The best thing in Moscow is the underground system. I didn’t find anything above ground to write home about. In fact the underground is so superior to the overground that I found someone to take me on a tour of it.
On the way to town from Krasnoyarsk airport, I ask the lady from the foreign ministry about the only two buildings I plan to set foot in in this city in eastern Siberia: the hotel, and the conference centre.
‘Beautiful,’ she says.
‘Beautiful?’ I repeat. ‘Do you mean the hotel is beautiful, or the conference centre is beautiful?’
‘Everything is beautiful,’ she clarifies.
We enter the city and I am conscious of the sound of people eating breakfast cereal, loudly, outside the car window. The eating stops and starts again each time we stop and start at a traffic light. After a while I realise that this is in fact the sound of the little nails on the car tires that enable vehicles to have traction on ice.
Arriving at the hotel, the nice lady from the foreign ministry insists on helping me to take my luggage to the room. We enter. ‘Let me see how your view is,’ she says. She pulls aside a curtain and peaks out: ‘Very good.’
Later, I take a photograph that approximates to what she was looking at.
It is thus that I arrive for the XII Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum, of which the 2015 theme is Economic Integration with Asia (Mr Putin, you remember, having fallen out with everyone in Europe).
Since the organisers have invited many more people to speak than there is time for, I am asked to reduce my remarks to a maximum 15 minutes. That equates to about one minute for every thousand kilometres of round-trip travel, but still constitutes top billing. After the Plenary Session, there is a High Level Luncheon, to which very few people turn up. One of those who does speaks loudly into his mobile phone as I am asked to say a few more words.
I am not sure that I understood anything that was going on at the conference.
Possibly, people in business were intimating that the central government does not do much governing.
Fortunately, the bigger point turned out to be that there was time before I left for the foreign ministry lady to give me a tour of key Krasnoyarsk beauty spots.
Paramount among these is a hill with a very small, windmill-shaped church from which Krasnoyarskians enjoy panoramic views of their city.
We were at this Elysium on a Friday, which is one of the days (along with Thursday) when people like to get married, since it allows for the requisite three- or four- day weekend of drinking.
Descending to the city, we stopped at the bridge over the Yenisei (one of the Three Great Siberian Rivers, along with the Ob and the Lena), which is so famous that it appears on the 10-rouble note. (That equates, following the latest devaluation, to the 10 pence note.)
Not far from the bridge, the Soviet-era water pumping station is being restored for the benefit of future generations.
At the other end of town, the second-most famous beauty spot in Krasnoyarsk is another bridge. The foreign ministry lady told me that in the summer romantic couples stroll across it in droves.
You just have to try to imagine the droves.
Naturally enough, there was another wedding couple there.
Nearby is a triumphal arch erected in 2003 to celebrate the 375th anniversary of the city’s founding. (This appears to be the first anniversary to be architecturally commemorated.)
The arch will make French people think of Paris. As a British person, my favourite landmark is the iconic Krasnoyarsk time-piece known as Little Big Ben.
There is a train from Krasnoyarsk to Moscow. It takes three-and-a-half days.
I travelled by plane, which takes just five hours. To Moscow.
As I was leaving, I noted in the VIP lounge of Krasnoyarsk airport that management has been quick to amend the map on the wall to include Crimea and its administrative centre, Simferopol. I wondered whether the contractor has yet prepared a piece for the eastern Ukrainian (should I say Western Russian?) region of Donbass.
I hope you find these images of the best sights in Krasnoyarsk useful. Before my visit, Internet searches under terms such as ‘Krasnoyarsk best sights’ failed to elicit anything.
Two articles pasted below remind us how far China has to go before it can be deemed a ‘developed’ country.
First, from the 29 December Washington Post, the well-known Chinese lawyer Teng Biao says that China under Xi Jinping has no serious commitment to rule of and by law.
Second, from Caixin, Sheila Melvin recounts the story of Hu Feng, a writer and Party member whose belief in the rights of the individual within a socialist state brought him into head-on collision with Mao Zedong and the doctrines set out in Mao’s Yan’an Talks. It is the utilitarian logic of the state as representative of the ‘mass line’ that continues to make rule of law impossible in today’s China.
China’s empty promise of rule by law
By Teng Biao December 28 at 6:52 PM
Teng Biao is a human rights lawyer and a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School.
During the year that is drawing to a close this week, much has been made of the Communist Party of China’s new emphasis on “governing the country according to law.” But those who imagine that fundamental reforms will flow from this rhetoric would do well to remember the warning that Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu gave in response to questions about the legal justification for a 2011 incident of press mistreatment: “Don’t use the law as a shield.” I don’t understand why some are so willing to believe what the party says while disregarding what it does.
This is hardly the first time the Communists have raised the banner of “rule of law.” Even before they seized power and established totalitarian rule, they promised liberty and constitutional democracy. In 1997, the idea was written into the report delivered at the party’s 15th Congress, and in 1999 it was written into the Constitution. But that same year saw the savage repression of the Falun Gong. Since President Xi Jinping came to power, hundreds of rights defenders and intellectuals have been thrown into prison for political reasons. Properties have been expropriated or demolished, free speech has been restricted, religion has been suppressed, women have been forced to have abortions, and torture has multiplied. In Xinjiang and Tibet, the authorities have carried out one shocking human rights catastrophe after another. The abuses have never stopped.
To the Chinese Communist Party, “governing the country according to law” does not mean rule of law as you and I understand it. The essential element required for rule of law — using the law to limit the power of the government — stands in ideological opposition to the purpose of the party. In reality, the rule of law that the party talks about is “Lenin plus Emperor Qin Shi Huang” — modern totalitarianism combined with pre-modern Chinese “legalism.” It is nothing more than a tool to further control society. Rule of law is always superseded by the rule of the party, and there is not a shred of doubt about this.
The legislative organs controlled by the Communist Party have promulgated volumes of statutes. The judicial organs, also controlled by the party, are busy with cases. The legal professions have been developed. But is the law at the center of the governing order?
As University of Hong Kong law professor Fu Hualing has pointed out, many extra-legal processes — and extra extra-legal processes — stand above and apart from the law. These include shuanggui (an extralegal detention and interrogation system used to enforce discipline within the party), media restrictions, house arrest, secret police, “black jails,” chengguan (a para-police force that works with police across the country to enforce minor city rules and regulations), spying on citizens, torture, disappearances and Internet police. Without such tools, how long could the Communist Party continue to rule?
This year’s “governing the country according to law” is just another attempt by the party to address its crisis of legitimacy. Such slogans may help the party fool people within China and the international community. But legitimacy can come only via recognition given through free elections, and here the party is stuck. Clinging to one-party rule, it completely rejects general elections, even in Hong Kong. True rule of law would mean the end of the one-party system. This is the limitation on the legalization process that cannot be overcome.
Over the past 10 years, I and other human rights defenders have consistently sought to use Chinese laws to carry out our human rights work, and occasionally we’ve had success. But the limitations are obvious. Whenever the authorities begin to feel a threat from civil society, they move to suppress it. I have had my lawyer’s license revoked, been expelled from my university and been kidnapped several times. When the security police were torturing me, they shouted: “Don’t talk about any of this law stuff with us.”
In enumerating the progress being made in China, some observers have pointed out the falling number of death sentences, a new criminal procedure law, the abolishment of re-education through labor, reform of the local courts, the government’s willingness to release more information and the ongoing anti-corruption campaign. But it is questionable whether this represents progress. And even if it does, the major driving force for these changes has been not the party but the people — each change a result of pressure by rights lawyers, democracy activists and countless Chinese on the lower rungs of society.
Xi Jinping once talked about locking up power in a cage, but this is not much different than a magician wrapping an iron chain around himself. In reality, what party officials would like to do, and are doing, is to lock the people in a cage. Sycophants are able to imagine a “spring” for rule of law that doesn’t exist only by ignoring human rights disasters suffered by Ilham Tohti, Xu Zhiyong, Cao Shunli, Gao Zhisheng, Uighurs, Tibetans, petitioners, Falun Gong adherents and house churches.
This kind of selective blindness has prevented Western readers and politicians from understanding the reality in today’s China. It’s no surprise that this type of seemingly even-handed wishful thinking has become the excuse for Western governments to adopt short-sighted policies of appeasement in dealing with autocratic regimes and for favoring trade over human rights.
In praise of Hu Feng
Hu Feng (1902-85) is a name that most students of PRC history have undoubtedly encountered at one time or another. I remember reading it for the first time years ago in Jonathan Spence’s “The Search for Modern China.” It stuck in my mind because back then I found it incredible that a nationwide campaign could have been launched against a lone writer who was himself a loyal member of the Communist Party, his only “crime,” in essence, to suggest that China’s creators and consumers of culture needed a little space in which to breathe.
Later, I heard Hu’s name in a more personal way from my friend and teacher Gui Biqing, because her beloved younger brother, Wang Yuanhua, had been an associate of Hu’s, both men active leftist writer/critics from Hubei working with the League of Left-Wing Writers in pre-liberation Shanghai. One day in 1955, Shanghai’s chief of police asked Wang to admit that Hu was a counter-revolutionary – warning Wang that if he did not, the consequences would be “severe.” Wang spent a long sleepless night in detention and the next day told the police chief that he did not consider Hu a counter-revolutionary. He was thus declared a member of the “Hu Feng counter-revolutionary clique” and jailed for the prime of his life; his wife was punished, too, and later, in the Cultural Revolution, even his sister, my teacher, was locked-up for eight months.
But, beyond the bare bones of his case and my teacher’s stories, I knew little about Hu Feng and always felt that I should learn more. The opportunity recently presented itself when I came across Gregor Benton’s 2013 English translation of “F: Hu Feng’s Prison Years,” a 1989 memoir by Mei Zhi – Hu’s wife, an established writer in her own right – that recounts in gripping, heartrending detail the Kafkaesque detentions, disappearances, and arrests to which her husband was subjected by a Communist Party so intent on crushing those who refused to tow its line that it ate its own, destroying the best and brightest intellectuals of an era.
Hu Feng was a product of the May Fourth Movement and a disciple of Lu Xun, a committed leftist who believed that literature should inspire social transformation and reflect reality, but who also insisted on the role of the individual in the creative process. In the lingo of the era, he supported “subjectivism” and argued that artists and writers should not be dictated to and controlled by political bureaucrats – instead, they should be granted some autonomy so they could actually be creative.
This stance earned him enemies early on – well before 1949 – but he refused to back down, instead warning that a blind insistence on obedience to Party dictates would turn China into a “cultural desert” and founding several literary journals – like “July” and “Hope” – in which he promoted the works of like-minded young writers (among them the poet Ai Qing, the father of Ai Weiwei). Hu’s beliefs became increasingly problematic after Chairman Mao gave his speech at the Yanan Forum on Arts and Literature, in which he decreed that “There is no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics” and after which the Party began exerting ever tighter control over writers, artists – and the individual in general.
Nonetheless, Hu survived the transition to the PRC and was appointed to the editorial boards of the prominent journal People’s Literature and the Chinese Writer’s Union. He used these positions to promote professionalism, criticize the nation’s stagnating intellectual life, and decry the idea that writers could only focus on the lives of workers, peasants and soldiers – didn’t other people’s lives matter, too? In March of 1954, he drafted a 300,000 word “Report on the Real Situation in Literature and Art Since Liberation” and submitted it to Xi Zhongxun – the father of current president Xi Jinping, who then supervised cultural policies for the Party – who reportedly welcomed it. For good measure, Hu appended a long letter to the Politburo complaining that he had been ostracized and deprived of his right to work, and asking them to intercede.
Chairman Mao did not respond well. On the contrary, he personally helped launch a campaign against “Hu Fengism,” which was rolled out nationwide to drill home the dictate that every individual must subsume his will to that of the Party and the State. Members of Hu’s “clique” – most of whom he had never met – were rounded up and arrested. Hu and his wife were taken away in the middle of the night while their three young children slept – she was imprisoned for 70 months and he for 10 and a half years. Mei Zhi’s account opens at this point, in 1965, when she has heard nothing from her husband for a decade and fears he may be dead – but he isn’t.
Out of the blue, she is informed that she can visit him at Qincheng Prison. “Ten years without ever seeing someone dear to you. What will he be like? Will he be the man of my dreams? Will I recognize him?” They talk about family and, inevitably, politics, since she is under intense pressure to make him confess and repent, even though she knows he won’t – “Hu Feng didn’t know how to play it safe and always ended up saying what he thought, so he became the victim of an unprecedented onslaught.” Hu bemoans all the people who were implicated and suffered because of him but steadfastly maintains his innocence. “I was always being told to confess but I had nothing to confess,” he tells her at one point, at another, “I have not lost faith in the Party.”
The visits continue – she brings food, but he wants books, so she lugs him a Japanese edition of the complete works of Marx and Engels – and finally he is released. He sees his children, now grown, they celebrate Chinese New Year and plan to rebuild their lives. The reader sees the Cultural Revolution coming like an impending train wreck, but they do not. They are sent to Sichuan – for their own safety – and live in exile, carving out a life together even as they are sent to ever more remote areas. Then, in 1967, Hu is arrested again and Mei Zhi is left to fend for herself in a mountain prison camp. When Hu is returned to her five years later, he is a man broken in body and spirit, afraid even to eat a tangerine: “If I eat that, they’ll denounce me.” He leaps to attention in the middle of the night, calls himself a murderer, spy and traitor and becomes increasingly paranoid. “I would restore him,” Mei Zhi vows. She makes progress, but after the death of Zhou Enlai, which leaves him sobbing, he worsens, hearing voices talking to him through the air and threatening her with a kitchen knife while imagining he is trying to save Chairman Mao. She begs him to recover: “If you can survive, we will have won. You must live.”
He does live, he is freed, he is exonerated. And then his body betrays him, just as his Party had, cancerous cells devouring his heart. “How he longed to stay alive!” Mei Zhi, ever faithful to the man for whom she has sacrificed so much, promises him, posthumously, to “spend the rest of my life washing the remnants of dirt from your face and showing your true features to the world!”
Mei Zhi is gone, but her mission remains important – Hu Feng still matters and his case is well worth our study. Artistic and literary expression still sometimes get writers and artists detained, and jailed – and, in the worst cases, innocent spouses suffer too, just like Mei Zhi. Hu’s ideas also remain critically important. Debates between those who advocate the May Fourth Spirit and those who prefer something closer to Mao’s Yanan vision remain very much alive – and Yanan, in recent years, is gaining ground. President Xi has called for “innovation, innovation, innovation” and the Chinese government has done much to promote the creative arts. But history has proven that Hu was correct – real innovation and creativity can happen only when artists and innovators are given the space and the freedom to test their own ideas, express their own creativity, and make their own mistakes, without fear of punishment. We should all continue to support Mei Zhi’s quest, and learn from Hu Feng.
Of all the great Cambridge traditions — wearing silly capes to dinner, jumping in the river, spying for the Soviets — Black-Eye Friday is surely the finest spectacle. On the last Friday before Christmas (today!) the good townspeople of the city remind us of their presence by getting as drunk as possible and fighting in St Andrew’s street, between Downing and Emmanuel colleges.
So seriously is this tradition observed that a special medical team from the 254 Medical Regiment Army Reserves is called in to attend to the wounded. A legion of Black-Eye Friday ‘street pastors’ roams the city through the night, sweeping up broken glass, offering flip-flops to inebriated women in high heels, and ‘reasoning’ with those who just want to get on with a good fight. Police gobble up precious overtime and get to tell people to ‘spread ‘em’ against the railings of Emmanuel college (through which those detained can conveniently vomit while awaiting their fate).
So far the build-up to the most violent day of the year has been auspicious. Sub-editors at the Cambridge News were gifted the most prized headline in journalism before dawn on Monday when a man involved in a violent altercation allegedly bit a dog before dying of a heart attack.
In mid-week, the News sent its crime reporter to test the waters of St. Andrew’s street and he was pleased to report on a large-scale drunken brawl between a group of men dressed in Christmas jumpers. In a separate incident, a pastor offered a blanket to a young, insensible woman whose lower half was clad only in a pair of black lace knickers; she told him to go away, explaining that she had ‘come out like this’. Sadly, the News declined to publish photos of these interesting incidents.
Global link with Chinese food reference
But it is not only in Cambridge that people are getting black eyes today. Over in Hong Kong, spooky-looking mega-billionaire Thomas Kwok, of Sun Hung Kai fame, has been found guilty of bribing the man who was about to become the second-most powerful politician in the territory (FT sub needed). Tommy might well be sent for a bit of prison congee when sentencing happens next week.
It is all rather shocking. The judge apparently failed to understand the Asian culture of gift giving, in which a consultancy retainer while holding public office, a couple of rent-free flats and an interest-free loan are simply ways of saying: ‘Hello, how are you?’ The sort of treatment that has been meted out to church-going born-again Christian Tommy suggests that almost any act of friendship can be called into question — as, for instance, when uber-billionaire Li Ka-shing gave retiring HSBC chief executive Michael Sandberg a metre-high, solid gold statue of the HSBC headquarters building. Thank god that black-eye Friday is only one day a year.
More from Hong Kong
Bloomberg details testimony from the trial about money, mistresses and paranoia. The ransom paid to Big Spender, who kidnapped elder brother Walter, was also stated in the trial, as HK$600 million. (Big Spender later kidnapped Li Ka-shing’s eldest son, Victor. It is all in Asian Godfathers…)
China held its Central Economic Work Conference last week, chaired by president Xi Jinping, so here are a few thoughts on the current state of the Chinese economy and a few links to an article I have written, and talks I have given, recently about the Chinese economy.
First up, the slogan du jour is definitely ‘new normal’ (新常态). Xi Jinping has been using this for about six months, but now he is really using it. Xinhua’s short, official report on the conference has ‘new normal’ in the headline and ‘new normal’ six times in the text. See here for the English version.
What does it mean? It means that local politicians, state firms, and everybody else should dial back their expectations about credit and growth. The increase in both is slowing and that is the way it is going to be as China undertakes a deleveraging process in the banking and corporate sectors. There is not going to be the kind of collapse in growth that many have predicted. The government has plenty of room to fine tune the slow-down, Chinese exports remain competitive, and the global economic environment, while not great, is not a disaster from the perspective of China’s needs. Look out for reported GDP growth in 2015 between 6-7 percent.
Against this background reforms will continue to increase the extent to which the market prices credit in China’s economy. There has already been a big shift in favour of lending to the private sector since the global financial crisis (see my review of Nicholas Lardy’s new book, below), and this is one aspect of an ongoing financial liberalisation process. To my mind, this explains the recent strong performance of the Chinese stock market much better than claims it is down to an interest rate cut (which wasn’t really a cut at all given falling inflation). Previous run-ups in the Chinese market have coincided with periods of financial sector deregulation. The difference this time I suspect is that the bull market will last longer.
All in all the outlook is a not unattractive one: slower growth, better credit rationing hence higher quality growth, and a rising share for consumption in the economy at the expense of slowing investment. The main risk — as was the case during Zhu Rongji’s long period of ‘structural adjustment’ in the 1990s — is that the central government listens to local politicians who say they cannot maintain ‘social stability’ without more credit and growth. Zhu didn’t listen to such imprecations, and we have to hope Xi won’t either. As the slogan says, China needs and is getting a new normal. Otherwise the books really cannot be balanced and financial system risk will become unmanageable.
Later re. the new normal: Damian Ma has written an excellent piece for the new issue of Foreign Policy around the theme of the ‘new normal’. Well worth a read, with a lot more detail than I can offer here.
Below is a link to download the review of Nick Lardy’s latest book, Markets Over Mao, that I wrote for the latest China Economic Quarterly. The book makes an important contribution to the optimists’ case that China will overcome its current slough of non-performing loans in the banking system.
This next link is to a download of a synopsis of a talk I gave at the Madariaga College of Europe in Brussels (an EU think-tank) a couple of weeks ago. It is about how China’s development model is similar and dissimilar to those of Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The theme will be familiar to anyone who has read How Asia Works, but there are some additional, up-to-date thoughts about China as well as responses to questions raised by the Brussels nomenklatura. The precise topic I was asked to speak on is ‘What can east Asian countries learn from China’s economic policies?’
The Youtube video below is a speech I gave at the National University of Singapore in October (blog entry about that trip here) on the subject of ‘When will governance matter to China’s growth?’ (governance here meaning institutions like a free and fair and prompt judiciary). Roger Cohen of the New York Times speaks first about the role of the US in east Asia. Then I speak at roughly the 25-minute mark. Then there is a joint Q&A.
And here is another Youtube video where I spoke separately about How Asia Works at the National University of Singapore. There is quite a long Q&A in which lots of questions about development from a more Singaporean perspective are addressed.
Having watched the UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage deliver his brand of anti-immigration populism on the BBC’s Question Time last night, I keep coming back to these remarkable maps, below.
Voter support for UKIP appears to be almost perfectly correlated with parts of England that contain the lowest proportions of immigrants.
All those shops in UKIP areas of the country that sell flags of St. George should also sell life-size cardboard foreigners so that people have someone to hurl abuse at.
In fact, that is a very good idea for my next business…
Start the week with Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb losing his cool when pressed about why he thinks China is moving steadily and smoothly towards a democratic future. Just three minutes of Oz radio to listen to.
I recently mentioned a compelling new edition of Han Suyin’s beautiful novel And the Rain My Drink, about British conduct in the war against communist insurgency in Malaya after the Second World War.
As luck would have it, writing about British colonial perfidy seems to be the genre du jour, as one of my very favourite journalists, Ed Vulliamy (never met him), files a long investigative report about British conduct in Greece from late 1945 on. It is much the best thing I have read in The Observer for some time, and completely free.
Add a couple more case studies from South Africa, Kenya or Ireland, and we have the beginnings of a joined-up history of British colonialism.
That said, there are marks on both sides of the ledger. As Brave Dave Cameron observed on his visit to India last year: ‘I think there is an enormous amount to be proud of in what the British empire did and was responsible for. But of course there were bad events as well as good events. The bad events we should learn from and the good events we should celebrate.’
He’s right. The Carry On movies were tremendous, a real boon to my childhood. And It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, not bad either.
It is worth quickly noting what a beating the KMT just got in local elections in Taiwan, winning only six of 22 contested seats for county and city heads. For the most part, people have had enough of president Ma Ying-jiu and his decidedly lacklustre leadership. This is also the first election on the island since the student protests in Taipei in March, which headed off a new services trade agreement with the mainland. The election results reflect general unease that Ma’s only economic policy is to look to Beijing for more integration and more favours. Plus the Taiwanese public has been following events in Hong Kong closely, where Beijing has breached the spirit of the Basic Law agreement on gradual democratisation. If Beijing cannot be trusted over Hong Kong, why should it be trusted over Taiwan? This seems to be an increasingly telling question when Taiwanese voters encounter a ballot box. It is particularly telling because more and more voters identify themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese in each successive election:
Breaking news on Sunday night suggested that Ma Ying-jiu will resign as Chairman of the KMT.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong:
Police use inexcusable violence in clearing protesters in Mong Kok, and arrest and then tell lies about journalists. Steve Vines has good video and analysis of the Mong Kok clearance on the RTHK Pulse programme.
The next day:
Well, HK police attacked demonstrators in Admiralty Monday morning. A wrap here from The Guardian, with video. Meanwhile, a big hoo-ha about Chinese embassy in London telling British MPs they will not be allowed into Hong Kong to investigate what is going on. Hoo-ha because it is probably illegal for Beijing to make such decisions, according to the Basic Law. But since the Hong Kong government will line up behind (or slightly in front) of whatever Beijing decrees, likely not actionable in any court of law.
And no, Ma Ying-jiu over in Taiwan has not said he is stepping down as KMT chairman. Yet. Probably no one quite so fabulous as Brave Number Nine Horse to take over the job.
Taiwan election links:
Bruce Jacobs with a good backgrounder on the hole that the KMT has dug itself, in the Taipei Times. In essence, the KMT has issues dealing with the praxis of democracy.
A psephological breakdown of the election results from Thinking Taiwan.
Reuters special report on the role of (former?) triad leader and convicted heroin trafficker ‘White Wolf’ in supporting the CCP-KMT agenda for reunification. Includes an interview with the Wolf himself.
David Pilling in the FT (sub needed) waxes lyrical and interesting, with the benefit of several days’ hindsight, on the election. Contains a few remarks about the new DPP leader.