The down wave

In a gloomy article, an Axios analyst of global markets documents just how dire China’s economy is today.

New data out Monday showed retail sales activity [in China] collapsed in April, with unemployment rising and exports and industrial production slowing sharply.

Retail sales fell 11.1% in April, compared to the prior year, with considerable declines in major categories like restaurant spending and auto sales (a total of zero vehicles were sold in Shanghai).

China’s surveyed unemployment rate rose to 6.1%, just shy of the high of 6.2% reported during the early days of the COVID outbreak in 2020.

Industrial and export activity decelerated to 4% and 3.9%, as lockdowns in key industrial hubs such as the Yangtze River delta — home to Shanghai — took their toll.

The bottom line: “The April activity data shows that the temporary disruption from the zero-COVID policy is more severe than expected, raising significant downside risk,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a research note.

This is bad news for everyone. Like it or not, the engine of China’s economy has helped power the world for decades. China’s role in maintaining global supply chains can’t be exaggerated. Western auto makers for years have counted on robust car sales in China, where Buicks and Teslas and Audis (to name a few) can be seen everywhere in Shanghai, and to a lesser extent in Beijing. Most of these auto makers’ China manufacturing facilities have closed due to Covid (Tesla’s giga-factory in Shanghai is open after the company agreed to house all its workers at its factory premises).

Chinese leaders say Shanghai is opening up incrementally and could be back to normal at the end of this month. But the lockdown, for all intents and purposes, remains. A BBC reporter in Shanghai writes:

Although state media has blithely reported that the “hustle and bustle” is returning, it’s difficult to verify that.

Despite claims that the majority of residents are free to roam, anecdotal reporting on the ground is very different.

I am still confined to my home. Other members of the BBC team here, in various places, face similar restrictions.

Access to food and healthcare remains limited for some. Some shops are opening, but only “offline” business will resume initially.

For three decades the Chinese people and the CCP have enjoyed a Faustian bargain: the government will let you get rich if you mind your own business and don’t meddle in government affairs. The government will make sure GDP keeps growing and citizens will remain loyal and content. A censored Internet and CCP repression in distant provinces is a small price to pay for soaring economic growth. But now it’s China’s moment of truth. The Chinese people are fed up, putting up angry social media posts criticizing the zero-Covid policy, and as soon as the censors delete them more spring up. This is what the CCP dreads most: a population that could lose its confidence with the Party and threatens the government’s obsession with “harmony” and “stability.”

We aren’t going to see the population rise up to overthrow the CCP. We aren’t going to see a revolution. But as the economy’s down wave continues, the government will have to deal with an increasingly disillusioned and bitter public. Where this may ultimately lead is anyone’s guess, but at the moment I see no cause for optimism. The government must keep its bargain with the Chinese people or face growing discontent. And just a couple of years ago it seemed double-digit growth would continue for years, maybe for decades. How the mighty have fallen. Can the government pick up the pieces and lead the country back to its pre-pandemic prosperity? In the short term I remain skeptical. The breadth of this breakdown is simply too huge. I hope there is a full recovery because I love China, home to many of my dearest friends. But they, too, are angry and disillusioned with the CCP. People have long memories and they won’t soon forget the nightmare of the past few months. It might take years before the Party has regained their trust. If ever.

China has entered a new phase, one in which the people no longer see its government as infallible and invincible. Can they recover and carry on as before? No one knows, but as I said, I’m not optimistic.

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Shanghai, the next Xinjiang?

There is an absolutely must-read article in yesterday’s NY Times drawing parallels between China’s police state policies in Xinjiang and the brutality of the “Zero Covid” policies imposed on the people of Shanghai.

Let me say first that my dearest friend in China lives and works in Shanghai and has kept me apprised of the misery of day-to-day life in the age of Zero Covid. Thank god he works for one of the best multinational companies which has been supplying its employees with food. Someone in his building tested positive for covid a couple of weeks ago and the tenants are basically under house arrest. The psychological toll this takes on citizens, my friend said, is crushing. Can Shanghai ever be the same again? I was there just three years ago and never saw so much prosperity — Teslas and other luxury cars everywhere, shopping malls that felt like you were in Paris, a general mood of festivity and optimism.

Now, according to the NY Times article, Shanghai finds itself in a dark place.

Shanghai and Xinjiang used to be the two sides of the China coin.

Shanghai was the glamorous China, with skyscrapers, Art Deco apartments and a thriving middle class that shopped in Paris and strolled around Kyoto, Japan.

Xinjiang was the dark China. The western frontier region, which is twice the size of Texas, is home to more than 10 million Muslim ethnic minorities who have been subject to mass detentions, religious repression and intrusive digital and physical surveillance.

Since April, the 25 million residents of Shanghai have gotten a small taste of the Xinjiang treatment in a strict citywide lockdown. They have been lining up for rounds of Covid-19 tests to prove they are virus-free, a pandemic corollary to Uyghurs lining up at checkpoints to prove they don’t pose any security threat.

The political slogans in the government’s zero-Covid campaign echo those in the Xinjiang crackdowns. Residents in both places are subject to social control and surveillance. Instead of re-education camps in Xinjiang, about half a million Shanghai residents who tested positive were sent to quarantine camps.

What many Shanghai residents are experiencing doesn’t compare to the violence and cruelty that Uyghurs and Kazakhs have endured in Xinjiang since 2017. But they’re all victims of senseless political campaigns that are driven by paranoia, insecurity and authoritarian excess.

The CCP, one interviewee tells the reporter, has demonstrated in Shanghai its ability to impose “a digital totalitarian regime that surveils everyone, makes each neighborhood an on-site concentration camp and controls the society with the same iron fist in a future crisis, be it war, famine, climate disaster or economic meltdown.”

Fourteen years ago, around the time leading up to the Beijing Olympics I underwent a change of heart in regard to the Chinese government. I learned about programs to bring the Internet to people in remote parts of the country, of plans to build affordable housing for migrant workers, of a seemingly unending wave of prosperity and the continuous strides being made to lift the Chinese people out of poverty. I never forgot the sins of the CCP, its authoritarian tendencies, its censorship, it’s arrest of activists, its paranoia and deep insecurities. But I couldn’t deny the progress it had made in so little time; I had first moved to China briefly in 2002 and Beijing looked nothing the way it does now (although the gentrification took its toll on many of the city’s hutongs and other cultural icons, like the Bookworm and the sleazy bars along Sanlitun). For the Games, China opened its Internet, got half the cars off the Beijing roads to cut down on pollution and transformed Beijing into a gleaming first-class city. Beijing became a destination. I was awestruck.

Now I wonder if I can ever go back again. The iron fist with which Xi is ruling China has me terrified. Would I be safe there? Could I access the Internet? Would my critical blogging about China over the years make me a marked man? (I realize that is highly unlikely, but I have other friends who worry that they, too, might be targeted because of their past criticisms of the Party; one even writes under an alias, worrying if China knew their real name they might be harassed there). For nearly three years in Beijing I was happier than at any time of my life. I went back to see my friends twice a year; it was my home. And now, I can’t imagine going back for years, if and when China’s brutal Zero Covid madness has abated.

Back to the article. What we’re seeing play out in Xinjiang and Shanghai is not new, but rather an extension of the totalitarian noose the CCP has wrapped around its citizens’ necks for more than half a century.

Both the Xinjiang crackdown and the Shanghai lockdown are political campaigns that can be explained only through the governing rationale of the ruling Communist Party: Do whatever it takes to achieve the leadership’s goal.

That was why Mao’s Great Leap Forward resulted in the Great Famine, why the Cultural Revolution devolved into a decade of political chaos and economic destruction and why the one-child policy left many women traumatized and the country with a demographic crisis. In each case, the leadership mobilized the whole nation to chase after a goal at any expense. In each case, it resulted in a catastrophe.

The Shanghai lockdowns herald a new phase of governmental repression, and one that might linger for years. The CCP has always sought control over the minds of its people, thus the Great Firewall, the vast network of censors, the drivel you see nonstop on Chinese state television. In Shanghai it has shown just how far they are willing to go, and one must wonder if the repression represents a new milestone in the Party’s obsessive need to control the Chinese people’s bodies and minds.

Nazi comparisons can be alarmist and unfair, but Germany in 1933 comes inevitably to mind as I read about the Shanghai police battering down doors and forcing citizens into quarantine camps with ghastly living conditions. And there is no recourse for those mistakenly rounded up; you can’t fight a faceless bureaucracy as entrenched as the Chinese Communist Party.

The article continues:

Like the Muslims in Xinjiang, the people in Shanghai and many other cities lost their rights and the protection of law in lockdowns.

A city in northern Hebei Province made headlines when community workers demanded that residents surrender their keys so they could be locked up from outside. In Shanghai, community workers covered the insides of apartments with disinfectant after residents tested positive, even though there’s no scientific evidence that disinfectant can kill coronavirus. In a widely circulated video and a social media Weibo post, a woman documented how a group of police officers had broken the door of her apartment and taken her to a quarantine camp even though they couldn’t present a Covid test report. When her Covid test came back negative hours later, she was already in a camp, according to her posts.

It is sickening and painful to watch the asphyxiation of a once great city. It used to seem that CCP repression on a massive scale was largely limited to faraway places like Tibet and Xinjiang. Seeing it play out in China’s financial hub, one of the greatest cities on earth, liberal and urbane, is agonizing. No I won’t be going back for years, if ever. Weep for a China that has fallen victim to indescribable cruelty and inhumanity. I once believed that the misery Mao inflicted on his people could never be repeated, that after Deng’s reforms China could never go back to totalitarianism. I fear I may have been wrong, and that the country I so loved and considered to be my home, may not recover for generations. I kept waiting for years for the government to institute reforms and loosen its draconian control of what its people say and do. I thought in the early years under Hu Jintao, after SARS, that freedoms would expand. I was bitterly disappointed. Now, under Xi Jinping, the only emotion I feel is hopelessness. And outrage. Can I ever go back again? I just don’t know. All I know is that in this era of Xi Jinping Thought, we’re witnessing the brain death of a country I loved like no other. How tragic.

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The Peking Duck is officially closed

Obviously, this blog has been “closed” for months (if not years, really). Now I simply want to make it official, and to share my final thoughts on The Peking Duck. For now, I am leaving the site up, at least temporarily. It would be too painful for me to take down; so much of my life is here in its pages.

I started this blog about 15 years ago as a way for me to jot down my thoughts and observations — for myself. I didn’t expect to have an audience, and for the first several months I didn’t even offer comments. Then, in 2003, I was in Beijing for the SARS epidemic, and I was amazed at the Chinese government’s dishonesty as they claimed the city was SARS-free. I began to blog about SARS obsessively and soon I had a bigger readership and the next thing I knew I was putting up multiple posts nearly every day and my site traffic grew. Then in 2005 I began putting up open threads, under the headline “Great Hall of the People” and hundreds of commenters participated in what at times were quite raucous conversations. (If you are new to the site, or if you feel nostalgic, go into the archives around 2005 and see how these threads started and developed.) Soon other China bloggers agreed to put up posts on my site and it became common to see five or six posts put up on any given day. I even opened a message board, The Duck Pond, for threaded conversations. Those were the golden days of blogging. I slowed it down dramatically in 2008, when I moved back to Beijing to work on the Beijing Olympics and I simply had no time to post. And for the next few years I posted less and less, and now it’s time to wrap it all up.

Before I go I’d like to call attention to a few of my favorite posts. On the left-hand sidebar on this page you’ll see the category “The Emperor’s Jewels,” a list of what I considered my best posts — this old-timer remains my favorite — but there are many others I could include. There is this post, which offers the wildest comment thread in the blog’s history. The post in which I expressed my greatest frustration with living in China was probably this one (which is also pretty funny). One post especially close to my heart is this one, which I wrote after learning that a friend of mine took his own life; people who knew him came here to share their memories of him and I found it incredibly touching. Some of the posts I put up about a brazen China apologist, Shaun Rein, generated some of the blog’s best comment threads.

There are several thousand posts here (and tens of thousands of comments), and so many of them are close to my heart, I obviously can’t list all my favorites. If you have the time, scroll through some of the archives and see what a vibrant community The Peking Duck once was. But that was a long time ago. I have left China, and feel I have nothing new or revealing to add. When I do have something to say, I now turn to Facebook, as do so many former bloggers. And I simply don’t have the energy or inclination to keep the blog going as I did in years past. It was a lot of fun, and for a long time it was practically my entire life, but it was also a lot of work. So this site will join the ranks of other now-retired blogs like Imagethief, Beijing Cream, China Geeks, Chinayouren, Bokane, Mark’s China Blog, Talk Talk China, The Paper Tiger and many others. It was a thrilling ride. I used to love waking up to hundreds of new comments. It was a real community. But all good things must end, and I probably should have shut down the site a few years ago instead of allowing it to slowly die on the vine. Thanks so much for joining me here. I’ll miss all of those who contributed to The Peking Duck — the site was more about the participants here than it was about me. What a great experience it was. Thanks again.

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Trump Nation

In one of my most overwrought posts (and there are a lot of overwrought posts on this blog) I despaired, somewhat histrionically, that in order to survive the horrors of the Age of Trump, I had to try to block it out and look inward. What was happening was simply too terrible, too alarming to deal with. I concluded, rather hopelessly,

On the eve of World War I, British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey famously remarked, “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.” Will we see them lit again in America? For now, all we can do is stand and wait. And maybe pray. I do not mean in any way to be an alarmist, but I do believe Trump is going to be worse than any of us imagine. I fear we are going to be in nightmare mode for years to come, if not for generations (thanks to a Trump-selected Supreme Court). A tragedy, in every way. A complete and total tragedy.

The bad news is that I am now just as pessimistic about my country’s future. Maybe even more so. We seem to exist from one Trump atrocity to the next. Weeks seem like months, months like years, as each day brings another outrage, so many so quickly that we can’t keep up. This past week he injected nasty political swipes during an address to the Boy Scouts. Just a couple of days later he told police not to be “too nice” when arresting suspected gang members, a particularly ugly example of Trump’s brutality, actually encouraging police to rough up people they arrest, throwing to the winds the concept of innocent until proven guilty. The day before that we witnessed his new communications director referring to the sitting chief of staff as a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic.” Today he ranted against China, as though Xi Jinping could erase the threat of North Korea’s nuclear program with a wave of his hand.

It all started on June 16, 2015, the day Trump announced his candidacy. I watched it live, transfixed. Here was a candidate for the presidency of the United States slandering Hispanics with glee. We all remember his chilling words that day.

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best….They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

How on earth could he hope to win the nomination while preaching hatred and racism? He would have to burn out in a matter of weeks, right? Americans would obviously see how menacing and unhinged he was, right?

For months I watched him closely, and I began to become calloused – little Trump said could surprise me. He shocked me, but he did not surprise me. I watched in astonishment when he said John McCain was only a war hero because he got captured. My jaw dropped when he made fun of a journalist with a neurological disease. And perhaps I was most stunned when I heard him utter these words in December, 2015:

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

This was deranged on several levels. Imagine President Obama announcing a ban on Jews seeking to come to America. Never before had we seen a “serious” politician slander an entire religion. Trump barely concealed his racism as he preached his message of “law and order,” which is code for keeping blacks and Hispanics in check. It was a message of fear. Fear of immigrants, fear of blacks, fear of Muslims, fear of Hispanics. Then he lashed out at Elizabeth Warren, dubbing her “Pocahontas,” another racist slur (imagine calling President Obama “Sambo”). When would it stop? When would he implode?

I admit, I was hypnotized. Like so many others, I watched the Trump rallies and speeches slavishly, in a state of bemused wonder. Bemused because he would, of course, never actually win. The networks became all Trump all the time. He was spectacular for their ratings; everyone wanted to enjoy the spectacle of this madman’s rants and insults. He had no fear of offending vast swaths of Americans (like the “elites”). The cheers of his adoring crowds gave him electrifying energy. He never backed down, never apologized, never showed any signs of conscience. He encouraged his fans to rough up protesters at his rallies, offering to help pay their legal bills. Ugliest of all, perhaps, was his constant smearing of Hillary Clinton as a criminal – a charge that stuck to her, and that he still rants about, calling for his attorney general to pursue criminal charges against her for using a private server, an issue that then-FBI director Jim Comey put to rest months earlier, saying she was careless but in no way criminal.

Then we watched him win one primary after another. Jeb Bush, we were told, was going to be the front runner, and maybe Marco Rubio would be his most serious opponent. Trump was a bad joke. He had to flame out. But we all know what happened next.

The fascination with all things Trump continues. Cable news cannot serve up enough of Trump, countless panels never tire of dissecting his every word, every tweet. Noxious Trump surrogates on CNN lie through their teeth defending him, and for some reason the network keeps them on despite their obvious prevarications. And I contribute to this circus, obsessively watching all the cable shows, and then tuning in later at night to watch Steven Colbert and Seth Meyers, both of whom have made mocking Trump a cottage industry.

We are now more than six months into this nightmare and things keep going from bad to worse. All the hope that he would “grow into the job,” that “sane” voices like Ivanka Trump’s and Jared Kushner’s, would keep him in check, and that experienced advisors like Generals Maddis and MacMaster would rein him in — none of it happened. And the Democrats can’t seem to come up with a credible alternative; where is the leader we can rally around and look to for leadership in 2020? And what is the Democrats’ message? This was a serious flaw in the Clinton campaign: she never successfully articulated a message that would bring people together. Trump’s Make America Great again and Bernie Sanders’ promise of a Better Tomorrow and a new deal for the working and middle classes, were effective, whatever we may think of Trump and Sanders. And let me be clear that I thought Clinton was a qualified, intelligent, experienced statesman who would have made an excellent president. But I was frustrated at her inability to articulate a vision, other than her promise to keep building on the foundations Obama had laid down. This proved to be tone deaf: Americans wanted a sea change; what we had wasn’t working for them. They wanted a leader who would “drain the swamp” and listen to the working people. Trump exploited their fears and prejudices masterfully. You have to give him credit. He tapped into a vein of anger, despair and frustration. Never mind that his promises were empty and that his words would ring hollow. He was a shrewd politician and I hope the Democrats can learn from him. The message is everything. What is the Democrats’ message?

At the moment, the only ray of hope I can see is the inability of Trump to get anything done. His narcissistic arrogance is equaled only by his incompetence and tendency to thrive on chaos. But don’t forget, he will almost certainly name at least one more Supreme Court justice, and the fate of Roe v. Wade (and plenty of other decisions) will be in danger. The Court will shape what America is for years, maybe decades, to come. And that is too scary to contemplate.

Thanks for indulging me as I rant against Trump for the second time in six months. I just had to get it out of my system. Meanwhile, I will keep doing all I can to support the resistance, but for now I remain half-paralyzed. I fear we still haven’t seen the worst of Trump’s presidency. It’s going to be a long three and a half years.

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Welcome to the Age of Trump


Since Trump’s victory, my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant in Phoenix, Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli, has had its windows smashed — twice. I know the owner and his wife and it is kind of ironic that they are Christians (from Lebanon). Huge crowds lined up at lunchtime today to show their support, and I plan to go tomorrow. It is encouraging that the central Phoenix community has set up a GoFundMe page to help the restaurant owner and it has garnered nearly $11,000 in the past 24 hours.

They say it’s too early to call this a hate crime, but I strongly suspect it is. And I expect we will see lots more incidents like this as racists and haters feel emboldened by Trump’s election, by a man who called for the ban on all Muslims entering the US, by a man beloved by white supremacists and ultra-nationalists. Welcome to the Age of Trump, where the new national security advisor has said “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” (his caps), and where Trump’s strategic advisor has strong ties to the alt right. Since Trump’s election, incidents of harassment and intimidation have soared. It’s going to be a long and painful four years.

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Donald Trump Rears His Head

Three weeks later, and the shock and worry won’t wear off. For months I had devoured every bit of news about the election. I donated three times to the Democratic campaign. I watched the three cable news giants obsessively. I had it all figured out, thanks to the media and the ubiquitous polls thrown at us every day: Trump had only the narrowest of windows for winning the race and he had a 90 percent chance of losing. Women and Hispanics were mobilizing and would vote in record numbers for Clinton. Millennials were coming off the pain they felt at Bernie Sanders’ defeat in the primaries and were now going to vote for Clinton. Obama was going to galvanize black voters and send them to the polls. For all her baggage, Clinton was the odds-on favorite up to the very last day. And then, as I sat transfixed watching my television screen on election day, the unthinkable happened, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. I keep trying to wrap my head around what a world led by a lying, bullying, hateful reality TV star would look like, and I still can’t quite visualize it. We know some terrible disaster is right around the corner, thanks to Trump’s ignorance of foreign policy, underscored by his chat with Taiwan’s president and his heaping praise on the president of Pakistan.

Even three weeks later I feel numb, helpless and betrayed. After all, Clinton won the popular vote handily. And if it hadn’t been for James Comey’s shockingly inappropriate letter to Congressional committee chairs announcing that yet more Clinton emails had been discovered, I am convinced we would have seen a happier outcome. We would have seen a more progressive Supreme Court. We would have seen the continuation and improvement of Obamacare. We would have seen protection of entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, which the GOP can’t wait to privatize. We would have seen a calm, cool-headed leader who knows how to skillfully interact with heads of state and who understands how to walk the tightrope of international relations (like how to deal with Taiwan). Instead we get a misogynistic, narcissistic, race-baiting carnival barker. Our lives are in the hands of a madman. All we can do is hope he can be restrained by those he surrounds himself with, but I’m not sure anyone can restrain Donald Trump. His chief strategist, Steven Bannon, is closely aligned with the alt right, and will be whispering in Trump’s ear every day. God help us.

We are all beyond saturation with the coverage. My Facebook feed fills up every few minutes with more stories about Trump’s improbable victory and what it means. Key words and phrases that keep running in my head include uncharted territory, fear, dread, despair, unprecedented, terrifying, no one knows, unimaginable, white supremacists, surreal…. And I admit that despite the saturation, I still keep reading the articles and watching the news shows, hoping that maybe I can finally understand and accept what happened. (So far I have been glaringly unsuccessful.)

I suppose we have two alternatives: to burrow ourselves into a hole and try to block it all out, or to actively work to change things for the better and to get ready for the next election fight in 2018. The closing stanza of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach keeps replaying in my head:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

There we have it: the most I can do at the moment is turn inward and try to keep the angst at a minimum, to forget about the “ignorant armies” that clash by night and just get on the best I can. Maybe in a few months I’ll get active in politics again, but for now I am simply trying to keep from being overwhelmed in a tsunami of terrible news that seems to get worse every day. The steady onslaught, the latest telling of Trump’s horrifying behavior or appointment or tweet, is numbing, stultifying. Hope is supposed to spring eternal, but at this moment I can’t see anything to feel hopeful about.

On the eve of World War I, British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey famously remarked, “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.” Will we see them lit again in America? For now, all we can do is stand and wait. And maybe pray. I do not mean in any way to be an alarmist, but I do believe Trump is going to be worse than any of us imagine. I fear we are going to be in nightmare mode for years to come, if not for generations (thanks to a Trump-selected Supreme Court). A tragedy, in every way. A complete and total tragedy.

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Twenty-five years later

I never before saw all the raw video footage of “Tank Man’s” defiance against a column of army tanks until today. It is remarkable, how one nameless man entered all of our living rooms for just a moment and is remembered so vividly a quarter of a century later. And for good reason.

Let’s keep the hundreds of murdered innocents in our thoughts today, and keep alive the fight to let the Chinese people know all who died during the crackdown. Let’s remember the Tiananmen Mothers, and let’s even hope for the day when the CCP admits the demonstrations were not an act of “counterrevolutionary” treachery inspired by foreign subversives, but an expression of the Chinese people’s yearning for a say in their government, for their voices to be counted, for officials to be held accountable. The demonstrators were patriots, not traitors. Sometimes foolish, sometimes caught up in their own infighting and bickering, but patriots nonetheless. Watch the Tank Man footage. Remember how and why he became an icon for standing up to brute force. (The driver of the tank should be remembered as well for his humanity. He could easily have killed Tank Man in an instant.) Every year I say Never Forget. Now, 25 years later, I say it with even more urgency. The Party, in its efforts to keep the TSM a taboo topic, reveals its own vulnerability and weakness. They must not be let off the hook. At some point the truth has to be told.

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Return of Liu Di, the “Stainless Steel Mouse”

Those of you who have been reading this blog for ten years or more (if any such reader exists) might remember an array of posts I wrote in 2004 regarding a “cyberdissident” Liu Di, who posted pro-democracy essays on the Internet under the moniker Stainless Steel Mouse. Posts like this or this, and several more. She also participated in study groups that discussed freedom and government reform, and saw herself and her colleagues arrested. I remember how angry I felt when another cyberdissident who lobbied for her release was himself arrested. Still, she has never been silenced. Even as recently as last month she was taken into custody for participating in a seminar about June 4th.

A reader brought to my attention the availability of three of Liu Di’s not-seen-before essays translated into English, one from 2014, another from 2013 and the last from 2010. These essays, one on remembering June 4, another on how the CCP operates and who they really serve, and one on why it is so important to hold out hope for incremental reform of the Chinese government, are poignant and beautifully written (thanks to Ragged Banner for the excellent translation). I hope you can take a moment and read all three.

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Two cats on a mat

I posted this on Facebook a few days ago and want to immortalize it on my blog. I had washed a small rug and put it on my front porch to dry and my two gorgeous cats immediately colonized it. (Click to enlarge.) What is life without cats?

Update: Today one of the cats climbed up on the roof and made his way to the front porch awning, where he held court all day, 12 feet from the ground.

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Xu Zhiyong gets 4 years for being a great civil servant

A week ago, Evan Osnos of The New Yorker wrote an excellent profile of a man who should be considered a national hero, Xu Zhiyong, who fought for greater government transparency to rein in corruption. I recommend everyone read it to see how this was no ordinary activist, but a courageous reformer whose crime was founding a grass-roots movement to promote citizens’ rights and rule of law.

[In 2009] Xu was known for his work as a legal activist, one who had made the rare choice to push for reform not from outside the system but from deep within it—he ran for, and won, a seat on a local district assembly in Beijing. In his work as a lawyer, he had been honored by the government for investigating contaminated baby formula and helping people who had been locked up by local governments in unofficial jails. In 2002, state television named him one of the “Top Ten Figures in the Rule of Law.” Xu projected a nearly evangelical sense of civic consciousness. In 2007, Susan Jakes, then a reporter for Time , wrote of him, “Xu is probably the person most committed to public service that I’ve met in China, and possibly in my whole life.” It was the kind of story that the Chinese press likes to promote now and then as evidence of the country’s capacity for pluralism within the wider confines of Party rule. “I have taken part in politics in pursuit of a better and more civilized nation,” The Economic Observer, a Beijing-based weekly, quoted him as saying.

As you probably know by now, today Xu, lauded a mere four years ago as a hero, was sentenced to four years in prison for organizing a crowd to disrupt public order. The news just broke, and I can’t find any articles in English yet, but according to several posts on Twitter, Xu said at the trial “this destroys the last remaining dignity of the Chinese legal system.” The sentence, the finale of a mock trial, will send out shock waves to all Chinese reformers. It was inevitable — you don’t get put on trial in China without being found guilty — but it is still a shock. Not a surprise, but a shock, a frightening reminder of just how, for all the new freedoms and rights and openness, there are still fat red lines that must not be crossed, like demanding a crackdown on government corruption. This is meant to cause shock waves, it’s a wake-up call to all activists: kick the hornet’s nest and we will come for you, no matter who you are.

As Osnos writes in his story, the great irony here is that Xi Jinping says one of his top priorities is rooting out government corruption and putting corrupt officials on trial. He is crusading even more zealously, however, for complete control over the flow of information in China, tightening the controls of censorship, especially on the Internet. As Osnos notes, “To tame the unruly power of the Web, the Supreme People’s Court declared that “false defamatory” comments, viewed five thousand times or forwarded five hundred times, could result in a prison sentence of up to three years.”

This story, like that of Liu Xiaobo, will create some international outrage and will reinforce stereotypes of China remaining a prickly authoritarian state that remains terrified of public scrutiny. It won’t matter a bit. This story is for China’s domestic consumption, and sends a clear and powerful message. It’s a tragedy.

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