Absurdity, Allegory and China

The Kingdom from another angle.

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Civilized Chaoyang 2011

December 5th, 2011 · No Comments

Here’s a shot from late last week in Beijing when the air was somewhat clear, the man was somewhat short – though longer than the bed of his trike – and the Hyundai Elantra was max shiny. And the CCTV Bldg was the CCTV Bldg., since it’s hard for it to be anything else. (click the pic for a larger version.)

Waiting for the lunch crowd  (11:03 AM)

→ No CommentsTags: Beijing · CCTV · photo

Holding Our Breath

December 5th, 2011 · 7 Comments

This morning I’m in pain. I take little comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one in Beijing suffering from the same symptoms: pounding headache, sore throat and burning eyes. It’s the air pollution that’s got us down, physically, spiritually, mentally and every other -ally I can possibly think of. I have my curtains drawn and my office door shut and an IQAir filter cranking away. But that’s still not enough to keep the filth of Beijing air out. Periodically I look out the window, but then quickly draw the curtains again. I just don’t want to look at what is happening outside. It’s disgusting. This past Friday it snowed, perhaps the most depressing snow I’ve ever seen. I thought, “If there were enough of it, would you let your child play in that?” I remember those early life moments of scooping up a handful of snow, eating it, rolling in it, coming home frozen wet and red. That wouldn’t happen in this place. @bokane expressed it best: “Signs you’ve been in Beijing too long: you look out the window onto a snowy morning and just assume that it’s ash of some kind.” When I saw what was falling from the sky on Friday I thought of kids eating snow and I shivered … in a Divine/Pink Flamingos sort of way. More snow is to come later this evening and tomorrow. It used to be just the yellow snow you’d have to warn the kids about, but in Beijing, it’s anything that falls from the sky and accumulates.

On November 22 I went to the Terminal 3 of the Beijing Capital Airport to meet a friend who was to stay with us for a week. At 11:00 AM when she arrived the air was ‘Very Unhealthy.’ According to the air quality readings tweeted nearly every hour by the U.S. Embassy – much to the chagrin and protests of the Chinese government – the PM2.5 reading was 273. (PM2.5 is the invisible particulate matter that works its way into your lungs and does the most damage, a standard international measurement that the Chinese have, though they refuse to make their readings public. As we left the airport I told her that the smog would probably clear over the next few hours since the wind was predicted to rise. And rise it did, taking all the nastiness south that day. By 3:00 PM it was a ‘Good’ 39 and the wind was ripping. In fact it ripped so much that evening it ended up ripping part of the roof off Terminal 3, though one of the architects involved with the project said that substandard materials or installation – not design flaws – are likely to blame for wind blowing parts of the roof off Beijing’s three-year-old Terminal 3. And it’s not hard to believe that assessment. The wind was barely over 50 MPH, not enough to damage a properly installed roof at the world’s largest showboat airport, though enough to drive Beijing’s toxic air somewhere else. The air quality remained in the breathable range, below ‘Unhealthy,’ until the following evening: 11-23-2011; 23:00; PM2.5; 72.0; 155; Unhealthy.

For the next 116 hours (4 hours shy of 5 complete days) the air quality stayed ‘Unhealthy’ or above, before returning to what would be considered ‘healthy’ for anyone without respiratory problems, though not for sensitive groups. 11-28-2011; 19:00; PM2.5; 64.0; 148; Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. In other words for a 116 hour stretch Beijing air was deemed ‘Unhealthy’ or worse, and often the quality reading drifted into the ‘Very Unhealthy’ and ‘Hazardous’ ranges. Of that 116 hour stretch, 24 hours were deemed ‘Hazardous’, ranging from 301 to 393.

The days between then and now have not been all that different: a few ‘Good’ and ‘Moderate’ periods, though mostly ‘Unhealthy’ and above. The exception has been the period we are in at the moment. As I write the PM 2.5 readings have been pegged in the ‘Hazardous’ zone since yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, 12-04-2011; 16:00; PM2.5; 406.0; 438; Hazardous, more than 19 hours ago. A few hours after the air quality entered the ‘Hazardous’ zone it reached the unmeasurable range (what some have unofficially deemed “Crazy Bad”) @ 12-04-2011; 19:00; PM2.5; 522.0; 500; Beyond Index, which is somewhat akin to WWI trench warfare air. How far ‘Beyond Index’ was it? There’s no way of knowing that, though if the CN.gov folks do, they aren’t about to tell anyone. In fact I’m surprised they haven’t sniped the measurement machine on top of the U.S. Embassy, yet. They hate it. Recently there have been at least two smartphone applications that republish the hourly U.S. Embassy readings. But despite a rise in requests to come clean with the real information, the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau has refused to make that data available. {In Chinese}

For more see The Ministry of Tofu’s Photos: Smog-shrouded China denies citizens right to know pollutant measurements. Also have a look at this photo taken at the Beijing Capital Airport last night by @kinablog who was on an Air China flight that was grounded due to the heavy smog.

Though Beijing is an international capital, the government has yet to learn how to responsibly deal with their people. My rough estimate is that at least 97% of the people who live in Beijing are Chinese, not expats. And as everyone knows, expats are whiners. We complain, because that’s what we do. We complain about staying here as this problem continues to worsen. And though I can hardly speak for anyone else, I do know someone close who has left, and we, her parents, will be leaving here in June at the end of contract. There are several reasons to leave, and general quality of 21 C. life issues are big (how can you be competitive when your internet connection is blocked, choked, and hobbled – my connection speed has regressed to 1995 dial-up speeds.) But breathable air has become the primary reason.

But this isn’t about us, China. This is about  the Chinese. The majority of people who are affected by this insane level of pollution are your parents and grandparents. But it will all catch up to you later. So before you start writing to me to call me what you guys sometimes call me, look at yourselves. This is damaging you and your families. It’s your health that’s being destroyed. Then if you still want to write a comment telling me to do things to myself that “just ain’t right,” in English that isn’t either, go right ahead. I’ll delete you as I always do while I’m still able to breathe.

Update December 5, 2011, 1900 CST
The irrepressible Global Times has just published Metrological authorities deny heavy fog is pollution. It is always difficult to know what to do with the Global Times. Reworking it into 4″ rolls and placing it in public latrines usually comes to mind, but they’re also digital, which means they last far beyond the first [s]wipe. My favorite lines are:

Zhang Mingying, a meteorological engineer at the Beijing Meteorological Bureau, told the Global Times on Monday that the recent fog is normal in terms of frequency during this time of year according to their monitoring.

“Heavy fog has occurred 6 times a year on average over the past 30 years and December’s fog was the seventh occurrence this year. Therefore, it is a normal climate condition in Beijing,” said Zhang.

I will not get into the classification of what is or is not normal, though I will say that periods of fog occur in Beijing with great frequency before winter sets in hard and after it loses it grip, which makes November/December and late February/March notoriously susceptible to catastrophic fog events. But when they happen the moisture in the air holds all those little particles that are floating about, which is what turns fog into smog. So, in a relatively pre-industrial China you could call it fog and get away with it. But in nowaday China, your early morning waking mouth tells the tale: it tastes like you’ve been breast-stroking through a pool of battery acid, and two cups of strong coffee hardly cuts the bitter tang. We generally call that pollution. In the world of real people we understand that fog catches all that shit and keeps it low to the ground. So, while fog may be the problem, in an uncontrolled environment like Beijing, it quickly goes “all pollution.” This is like Reader’s Digest science. To deny that the fog is pollution is like …ah, ah, ah … don’t use a fractured metaphor (which is what a simile is)! These guys don’t get metaphors unless it’s a real club and they can beat someone over the head with it. At any rate, the Global Times has shown their flame reddest ass. Makes you just want to pinch their little cheeks as you heave them into the miasma of their smog.

→ 7 CommentsTags: Beijing · pollution

End of November, Beijing

December 1st, 2011 · No Comments

Below are some shots I’ve taken over the past 8 days. When a friend comes to Beijing you find yourself going to places you normally wouldn’t go, though many of the sites are too good to pass up for a one time trip to the Jing.

I also ended up taking a couple of spins around the CCTV Bldg. Two of the photos below reference the former Mandarin Oriental Beijing, aka Television Culture Center (TVCC), which is the the northern sibling to the larger CCTV Headquarters Building. The TVCC building was nearly completed in February 2009 when an illegal fireworks display, organized by the almighty China Central Television, caused a fire that ravaged the building. (You can see a video of the fire here.) So, what you see below is the reconstruction, which seems to be going along quite well. There is a photo here of what the building looked like a few months before the fire. (Click on the pics below to see a larger versions in a lightbox.)

Summer Palace, Winter Air.
The always colorful Yonghegong.
Tree at the Confucius Temple, Guozijian.
Mule-drawn cart, Mandarin oranges, Beijing bus and CCTV.
North side of the former Mandarin Oriental Beijing (TVCC).
Chinese equivalency of the “roach coach” at the north gate of CCTV project.
East face of the former Mandarin Oriental Beijing (TVCC).
Head of the CCTV HQ Bldg from the back side.
Red and a phone beside a blue wall, Hujialou Xili Nanjie.

→ No CommentsTags: Beijing · CCTV · CCTV fire · photo

“But I wore the juice.”

November 29th, 2011 · 2 Comments

The persistent and very public meltdown of Herman Cain (the latest is here) has gone beyond the obliviously wretched clown phase and into the obliviously wretched grotesque phase that continues to reveal his fundamental lack of understanding that he’s morphed into the latest caricature of the guy who doesn’t get it. Politics and political races are rife with this sort of thing, and in the U.S. this behavior is not the exclusive domain of any single party. The questions of why he stays in the painfully long slog for the GOP nomination that he will never win just keep piling up: Was he ever properly vetted by someone who knew what they were doing? Did any of his fumbling handlers think to tell him that flipping 999 over is the perfect recipe for failure in a country where many people who turn out to vote are single-issue Revelations memorizers? Can he continue to claim, “I’ve been set up?” and pin the tail on the donkey while not seeing that it’s the party he wants so desperately to represent that’s ‘blindsiding’ him time after time? (Come on, Herman. Did you really believe the GOP would let an African American represent them in the White House? Look towards Newt and FoxNews. They’ve got a history with this sort of thing.) And what about the wringer he’s forcing his wife and family through? Can’t anyone convince him to decamp and return to the world of double pepperoni?

The relentless public humiliation that we are witnessing brings to mind Errol Morris’ brilliant five-part series The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Iswhich appeared in the NYT’s Opinionator blog in the summer of 2010. Among many other things, Morris focuses on the Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon, recognized by others – Charles Darwin and Buckminster Fuller to name but two – that “our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.” In other words, “how can we possibly know what we don’t know?” It’s not as simple as you might think. And despite all political hot-wiring, it’s a lot more complicated than “pinning the tail on the donkey.” Here is an excerpt, the opening of Part 1.


1. The Juice

David Dunning, a Cornell professor of social psychology, was perusing the 1996 World Almanac.  In a section called Offbeat News Stories he found a tantalizingly brief account of a series of bank robberies committed in Pittsburgh the previous year.  From there, it was an easy matter to track the case to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, specifically to an article by Michael A. Fuoco:


At 5 feet 6 inches and about 270 pounds, bank robbery suspect McArthur Wheeler isn’t the type of person who fades into the woodwork.  So it was no surprise that he was recognized by informants, who tipped detectives to his whereabouts after his picture was telecast Wednesday night during the Pittsburgh Crime Stoppers Inc. segment of the 11 o’clock news. At 12:10 a.m. yesterday, less than an hour after the broadcast, he was arrested at 202 S. Fairmont St., Lincoln-Lemington.  Wheeler, 45, of Versailles Street, McKeesport, was wanted in [connection with] bank robberies on Jan. 6 at the Fidelity Savings Bank in Brighton Heights and at the Mellon Bank in Swissvale. In both robberies, police said, Wheeler was accompanied by Clifton Earl Johnson, 43, who was arrested Jan. 12.

Wheeler had walked into two Pittsburgh banks and attempted to rob them in broad daylight.  What made the case peculiar is that he made no visible attempt at disguise.  The surveillance tapes were key to his arrest.  There he is with a gun, standing in front of a teller demanding money.  Yet, when arrested, Wheeler was completely disbelieving.  “But I wore the juice,” he said.  Apparently, he was under the deeply misguided impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to video cameras.


There’s a lot more than stupidity going on here, and Morris covers quite a bit of territory in revealing his glimpse into the nature of reality, and the larger question of what do we really know? Like everything Morris does, it is well worth your time to delve into this series. I won’t attempt to summarize it here, because I can’t. My summary would be exponentially longer than Morris’ tight poetic vision of anasognosia and the problems it presents to all of us. In an exchange with David Dunning (of the Dunning-Kruger effect), Dunning zeroes in on the problem: “[W]hen you’re incompetent, the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is. In logical reasoning, in parenting, in management, problem solving, the skills you use to produce the right answer are exactly the same skills you use to evaluate the answer.  And so we went on to see if this could possibly be true in many other areas.  And to our astonishment, it was very, very true.”

Can we make the jump and apply this level of incompetency to nation states? I understand that this sort of question lives in the same category of inquiry as Buddhists wondering if nation states have karma? Within the limits of certain frameworks it’s a legitimate question, though quantification is a little hard to figure. In the end, I have no idea about either, but when it comes to soft power and China. gov it seems like the incompetency and the lack of self-awareness undercut all basic PR models. When the nominal intent is to win over the world through positive effort, it is best not to disappear, via  secret committees, citizens who are deemed problematic. It sends a bit of a mixed message, that maybe, just maybe, you’re blowing stacks of smoke in all directions. It doesn’t seem as if it would be very hard to understand that, though apparently it’s much harder than I am able to imagine. It’s that “juice” thing all over again. How do you tell the party boys that lemons don’t hide them from the world, that despite their best efforts they still appear exactly as they are. The Bush-Cheney presidency promoted the same sort of disappearing acts, but there are/were still enough people who doubted the redefinition to keep the lemon factor somewhat in control, though it is a constant struggle to balance, made more difficult by societal insecurity and the wave of narcissism that together maintain a high level of self-focused timidity. Add an unhealthy dose of economic instability coupled with a well-planned and vigorous redistribution of wealth, and we’re all teetering at the edge of a pool of lemonade whether we want to be or not.

A great friend, a psychiatrist, once told me that a sane person has a pretty good idea of how he/she is perceived by others. By all accounts Herman Cain is not one of those people. Maybe he’d do better here in China where the political field is littered with guys just like himself, none of whom have to worry about regional caucuses of the screaming, unwashed  masses.  And if that doesn’t work for Herman he can always fall back to pizzas. Everyone loves pizzas, even the Chinese. He’d need to readdress some of his other appetites, but I’m pretty sure with enough cash the Chinese government can make some accommodations for someone as equally unaware as they are. It’s a world made for lemons, and nobody can see what you’re doing.


→ 2 CommentsTags: politics

Long Shots (Part 2)

November 18th, 2011 · 3 Comments

This post is part 2 of 2 (first part is here) and is written in support of the documentary Living with Dead Hearts: The Search for China’s Kidnapped Children, a work in progress by Charles Custer (ChinaGeeks). I strongly encourage you to view the trailer, visit the official site for the film and kick a few bucks that way if you can. (I also apologize for taking so long to get this second part finished.)

How many times,
How many times,
On the grey sea,
The sea combed
By the wind
Like a wilderness
Of woman’s hair
Have we longed,
Lost in nostalgia,
For the sweetness
Of homecoming.
—-Archilochus (7th C. BCE)
(tr. by Guy Davenport)

Yang Xia is a small galaxy of positive energy. If you had a team and needed another player, she’d be, without a doubt, your best choice, even if she doesn’t know the game. There’d be no question that she’d learn it fast, and there’d also be no question that the team would be better even before she did. Both her energy and outlook stem from more than just having been raised during the Cultural Revolution, carrying her stool and toting her infant sister with her everyday to her first grade classes. It’s more than just living in a house where chickens were secreted beneath the bed so the children could have eggs to eat, a violation of rules that would have earned her parents a public humiliation session, possibly worse. Some buckle under stress, turn inward and grow bitter, while others bear it up and, against the odds, manage to beam brighter. She is one who learned and accepted that her childhood, despite how we might view it from a judgmental distance, was just her life and to ‘muscle on’ was reflexively what she did. That she was able to ‘muscle on’ while maintaining a genuine smile speaks to the best of China, the Chinese and humanity. She assures me that it had everything to do with her parents, especially her father, though I suspect that it is also something unquantifiably other, a combination that we’ve yet been able to identify. But her father has obviously been very influential.

Yang Tingsheng, 74, is a handsome man, quiet, self-contained and the owner of a disarming smile. Originally from western Shandong, he spent most of his life working in the  oilfields: Daqing, Xinjiang, and finally settling in a town on the fringe of the Dagang oil fields south of Tianjin. He had married a woman, Li Huan Ling, also from western Shandong. They had four children, (Yang Xia was their second.) Yang Tingsheng’s brother was the father of three daughters (mentioned at the end of Part 1). In 1953 Yang’s brother’s wife gave birth to her third daughter and died within a couple of days from excessive bleeding due to complications from the birth.

At the time of the birth Yang’s eldest daughter – twenty-three and long gone, south to Yunnan – had already married, had a child of her own and a new life as a PLA soldier’s wife. In those early days of the PRC, mother and eldest daughter may as well have been on different planets. Neither of them knew of the life of the other. Yang, desperately poor, with another daughter, 6 or 7 at the time, had just lost his wife and had given up the newborn daughter for adoption. In most cases this would have been the end of the story, since there would have been no need to dredge up the pain of such a double loss. Neither of Yang’s other two daughters knew of the birth of the third. (I assume that the middle daughter, who has always lived in Shandong, was living or staying with other family members when her mother had died and her younger sister had been given to another family.) The unspoken agreement in countryside adoptions is that once a child is given up, she/he was not to be pursued by a birth parent/family. Though Yang knew who the family was who’d taken in his daughter, the deal was done, and that was that. (He later remarried a woman who also brought a daughter to the marriage.)

What was also known, as so many things are in small villages, the adopted child within two to three years was given away to someone else. A grandmother in the first adopted family had taken a dislike for her, so she was readopted by a couple who were unable to have children. Apparently the new couple’s union was not a happy one, and when the daughter was 8 or 9, her mother, a woman with some education, left the village with her adopted daughter, and in the collective village memory the pair faded away. The woman’s ex-husband remarried and had several children, and life in the early People’s Republic unfolded as we now know it did. A woman with a young daughter in the confusion of the times could easily disappear. And so they did.

Jump ahead to the April 2000. A woman and her husband visited the western Shandong village of Yanggu, searching for her adopted father. She had her father’s name and four decade-long memories, and she had a need to know why the family had split, why she and her mother had been cut adrift on their own, why he didn’t want her. She knew where he lived, but when she visited his home she discovered he’d been dead for years, though his ex-wife and her younger brother were still alive and in the same house. What transpired then and there is unknown to me, though apparently she had filled them in on who she now was and where she now lived, which would seem to be the end of the story. Except, of course, it was not.

A year later, early April 2001, Yang Tingsheng and his wife, Li Huanling visited their families in western Shandong, not an uncommon thing for them to do. They were both retired and now had time to do such things. Yang had been thinking about his long lost niece, and though he knew the trail of adoptions he had no information concerning her whereabouts, only that she had disappeared in the early 1960s. He stayed in Shandong for a week, asked a few questions but came up empty. He returned to Dagang, though his wife stayed on for a while longer, traveling by bus and visiting friends. Somewhere along the way she’d heard that there had been a couple the previous spring who had come looking for the woman’s adoptive father in Yanggu. It was known that she had gone to the home of the widow of the second adoptive father. So Li went to the village and visited the woman and asked about the couple, something that she probably expected would not yield any new information. After all, she was there on behalf of the birth family, and that was a subject that was not to be broached. The woman lived with her younger brother, and though there was confirmation that there had been a visit the year before, there was no more information given. But villages being what villages are, and Li being who she is, she was able to get the name of the woman, Zhou Xiulan, married to a man who worked in a shipping company in Dalian. Ms. Zhou worked in a dye factory.

Li called her husband and passed on what she’d uncovered. With this new information Yang’s son, Yang Jun, called a television/newspaper organization in Dalian, and though they took the information, the story died there. Yang waited for the media folks to return the call, then decided to call the local Dalian Public Security Bureau (PSB). He left the information about his niece and soon after received a call-back from an officer surnamed Ma. He was friendly and told Yang that there were a few women named Zhou Xiulan, though when Yang said that she was born in Yanggu, Shandong the search was narrowed to one.

There are times when we’d like to believe that every police person in a police state is venal and complicit in what we believe to be the overwhelming lie that drives the system on. But, of course, that’s not how it always is. And at some level we all know this. The system couldn’t remain a system if everyone at every post was genuinely corrupt in each and every action. I sometimes have to remind myself of this when trying to understand not only China, but also the entire U.S. political culture, federal, state and local.

Mr. Ma began the contact process by first approaching Ms. Zhou’s husband and telling him that the PSB would like to have her come by for a visit without tipping what this was all about. Imagine Ms. Zhou’s reaction. To say she was reluctant is understatement. She was so reluctant that she didn’t bother going, though a request like that must have created a bit of anxiety. If it was that important they could always come and get her. A week or two later the message was sent again, and this time she knew that avoidance was not a viable strategy. So, she went. And Mr. Ma told her about Yang, a relation a few steps removed. She’d gone looking for her second adoptive father and had inadvertently stumbled upon a birth uncle, a man she’d never heard of, from a place she’d never been. She now had his phone number, and further contact was literally in her hands.

During lunch on May 4, 2001 Yang Tingsheng answered his phone and heard a hesitant woman’s voice say, “I’m from Dalian.” His wife, Li, who’d been the essential link in this reunion, told her daughter, Yang Xia, of her father’s tears and the ensuing flood of emotions, as well as the information that Ms. Zhou had no idea about: that she had two sisters who were still alive. After so many years of wondering why she had not been wanted, this unknown uncle and aunt had come looking and found her.

Calls were made, arrangements set and by the end of the month all three sisters, ranging in age from 48 to 71, were together for the first time in their lives at the home of Yang Tingsheng and Li Huanling in, of all places, Dagang, Tianjin. A homecoming, after all, is not only about place. When Yang Xia first told the story it was impossible not to be moved. And when she told of how the three sisters all sat together on the same bed, and filled each other in on their lives, alternately laughing and crying with an audience of other extended Yangs laughing and crying along with them, the whole world went diamonds. The eldest is still in Yunnan, the middle sister still close to the original home in the Shandong countryside, takes care of her father’s elderly second wife. Ms. Zhou is still in Dalian where she cares for her adoptive mother who she has never told about the reunion. She fears that the elderly woman would be upset that Ms. Zhou would abandon her now that she’d found her birth family. Yang Xia has recently moved to Australia with her husband and son, a whole new life in Oz.

In autumn 2003 I attended a conference in Dalian which Yang Xia, a colleague at the time, also attended. I met Ms. Zhou, went to her home and had supper and a wonderful evening with her husband and two beautiful children, both of whom are now in their thirties. She was an exuberant and gracious hostess who couldn’t contain her joy that her cousin had come to see her. She smiled, laughed and talked through the entire evening, and, of course, made sure that everyone was always eating. It was, without a doubt, the most memorable evening I’ve had in 13+ years in China.

→ 3 CommentsTags: kidnapping

The further fragmentation of Penn State

November 17th, 2011 · No Comments

I’ve been adding these updates on the previous page, but I thought that it would be best to consolidate them here. The Public Relations catastrophe (great Greek word: to overturn, to turn upside down) is mind-boggling. Each day it becomes clearer that the only thing to do is suspend the football program while there’s still a university to save. The folks at Penn State are doing their best to sink the flagship of Pennsylvania tertiary education. I will add to this as scabs fall from the latest hidden wounds. But to say that this is a ‘total fail’ is not an exaggeration. Each day everyone in the expanding scene looks a little worse, which is hard to even fathom, since every last one of them, with the exception of the victims, came screaming out of the gate looking awfully bad. (The latest numbing update is at the bottom.)

Update, November 15, 8:30 AM (Beijing)

The following article appeared in the Christian Science Monitor overnight: Advertisers bail on Penn State college football TV ads. These are the first few notes of the inevitable dirge, and Penn State would do best to suspend the program while they still have some control over the situation. If they wait to suspend the program until after all the advertisers bail, they will be looked upon as caving to plunging revenues, rather than being the ones who proactively began the process of restoring a moral high ground. To hang around waiting for market pressures to dictate their next move is digging the hole even deeper. This is unfortunate. Yes, there are a couple of remaining games, but they have become the pariah, affecting all those who will play against them. To wait until the end of the season to announce a suspension will be too late. We all feel for those who are innocently part of this program, but life will go on, and Penn State will need to responsibly handle how that will happen for those who may be displaced. The clock’s ticking.


Update, November 15, 12:45 AM (Beijing)

A fragment of Mike McQueary’s email to friends and former teammates: “I did the right thing…you guys know me…the truth is not out there fully…I didn’t just turn and run…I made sure it stopped…I had to make quick tough decisions.” We know “the truth is not out there fully,” and so, too, are many more disturbing details that will be revealed in court. McQueary’s email still does not speak to the fact that he and everyone else in the PSU loop of knowing didn’t pass on the information to the legal authorities. I am somewhat familiar with the legal requirements in PA, and to have not passed this on is criminal. I hope for McQueary and his father’s sakes that they will be able prove that they are not culpable. That said, in the indictment it is clearly stated, “The Grand Jury finds the graduate assistant’s testimony to be extremely credible.”


Update, November 16, 6:30 AM (Beijing)

The following article has just been published by The Morning Call (4:36 p.m. EST, November 15, 2011): McQueary on alleged rape: ‘I did stop it,’ did have discussions with police.

In the email obtained by The Morning Call, McQueary wrote that he “did have discussions with police and with the official at the university in charge of police” following the alleged incident between Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach, and a boy. McQueary also wrote that he “is getting hammered for handling this the right way or what I thought at the time was right.”

With the way this has been mishandled, I would not be surprised to see the Justice Department riding into State College, PA in the not-too-distant future.


Update, November 17, 8:00 AM (Beijing)

It just keeps getting ‘worser and worser.’ Penn State, police deny Paterno assistant reported rape. The nightmare that we suspected this to be just grows exponentially everyday. Someone (everyone?) is lying here, and it will take more than the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to sort out. Are you seeing the feds on the horizon yet? Is anyone yet thinking about suspending the program? Each day they put it off is a day closer to more long-term doom.

Penn State continues to do all the wrong things, which continues to damage their credibility as an institution of higher learning. I would not be surprised to see the serious financial problems for the pride of the Pennsylvania coming up sooner than anyone had expected when this story broke. It is hard to believe that after all this time, the PSU admin team was not prepared for this sort of chaos. And what’s the deal with JoePa transferring ownership of his house to his wife for $1 last July. How much worse can this unravelling get? Apparently, a lot worse before it even gets to court. When the principals finally get into the courtroom, it will explosively fragment into lethal shrapnel. This case and the poor response by an institution that’s supposed to foster higher learning will be a future study in the worst possible way to handle PR, excluding, of course, China which bumbles every opportunity to fix “really stupid shit” everyday. But China can pull it off, since they own everyone down the long line: judges, police, the enforcing military, the old ladies on the street “keeping their eyes on things.” Pennsylvania doesn’t have that sort of suction, especially when you add an agency that is not a treaty member of the state tribe. Good luck PSU. You’re doing everything to help yourselves go down.


Further reading
The tragedy of Joe Paterno
Moral Parallels: Foshan China, Penn State
Blinded by Penn State’s utopian vision

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Penn State football should be dry docked

November 13th, 2011 · 11 Comments

I have been following Joe Paterno’s team (purposely singular) since I was a teenager in Philadelphia when he began his reign. How could we not love him even as we traveled far from home? (I have not lived in Pennsylvania since 1968, with the exception of a brief 2 month stint when I mustered out of the service in 1972.) Over the years Penn State has been a sort of virtual home, even for us who have never been to Happy Valley. It was tangible, a touchstone, a highly visible piece of Pennsylvania for all of us who are from the Keystone State to lay a wandering hand upon.

What has transpired over the past week is difficult to comprehend, and even more difficult to acknowledge. What tragedy! In a very real sense this is something Joe Paterno knows down within his bones, deep into his foggy, troubled sleep. He is now our Oedipus without the complex, Sophoclean not Freudian. This is all so very hard to watch, as it must have been hard for Athenians to watch Oedipus Tyrannus, the greatest tragedy that has survived. And now we have it here, today, burned too much into our present. That Paterno, a classics man, was consumed in such a classical way is both horrific and haunting, and, much too strangely classic. The storm that will continue raging into the unforeseeable future will leave us all gasping, grasping for sense and meaning. How could this possibly have happened to him, to us, though, most importantly how could this have happened to them, the traumatized victims of such amazing disregard? How could he/we have not seen this? Yes, we all want our gods to walk among us, but, no, we don’t get to have that. The gods don’t suffer impostors. They will always strike them down. This is what Paterno – blinded by the odd light in which he cast himself, assisted by his handpicked Penn State priesthood – knew and somehow forgot. For all his supposed classical erudition, he somehow missed what was most obvious: you don’t get to rule the world, even if that world is a small Appalachian valley in the middle of Penn’s woods. If he had truly understood the meaning of all those ancient stories that he was purported to have known, he would not have strived to have been so Olympian.

The children – we all suspect there will be more – are, of course, our greatest concern, and what will come next is going to be unimaginably difficult for them: having to face their alleged abuser, to fend off the the media hounds prying into their traumatized lives, to attempt to sort out their private confusions in the midst of a withering blitz. That it could have been stopped and consciously wasn’t is an unspeakable crime that men will have to answer for. (What is most curious is that this is a very gender-specific story. The only females are mothers of the victims. All the ‘bad guys’ are guys.) Paterno is done, as well he should be. He stayed too long – classical literature is riddled with examples of those who couldn’t bear to walk away and suffered the wrath of their gods. There’s not enough time for him to recover any semblance of integrity. Perhaps that will come much later, though it will not be in his lifetime. Some future tragedian may have the compassionate skill to construct a Paterno at Colonus though it will be a very long time before anyone will be able to responsibly come anywhere close to this story. There will, of course, be those who will try for commercial gain to spin this into bucks, but it will, in the end, be all for nought. There are some stories we can’t reasonably touch until the seas are much calmer. And this one will take a lot of years to flatten into a form that can be considerately approached.

We know that all those at Penn State who were complicit in concealing this outrage will have to, finally, publicly answer for their shocking lack of courage and their collective inability to take preemptive actions against monstrous allegations. But the thornier question for the current keepers of the Nittany keys is how does the institution of Penn State credibly survive? There is only one way for this to happen: suspend the football program for five (5) years, and then revisit the possibility of restoration after that, with no guarantee of revival. That would mean giving up what has become far too precious at the expense of innocent lives, but that’s how this has to unfold for anything close to redemption to occur. The program is, for all intents and purposes, dead. To try to resuscitate it now is fundamentally wrong. This punishment should be an internal decision, not a judgement that comes from any external organization or pressure from a shrinking advertising base. Yes, there is a responsibility to those who are currently in the program, but that can be addressed far more easily than it will be for the victims to address their shattered lives. Penn State is now trying to dredge up a new coach, which is entirely the wrong thing to be doing. It is a corporate reflex to keep the ship afloat when dry docking is what is critically needed. Someone has to try to think beyond the money, since not thinking beyond the money was what has gotten them to where they are today, November 13, 2011. The greater shame for Penn State will come if they field a football team next season. Does anyone in Happy Valley have the courage to stand up for that? We’ll see.


Update, November 15, 8:30 AM (Beijing)

The following article appeared in the Christian Science Monitor overnight: Advertisers bail on Penn State college football TV ads. These are the first few notes of the inevitable dirge, and Penn State would do best to suspend the program while they still have some control over the situation. If they wait to suspend the program until after all the advertisers bail, they will be looked upon as caving to plunging revenues, rather than being the ones who proactively began the process of restoring a moral high ground. To hang around waiting for market pressures to dictate their next move is digging the hole even deeper. This is unfortunate. Yes, there are a couple of remaining games, but they have become the pariah, affecting all those who will play against them. To wait until the end of the season to announce a suspension will be too late. We all feel for those who are innocently part of this program, but life will go on, and Penn State will need to responsibly handle how that will happen for those who may be displaced. The clock’s ticking.


Update, November 15, 12:45 AM (Beijing)

A fragment of Mike McQueary’s email to friends and former teammates: “I did the right thing…you guys know me…the truth is not out there fully…I didn’t just turn and run…I made sure it stopped…I had to make quick tough decisions.” We know “the truth is not out there fully,” and so, too, are many more disturbing details that will be revealed in court. McQueary’s email still does not speak to the fact that he and everyone else in the PSU loop of knowing didn’t pass on the information to the legal authorities. I am somewhat familiar with the legal requirements in PA, and to have not passed this on is criminal. I hope for McQueary and his father’s sakes that they will be able prove that they are not culpable. That said, in the indictment it is clearly stated, “The Grand Jury finds the graduate assistant’s testimony to be extremely credible.”


Update, November 16, 6:30 AM (Beijing)

The following article has just been published by The Morning Call (4:36 p.m. EST, November 15, 2011): McQueary on alleged rape: ‘I did stop it,’ did have discussions with police.

In the email obtained by The Morning Call, McQueary wrote that he “did have discussions with police and with the official at the university in charge of police” following the alleged incident between Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach, and a boy. McQueary also wrote that he “is getting hammered for handling this the right way or what I thought at the time was right.”

With the way this has all looks to have been mishandled, I would not be surprised to see the Justice Department riding into State College, PA in the not-too-distant future.


Further reading
The tragedy of Joe Paterno
Moral Parallels: Foshan China, Penn State
Blinded by Penn State’s utopian vision


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Long Shots (Part I)

October 12th, 2011 · 2 Comments

This post and its second part, which will be uploaded in the next few days, are written in support of the documentary Living with Dead Hearts: The Search for China’s Kidnapped Children, a work in progress by Charles Custer (ChinaGeeks). I strongly encourage you to view the trailer and visit the official site for the film.

The summer I turned ten we moved to a new neighborhood, three miles and a world away from where I’d spent my first decade. In the move we acquired a front porch, a small back yard, social breathing space, and most importantly, at least to my parents, a house not connected in block long rows, though the new house, older by fifty years than the one we had just moved from, was a turn-of-the-century duplex. It was 1960, and the working class were doing their best to move out (and up) from the city, in our case, Philadelphia. Three miles away life was different, though in many ways it was still just life: the neighborhood was less crowded and the interior house spaces were better lit. The porch was a major improvement over the concrete front steps of the former house, and though I was unhappy to leave the familiar city, I did quite like the front porch.

One of the first people I noticed was a small, older man – a quiet, smiling, gentle man – who passed each weekday morning and evening to catch the bus on his way back and forth to work. He was striking in an old world-past age way, as if he’d stepped out of a b&w photo of a mass of men in the crowded stands from the dead-ball era. In memory, perhaps imperfect, he always wore an Irish flat cap. There was also something about his gait that was distinctive, though from a half-century down the pike I can’t recall if he had a limp or if, possibly, he were slightly bow-legged, though if you saw him coming from a distance you knew it was Tim. His name was Tim Callanan, a stained-glass artisan (the Callanans have a long history of stained-glass work in Philadelphia), and he lived a couple of hundred yards east of us on the other side of the street, on the long, uninterrupted south side that bordered the Reading Railroad line, halfway between our house and the sprawling industrial complex of Standard Pressed Steel (SPS).

I got to meet and know more about Tim through his grandson, Joe, who has been a great friend — and a resolute Phillies fan which helps us stay in close contact — since we first met at the new school I was forced to attend. (My pleas to be allowed to go to the library as an alternative to attending school had been summarily denied … again.) How I learned about Tim – never Mr. Callanan, always Tim, even to his grandson – was obviously through Joe, though I can’t remember how it all unfolded. What I learned about this wonderfully gentle man who spoke with an Irish lilt was that he was not born in Ireland but rather in Philadelphia (circa 1893), kidnapped shortly after birth and whisked away to Ireland, doubtlessly in steerage. The details are now mostly lost, though what I do know is that Tim’s parents had emigrated from Ireland to Philadelphia, and his mother had died shortly after he was born, probably of complications from childbirth. Within days/weeks of her death someone from her side of the family kidnapped him and took him to Ireland where he spent his first 16 years in Limerick, which explained his immigrant accent. At sixteen he somehow found his way back to Philadelphia, moved in with his father and stepmother, though things apparently didn’t pan out as he had hoped, and Tim ended up living with an uncle. That’s all I really know about Tim’s history, though Joe, who adored him and named his son after him, recently filled in a curious personal detail when I asked him about his grandfather:

It didn’t take Tim long to acclimate to the culture, particularly baseball. He was forever talking about the Philadelphia Athletics. He could tell you anything you wanted to know about the A’s starting with the 1911 world championship. This is where I learned about Rube Waddell, Lefty Grove, Home Run Baker, Al Simmons, Max Bishop, Jimmy Foxx and so many others.

For me, this story of someone I knew who’d been kidnapped was indelibly needled into my developing understanding of the world: Kidnappings actually happen. It had become part of the visceral knowledge base we build along the way, whether we want to add it or not. There was Tim passing our porch, walking back and forth to work each day, living proof that people vanish, though in his case he returned in some unknown, altered way into the lives of those who distantly remembered him as an infant. Though I would never venture to guess whether his life over his first 16 years would have been better had he stayed with his father in Philadelphia, there was a truth to his life in Ireland, though now forgotten, that cannot be denied. He was an infant when he was snatched, and his memories of any prior life across the sea in America could not have been an issue. Did his father miss him? Did his father know where he was? Did his father have any idea that he was in Limerick, or know any details of that distant life before he returned home at sixteen? Did Tim even know of his birth in America, a father in Philadelphia, or was it something he somehow later learned that may have precipitated his return? These are questions impossible to answer. But anyone familiar with the Ireland of Tim’s youth knows that all those feel-good jigs and soft-shoed reels were survival overlays of an impoverished rural people who lived lives that were, to put it mildly, hardscabble. My maternal grandparents understood that, and each, under their own sails, found their ways to America about the same time Tim returned. And somehow they met each other in some Irish nook of Philadelphia – he a Murphy, a hod carrier and, later, a trolleyman, she a Walsh, a domestic who my mother always said, “worked for Jews, but they were good Jews.” (Neither my grandmother nor my mother had any awareness of Leopold Bloom and the 1904 Dublin of Joyce’s Ulysses.) My grandmother (b. 1889) had lived through a childhood in County Sligo where kidnapping quite possibly would have been a blessing; where she might have ended up could not have been much lower on the social ladder than where and how she spent her childhood. But despite that sort of speculation, there are things we just know, things that are just life, and one of those things is that there is always somewhere lower to fall, even when we believe there is not, and to attempt to justify kidnapping by pulling the social escalation card is a sleight of hand that is best left to the unblinking midway sharks.

The fact is that kidnapping, for whatever reason, has been in the playbook since humans climbed down from trees, perhaps even before. When history began to be written Herodotus pinned the cause of the constant conflicts between Europe and Asia on a series of kidnappings of women: Io, Europa, Medea and the most infamous of all, the much-laid Helen. Back and forth these stealings, precipitating murders and wars and unspeakable human misery. The Greeks filled their cities and their brothels with slaves who were stolen people. But the Greeks were hardly the first to profit from abductions; they were just doing what everyone else did, and to date it hasn’t stopped . The kidnap/slavery industry is as alive today as it has ever been, with more victims than ever before.

At the dark heart of kidnapping is the more basic horror of disappearance (a phenomenon that can happen for any number of reasons), a particular class of death that is worse than death itself. Those who are left to wonder what has happened to a loved one missing are left with a void of terrible unknowing, a hole which nothing short of return can fill, though as time passes the odds are overwhelmingly against a satisfactory resolution. The Greeks knew this, too. One of the earliest surviving stories we have in Western literature, the Homeric epic The Odyssey, is a story based on return, the homecoming. In ancient Greek it’s referred to as nostos. (The word nostalgia is literally built from nostos + algos = pain.) The Odyssey is all about disappearance. Odysseus – pillaging pirate and shameless kidnapper that he was – is the ironic hero of the classic tale of return. (In another ironic twist, The Iliad, the only other surviving Homeric epic we have, is the story of “the rage of Achilles,” which is precipitated by a squabble over kidnapped women. Are we beginning to see a pattern yet?) What at first seems strange is that we don’t see Odysseus until Book Five, though it is not so odd if we understand the wider reverberations of what disappearance actually means. In a display of basic human understanding, Homer gives the first four books to Odysseus’ family, who are essentially imprisoned at home on Ithaka, lost in the confusion and misery of complete uncertainty, wondering not only if “the man” will return, but even if he is, beyond all odds, still alive. To underscore the improbability of a ‘satisfactory resolution,’ the goddess Athena becomes the divine intercessor, shoring up a shaky Telemachus (Odysseus’ son) as he teeters on the threshold of manhood, as he tries to understand how to handle the chaos that has rent their lives because of the disappearance. That we first meet the family, nearly paralyzed in misery, is vital in light of the unlikely conclusion to the tale. The Odyssey, a great adventure, is also a story of inconceivable hope that somehow overcomes the tragedy of losing someone to a world that can and will easily swallow any and all of us up.  But that hope is what makes us human, bearing the crushing tragedies which, more often than not and begrudgingly, define us. In Greek (Western) literary history tragedy follows the epics, though quite often the tragedies drew from the epic tales to make its general agonizing point: Somehow we go on despite the overwhelming odds against us.

But this is hardly a Western uniqueness. Return from disappearance – or rather the hope of return – is something that is basic to humanity. In 1953 in a western Shandong village the wife of a poor farmer named Yang gave birth to her third child – her third daughter – twenty-three years after the birth of her first. Yang’s wife died a couple of days after her daughter was born from complications at childbirth. Yang, a poor widower faced with a daughter to feed [the first was already gone], gave up the infant to a family with more resources. They in turn, a few years later, passed her on to another family, and she slipped into the massive unknown of a very uncertain China. It would take 48 years for her to return. That she did was a long shot that, given the odds, no one in their right mind would have ever put any money on it happening. But this wasn’t about money. It was about much more than that. It was about finding family.

Long Shots (Part 2)

Again, as I mentioned above, I strongly encourage that you view the trailer,  visit the official site for the film and support this worthwhile cause if you can.

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BuddhaWorld, China and the Persistence of Gigantism

July 18th, 2011 · 1 Comment

Melissa Chan at Al Jazeera does great reporting of CN. Her story The Lumbini project: China’s $3bn for Buddhism is a fine piece on Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of Prince Gautama Siddhartha, and the current target of a Chinese business man (with no help from the government! Really!) who wants to turn the sacred site into BuddhaWorld (my label for the project), representing all different vehicles and strains of Buddhism, though the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism seem to be on the excluded list.

The organization behind the project is called the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APECF), a quasi-governmental non-governmental organisation. Its executive vice president, Xiao Wunan, is a member of the Communist Party and holds a position at the National Development and Reform Commission, a state agency.

The Walt Disney Corp. tried to do the same sort of thing with Disney’s America, an American history theme park planned for Loudoun County, VA in the early 1990s with the help of outgoing Virginia governor Doug Wilder, though citizen groups’ resistance was enough to save Sally Hemmings from total obscurity.

But this proposed Lumbini project may actually be a blessing for Tibetan Buddhism, legitimizing them as the only non-sellouts to the Chinese ‘religious machine’ and their who’s in/who’s out classifications. Will other international Buddhist leaders have the stomach for the Chinese determining who is and who is not a Buddhist? We’ll see, but money has always been the catalyst for powerful, selective ignorance. And in the dueling Buddhist circles – “my lineage is truer than yours” – sidelining the Tibetans may be seen by some as the fortuitous thing to do. Right thinking is not as easy to attain as one might think, even in the sphere of the venerables.

According to Chan, “Some 500,000 visitors already make the pilgrimage to Lumbini every year. This could balloon to millions of visitors each year when the project is complete.” So, the question that needs to be asked is if the Chinese secure this project and “as Chinese construction companies line up for a portion of the $3bn pie,” how many of the current pilgrims would be able to afford a trip to the Buddha’s birthplace? If ticket prices in China for once affordable tourist sites are any indication, it will not be the low-income faithful who will be able to cough up the admittance fees. Chinese economics and Buddhist economics are cloths cut from entirely different bolts.

But the Dharamsala boys have always been much better at international spin than the Chinese. After all, they have a lot more practice at it than the Chinese. While China was frenetically feeding on itself throughout the entire Mao era, the monks were out and about weaving a tale of the peaceful warriors and spreading it throughout the financially comfortable West. You can bet they’re doing their best now to get out in front of this Lumbini affair, too, though Nepal, a regional lapdog of China  – and a key stepping stone for Tibetans escaping to Dharamsala – will do what they are told to do by their northern neighbor. Look for Gere and the Gang to go into smiling overdrive. Perhaps someday they’ll also turn their attention to the deeply imbedded misogyny that still rules the Tibetan world and keeps the monkish set anchored in the dark ages. Until the Tibetans can begin to see that their women are their most valuable asset (many Tibetan men still firmly believe that women are women because of past life karmic indiscretions, a primitive view at best), they will muddle about and continue to lose ground to the more powerful and moneyed Chinese. But Lumbini? I have a feeling that they’ll be onto that. It may very well be another case of Chinese overreach. After all, it’s about time for another Chinese Olympic Torch equivalency. Let’s hope the international Buddhist community is up to it.


Update, July 29th, 2011

Ths from the China Digital Times announcing the rejection of the Lumbini project by the Nepalese gorbernment:

Less than a fortnight after a Chinese nongovernmental organisation announced its plan for what amounted to a virtual takeover of Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha in Nepal, Nepal’s government on Thursday unceremoniously rejected it, saying it would not entertain any deal struck in a third country without the participation of the actual stakeholders.

“Nepal is the actual stakeholder,” said Modraj Dottel, spokesperson of Nepal’s culture ministry that governs Lumbini, the town in southern Nepal that is the destination of thousands of pilgrims and Buddhist scholars worldwide, and a Unesco-declared World Heritage Site. “How can we own a deal struck in a third country without the formal consent of the actual stakeholder?” […]

Since the announcement of the MoU, the Foundation has been under media glare in Nepal, which has been less than flattering. The Nepali media has specially highlighted the fact that the Foundation’s members include Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and his bete noir, ousted crown prince Paras Bir Bikram Shah.

→ 1 CommentTags: Beijing · Tibet

The Law’s in the Back Seat Behind the Guy with the Club

May 26th, 2011 · 2 Comments

In an essay in the East Asia Forum today, China’s jasmine crackdown and the legal system, Donald C. Clarke, law professor at George Washington University succinctly explains the current state of Chinese law, vis-a-vis the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) vs The People:

When the Chinese authorities detained human rights lawyer Teng Biao last year, they had little patience with his legal objections.

‘Don’t talk so much about the law with me. Do you know where we are? We are on Communist Party territory!’ they told him. ‘You belong to the enemy! … In that case, we don’t have to talk about legal constraints at all!’

And just in case anyone wasn’t getting the message about the role of law in the system, last month a spokeswoman from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jiang Yu, warned journalists not to imagine they could ‘use the law as a shield.’

As the authorities have made clear, political power in modern China is not and will not be constrained by law…..

Since late February, there has been a wave of detentions and disappearances of lawyers, activists and others in China. Especially alarming to many is the government’s apparent disdain for even the modest requirements of its own laws. While some have been detained or arrested in accordance with procedures required under Chinese law, others have simply been picked up by security officials and disappeared. These detentions reflect a deep truth about the system that observers are often tempted to overlook: that China’s legal system has never been about the rule of law. It has been and remains about making government function more effectively.

What is and has been clear to anyone who has paid even a little attention to China in the past decade is that Chinese laws in the PRC are not for the protection of the people. The point of all laws is to protect the power and secrecy of the CCP. All else is subordinate to that. (For those unaware, the Chinese government is not the CCP, though all members of the government are CCP members. The Party is the deep material shadow giving shape to the exoskeleton of what passes for a legitimate government. The multi-nationals need that allusion of legitimacy.)

Richard McGregor, in his fine book The Party: The Secret World of China’s Ruling Party, nails it:

Over time, the Party’s secrecy has gone beyond habit and become essential to its survival, by shielding it from the reach of the law and the wider citizenry. Ordinary citizens can sue the government in China these days, and many do, although they may stand little chance of success. But they cannot sue the Party, because there is nothing to sue. ‘It is dangerous and pointless to try to sue the Party,’ He Weifang, at the time a law professor at Peking University, one of China’s oldest and most prestigious educational institutions, told me. ‘As an organization, the Party sits outside, and above the law. It should have a legal identity, in other words, a person to sue, but it is not even registered as an organization. The Party exists outside the legal system altogether.’ The Party demands that social organizations all register with government bodies, and punishes those which don’t. The Party, however, has never bothered to meet this standard itself, happily relying on the single line in the preamble of the constitution, about its ‘leading role’, as the basis for its power.”, [Richard McGregor, The Party]

There is no point beating this horse, since it’s already thoroughly dead, though the charade of a society governed by law does provide opportunities for absurd guffaws, especially when Foreign Ministry sycophants evangelize about the rule of law. But there is a deeper purpose for mentioning this dysfunctional view of law and power; it explains the Party’s seeming total disconnect in their perceptions of and relations with the rest of the world, especially those parts of the world where totalitarianism is looked upon as a politically abhorrent (and aberrant) system: the party elites seem to sincerely believe their own propaganda that there is actually a rule of law that favors the Chinese people. It is a highly blinkered and politically aphasic front that continues to do them great harm beyond their borders. But don’t look for reform anytime soon. In fact, expect to see more of what we are already seeing: a reactionary return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when fear owned the day and Red was waved as a proto-cybernetic response to the firmest hand.

But how this plays outside of China is another thing altogether, despite most of the world ceding economic super status to the cloned men in suits. In the wake of the current International Monetary Fund (IMF) scandal, which has vacated the top seat at the Fund, China is making a lot of noise about wanting someone from a BRIC nation to fill the empty seat, even calling for democratic consultation. Of course, China would love to see that person come from Beijing, but the chances of that happening are slim-to-none. No, actually we can drop slim and peg it at none. As long as the Chinese legal system (with its trademark highly-dependent judiciary and its dedication to disappearing anyone who doesn’t clap for their performances) is subservient to the CCP, there is no possible way for anyone Chinese to be taken as a serious player in ascending to the IMF throne. Even the IMF is not sloppy enough to anoint a person perceived to be under the thumb of a financially-controlling higher power, especially one that prides itself on remaining outside the dictates of any human, natural or divine law.

But when the inevitable happens – a non-Chinese IMF head (if it’s not a French woman, I’d be stunned) and the Party hacks express their deep, deep, disappointment at the continuation of the status quo, they may actually sound sincere, though it will probably come off as buddies-squeezing shrill. No one will be surprised, except the Chinese, who will then beat this dead horse even deader. There may even be the collective reproach which includes the masses of Chinese “hurt feelings.” Just remember that they will be playing for the home team crowd, while not quite understanding that the rest of the world is watching too. And that outside world will be giving them another failing adolescent grade.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Beijing · propaganda