For the First Time, I Hear the “T” Word

“Why were students afraid to keep volunteering for the independent candidates?” — one a political scientist and colleague in my department, Qiao Mu, who teaches political communication. I was talking to a young person, discussing the recent district elections here for People’s Congress, and the intimidation Qiao Mu’s volunteers said they experienced–like being videotaped, asked their name by plainclothes police, and warned by their school counselors. (All that may have led to the upstarts’ defeat; I blogged about it earlier ). “I understand they were told to stop working on the campaigns, but why did they listen? What exactly were they afraid of?” I’m just trying to understand, best I can.

“Have you ever heard,” the young person answered, “of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations?”–earnestly, like I may not have. This is the first time anyone has used the “T” word.

Of course, I’m nodding, Uh, yeah.

“Do you know what happened to those students after?”


The young person says that they (China’s brightest, since Beijing undergrads beat out tens of millions for these coveted spots) were sent to rural areas, never to work anywhere else again.

I’ve given up trying to make the image appear here–it won’t–of an Occupy Wall Street poster graphic where 2011’s Wall Street occupiers face 1999’s Chinese tanks in Tiananman. But please click for a stirring, complex (if contentious at like a million levels) graphic kicker. The Tiananman tank man in Foley Square. ows poster

PS: If you’re one of the 4,000 or so visits we’ve had here, THANK YOU!! Yet we only have 20ish actual followers. Stay in touch by cursoring to the right & clicking “Sign me up.”
PPS: The New York Times’ Sharon LaFraniere devoted a whole story to Qaio Mu’s brave run as an independent, and the suppression he endured.

Qiao himself also wrote an op-ed about it in the Wall Street Journal Online. He also catalogs the wrongs he suffered on

And I helped my friend Vincent Fang, a senior majoring in journalism (not actually my student, but my kids’ Chinese tutor and xbox FIFA football companion), write about it as well. Vince’s first-person piece (he was a campaign volunteer), “Democratic Election in China Through One Student’s Eyes,” got picked up all over the Web, & even translated into Chinese.

Love Without A Name: Growing Up in China

One of my students writes about his grandmother, “an illiterate Chinese farmer [who] nurtured three generations of intellectuals.” At 15, she had an arranged marriage with a boy who was then a toddler. It has emotional power, to me, but I was also struck by other students’ response while workshopping: ‘We all have grandmothers who helped raise us, and we don’t know their names.’ I realize this is common (I remember an Amy Tan essay about this very subject.) Still, I believe them when they said: This story of generational change is all of our story, of growing up in China today.

Excerpts from a memoir.
The writer uses the English name David.

…She silently cooked the dishes, did the laundry and fed the pigs. … My grandpa, who turned out to be a village teacher, treated her nicely, but it all didn’t matter. He died at the age of 39, leaving her a shattered family with two teenage boys to feed.

None of my relatives from the old countryside could recall a single complaint from her. Year after year, my grandmother labored with sweat in the field, bending down to reap the wheat and corn…. When my father hesitated whether or not he should stop trying after failing twice in the College Entrance Examination, my grandmother simply gave him a powerful slap in the face. Illiterate as she was, she understood that those tiny yet enchanted characters printed on the paper would shape his destiny. When my father finally got admitted to a college, granny sold a pig and treated everyone in the village for a feast.

… After my parents’ marriage she took care of me when my father was determined to make a decent living for our poor family. I remember two scenes: my grandmother in the kitchen opening the pot lid from time to time for fear that the cheap ribs might burn, and warmly comforting my mother, who came from a local urban family, as she complained in tears about why she chose to follow this man. Toward me, she showed kindness. She taught me patiently with a strong rural accent the country ballads about fairies and heroes, and clumsily made toys like wood pistols to give me joy.

…I moved out to an expensive boarding school, a rebellious adolescent. When I returned home, I tended to keep away from this old, shabby, short, humpbacked lady. The exciting flame in her eyes vanished after I apathetically answered her greetings several times. She became more and more silent and spent all days watching TV and gazing at the sky. But she never complained to anyone.

One day I returned home and learned she was in the ICU. All my arrogance and stupidity went away in an instant, and I bit hard on my lips to hold back my tears of remorse. Peering at a piece of paper gripped in my anxious father’s hand, tears flooded my face.

It read: ‘Patient’s name: Feng Qishi.’

Feng was my family name, Qi was her family name, shi refers to the status of being married. Like millions of women of her age, for 60 years of hardships she didn’t have a name.

If I Were Emperor…

Ruling the known world has its upside. Like all the candy you want, and no limits on video games or “The Simpsons.”

Kenny rules...briefly.

There'd be no homework...

Hope everyone in America had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Our government was kind enough to arrange a traditional feast at a hotel, for the few dozen Fulbrighters in/near Beijing, our administrators and their families. A bilingual friend explained to a server that when Ethan said he wanted the drumstick, it meant not a little slice but the whole thing! Crazy laowai (foreigners).

It has been a very, very hard week with a steep uptick in responsibilities plus sick kids & a birthday to figure out how to celebrate so it doesn’t become depressing (2-part solution: (1) mousse cake done very well at local bakery; (2) inviting nice Estonian family with similar-age boy although we have never met!).

For all these bounties, and the $3 kung pao chicken on the street out back, we are thankful.

Apply for a China Fulbright!

I’m sitting here at the American Center for Educational Exchange after a long day interviewing Chinese PhD candidates who want funding to go to America, with a distinguished (much moreso than me) binational panel. What the young people we interviewed want to study ranges from U.S. public health policy to the Constitution to Derrida and translations of Chinese literary anthologies. Luckily we got good deli sandwiches (where’d they get those?! I haven’t seen a deli sandwich since August months) and a bottomless coffee pot.

The point: I just learned something about my program. There were only 50 apps for lecturing spots in China last year (when I applied); 20 of us were sent over. IT IS NOT THAT HARD TO GET A FULBRIGHT IN CHINA! (Click previous word to get to the application pages.)

I quote: “The world has watched in fascination as China has become one of the most dynamic and powerful nations on earth… The China Fulbright Scholar Program is open to American scholars in the social sciences and humanities who are encouraged to share their expertise with Chinese scholars, students and policy makers for a semester or an academic year. There is a particular interest in scholars with expertise in disciplines related to the study of the U.S. such as American literature and American history and in law. …Fulbright Scholar grants in China include a salary supplement stipend that brings the total stipend up to a maximum of $50,000 for one semester and $100,000 for an academic year. This amount does not include travel allowances. There is also a generous dependent education allowance.”

The catalog of awards typically appears in March, with applications due August 1.

If you teach and can get away for a term or two, go for it! Apply!

Lambie in the Muslim Quarter

Grand Mosque's Chinese Architecture

Grand Mosque courtyard. Built 1300s

Lambie visited Xi’an and saw a big, old mosque: the Grand Mosque. It’s Chinese-style!

Islam has been here since it was born. China has 20 million Muslims, like the Hui (“Way”) who speak Mandarin. Others speak languages that are like Turkish and Perisan. Also Mongolian.

Trying tea

Seeing the mosque made Lambie tired, so she went to a tea house in a mansion with many courtyards. It also was a puppet theater! The puppets spoke Mandarin!

Lambie meets some fellow puppets

Lambie sees lamb cooking

Then came the bad part. Lambie learned these people love eating lambs.

Lambie on top of Xi'an's City Wall

She ran away, up onto the city wall around Xi’an. It was the worst moment of Lambie’s life.

Bales of tea in the Moslem Quarter food market

After a while she remembered the puppets and the dried lychee black tea. China has its ups and downs.

Lambie at Xian Drum Tower

Bang a drum, Lambie! It’s going to be alright.

My Students Visit the AP

Conference room, Associated Press Beijing Bureau

My journalism students sat under the AP’s iconic photo of Nixon at the Great Wall today while, for two straight hours, News Editor Scott McDonald, an amazing Canadian guy here 5 years this time (Sri Lanka, Pakistan, all over) explained the challenges of getting the story in China when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs controls movement, sources are uncomfortable speaking, occasionally media gets rounded up, and the rules sometimes shift unannounced. And the people best able to get the story — locally hired reporters who understand China and speak several dialects — are legally barred from working as journalists for foreign companies.

For their part, the students challenged him, contending that Western media engages consciously in China-bashing to sell papers, that protecting China is vital while it plays catch-up on the world stage, and that the U.S. government also exerts control and frequently lies.

McDonald himself raised and explored the complexities. Along with questionable overseas advocacy groups putting out information on China, there are now countless online/amateur Twittering sources to sort through, and the truth (did police open fire in Lhasa on a “riot” or “a peaceful demonstration”?) is very hard to verify on deadline. There are budget constraints, especially after a big year (Egypt, Libya). And space constraints: How can you explain China-Taiwan in one sentence? And without the native insight a Chinese reporter could bring, even the best, bilingual international reporters who majored in Chinese studies can miss sublteties.

He hardly took a breath in two hours of nonstop, high-speed, spot-on, articulate chat.

“We try to be honest. We try to be fair… We try to get eyewitnesses on the ground.”

Long live the newsman.

Mountain Climbing, the National (Secular) Prayer?

Ribbons asking for blessings

Hua Shang (Flower Mountain, about 7,000′), sacred to Taoists, is said to house 72 hermit caves. We climbed it (it’s about 13 hours from Beijing). Taoist holy mountains are pilgrimage spots, something I’ve been trying to understand.

Hermits once lived here (carving stone beds, stone tables), giving cave-temples names like ‘the Cave for Having Audience with the Origin.’

Taoism is connected to mountains. (Taoist alchemists loved mountain herbs — still for sale in baggies in the gift shop). “Buddhist monasteries lie below while Taoists monasteries lie above” is a saying I’ve read. Ancients built altars to calm their local mountain god. Climber-pilgrims bravely approached that power, for its help or forgiveness or enlightenment.

Start up the path on China’s 5 sacred Taoist mountains, & I’ve read that the rock inscription says, “You now enter the first mountain under heaven” : This is the world.

Stairs and railings

Before stairs, the trek up Hua Shan’s knife-edge ridges was dangerous. People climbed (some still do) at night, to watch the sunrise; there are still fatalities from falls.

Caves weren’t just for shelter; they’re the mountain’s “heart” concentrating the earth’s chi energy.

Mid-mountain sits a monastery. Many once held dragon gods made of gold, used in prayers (now in museums). The Summit has a temple as well. For a few lucky immortals, the summit is where the climber-pilgrim attains the Tao.

Ascending is a symbolic ascension. The ancients gave summits names like, “Precipice for Abandonning the Body.” The summit was for offerings, rituals, self-purification, contemplation. Up there, the mountain symbolizes heaven, no longer earth.
(The monks also had fun, as suggested by other place names: the “Cliff for Evading Imperial Commands.” The “Chess Players’ Terrace and Pavillion.”)

I read an account from 1989 of living communities of monks rebuilding Hua Shan’s many holy structures, most of which were burned down during the Cultural Revolution.

There’s still a working abbey at the bottom. But the structures on the trek (simple hotels, not monasteries; noodle shacks not prayer halls — a few temples with souvenir stands alongside) are “just” for the domestic tourist trade. People are having a nice tough climb.

But the sheer numbers of visitor? The devotion (especially of older folks)? The seeming national obsession with climbing the 5 sacred mountains? Something much more deeply rooted is going on here.

Encounter With the Calligrapher

Anyone will know the Calligraphers’ Street if they’ve been to Xi’an, China’s ancient walled capital about 13 hours inland from Beijing. We just returned from Xi’an. There is an amazing array of calligraphic supplies on offer.


We found the artisans in a courtyard. Ethan demonstrated to one calligrapher that he knew how to write his name in Chinese characters (Li San, rhymes with Ethan). The calligrapher stopped his work, and helped by his wife (who arranged his paper and ink), designed Ethan a message.

It instructs him, in effect: Study hard. Work hard in school, and learn more Chinese.

We didn’t buy anything there — these were very valuable art works. But we left with a priceless memento.

It was also nice at a shop afterwards, seeing the boys drawing characters, with water put out so anyone could practice. I lied, we bought one thing: a sort of Chinese calligraphy coloring book.

Ren, Shan, Wu, Shi, Yi, Dong, Yi Yuan...

Lambie’s Point of View 3


By Lambie
Ethan and I went and got a haircut. I got a nice scrub before they gave me the haircut and my wool felt so good. During the haircut, they snipped off my wool and I could see it falling to the ground. They put it in a bag, and sent it to homeless children to make coats. After that they gave me another scrub.

Like I said, it felt so good. They gave me a Chinese lamb haircut! Ethan had a nice Chinese person haircut. After that I felt nice and fresh and ready to be alive. You’ll see what Ethan’s looks like:

Election Day (Yeah: Elections)

Voting place, the gym-auditorium.

It’s election day for the local People’s Congress, which comes every five years. It’s my students’ first time voting. The university and its parts (like publishing houses) get a single seat. The Party preselects two candidates to run, one of whom will win. These appointees ‘ran’ (both of them university administrators), as usual. But remarkably, two BFSU English department professors (one retired), ran as upstart independents!

The younger of the two used social media heavily. These radical and daring campaigns thrilled and inspired students and (more quietly) faculty. Their campaigns held a sense of potential, challenge, daring and promise. For a few weeks, campus email inboxes filled with pledges to do right by voters, and the braver students stepped up to volunteer.

The upstarts also angered the Party powers at school, a sort of shadow administration that controls things. Some students were quietly advised to stop their involvement.

Election Day arrived, coinciding with America’s. Police were everywhere today, including outside the English department (!!) checking IDs, setting up barriers and funneling pedestrians away from the gym/theater where voting was only permitted at each person’s preappointed time.

Security guards were in the dorms listening to students’ convesations, my class told me. At this, they were incredulous. Anonymously attack emails circulated against the upstarts, they told me, as did attack Tweets and Facebook posts. The man running as an independent (an apparently rascally and charismatic political scientist I’ve never met), was called, variously, a dangerous gossip, a prop of foreign activists, a perpetrator of sexual harrassment. One student read a post that warned, ominously, ‘If you care about him, don’t vote for him.’

Guards at the School of English and International Studies, where both independents teach or taught

The other upstart candidate, a retiree (forced out, I was told) nearing 80, daughter of a nationally known writer of the 1920s, is beloved by many of my students. Her supporters were a bit upset the younger challenger was trying to upstage her. (Some of them also said they suspect those sexual harrassment accusations might be true.)

The whole experience, no question, upset my students today, because — I believe — they are convinced they deserve better. They were upset at the possibility fraud might steal victory from one or the other. They were upset infighting had divided the ‘democratic opposition,’ if that’s what you call them. They were upset the two were poised to split the opposition vote, and lose. They were upset thinking the younger candidate would be fired in the end, and maybe flee to Hong Kong. One kid shook his head at how much it was like “1984,” and how absurd–to be living, for a moment, a dystopic fiction. Yet what choice was there, he said morosely. If the upstarts won, it would open a floodgate that couldn’t be held back elsewhere.

Had they really believed that was possible?

Yes. The old lady had won once before, years ago, slipped between the cracks. Young people admired the quixotic political scientist, testing China, demonstrating what a real election could look like. Before today, these two inspired at least a bit of hope. But Election Day wasn’t upbeat at all.

They don’t just want an exercise in which they vote, for naught, for their chosen candidate. Against the odds, contrary to the expectations we have in the U.S. of how China does things, they expect to be able to select their representative.

The police presence, impossible to ignore, suggests what they’re up against.

After class, & the gauntlet of guards, I walked home. A campus laundry was using the clothesline outside our apartment building to dry rows and rows of uniforms.

Lambie’s Point of View

by Ethan

I just went to the Great Wall of China today. We went to the refurbished part (the part that’s been rebuilt and made so people can walk on it). I really enjoyed it.

We saw a donkey next to the Great Wall.

My favorite part was going down the toboggan on a slide that takes you down. The bad thing was, the lady in front of us either didn’t know how to move, or was really chicken and wouldn’t move.

On the way back I made a new friend. He’s a crocodile and his name is Joe. He’s a stuffed crocodile.

Rethinking The British Curriculum (this may not be humorous)

By Kenny

“Celebrate good times come on, it’s a celebration doo doo dood o dodo.” ok, sorry for the wait. So I made a bet with my friend that I was on Google images so I seach it and I come up, there are about 10 or so pictures of me, but one is me booing Mao, I feel a lttle embarrassed. Then girls see me on the internet and then the tell other girls so what I’m blogging about gets around the whole year. The friend seaches on Google images “british school of beijing” and one of the first few pictures is me. I realized in some of my posts I had made fun of a few people. I had never realized it would come to this, that people would be reading it at my school.

Bottom line point after these a 140 words I have just written: I don’t want people at BSB to take this the wrong way. It’s a great school. I wasn’t saying anything bad about it. I was just comparing it in a rude, funny way to Montclair’s public schools. Sorry to bore you on confusions.

Let’s get to the jazz. I just got back from Guy Faulkes bonfire (the guy who tried to destroy the Parliament) so we get there. There is a bonfire, and what do you think, people playing full-contact rugby. Very fun. Then a real fireworks show, not some douchey anti-bulling assembly. No offense to the Montclair PTA.

When you go to an American public school, you might be thinking, ‘Is my son going to get bullied? Oh no my sweet pea is going to get scarred for life.’ ” Well you know all you worried American mums out there, you are sending your child to an American school that is going down the toilet. The teachers can’t do anything about it due to the fact that the town is going broke so they’re cutting world languages, the arts, PE, library, and aides!!!!!!!!!!!!Key things to learning!!!!!!!! Well at the British School of Beijing your child can’t get bullied because the bully would get caught and expelled.

Sorry if this isn’t funny. Just had to express my feelings this week. So bye bye.

Back to the Doc

Well: orthodontist. Kenny broke a wire, now cutting his gum, with his new hockey club last night. (He’s left the phenomenal but too-far-away Imperial Guards team, sadly, though that team’s manager–the indefatigable Beijing hockey mom Jackie Chen, once of Edison, NJ [!]–drives him to the Olympic training rink with her son for this other program, with a Chinese coach, very cool, too!) It is really nothing if you’re home, minor things, but they are really huge if you can’t communicate and the system is different (cash only, pay-as-you-go, many different cashier or admin sort of desks with functions we wouldn’t recognize, etc.) It is such an incredible comfort to have Beijing United Family Hospitals. (Their elegant little French patisserie in the lobby ain’t bad, either) as we now make visit number four, after:

–Ethan’s parasite (we ate clean, we really did!)
–Ethan’s minor concussion (fall in school)
–Kenny’s chin contusion during soccer tournament (mid-air collision on the field).

And that’s the toll in only 10 weeks. I told the Fulbright people we needed a big major city because the boys get into scrapes, & I wanted English-speaking pediatric emergency care. Exactly.

What My Students Wrote About This Week

Shared office for foreign faculty. School of English and Int'l Studies.

Some of the stories my undergrads, in opinion-writing, wrote about this week:

A Communist Youth League project the writer is involved in, sending fresh college grads to the poorest mountain villages to teach elementary school, where the unlicensed teachers were all fired.

The popularity, and importance in China, of free, online U.S. college-course videos (humanities, social sciences, engineering and technology).

A love letter to the university’s British parliamentary debate club, which “promote[s] democracy globally by supporting discussion and active citizenship.”

China’s fast urbanization required importing 600 million tons of iron ore. You got a problem with that? The writer knows a Chinese raw-materials importer; it’s a small family company, not an ‘evil extractor’ or pillager.

A plan to prevent racist violence from erupting when Poland and Ukraine host the 2012 European Football Championship, by a writer who’s a member of FIFA, the sport’s governing body.

How unfair it is that small online merchants are being screwed by unfairly high fees by Taobao, the eBay of China.

That China must spend more money to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa.

No heat...until Nov. 15.

(Random selections, what was handy)

4 Notes on Communism

1. At a lovely party in the expat suburbs, I chatted with a Taiwan-born mom interested in venturing out of the expat bubble, maybe by taking a class at my (or one of the neighboring) universities in this district. All that’s on offer, though, seems to be English, and she’s totally fluent. I also mentioned that people attend Communist political education classes.

“They still do that?” she asked.

2. Chinese Communism’s impact on a family is the subject of a new hit play in Beijing, according to one of my student’s recent asisgnments, a theater review: ” ‘This is the Last Fight’ is a clash between values in the past, and written or unwritten rules at present, the war between the haves and have-nots, and the debate between believers and people who refuse to believe.

…”Disguised by the festive atmopshere of New Year’s Eve, a family’s conflicts are quietly underway. Mr. and Mrs. He are an old Communist couple. …Their second son had serious problems with Communism and always pissed the old man off. Their youngest son planned to abscond with public money. As for the old Commie himself, Mr. He had been through wars and revolutions, and suffers from haunted memories.”

3. From another student, I learned that one of the most downloaded e-books in China in October was by a writer posthumously becoming a cult figure among young people (he died at just 45). He seems best known for his critiques of Chinese Communism. She wrote: “[Novelist and essayist] Wang Xiaobo, a sharp and unique critic of society, is now being heatedly discussed again fourteen years after his death. … When the Cultural Revolution began to sweep the mainland of China in 1966, he was only 14. As a child born in an intellectual family, he was sent to Yunnan, a border province of China, to be trained as a laborer and receive Communism education. At that time, people were deprived of their basic rights—-the freedom of speech, to write and publish, and even the freedom of independent thinking. Everybody was fighting in the dark… But Wang was not tamed …”

4. Ethan, in his 8-year-old way, has some emerging views about Communism. I had a pen on hand and took this down the other day.

“Communism’s good, in a way. I think everyone should get healthcare. They should have a place to live. But they shouldn’t be all the same. There needs to be a better balance. There should be the good parts of Communism, and the bad parts separated out.”