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Hung Huang: “When parents sneeze, it’s the children who catch the cold”

In Hung Huang’s latest column for the Nandu Zhoukan (Southern Metropolis Weekly) she recounts a harrowing memory from her childhood and wonders what might be in store for Bo Guagua.  

When parents sneeze, it’s the children who catch the cold.

So many years have passed and I haven’t thought about these things in a long time.  Even when people talk about it, it always felt like they were telling some other person’s story.  I don’t feel anything anymore.  But I know clearly that this was one of the most important moments in my life, one which profoundly influenced who I am.

The events of the past few days have been dazzling, and make me think about what happened back then.  In October of 1976, Qiao Guanhua took part in his last meeting at the United Nations.  Before he returned to Beijing, he called me to his room and told me, “Your mother and I might have a problem, and we need to “inoculate” you, you need to be mentally prepared.

I kind of knew about their political problem, but at the time I was only 15 years old, I had been in the United States for three years and I really didn’t know much about what was going on back in China.  I didn’t know what I would do if something happened to them politically. I didn’t even know how I should “prepare.” All I felt was this enormous, invisible hammer being held over my head which at any time could fall and crush me.

Several weeks later, my American host father Tony gave me a copy of the New York Times, the top article said that Qiao Guanhua had been sacked.

Tony asked, “What does this mean for you?”

All I could say in reply was, “I don’t know.”

A few months later, the Chinese UN Delegation phoned me, and told me that all children must return the delegation for “study.”

“You only need to go back every two weeks right?” asked Tony. “Why are they calling you in on a Thursday?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. I had the same question.

Tony couldn’t accept this. He was thinking about this more than I was, and immediately called the Chinese delegation, demanding to talk to the person in charge of managing the students.

I sat there dumbfounded watching him call, knowing my life was about to dramatically change.

After Tony hung up the phone he told me that all the children studying in America were to return to China, not just me.  But Tony still took time off on Thursday afternoon and we went together to see the delegation.  I remember the person who was in charge of me telling Tony that in just a few days I would be returning to China.

Tony became furious.  He banged the table saying, “Who do you think we are? Who do you think these children are? You say come they just come, you say go and they just go? Huang is part of our family; she can’t go just because you say she’s going.”

At this point, the person in charge of me left the room, telling me to talk to Tony.

“Do you wish to stay?” Tony asked me in a low whisper.

“Stay here?” I asked, although I knew perfectly well what he had said.

“Stay in America, I can raise you,” Tony whispered.

“No, I want to go back,” I said firmly.

“Why? Do you know what they will do to you when you go back?” He replied.

“I don’t know. But if I don’t go back my mother will be in a lot of trouble.”

At the time I only felt I must not “betray my country.”  If in addition to being lackeys of the Gang of Four, Qiao Guanhua and Zhang Hanzhi also had a traitor for a child they’d never be able to defend themselves.

After the meeting, a member of the delegation accompanied me back for my last trip to Tony’s house. I packed my belongings and said goodbye to the whole family.

I and three other exchange students, who like me had to leave school in the middle of the term, boarded a plane and returned to Beijing via Paris.

Once back in Shijia Hutong,[1] I lived in a little room near the garage. At the time, I felt I was treated much better than the children of the “Black Fifth Category.”[2]  I saw my mom once when my mom had been locked in the attic at the Foreign Ministry building.  At that time it wasn’t called “shuanggui” (detain and investigate) it was “quarantined for investigation.”  I also saw Qiao Guanghua once. He still lived in the back of our courtyard, supervised by a 12-person working group.  When he saw me, he just patted my head and didn’t say anything.  Later I learned that not long after he broke his glasses and tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists.

The next time I saw Qiao Guanhua and my mom was at the Worker’s Stadium during the the “Session to Struggle Against Qiao and Zhang of the Foreign Ministry.”   I was given a very good seat where I could be sure to see everything clearly.  The struggle session was held in the afternoon, with a circus being performed in the same space later that evening.  They had already set up the round wooden stage used for the bears and I saw Qiao Guanhua and my mother being pushed into the ring just like bears.  Then all the people in the stadium started screaming, “Down with Qiao Guanhua! Lackey of the Gang of Four! Down with Zhang Hanzhi!”

My teacher stared at me, a slight smile forming on his mouth.  I was stunned.  Even if I had been “inoculated” a hundred times, I could never have mentally prepared myself for what I was seeing unfold in front of me.

So many years have passed and I haven’t thought about these things in a long time.  Even when people talk about it, it always felt like they were telling some other person’s story.  I don’t feel anything anymore.  But I know clearly that this was one of the most important moments in my life, one which profoundly influenced who I am.

Last week, I couldn’t help but think about Bo Guagua. Did his father inoculate him? Did he know what was about to happen? Did his American friends try to convince him to stay in the United States? Will he stay?

At least there won’t be any struggle sessions.  I guess we can call that progress.

[1] Where Hung Huang’s mother and step-father lived at the time.

[2] Reactionaries.

The Game of Thrones Guide to the 2012 Transition, Part 1

The HBO series Game of Thrones returns for a second season this month.  The show, which could be described as either “Soft Core Porn Lord of the Rings,” or “Harry Potter for  Middle-Aged White Dudes,” is set in a fantasy realm loosely modeled after medieval Europe with a plot that is equally loosely based on the history of the War of the Roses.

Given that the entire series revolves around a series of bloody power struggles in which amoral individuals quickly kill off the few characters with integrity before then turning on each other in a highly stylized circle jerk of naked ambition, I thought the show would make a useful guide to 2012 and the current leadership transition in China, a transition which is not going quite as smoothly as the Party leadership perhaps hoped it would.

So, with that…the Game of Thrones Guide to the 2012 Transition, Part 1.  Part 2 can be found here.

(Yes. There are all kinds of spoilers but I figure if you’ve made it this far then you’ve already seen the show.)


Tyrion: Where do I begin, my lords and ladies? I am a vile man, I confess it. My crimes and sins are beyond counting. I have lied and cheated, gambled and whored. I’m not particularly good at violence, but I’m good at convincing others to do violence for me. You want specifics, I suppose. When I was seven, I saw a servant girl bathing in the river. I stole her robe and she was forced to return to the castle naked and in tears. I closed my eyes, but I could still see her tits bouncing. When I was 10, I stuffed my uncle’s boots with goat shit. When confronted with my crime, I blamed a squire. Poor boy was flogged, and I escaped justice. When I was 12 I milked my eel into a pot of turtle stew. I flogged the one-eyed snake, I skinned my sausage. I made the bald men cry into the turtle stew, which I believe my sister ate. At least I hope she did. I once brought a jackass and a honeycomb into a brothel….

My initial list of ‘favorite Game of Thrones Quotes’ turned out to be 90% Tyrion, which shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone who has seen the show.  Peter Dinklage as Tyrion is basically the series’ Omar. He gets all the best lines and doesn’t waste any of them. This is, by far, my favorite Tyrion moment from Season One.  Facing probable defenestration unless he confesses to a crime he actually didn’t commit, he instead breaks into a veritable sonata of humble brag vulgarity.

The Chinese Internet sensation for this particular nanosecond is a series of pictures supposedly snapped by a Chinese gangster doing…well, gangster things.  Counting money. Driving his car. Stepping on a dude’s neck.  There’s a heavy whiff of the South China Tiger about the photos, but these days people here are so conditioned to believe any crazy ass rumor that involves gangsters or officials (and the line is often thin in many local jurisdictions) mainly because those rumors that turn out to be true usually end up involving unbelievably jackshit stupid and craven examples of human behavior.  After awhile you get used to just being witness to all kinds of corruption, whether the egregious deeds of high officials or the local hot pot restaurant that recycles gutter oil.[5]

Nevertheless, in nine decades of self-criticisms and forced confessions it’s doubtful that the CCP ever came across anyone so archly proud of their depravity as Tyrion, but there’s also little doubt that between his stature, his hobbies, and his gift for amoral politics, the little man would have made a sterling cadre.


Robb: If we do it your way kingslayer, you’d win. We’re not doing it your way.

Give Wang Yang some love. Last December with Wukan doing its best impression of South Carolina circa 1860, the Central Government getting increasingly agitated with Wang running his own offense in the province, and Bo Xilai telling every cadre and peasant who would had a minute to listen about how Bo “cleaned up” Chongqing after the mess left by the last guy (BTW: That would be Wang), the “Guangdong Model” seemed like a risky political foundation for a rise to power.  Well, look who rolled in shit and came out smelling like lavender bath bubbles…Ladies and Gentlefolk, Wang Yang.

So after finishing the first season of the show I started reading the novel because, you know, I have so much time on my hands and nothing else to do (that sound you hear is me repeatedly attaching a copy of the UC academic handbook to my thumbs with an industrial stapler) but one major change had to do with the ages of the characters.  Robb Stark in the book is like 15-years old.  Christ, when I was that age I wore my hair in a hockey mullet and I’m pretty sure I only remembered to zip up my fly about 54% of the time…there is no way 15-year old me could have led my father’s banners into battle. [1] I don’t know if George R.R. Martin is going for a whole “People didn’t live as long back then” theme (book Ned Stark is an old man at 35) but I’m glad they changed it for the show.  I’m guessing HBO might have also faced some legal issues had they chosen to honor the author’s creative vision by faithfully recreating the Dothraki wedding night scene in which Dragon Barbie is stripped naked and deflowered by a barbarian…at the age of 12. Those of my friends who have read the whole series  have said one of the criticisms of the books is that Martin seems to have some kind of weird problem with women.  Hmmm…12-year old princess forced to consummate her marriage to a 30-year old warlord who just purchased her from her own brother…Even Kublai on a bad China day would be like, “Dude, that’s messed up.”


Joffrey: Tell me, which do you favor, your fingers or your tongue?

Where does it say the “evil kid” in a British fantasy series needs to be a bottle blond?  I get it that this is an important plot point for this particular series but the kid who plays Joffrey is just a little too much from central casting like he’s constantly channeling Draco Malfoy’s inbred cousin.

The parallels here are too much low hanging fruit, except to say that Inbred Draco would totally have supported China’s new detention regulations.  Anyone else see a parallel PSB Deputy Minister Joffrey making Ai Weiwei retype his entire opus of tweets while ordering the guards to chop a finger for each typo?

The message  from the Party is now quite clear (as if it were ever in doubt). Type it. Say it. Whatever. If you piss us off sufficiently, we now have all the legal authority we need to make your ass disappear.  Although we promise that if you die in custody we won’t harvest your organs so…progress!


Tyrion: And here we have Bronn, son of…

Bronn: You wouldn’t know him.

I like Bronn which means I’m almost positive he will die in season 2.  Having come to this show uninitiated, I have since learned that any sympathetic or popular character will eventually have their head lopped off or their entrails torn out which I guess saves HBO some money on long-term deals with its actors.

Bronn is the closest thing the show has to representing the 99%.  In China we call that group “The people who DON’T race their Ferrari around Worker’s Stadium at three in the morning.”  Hey, not everybody’s dad is Bo Xilai or even a Li Gang and yet they still have to make their way in the world.  That’s Bronn. Put him on the payroll and watch him work.  Fight a duel to the death for money. Sure. Play wingman for a dwarf. No problem. He’s just happy to have a job and watch those uppity bastards kill each other, knowing it’s not going to affect him…until Season 2.[3]


Viserys: No! You cannot touch me. I am the dragon! I want my crown!

Every great TV series has that one moment in the first season where we, the viewers, have to stop and go…Holy shit, what the fuck just happened? Tony Soprano grabbing the pillow to smother Livia. Bodie and Poot capping Wallace. Don Draper’s “Carousel” speech.

For the first five episodes of Game of Thrones we were continually subjected to creepy Aryan prince as he fondled his sister, insulted a horde, gave himself a nickname, slapped around a whore, and generally behaved like the lost Hanson brother on an episode of Celebrity Rehab.   I like my irony and violent imagery as much as the next guy, but asking for a crown and then having a 6’5 barbarian give you a molten gold hot comb instead? That’s the kind of moral symmetry that would have had Sima Qian waving his ball sack in the air like a party favor from a Chinese wedding banquet.

The irony is delicious of course because it was Drogo’s response to the 153rd time Viserys had whined about how he let the barbarian king marry Viserys’ sister, Dragon Barbie, in exchange for Drogo using his horde to reclaim lost territory.  Leaving aside the fact that this USUALLY does not go as planned (Cut to shot of Wu Sangui and the Song Emperor Huizong nodding sadly) you just don’t nag barbarians with your delusions of power. You certainly don’t make a spectacle of yourself at one of their parties.  And if you do, you damn well better be sure that your allies are secure.

Which brings me of course to Bo Xilai.

Wang Lijun’s not doing too many (televised) interviews at the moment, but I’m willing to be bet that he would have no problem whatsoever being able to identify with The Look (define: “Withering”) that Dragon Barbie  gives as Drogo the Barbarian is preparing to fricassee her brother’s brain matter.

If Viserys had just waited, bided his time, and played the game according to Dothraki rules then he might have had his horde and even, possibly, his crown.  It’s also entirely possible the Dothraki would have eventually stuffed him into a pony’s colon and called it sausage. That’s just the way it is. When you play power games with the CCP – or the Dothraki – it’s often hard to tell who will become king and who will be made into horse haggis.

In any case, while the exact nature of Bo Xilai’s crimes, real or invented, has yet to be established, most pundits agree that he brought at least some of this misfortune crashing down on him by grandstanding just wee bit too much…Actually, forget that.  Bo’s campaign to be part of “The Nine” made Newt Gingrich seem like a master of nuance and subtlety.  Shit, Newt could campaign au naturel stomping the stage like the lust-crazed silverback ape we always knew lurked within and still not achieve the same relative level of naked ambition Bo Xilai showed in the last few months. [4]


Tyrion: But, I don’t believe that giants and ghouls and white walkers are lurking beyond the wall. I believe that the only difference between us and the wildlings is that when that wall went up, our ancestors happened to live on the right side of it.

Apropos of nothing except  history…researchers using recently re-discovered a section of the Great Wall, or at least a great wall, in Mongolia.  The “Genghis Khan Wall,” as it has been dubbed, dates from the 11th century and may have been built by the Tanguts who ruled large sections of what is today Northwest China and Southern Mongolia as the Xi Xia.  Of course anytime you start talking about historical boundaries between “China” and “Other People” (especially Mongolians) you get the revisionists who want to backdate the current borders of the PRC and claim Genghis Khan as a son of China and there are quite a few historians in China who would totally agree with Tyrion’s view of wall building. While that is likely true for some groups, the Mongols were not the “Wildlings.” They were “The Others.” Bad ass, kill you quick and reanimate your corpse so they could kill you again winter-is-coming you pastoral little bitches.  Seriously, if Genghis was Chinese, then somebody forgot to tell the Song and Ming courts.  Could have saved them a lot of trouble.  And a few emperors.


Ned: Very handsome armor. Not a scratch on it.

Jaime: People have been swinging at me for years, they always seem to miss.

Ned: You’ve chosen your opponents wisely.

Jaime: I have a knack for it.

Ah, Wen Jiabao…you crafty bespectacled devil.  Not since Zhou Enlai has a premier been able to tweak his boss so consistently and (more or less) get away with it.  Count me among those who don’t read too much into Wen’s periodic head fakes in the direction of political reform, but even if nothing will come of them, it’s fun to watch him do it because you KNOW that every time he gets up and makes some cryptic comment about how China needs more freedom or the inevitability of political reform, it causes the hardliners curse out their staff and start throwing old issues of “Seeking Truth” at the closest available wall.  This is a guy who not only was closely associated with ousted premier Zhao Ziyang but was famously photographed with Zhao when the latter was out tearfully telling the students in the square that Li Peng was an unholy douchebag and, by the by, they should probably get out of the way of any large military vehicles that may or may not be heading their way.  If you can come back from that, ain’t nothing that a corrupt weasel like Chen Liangyu can do to you, or even Hu Jintao.

Moreover, I’m excited about Wen in retirement just as I’ve enjoyed the last few episodes of “Zhu Rongji Says Whatever the Fuck He Wants.” Wen is just invested enough in his historical legacy that he’s not going to leave alone any opportunity to be sure he exits the stage as the good guy, no matter which way the political winds blow in the future.  This will displease people.


Ned: War was easier than daughters.

More unintended fallout from the Bo Xilai debacle: Shed a tear for poor Chen Xiaodan?  Being the granddaughter of Chen Yun (who played the “Fifth Beatle” role in the original Standing Committee) can’t be nearly as cool as riding around in Bo Guagua’s Ferrari, right? Actually, whither poor Guagua, you get the sense this is not a kid who has heard the word “no” a whole lot in his life. I’m guessing Miss Chen can probably do better.


Catelyn Stark: If you lose, your father dies, your sisters die, we die.

Robb Stark: Well, that makes it simple then.

Catelyn Stark: I suppose it does.

I like this exchange so much better than the “When you play the game of thrones, you either win or you die” line which was kind of done to death in the promos.  One of the most common questions I’m asked by students (after “How do I find Great Leap Brewery?”) is about the chances of a “Jasmine Revolution” in China.  Both YJ and I wrote about this quite a bit last year so I’m not going to rehash all the many reasons why it’s highly unlikely HOWEVER…just because something is unlikely doesn’t mean you don’t worry about it.  It is unlikely that I would ever be eaten by a bear, but if I’m camping in New Hampshire and I hear something in my campsite, even if it’s only a raccoon or a coyote, it’s natural to jump to the worst case scenario.  Rational me knows that the last fatal bear attack in New Hampshire was in 1786.  Human me hears a raccoon outside my tent and thinks “Holy shit! Grizzly stampede!”

I bring up this up because the other day I was wondering what it must be like to want a job in the Standing Committee.  You know that society, especially in the urban areas, is relatively stable and certainly light years ahead of pre-revolutionary Cairo or Libya under Gaddafi & Sons, but you just can’t get those pictures of Muammar looking like a buck strapped to the hood of a drunkenly-driven F-150 in deer season or the video of Hosni being led away by his jailers out of your mind.

The chances of this happening in China are infinitely remote,  but the CCP is so wrapped up in their own après moi le deluge worldview that they seem unable to see any other possibility and so start jumping at every sound and shadow no matter how insignificant.  Who knows? Maybe they’re right.  The Party runs a pretty tight ship and even then it can get a little…feral at times.[2]  In a state of anarchy who knows what would happen. Replacing the Party would likely involve a complete reboot of the whole system and I’m not sure there are too many people in China today who have the stomach for what that means.

That said, the security apparatus are coming dangerously close to being That Guy who is  convinced that his loyal and loving girlfriend is really a lying cheating whore and so starts making her call him every hour, hacking her email, checking her phone, and generally stalking her.  In case anyone in the CCP high command had to ask…NOBODY likes that guy.

There are some real stakes in the game but I think everybody would win if the public security apparatus took it down about seven or eight notches.


Click here for Part 2.

[1] But I could recite my father’s favorite drink order from memory.  Go figure.

[2] By way of example I give you “The Beijing Line 1 Subway at 5:45 p.m. on a weekday.”

[3] Full disclosure: I don’t actually know if Bronn dies in Season 2 although I’m guessing that I’m the only one on the Rectified.name masthead who doesn’t have this bit of information.  We are, as you might have surmised, something of a nerdy bunch.

[4] Did I just spend fifteen minutes Googling ‘silverback apes’ and ‘mating habits.’  Yes, yes I did. And my mom wonders why it’s taking me over four years to finish my dissertation…

[5] Good question for the next time you go speed dating: “Would you rather eat hot pot out of swill oil or soup flavored with Peter Dinklage’s DNA?”

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