Politics and Change

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For China to change the World, first it needs to change itself.


Conclusions and First Go at Activism

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Last week I wrote a post where I expressed some views on Ai WeiWei and other dissidents. This attracted an unexpected number of comments, and it even inspired a podcast in the best blog about China in Spanish, Zaichina. All in all, it has been a long and fruitful exchange, so I want to thank everyone for participating with an open mind. Below I write the conclusions I drew.

It is unfortunate that all this discussion started with a response to Osnos’ blog,  because it caused the whole debate to turn around that. I regret that by doing this I have upset some people I respect, who were actively demanding Ai’s release. The fact is I disagree with and even dislike many of Ai and Liu’s statements, but now that they’ve been imprisoned for speaking out their views, there is only one right thing to do. This blog stands for Freedom of Speech.

So I have decided to borrow the banner from the roof of the Tate Museum and hang it on my own roof until my next posting, or until my blog goes down, whichever happens first. It represents not only Ai and Liu, but any person who has been imprisoned merely for having different ideas or for exposing hideous crimes, like the American hero Bradley Manning. Click to continue »

Why Ai Matters - Why Not so Much

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Interesting article by Evan Osnos, explaining Why Ai Weiwei Matters. He gives three good reasons why we should not dismiss the Ai WeiWei case as irrelevant. Despite the annoying tone (he seems to imply that foreigners ignoring Ai Weiwei are brainwashed readers of The Global Times), it is fair to say that he addresses the issue effectively.

The trouble is,  I don’t think he chose the right issue to address. Many of us who (mildly) oppose all this Ai Weiwei fad don’t do so on the grounds of irrelevance, but for other more important reasons.  In particular, we fear that the disproportionate focus of Western media on characters like Nobel Liu XB or Ai WW is counterproductive, and it can undermine the democratic dissidence in China.

Both Liu and Ai are quite extreme characters. Both have a few things in common: an aggressive style, an economic dependency on the West, and (coincidence?) a radically pro-Western stance. More crucially, both share a taste for expressing their views or creating “art” [1]  by means of destroying  the things that are dearest to all Chinese who love their country, communist or otherwise:  their history, their culture, their wounds of the colonial period. Click to continue »

  1. I am just a simple engineer, you will excuse me for thinking that breaking historical vases or taking photos of your middle finger is not remotely art []

Comparing notes on Human Rights

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

So there we go again. It is this time of the year when the USA State Department publishes its annual human rights report including China as a major offender, and China promptly responds with its own report exclusively dedicated to the US.

This show is déjà vu, but if you are interested you can see some thoughtful analysis of the question in the latest China Hearsay post. I completely agree with that post, including some historical comparison with the Jim Crow laws that some might find far-fetched (more further-fetched comparisons available below)

Even more interesting to me is the reaction of the American/European public to these kind of announcements. As Stan points out, typically it is outrage or even amusement: “the balls!”  Implicit in this tone and attitude is the rock-solid certitude that the USA and its allies indeed respect human rights more than China.

Whether it is in politics, science or any other field, intelligent people don’t have blind certitudes. This attitude of smug self-evidence is, in itself, a symptom that we should worry. Such strong convictions normally belong to fanatics, or else are the fruit of lazy (and carefully manipulated) minds. I think we have a bit of both here. Click to continue »

An Interesting week in China

Friday, March 18th, 2011

So many things are happening outside China right now, I have the strange sensation that the roles have been reversed, and for once we are the onlookers instead of the targets of all eyes. It feels relaxing, and I note it’s had a great effect on the Chinese TV as well. After the absurdly oppressive weeks leading up to the NPC, they are now taking some time out.

bow japan flag

Some things I liked watching this week:

  • The coverage of the Earthquake continues to be great. Contrary to what some feared, the official media has prominently displayed the CCP leaders bowing to the Japanese flag, and some touching videos of Sichuanese victims remembering how Japan helped them in 2008. The hero of today? Not a soldier, but a young Chinese student who has decided to stay put in her post in Sendai, to continue with her duty in spite of the danger. I found it all really moving, perhaps because it was unexpected.
  • Another outside event: China has abstained from vetoing the UN resolution that allows “all necessary measures” against Libya if Gaddafi does not hold fire immediately. The same day the CCTV has openly explained this to the public, stating the possibility of foreign countries to intervene in Libyan affairs. I wonder if this would have been presented differently, had the tsunami not distracted attention from the Jasmine ideas—the vote itself would have probably been the same, it looks like there was no other option.
  • Finally back to China: there has been this amazing story of the salt, you can read it all in this interesting post. One of those crazy viral chains that spread like wildfire in China. Someone started a rumour that salt is essential against radiation, and within hours there was a nation-wide run on the convenience stores:


An interesting phenomenon that this blogger explains as lack of political trust. I agree, and I add the following:

What is really remarkable about China is that the hoarding was so completely irrational. I mean, why would you get salt of all things? Anyone can go on the internet and see third party information to check about the salt. The first thing I did Tuesday is goggle “salt iodine radiation” to find some expert advice.

It looks like Chinese people don’t have this instinct of looking for different sources, perhaps due to years of media control. In the end, this is not a story of distrust, but rather of blind trust: the trust of all those absurd sms chains started by some Zhejiang guys (salt merchants?) saying that you need to get salt.

What is it that makes Chinese society so conductive for viral chains? My guess: not only distrust of the government, but also the lack of a liberal education and the instinct to search the truth for themselves.

To be fair, it was mostly older people and uneducated peasants that acted this way, there is still hope for the young generations. My colleagues at work found it all rather funny, and I received lots of jokes. They were also spreading like wildfire on kaixinwang.

The Japanese are queuing to get water. The Americans are queuing to get iPad 2s. The Chinese are queuing to get salt.

Get out of Here, Your Excellency!

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

I was very disappointed when I read this story about the US ambassador in Beijing taking part in the so-called “Jasmine” protests last Sunday. This is very bad news for Chinese supporters of democracy (yet again).

First of all, let’s be serious. The idea that the ambassador didn’t know what was going on is an insult to intelligence, his appearing on camera lying to a Chinese passer-by only makes things worse. You might argue he was casually walking around, but in a stroll protest walking around is precisely the way to participate. You might believe he was saying the truth, but that would mean he is an incompetent officer, ignorant of the situation on the ground. Clearly that is not the case.

No, the ambassador of the USA has openly and consciously joined a minority protest against the Chinese government in Beijing. Mr. Huntsman’s action is clearly not due to incompetence, but to careful calculation, based on Western vanity and political ambition.

Don’t American politicians understand that democracy can only win if it is seen as homegrown? What would happen if the French ambassador was seen joining a protest for, say, the health reform in the US, would this help further the Democrats’ agenda? Does this kind of action help the millions of real, anonymous Chinese who hope for a more open system? Certainly not. Click to continue »

Nobel Prize Thoughts

Friday, October 8th, 2010

I just learnt about Liu’s Prize. This is important news, which could mark the beginning of new developments in international politics.

Certainly, the whole thing would have been more effective if the Nobel wasn’t completely made worthless by last year’s award. But even without that, it couldn’t have any positive direct result. The government will not move because of outside pressure, and Mr.Liu, the brave drafter of the Charter, will hardly see his situation improved.

What this Nobel may probably bring is some important indirect consequences, such as:

1- The government will learn perhaps that raw power is not always the best way in international politics. How were they expecting to threaten Norway, not buying any more oil and smoked salmon? The problem of soft power, which ccp has definitely NOT mastered yet, may have to be reconsidered.

2- This is a very direct attack against the party, and even if it comes dressed in neutral scandinavian colours, everyone knows this represents the Western establishment. Internally this might provoke some reactions and give strength to the radical. This and the pressure on the yuan may quickly escalate in the coming weeks.

3- There is no way to know ultimately what will be the outcome of all this. From a pure justice point of view, clearly a person imprisoned for writing about human rights is more worthy of this prize than a newly elected politician. But looking at the World political and economic situation today, I am afraid this might be a not so smart move.

Let’s hope for the best. In the meantime, congratulations to Liu, a brave Chinese man.

A Study of Sex Selective Abortion in China

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

In the 2010 Social Blue Paper, published last December by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, there was a very interesting piece hidden among the 330 pages of socio-economic analysis. Under the title “Population problems China should pay attention to between 2011 and 2015″, this article contained some of the newest and most negative data to date about the important problem of gender imbalance [1], published by an official PRC source.

The data was immediately published by the People’s Daily Chinese. A month later, it came out in the English version of the paper, and since then it has been making the rounds of the Western press, with the predictable apocalyptic spin.  Within China, however, the article has failed to spark any significant debate, even though the subject wasn’t censored. It is already positive that the authorities speak openly of this problem, but clearly a different approach is needed to raise awareness and find solutions.

With the help of my sister, pediatrician Dr. Madariaga, I have been comparing data from different primary sources outside and inside China. The CASS data coming from China official statistics turns out to be very consistent with previous outside sources, like the often quoted BMJ study. It is also the most pessimistic of all, and the most politically credible, as the patriotic CASS can hardly be accused of anti-CCP bias.

What follows is my analysis of the existing research from a different perspective. Not to do projections on the future, but to see what these numbers tell us of the Chinese today, and what solutions can be found. The results are shocking, read and judge by yourself: Click to continue »

  1. for a simple introduction to the problem of gender imbalance in China and its potential consequences you can read this article from the Economist []

To love the Country is not to love the Dynasty

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Very sorry, this document has been erased!

This little piece by historian Hong Zhenkuai has been taken down from the Southern Metropolis, but it has managed to escape the censors on some other sites. I liked the subtle way Hong criticizes the reigning CCP dynasty, and the cool Chinese rendering of “L’Etat c’est moi” as “朕即国家“.

Since I don’t have the time for Language Thursdays today, I have done this bit of translation work:

The French Bourbon king Louis XIV reportedly said “L’etat c’est moi” [1]. Even if all the World’s sovereigns love autocracy, few of them would say it so openly. Louis XIV ruled from 1643 to 1715, the same period as China’s Kangxi. Kangxi’s thought was probably not unlike “L’etat c’est moi”, but clearly he had more “wisdom with Chinese characteristics” than Louis XIV – he did a lot of “humane actions”, thus earning a reputation of humane Lord while still ruling as a dictator.

In the ideas of the Sovereign People, the sovereignty belongs to the people and it is not “L’Etat c’est moi” but rather “L’Etat is us“. Of course this kind of ideas only appeared after Louis XIV’s death. In his age there were not many in the World who could tell the difference between the notions of sovereign, government and State. In China, even if the pre-Qin philosopher Mencius said: “first the people, then the State then the  monarch”, in fact in the 2000+ years since the Qin and the Han, Patriotism has meant Loyalty to the Monarch, and these two concepts are muddled. Click to continue »

  1. meaning the State is me []

The Time of Han Han (2) +Ulterior Rant

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Uterior Motives

Here is an update to yesterday’s review of Han Han, with some additional info about the Time nomination, which might be more important than it appears at first sight.

Then, if you stay till the end of this chapter, we will put on the yellow socks to analyze a bit more that terrible scourge of our times: the Ulterior Motives. This is for the benefit of all the puppet journalists and researchers who enjoy using that phrase, please pay attention.

The comments today come in the form of title-paragraphs, to allow for easy skimming:

1- The rules of the Time 100 are often misunderstood and heavily criticized, especially after internet star moot hacked the online poll last year and turned it into a joke. However, what you should keep in mind is that the internet poll only selects one of the members of the Time 100 list. That is, only the top person in the online poll makes it into the final official list, and in the position that Time editors decide. To be fair, it does make sense to include at least this one person from the poll, as it is representative of online mobilization power (when it is not hacked). Click to continue »

The Time of Han Han

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Han Han has been nominated for the Time’s most Influential People, and pushed by the millions of Chinese netizens, he is quickly ascending to a likely Number 1. Xujun Eberlein has done a good analysis of the situation, particularly the disgusting way that the People’s Daily and the Shanghai Daily are trying to downplay and oppose Han Han’s election - and ironically helping him to get more votes.

I found the article on Shanghai Daily revolting. The one on the PD is so obviously unprofessional that it’s harmless, after all this is not a real newspaper. But the ShD, what is wrong with these people? What orders are they following from above, to cast Han in this light? The critique by R. Zhou we commented last year was at least intelligent and it had a point, but this clown writing on the ShD sounds like a clueless mouthpiece at the service of the party.

First of all, regarding the books, everybody knows that Han is not doing great literature. For the outside World, his work is largely untranslatable and devoid of meaning, which explains why he is not known in the West. But even for the Chinese readers he has little to offer today. His most successful novel is a juvenile rant packed with High School inside jokes that are only funny for spotty teenagers. His initial critique of the education system was sharp and well-aimed, but since then he has failed to develop into an adult author. Click to continue »

Google vs China: The Soft A-bomb

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

images3How many times have we seen the discussion on China forums about what exactly is Soft Power? That mysterious force of the white side that the Jedi use in international politics, turning all arguments to their advantage? China has coveted this weapon for years and spent many a valuable resource in its quest, but all to no avail, to the point that some have started to doubt the very existence of the Force.

Well, for those who doubted, here you have the proof. Get the solid worldwide reputation of Google Inc. for non-evilness, add an American president that enjoys public support in almost every corner of the World, and you can assemble a Megaton soft bomb with the power to break through all the conventions of international politics. That is exactly what Google’s actions represent today, and for the time being they are obtaining the expected support outside of China. Click to continue »

Sex and Conservatives in China (2) [NSFW]

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

SP32-20100312-192923Disclaimer: In the interest of science, this post contains sexually explicit material. If you are underage and/or a sensitive person you are advised not to scroll down. If you don’t read Chinese it’s OK.

This is the continuation of the previous post in the series, where we ended up rambling off the main topic and into a thick soup of political terms. Today I am back to impose some discipline. The article was meant to be about sex, and sex we will do. Just stick around for a few paragraphs of theory, or scroll right down to the examples if you prefer.

The question we considered last time was: why communist regimes, most of which have abolished religion at some point, are in fact among the most puritan countries regarding porn? Which can be otherwise formulated: why are Chinese commies so prudish? With the ever growing impulse of the porn censoring machine, this may well become one of the fundamental questions to understand modern China. Click to continue »