Hillary Clinton/Empress Wu

empress-wuI’m sure this comparison has been made before but I can’t help thinking, if I were Joe Biden, I would hire a taster to avoid poisoning. Empress Wu – grandmother and mother of emperors; empress during the splendor of the Tang dynasty – was the only female emperor in four thousand years of Chinese imperial rule. One of her claims to fame/notoriety, beyond her gender (claim enough): She poisoned people.

I feel sexist saying this (or anything, against Hillary), but I perceive her as being transparently power-obsessed, in a way that’s frightening. Even if sometimes used benignly.

Hong Kong Rocks


This post is completely emotional and off-the-cuff. I just can’t hold it back. This place is just so damn beautiful. I realize there are downtrodden sections and tons and tons I missed but I couldn’t help but be blown away by the natural beauty of this setting…
…like San Francisco, like Istanbul, where water meets mountains — in this┬ácase of bright, jungle green — and the press is FREE and the food is CLEAN and many of the people aren’t traumatized by recent history and the subway isn’t so crazy big the same station’s four entrances could be a mile apart. Sorry!!

We rode a double-decker tram with Jake — thanks, Jake!!!

There’s a reason U.S. officials in China get combat pay. China is hard. Hong Kong’s Cantonese culture is part of NY and feels a lot like home. Same with the smell of the sea. It feels so good to see a headline about the dissident Cheng Guangchen splashed boldly across the South China Morning Post, the main paper’s, front page. It’s so good that food isn’t being sold in the gutter beside a dog pooping and peeing. I saw that the day before we left Beijing, in my neighborhood:

Went to the beach at Shek O, Stanley Market, rode the escalator to the SoHo Midlands and saw Sheung Wan and the Man Po temple, Kowloon promenade, Victoria Harbour by day and night, the Peak Tram, history museum, stayed in Central, dim sum. Lots of rain storms. Just an incredible place.

I’d love to get back here. You hear that, Hong Kong University? I’m talking to you.

We’ll talk the rest of our lives about all the reasons for the disparity, centuries of history, politics, conquest, economics, custom, population, but end of the day, this place is just spectacular and as the train pulled us back into Guangzhou, the Mainland, this afternoon, my heart sank and then sank some more.

No offense to the wonderful university hosting us here or our friends in town. And I know none would be taken, at least not by the Chinese professor who arranged my visit, who told me today she takes the 2-hour train over to HK every time she needs a new supply of baby food for her 2-year-old.

My Students Imagine Change

My communication majors’ final assignment was to create a campaign, on something they really care about. Civil society groups are still rare in China, but growing. These kids’ big concerns: Rural children’s malnutrition. Consumer and environmental safety. Rights for migrant workers, who are illegal aliens in the cities they build. Internet censorship, which makes it difficult (to my mind, impossible) to function as a university student. Calmly, intelligently, they call for accountability, for reasonable and humane limits, in a chaotic society whiplashed by freewheeling development that often seems as out of control as a runaway train.

The other most popular imaginary campaign (three students did it), was to get international elections monitors to China. (No wonder after the Qiao Mu affair I described in Nov.)

Writes one: “We perceive ourselves as the seeds of democracy and belief in peaceful political reform.”

More snippets:

G, who’s spent the semester writing about how Party-sponsored social services could ease rural poverty, surprised with a final piece challenging corrupt local officials. His campaign demands the shut-down of a chemical plant leaking toxins in northeastern China, by mobilizing neighborhood parents: “Our children may grow up under the influence of chemicals and we shall do something.” Check out this “Question” from the campaign’s FAQ page: “I really want to join you. But I am afraid that I may be run over by tanks or be thrown into jail.”

D, who earlier wrote about his grandmother — a farmer who raised three generations of intellectuals and never had her own name — returns to the theme, campaigning for China’s 47 million rural “left-behind” women. Though farmers are 31 times richer than three decades ago, these women “suffer loneliness, a lack of self-development and self-actualization, illiteracy, and are without spiritual well-being.” He proposes “Self-study programs, access to the Internet, recreational facilities, as well as construction of libraries.” D reflects: “I felt gripped by a complex feeling. Perhaps this is my duty in the future. To do simple but meaningful work as an ordinary individual, while to witness and create history in [an] organization.”

Also safety-minded, V wants school bus safety. Just this November-December, 33 Chinese children died in school bus crashes. She calls for stronger supervision modeled after Canada and the U.S.: uniform use of yellow for buses, new laws including right-of-way, strict load standards. “Drivers should be specially trained and government should subsidize school bus companies.” Bus safety is just part of what China faces today, she reflects: “poverty, injustice and repression that need to be resolved.”

R’s economically savvy campaign wants to construct earthquake-safe buildings, plus adding local job training and locally-sourced materials to the mix. “Our aim is to make safe houses available to all who need them, develop local skills, and local demand.”

Y, a lovely young woman, wants to promote ocean health and, by extension, seafood safety. (Heavy metals are so prevalent in bodies of water here, the embassy dr. advised us not to eat fish while in China.) Y’s first aim is to make people care. “I’ll adopt a listener-oriented approach to get my message across, being expert enough to talk about the subject and interesting enough to make the audience stay until the end. I will add stories, in different voices that will resonate.” One story: a farmer who “dared not eat the rice he grew himself, since the linkage of several cancer cases and heavy metal pollution in the village was confirmed. …What will he have for meals tomorrow?”

What, indeed?

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?”

No.

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 ChinaElectionsBlog.net.

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.

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.

Occupy Wall St…& Other Educational Fun

Poster in my department.

My School of English & International Studies is talking about Occupy Wall Street. I didn’t attend this lecture last week (the potential impact on China/Chinese-U.S. relations). But in class discussions, my students commented:
(1) The demonstration has a message for Chinese youth: ‘Exercise your free-speech rights, too!’ (Not that they could organize online — thanks, Bill for pointing out “Occupy _____” with any Chinese city name has been banned by censors here.)
(2) Chaos may be looming; demonstrators must remain peaceful.
(3) The blatant alliance between U.S. politicians and big business is surprisingly shameless.
(4) The demonstrators could use some advice. Turn to us! We comrades are experienced at organizing disciplined political rallies!


More serious educational fun in China: Friday’s all-Beijing, intercollegiate Movie Dubbing Competition. This is a popular (& educational!) event for university Engish majors–like karaoke, but with movies. I’m on the judging panel! They’ll live-dub excerpts, in 2 events: With scripts, and total improv without. Don’t know which movies yet. Last year “Garfield” was among them.

Recess equipment for Ethan's grade.


Other seriously great educational news: Ethan has an all-day international school soccer tournament…on a Wednesday! Kenny’s class, 7th year, is a 4-hour flight away this week, on the tropical island of Sanya, sailing and camping! And one of my top students, a senior, just learned his father’s employer, a mineral company, will 100% sponsor his graduate studies in the U.S.!

In other politico-educational news, a colleague in the School of English and International Studies, who did his graduate work in Chicago, is in the last, heated week of his upstart election campaign to represent this area in the local/district People’s Congress. He’s something almost unknown: an independent. He’s a cult figure to students, his sharp Weibou (Twitter) feeds have been banned. When the new American Ambassador Gary Locke came here to speak, during the question-and-answer session he asked, “Have you visited the Great Wall — and have you been to the Great Firewall?”

There’s a shoo-in appointee/candidate the area’s powers-that-be have named, to run and win. So this bold campaign has angered the university entities concerned with such matters (control mechanisms the workings of which I don’t really understand). His campaign has ignited electric excitement among my students, and those few colleagues I’ve gotten to know wish him well! My inbox is flooded with his earnest and positive campaign messages (in Mandarin).

Good luck, Xiao Mu!