Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ 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.”

 

 

TAP: proper crap

September 11, 2017

Air Portugal (TAP) may not be the absolute shittest airline on earth, but it tries hard.

On Monday last week I turned up at Heathrow for a flight to Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. The Gates’ and Rockefeller Foundations had very kindly bought me a Business Class ticket to go speak at the 2017 African Green Revolution Forum. I was sent the ticket details about a week earlier.

At check-in, however, the agent said that TAP had not completed the issue of the ticket because it wanted to do a ‘credit card check’. With which card had I paid?

I replied that like most people who travel in Business Class I had not bought my ticket myself. It was purchased for me by the travel secretariat of the AGRF, which I believed was based in Nairobi. If TAP wanted to do a credit card check, shouldn’t it have done one with the travel secretariat a week earlier when the ticket was ordered?

No answer. A phone call ensued between the check-in agent and the TAP office where someone was demanding this random check. I had thought there might have been a payment problem with the credit card, but the agent said this was not the case. TAP just wanted a random, at-the-airport credit card check with a Business Class passenger who had no idea which card had been used for the transaction.

After the call, the agent asked me if I was prepared to pay for the ticket on my card, since there was really no time to chase down the travel secretariat in Nairobi. Figuring that Gates and Rockefeller were good for the money, which was about £1,800, I said yes, because I didn’t want to miss the flight.

By now, however, 20 minutes had gone by and the computer system had automatically shut down the flight’s check-in. Increasingly frantic, the check-in agent started calling numbers of TAP back-office staff asking if they could take my payment over the phone and re-open the flight to allow my boarding pass to be issued.  There were long discussions and calls to other numbers. At half an hour before take-off, I figured I was not travelling.

Just then, however, the senior TAP manager in the airport sauntered past. The check-in agent explained the situation. The manager picked up the phone, called the TAP office, and instructed them to issue to the ticket, charged to the original card. Then he told the check-in agent to walk me through security to the gate. We set off 26 minutes before take-off and arrived about 15 minutes before take-off.

It was all very weird. And it was only the beginning of TAP’s plans to fuck up my week.

The plane was 25 minutes late getting to Lisbon. It was a connection of only about one hour, and security in Lisbon seemed horribly slow and incompetent, at least by the standards of Heathrow or Stansted. A rather nervous woman from TAP who didn’t quite seem to know what she was doing was delegated to round up seven ex-London passengers and get them on the flight to Abidjan. Once we boarded the plane, having seen the chaos in Lisbon airport we asked the crew explicitly whether the check-in bags were on the flight. They assured several of us that they were.

Given that the airport is not huge, and the ground staff had about 50 minutes to make the transfer, there was no reason to believe the bags had not been loaded. Heathrow had loaded my bags in 26 minutes.

The flight was interesting. It was on a Airbus A320, which has a maximum range of about 6,100km (I make no claim to precise figures here; I am going by a quick online search). Lisbon to Abidjan is 6,000km. In other words, TAP was using a short-haul aircraft at the limit of its range.

The result was that, with a Business Class ticket, what one actually got was a Premium Economy seat. There was no greater seat width than an Economy passenger, just a bit more leg room and perhaps a few more inches of recline. The Irish gentleman next to me agreed that this is a business model that Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, would have a wet dream over.

Only two people served the Business section. They closed a curtain after take-off, and took what seemed to me the longest time I have ever experienced to get a meal ready. There was no drink for Business either before take-off, or immediately after. One person serving Business knew what she was doing; the other was clueless and appeared to be being trained on the job (another innovation for O’Leary). All these facets were exactly the same on the way back.

We arrived at Abidjan at about 1030pm. We watched as the baggage carousel rotated for about 90 minutes. No luggage appeared for the London passengers.

After five hours, TAP in Lisbon must have known that the baggage had not been loaded. TAP, as I later confirmed, has an office at Abidjan airport. But no one appeared to inform or help their luggage-less customers.

Instead, we had to register our missing bags (French language only, which was difficult for some passengers) with the general airport lost luggage office. We then took our chances with some pretty aggressive taxi drivers at about 1230am, arriving at the hotel just after 1am.

I arrived at the hotel with the following clothing resources: T-shirt bearing image of large pineapple; expensive jacket; brown corduroy trousers; sweaty boxer shorts; smelly socks; Danish boating shoes. I also had a green jumper in my backpack, but could not think how to make use of it in the tropics. Luckily, I knew the boss of one of the Lost Luggage Seven, and this person lent me a shirt for the start of the conference at 0745.

The conference, probably the key development event of the year for Africa, was full-on, but in the course of the day I managed to a) skip out to a French department store and buy pants, socks, trousers and a shirt for dinner with the vice president and b) track down a number and email address for the TAP office in Abidjan.

In the course of that day, no one from TAP attempted to contact the passengers.

A lady in the TAP office emailed eventually after I called her to say that they had located the luggage and it would not arrive until Wednesday, as there was no flight Tuesday. So would they bring it to the Sofitel, where we all were, I asked? No, she wrote, we would have to go to the airport and get it ourselves at 1030pm on Wednesday using our own transport.

I was the only person in the group who had managed to track down the TAP office, so at least I was able to tell three others whom I had contacts for what was going on. At no point, the whole week, did TAP contact anyone. Even though they could have done so via the original bookings, or via the email and phone numbers we left with the airport Lost Luggage office. They did not give a fuck.

I emailed TAP to ask if I would be compensated for the £150 I had spent on clothes and toiletries. The reply was vague, saying only that I should come to the TAP office. I checked Google Maps. It was half an hour away across town. I would not have time to go there before Friday, and then only if I was lucky.

On Wednesday we went to the airport, waited around for 90 minutes, and eventually got the bags. By a somewhat crafty manoeuvre I managed to recover not only my two bags but also that of the guy who lent me the shirt, who had essential work stuff to do that evening.

I had asked TAP if they would send someone from their office to assist us at the airport that evening and they indicated not. They were as good as their word. We saw no one from TAP all night.

At 4pm on Friday I got my first free hour of the working week and decided to go to the TAP office, if only to complete my anthropological and ethnographic research. The email about reimbursement said that I needed to bring my passport to the office, nothing else.

At the office, about 10 minutes in to a conversation with the woman who had been emailing me, she clarified that the most TAP were going to give me was US$100. In our correspondence, she had consistently refused to address whether I would be repaid the purchases of clothes for which I have no general use. Adding in the US$20 I was paying the hotel for a car that brought be to the TAP office, (because I couldn’t face doing this is an Abidjan taxi after working a 60-hour week), plus the Abidjan taxis that I had taken to do the clothes shopping earlier, I was now out US$200. Plus the AGRF had paid at least US$50 to provide a hotel car to take me to the airport to collect the luggage because it was so embarrassed by TAP’s behaviour (for which, of course, the AGRF has zero responsibility).

In order to get the US$100, the lady asked if I had the lost baggage receipt from the airport. Of course not, I said, because they take it from you when you get your bags back.

The lady said I should have taken a photograph of the receipt with my phone’s camera before handing it over. I agreed that I am an utter moron. However, since I had a copy of the TAP email correspondence with me, the lady had to concede that she had never stated that I should have or bring a copy of the lost luggage receipt.

The lady started to talk with her colleague, who assumed that I did not speak French. I don’t speak great French, but I had mainly chosen not to speak French in the TAP office because I wasn’t clear why I should do anything helpful to a firm that is so contemptuous of its customers. The woman who only spoke French appeared to be the senior person in the office. She made a call to someone apparently more senior than her. She noted that I was a Business Class passenger and referred to me as ‘impatient’.

I smiled. The French-speaking lady said to the English-speaking lady to get a photocopy of my passport. The photocopier was less than two metres from the French-speaking lady, but she did not make the copy herself. Instead, she called the office boy to make the photocopy.

At length, they gave me the US$100.

I had one last question: of the seven people from London whose bags were lost for two days, how many had come to the TAP office to claim US$100? The two ladies conceded that no other passengers had come.

Like me, other passengers would have had to find the TAP office by searching, get the correct phone number after discovering the one given online is wrong, work with a driver to locate the office (the address alone is not enough because the office is inside a small shopping arcade, while no directions are given online), and then found time during the working week to get to the office.

As I drove back to the hotel to get a beer after a very long week, I wanted to reach a reasoned conclusion about TAP, Air Portugal.

My conclusion was that the business is run by Mother. Fuckers.

Still, the key thing is that you can always find a positive. Check-in was a shambles; actually, it was worse. The Business Class seat was not a Business Class seat and hence a total rip-off. The service was slow and half the TAP employees did not know what they were doing. Lisbon airport security was pure Third World. Baggage handling was Third World. The loss of luggage for two days when they could have re-routed it faster if they wanted is off the spectrum for abuse of clients. And our treatment in Abidjan was frankly inhuman.

On the other hand, I did like the tin that the socks, ear plugs and eye mask came in. It is both original and recyclable.

TAP tin 2017

More

In case you have never seen it, here is SNL’s Total Bastard Airlines sketch. I guess that European airlines, TAP (and Alitalia) excepted, are more civilised than American ones, so we have no European equivalent.

I will be saying Bub Aye to PAL. Perhaps you should too.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Which part of this will end well?

November 20, 2016

trump-abe-trump-tower-1116little-trumps-and-abe-trump-tower-1116

I can understand why Trump was elected, just like I can understand why Dirty Duterte was elected. But other than a salutary lesson for metropolitan liberals in both the United States and the Philippines, I’d like to feel that the punishment has some limits.

These photographs of Abe’s visit to Trump Tower suggest that the punishment will involve a minimum of a thousand cuts. Ouch one.

One of the very worst?

April 19, 2016

I am loath to post the following article from today’s Guardian because it concerns a woman who is subject to sexist abuse. However I cannot help feeling that Marissa Mayer’s compensation at Yahoo for doing zero (okay, less than zero) for shareholders is one of the most egregious cases of rewarding failure that we have seen. She had nothing to do with the investment in Alibaba 10 years ago that is the only reason that the share price has recovered somewhat of late. The money she personally will have stripped out of the business by the time it is sold is grotesque. And the only people who should be more ashamed than her are the board members who let her do it.

From The Guardian:

What’s the price of failure? For Yahoo’s boss Marissa Mayer it could be about $137m. Bids are now in for the ailing tech company – and no matter who gets it, Mayer is set to be one of the biggest winners.

Mayer has taken home $78m since she was installed as CEO in 2012, according to stock analytics firm MCSI; if she’s dismissed from the company after a buyout she’s set for another $59m, based on the terms of the company’s most recent proxy statement.

Mayer’s performance pay and vested options peaked in 2014 at $48m (double the previous year’s salary). Yahoo has yet to finalise this year’s pay package so the final figure is yet to be determined, but few are expecting her to take home just her base salary, in excess of $2m.

Despite the company’s fundamental problems – it has lost the ad wars to Google and Facebook and bet billions on new businesses that have failed to take off – Yahoo’s share price is still in better shape than it was when she started. The rally in the stock price is entirely due to its holding in Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company.

Shares are close to their mid-2014 levels, in fact, and that probably means Mayer is owed further cash.

Mayer has benefitted from a low “strike price” for her stock options. In 2014 it was $18.87 – and the day those options were granted, 27 February 2014, shares were worth more than twice that.

On Monday, Yahoo’s share price closed at $36.52. History suggests that Mayer will be entitled to buy those shares at a price far lower than that. Although her strike price for 2015 has yet to be released, it is expected later this month. Given that there are bids open for Yahoo’s core assets, however, experts say that filing may be delayed.

While nothing is cut and dried yet, the smallest amount Mayer could make at the company is about $80m if she receives absolutely no more of her long-term incentives.

“Until the new proxy is out it isn’t really possible to say how much Mayer will ultimately end up making, or to what extent she will be entitled to any additional severance amounts,” said MCSI’s Ric Marshall.

Marshall is MCSI’s executive director of environmental, social and governance research at the firm and he says much of the eventual compensation depends upon the decisions of the board: “What you can’t say is how the committee will evaluate the performance and what percentage of the original target they will deem as having been met,” Marshall said.

Investors see the board as unduly supportive of Mayer. One group, Starboard Value, asked that the entire body be replaced with members of its own choosing.

There is reason for shareholders to worry: Starboard thinks that the net value of the “Yahoo stub”, that is to say, Yahoo without its stake in Alibaba, is worthless. With the amount of money a purchasing company would have to pay Mayer to leave in the event of a change in ownership – $59.3m in numbers adjusted for share price from the company’s most recent proxy filing – Yahoo’s value by Starboard’s reckoning would be negative.

“The firm buying her knows all about this,” said Alan Johnson of compensation consulting firm Johnson Associates. “They’re not going to pay for it. That’s coming out of the hide of Yahoo’s shareholders – everybody’s got that in their spreadsheets. They look at this as another sunk cost, like a bad lease.”

In a word, Starboard is afraid shareholders may end up having to pay someone to haul Yahoo away.

Marshall told the Guardian he’s seen that happen in the past. “It has been proven more expensive to sell a company because of the change in control than it is to just bankrupt it.” He hopes it won’t be the case at Yahoo, he said.

 

Easter in Italy

April 6, 2016

Norcia 1

Norcia 2

I won’t pass any comment.

These two were taken in Norcia, in the south of Umbria.

The Thin Controller

March 21, 2016

Osborne weight loss

George Osborne, who I used to call The Fat Controller, has become the Thin Controller after eating less and running more. But he is still Sir Topham Hat, insensitive nemesis of poor Thomas the Tank Engine (and all other members of the working classes).

In case you missed the Thin Controller’s latest, last week he decided to reduce taxes for the rich and the middle classes at the same time as chopping a further £4.4 billion over five years from the budget to support disabled people. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that 370,000 people with a disability would lose an average of £3,500 a year. This comes on the back of an already-implemented big squeeze on various direct and indirect forms of welfare support for the disabled.

Most of the groundswell of anger at the Thin Controller — he has already abandoned the disability benefit cut in a standard ‘oh my god, what have I done this time?’ volte-face  — focused on his increase to the level at which higher earners begin to pay the 40 percent income tax rate. However this change has at least the merit of rewarding middle class work.

What gob-smacked me in the Thin Controller’s budget was the decision to make big cuts to already ridiculously low rates (compared to income tax rates on work) of Capital Gains Tax (CGT). Britain is fast becoming a rentier society, but the Thin Controller’s determination to turn us into some proto-feudal squirearchy seems to know no bounds. He cut the lower band of CGT from 18 percent to 10 percent, and the higher rate from 28 percent to 20 percent.

The old rates do remain in force for profits on one’s second, third, fourth and fifth, etc homes (i.e. for non-primary real estate). However the adjustment is a huge bung to the share- and bond-owning leisure class, of which I regard myself as an aspiring member. Thinking today about whether I should not perhaps take the next three months off and go on safari, I decided to check the HM Revenue and Customs web site and learn more about the Thin Controller’s commendable policy to encourage my indolence. Here is what I found:

<Policy objective>

<The government wants to create a strong enterprise and investment culture. Cutting the rates of CGT for most assets is intended to support companies to access the capital they need to expand and create jobs. Retaining the 28% and 18% rates for residential property is intended to provide an incentive for individuals to invest in companies over property.>

This statement has three great qualities. First, it is pure gibberish. Companies (the supposed subject of the second sentence) do not pay CGT, they pay Corporation Tax. Second, it is dishonest. Following from 1., what the Thin Controller really means is that he wants to support the stock-owning rentier class, who don’t need to work because tax rates on passive capital invested in shares and bonds were already low, and are now even lower. Annoyingly, he can’t actually say this, but we know who we are. Third, the statement is misguided. This is because no British rentier with half a brain is going to invest much of their unearned capital in British companies when the Thin Controller has created such an anaemic growth environment. One gives one’s capital to American companies like Apple, Amazon, Skyworks, Gilead, Amtrust Financial Services, American Express, American Tower, Verisk Analytics, and so on. (Disclaimer: oh yes, I own them all.) And then one pays sod all tax to the Thin Controller on the profits. Of course, in the final analysis this doesn’t matter because the Thin Controller doesn’t need the tax because he’s dismantling the welfare state.

Got it?

 

On journalism

March 17, 2016

Tombstone cover

Yang Jisheng, author of Tombstone, a forensic account of the Great Leap famine that killed 30-40 million Chinese, just won a prize given by the Nieman fellows in journalism at Harvard. So he has written them a nice little piece on how he thinks about journalism. Of course the Chinese Communist Party wouldn’t let Yang go to America to collect the prize…

I cannot upload the Harvard page directly into WordPress because the typeface is not supported. So click here to read an English translation of what Yang wrote, or to find a link to the Chinese original. If you are a journalist you might want to print the document and stick it on the bathroom wall.

 

Siberia

March 2, 2015

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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Not far from the bridge, the Soviet-era water pumping station is being restored for the benefit of future generations.

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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.

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You just have to try to imagine the droves.

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Naturally enough, there was another wedding couple there.

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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.)

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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.

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There is a train from Krasnoyarsk to Moscow. It takes three-and-a-half days.

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I travelled by plane, which takes just five hours. To Moscow.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

 


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