Archive for the ‘Institutional development’ Category

Another reason to go in to academia

September 21, 2017

This is a wonderful story from today’s South China Morning Post. The only slightly annoying thing is that if they wanted unctuous propaganda masquerading as scholarly endeavour, why didn’t they come to me? I am not saying that I am cheap, but I am absolutely available. My PhD has cost me a fortune.

Have you tried singing ‘Oh, Xi Jinping’ to the sound of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’? It is mildly humouring.

……………………..

Chinese universities encourage professors, students to post online content that promotes ‘socialist values’

Content that influences public opinion with ‘correct thinking and culture’ given same weight as academic papers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 6:43pm

UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 7:00pm

 

China’s top universities are encouraging academics and students to write online articles promoting socialist values, with some offering authors the same academic credits they would get for papers published in journals.

The policy, which follows calls made by President Xi Jinping late last year for academics to become advocates of socialist values and firm supporters of Communist Party rule, has upset some people in the world of academia.

According to a notice issued this month by Zhejiang University, content that is widely circulated online, that shows “core socialist values” and influences public opinion with “correct thinking and culture” now carries the same weight as an academic paper – whether it is in the form of an essay, video or animation.

Content that is posted on the websites and social media platforms of party mouthpieces such as People’s Daily and Xinhua would receive the most credits, the notice said.

“Many professors object to it, saying they do not want to be used for politics,” a PhD student at the university told the South China Morning Post.

“No one is stupid here. The policy is aimed at getting the most intelligent people to say positive things about the country,” said the student, who asked not to be named.

The new scheme is being run by the university’s party committee, he said.

Zhejiang University, which is based in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, is not the only seat of learning offering incentives to those who toe the party line. Jilin University in northeastern China is also handing out credits to faculty members whose propaganda is published on state media websites and major commercial news portals.

Propagating the country’s achievements on “mainstream foreign media” also counted as an academic achievement, the university said.

A professor at Jilin, who also requested anonymity, said the new policy had yet to affect his teaching or research work.

“I’m holding onto my own academic standards,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen in the future. A good society should have voices of opposition.”

Shanghai Jiaotong University and the University of Electronic Science and Technology have launched similar schemes, while a number of other schools have promised to follow suit.

The online propaganda drive came soon after inspectors from the party’s discipline watchdog in June named 14 top colleges as being “too weak in their political work”. That announcement followed a nationwide programme of inspections.

Both Zhejiang and Jilin universities were accused of failing to implement a strong system for ideological work.

China is keen to boost the global rankings of its universities and attract the best talent from around the world, but critics have said its efforts were being undermined by too many controls on academics.

In recent years, Beijing has tightened its restraints on higher education, warning of the spread of “Western values” on campuses and sacking lecturers it accused of being critical of the party.

In a speech to universities and colleges in December, Xi said they must become the “strongholds of the party’s leadership”.

Ying Biao, Zhejiang University’s party propaganda chief, said the new scheme was a way to help achieve Xi’s goals.

“We want to … encourage all teachers and students to tell the China story well, to spread China’s voice and to produce more positive views and comments,” Ying told People’s Daily.

According to the Zhejiang PhD student, due to its distance from Beijing’s political centre, the university traditionally enjoyed more freedom than many others and attracted a higher number of liberal scholars as a result.

However, the new policy was likely to encourage young researchers to produce propaganda work rather than academic papers in their bid to get on, he said.

“At least the old people are still here, and they are hard to move,” he said. “But I don’t know how things will be in 10 or 20 years.”

 

 

China: GDP-per-capita US$8,123

July 6, 2017

Liu Xiaobo & wife 0717

 

Later, following the death of Liu Xiaobo:

James Palmer in Foreign Policy with a thoughtful overview.

Jerome Cohen on the legal aspects of the Chinese Communist Party’s abuse of Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia, and its impressive hypocrisy.

Novelist Ma Jian writes about Liu Xiaobo on Project Syndicate.

Easter viewing

March 25, 2016

I have meant for some time to recommend Joshua Oppenheimer’s two documentaries about the deaths of more than 1 million people in Indonesia in 1965-6, at the time when Suharto came to power. It wasn’t a genocide, I think, because lots of different racial groups were targeted (though ethnic Chinese suffered greatly). Rather, it was a ‘politicide’, if such a word exists, an attack on all those deemed to be enemies of the new regime, including anyone deemed to be a communist.

If you have not seen these films, you should. They can be rented cheaply from Amazon. Here is the download from Amazon.co.uk for the first documentary (£3.49 to rent), The Act of Killing, and here is the download from Amazon.co.uk for the second documentary, The Look of Silence.

The Act of Killing received rave reviews partly because of Oppenheimer’s extraordinary methodology. He showed up in Sumatra saying he was interested in learning about the 1965-6 killings, and a bunch of semi-retired preman (gang members/thugs) said: ‘Hey, that’s us. How can we help?’ He then convinced them to act out their memories of murder for his movie. This makes for some very weird and utterly compelling footage.

 

Personally, however, I like The Look of Silence more. In this second documentary, Oppenheimer follows one of the victim families, as a surviving brother gently begins to confront the murderers who butchered his sibling and chucked his body in the local river. The Look of Silence gets much closer to the political and social story underlying the politicide. It is not so visually freakish, but it makes you think more. I note that on Amazon, individual viewers rank it higher than The Act of Killing, so other people may have had the same reaction as me. Really, tho, you need to watch both docs.

 

Finally, here are Werner Herzog and Errol Morris talking about The Act of Killing, just in case the trailer hasn’t convinced you to watch it:

 

 

 

Joined-up economics

August 17, 2015

Here is a rare thing. A dynamic theory from an economist — whereby the solution to today’s problem may not be the solution to tomorrow’s problem. It’s David Dollar, former World Bank country chief for China talking about the role of institutions in development…

 

What institutions do Asian countries need to keep growing?

31 May 2015

Author: David Dollar, Brookings Institution

The notion of a ‘middle-income trap’ has entered the lexicon of policymakers in emerging markets in Asia and elsewhere. Many leaders of countries that have experienced fast growth — such as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang — worry that economic growth will come off the boil as their countries reach middle-income status.

Chinese workers construct residential buildings of a government-funded housing project in Tiemenguan city, China, 2 May 2015. (Photo: AAP).

Growth for virtually all advanced economies was slower in the 2000s than in the 1990s; meanwhile growth rates in poor and middle-income countries accelerated. But there is a lot of variation in these broad trends, especially for the middle-income countries. Some of the latter have seen very impressive growth spurts, while others have stagnated.

What explains why some countries grow fast and others languish? There is a strong empirical relationship between the quality of institutions (as measured by the World Governance Indicators’ Rule of Law index) and economic growth. But institutional quality does not change very much from year to year or sometimes even from decade to decade, which makes it hard to explain why countries have periods of high growth followed by low growth (or vice versa).

Institutions which are well-suited to one phase of economic development may be ill-suited to another. One way to resolve the paradox of persistence of institutions and non-persistence of growth rates is to focus on the quality of institutions relative to the level of development. It turns out this can help explain why China and Vietnam, for instance, have seen such high growth in recent times: they have relatively low institutional quality in an absolute sense, but they have above-average quality institutions given their stage of development, which might, for instance, help to attract foreign investment to China or Vietnam rather than other Asian countries with similarly low wage levels but weaker institutions.

Another question is whether authoritarian institutions are better for economic growth than democratic ones. It may depend on the stage of a country’s development. When we look at the historical experience, in countries that have a per capita income below US$8,000, authoritarian institutions seem more conducive to growth. But at higher levels of income, democratic countries are likely to see higher growth than authoritarian ones. Why might this be so?

One explanation might be that at low levels of income, the economic priority of government should be to establish basic law and order and an environment in which private investment, including foreign investment, can operate. This is a catch-up stage, in which innovation is not yet particularly relevant. But the usual economic strategy for authoritarian governments relies on capital accumulation, which becomes less effective as countries get richer. When an economy reaches the point where acquiring more and more capital is no longer sufficient for rapid growth, the need for political and economic institutions that promote competition, innovation and productivity growth becomes paramount.

Interestingly, it is about at the US$8,000 per capita GDP mark that two of East Asia’s great developmental success stories, Taiwan and South Korea, were also becoming free and open polities. By the early 1980s for Taiwan and the mid-1980s for South Korea, a move had been made away from authoritarian institutions, which continued until both reached fully democratic status as measured by Freedom House’s civil liberties metric.

Of the countries that have witnessed rapid growth in Asia recently, Vietnam has shown some steps towards political liberalisation, with its civil liberties score moving to five, which is slightly better than either South Korea or Taiwan at the same stage of development. But Vietnam is entering the stage of development where the line of thinking presented above implies a need for further political reform. Greater freedom will be necessary to strengthen property rights and the rule of law in order to bring about an environment for innovation and productivity growth.

China, on the other hand, has largely eschewed political reform. Although he has placed a lot of emphasis on the idea of implementing the ‘rule of law’ in China, President Xi Jinping has made it abundantly clear that he wants to pursue economic reform without political liberalisation; some observers even point to backsliding in recent years on the question of freedom of ideas and debate. The historical evidence would suggest that this will weigh on the growth of the Chinese economy in the future. At the stage of development at which China now finds itself, South Korea and Taiwan were on the way to becoming more or less free societies.

Of course, just because no authoritarian country (apart from oil producers and, depending on how you classify it, Singapore) has reached more than 35 per cent of US GDP per capita does not mean that it will be impossible for China to do so. But the historical evidence should caution Chinese policymakers against thinking that the kind of political institutions that have facilitated China’s astonishing growth up to now will be sufficient or optimal for the next stage of its development.

David Dollar is Senior Fellow, John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution. He was the former World Bank Country Director for China and Mongolia in the East Asia and Pacific Region.

This article summarises a paper prepared for the Pacific Trade and Development Conference in Singapore this week.

Keeping up with Chinese

August 10, 2015

It is a long time since I checked on the latest code words required to navigate the Chinese internet. Here is an update from Epoch Times:

What do June 4, Falun Gong, and despotism have in common?

They’re all terms censored by the Chinese regime. As Internet use proliferates in China, so too does the internet blockade erected to obstruct the free flow of information.

June 4, 1989 is the date of the bloody Tiananmen Square Massacre, when authorities killed hundreds if not thousands of student protesters and violently suppressed thousands more. As a result, any combination of 6, 4, and 89 is blocked.

The term “Falun Gong” refers to the peaceful self-cultivation and meditation practice that was banned in 1999 following the launch of a nationwide persecution against the practice and its believers. And despotism was placed on the blacklist so that people in Chinese would not be able to criticize the regime with the term.

The regime’s censorship mechanism reaches all areas of the Internet: from Western news sources like BBC and Voice of America, to websites and search terms related to Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, or other persecuted groups, to any other material deemed sensitive or dangerous to the communist regime.

Chinese netizens have therefore turned to more creative measures to communicate on the internet and criticize government policies, since any word or phrase remotely resembling dissident speech unsettles the authorities and finds itself on the list of censored content.

Below are some of the ingenious code words, homonyms, and purposeful misnomers, obtained from a comprehensive list by China Digital Times.

1. Eye-Field (目田-mù tián)

Code words for: Freedom (自由-zìyóu)

Explanation: Since the word freedom  (自由 zìyóu) is censored, Chinese netizens used “eye-field,” which in Chinese looks like the characters for freedom minus the topmost portion (目田  vs. 自由). It was invented back in 2010, when World of Warcraft players in China realized many words were blocked in the latest version of the game. For some it looks like gibberish, but for those who know the meaning, it is a veiled jab at the Chinese regime.

“Freedom” beheaded becomes “eye-field.” (Screenshot via tompda.com)

2. Take a Walk (散步-sànbù)

Code words for: Resisting the state by marching through the streets.

Explanation: In China, since it is difficult to strike, applications to hold protests are routinely denied, and petitioning the government is similarly fruitless (or dangerous), citizens have turned to more creative means of protesting state actions, like “taking walks.”

In 2007, protestors in Xiamen began “taking walks” to protest the construction of a potentially dangerous paraxylene (PX) processing plant. Similar to taking a walk, “going sightseeing” is also a guise citizens use when they want to go to Beijing to petition against some state action, since officials do not look kindly on petitions. When authorities try to stop them, they say “What law says we can’t all walk to Beijing to sightsee?”

3. Check the Water Meter (抄水表-chāo shuǐbiǎo)

Code words for: A house visit by the police.

Explanation: Since suspicious residents often refuse to open the door to police, instead of violently forcing the door open, which is tiring and time-consuming, police often pretend to be from the water utility company to trick occupants into opening their doors.

(Screenshot via neihan8.com)

4. National Treasure (国宝-guóbǎo)

Code words for: The Domestic Security Department (DSD), a branch within the Ministry of Public Security that deals with dissidents, human rights activists, religious groups, and other so-called subversives in China.

Explanation: “National treasure” (国宝-guóbǎo) is a homonym of the DSD (国保-guó bǎo). DSD officials are not subjected to the same oversight as regular police and security officials and enjoy broader powers to violently suppress dissidents or other “dangerous” elements. As the panda is considered China’s “national treasure,” Chinese netizens often use the panda as a symbol of the DSD.

5. Hide-and-Seek (躲猫猫-duǒ māomāo)

Code words for: To die in police custody under suspicious circumstances.

Explanation: The phrase was used to refer to cover-ups of police brutality after prison authorities said a farmer in detention for illegal logging had died from a head injury sustained while playing hide-and-seek with other inmates.

(Kuang Biao 狂飙 via blog.qq.com)

6. Imperial Capital (帝都-dìdū)

Code words for: Beijing

Explanation: In order to avoid censorship of criticisms of Beijing, Chinese netizens started using the code words “imperial capital” to refer to the city. But the censors have caught up and even the words “imperial capital” were blocked on Weibo, China’s microblogging equivalent of Twitter, as of June 19 this year.

7. Scale the Wall (翻墙-fān qiáng)

Code words for: Circumvent the Internet blockade.

Explanation: Chinese netizens term the Internet blockade a wall they try to jump over using a different software, such as VPNs (virtual private networks) that hide their IP addresses.

(Screenshot via kenengba.com)

8. Naked Officials (裸官 luǒguān)

Code words for: Government officials who send illegally obtained public funds to family members overseas.

Explanation: The nickname refers to how these officials appear to be “naked,” or without any assets. In China, corrupt officials siphon billions out of China to their bank accounts overseas while ignoring the needs of China’s impoverished.

9. Big Boxer Shorts (大裤衩-dà kùchǎ)

Code words for: China Central Television building in Beijing.

Explanation: An outlandish piece of architecture, the building of China Central Television, China’s largest state-run broadcaster and propaganda mouthpiece, is widely ridiculed in the mainland for resembling a pair of underwear or a person squatting over a toilet.

(China Photos/Getty Images)

10. Kim Fatty 3 (金三胖-Jīn Sān Pàng)

Code words for: Kim Jong Un

Explanation: After Kim Jong Un became the leader of North Korea, Chinese netizens used the term to ridicule the dictator.

(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

11. Ministry of Foreign Assistance (援交部-Yuánjiāo Bù)

Code words for: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Explanation: The pejorative nickname gained traction because of the Chinese regime’s tendency to send aid to foreign countries while neglecting domestic problems. For instance, in November 2011, China donated 23 buses to Macedonia, not long after a bus crash in Gansu killed 20 people, including 18 children, according to China Digital Times. The bus had only nine seats, but had been carrying 64 people. Outraged netizens criticized authorities for sending buses meeting safety standards to Macedonia while neglecting to fix China’s own shoddy bus problem.

12. Surround and Watch (围观-wéiguān)

Code words for: Intense public scrutiny.

Explanation: The terms are commonly used to invoke a crowd to gather around an event or person online or in the real world and closely observe it. With heavy public scrutiny, authorities won’t be able to cheat the people.

Chinese characters on the screen say “Weibo”. (Screenshot via duozhi.com)

13. Drink Tea (喝茶-hē chá)

Code words for: A police interrogation

Explanation: The Chinese people commonly use the euphemism of someone being invited to drink tea to address being taken in for questioning by the police. Chinese police rely heavily on coercive incentives, like offering “tea,” to make people say something. But when that doesn’t work, they move to threats or violence.

14. Brickspert (砖家-zhuānjiā)

Code words for: So-called experts who understate safety risks or justify terrible economic conditions under the orders of state officials or corrupt businessmen.

Explanation: The first character (专) in “expert” combined with the character for “rock” (石) creates the character for brick (砖-zhuān), pronounced the same as the first term in “expert.” A play on words, it essentially means these experts are like rocks pandering to the wishes of authorities and lying to the people.

Chinese characters say “Brickspert”(Screenshot via xuduba.com)

15. Reincarnation (转世-zhuǎnshì)

Code words for: Creation of a new social media account after a prior one is deleted by the social media company.

Explanation: The term is used figuratively to describe the “rebirth” of netizens on social media after their accounts are deleted for posting about sensitive issues. Political cartoonist Kuang Biao has “reincarnated” dozens of times on Weibo and adds the reincarnation count to each of his new usernames. As of May 10, 2015, his username was “Uncle Biao Fountain Pen Drawings 47.”

16. Frisbee Hu (飞盘胡-Fēipán Hú)

Code words for: Hu Xijin, chief editor of state-run newspaper Global Times

Explanation: The nickname is used to lampoon Hu for always positively spinning government crimes and wrongdoings. For instance, during the scandal involving Bo Xilai, former party chief of Chongqing who was sentenced to life imprisonment for bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power, Hu published an editorial titled “Bo’s Case Shows Resilience of Rule of Law.” Netizens angrily criticized him for reporting optimistic falsehoods while omitting how China’s so-called “rule of law” allowed Bo to prosper and continue his corrupt misconduct for decades.

17. Give the People Some Tape (给人民一个胶带-gěi rénmín yí ge jiāodài)

Code words for: Trying to prevent people from talking.

Explanation: Following the Wenzhou high-speed crash in July 2011 when two trains derailed each other killing at least 40 and injuring nearly 200, Premier Wen Jiabao called for an investigation into the incident to “give the people an explanation.” But on the contrary, authorities aggressively limited reporting on the incident and hastily buried (literally) the crushed train cars in what appeared to be a coverup of evidence. Since “tape” in Chinese is a homophone of “explanation,” indignant netizens used the phrase “give the people some tape” to describe the government’s attempt to hide its failures and prevent people from talking about the tragedy.

(luochangping/weibo.com)

18. Sensitive Porcelain (敏感瓷-mǐngǎn cí)

Code words for: Censored words.

Explanation: “Word” (词-cí) and “porcelain (瓷-cí), sound the same, so Chinese netizens refer to all sensitive words or phrases, from major dissidents to religious movements, as “sensitive porcelain.”

19. Reigning Emperor (当今皇上-dāngjīn huángshang)

Code words for: The current president.

Explanation: The derogatory term implies the head of state was anointed the position, rather than popularly elected, and possesses almost absolute power. It was blocked from Weibo search results on August 21 last year.

(Apply Daily via China Digital Times)

20. Your Country (你国-nǐ guó)

Code words for: The country of the Chinese Communist Party.

Explanation: Chinese people often use the terms “my country” to refer to China. The terms “your country” separates the Chinese Communist Party from the state, which are often used synonymously in official rhetoric to equate loyalty to the Communist Party with loyalty to China. As the Chinese people become increasingly conscious of the Chinese Communist Party’s tyrannical tactics, they have started separating the two in their minds and within their Internet posts.

 

A warm-up for Italy?

July 13, 2015

So, the Med Men caved. They didn’t have the balls to leave the Euro, which might have been their best option. However I am cautiously optimistic, because a fudge scenario in which Greeks are left in charge of structural reforms and they don’t take place (again) may have been avoided. The Med Men caved to such an extent that it looks like Commission bureaucrats and the IMF will be standing right over them as ‘they’, the Greek politicians, write and implement reform legislation. Like doing your homework with Mummy Merkel leaning down with two hands on the kitchen table. That suggests the reforms and the privatisations could actually get done. The trick is for the EU to ease the pain while the change is happening. A lot of drivel is being written about how the deal is ‘worse than Versailles’ and involves no debt forgiveness. Rubbish. Debt is a combination of principal, the interest you have agreed to pay and the term limit over which you have agreed to pay. There have already been big haircuts on the latter two (in the second, 2012 bailout), and more will come. But Mummy Merkel will have to find ways to finesse a bit of extra current spending to ease the pain of the reforms. This is far from impossible if you believe, as I do, that she is a basically decent person (I’d far rather owe her money than the British government, or indeed the average Greek politician). So let’s see. Assuming of course that those who voted No in the referendum and won don’t — not unreasonably — impose their decision by protest. If the reforms go through and Greece starts to grow that way (rather than as a result of devaluation), it is a warm-up for the Siege of Rome. Doubtless Matteo Renzi, who said he was going to Brussels to tell Frau Merkel how to behave, noted the observation of one person party to the negotiations that Tsipras had been ‘crucified’. Ouch. If, as someone once observed to me, Italians fear pain but not death, that is a horrible prospect.

More:

If you have an FT subscription, read Gideon Rachman’s column. He thinks the Greeks won’t do their homework whatever Mummy Merkel does.

New year’s resolutions wanted

December 30, 2014

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

By Sheila Melvin

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.

 

Ferguson versus Perugia

November 27, 2014

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As Ferguson, Missouri smoulders (literally and figuratively) following the decision not to indict a police officer who shot an unarmed black man dead, it is interesting to read Joshua Rozenberg’s opinion piece about the systemic failings of the arcane grand jury system that is still used in around 20 American states. It was a grand jury that decided not to indict the police officer.

What leaps out at me are the similarities between the functioning of grand juries (which only decide if there is a case to answer) and the functioning of Italy’s actual court system, as seen in the Sollecito-Knox satanic ritual murder trial in Perugia, about which I have blogged a great deal (see the ‘Italy to avoid’ tab).

The basics of a grand jury are that the prosecutor decides which witnesses to call and which witnesses to grant immunity from potential prosecution. There is no screening of jurors for potential bias and no objections can be raised about the choice of jurors. Proceedings, framed by the prosecutor who asks the questions (there is a theoretical right for jurors to ask questions at the end of testimony), are held entirely in secret and the grand jury decision is final. A longer outline of grand jury rules is here. Mostly it is the good ole boys of the south who still use grand juries, but a good number of supposedly more liberal states in the north-east do too; see here.

Well, if you look at the Sollecito-Knox satanic ritual murder trial in Perugia, several things that shocked me were: no capacity to screen jurors for bias, prosecution framed by the prosecuting magistrate (Giuliano Mignini) without any independent oversight, and jury deliberations framed and overseen in camera by the presiding judge rather than taking place independently. I am not saying this is a perfect analogue, but the excessive power granted to prosecutors and the lack of transparency do appear to be commonalities.

Of course in America the problem afflicts the indictment system in some states. In Italy it afflicts the entire national judicial process.

 

Later:

Here is another recent grand jury, in New York, failing to indict police officers over the death of a black man who was put in a choke-hold, and kept in one despite saying ‘I can’t breathe’. It was all captured on video. Coverage from the FT (sub needed). And here is coverage from The Guardian of protests in many US cities against the decision not to indict; again, the video of the police action is embedded.

Vacuous China

November 21, 2014

Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign shows no sign of abating, with admirals and generals fearing for their futures as much as mere civilian bureaucrats and Party cadres. Meanwhile Xi’s vicious clamp-down on dissent goes on apace, with more human rights lawyers being themselves tried on trumped-up charges and Internet censors now firing blunderbusses at great swathes of the webosphere. Today, Ilham Tohti’s life sentence has been confirmed by an appeal ‘court’ that held its ‘hearing’ inside his detention centre.

So, what better time to discover a video of Chinese rich kid students in California flaunting their Bentleys, Maseratis, Porsches and more?

Are you watching, Mr Mao?

 

10 seconds of unprovoked HK police brutality

October 3, 2014

See here. HK policeman swings around a middle-aged, passive protester so he can spray pepper spray directly into his face and eyes.

Anti-protest thugs have been attacking the Occupy movement in Causeway Bay (HK island) and Mong Kok (Kowloon) today. Police not responding to/unable to cope with this. Looks like Beijing United Front / state security people up to no good. Old-fashioned Italian-style ‘Strategy of Tension’ that allows government to sell itself as the good guys riding to the rescue amid civil chaos. Except that in Italy the protesters included terrorists who were killing people. In Hong Kong it is just kids who clean up after themselves. People on the ground in Hong Kong say students so far not reacting, moving away. Student leaders have called on those in Mong Kok to leave and come to the government offices area in Admiralty where international press is concentrated and numbers are larger.

Key link:

Here is the livestream feed from HK. Not looking good UK 1330/HK 2030.

More:

This video purports to show Hong Kong police handing out blue, anti-protest ribbons to anti-protesters in a police station. Pretty appalling if true.

Hemlock is singing a similar tune to me re. the tycoons. The point he quotes from Nicholas Bequelin is brilliantly incisive.


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