamine to wheat gluten and rice protein, the government said, in a bid to meet the contractual demand for the amount of protein in the products.

China had earlier denied shipping any wheat gluten to the United States and had recently insisted that melamine could not have harmed pets. But the government essentially said Tuesday that the two companies had cheated pet food companies by adding a fake protein into the feed to make pet food suppliers believe they were purchasing high protein feed when in fact they were getting lower protein feed.

For some marvelous commentary on this subject, including a scathing indictment of how the US FDA (mis)handled this mess, you have to go here. Oddly enough, the site seems to be banned here in China. Fancy that. (Though it’s more critical of the FDA than it is of China.)

China had better watch out. It’s one thing when money-grubbing, morality-challenged thugs in the PRC sell contaminated or fake infant formula to customers in their own country. When they export their poison to other nations, they run the risk of seriously damaging China’s global reputation, painstakingly built on international trade. Small wonder that the government was (relatively) quick to expose these bastards. Between calls to boycott the 2008 Olympics (a misguided and stupid effort if you ask me) due to China’s relationship with the Sudanese government, and the international outcry over contaminated ingredients threatening America’s food supply, China has a lot of damage control to do. The admission that, in effect, Chinese companies were willfully and knowingly poisoning food in America and elsewhere, be it food for humans or pets, is a bombshell that could prove a disaster for a nation so concerned with putting forth its best face as a friend to all the world and the leading exporter on the planet. China’s reputation as the global exporter to all the world’s people just suffered a stunning blow.


The Duckpond lives

Well, not quite the Duckpond we used to splash in, but it’s still here, with all the previous posts intact. Thanks a lot to Chinalyst for taking it over and keeping it going. Please go there and comment liberally!