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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 []

YOU have been condemned to 劳改!

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Reform through labour camp in construction. Pending forced evacuation of previous residents of the area.

Welcome to the 劳动改造 Camp for Reform through Labour. You have been sent here to receive treatment for your 思想僵化. You don’t know it yet, but you suffer exactly the same illness as the people here. Don’t worry, it has a cure: all you need to do is relax, read some books, make some friends, and get a normal life outside the internet.

While you are in the camp, you should practice self-criticism and ardently study the Thought of Youren:

  • This blog is about China, I don’t care what you think of my country.
  • I’m not from 外国, and I don’t represent the official position of 外国.
  • This blog is not against anything except lies and foolishness.
  • A government that doesn’t accept critics from its people is always a weak government.
  • Communism does not work, if it did then the Communist Party of China would actually use it.
  • China suffered injustice in the past, caused by the greed and brutality of some foreign countries, and by its own selfish leaders. I am quite familiar with the history of China and I don’t need constant reminders of these disgraceful events, thank you.

Once you have studied the thought above, go to this website and memorize the complete Thought of Mao Zedong. After you finish your 思想革命化 you can come back to my blog.


Sex and Conservatives in China

Friday, March 5th, 2010


It looks like Charles over at the new China Divide blog has found a new source of clicks to revive the China blogging scene: debating the crackdown on pornography in China.

While I don’t usually support any kind of censorship, I have to say I couldn’t care less for the cause of porn in China. From what I have seen, sex peddlers are the most disgraceful, spammy, virus-ridden and generally useless sites of the internet, and they distract netizens from doing more important things like reading my blog. You can be sure that you won’t find me in the ranks of the protesters when those websites get banned.

There is however a more important problem with banning porn, and it is that the definition of the Chinese authorities goes way further than what we usually understand as pornography. It applies to some wonderful works of art, including films such as An Lee’s Lust and Caution, or this great TV serial and book by Liu Liu. It is used to marginalize some excellent artists like Tang Wei, and in general it contributes to further stifle the creativity of the Chinese literary and artistic scene.

To be sure, many times the banning of “unhealthy” content is just an excuse to get rid of dissidents or to justify protectionist policies. But generally speaking, when Chinese authorities act against porn it is out of a genuine ethical concern. And here is where I see a more interesting angle to the discussion, linking up to the question I asked last year in the post about TV serials and communist ethics: why are the commies so prudish?

From my experience living in various communist and ex-communist countries, I conclude that this is not a strictly Chinese phenomenon. In fact, it is not even a communist phenomenon, but rather a common characteristic of conservative people everywhere. I maintain that the reason why erotic content is banned in China is just that the CCP is an extremely conservative organization, and as all conservatives everywhere they abhor public displays of sex, even if in private they might think nothing of going to the brothel 5 times a week.

Why then, do conservatives tend to have this particular attitude in common towards sex? And in particular, why are communist regimes, all of which abolished religion, at the forefront of sex related puritanism?

The Red Conservatives

First of all, I want to add here a definition of conservatives, just to avoid having the whole discussion turn around the meaning of a word. Like most political terms, this one can have different meanings in different places. The meaning I use for this post is one that I think is most intuitive and understood internationally. From the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Political attitude or ideology denoting a preference for institutions and practices that have evolved historically and are thus manifestations of continuity and stability. It was first expressed in the modern era through the works of Edmund Burke in reaction to the French Revolution, which Burke believed tarnished its ideals through its excesses. Conservatives believe that the implementation of change should be minimal and gradual; they appreciate history and are more realistic than idealistic.

In the case of communist countries like China it is always complicated to use the normal political terms of conservative/progressive, or right/left. The reason is that during 1949-1978 the paradigm was changed, and the old conservatives were exterminated. As a consequence, a  “new country” was created from zero, so for the purpose of Chinese political life, the “institutions and practices that have evolved historically” only count as defined in the history of the Communist Party. And the conservatives in China tend to be communist.

This phenomenon is hardly unique. It follows the logic of revolutionary movements everywhere obtaining mainstream power: their focus suddenly shifts from “changing the world” to “maintaining the status quo”, and conservative mindsets normally take control.

It is hardly necessary to explain this to anyone who has lived in China, but I have the feeling that some Americans still find it strange to call a communist regime “conservative”. If you think all this is just intellectual blabber, you are missing the point. The supporters of the CCP are genuinely conservative people and they behave exactly as you would expect from a conservative elsewhere.

From my conversations with some passionate young men in the CCP, and my long chats in the internet-less nights of North Korea, I have a reasonable understanding of what moves those convinced “communists”: they dislike foreign influence and they attach an absurd importance to nationality and ethnicity; they are averse to anything that sounds like free thinking or questioning of the old ideas; they like to marry traditional girls, pretty by the old canons, who don’t wear mini-skirts or speak too much in public; they don’t like homosexual people and they are quick to call “whore” when a girl behaves exactly like many men do.

The tragedy is that these conservative people will never be able to connect with their counterparts in America, because both sides are still bound by their own religious and Cold War rethoric. Someone should invent a party with the slogan like: Conservatives of the World, unite!

A soup of political terms

I am going to have to cut this here for today, because my new blogging policies don’t let me do more than 1000 words per post. We will continue in the next one, but before I finish I want to mention the very interesting problem of political terms in China.

Due to the reversal of paradigms mentioned above, there is still a good deal of confusion in the West about which English words should be used to name the different ideologies in a communist country. I am no scholar in Chinese politics, but from the books I have read on the subject (including academic works like Victor Shih’s) I get the impression that the terms are not standardized. The only book I have seen that attempts to do a taxonomy is the little manual: “What does China Think” by Mark Leonard.

I am hoping that someone will lend me a hand here and point me to some other resource where I can look this up. In the meantime, from what I remember of that book and my own initiative, the main denominations go as below:

Old Left: Hardliners in the CPP who want to revive Maoism. Contrary to the West, these lefties are actually very conservative people.

Old Right: Admirers of Taiwan and the KMT, practically invisible in the mainland today. I never met one, so not sure if they are conservative characters or not. I assume many members of the FLG would respond to this description.

New Left: Politicians like the Prime Minister Wen, who push for more social policies, equal distribution of the wealth, etc, within the rule of the CCP. The mindset is still conservative, but less than the Old Left.

New Right: Politicians, thinkers and some business sharks inspired in Deng Xiaoping’s “get rich first” who want to give priority to the coastal regions and build a ruthless capitalist system. They don’t have any mindset because they are too busy getting rich first, and they don’t care about political ideology as long as their cats catch mice.

Right Left: This is my own dysfunctional term to include people like Xu Zhiyong or Liu Xiaobo, as well as some within the CCP who call for political reform, democracy and civil rights. Many of them are not dissidents, but just brave party members who dare to raise their voice. These are the only ones that respond to the idea I have of “progressive” mindset.

What do you think of this terminology?

NOTE: This list is not meant to be taken as reference, but rather to invite participation, please do propose any term you want, or point me to some good read about modern Chinese politics. For those who came here to find some sex, please come back tomorrow when I will continue with the main subject of the post and I will attach SEXUALLY EXPLICIT IMAGES of Chinese. Have a nice day.

Year End Edition (2): The Chinese Decade

Monday, January 4th, 2010

tiget The Tiger is coming to the surface. The New decade has already come in the West, and in China we are again in this no man’s land between the Solar and the Lunar New Year, between the Bull and the Tiger. It is time to look back and see where we stand.

In World politics time is measured in decades, and many will call the 00s the decade of China. It is just a simplification, these 10 years are nothing but part of a longer process started in 78, and probably still ongoing for another decade more. And yet, if we have to choose one event that marked the decade in World politics, like the end of the Cold War marked the 90s, the rise of China is the most reasonable choice. No other event is likely to be be more decisive in the history of the World.

In the first post of this Year End edition we proved that, within the general growing trend of the decade, 2008 was a peak for China’s presence in the World media, and 2009 has gone back to relatively normal levels. This peak cannot hide the general trend: that China is growing inexorably to become a World superpower and that it is already changing the power balance of humanity.

Measuring the Chinese decade

If we have to chose one single parameter to measure this rise, it is the economy that can give us the best clue. There is no point in going to the decimals when analyzing decade trends, so the calculation is simple: China has grown roughly 7% faster than Western countries in the last decade, and all seems to indicate that this will continue into the 10s.

The calculation* is straightforward:  1.07^10 = 2

At a rate of 7% differential a year, the size of China’s economy relative to the Western economies is doubling every decade. Today most estimates of GDP place China between 1/4 and 1/2 of the USA economy, depending if it is measured in nominal GDP or in PPP. This means that, if nothing else changes in the next decade, Chinese economy will be the biggest in the World anytime between 2020 and 2030.

The consequences of this calculation are enormous, and they are already operating today. That is because in politics we behave like in the stock market: decisions are made taking into account the foreseeable future rather than the present. China is already displacing the EU in World politics, even if it is a fraction of the European economy, even if it doesn’t want to be the protagonist. The media and the politicians are betting on the future value of China.

The Question of the Decade

Of course, nothing guarantees that the growth patterns of the 00s will continue in the 10s. There is one important school of thought that insists on the unsustainability of the Chinese system. They mention corruption, growing inequality, lack of civil rights and a civil society, repression of creativity and free market, the inability to build World class brands and a financial system in disarray, among other problems, to justify their prediction that sooner or later the Chinese economy is bound to crumble.

Those of us who live and work in China know that these problems are serious and very real, and that somewhere down the line there is bound to be a serious readjustment. And yet, the same predictions have been made regularly almost every year in the last three decades, and the collapse has not materialized.

The real question of this decade is When?

Will the Chinese economy stop growing before or after it has become a superpower as large as the USA? Will the Chinese seriously demand more rights and liberties before or after China has become a developed country? Will the economic and political readjustments be done progressively with the new generation of Chinese leaders, or will there be a dangerous explosion in this decade?

We don’t have the answers to this today, and you should not believe any China expert who claims to have them. All we can do is frame the question above, and watch out for early signs to answer it in the coming years.

There is however one statement we can make today. Looking at the World, it is obvious that many important players are already betting on the rise of China, and this view is gathering more support every year. As we have seen above, to the extent that the majority in the World believes in the superpower scenario, China is ALREADY a superpower. The political power comes years in advance of the GDP, and the new World order is already a fact today.

Photo: Eric Risberg

*This is an engineer’s calculation, the nightmare of any serious mathematician. And yet, most bridges we do are still standing, and when we speak of decade trends anything more accurate than this is a joke.

Happy Christmas. Liu Xiao Bo got 11 years.

Friday, December 25th, 2009

Happy Christmas everyone. Sad Christmas for China, and for all of us who love that country and who believe in freedom, dignity and truth.

Exactly one year ago, on Christmas Day, I published this post about Liu’s Charter. I was critical with the initiative for many reasons: it contained contradictions, it was reactive rather than active, and it was not a Charter to unite all the Chinese. But most importantly, the way the document was drafted ensured that it had not a chance to fly.

The initiative was practically born dead, Charter was never a big subject in China even in early 09, it was the crisis and the stimulus that we watched at the time. The party had won the game from day one, so what point in bullying Liu now, one year later? Clearly, just to set an example to ensure that the rest of the signers will shut up, and to avoid new initiatives in the coming years. “Kill the chicken to scare the monkey”, the Chinese tradition says. And that is NOT justice, but a disgusting mafia trick.

Even if you don’t believe in democracy for China—even if you think (like I do) that the hypocritical governments of the West have no lessons to give here—even if the Charter was probably not the best way to attain the noble principles it professed. Even so, any decent person can see that a document like this should never be a reason for a man to be deprived of his freedom.

The party knows this, and it is again censoring and lying on the internet to hide its dirty deed from the people of China.

Now the story has been picked up by the CNN and it is making some noise. If we are lucky and it goes far enough, maybe even Obama will give us a memorable line. But it will not change anything, because all this is part of the deal with China. And the sentence is nothing more or less than what could be expected of the Chinese government today.

Liu knew this well, and he decided to go on in spite of it. That is because he is an idealist and a hero. He will be remembered.

More on this case here. Also, from my own blog: here, here and here.

These are the principles that 303 brave men published in China in 2008:

Freedom. Freedom is at the core of universal human values. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom in where to live, and the freedoms to strike, to demonstrate, and to protest, among others, are the forms that freedom takes. Without freedom, China will always remain far from civilized ideals.

Human rights. Human rights are not bestowed by a state. Every person is born with inherent rights to dignity and freedom. The government exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens. The exercise of state power must be authorized by the people. The succession of political disasters in China’s recent history is a direct consequence of the ruling regime’s disregard for human rights.

Equality. The integrity, dignity, and freedom of every person—regardless of social station, occupation, sex, economic condition, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or political belief—are the same as those of any other. Principles of equality before the law and equality of social, economic, cultural, civil, and political rights must be upheld.

Republicanism. Republicanism, which holds that power should be balanced among different branches of government and competing interests should be served, resembles the traditional Chinese political ideal of “fairness in all under heaven.” It allows different interest groups and social assemblies, and people with a variety of cultures and beliefs, to exercise democratic self-government and to deliberate in order to reach peaceful resolution of public questions on a basis of equal access to government and free and fair competition.

Democracy. The most fundamental principles of democracy are that the people are sovereign and the people select their government. Democracy has these characteristics: (1) Political power begins with the people and the legitimacy of a regime derives from the people. (2) Political power is exercised through choices that the people make. (3) The holders of major official posts in government at all levels are determined through periodic competitive elections. (4) While honoring the will of the majority, the fundamental dignity, freedom, and human rights of minorities are protected. In short, democracy is a modern means for achieving government truly “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Constitutional rule. Constitutional rule is rule through a legal system and legal regulations to implement principles that are spelled out in a constitution. It means protecting the freedom and the rights of citizens, limiting and defining the scope of legitimate government power, and providing the administrative apparatus necessary to serve these ends.

Chinese the most Difficult… (and 3)

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

In the first two posts of this series, we saw that Chinese is the last language in the World to maintain a complete set of independent vocabulary roots and a non-phonetic script to represent them, what we might call a separate Word System. For this reason I argued that Chinese may be the most difficult language to obtain full fluency, regardless of the linguistic background of the student.

But there are more interesting implications than the mere difficulty of the language, in particular cultural and political ones. Because the refusal to use loans and phonetic script is the result of conscious decisions. There is nothing in the language itself that forbids import of foreign words or use of an alphabet, indeed, there are already some exceptions of direct loans in current use that are written in latin letters, such as DVD or KTV.

Chinese has a parallel Word System diverging from the rest of the World, and the government has an active role in the maintenance of this system. However, this policy is not unilaterally imposed from above. It is certainly encouraged by the education system, but Chinese speakers seem to follow it naturally and often prefer Chinese roots even when not supervised. This is in contrast with the situation in many countries where the system tries to protect local terms, only to find that people still prefer “email” to “courier electronique”.

Anyone living in China long enough realizes how aware Chinese are of their long history and their status as a different civilization. This discourse is irritating for Westerners, because it reminds too much of ultra-nationalistic creeds back home. But it has one essential difference with those creeds: in the case of China, it is true. As we said before, China is justified to see itself as a cradle of civilization, and it is the only such culture that has survived practically independent from World mainstream till modern times. This cultural awareness is the main reason for the preservation of the language as we know it, surviving different regimes and even periods of chaos.

When we study Chinese we are not merely learning another language, we are learning the words of a parallel World, the last independent system of vocabulary and writing that humanity still has. It is the most similar experience available on Earth to learning the language of another planet. If Chinese is really so hard to learn, this should provide enough motivation for anyone to try it.

Political considerations

Mandarin is not in itself a very difficult language, what makes it hard is its complex Word System, which is for the most part not essential (that is, the language could still exist with loans and an alphabet). This System makes it hard for foreigners and Chinese to communicate, and it is a serious obstacle in the education of the Chinese. In the last century,  development has been the main priority of China in order to recover her past glory, and inefficient relics have been torn down without blinking, just like the Walls of Beijing. Chinese words and characters are the last of those obstructive monuments to remain, and by far the oldest of all. It is a miracle that they have survived till today.

The invention of convenient methods to input characters on a keyboard has made the future of the characters seem more secure, but their permanence is by no means ensured. Many famous linguists have argued for the use of pinyin as main written language and elimination of the characters from daily life, not least of them Lu Xun, or the late John de Francis. Much as I admire these men and their work, I am completely opposed to their position as a matter of principles. I don’t suppose anyone will believe me in this age of economists, even less in the China of the new philosophies, but I have this to say: Efficiency is not a supreme value. In fact, it is not even a value in itself, but just a means. And a sad means it would be to recover the greatness of China, if there were nothing left to recover.

I think it is clear to most Chinese today that their Word System is too precious to abandon it for the sake of efficiency. However, some reasonable concessions can be made which might ensure the very survival of the System in the long term. In particular, the acceptance of foreign loans for new technical words might facilitate the access of Chinese to foreign research and the incorporation of foreign talents when the real Chinese brain-drain starts in earnest. The complete acceptance of latin script to represent phonetically foreign Proper Nouns (which is already used informally) would also be a step towards efficiency without sacrificing the heart of the system, and would be of great help for all the Chinese trying to learn English.

Apart from the practical issues considered, no less important is the mentality underlying the Chinese Word System. The growing common vocabulary in all the languages in the World represents the recognition by most cultures that there is a large part of common human culture, and that, since this part is only going to become larger with the progress of technology, the sensible solution is to adopt a common language to communicate it. By deciding to stay apart from this system, the linguistic choice of China represents a stance opposed to the rest of the World, and in a certain way it perpetuates the traditional isolation of the Middle Kingdom even in the age of Global interconnection. The insularity of the Chinese internet community and the misunderstandings between cultures that have arisen from it are, to some extent, a consequence of this choice.

The part played by the language in China’s relations with the World is probably not of the first importance. But even today this part is not negligible, and with the advances in communications, nobody knows how vital it will become in the future. Ultimately, it is only up to the Chinese to decide what language they want for themselves. We can only wait and see, and hope that they find a way to stay connected with us, while preserving their unique heritage of Words.

Euro-Obama in China

Monday, November 16th, 2009

barack_obama_the_french_sun_king So Obama is in China, and even if he is not my president he is still my favourite president. Here is my first-hand analysis of the visit.

The most important news, surprisingly gone unnoticed by all observers, is that Obama wants to become Euro-bama in Chinese. That is how I read the new spelling of his name in characters, as proposed by the website of the white house :

欧巴马 (oubama) will replace 奥巴马, where 欧 is the Chinese character for Europe, making the name sound in Chinese like Euro-Bama.

Some might say that the new spelling is chosen for greater phonetic similarity, or because it is standard in Taiwan, but when have politicians listened to the linguists? There is a clear political motivation in the naming of Euro-Obama, and I see a bright future in the project.

I think I speak for a large number of Europeans when I say we are very happy to see this plan finally in execution. Mr. Obama, please sweep away all our bunch of incompetent presidents and prime ministers, and become King of the European Union. Then, perhaps, in the next meeting with China you can represent our united interests, instead of having each European tribe sending its little pathetic chief for the CCP to cleverly divide and manipulate a la Sun Tzu.

One of the things I like of being European is that you can be thoroughly unpatriotic against the UE, and nobody cares. Dear commentators of the Washington Post, please do not worry anymore. America is not in decline yet, and it will not be for a long time. Among other reasons because it is needed by European countries that are too incompetent to unite in international politics. And indeed, when the Chinese people see Obama, they see a leader of the West as much as they see a leader of America. Because seen from here, the concepts of West, Europe, America, or Euramerica (欧美)have never been all that distinct.

After this important geostrategic consideration, you can continue to read what else is to read about the visit. Essentially nothing, because no real news have emerged yet, and most journalists and bloggers alike do their best to fill in their columns with China generalities. Apart from the links above, interesting questions are:

  • Will Obama comment on the Human Rights Watch report about black jails and other human rights issues? Of course this will not happen, no more than Hu will elaborate on the new theories of the Liberation of Tibet. But it is interesting for the sake of debating.
  • Perhaps more likely is that he mentions the environment, as this blog suggests. I am pretty sure the two leaders will mention it, actually, a different thing is how much of a commitment will come from the meeting. From the voiceless rest of the World we will be watching to see if the 2 giants finally decide to make a move and quit sending their fumes to our back yard.
  • Finally, a lot of articles out there speak of Obama-mania and make a big deal of the Obamao icon, which has been circulating in China since before the election. My view is that young modern Chinese tend to like Obama, and he is marginally more popular than Bush was. But there is no such thing as the Obamania we saw in Europe, and most people here adopt a cold stance of “wait and see”. The minute 欧 mentions some delicate issue or  meets some old lama, it will take no more than a minute of well phrased CCTV news to wipe the Obamania into thin air.

So already, quit the Obamaos and give me some Eurobamas, we are growing tired of politics over at the other side of this continent.

Mao, Jiang and the importance of Ideals

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

jianguodayeNow that I am in a free internet country, I have taken the chance to look at the CDT website, and I have found this interesting question coming from al Jazira: what would have happened if Mao had lost?

I am not in principle against counterfactual history,  it can be useful in many cases to see the events from a different point of view. It also makes for lively pub conversations and blog comments. But the basic condition for this kind of exercise to make sense is, in my opinion, that the chain of events analyzed had any chance to have actually happened.

For example: it might be interesting to imagine how the world would have been if Hitler was killed in the 1944 assassination attempt, or what would have happened if Mao died before the Great Leap Forward.  In a similar way to an experiment in physics, by isolating later factors, we try to  analyze the effects of their policies up to that point. But there is little interest in analyzing the outcome of impossible or even absurd events, other than for humorous purposes. What if Hitler had suddenly become a pacifist in 1941?

Back to the point: “What if Mao had lost?” This question treats the defeat of Jiang Jie Shi as a mere accident of history,  a question of luck in which the outcome, like Hitler and the bomb, could have been decided by fluke.

But the defeat (or rather the retreat) of Jiang was not the outcome of a single battle. People asking this question forget that Jiang had the power for many years, with all the instruments of the State, the largest part of the population and territory under his control, and military and economic aid from other countries. For years, all the odds were on his side. The opportunity implied in the  question “what if Mao had lost?” was already given to Jiang. And the best answer to the question is:

If Mao had lost, Jiang  lost anyway

There were profound reasons that made Jiang’s system impossible. His ideology-or  lack thereof-was not appealing enough at a moment when China needed a catalyzer for all its unleashed energy. Something was needed to rally the people against the oppression of the foreigners and of the local tyrants, and Jiang was not delivering in any of the two fronts. China needed something to believe in.  If Mao hadn’t been there, another leader would have sold the idea, or other worse ideas, and who knows the frightful regime that might have resulted.

This failure of Jiang to inspire, together with the corruption inherent to his regime, condemned him to impose power by raw force.  A scheme that worked well when he moved over to Taiwan with supporters and soldiers in large number relative to the local population, but it simply could not have worked in mainland China. It would have required a level of organized brutality that only a fanatic could accept.

So Mao won, and then what?

So back to reality: Mao won. He played his cards much better and he won by a mile. Then some years later he proved to be less gifted as a politician than as a revolutionary. Worse still-and this is really his worst sin-he fell in love with himself and with power, and he didn’t have the good sense to listen to capable advisers, nor the dignity to retire when he was still in time. The “70% good/30% bad” judgement passed by Deng was probably too generous, but inevitable: to condemn Mao was to condemn the work of his life. Deng could not do more than he did, and of those who came after him, not a single one had what it takes to even dare touch this question.


And here is, in my opinion, the heart of the matter: why is Mao still so present in the Chinese psychology? When are we going to move on? The Chairman is not just stuck on a wall, he is imprinted very deeply in the collective mind of the Chinese, and through compulsory education, propaganda and parades like last week’s, he holds to his place and no amount of economic progress can sweep him away.

Here is an example of what I mean : Recently I lent the book “Mao: The Unknown Story”, by Chang Jung -a book that is very critical of Mao- to a Chinese friend. This friend is young, and liberal to the point that he believes Dalai Lama is a good man. And yet, when two weeks later I asked him about the book, I got a  reaction that shocked me. “This woman is not really Chinese” ,  “You cannot understand”, were among the broken phrases that he grumbled. I know this book is surely not the most balanced biography of Mao,  and I was open to accept many of his arguments. But I saw there was no point in discussing further, because somehow we had landed in the territory of hurt feelings.

But the interesting discussion today  is not whether Mao was 70% right or 17.5%. The past is past, and there is no use in digging up the skeletons again, except for specialists in history. The key is the present, and the reason why Mao still holds his place should be searched in the leaders of today.

The answer is simple:  Mao is there because he is still needed. No matter how terrible his failures and how cruel the consequences-and most Chinese know them well-Mao is still the only one that gives some ideological content to the system. He provides the meaning to the colourful parade of  last week, and to the other parade of black suited mummies that is “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”.  And that is the reason why most Chinese are so quick to excuse him: “He was good man used by his wife”, they say, or “it was not his fault, he was senile”.

Ideals are important for a society to believe in itself. In the West we have democracy, human rights, religion, a whole range of them to suit all the sensibilities. As often as not, they are utilized by politicians for their own selfish goals and devoided of any real meaning. But at least they are  ideals, and they give us the illusion that our struggle is worth fighting. I see people discussing Obama or Bush, and whatever the real effect of their policies might be, it is obvious that they give a meaning to politcs in America.

In China, on the contrary, the only ideal since Mao died has been Deng’s “Get Rich”.  Many theories have been published since, filling thick books with party rhetoric, but not a single one of them contained anything  that the people could  believe in, or even understand. Once and again, the actions of the party have shown that above any other consideration, the only important objective is GDP, and the maintenace of the status quo.

There is a serious lack of leadership in the communist party of China, partly due to the internal mechanisms of the party itself . Strictly materialistic objectives are quickly dissapointing,  for those that achieve them as much as for those left behind, and the people naturally turn for inspiration to the only ideals available:  nationalism and Mao. And so it happens that the old  portrait  cannot be taken down, because it is there to cover a hole. The black hole of Chinese politics.

Mooncake Brokers

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Yesterday I went for a walk on Nanjing Lu and I witnessed a strange phenomenon I had not seen before: the mooncake brokers. It was last Saturday of mooncake picking season, so they were all busily walking up and down the street, scanning the crowds for potential buyers and sellers.

A bit of background: Every few moons, the Chinese celebrate some important festival dating back to the dawn of history, which they spend visiting their extended family and enjoying traditional activities together. The core of these activities involves, of course, eating things, which is why every festival is associated to some particular edible present, generally small, sweet, and roundish in shape.

Of all the very commercialized Chinese festivals, the Autumn Moon is probably the most profitable for the companies involved. The mooncake, particular snack of this festival, has the advantage of being relatively durable, and so well adapted to spectacular red and gilded packaging in the Chinese style. Under these circumstances, there is virtually no excuse for a Chinese not to give and receive the traditional present. Company to employees, neighbour to neighbour, cadre to “ernais”, for a fortnight the beautiful boxes circulate freely in the country, always given in pairs.

A lonely box of mooncakes separated from its partner

Now, the funny thing is that, as far as I have ascertained, mooncakes are not to the taste of many Chinese, who rarely eat more than half in one sitting. But this is of little importance, because few by now see mooncakes as foodstuffs. Rather, they treat them as legal tender of the Face Reserve. Failing to give and receive the appropriate amount and value of mooncakes before the Autumn moon is akin to social bankruptcy. Everybody knows the price of the major brands, so this “face currency” is as reliable as 24 carat gold.

The final result of all this is that most families end up with a surplus of mooncakes. Of course, knowing the keen commercial character of the Chinese and their aversion to “langfei”, you don’t expect them to sit on their piles of boxes. They don’t, and the whole season turns into a curious race to get rid of mooncakes before the Autumn Moon is gone and they loose all their social value (the edible value lasts a bit longer, but that is secondary). And so, the boxes received from the company are given to a neighbour, the ones from the neighbour quickly handed to old auntie Li, who gives them to her park dancing instructor and so on, each pair of boxes passing through many pairs of hands.

Fortunately for the families in Shanghai, mooncakes have an extraordinary liquidity during their 2 week trading time, partly fueled by the habit of the large public corporations to hand out mooncake vouchers instead of giving the boxes directly. All the major mooncake companies have outlets in the commercial streets to redeem vouchers. It is in the vicinity of these points, particularly on Nanjing Lu, that the street brokers set up shop. They buy the vouchers at a discount from passing employees, and then sell the redeemed mooncakes to the less fortunate self-employed and to other bargain hunters.

Saturday, the asking price for the main brands was at 50% of face value, and selling price was at 70%. The difference between these numbers is the spread, which is also the net profit of the broker.

Photo_092609_005 The Nanjing Lu mooncake stock exchange

As I walked in Nanjing Street I was analyzing this phenomenon with my friend Little Yi, who was also there to redeem some vouchers.

“Wouldn’t it be better,” I said, “if the companies just gave money directly?That 20% spread is a net loss for both employees and company”

“No, no,” she assured me, “the mooncake voucher is essential, companies wouldn’t give money”

“But they do give envelopes of money in the Spring Festival!”

“But this is the Autumn Festival,” she sighed, giving me the silly laowai look. “No family wants to be left without mooncakes in the Autumn Moon!”

Beijing Duck Soup! (A true story)

Friday, September 25th, 2009

One of the things I learned this Summer is that, while I may leave on holidays to Europe, China doesn’t really leave me anymore. More than just a country, it is a force of nature, the other face of mankind that is now part of my life. China is always there, and she is everywhere, showing up in unexpected circumstances.

Take Spain, for example. The Chinese community there is largely new, not fluent in languages, and originated from one single point in China: the tiny county of Qingtian, upriver from Wenzhou. When it comes to languages, the Spanish are not much better than them, and the whole situation is full of opportunities for the literate laowai. While a simple “nihao” is usually enough to be the hero of the day, some preparation yields better results. Just wander into a Chinese shop casually dropping a Qingtianese greeting, and comment on the remarkable history of the old stone-carving county, home of the Chinese-Spanish. This makes you popular. And you can drink tea and practice your Chinese conversation for hours on end.

What follows is a true story that happened in my last day of holidays. It includes a Chinese family with extraordinary sleeping abilities, and a team of adventurous Spanish ducks. I hope you enjoy it:duck_soup_ver3

It was the first morning flight from Bilbao to Paris, where I was scheduled to connect with the Air France to Shanghai. As I entered the cabin of the A319, I marked immediately a Chinese family sitting in one of the front rows: a middle-aged mother with her son.

She was wearing a shapeless purple jacket in the style of the hundred names, and her teenage son covered his head in a Korean hip-hop hoody. They stood out in the business atmosphere of the early flight. But what made me notice them—and I couldn’t help a smile—is that they were already fast asleep before I even got to my seat. As far as I could see, they didn’t switch their positions for the duration of a rather eventful flight.

From the start, the journey proved trying for my nerves. As we were taking off, there was a loud bang coming from the back of the plane, followed by a vibration that grew stronger as we flew. For a while nothing else happened, but then, as we were approaching France, the plane suddenly leant to one side, and the Pyrenees mountains turned 180 degrees around us, until we were headed back West from where we came.

The noise grew worse, and the passengers with notions of geography were increasingly anxious. The town of San Sebastian appeared below us for the second time, only this time the ground seemed much closer. All the service call beeps went off one after the other. I looked around to the other passengers and they were all looking around. Nobody spoke.

Finally, the cabin crew appeared on the aisle, delivering row by row the official version of the facts: during take off a flying object had collided with the blades of engine 2, producing the bang and subsequent vibrations that we were experiencing. It was a common occurrence, and there was no danger. As part of the normal safety procedure, the captain had decided to return to the home airport for maintenance.

“It was probably a bird,” said the stewardess when she got to our row.

“A bird?” laughed the steward, “that was a team of big fat ducks!”

I figured he must have been instructed to keep a light mood. I tried hard to laugh, picturing circles of ducklings turning in the turbofan as we struggled to get past the sharp Basque valleys.


After an endless flight we were safety landed back onto Bilbao airport. As we were waiting to disembark, the pilot confirmed that the airplane was done for the day. We had to pick up our luggage first and then go to the Air France office on the second floor to request a new ticket. As usual, my suitcase was one of the last to appear on the rolling band, and by the time I got to the office there was already a long queue, about the length of a duck-stricken A319, and every bit as noisy.

The crowd was growing unruly. Some French passengers harangued the masses with true revolutionary spirit, launching slogans against all winged creatures, including ducks, airbuses, and Air France pilots. Since I was last, there was not much point in queuing, so I just stood on one side in a way to signify my disapproval. Then I noticed the focus was gradually shifting, as the keen Robespierres directed their anger to some unidentified target at the front of the queue. I walked over to have a closer look.

It was the Chinese family.

Clearly, they hadn’t understood the instructions to pick up the luggage, and they had come straight to the airline office before anyone else. They were first, and they showed no intention of giving up their position.  On the contrary, they were holding it admirably. The mother covered the rearguard with her fierce eye, while the son held fast to the desk. They were obviously well trained in conflictive queues, and they seemed unimpressed by the mob.

Linguistically, the situation was not ideal. The mother was screaming in Qingtianese, the son translated into Chinglese and an Air France employee replied in elaborate Spanglish, while the French head of office stared in disbelief. I was alone, and my faithful friend the Electronic Dictionary & Thesaurus was out of reach in the bottom of my bag. But the time was to act, and I did not falter in the hour of peril.

I cut right to the front and put in a “Qué pasa? 什么事?”. All four faces turned to me at once. The queue became suddenly quiet.

“They want to go to China!” cried the employee in Spanish.

“We want to go to China!” cried the son in Chinese.

The positions of the parties seemed to me very much unanimous, and ripe for an easy consensus. But further enquiry proved that it was not exactly so. I managed to reconstruct the following facts:

The family had slept through the flight, right until we landed back in Bilbao. Then they had not understood the strongly accented message of the pilot and they had dashed out of the plane straight to the connections desk, where they had been redirected to the airline office. And they acted so urgently because they only had one hour to catch the connecting flight. All they asked is to board their plane immediately, and they were pretty suspicious of this whole attitude of the staff in Paris.

Because they actually thought they were in Paris.

The problem was not an easy one to explain. Not only the mother’s mandarin was as bad as mine, but also she was determined, and she had a deep rooted common sense. They had just flown into Paris and therefore this was Paris, she would take no nonsense from a laowai. I used all my persuasion. I noted how the souvenir shops were selling bullfighters, and not tour eiffels. Finally the young son understood, and he helped me convince her. The fact was settled: We were in Spain, and there were no direct flights to Shanghai from this airport.

The rest was fairly easy to manage, and after a few minutes the three of us left the office with a new ticket. Once their infinite gratitude had been sufficiently expressed, I couldn’t help asking the son:

“But, how could you not realize that this is the same airport as before?”

“Well,” he smiled shyly, “Mum was just telling me that she finds all airports in Europe look strikingly similar!”

And his mother, who was tough but good-humoured, found it rather funny, and we all joined in a face-saving laughter. Then I knew I was engaged as official interpreter of the sleeping family.


In the end, my work as a translator served my interests well. We got our new tickets before anyone else, the last three places left to connect with the evening Paris-Shanghai. The revolutionaries were so stunned by the performance that they forgot to guillotine us, and the Air France employee gave us some free lunch vouchers for the VIP lounge. To make our wait more pleasant, she said, the company was offering one of their specialty dishes in the “Restaurant des Mondes”.

It was still far from the Spanish lunch time, so we had to wait while they opened the kitchen for us. The prospect of a free lunch worked well to improve the mood of my Chinese friends, and we had a lively chat in the VIP sofas. I took the chance to impress them with my baidupedic knowledge of their hometown. After that they opened up to me, and the last lines of suspicion finally vanished from the woman’s brow.

I listened distractedly as the son informed me of the state of the rap scene in Zhejiang. A terrible state that was, apparently, and I waited for a chance to switch topics. It was his mother that I found most intriguing. All the while she was sitting very still, as if lost in her own thoughts. She had an outside appearance that in China would be classified as “peasant”, but her proud, resolute eyes didn’t quite fit in the picture. What was she doing flying around with her single son? I finally asked him.

As it turned out, she was a renowned chef back home. Qingtian is the origin of thousands of Chinese restaurants across Europe, and their extended family had made a fortune with a popular chain of Chinese food. She had come as an expert to establish new recipes in the family restaurants in Spain, all the while teaching her son the secrets of the Chinese cuisine. They had toured the country for three months, making the company’s food “more delicious, more authentically Chinese”.

“Her most famous recipe is Beijing Duck,” said the kid, licking his lips, “You have never tried anything like that!”

“I would love to have a chance to try it,” I answered, suddenly hungry for duck.

Then the mother, who hadn’t said a word all this time, looked at me with a strange smile. I felt there was an invitation coming. Instead, she opened her eyes wide and nervously shook her son’s shoulder.

“Heavens!” she cried, “we still haven’t picked up our luggage!”


When I took them down to luggage collection, their belongings were still lonely turning around on the band, a number of shapeless pieces covered in woven tarpaulin. As we loaded them one by one onto a trolley, the son suddenly found something was wrong. It was the last packet, a cardboard box with some strange little holes pierced on the top. He held the box on his knees and showed me one of the corners where it had been torn open. The box was empty.

The woman was very upset. She started moving her arms up and down and speaking in her sing-song dialect at an alarming speed. I couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying, but the replies of her son were more composed, and I could more or less make out the gist of it:

“I told you we couldn’t take them on a plane, mum!”, he was saying.

“But how can we pass the long winter without them?”, she replied.

Suddenly I had a very dark premonition. While they were busy arguing, I walked over to the broken box and examined it carefully. As I held it up in front of me, a small, delicate object floated down from the broken corner. It was a feather.

I dropped the box as if it burned my hands, and I kicked it behind the rolling band were it wouldn’t be seen. I was in panic now, and I joined the arguing party with my own version of alarmed mandarin:

“We have to het out of here, NOW!”, I said.

“What? But the box?,” said the mother.

“Forget it!” I pushed the trolley towards the door, “we will see to that later!”

“What? But we have to file a complaint. They might have found …”


I tried to control my nerves, as I envisioned charges for terrorism, and the dire diplomatic consequences of China’s national dish being presented as evidence of the crime. I tried to relax telling myself that at least there hadn’t been any human casualties.

“Please help us,” she said.

“We can’t do this now! Spain is a bureaucratic country, these things take a long time…” I muttered. “And anyway I’m sure your little friends are going to be fine!”

She gave me another inquisitive glance, like the first time I suggested she was not in Paris. She was clearly reconsidering about my sanity.

“Well, excuse me,” she said, “but they are important to me, and if you don’t want to help me I will have to file the complaint myself”

Just at that moment the airport PA system cracked with a life-saving announcement. All the passengers of the cancelled flight were asked to go back immediately to the second floor, were new information was awaiting us from the captain.

“Quick, this must be our lunch, let’s go before we miss it!” I translated, and this argument finally seemed convincing enough for the stubborn lady.


On the second floor, the slick French captain was putting in practice the company’s open information policy. The maintenance staff had just confirmed—he said—that  it was indeed the impact of external objects on the engine that had caused the vibration. The strange bodies had been already extracted and brought in from the hangar for analysis. The decision to return to the airport had proven a good choice, as it was the chief engineer’s opinion that we would have never made it to Paris.

A drop of cold sweat fell down my right temple as I considered the chances of those little animals finding their way into the turbine. Even if they managed to tear open the box and then break free from under the piles of luggage, even if they could unlatch the hold door with their little beaks, still,  how could they fly over to the engine? It seemed impossible. I remembered the laws of fluid dynamics, and how turbulent airflows exhibit nonlinear, chaotic behaviours. For the first time in my life I felt I understood the real meaning of the Chaos Theory.

In the meantime, the mother had sent her boy to inquire about lost objects, and he was explaining their problem to the captain in such a perfectly unintelligible English that the brave man could only smile politely. They looked around at a loss, only to see that their laowai friend was nowhere to be found. I had just in time slipped into the gentlemen’s restroom.

At this point, the airport loudspeakers buzzed again:

Passengers of the AF2435 to Paris, please proceed into our VIP lounge. As a special attention, we are offering you the chef’s specialty in our exclusive “Restaurant des Mondes”


I joined the family again as they walked down the corridor to the VIP Lounge. It seemed that the luxury meal kindly offered by Air France had conquered the heart of the frightful woman. Her expression showed no more pain for the loss of her beasts, and I hoped she had decided to give up the search. Presently, she was impressed by the quality of the service, and her mood was chatty.

“They know how to treat a client, in France,” she said conversationally, “back in China it’s not even comparable.”

“Oh, sure, great service here,”

“Even if they don’t have any proper backup plans,” she noted, “they are just great at doing nice surprises.”

“Oh, yeah, you can count on the French for surprises”

“It is all in the attitude, isn’t it?”, she said, and her only child nodded in agreement.

As we approached the “Restaurant des Mondes”, the atmosphere was so relaxed that I thought we had passed the worst. I just had to get them on our plane right after lunch, and there would be no more nonsense of lost object complaints. Then I saw the stewardess at the restaurant door, smiling. She held a large sign written in all the major languages of the World, including mandarin. It read:


“Thin-sliced duck Beijing style”

In case there were any doubts, underneath the text there was a colourful picture of a team of ducks thinly sliced as if by fast rotating blades, swimming in the dark sauce of the traditional Beijing recipe.

I tried with my body to hide the sign from their view, but I was too late. There was not much point anyway, the pictures were all over the place, and the food was coming out any minute. As we sat down, I peeped at her out of the corner of my eye. Her expression was enigmatic, the initial apprehension had turned into something more lofty. Was it triumph? I trembled.

The dishes were served and, unexpectedly, nothing happened. I glanced at my two friends. The were obviously enjoying their meal, emitting now and then favorable grunts and other judgements with the assurance of the true connoisseur. Then, halfway through their ducks, they looked at each other with an understanding smile and, following some mysterious signal, the lady suddenly stood up, knocking her chair behind her, and crying out loudly:

“I want to speak to the person who cooked this!”

There was a spark in her eye as she glared at the kitchen door on the other side of the dining room. I could not think of anything to say this time, so I just sat still, helpless as the slings and arrows flew swiftly towards their target.

Seeing that no help was forthcoming from my side, the mother ignored me and took direct action. She strode across the room and, without further preambles, she thrust open the kitchen door, roaring in Qingtianese. In a minute, the cook came out sporting a high chef hat and howling even louder than her. To my surprise, he was also employing some variety of Zhejiang dialect.

Then something strange happened. The moment he saw the chef, the son stood up and ran across the dining room charging like a fighting bull, and when the three of them were at a close distance, they came together in a long, warm hug.

I stood rather awkwardly next to them, wondering what was next. The chatter of the adults had risen to undecipherable speeds under the flow of emotions. I looked at the teenager for an explanation, but he was too absorbed speaking to the cook. Finally, I managed to catch some fraction of the conversation:

“Uncle Li, we knew it had to be you, nobody else in the World can cook Beijing Duck like mother! What are you doing here?”

“You know, I got a catering contract with Air France, didn’t I tell you?”

“Uncle, you really need to help us, mother is really worried! This laowai is with us, but his Chinese is so-so, and he just doesn’t get it!”

“Say, my boy, what is the problem?”

“It is the new down-filled coats that mum bought to take home for the winter. She was so upset when we found out that they’ve been stolen from our luggage…”

Race and Sensitivity

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

The discussion about racism in China keeps coming back every once in a while, and each time it arouses the strongest passions. This is a post I’ve been wanting to do for some time, following the interesting comments we had in March, and as a conclusion to the Xinjiang series.

The story that sparked the debate this time is that of Lou Jing, a Chinese half black participant in a TV talent show who has been the object of racist remarks on the internet. I don’t think this is in itself significant, netizens of all countries are well known to post outrageous comments that they would never utter in real life. But quite apart from that, it is clear that there is a particular attitude to race in China that shocks many in the West, and this bears some reflection.

Because it is not just immature netizens, but also respected people with names and surnames who support jokes like this, or write comments like this. Of course, in many cases what we see is just a visceral reaction to accusations coming from the West. It is ironic and surely annoying  for many Chinese to think that, even in a field where China has always fared better than them, the arrogant, patronizing Westerners still feel justified to give them public lessons.

But after the first wave of heated comments has passed from both sides, it is worthwhile to look at things calmly, and see what is the reality behind these misunderstandings. And the reality is that it is all too common in China to hear such statements as “Uyghurs are dangerous” or “Africans are less intelligent”, or even, surprisingly enough, “whites are more capable than Asian”. All of them rather startling comments to a Western ear, but which Chinese never ascribe to racism.

In fact, most seem to follow the simple logic: “there is no problem in China because, unlike Westerners, Chinese are not racist”. This idea clearly comes from the fact that the large majority of Chinese have no experience with different races other than the studio material produced by the propaganda department, where nations are smiling children in colourful costumes. And behind it all is the “Union of the Peoples” inherited from the communist doctrine, which still stands on what might be described as the center of the country:

Mao said

Mao: “For the union of the peoples of the World, hurrah”

I am not implying that this communist ideal was not sincere. It was, and it probably still is for many people. The problem is that, while some decades ago this surely was in the vanguard of tolerance and respect, in the globalizing World of today it just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Because sure enough, the Chinese are right to say that it is not for Westerners to dictate acceptable racial attitudes. But neither is this a prerogative of the Han. Ultimately it is the peoples that feel discriminated, be it Africans or Uyghurs, who should  have a major say. For in any dispute, it is not the offending, but the offended party who decides (within some reasonable limits) what words or attitudes are insulting.

Ultimately, the development of new racial attitudes in China will have important consequences for the whole World, and in particular for its own national interests. The process is still in its initial steps, but already some key challenges are apparent: internally, as more minorities are questioning their treatment by the Han; and externally, as China tries to expand its influence in strategic regions like Africa and South America. All the soft power obtained in these areas will be worthless if the Chinese fail to show convincing respect to the peoples living there.

And again, is China racist?

So is there really a problem, and if so, what can be done to solve it? As some Chinese would have it: Is it wrong just because we say that Asians are better at math and black Americans better at basketball? In other words, is China racist?

From my own observation, China is in essence no more racist than most other countries. Which is to say, very much indeed. Because that is how most of the World is today, and how it has always been. If there is a notable difference between China and the West, it is just one of appearance: we are better at hiding our prejudice.

Indeed, in the West we censor ourselves to a point that it is hardly even acceptable to ask questions like the one in italics, which boils down to: “Do different races have on average different sets of skills?” The non-prudish answer to this is obviously yes, as can be learned from simple observation. Different races, just like different genders, tend to have slightly different characteristics, and this diversity has never been a problem for honest, open minded people, but rather the opposite.

The problem comes when obtuse individuals choose to focus partially on these differences, and then theorize them in a way as to satisfiy some low psychological needs. And at times such individuals have even convinced enough people to be able to rule their country, invariably leading it to ruin and to shame. From old Sparta to imperial Japan, history shows that short-sighted ideas of ethnic purity do not yield best results, groups based on those premises consistently falling behind the creative power of diverse societies.

So, knowing that in every country the obtuse are legion, what has the West done to prevent those outbreaks which oppose diversity and “brought untold sorrow to mankind”? Recognizing that human stupidity knows no bounds and cannot be eliminated, Western societies have instead learnt to sweep it under the carpet. And in an amazingly short period of time, in the second half of the XX century, they have developed a series of norms to regulate speech, enforcing them through the power of the socially acceptable. This non-written code, derisively known as PC, ensures that individuals can remain as prejudiced as ever, but will refrain from making it public, or else face social exclusion.

In the meantime, China’s insular society has never really felt up to now the need to develop these restraints, and so its racial prejudice is able to run free in conversation, shocking the sensitive ears of the occasional foreigner, and earning little goodwill from the peoples they are supposed to befriend.

Should China follow the West?

There is a natural resistance from the Chinese to adopt any kind of PC solution, mostly because they don’t feel the problems described apply to them: in the history of racist madness, they were mostly on the receiving end. And it is fair to say that, as a people, Chinese have always been one of the most tolerant, accepting different religions and cultures at a time when their counterparts in the West were already going berserk to eliminate the infidel. Why would such a civilized society need to apply the same rigid standards of restraint as the wild West?

It should not, in my opinion, and China is right to ignore upfront many of the Western over-reactions. In a healthy community there is nothing essentially wrong with calling a black “black” or a yellow “yellow”, like Chinese and other peoples do. The complex, guilt-ridden American style PC is best suited for the conditions of that particular country, and should not be forced onto the Chinese.

But this is not to say that the system should not be improved. From my observation of some of the affected communities in China, it looks like the present state of affairs is far from ideal. Chinese should work to modernize their rusty, communist era conceptions and little by little come up with a more realistic, more equal and less condescending racial attitude that will be key for the success of the coming challenges, internal and external. And the State alone cannot undertake this modernization. Like in the West, it is society at large, with its authors, and celebrities,  and other public role models that should join in the effort.

Chinese have a golden opportunity now to build their racial attitudes starting almost from scratch, from intelligence and generosity rather than from guilt, and to regain the image of tolerance and good sense in international relations that their country has deserved.

GFW 1st July: Waiting for my Anonymous saviours

Monday, June 29th, 2009

So OK, I am censored, but why NOW?

I mean, I haven’t been writing anything for ages, is the Propaganda Department punishing me for being lazy? Has some big Chinese BBS  linked to me recently, is Uln hot now? As I was looking around for an answer, I found out that the Peking Duck blog was blocked more or less at the same time as mine, and it was asking the same kind of questions.

That is when I got this idea of the LIST, which I wrote on their comments. Everyone knows that GFW is unpredictable, it starts and stops and nobody ever knows why, if you don’t believe me look at this funny chronology. But this random behaviour usually affects only some websites, and never touches others. So necessarily, the guys at the GFW Control Deck are working with a number of websites that have been shortlisted beforehand.

I am quite sure of the existence of this LIST, because I noticed very precisely the moment my blog was shortlisted. It happened earlier this year with that political post that was picked by the New York Times. Since then I had strange things happening, with miniblocks now and then, a perceived slower speed loading in China, and, of course that particular Chаrter 08 post has been blocked ever since (even as the rest of the blog remained open). Also, look at that weird comment in Chinese in that post, where the guy says I am interfering in China’s internal affairs… could be a troll. Or could be not.

Anyway, my guess is that this blog and the PKD’s block have probably nothing to do with our recent activity, but rather with the tense atmosphere in the censors office these last weeks, after the Green Dam fiasco and the Google affair. At some point someone must have said: “hey, let’s block some more sites”, and we were unfortunately the next names on the LIST. And, unlike Google, I am afraid sites speaking specifically of politics are blocked permanently, such as this one, or this one. I hardly imagine the censors taking the trouble to monitor our blogs every day to see if we are behaving better. So my guess is, both for me and for PKD, that the block is here to stay and there is no solution.

… or perhaps there is?


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