“Everything from China is tainted with Communism (and lead)”

Socialism Studies – funniest Jon Stewart clip yet. “We should not be teaching American children about our enemy. It’s brainwashing.” The lady is actually arguing that teaching Mandarin to middle school children can turn them into communists. No, I ‘m serious. She actually says this. Don’t be drinking any liquids as you watch.

There is little more depressing than the inbred American far right. I mean, can anyone really be this stupid? It’s just scary to think Chinese people in China are watching this and thinking these morons are representative of the US. Well, I guess they are, but only of a (hopefully) small sliver.

Oh, and in a very unexpected twist, this post on teaching Mandarin actually gets in a healthy reference to ABBA and even a few notes of Dancing Queen. Jon Stewart rocks.

Update: More video here.

Lots of posts about this over here.


Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn – a brief review

A few nights ago I finished the new best-seller Matterhorn, a gritty, wrenching novel about the life of American soldiers serving in Vietnam, written by a highly decorated soldier, Karl Marlantes, who took 30 years to complete it. Matterhorn was originally 1,600 pages, and his editors cut it down to a less terrifying 600 pages. I bought it after reading James Fallows’ recommendation.

Anyone who still believes it’s sweet and glorious to die for one’s country should read Matterhorn, but so should everyone else. There cannot be a more graphic and beautifully written novel about war, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that most of it is based on actual events.

With no preparation or warning, the reader is thrown right into the vile, putrid world of jungle warfare, defined by the pus-dripping sores of jungle rot and immersion foot, and the constant battle with leeches that drop from the trees and silently suck the soldiers’ blood. Marlantes wastes no time; by page eight we are hurled into one of those horrific scenarios that we know we will never forget as much as we may want to: a leech gets inside a soldier’s urethra, and if it’s not removed his bladder will burst, killing him. Low clouds and rain make it impossible to send a medevac. How the poor inexperienced medic ultimately deals with this makes for literally the most harrowing reading I’ve ever endured. You simply have to put the book down, and sometimes you want to hurl it away.

The brutality of hand-to-hand combat, the racial tension between the black and white soldiers (which results in murder), the incompetent officers who needlessly send boys without food to die fighting for nothing except “body count,” scenes of heroism and betrayal and sheer misery as soldiers literally rot in the rain forest – Matterhorn makes you feel it, and it makes you shake with rage. There is no mention of politics or objectives beyond the battle at hand. It is all about the mission, to secure the mountain they’ve named Matterhorn and clear out North Vietnamese soldiers from the surrounding jungle, a fruitless, meaningless effort with no real strategy behind it. The book’s most repellent figure, Major Blakely, sends men off to die without food and knowing he’s screwed up the layout of their machine guns. He can’t be bothered. “The marines under him would make up for mistakes like that.” He only cares about the reports he prepares. With the most restrained writing, Marlantes makes you hate this man so much you want to see him tortured and killed.

They’d fight well with the imperfect machine-gun layout. The casualties would be slightly higher, with fewer enemy dead, but the statistics of perfection never show up in any reporting system. A victory is reported with the casualties it takes to secure that victory, not the casualties it would have taken if the machine gun had been better placed. There was nothing sinister in this. Blakely himself would not be aware that he’d positioned the machine gun poorly. He’d feel bad about his casualties for a while. But reflecting on why or what wasn’t something Blakely did. Right now the problem before him was to engage the enemy and get the body count as high as possible. He wanted to do a good job as any decent person would, and now he’d finally figured out a way to to it. He might actually get to use the entire battalion at a time, an invaluable experience for a career officer.

Marlantes goes back and forth, juxtaposing the brute horrors of jungle warfare with monsters like Blakely sitting in their office and blithely sending men to their doom. And just when you’re thinking no human being could actually be this cruel, this venal, they go ahead and do even worse things. The soldiers become ghosts, living in a strange altered state of consciousness, knowing they are being sent out to die for literally nothing. Another officer, always drunk, sips Jack Daniels in comfort and orders the men to keep pushing, blissfully unaware that a tiger is biting one the boy’s heads off, while others are losing their legs from trip mines. To the officer, they are red pins on a map. They will die for the officers’ pride.

The kids filed quietly to the edge of the strip to wait for the helicopters. Other Marines stopped to watch them, wanting to say an encouraging word yet not daring to break into their private world — a world no longer shared with ordinary people. Some of them were experiencing the last hour of that brief mystery called life.

“Where’s the gold?” a young soldier plaintively asks the book’s hero, Lt. Mellas, in one of the book’s most poignant moments. What are we doing this for? Is there oil somewhere? A prize? There was no answer.

It’s heartbreaking to think a large number of people still believe the Rambo argument, that if we just had more guts and more commitment we could have “won” in Vietnam. Won what? The greatest exercise in futility the US ever embarked on, a bright shining lie and a total and unmitigated catastrophe. Matterhorn makes it raw, makes you understand the hubris and incompetency that made it all possible, and makes you want to scream, to cry, to throw the book down in hopeless frustration.

There’s a lot more to this book. It’s not light summer fare, and it’s not always easy. Marlantes introduces one character after another after another, and I had to keep flipping back to remember who was who. And he uses a lot of military jargon and alphabet soup (necessitating a glossary at the end). But you know within a few pages you’re about to embark on a terrible journey, bloody and disturbing and stomach-turning, but one you have to take if you want to truly know what our soldiers endured in Vietnam and why they came back the way they did.

Unforgettable is a cliche we throw around too much. Some things really are unforgettable, and Matterhorn is one of them. Please read it.


Tianamen’s ghost alive and well; Foursquare banned in China

Gady Epstein on China’s decision yesterday to ban Foursquare nationwide after it was used to arrange gatherings at Tiananmen Square:

The blocking of Foursquare, while perhaps temporary, is yet another reminder that the Communist Party of China is serious about controlling history, as I wrote about last year at this time, and is just as serious about controlling the dangers of Web 2.0. Chinese social networking services are in self-censorship mode today — in the case of the portal Sina, even removing emoticons of candles and flowers from its microblog. To some extent the party’s strategy has been successful: Many in China, especially younger generations, have little clue what happened 21 years ago on June 4. Of those that do remember, some unknown percentage — perhaps a quite high percentage — have chosen not to care too deeply, a sort of willed forgetting in service of today’s prosperity that author Chan Koon Chung broaches in his Chinese novel “The Fat Years.”

….Those who choose to remember, meanwhile, continue to do so today — in various ways on the Chinese Internet, quite brazenly on Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook for those who use a VPN or proxy service to get around the Great Firewall, and many in their own quiet ways offline. Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s issued a statement today, translated here, asking that Beijing “sincerely confront the major human rights incident of June Fourth.” Hong Kong holds its annual march and candlelight vigil tonight. Up to 50,000 people there are expected to show that they choose not to forget.

All of those who insist the Chinese people don’t care about this anymore leave out this key point: today’s apathy and indifference toward the incident is government-induced. Epstein in the above article calls it “willed forgetting.” I left the following comment on this topic over at Elliott Ng’s excellent post today:

The only point I disagree with is that it’s been forgotten due to “the busyness of life.” In neighboring Hong Kong there are still sizable demonstrations, and the world still remembers the day vividly. Just look at twitter last night. It is only where the incident has been filtered out of the search engines and banned from any discussion in the media that it is forgotten. The Nanjing Massacre is not forgotten, and those remembering it are just as busy as those forgetting the TSM. Out of sight, out of mind. Gady is spot on – this is willed forgetfulness, and the one doing the willing is the government. That is the high price that comes with a one-party authoritarian state; Big Brother controls the brainwaves and can convince people that ignorance is strength and freedom is slavery.

[Also via Elliott, whose post offers an array of excellent links, I found these superb photos from 1989 over at Slate. Highly recommended.]

I got quite annoyed at myself several days ago when I put up a post on Tibet and gave a finger-wagging lecture about how whenever China censors and cracks down on basic liberties it tells the world it is still a weak country, insecure and in the grip of a seemingly unending inferiority complex. I got so annoyed at my own self-righteousness I deleted it. But I look at this story and I think, maybe it’s not too harsh or self-righteous. It may come across that way, especially when Westerners say it, but it still needs to be said.

As China embarks on an expensive and ambitious campaign to build up its soft power, it should look right here, at this sort of behavior. Soft power is all about hearts and minds. The US sacrificed much of its own soft power under Bush, and you’d think China would learn from that. Bullying and suppressing aren’t good strategies for winning global admiration.

Update: CDT has some great articles, videos and photos on its site, which today is bathed in black. You must go see those videos (like this one). No wonder the whole incident has been hermetically sealed and locked away.


New report on Tiananmen Square “incident” traces hundreds of the dead, wounded and imprisoned

Go to this page and check out the PDF file. This is not a summary of all those who were killed and wounded, just a sliver. The report was released in Chinese last year and the English translation was made available today. From the summary:

Compiled from available information, including the Tiananmen Mothers’ database, as well as in-person interviews, the report tells the stories of 195 people who were killed in the June Fourth crackdown, and provides information on 57 people who were wounded or disabled, and more than 800 individuals who have been imprisoned or detained in Reeducation-Through-Labor institutions for offenses related to the crackdown in more than a dozen provinces, including the seven people still in prison today….

“This report is an invaluable resource for those who want to understand the on-going human costs of the June Fourth crackdown, and an important tool for promoting official accountability,” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of HRIC.

Those killed were men, women and children from all walks of life, including students, peasants, truck drivers, performers, engineers, peddlers and even a party secretary and deputy to the Beijing People’s Congress. They were from major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, and as far away as Liaoning Province. The report provides their personal details: names, ages, home locations, occupations, circumstances surrounding their deaths, family backgrounds, and information on surviving family members.

The youngest victim was Lu Peng, a 9-year-old third grade student (#34) who was shot in the chest by martial law troops around midnight, June 3-4, and died immediately. The oldest was Zhang Fuyuan, a 66-year-old retired hospital worker and Communist Party member (#166) who was working as a guard in a construction site of the Design Institute of the Ministry of Metallurgical Industry. On the evening of June 3, Zhang was among a group of residents near Changanjie who were chased and fired upon by martial law troops as they ran into a hutong.

Other victims include Zhang Jian, 17-year-old high school student (#181) who was shot in the heart by soldiers on his way to see his uncle and aunt on June 4 and was dead on arrival at the Peking Union Medical college Hospital; and Dai Wei, a 20-year-old cook in the Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant (#42) who was shot in the back on his way to work on the evening of June 3 and died in the early morning of June 4 in the Post and Communications Hospital.

In the report, Jiang tells of families of the dead who never received any compensation or even official accounts of how their loved ones died. These families have never even been allowed to openly mourn their deaths.

As for the living, the report provides the names of the more than 800 prisoners identified, and more detailed information on many of them, such as lengths and types of sentences and locations of imprisonment, offenses of which they were convicted, and age, occupation, home location and other personal details. The report also tells the story of many who have been released from prison but have not been able to find work, and continue to suffer economically, politically and psychologically.

Human Rights in China urges the Chinese authorities to respond to the appeal in this report for an official re-examination of the events and to the Tiananmen Mothers’ call for investigation, compensation, accountability, and dialogue.

To my friends who find this dull, repetitious and water under the bridge, please move on. For me, this remains an open wound, and as long as the CCP keeps stonewalling, the much beloved phrase “Reform and Opening Up” will ring at least partially hollow. Those who keep demanding more contrition from the Japanese for their crimes against humanity should demand the same from their own rulers. I’m not saying the TSM was anywhere near the scale of the Nanjing Massacre, but murder is murder.

Update: Amnesty International’s blog tells us what’s going on in Hong Kong today:

Commemorative activities organized by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (The Alliance) were brought to an abrupt halt by police on May 29th and 30th.

The organizers had followed procedures for regulating public assemblies, but the police claimed additional ‘entertainment’ licenses were required, confiscated exhibits including two statues of the Goddess of Democracy and arrested 15 people.

Amnesty released a public statement commemorating today’s anniversary, in which we condemned the Chinese authorities’ efforts to cover up the massacre and bring those responsible into investigation. Furthermore, we continue to urge the Chinese government to stop suppressing citizens who exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of expression.

Three cheers for One Country, Two Systems.


21 years ago today….


Via CDT, AP photographer Jeff Widener’s photo of two amateur photographers taking shots of the “goddess of democracy.”

Later in the week Widner would take the most famous photo to ever come out of China.

I have to admit, I want to move back to China. It’s always in my heart, and sometimes I feel like dropping everything and heading back. But no matter how much I love China, I will never forget what the government there is capable of, the good and the bad. The government can bulldoze over the old Gulou hutong (and do check that link), they can scrub uncomfortable references from the Internet, but they cannot delete what happened that day, and no story of modern China is complete without including it. Never forget.


Media bias against China

I do hope everyone who points approvingly to Anticnn and insists the US media are hopelessly biased against China gets to listen to this superb podcast over at Popup Chinese. It touches on many media-related issues, but the first few minutes are devoted to the bias issue.

These are really smart China hands talking, and they all agree that the notion among many Chinese (especially the fenqing) of purposeful media bias against China is seriously inflated.They generally agree there is some bias against China, but it occurs mainly over in the US editorial offices where the headlines and photo captions are written, and is not symptomatic of the foreign correspondents living in China.

They also acknowledge there is bias for the Dalai Lama, but not because the editors are anti-China, It’s because there is a strong, irrational bias in America towards Buddhists, just as there is often a strong media bias in favor of Israel, and an even stronger media bias against Arabs and Muslims. Thus, as they say in the podcast, the Tibetan monks get far more sympathy and attention than the Uighurs. But what the fenqing need to get is that this is generally not anti-China bias, but a bias in which Buddhists are gentle, devout souls who are all about peace and love. Editors in the US may also view China as the oppressors and the Tibetans as the oppressed. But this doesn’t mean they are anti-China.

What those pressing this issue furthermore need to get is that everyone feels they are a victim of media bias. The Republicans, the Dems, the left and the right – we all have complaints with media bias. We all feel we are misrepresented. Every company feels that way, too. China just needs to join the club; everyone perceives bias against them. The difference is that most don’t allow themselves to get so manipulated and worked up about it so they think they’re the only ones. Inaccuracy in media is simply a fact of life.

The podcast goes on to explain why this is especially so today, with US newsrooms being drastically shrunk in size and fewer editors doing much more work. Everyone suffers, not just China. And I know (I really do) that you can find this or that example of media bias against China. Yes, it does happen. But usually it happens in the copy room, and often it’s simply a mistake. There may be bias behind these mistakes; that’s probably what led to some Western media falsely describing weapons used in the Tibet protests of 2008 as belonging to the Chinese, when in fact they were being used by the Tibetan demonstrators. This wasn’t an act of intentional bias against China, though. It was a matter of jumping to conclusions based upon a bias that sees the Tibetans as gentle and sweet.

Much of the current media coverage, as discussed in the podcast, is surprisingly pro-China. There is a powerful new meme going through the media, particularly the financial press, about how China proves how effective an authoritarian government can be, and pointing to it as a possible model for the future. (As part of this argument the pundits point to the hopeless political mess in the US; does that make them “anti-US”?) Most economic stories on China are positive, although a lot of critics jumped on the property bubble band wagon, as well as Jim Chano’s predictions of a China collapse. But they also jump on similar stories in regard to Europe, and the US.

This is pack journalism, a bad thing, but certainly something that is in no way exclusive to coverage of China. The media, in a huge pack, went after Obama last week for not getting emotional enough over the Louisiana offshore oil rig catastrophe. Does this mean the media is biased against Obama? Say that to any wingnut and they’ll laugh in your face; in their eyes the media are hopelessly in love with Obama. The truth is they are just being the media – short-sighted, rushed, fact-starved, on impossible deadlines and fighting to get the best headline in the face of shrinking readership. They do it to Obama, they did it to Bush, they do it to Europe and they do it to China.

The notion that there is a monolithic prejudice among the US media against China is a falsehood and a fabrication. What you’re seeing is the standard prejudice and screw-ups that pervade all journalism, unfortunately. Many see the media fawning over China, others see it as needlessly and unfairly critical. Both are right. Because it is not monolithic, and the distribution of prejudice and poor reporting is spread out evenly to everyone and every nation.


The trouble with China’s teens

This post comparing the daily lives of Chinese and American teens caught my eye and brought back a lot of memories. (It’s already a couple of weeks old; I just saw the link via Danwei.) American teens dream of “writing their own Aeneid,” and their teen years “are an endless drama: fights with parents over curfew, acne, not making the football team or cheerleading squad, break-ups, depression, anorexia, Waiting for Godot, anxiety, the prom.” Very different from their Chinese counterparts:

Boys and girls are not permitted to be near one meter of each other on school grounds, there’s a regulation haircut and school uniform, and there’s no mobile phone service and Internet access. All the students dress, look, act and think the same, and an administrator’s greatest pride is to see his 1000 students do calisthenics in synch on the soccer field. Walls and gates limit the movement of students, security cameras and the eyes of teachers track students, and if it were possible administrators would implant a signalling device on each student. If all this is still not enough to depress and stress out the Chinese teenager, then the head teacher and/or parent will now and then remind him that he’s worthless and useless.

The result of all this unreasonable and unnecessary repression is that Chinese students are remarkably polite and well-behaved. But at the end of their schooling they won’t be able to write their own Aeneid, (though maybe the more literary among them can write The Tale of Peter Rabbit). They will matriculate at a top university, but they will lack sympathy and empathy, which will hinder them from developing and managing personal and professional relationships; they won’t understand trust and tolerance, only power and fear. They may rise to a top management position, but lacking in self-understanding and self-reflection they’ll curse and criticize their subordinates, making the workplace a cold stagnant repressive regime.

Having skipped the tumultuous teenage years, Chinese are forever doomed to live as teenagers all their lives. Whereas Americans may be stubborn, moody, quick to anger, insecure, impetuous, condescending, extreme, and paranoid in their teenage years, Chinese may suffer from these psychological issues all their lives. The psychologists who wrote Reviving Ophelia, Raising Cain, and Real Boys may not be happy with how American families and schools are distorting the emotional development of children, but if they came to China they’d faint in horror and despair.

Based on my own experience, I’d have to say the writer is onto something. I worked with so many Chinese colleagues in China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taibei, and it was interesting to see the differences and similarities in terms of maturity and ability to deal with issues and decision making. Not surprisingly, the Hong Kong and Taiwanese workers were generally better at problem solving and controlling their emotions, having grown up in a more developed, relatively free-thinking environment. They still had “face” issues, and sometimes things that I saw as trivial could set off tears, which I also saw frequently in Beijing. The Singaporean workers, at least in my office, could have been from New York or Paris. Especially stark was the difference between the average mainland Chinese worker and their colleagues who grew up in Vancouver or spent years studying abroad. It was as if they came from different planets. What a difference in personality and temperament, when the teen years are spent doing more than memorization.

Obviously, with so many students and so much poverty and such a deeply entrenched system this isn’t changing anytime soon. Like most other issues in China, it seems to be getting better, but very, very slowly. And just to make sure I’m clear (for the trolls): I have many friends who went through the Chinese educational system and never left the mainland. And they are the salt of the earth. Critical thinking, however, can be an issue for some of them. Some of them completely overcame these issues, and exposure to other cultures seemed to have been a big help.