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Archive for the tag “Chinese history”

Hu Jintao and the Ghost of Mao

Hu Jintao is wandering the Great Hall of the People during his last nights in power.  Drunk on baijiu and hubris…he hallucinates that he sees Mao before him…

Yo Mao! I would tell you we only changed the drapes but actually we messed up your whole world.

Sure there might be a couple of useless tools who run a bookstore and (until recently) a website called Utopia…they’re still into you, but the rest of the kids who spent their formative years shoveling shit while you were sampling teenage minority girls now have their own children to think of, ones with investment portfolios and overseas addresses.

(Any Leftist wannabes unhappy with my brand of Socialism should just let me know and I’d be happy to ship their pseudo-intellectual asses to Pyongyang.   The North Koreans will work them like $5 Tijuana hookers on rent day.)

25 years at “The Helm” and all you left us with is a bunch of buttons, a warehouse of red books, and a signed souvenir photo of Henry Kissinger in drag.

And it could have been worse!  Jesus, best thing that ever happened to this country was your kid getting blown up in Korea.  A Mao Dynasty?   I wake up at night in a hot sweat sometimes just thinking about it.

Your morbidly obese grandson keeps running around protecting your legacy and for some reason the PLA brass keeps promoting him.  Frankly, when they get enough tin on his chest we’ll use it for ballast and drop him in the Bohai Gulf.  Screw the brass. They never liked me anyway.

(Maybe I’ll nuke Hanoi just to mess with them.  HowulikemenowPLAbeeyatches!!!!)

Everything we built is DESPITE YOU.  You crazy paranoid syphilitic bastard.  My society is harmonious.  Your idea of harmony was tuning up Liu Shaoqi by having your goons apply an iron pipe to different parts of his cancer-riddled body.  No wonder Lin Biao wanted to snuff you. If it wasn’t for the druggy son, he might have succeeded. After all, you were pretty out of it toward the end.   Papa Doc Kissinger once told Deng Xiaoping that the only time he ever saw anybody shake that badly was when Judy Garland played the White House while trying to quit Quaaludes.

Because you see…nobody liked you.  We still love Deng.  Saved the country.  Lifted millions out of poverty and definitely knew his way around a tank division.  And you? I’m seriously considering my last act to be ordering your orange desiccated corpse ground up and flushed down a hutong.

Wait…where are you going?  Damn hallucinations wearing off.  I have more to say.  Xi Jinping likes women’s clothes!  We once tricked Wen Jiabao into embracing a fully-erect capuchin monkey by telling him it was a suffering earthquake victim!  Bastard!

I will not fade into history.  I WILL NOT FADE!!!

How Shanghai Saved the Jews

I spent National day in Shanghai with my family, our first leisure trip back since we lived there in 2007. Like Beijing, Shanghai has caught a serious case of fabulous in the past five years. The French Concession, already precious when I lived there, now has more coffee houses, boutique bakeries and fashionable bars per hectare than San Francisco’s Mission District, which is no mean feat given SOMA’s hipster factor.

Case in point: the street behind the apartment I lived in while I was in Shanghai used to be a wet market where you could have your Sunday chickens slaughtered and plucked while-u-wait (very convenient). It’s now a strip of coffee houses, boutique bakeries and fashionable bars. The apartment block itself is as dingy and miserable as ever, but I’m sure rents have gone up.

I have no philosophical objection to this transformation. Wet markets and Shanghai summers go together exactly like you’d expect a bunch of unrefrigerated animal carcasses, dismembered frogs and fish innards to go with 35C temperatures and relentless humidity. And I have a taste for coffee and fine baked goods. Anyway, such is progress.

My mom, who had never been to Shanghai, was in tow, so we made a round of The Sites, braving the staggering holiday crowds at the Bund, Luzjiazui, and so on. But one place where the crowds were not staggering was the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, in stubbornly un-fabulous Hongkou district. Jews, it turns out, have an extensive history in Shanghai, originating from the Iraqi Jews who established trading houses there in the 19th century. Although I’m not observant, I am mostly Ukrainian Jew by ethnicity — Moss comes from my great grandfather, Abraham Mosiusnik, who emigrated at the turn of the 20th century — so it seemed something worth exploring.

Before and during World War II tens of thousands of Jews fled Europe and arrived in Shanghai. Stateless, and disconnected from the established Jewish communities, they were settled in a ghetto in Hongkou, north of Suzhou Creek. Constructed in 1927, the elegant, brick Ohel Moishe synagogue served the Russian Jewish refugee community in the ghetto. About ten years ago it was converted to a museum with the support of the Shanghai city government.

I don’t generally hold Chinese museums in high regard (though there are some exceptions, such as the Shaanxi Provincial Museum in Xi’an). Many Chinese museums have spectacular artifacts, whether lacquerware or locomotives, but, regardless of language, they are often bad at explanation and storytelling and beholden to the imperatives of The Official Narrative. This is a minor tragedy. The Forbidden City should be one of the great museums of the planet. It’s not. It’s a glorious structure holding a bunch of disconnected and poorly explained stuff. And, no, it’s not because Chiang Kai Shek took a lot of the good stuff to Taiwan (although he did).

Following a Chinese volunteer docent on a tour, it didn’t take long to see that the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum suffers from a variety of the Chinese museum syndrome. Among other things, the tour led off with a comprehensive review of the awards and honors that have been bestowed upon the museum by Jewish groups and diplomats, and a recounting of the Chinese notables who have graced the premises. Always a worrying sign.

The museum does, however, have a very clear and effectively transmitted narrative. It is this: the east-European Jewish refugees were saved by the charity and benevolence of China, welcomed in Shanghai when the so-called leaders of the free world, the United States and the United Kingdom, turned them away. This point is drummed home by multiple exhibits, including a brief but eye-catching movie presented on multiple overlapping translucent screens.

The story is accurate, insofar as it goes, but as with many Chinese museums the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum is interesting less for what it includes than for what it elides. For example, it is true that Shanghai accepted the Jewish refugees at a time when the US and UK shamefully didn’t. But that was because Shanghai didn’t require an entry visa, so anyone could (and did) land there. Left unmentioned is that the open borders were the result of Shanghai’s status as foreign treaty port under the infamous Treaty of Nanking (the same one that ceded Hong Kong to the British after the First Opium War – and we know how the Chinese felt about that).

Also absent is a full explanation of the reason why the Hongkou Jewish ghetto wasn’t liquidated late in the war, as the Germans were demanding. The decision to spare the Jews was made by the Japanese, who actually administered the city during the war. As the story goes, the Japanese were persuaded by the Shanghai rabbi Shimon Sholom Kalish. When asked by the Japanese government why the Germans hated Jews, the rabbi replied it was because, “we are orientals.” Or words to that effect; exactly what he said is a matter of dispute. But Chinese museums aren’t in the business of giving credit to the Japanese. It’s not their thing.

Finally, due recognition is given to Ho Fengshan, the Chinese diplomat in Vienna who defied the orders of his superiors and distributed possibly thousands of exit visas to European Jews, allowing them to depart Europe for Shanghai. Nowhere, as far as I recall, is it mentioned that he was a Nationalist diplomat (or that he retired to the United States). This strikes me as a missed opportunity, given that defying the orders of your Nationalist superiors in support of something the Communists claim as a triumph would seem worth mentioning. (It’s also possible I misremember that display, as I didn’t take notes when I was there.)

Whether or not the museum is worth a visit depends upon what you’re looking for. The ghetto is still there, in a row of tenements with graceful, Georgian facades, but it’s an unreclaimed Chinese ghetto now. The building housing the Ohel Moishe synagogue is beautiful, and some of the exhibits are interesting despite the layer of Chinese-style political correctness. The third floor is a sort of mini-Holocaust museum, which doesn’t add much to the story of the Jewish refugees in Shanghai, but does illustrate the perfidy of Europeans toward each other and explains why the refugees fled. The history of the Jews in Shanghai is genuinely interesting, and I was inspired by the museum to learn more about it, which is a good thing.

Ultimately the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum may teach you less about the Jewish ghetto in wartime Shanghai than about how the Shanghai government wants to use that part of history in service of its own agenda. Still, if you’re willing to read between the lines, that’s pretty interesting in itself.

Hongkou Ghetto

In the ghetto…

 

Sacred Maos

Communiques from the CCP Politburo tend to be of interest to only the most committed China scholar or the most wretched insomniac.  With the 18th Party Congress just two weeks away, however, several recent policy statements including an article in the Chinese Communist Party’s main ideological journal Qiu Shi (Seeking Truth) on October 16 have managed to attract attention for what they fail to mention: reference to Mao Zedong Thought.

The theories of Deng Xiaoping and the concept of “Scientific Development” associated with Hu Jintao remain, but the absence of Mao has led to a round of speculation as to what the omission might mean for the upcoming 18th Party Congress.

Some see this as a sign that the Party intends to commit itself to deeper reform than was previously thought. On Monday, the Party announced plans to amend its constitution and several statements issued in the last two weeks have emphasized the need for greater reform and touting the Party’s commitment to “democracy” during the upcoming congress.  This has led to even wilder speculation that the party may be planning to drop Mao from the constitution altogether.

There are also suggestions that the omissions are the result of doctrinal feuds between competing Party factions, noting that Chongqing’s deposed Party Secretary Bo Xilai once wrapped his brand of leftist populism in the garb of Maoist nostalgia, the most famous example of which was urging citizens to sing “red songs” usually associated with the 1960s and the Cultural revolution.

But the decision to cut Mao from a few articles or party documents is not news. In the early 1980s, the Party rendered its historical verdict on the Mao years, proclaiming the Great Helmsman to have been 70% correct and 30% incorrect, even as Deng Xiaoping and his protégés were working to dismantle major parts of Mao’s legacy.  Since that time references to Mao Zedong Thought have been in steady decline, reduced mostly to boilerplate attached to speeches and Party documents.

The actual moment of their disappearance from key Party-published materials, while eye-catching, does not mark any major political shift away from current policies.  Rather it is a matter of rhetoric catching up with reality.  It was long time ago that the Party jettisoned the concept of class-based revolution in favor of gradualist reform.

Dropping Mao from a few documents is not a harbinger of great change, nor does it mean that the specter of Mao does not still loom large over Chinese politics.

Just last month, anti-Japan demonstrators held up portraits of Mao as they marched. The unspoken but unsubtle message to China’s leaders: The Chairman would never have let Japan get away with claiming our islands. Perhaps coincidentally the government called for an end to the protests a few days later. Mao’s image is often used by farmers protesting the seizure of their land by corrupt officials. He appears hanging from the rear-view mirrors of taxi cabs. Mao’s birthplace in Hunan sees millions of visitors each year. Every morning in Tiananmen Square, hundreds of people wait in line for a chance to enter his mausoleum and pay their respects. Many elderly Chinese, even those who suffered during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, see Mao as representing a simpler time, free from the corruption, avarice and inequality of today’s China.

 

While the Party may sometimes try to mask the traces of “Mao Zedong Thought” left in its DNA, it can never completely abandon the man himself. At the height of his paranoia, Mao feared that his fellow leaders would do to him what Khrushchev had done to Stalin. When Chinese president Liu Shaoqi was removed from power during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, he was denounced for being—among other things—“China’s Khrushchev”. Yet the Party’s present dilemma suggests that Mao might have been worrying needlessly. Nikita Khrushchev could denounce Stalin because Khrushchev was always able to appeal to the ghost of Vladimir Lenin. Mao’s successors have no such luxury.

 

For good or ill, Mao is credited with founding the country and being the Party’s original leader. To denounce him is to undermine its historical legitimacy. Little wonder that the National Museum of China, which occupies most of the eastern flank of Tiananmen Square, contains room after room devoted to the horrors of imperialism, and to the glories of Deng’s Reform and Opening era, but relegates both the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap to a single black-and-white photograph each.

 

Mao continues to mean something in today’s China, but his absence from Party pronouncements is not as significant as some would suggest. It reflects the CCP’s ongoing effort to emphasize the progress and reforms made beginning with Deng Xiaoping. The 18th Party Congress is historic for marking the first generation of leadership chosen without the involvement of the revolutionary generation. Whether their ghosts linger to haunt the new leadership is another matter altogether.

Hong Kong’s Daddy Issues

If the Hong Kong-PRC relationship were a marriage, it would be Ashton and Demi.[1]  Face it. The only crazier math than “One Country + Two Systems” is “27-year-old actor marries actress 15 years his senior with 3 kids and a psychotic ex-husband.” It was only a matter of time before Hong Kong – I mean, Ashton – started stepping out on his own leaving Demi/Beijing to wallow in a growing pile of recrimination, hurt feelings, and used whippet canisters.

When a marriage goes this badly, there’s not much left to do except see how profoundly you can fuck up the children.

This past Sunday, thousands of demonstrator marched to protest the “National Education Curriculum” planned for Hong Kong public school students.  The new materials, modeled after the “Patriotic History” taught in mainland schools since the early 1990s, have drawn sharp criticism from Hong Kong citizens concerned that it amounts to little more than pro-CCP brainwashing.

Who do you love, kids?  Tell the nice man.

First of all, the timing sucked. This has been a weird year for identity politics in the SAR.  In January, researchers at the University of Hong Kong released the results of a poll – one which has conducted every year since 1997 – that found nearly twice as many residents preferred to identify themselves as “Hong Kongers” as opposed to “Chinese.”  A month later, a bitter spat erupted on the InterWeb over a video showing Mainlanders cavalierly eating on the Hong Kong MTR and berating fellow passengers for not speaking Mandarin.  The kerfuffle reached a new low when an advertisement appeared in a Hong Kong newspaper depicting mainlanders as locusts and that reliable source of patriotic douchebaggery Kong Qingdong took another giant steaming dump on his family’s legacy by calling out Hong Kongers as “British Running Dogs.”

Earlier this month the carefully choreographed 15th Anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the Motherland was upstaged by irate Hong Kongers who took to the street to protest…just about everything. C.Y. Leung. Hu Jintao. The Mainland. Housing Prices. The stagnant economy. The disturbing trend of people dying their dogs to look like pandas. Whatever.

While the new curriculum was in the works long before Beijing started sleeping on the couch, the Hong Kong government handled the announcement with all the subtlety of a fart in a bathysphere.  A fart which got just a little juicier when Jiang Yudui, a member of the pro-Beijing Civic Education Program, proclaimed that some brains did indeed need washing.

Parents were furious, opposition lawmakers smelled an opportunity for cheap publicity, and before you could say “But we saved you from the British you ungrateful curs” the streets of Hong Kong filled again with demonstrators this time waving signs channeling Pink Floyd (“We Don’t Need No Thought Control’) and wearing black and white to show, you know, that people in Hong Kong understand right from wrong.

Patriotic Education is of course nothing new in the mainland. Two decades ago CCP leaders – with their characteristic blend of denial, stupidity, and blinkered batshit paranoia – attributed the 1989 Tiananmen Demonstrations to a “failure of propaganda.” Basically all those kids in the 1980s who were reading “Pride and Prejudice” and listening to “Country Roads” needed to be reminded that Jane Austen and John Denver were the opium-soaked faces of naked aggression.  Oh, yeah and that Fang Lizhi was a bad, bad man.

The goal of “Patriotic Education” in mainland schools, at least in principle, is to boost the nation’s spirit, enhance national cohesion, foster national pride, and to rally the massses’ patriotic spirit to “build Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.”  In practice this means highlighting the crimes committed against the Chinese people by foreign imperialists and traitorous collaborators while skipping over atrocities of a more domestic vintage such as the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution.

Now, I have no problem with calling out the imperialist powers for the damage they did to China in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Even the most gung-ho British apologist has to admit that going to war to turn South China into a Victorian-era version of Hamsterdam is pretty messed up.  Nobody should want to gloss over that or any of the other humiliating and atrocious crimes committed against China during the 100 years from 1840 to 1949.  But the problem with “Patriotic Education” is that focusing all the attention on “China the Victim” does little to actually encourage students to love their country or nation, instead it teaches them to fear and loathe other people while giving sole credit for all that is good and glorious in China today to the Party.

Lucien Pye once wrote that China is a “civilization masquerading as a state.” Allowing for a generous dollop of overgeneralization, the basic problem Pye identified would have been immediately familiar to Sun Yat-sen and other early state builders.  Before China could rise again, it needed to be unified. William Callahan, in his book The Pessoptimist Nation, argues that at the time nationalism based on shared culture, language, or ethnic identity would have been problematic because the Qing Empire was made up of many ‘national’ groups with almost nothing in common and little incentive to stick together.  Forging a nation would require the artificial imposition of a higher form of identity, one which eschewed narrow definitions of nationalism in favor of a strong shared identification with The State and, ultimately, The Party.

The new Hong Kong curriculum describes the Chinese Communist Party as “progressive, selfless, and united” while criticizing as sloppy and inefficient multi-party systems like the United States and, presumably, Hong Kong.  It presents history as a morality tale of venal foreigners with their native lackeys being defeated by the Party.  Historical actors are either “Patriotic Heroes” or “Race Traitors,” a sensitive subtext for a city which spent nearly 160 years under foreign rule and which continues to pride itself on being a bastion of cosmopolitanism.

Unfortunately for Hong Kong, it can’t just pull an Ashton and spend anniversaries cavorting with naked blondes in a $4000/night suite at the San Diego Hard Rock.  In fact, it can’t even move out of the house, so instead the uneasy coexistence between Hong Kongers and Beijing will continue while the grown-ups fight endlessly over just what to tell the children…

 


[1] Will suggests Tom and Katy because of the whole Scientology-brainwashing thing. I disagree. That’s over the top even for the CCP.  There’s crazy. Tanks in the Square crazy. Great Leap Forward backyard steel furnace crazy.  And then about three levels beyond that you get Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

On an Island

While there will be considerable fanfare today commemorating the 15th anniversary of the British handover of Hong Kong to the PRC, it’s worth noting that this is also an important anniversary year in the history of another island.  2012 marks 350 years since Zheng Chenggong (better known outside China as ‘Koxinga’) landed on Taiwan and forced a Dutch garrison to surrender control of the island to Zheng and his family.

Zheng Chenggong was born in Nagasaki, the son of the Chinese merchant/occasional pirate Zheng Zhilong and a Japanese woman named Tagawa.  He grew up in Fujian province and spent his youth preparing to enter official service in the government of the Ming Empire [r. 1368-1644].

After the fall of Beijing and the Manchu invasion of 1644, his father threw his support behind Prince Tang, a member of the royal family and a claimant to the throne.  When the Manchu armies captured the Prince, Zheng Zhilong – ignoring the advice of his son – went over to the Qing side.  Zheng Chenggong continued his struggle against the Manchus, suffering a series of defeats which forced him across the Taiwan straits to Formosa, then under the control of the Dutch.

On April 30, 1661, Zheng Chenggong besieged the Dutch at Fort Zeelandia (near present day Tainan) with over 900 ships and 25,000 men.  The Dutch held out for almost a year, waiting for reinforcements and provisions from Batavia.  With no relief in sight and the fort parched for a lack of fresh drinking water, the Dutch governor of Formosa, Frederik Coyett finally had little choice but to surrender.

The Zheng family established a kingdom on Taiwan which lasted until 1683, when an armada led by Admiral Shi Lang, a former comrade of Zheng Chenggong, crushed a force led by Feng Xifan and Zheng’s grandson, Zheng Guoxuan. Both Feng and the youngest Zheng surrendered and were shipped off to Beijing to be enfeoffed (some of their followers were not so lucky and were instead exiled to Ili).

The Qing government then made Taiwan a prefecture of Fujian province, under whose jurisdiction the island would remain until 1887 when Taiwan became its own province. Thus 1683 marked the first time that Taiwan came under the direct administrative control of any dynasty. Even so, for much of the 18th and even 19th centuries, the island was still a rough and ready frontier of settlers, pirates, native peoples and foreign traders. (Think: “Deadwood with Chinese Characteristics. On an island.”)  It was known by Qing officials as an exotic but difficult, even dangerous, posting, and the island was never an easy place to manage.

The PRC – for obvious reasons – is adamant to refer to Zheng Chenggong’s victory as the “Recovery of Taiwan”, although there is little evidence that the mainland exercised any kind of control over the island until Shi Lang formally claimed the island on behalf of the Qing dynasty.

The excellent historian Tonio Andrade recently wrote of his frustrations getting his book Lost Colony: the Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West translated and published in the PRC:

My erstwhile publisher asked whether I would acquiesce to omitting some “sensitive material” and changing some wording. It sounded like an innocuous request until I got to the details. Since Koxinga is considered a “positive figure in China,” my publisher informed me that the text would have to omit any discussion of torture by him and his soldiers. (Descriptions of Dutch atrocities were acceptable, though.) The book couldn’t refer to Koxinga as a “conqueror” or a “warlord,” and his “restoration of Taiwan” couldn’t be referred to as an invasion or an attack. Similarly, any mention of resistance by Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples (who, historical sources make clear, rose up and killed thousands of his soldiers), would also have to be excised, on the grounds that such episodes hint of “some sort of consciousness of Taiwanese independence.” The Chinese publisher said that if I refused to make such changes, the translation wouldn’t proceed. “Abridgement,” I was told, “is unavoidable.”

And so I set aside my dreams of renown and royalties and said no.

Hong Kong’s history is perhaps only slightly less contentious, seized by the British during the Opium War and expanded by the 1860 cession of Kowloon and the 1898 lease of the New Territories; the island remained – literally – a colonial thorn in the side of the PRC until 1997.

British troops first occupied the island in January, 1841 and British gunboats used it as a strategic depot and logistical base for further sorties against mainland targets.  Following an initial round of peace talks which began in 1841 both negotiators ended up fired over the issue of Hong Kong.  Aisin-Gioro Min Ning, The Daoguang Emperor [r. 1820-1850], was furious at the concessions made by his representative, Qishan, including the cession of Hong Kong. British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston was equally irate that his negotiator had failed to exact harsher conditions on the Qing Empire, calling Hong Kong “a barren rock with barely a house on it.”  (Cited in Spence, 1999) Both representatives were dismissed — Qishan just barely kept his head — and hostilities resumed.  Finally, the island was permanently ceded to Britain as one of the stipulations of the Treaty of Nanjing (1842), the first in a series of unequal treaties forced upon the Qing government by foreign powers.

Convincing the British in 1984 to give back Hong Kong was one of Deng Xiaoping’s proudest moments although he passed away before the handover was finalized on July 1, 1997.

While some of the more dire predictions for the demise of Hong Kong’s cultural and legal independence fortunately failed to materialize, there has been no shortage of controversy over the ham-handed manner with which Beijing seeks to boost its influence in the SAR, most recently the neutering of the South China Morning Post, once one of the best windows into China.  There are also lingering issues of identity and culture which suggest 15 years later the ‘recovery’ of Hong Kong in name, the goal of reuniting Hong Kong with the mainland is only just beginning.

 

On Jubilees and Anniversaries

This year marks the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth Regina Twice, who joins Queen Victoria, her great-great grandmother, as the only other British monarch to have lived long enough to celebrate six decades on the throne.[1]

While the Commonwealth countries seem to be doing their part to mark this milestone, global enthusiasm for the Jubilee has been…muted.  After all, the British Empire doesn’t have quite the brand power that it used to.  Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee featured colonial troops from all over the empire parading through the center of London. Her Gold Jubilee, held in 1887, was quite the occasion even as far away as Shanghai.  Brits and non-Brits turned out to watch a military parade and hear proclamations to Her Majesty’s continued benevolent rule over the benighted people of the world.  Although as benevolent as it may have been, the Chinese residents of Shanghai were neither invited nor encouraged to attend.

Six years later, on the occasion of Shanghai’s own Golden Jubilee as a Treaty Port, the Shanghai Municipal Council reversed course and actively sought to showcase the cosmopolitan nature of “their” city by soliciting the (carefully orchestrated) participation and support of the Chinese community.Yes, the various colonial powers actually had the balls to try and persuade Chinese living in Shanghai to join a massive city-wide celebration of their own subjugation.

Historian Byrna Goodman argues:

“In these respects the proceedings demonstrated to the British viewer the formidable and well-oiled municipal machinery introduced into China by the British, and the receptive and willing position of the Chinese. Chinese eagerness in this view, confirmed the superiority of the Western model; Chinese dimness and obedience confirmed the appropriateness of Western leadership and guidance.”[3]

Or as The North China Herald drolly described it at the time:

“The amenability of the Chinese native when he comes under firm and friendly control.”[4]

Sound familiar?

In 2009, the Chinese Communist Party, acting through the Tibetan People’s Congress, created a new holiday: Serf Liberation Day.  The day – March 28 — was set aside to commemorate the “liberation of the serfs” in 1959, when a failed uprising by Tibetans against the Chinese ended with the PLA taking control of Lhasa and the Dalai Lama fleeing into exile.  Each year since 2009, the date is celebrated with galas, newspaper articles, exhibits, school lectures, and highly public displays of Tibetan acquiescence to Chinese rule.The Economist  in 2009 wrote: “With grim determination, the authorities try to manufacture joy.”

This is not to say that Tibetans – or at least key groups in Tibet – are unwilling participants in this commemoration.  As was the case of the Shanghai Jubilee, many ‘local’ groups take part in the observance, although they often do so with their own agendas.  During the 1893 Jubilee, Chinese merchants used their positions to organize guild participation in the parades and festivities as a way of displaying their own wealth and power, although overly enthusiastic coöperation without some acknowledgement of ‘native’ identity was to risk being labeled a Han Traitor.[5] Tibetans today, especially those with ties to the Party or extensive business interests, face a similar dilemma.

As Tsering Shakya writes:

“It is indeed possible that such an initiative may have come from one group of Tibetans – senior party apparatchiks on the receiving end of internal criticism for their failure in 2008 to guarantee a loyal and docile populace.  But this itself is telling of the nature of the Serf Liberation Day initiative: for in an authoritarian regime, the failure of a client administration leaves performance as one of the few options available. It is natural then that authoritarian regimes have a love of public displays of spectacle, engineered to perfection, in which the people are required to perform ceremonial displays of contentment.”

What we choose to celebrate is not only intimately tied to how and why we want to remember a specific event,  but also present-day concerns.  British Republicans are using the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee to bring attention to their cause, even as much of the Jubilee itself seems calculated to try and rub a little shine back onto a tarnished crown.

Like Jubilee galas, anniversaries have power beyond merely marking the passage of time, and sometimes their power can be most keenly felt when they are actively forgotten.  Like Arthur Doyle’s dog which did not bark in the night, the silence speaks.[6]

Today is of course a day of some significance in modern Chinese history, and while there are likely to be a few carefully worded articles in the Chinese media, this is a date to be forgotten, not remembered.  I’m heading to the National Museum this afternoon with a group of American university students.  We will see rooms devoted to memorializing the atrocities of imperialism and exhibits solemnly recording as humiliation what the Shanghai Municipal Council of 1893 sought to celebrate through a Jubilee. There will also of course be a section recalling the liberation of the Tibetan serfs.  But the students may find it a challenge to locate the spaces allocated to remembering more recent – politically inconvenient – events of Chinese history.  Once again, absence of memory can say as much as about contemporary concerns as any grand gala or public display of  remembrance.


[1] The Qing historian in me feels compelled to remind readers that two Manchu rulers, Aisin-Gioro Hiowan Yei (The Kangxi Emperor r. 1662-1722) and Aisin-Gioro Hung Li (The Qianlong Emperor, r. 1736-1796/1799) accomplished the same feat. Although in the annals of Chinese history septuagenarian emperors were quite rare.

[3] Bryna Goodman, “Improvisations on a Semicolonial Theme, or, How to Read a Celebration of Transnational Urban Community,” Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 69, No. 4 (Nov., 2000), p. 901.

[4] Cited in Goodman, “Improvisations on a Semicolonial Theme,” p. 901.

[5] Goodman, “Improvisations on a Semicolonial Theme,” p. 918.

[6] For those not up on their Sherlock Holmes, the dog which did not bark in the night was the key to the disappearance of race horse Silver Blaze.

America remembers its veterans, why not China?

WOLFEBORO, NH

Today is Memorial Day in the US, which is not only the unofficial start of summer here in New England, but more importantly is a time for Americans to remember and show respect for the soldiers fighting for their country in all of its many wars.

Yesterday, we walked to a little diner in the center of Wolfeboro for breakfast.  There I saw some  elderly veterans dressed up in suits covered with all of the medals they had earned in the service. Other people, even complete strangers, would stop at their table just to say “Hi” or to say “Thank you” to the old men for their contribution to the country.

Later this morning, Wolfeboro will have a ceremony and parade for Memorial Day.  Of course, local veteran groups played a key role in organizing the ceremonies and  will walk in the front of the parade. I was talking about this with some local residents and during our conversation they mentioned that if Mitt Romney, the US presidential candidate, who has a summer home in Wolfeboro, wanted to walk in the parade he would need to walk in the back, with the other citizens and not necessarily be given some place of high honor.  After all, they said, he’s only a politician.

As a foreigner who comes from a country where the government ignores certain wars, such as China’s 1979 war with Vietnam,  and history education is all about politics, I was amazed by people’s voluntary gratitude and respect to veterans.  When I was a student, our school organized student visits to Martyrs’ Cemetery and to present wreaths. However, for us it was more like part of patriotic education, rather than a real commemoration. I don’t think my teachers really cared all that much either.

In Wolfeboro, the parade and the ceremony isn’t organized by the government or a party, it’s organized by local merchants and veterans’ groups.  In China, the government would never let something like this happen without wanting to take charge, and local officials would all jockey for position to march in the very front.

Once in Beijing, I ran into a taxi driver who claimed to be a veteran of the 1979 China-Vietnam war.  He talked about how his brigade went through all kinds of tough battles, humid weather, and dangerous ambushes in Vietnam. He said, “Many young people don’t even know about our Vietnam War any more”, he sighed.  “We once sacrificed our lives for the country, but right now nobody cares. Now we are in our 50s, we just have to work fourteen hours to make ends meet.”

To be fair, veterans can face many tough challenges coming home to the United States as well, including dealing with injuries, or mental illness, or finding it difficult to get a job and readjust to civilian life.  But in the United States, the media frequently does stories and features on veterans’ issues, and puts pressure on the government (and society) to do more to help veterans returning from overseas conflicts.  In China, the veterans of embarrassing wars are forgotten, with barely a mention ever in the media or by the leaders.

Born in the early 80’s, I never learned much about the Vietnam War. I kind of remember a song called “Xueran de fengcai”(血染的风采)  commemorating the war heroes  of the War with Vietnam. However since then, the war has barely been mentioned in public like it never happened. Of course, “Peaceful Rise” is the current government line. A war with a neighboring country which occurred over 30 years ago doesn’t fit this theme.

It is quite amazing to me that in China we spend all this time and energy constantly condemning the horrible Japanese invasion and the vicious American conspiracy against China. Our government operates a whole propaganda machine to make sure that this hatred will be passed to the younger generation. However, we don’t have the time to show our respect to the soldiers who sacrificed for their country or the money to make sure that the veterans have decent lives.  They are the true patriots.

Of quackery and rhinos…

Earlier this month, stories in the Korean media sparked concerns in China and abroad about – almost unbelievably — the possible processing of stillborn and aborted babies into powder and used as traditional medicinal food supplements.

Chinese authorities have asserted that past and current investigations have not found any instances of such illicit trade, and that Chinese law strictly prohibits such practices and regulates the institutions that handle medicinal materials, including the placenta, which, unlike corpses, has historically been legitimately used to make medicine, although the effects of doing so have never been particularly well explained.

Accusations of child cannibalism have been long practiced as a method of demonizing people and groups all over the world. In the 19th century, missionaries in China were accused of purchasing babies to make medicine and lurid tales of kidnapping and mutilation for the purposes of medicine or sorcery can be found in many cultural and historical contexts.

In the late 1990s, installation artist Zhu Yu’s provoking cannibalism-themed pieces caused a furor in China and abroad. Inside China, domestic conspiracy theorists pointed the finger – naturally – toward Guangdong.  Abroad, critics of China used the accusations to paint all of the country in the worst possible light.

The allegorical significance of consumption of human flesh along the lines of Lu Xun’s “A Madman’s Diary” should also not be missed. Children have to be protected from the agents of a decrepit social system hell-bent on eating them, the Madman implores the reader. Of course, the guy himself is mad, and the people around him wish only the best for him, or do they?

Parts of human bodies do indeed get used in traditional medicine in China. Ming Dynasty scholar Li Shizhen devoted a whole section in his monumental Compendium of Materia Medica to various human parts that can be used for medical purposes.

Li himself, though, makes a distinction between human sourced materials that are morally acceptable and those which are repugnant. Li states that human flesh and other abhorrent materials get used by magicians and he only lists them so that the discerning reader can make a decision for themselves.[1]

While the current media and online furor could — and probably should — be dismissed as one of the many rumors and otherworldly accusations floating around the Internet, it does point to a striking failure of science as it relates to traditional Chinese medicine. How to separate the quackery from the possible, particularly in regards to practices which so abominable as to be nearly unbelievable, but also debunking medical myths involving the use of ingredients — such as bear bile, rhino horn, and tiger portions — which do great harm to biodiversity and the protection of endangered species.

Traditional medicinal practices which are popular far beyond China’s borders — but are seen as inherently Chinese by both the PRC government and Chinese society at large — rely on an interpretation of human physiology that is largely incompatible to the conventional understanding of anatomy. It also sources materials that are complex and their chemistry and effects are not well-understood.

Particularly since the founding of the PRC in 1949, Mainland Chinese science has attempted to quantify and discover both the effects and chemical workings of traditional medicinal medicals practices. With increased prosperity in China since the 1980s, domestic demand has increased tremendously exerting pressure on both domestic suppliers and foreign sources of various materials, some of which have led to environmental destruction and a rise in illicit trade.

It is not surprising that desperate people in poor health would be willing to spend significant amounts of money to buy life-saving medicine, however such people should also be protected in terms of the safety of the treatment they are receiving. So should those who purchase remedies for lesser ailments, be it a cold or impotence. They should have the right to know whether there is any chance of actually seeing results from such a treatment.

While the moral impact of a middle-aged man spending prolifically on concoctions to enhance his amorous life seems benign (as long as he stays away from the damn rhinos!), what to make of the 2007 half a year prison term to Guangdong parents who stole another couple’s deceased child to make a healing soup for their sickly child?

While it’s easy to brand their actions as backwardness and ignorance, especially since such practices have been dismissed already by ancient medicinal masters not least Li Shizhen himself, it’s not too much to ask from those in the know, how one is to figure out the difference between medicine and superstition.

This is partially addressed by making a distinction between TCM, which has a long written history, and “folk medicine”, which is passed down generations orally and is usually local. The latter is usually seen as based on superstition, but then again, it can sometimes be tapped for advice.

Although TCM is practiced around the world, the PRC has willingly taken on the role of the main proprietor and the guardian of the TCM, and as such, received justified and unjustified criticism for the harm caused by poaching rare animals, such as tigers and destroying fragile ecosystems when plants are overharvested.

This puts Chinese government officials in the uncomfortable position of having to speak up for a medicinal industry that the Chinese state controls only partially (not least because Taiwan’s position in international conservation cooperation is tedious due to the sovereignty dispute). Demand for medicines that contain rare species or other questionably sourced materials puts pressure on the government to permit such trade. As a result, the trade goes on illegally but somewhat openly.

If sound qualitative data of the clinical results of using rare animal species as medicine would be available, this could be used as a way of addressing demand for them directly. After all, who would buy tiger bone liquor if its benefits for sexual potency were shown to be non-existent?

If it were possible to show (run a T-test, or do whatever else is needed to get one of those pesky ”something significant”) that tiger bones, or baby powder for that matter, kills cancer cells or kills a disease of your choosing, then we could decide if it’s worth looking at selling and buying this stuff.

Of course, as with the white crow which might show up any time to disprove the truth that crows are black, it’s harder to prove that something is not effective than to show its efficacy, because we might simply not have the necessary technology yet.

Oh wait! It is actually possible to run those T-tests. However, in addition to the abovementioned difficulty to disprove things using the scientific method, such results are not being published because either (1) good old publishing bias that preferences positive results rather than inconclusive ones, and more likely (2) because such research is not performed, which has been the view to ethnobothanists I have talked to personally.

Research is driven by funding, and there is little if any money to be made in knowing whether something is not an effective medicine. In addition, when it comes to traditional medicine, there seems to be reluctance to invest in research that rejects tradition, even if it means rejecting superstition.

For now, the man who is willing to shell out cash for tiger bones, is being let down by science, which has not managed (or perhaps not wanted) to assess the efficacy of such treatment. Equally, science has let down the Chinese government which simultaneously faces accusations of lackluster dedication to protecting endangered species while at the same time satisfying the demand for them by the public.

Everyone is left hanging, and when preposterous accusations like this current infant powder cannibalism report arises, have to resort to awkward denials. Even worse, the specter of another Lu Xun masterpiece haunts everyone involved: spending the last bit of money to buy a lousy hunk of steamed bread dipped in the blood of the righteous and vulnerable; and all that for nothing.

——————

Karlis Rokpelnis is a PhD Candidate in Ethnoecology at Minzu University in Beijing and earned his MPhil from the University of Cambridge.  Karlis would like to thank two of his fellow students for the discussions which led to this essay. 



[1] See page 189.

The Last Scoundrels

William Inge, Anglican priest, Evening Standard columnist, and long-time dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral once remarked, “A nation is a society united by a delusion about its ancestry and by common hatred of its neighbors.”  Given that he wrote this during one of Europe’s more terrible periods, who can blame him for being something of a pessimist.  But given the rhetoric in China today, the gloomy priest has perhaps never seemed more prescient.

Many people in the United States and especially in China take for granted the nation-state, and are oblivious to its relatively recent provenance (The Peace of Westphalia, anyone?) and rather specific origin (Western Europe).  That this particular form of social organization has – for the most part and with notable exceptions – been internalized as the default form of socio-political organization in the last century is a rather remarkable process, one upon which better scholars than I (not the least William Inge) have written voluminously.

One of the divides in 20th century Chinese history, especially in the first decades after the 1911 Revolution, was that between nationalism and cosmopolitanism: those who sought to be part of a greater global movement or civilization versus those who thought first of the strength, power, and independence of their own nation and people.  During the New Culture Movement of the 1910s, the forces of cosmopolitan, tolerance, and innovation were in ascendance, but following the debacle of Versailles and the gradual realization by a generation of Chinese intellectuals that perhaps the world (in particular the West) didn’t have the solutions for China’s problems, nor much interest in helping China find its own solutions, there was a sea change and many former internationalists, Utopians, anarchists, socialists, and other cosmopolitan thinkers turned toward the more practical realities of building a Chinese nation capable of standing up for itself in the world.  Under the KMT and the CCP, patriotism, in its rawest, bloodiest form, was something to be celebrated, while internationalism and cosmopolitanism became synonymous with capitulation and collaboration.  To borrow a metaphor, to be patriotic was to be yang, virile, strong, facing the sun, all that was goodness and light, whereas to be cosmopolitan was to be yin, trading in the dark, yielding your moral character to outside forces, and surrendering your birthright.  Little wonder that in China, as much as anywhere in the world, patriotism became a highly-gendered concept.

In this past week, we have seen a reporter expelled from China amidst rumors that one reason she grated on the authorities was her ethnicity (a little too much “A & B”, not enough “C”), as well as a growing shit storm over some rocks in the South China Sea over which China claims historical sovereignty based on…well, Chinese maps showing there are, in fact, rocks in the South China Sea.  The Internet was also abuzz about an Englishman assaulting a young woman and paying a price with the video prominently displayed on Youku’s homepage and the comments section brimming with racial hatred and invective.[1]

You live here long enough, you get used to it.  I’m guessing it’s easier for Americans.  After all, we pretty much invented “Love it or Leave it” jingoism and exceptionalist moral grandstanding.  But after awhile, the infantile obsession with patriotic virtue and national purity in China gets a little tiresome.

There are, of course, reasons for hope.  The comment thread related to “French Fry Brother,” the young American college student who shared his fast food lunch with a beggar woman in Nanjing, showed a great deal of introspection and even a couple of head fakes in the direction of universal values – compassion being the most commonly cited – which could be shared by both East and West.  And for several days one of the most popular posts on Weibo has been an essay entitled “Confessions of a Former Patriot,” which was translated in its entirety by the good folks at Offbeat China. (Original Text here)

The essayist writes:

 The first summer after I started my first job, I went to Yangshuo in Guangxi Province for a trip. There, I met a middle-aged German man. We got along quite well, walking and rafting together. That was until one night when we were having dinner together, he said to me in English: “China doesn’t have a very good human rights situation.” At the time, I didn’t even know what human rights were, just that the US published a China Human Rights Report every year. With the heart of a patriot, I started a quarrel with the German man right away, shouting to him in English: “You are not a Chinese. What do you know about China’s human rights situation? We are much better than you.” Out of the persistence and the seriousness of a German, he didn’t give up at saving a silly girl like me and continued to explain the issue. But at the time, all that I thought was: “No matter how bad China is, a foreigner is in no position to judge.” With that thought, I stood up and left the unhappy dinner. I traveled to Longsheng the next day. Not long after I went back to Nanjing, I got a postcard from him from Germany – we left each other contact information before the fight.

Later she laments:

The conflict over Huangyan Island between the Philippines and China stirred up quite some debates among the public. Nationalism reaches new high. Countless people are gearing up and shouting “A patch of land, a piece of gold. No concession in national territory. It’s very likely that most of these loudest voices don’t even know where Huangyan Island is located and what it looks like. What’s more that these people don’t know is how much land the government has ceded since its founding days. All they know about is a Huangyan Island. They follow celebrities and stars on Sina Weibo, write about their trivia emotions, show off what they eat, drink and play with. Discussions of politics and people’s livelihood are nowhere to be found in the content they post. Brother Yewu used to say to me: “Those who turn a blind eye to the injustices happening near them act like they love this country more than anybody else. These people are patriotic douche bags.” The little Huangyan Island is your g spot, nationalism is a strong dose of Viagra, and under the influence of the two, orgasm is easy. You groan with excitement, bashing those who are anti-war as traitors. Why don’t you travel back to Qing Dynasty to the day when the Treaty of Nanjing was signed (The first unequal treaty between Britain and China at the end of the First Opium War in which Hong Kong was signed off). You feel so pumped with justice that you cannot wait to transform into an atom bomb aimed at Luzon (the largest island in the Philippines).

Compare that with this recent piece of dreck published in the Beijing Times (full translation below the fold):

A person who does not have this idea of the nation doesn’t not know who he is and has lost the most basic and fundamental sense of identity, consciousness, and values.  There are people now who are obsessed with “universal values” and wholeheartedly want to be “global citizens,” forgetting that they are first and foremost a Chinese person.  These sorts of people worship foreign things and foreign people, at every turn relying on the support of foreigners, even whoring themselves for glory, ever subservient and servile, and acting in such a way that they forget their origins while engaging in shady dealings.  No matter on the Internet or in real life, there are those people whose main task is to discredit, slander, and defame all of China, including its historical and cultural traditions, economic and social development, the living conditions of the people, or the course and events of China’s recent history…

….If we lose ourselves, forsake who we are, we will be reduced to being the servant of others and slavish imitation, and we will only crawl when we should walk. Unfortunately, although China’s achievements of development are universally acknowledged, some people cannot see it or feign blindness.  In their eyes, China is nothing but a mess, devoid of any merit, while they view the West as a paradise on Earth and a perfect world.  China’s recent past and modern history does not lack for those who would seek glory by betraying their country.  And today, we cannot but help notice that there are still those kind of people, the ones who suck up to foreigners and who — as did their historical predecessors — do things which only hurt their own people while making glad the enemy.

A common trope on the Internet is the false dichotomy between those who love their country and those who loathe themselves.  In fact, I would argue that this kind of “Patriotism” betrays its own form of self-loathing, a profound crisis of confidence.  The great historian Joseph Levenson once identified as a central theme in Chinese intellectual history the conflict between, “That which is mine and that which is true.”
I asked YJ for her take after reading the two articles and this was her reply:

“Patriotism is a subjective thing, people love their country in different ways.  I can keep saying that ‘China is Great” or “China is the Best,” but I feel that when you point out problems you make things, and the country better.  If you think that loving your country means feeling like everybody else is conspiring against you, that behind every criticism on the Internet is an American conspiracy or a Running Dog is to be small-minded.

One of the best things over the past few years has been the Internet.  Finally people have a place to speak their minds, before there was nowhere to do that.  Finally, online, people can love their country any way they want.  The guy who wrote the article, even though I think it’s total f——g bullshit, he still has a right to love his country that way.  The thing is though, he cannot force other people, people who disagree with him or criticize China, to shut up and go away. They have their rights too and they have the right to love China in their own manner.

But I will say, if this bastard writes this and ignores those people who lose their homes, or ignores all of the corruption, or ignores the discrimination against minorities then maybe he’s the one with the problem.”

I grew up in a country where a presidential candidate has to defend themselves if they can speak a foreign language or have lived overseas.  I know brainless jingoism when I see it.  China, you’re better than that.  All over Beijing there are signs touting “Patriotism, Innovation, Inclusiveness, Virtue.”  Hopefully, the first does not preclude all the others.

——————————————-

[1] Just now I started typing “老外” into the search field on Youku’s front page.  The first suggested entry was “Laowai Rape.” Nice.  Also, the front page now has a video of yesterday’s anti-China protests in Manila. And just to be clear, if the assailant really is the one who assaulted that girl then it doesn’t matter where he comes from, he needs to face the legal consequences for his actions.

Read more…

So, bye bye Bo Xilai. Tripped up by your wife and a dead Lao Wai.

On the scale of falling from the Party’s graces, the news of Bo Xilai’s ouster and the criminal investigation of his wife and associates ranks somewhere between “Zhao Ziyang getting Fredo Kissed by Deng Xiaoping in 1989″ and “Lin Biao hitting Outer Mongolia at 1000 MPH.” It’s certainly the most spectacular – and public – booting of a high ranking CCP official since 1989.[1] Bo’s naked ambition and high profile all but guaranteed that when he fell it was going to leave more than just a plane-sized divot in the Mongolian turf.

For nearly two months after the “Lin Biao Affair” in September, 1971, the Party was able to keep a lid on the story, knowing how confused people would be to hear the Mao’s closest comrade at arms and chosen successor had in fact tried to betray the Chairman and then died in the act of defecting to the Soviet Union.[2]  By contrast, the Party’s attempts to control the Bo Xilai story over the past few months has been like watching drunk chimps try to make wall art with a bucket of jello and a couple of nail guns.

The problem with rumors is that they’re usually not true.  The problem with rumors in China is that people believe them anyway because most people know that the ‘state media’ is nothing but an enormous firehose of steaming donkey shit. The problem with rumors in China NOW is that wild suppositions which at first glance seemed too crazy to be true turned out to be pretty accurate.

Last week the government made Sina, Baidu, and Tencent pull down their pants, lube up, and swear that they would help guide public opinion and participate in the fight against the spreading of online rumors.  Good luck with that.  At this point Boxun could probably run a photo of Wen Jiabao dressed in a gimp costume dipping chunks of Mao’s corpse in gutter oil hotpot while singing “American Pie”, and people are going to say, “Well, that shit about Wang Lijun was nuts, and look how that turned out. I dunno, this could be true as well…”

Global Times editor Hu Xijin both on Weibo last night and in the paper this morning has been gloating about how this whole mess is really a testament to China’s rule of law.  You see, we foreigners have it all wrong.  We look at the situation and see a high-ranking Party official who ran his own personal fiefdom while torturing his enemies and allowing his wife to take become the Tony Montana of Chongqing.[3]  What we’re missing is the part where…No, I don’t think we’re missing anything here.  That’s pretty much what happened.

It’s not rule of law if everybody’s doing it and you only oust the people who piss on the shoes of the top leadership. It’s not rule of law if every case of corruption is due to a lack of personal virtue on the part of the official with nary a word about the system that allows this kind of venality to flourish. It’s not rule of law if the police chief of a major city has to threaten to defect in order to get the attention of the central government.

As one Weibo user put it:

对胡锡进这条微博,看到两条神吐槽:1、什么屎到了胡老师嘴里都能吃出甜味来 2、主人的飞盘甩得再远,胡老师都能给她叼回来

“Two takes on Hu Xijin’s tweet. 1) Master Hu has a knack for finding the tasty morsels in any turd you stick in his mouth. 2) No matter how far his masters throw the Frisbee, Master Hu will always fetch it back for them.”

Lin Biao’s fall from grace marked the beginning of the end of the Cultural Revolution and, indeed, the Mao era.  It forced too many people to confront the very real possibility that the Party had been jerking them around for years.

People today are already very cynical.  The government’s annoucement of Bo Xilai’s dismissal and the investigation into his family and associates – essentially confirming rumors that for months the censors have been working overtime to squash – just might be one of those moments.


[1] Hu Jintao’s orchestrated ouster of Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Liangyu in 2006 probably comes the closest, but even then Chen didn’t have 1/10th of Bo Xilai’s charisma or pathological need for the spotlight.

[2] Which is how the Party spun the whole “Holy Shit, Lin’s gone Rogue!” story.

[3] Although to be fair, the focus on Gu Kailai (or as CCTV keeps calling her, Bogu Kailai) seems awfully similar to the way women in Chinese history frequently get blamed for political disaster.  I’m not saying Yang Guifei, Cixi, Jiang Qing, or Gu Kailai are innocent lambs, but when the same script gets used every time it’s hard not to wonder. As Hung Huang wrote on her Weibo account last night, “In China, whenever men are bad it’s the woman’s fault.”

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