Behind the Li Gang Case, Part 3: “A Sleepless Night in Xiaofeng’s Home”

Behind the Li Gang Case:

This is the third (and final) post in our translation of Wang Keqin’s investigation into the outcome of the Li Gang incident. This post is a translation of an essay by Wang Keqin’s student, Feng Jun, about a night he spent with the victim’s family (her name was Chen Xiaofeng) while compiling his report on the case.

Unlike the first two pieces, this essay doesn’t concern itself with the facts of the case and instead focuses on the emotions of the Chen family and the feelings of the reporter himself as he spends a night in their home, haunted by thoughts of the innocent, dead daughter who used to sleep in the room he is now in.

Translation

It’s two o’clock in the morning on November 12th, and I can’t sleep. Xiaofeng’s father and mother are sleeping soundly, and her brother Chen Lin is asleep in the next room. Just now I went out into the courtyard to piss, and in the utter blackness of the night, I suddenly felt an indescribable panic. I thought of Chen Xiaofeng; was I once again dreaming of ghosts? In the late-night stillness, I was uneasy.

On the afternoon of the 11th, Chen Lin told me that the room I was sleeping in was the one that Xiaofeng had liked best when she was alive. The computer I’m using right now is one Xiaofeng used to study before she went off to college. The small courtyard outside is where they took family photos with her, and there’s the little dog, the desk, the chair, the teacup…

The whole Chen family is asleep, but I don’t even feel tired. Sweeping my eyes over the things in this room, I sigh softly. When did Xiaofeng leave them?

A few barks from the dog, does it mean that Xiaofeng is home? Has she come to visit her father, mother, and brother? Or has she come to drive off the stranger who is using her computer and sleeping in her bed?

There are strange customs in Xiaofeng’s hometown. The remains of those who die in accidents outside cannot enter the family home. Unmarried women who have died cannot be buried here, one must find a similarly-deceased and unmarried man, “marry” them, and then bury the girl where he and his family are buried.

When we were chatting, Chen Lin told me quietly, “It took us two days to sort out my sister’s funeral affairs.” I asked to visit Xiaofeng’s grave, and Chen Guangqian [the father] shook his head over and over in admonition. No one in their family knew where she was buried.

Not long after Xiaofeng’s body was taken from Baoding to the Xinji No. 2 People’s Hospital morgue, the family of an unmarried dead man came forward and “proposed marriage”. Then, they buried her. Only after 49 days have passed can the Chen family go to find her grave and burn incense and funeral money.

“We just know which village, but we’re not sure of the specific place. When the time comes, we’ll go ask,” Chen Guangqian explained.

Oh Xiaofeng, when will you be able to come home? You must know that your mother has cried so hard her eyes have swollen up and she no longer wants to eat, that your father has withstood immense pressure for you, and that your brother has been wearing himself out seeking fairness and justice for you. Then there are your uncles, the local leaders, and even I came here to visit you, but it is impossible…

At the dinner table, the small sort one kneels at, the three Chens and I sat one to a side. Xiaofeng, the place I sat was your spot, your mother held her bowl, looking dazed around the table, and finally taking a meager sip of porridge. She misses you, Xiaofeng…

Remembering past times, four people in a five room pingfang ((Literally, “flat house”, the traditional style of dwelling in China’s countryside, a one story house, generally with a walled courtyard in the front.)), two mu of farmland and a little courtyard, what a warm and happy family…

I can imagine this place was once full of laughter. The deep love between mother and daughter, the deep affection between father and daughter, the love of siblings; now it’s more desolate in the bleakness of Beijing’s early-winter cold. Here, people speak little, wear expressionless masks, and move sluggishly. They’ve lost a relative, a love, and a family treasure.

Now, the Chen family is living their original rural life. Empty rooms are kept tidy, and the courtyard is piled with corn stalks, the tractor loaded with heating oil for the winter. The oil can heat the air, but it can’t warm the hearts of the Chen family, and no matter how many cornstalks there are, they still can’t be used to fight…

The corn has been harvested and there’s nothing to do in the fields, so on the afternoon of the 11th, the father Chen napped for a while. A few days earlier, Chen Lin had also tuned up the computer. Mama Chen made meals for me and the neighbors who dropped in to chat.

Xiaofeng’s family is in a village near Shijiazhuang, and 26 days after her death, at around 10:30 in the morning on November 11th, I arrived at their house. Coming from nearby Xinji City, the crisscrossing roads perplexed my cab driver and I, and we stopped to ask for directions: “How do I get to the family home of Chen Xiaofeng, the girl who was killed in the accident at Hebei University?” The country folk quickly asked in reply: “Where are you from? Why are you looking for them?”

When I got my things and walked into Xiaofeng’s home, the door was closed. I called a few times, and Chen Lin and mother Chen surprisedly welcomed this unexpected guest into their home.

A few minutes after I got there, the village head and the Party secretary showed up, saying a villager had called and reported someone in a cab asking directions to the Chen family home. In the kitchen, they asked Chen Guangqian who the person who had come was. I have heard that tomorrow, the village leader, a village cadre, and the Party secretary will come to the Chen family’s home again.

Hah.

In villages near Beijing, tiny roads spread in all directions. For a southerner like me, it’s hard to get used to. I don’t belong here, the person who is used to this place is Xiaofeng, Hebei University’s Chen Xiaofeng…

Now it’s three o’clock in the morning. Just now I went out to pee again, and it’s still silent, so silent I don’t dare to think. I’ll sleep with my clothes on, and when I sleep I can dream of the home I’m used to in the south, dream of my beloved father and mother, and of my nieces and nephews.

In dreams, everything is possible, our harmonious dreams! ((This is a bit of a play on words, as he’s suggesting both that actual dreams allow us to reconnect harmoniously with our family and our past, but it’s also a jab at the concept of “harmony” used in government propaganda; Feng Jun is suggesting that it’s just a [pipe] dream. There’s a clever mix of cynicism and optimism in the twin meanings that’s very difficult to translate, perhaps someone else could have a better go at it.))

Behind the Li Gang Case, Part 2: Family Goes Silent, Legal Rumblings

Behind the Li Gang Case:

This is Part 2 of our translation of Wang Keqin’s investigation into the Li Gang case, Part 1 is here. If you’re not familiar with the people or the case, I’d highly recommend that you read the Wikipedia article to start with, and then Part 1 before reading this post.

Note: The terms “reconcile”, “reconciliation”, “civil compensation” and “civil reconciliation” are all references to the kind of agreement the Chen family signed, a legal recourse in Chinese civil courts under which both sides can voluntarily agree to a financial settlement without going through a civil trial (this seems to be the same as settling out of court in the US legal system, but I am not a legal expert in either country so don’t take my word for it).

Translation

Missing-voice-gate: The Compensation Hadn’t Arrived Yet

The Chens told Feng Jun repeatedly that they had been heavily pressured, and were forced into doing many things. It was demanded that they not speak to reporters, give news of the deal or reveal information about the “reconciliation” with Li, or else they wouldn’t receive any of the 460,000 RMB.

On November 11th, they still hadn’t received the money. “The village government just kept putting it off, saying that they would give it to us tomorrow.” Because of that, what they Chen family was most worried about was not getting the compensation. “This is complicated, hard to talk about, and talking about it doesn’t help us,” Chen Guangqian told Feng Jun

Additionally, Chen Xiaofeng’s uncle Chen Yumao worked as a Xinji city auditor; the county leaders spoke to him multiple times and there was heavy pressure suggesting that “if the Chens don’t agree to compensation he will be fired.”

Chen Lin was always the one in the family most opposed to settling, and was the one who was actively communicating with their lawyer and with reporters. On the day the compensation agreement was side, he was put off to the side, and his cell phone was confiscated by his uncle, cutting him off from the outside world.

“Too sudden, it was all too sudden” [he said,] “Now I don’t have any communication tools. I only know the basics, and my family won’t let me tell you, won’t let me get on the microblog and send out messages.”

“There was never a place for me in [the negotiation]. Even my mom didn’t know, she was just suddenly forced to check out of the hospital. During the whole process, my family were [treated] like outsiders,” Chen Lin said, furrowing his brow tightly.

Under immense pressure, the Chen family finally chose to lose their voice, turning off all forms of communication with the outside world. [Their attitude was:] “Just get it over with,” hoping to get the 460,000 RMB “and go back to living a regular life.”

“I feel we let down our lawyer Zhang Kai, but we were under such pressure, there was nothing we could do. Now I’m letting Chen Lin go to Beijing to explain it to him,” Chen Guangqian told Feng Jun.

Additionally, Chen Lin revealed that a netizen from Tangshan who worked in Hebei and had planned to go to Baoding with friends to show support for the Chen family suddenly became the target of an out-of-jurisdiction investigation by the Tangshan police. [He returned to his housing to find that] his computer was moved, QQ chat records were copied; the next day he was called into the police station for a talk.

When asked how he was feeling now, Chen Lin said that the answer involved too many things. [As for the part of his feelings that] involved the government, [he said] the deal for compensation was made because the government intervened, and that [if his current] attitude persisted he would be anti-government.

He said that in the past, he’d been thinking about his sister, and wanting a just and fair result. But now he said he was thinking more about his parents, hoping they could get the 460,000 RMB quickly so the family could return to peace and quiet.

“I don’t care what the outside world thinks, anyway, this is just the way I think now,” Chen Lin said.

On November 12th, 100 [Chinese] students studying abroad signed a letter to Premier Wen Jiabao: “We love our motherland. To ensure Chen Xiaofeng’s tragedy is never played out again, to ensure a fair and just result [of the trial], to our personal safety, rights, and dignity, we are uniting and making our voices heard. We call for justice and conscience, we call on the Chinese central government and our enlightened leaders to do their duty; we call to all students at home and abroad to unite and sign this letter, asking the government to severely punish Li Gang and son in accordance with the law, and to give Xiaofeng, us, and our entire generation a just and safe environment in which to grow up!”

Police: Li Qiming will definitely be punished.

On December 21st, the Baoding, Hebei police spokesperson said that this case was one in which the [state] organs of prosecution needed to [formally] file a criminal case, and that a “reconciliation” was not a possible conclusion to the case. At present, the suspect Li Qiming is detained in jail, and the case has already been turned over to the prosecution and the case is being tried.

But the police also confirmed that on November 5, the suspect Li Qiming’s representative had reached and compensation agreement with the victim Chen Xiaofeng’s family in the civil case, and that the agreement had been executed on-schedule. By law, the civil part of the case can be resolved if both parties voluntarily agree to “reconcile” or can come to an agreement through a mediator, but the criminal part of the case is still being tried, and the suspect Li Qiming must be given a legal punishment. ((Here, there is a quotation mark in the original Chinese, indicating that at least this last sentence is a direct quote from the police spokesperson. But since Wang Keqin appears to have forgotten to type the opening quotation mark, it’s difficult to say for sure what is a direct quotation and what is Wang’s own wording in summary of the spokesperson’s remarks.))

As yet, the case has not begun open court hearings. As to the pressure put on the Chens to agree to “civil reconciliation”, some media commented: “If the victim’s family agreed to the compensation completely voluntarily, it doesn’t matter how unfair the deal seems to outsiders. But even if the terms of an agreement are very generous, if the agreement to reconcile wasn’t totally voluntary and was instead that under pressure, one side was “volunteered”, then the agreement is no longer a private matter and should be judged by the public.

Additionally, I know that the other student injured in the “car race incident at Hebei University, Zhang Jingjing, checked out of the hospital on December 8, and is already back at school. [Her mother is there taking care of her]. The troublemaker’s father Li Gang has never spoken with Zhang Jingjing’s family about “civil compensation”.

The Court System: Can there be justice?

After the civil case was “reconciled”, what people became most concerned with was Li Gang’s son, and whether he would receive an impartial court decision.

A legal ruling [should be] founded on two concepts: basing the foundation [of a case] in fact, and using the laws as the standard for deciding on a ruling.

First, as for the law, is this a case of endangering the public safety or is it a traffic accident? People have been paying close attention to this question, and at present it is beginning to appear it has been classified as the latter.

As for the facts, the first factual data received by the Wangdu County prosecution was provided by the Baoding police. And the first responders to the scene, the collectors and inspectors of all the facts related to this case, were Baoding police [here, Wang notes the specific types of police that were there.] Strictly speaking, then, the first people on the scene work in Li Gang’s department.

Additionally, it was a student who first checked the VW’s 冀FWE420 plate and discovered it was owned by Li Qiming, but several days later, a Baoding police investigative report showed the car as being owned by Wang Jiangwei, No. 6 Group 2 Zannan Village, Zangang township, Xiong county, Baoding city.

Aside from that, when Li Qiming was attempting to flee and being blocked, he was blocked and remained inside the car for five minutes. Pictures taken by students there show that there was a phone in his hand, and that the phone’s screen was bright.

Part 3 of our translation will tackle the final segment of Wang Keqin’s blog post, an essay by Feng Jun called “A Sleepless Night in Xiaofeng’s Home”.

Behind the Li Gang Case, Part 1: Chen Family Forced to Drop Suit

Behind the Li Gang Case:

You would have to be living under a rock to not know about the “My dad is Li Gang” case at this point. But it hasn’t been in the news much recently, thanks to a gag order to the media from the Propaganda Department and an alleged resolution of the dispute between Li Gang’s family and Chen Xiaofeng’s family (Chen Xiaofeng is the name of the girl Li Gang’s son killed).

The “resolution” was suspicious for many reasons. First, the Chen family, which had hired a good lawyer and been publicizing the case the media, suddenly disappeared. After two days, they fired their lawyer and it was announced that the case had been resolved amicably, but they wouldn’t speak to any media. Was there foul play involved? Unsurprisingly, the answer is yes. Wang Keqin, China’s foremost investigative reporter, and his student Feng Jun did some digging and Wang has written a lengthy post on his blog that reveals what happened behind the closed doors of the Chen family’s mysterious disappearance and sudden reconciliation with Li Gang.

Wang Keqin’s post is quite long and very detailed. This is the first part of our translation, which covers the period from when the Chen family “went missing” to a few days after they signed the agreement with Li Gang and buried their daughter’s body.

Translation

“My father is Li Gang.” This sentence incited discussion and action throughout our entire society, and then quietly disappeared. How did this case develop? What powers are being concealed?

On November 4th, the Chen family’s lawyers and the media lost contact with them, and soon afterward, they had reached an agreement with Li Gang, but what went on behind the scenes hasn’t been made public. I became the first reporter to get involved, continually following this case. On November 11th, my student Feng Jun took a special trip to Chen Xiaofeng’s hometown in Xinji, Shijiazhuang, to meet with him (Chen Xiaofeng’s father) and understand what happened behind the scenes. The story below is what we sorted out and wrote into an article, but because of some unchangeable reasons ((i.e., the “Ministry of Truth”‘s ban on all Li Gang-case related reporting)), it has not been made public [until now].

Two days ago, we received word that the Chen family has already received the full 450,000 RMB compensation, and Chen Lin [Chen Xiaofeng’s brother] has found a new job in Shijiazhuang. In accordance with an agreement we made earlier with the Chens, we can now make this information public.

“Missing-gate” and the Dismissal of the Lawyers
Because he chose to take this case, laywer Zhang Kai suffered heavy pressure [from people who wanted him to drop it]. On the night of November 1st, he was called into a meeting with his firm and it was requested that he drop the case. “The director [of the firm] had received a warning from the Beijing Justice Department, when they asked me [to drop the case] I was on the verge of tears.”

Then, two days after the “battle for the autopsy,” on November 4th, Zhang Kai suddenly lost contact with the Chen family. Chen Lin’s phone had been turned off, and Chen Guangqian’s phone kept ringing but no one answered. Occasionally, someone would pick up, say “You’ve called the wrong number,” and then quickly hang up again. We [the reporters] were also unable to reach the Chen family.

After losing contact with lawyers, reporters, and the outside world, on Nov. 5 Chen Guangqian suddenly sent a telegram to Zhang Kai that read: “I want to thank you on behalf of the family. Our issue has been resolved.” As for how it has been resolved, Mr. Chen suggested it was “not convenient to go into that.” A half hour later, Zhang Kai was informed by his law firm that the family had come to the firm and annulled their contract.

After the Chen family “disappeared”, there was no way to be sure what had happened and many netizens became worried. My student Feng Jun conducted an investigation on Nov. 8 and discovered that the Chen’s had already checked out of their hotel on Nov. 5. He quickly went to the Hebei University PR department, hoping to ask about the family’s whereabouts, but he could not get a straight answer out of the worker there, Han Junwu, who would only say: “the school is keeping in contact with the family.”

Then, he got in touch with [the police officer in charge of the case] who told him that the case had already entered the judicial process, and she no longer had any jurisdiction.

“Reconciliation-gate”
On November 11, Feng Jun went to Chen Xiaofeng home [in Shijiazhuang], and because of this, the shocking “reconciliation gate” became public. A few minutes after he got there, the village head and Party secretary showed up at the Chen home, saying a villager had called to report they saw a cab in the village. In the kitchen, they asked Chen Guangqian (the father) who the person who had come was. Mr. Chen said it was a classmate of Chen Lin’s who had just come to visit, and the village head and Party secretary left.

Shortly after lunch, Chen Guangqian and Chen Lin described the process of their reconciliation with Li Gang for Feng Jun.

As early as November 1st, the police had formally inquired as to whether the Chen family would “agree to resolve the case via financial compensation; if you agree just say a number, don’t miss this opportunity.” But the Chens, especially Chen Lin, remained opposed and wanted it to be pursued as a criminal case against public safety, while at the same time preparing a civil suit for financial compensation.

But on November 5th, police officials, a cadre from Chen Xiaofeng’s hometown, and the village head came to [the Chen’s hotel], and told Chen’s father: “The central government has already sent down a memo saying this issue must be resolved immediately, and the provincial government has also pointed out that the issue cannot be allowed to get bigger demands that it be quickly resolved.”

The village head warned Mr. Chen, this isn’t a traffic accident anymore, it’s a political incident, and said that if they accepted any further media interviews that would be “anti-Party and anti-government”.

The village head also said: “You got Zhang Kai as your lawyer, but Li Gang hired Zhang Kai’s teacher to be his lawyer; is there any way you could win this lawsuit?”

The Chen family was then forced to sign a compensation agreement, and “weren’t permitted to accept media interviews, make contact with the outside world, or reveal anything.”

The agreement stated that Li Gang would compensate the Chen family with funds totaling 460,000 RMB […] during the process of making the agreement, Li Gang never showed his face; the copy of the agreement that Mr. Chen signed had obviously been signed by Li Gang some time ago and sent off to have the Chen family sign.

To prevent the Chen family from contacting the outside world, the money wasn’t given to the Chen family when they signed the agreement; instead it was held by [a nearby government bureau], to be given to the Chen family once things had cooled down.

Chen Guangqian told Feng Jun helplessly: “It was one layer of pressure after another, they were all relying on the organization to resolve things.” “Being country folk, we just want to go back to our old life, regardless of whether we have more or less money, that’s just how things are.”

After they signed the compensation agreement, they signed the agreement dismissing Zhang Kai as their lawyer. “In one morning at the hotel we signed several agreements. It was all very fast, we weren’t allowed [to take time] to consider things; that afternoon we were taken home,” said Chen Guangqian.

That afternoon, Baoding city police and Xinji government workers took the agreements to Zhang Kai’s legal firml Cheng Guangqian did not got himself [as Zhang Kai had been led to believe].

“If we didn’t agree to compensation who knows what would have happened with anything, for example, the autopsy had already been done by provincial experts, and if we agreed to sign it would be easier for them and so they would let us take the body home,” Chen Guangqian said.

The Baoding police agreed the Chen family request to take the body home rather than cremating it. On noon Nov. 5, Chen Xiaofeng’s mother Zhang Fang was forced to leave the hospital where she was being treated [PLA 252nd Hospital].

On the afternoon of November 5th, the three Chens and Chen Xiaofeng’s body were taken back to their Shijiazhuang home by Baoding police; Hebei University also sent along two teachers.

Shortly after they got home, Chen Xiaofeng was “married” to a local boy who had died recently, and on the 7th, her body was buried.

Rich State, Poor People

‘Guo jin min tui,’ or ‘the state advances, the private sector retreats’ has now become a catch-phrase among China watchers. It refers to the rising dominance of China’s state-owned sector at the expense of the vibrant private enterprises. Debates surrounding this phenomenon have been focused on the economics side. For example, in a New York Times report back in August, Michael Wines observes:

Those who see little evidence of an expanding state sector generally believe that China has a decade or more of robust growth awaiting it before its economy matures. Theirs is a Goldilocks view of state intervention — not too much or too little, but just enough to push a developing economy toward prosperity.

The skeptics have a darker view: they believe distortions and waste, in no small part due to government meddling, have resulted in gross misallocation of capital and will end up pushing growth rates down well before 2020. What drives their pessimism, the skeptics say, is that China, like Japan a generation ago, has too much confidence in a top-down economic strategy that defies conventional Western theory.

In a recent piece, Mo Zhixu, a prominent Chinese blogger, approaches the debate from a political point of view. ‘Guo jin min tui’ is not really an economic phenomenon per se, but an expression of political will to maintain the authoritarian structure. He claims that since the economic reform, key industries have remained in firm government controls. This includes strategic sectors such as defense, electricity, petrochemicals, telecoms and transportation. There is also no fundamental change in the financial sector, the crucial sector for resource allocation. This is also true in social sectors including education and culture.

Because maintenance of the authoritarian regime is the primary objective, efficiencies and marketization are not really top priorities of the regime. As Mo observes:

The so-called ‘small government, big market’ is just an elusive goal created by academics, and has never been a policy option for the government. State planning proved to be a failure during the first 30 years [of the PRC]. Without marketization, it was a dead end for the Chinese government. However, to introduce marketization, the Chinese government has to abandon its control over the economy. More seriously, following a ‘small government, big market’ policy entails transforming the authoritarian structure, in which politics dominates over the society, into a constitutional structure, in which politics is accountable and subordinated to the society. This is what Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun cannot accept. As their ‘two focal points’ illustrated, introducing marketization and constraining it to specified areas are the gist of reform.

Yang Jisheng’s book, Political Struggles in the Reform Era, once quoted a saying by Chen Yun to Zhao Ziyang: ‘CCP’s political authority is underpinned by its economic authority.’ According to my understanding, political authority is not only manifested in central-local relationships, but also in the relationship between the administration and society as a whole. In order to maintain absolute social control in this authoritarian structure, the government not only needs to resist political reforms and supervisions, but also needs to control economic and social resources. But the challenge lies in the inefficiencies, wastes and corruptions in the governmental structure and state-owned enterprises (SOE). The private sector, given its higher efficiency, will soon overtake the state sector. And inefficiencies, wastes and corruptions will soon kill the state sector.

Therefore, to protect the authoritarian structure, the government needs to use its power to interfere in the market at a time when marketization proceeds. To compensate for the deficiencies of the state sector and to maintain the leading role of the state-owned economy requires executive control and monopolization. Hence, the marketization process is twisted. To achieve the same [authoritarian] objective, the dual tools of inflation and low interest rates are also employed. They have the effect of transferring economic resources from the private to the state sector. We therefore observe the phenomenon that the growth in monetary supply is faster than GDP growth for over three decades, and executive control in the financial sector has never been loosened.

This observation highlights the political dimension of China’s state intervention in the economy. If maintaining the authoritarian system is what it is all about, the regime will achieve it at the expense of inefficiencies, wastes and corruptions. Economists’ concerns about the disadvantages of state intervention then miss the point: what they are arguing about are just the symptoms, rather than the root cause of the problem. Putting economics at the service of politics is the real issue, and in the words of Mo Zhixu, it is ‘an open conspiracy with a political intention which is all too clear.’

Who turned out the lights on Han Han?

For all the talk about Han Han being the voice of a generation and being too big to be silenced by the government, it sure seems like he’s been, well…silenced. There is no way to prove it’s the government silencing him, of course, but who else would it be?

First, there’s his magazine 独唱团, the first issue of which took over a year to get published and was met with fairly lackluster reviews ((See what I did there?)). But the second issue, which was meant to come out two months later, never appeared, for reasons that remain unclear. At this point, though, I don’t think anyone is expecting to see another issue of the magazine, ever.

Then there’s his blog. Once frequently updated, it has been remarkably quiet since his blog post on October 10 (the day Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize). The blog post didn’t say anything about Liu. In fact it didn’t say anything at all, it was simply titled October 10th, 2010 and the text read thusly:

“”

Since then, he has updated just twice, but both updates were just brief remarks on the Shanghai fire, which the mainstream media was also reporting at the time (this was before the word came down from the “Ministry of Truth” to slow down reporting on the fire). He has not updated the blog once since then; it has now been over a month (although it’s possible he has attempted to update the blog but had his posts deleted; this is a theory being espoused by some commenters in the comments on his “latest” post).

In real life, he may not be faring much better. An acquaintance of mine in the media recently was attempting to contact Han Han for an interview, but after pursuing several different guanxi channels was finally told by Han Han’s agent that things were too “sensitive” and that Han Han was not accepting any interviews from foreigners, period.

So, has China’s most politically-inclined race car driver been muzzled by Zhongnanhai, or is something else going on? And while we’re talking about silence, Wang Keqin hasn’t updated his blog in over a month either. That could be a good sign though, as he occasionally disappears from the internet for a while and reappears later with a new, hugely important news story.

Also:

I promise this is the last time I will mention this project on the site in an begging-for-money way, but check out some info about our project in the Global Times and China Digital Times, and if you feel like it, make a donation!

“The Sound of Rising Prices”

It may not be as well-produced as the Chinese song about rising housing prices ((For more on how crazily expensive houses are, see this Danwei post.)), but rising inflation has finally inspired its own song.

The song is a parody of an already well-known tune called “The Sound of Applause” (掌声响起来, listen here). The parody version is called 涨声响起来, roughly translated as “The Sound of Rising Prices.” Here’s one of many videos that’s been made already:
http://www.tudou.com/v/kRdTpCGNBok/v.swf
(direct link to Tudou)

Here are the lyrics used in the video (note: the following translations are especially artless as I am exhausted and over-caffeinated, but you get the idea):

Standing at the counter of the supermarket,
Seeing how all the [prices] are rising,
I only feel like sighing,
There is nothing inexpensive,
So many prices have been changed,
Now regular people can’t afford to buy vegetables.

Thinking back on Chinese cabbage when I was young,
When 20 cents bought a big bagful,
I can’t keep from crying,
So many big buildings being constructed,
So many new cars being sold,
But I still have to tighten my belt.

As the sound of rising prices rises,
I feel more and more helpless,
My wages aren’t rising as fast as the prices,
As the sound of rising prices rises,
I begin to understand,
From now on I may have to eat [only] pickles ((咸菜 could be translated variously as pickles, salted veggies, salty food, etc. I’ve mixed and matched here for variety’s sake, but the point the songs are all making is that 咸菜 is relatively cheap.)).

Living in these times,
Are we lucky or is it tragic?
I feel even more like sighing.
There’s no such thing as “good quality goods at fair prices,”
Food, clothing, shelter, and transportation [costs] have all gone up,
I suffer each and every day,
Waking and hurrying to work,
Busy making money and paying off [housing] loans,
My happy carefree life is long gone,
So many second-generation rich kids are buying nice cars,
So many second-generation poor selling things off of blankets on the street,
The gap between rich and poor is getting worse.

As the sound of rising prices rises,
I feel more and more helpless,
Everyone will be eating salted turnips,
As the sound of rising prices rises,
I begin to understand,
We’d be better off and happier as beggars.

[Cue dramatic key change and female vocal harmony]

As the sound of rising prices rises,
I feel more and more helpless,
Everyone will be eating salted turnips,
As the sound of rising prices rises,
I begin to understand,
We’d be better off and happier as beggars!

However, netizens are so enthused about this song that there are already a bunch of versions (all share the same melody and, generally, the same rhyming sounds). Here’s are the lyrics as written in the image posted above, which we found being passed around on RenRen:

Standing at the supermarket counter,
Seeing [the price] of everything rise,
I feel unlimited helplessness in my heart,
So few inexpensive options,
So many prices have changed,
Common people can’t afford to buy vegetables!

As the sound of rising prices rises,
I feel more and more helpless,
Prices are rising faster than salaries,
As the sound of rising prices rises,
I begin to understand,
There’s no industry that isn’t tainted by corruption.

And here’s still another version of the lyrics we found here:

While eating bread and pickled veggies,
I heard the sound of prices rising,
And I suddenly feel like sighing,
Every day it’s radishes and cabbage,
Looking forward to when housing prices drop,
Waiting for my wife to “say bye-bye,”
The floor covered in instant noodle packaging
Is a record of my helplessness,
And I can’t keep from shedding a tear.
I was once confident and bold,
I was once strong and patient,
But in the end I was defeated by rising prices.

As the sound of rising prices rises,
My tears flow till they’re an ocean,
Some people laugh and some people are full of sorrow,
As the sound of rising prices rises,
My tears flow till they’re an ocean,
I finally understand the great importance of money

There are actually a lot more versions of this song, but we’ll leave it at that as they tend to be fairly similar. The phrase “the sound of rising prices” has even become so widespread that it’s referenced in news broadcasts, such as this story about the rise of “group purchasing” websites:

http://www.tudou.com/v/Tc4J880Vijo/v.swf

The Chinese government, of course, is busy throwing an absolute fit about Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize, and doing everything it can to appear as petulant and immature as a three-year old.

I think, though, that if the government is really concerned about things that “subvert state power,” they should lay off Liu and address the rising discontent with housing and commodity prices and the atrocious gap between rich and poor, which is manifesting itself in all kinds of ugly ways.

The incident I’ve linked to there, in which a police officer crashes his car into an old woman and then gets out to beat her, shouting “What I’ve got is money, so I’m gonna beat you today!” is just one of a number of recent rich-people-play-with-the-lives-of-the-poor stories that has incited outrage and violence.

Personally, I see this as the biggest challenge to state security that China currently faces. Unfortunately, it’s a tough one to blame on the West, so it looks like for now China’s government will be content to shriek their Liu Xiaobo conspiracy theories in increasingly-shrill editorial pieces that no one reads (except, of course, when they’re looking for a laugh).

Of course, why should the government care if “Kart-like” Westerners laugh at their ridiculous propaganda? They should, however, be concerned with the tone of public opinion in China, especially on the internet, where a recent Global Times op-ed noted (without a hint of irony):

[There is] a [sic] extreme lack of tolerance for dissident public opinion on the Internet where there is almost no room for opinions that favor the government.

Note that here, by “dissident,” they mean people who support the government. Yeah. That’s how bad it’s gotten.

Good luck, Zhongnanhai. Your preposterous “Confucius Prize” stunt might succeed in distracting people from the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony (at least for as long as it takes to laugh, snort derisively, and change the channel), but I’m not sure it’s going to distract Chinese people from the fact that despite China’s powerhouse economy, living here seems to be getting harder and harder.

To Revolt or Not to Revolt; That is a Dumb Question

Yesterday’s New York Times — or maybe it was the day before’s, I get confused by the time differences — carried two very interesting op-ed pieces. In a way, they seem to be meant to read as a sort of point, counterpoint-style discussion. One is an impassioned call for political reforms, and the other, a reasoned call for the status quo. Of course, a closer look brings out some of the finer points.

Specifically, I’m interested in Eric Li’s piece, which rejects the notion of a “color revolution” as a positive step forward for China, and instead argues that the status quo is a better alternative. It’s a well-written argument, and Li asserts that China’s rise under the Communist Party has been relatively peaceful, that the CCP has a good record of restraining the more strident forces of nationalism. The whole article is worth a read, but I’d prefer to focus on his closer:

In effect, the Chinese Communist Party leveraged its moral authority as the vanguard of the common man to hold back the egalitarian impulses of the Chinese people and guide a rapid and unprecedented expansion of individual liberties and private property rights.

Further, its unquestioned role in redeeming China first from the humiliating subjugation by Western powers and then from Japanese aggression gives it the unique ability to moderate Chinese nationalism toward the outside world.

Maintaining this moral standing — hence the slogans of socialism and nationalism — is crucial for China to continue on this path. Western-style electoral democracy, as advocated by the West and some inside China, could only lead to tyrannical populism and its twin brother, extreme nationalism.

Today, respect for liberty and private property are at their highest in China’s entire history. It is unprecedented that the rise of a nation of China’s size at such speed is taking place largely in peace. Let’s allow it to continue. If it means that the chair in Oslo will remain empty for decades and generations, so be it. The alternative is far worse.

I have, on occasion, made similar points to the one Li is making here — overall, things are better now than they were in the 70s, and things would probably go badly if there was a revolution tomorrow — but he’s ignored a rather huge issue, which is that “status quo or all-out revolution” is a false dichotomy.

There is no reason to limit any discussion of Chinese political policy to these two extreme choices, and in fact, virtually no one does. Despite what the propaganda suggests, even the ‘vicious, subversive traitor’ Liu Xiaobo never seriously advocated revolution. What he, and other rights activists, advocate is generally a combination of reform and real implementation of the rule of law to ensure that current government policies (many of which are quite good on paper) are actually enforced.

Li argues that “respect for liberty and private property are at their highest in China’s entire history.” This is probably true. However, that’s more of a commentary on the miserable state of both of those things throughout history than it is a complimentary fact about the current government. Respect for liberty extends only to those who obey, unquestioningly, authority. And complimenting “respect for private property” in a country where no one can legally own their own house and people are frequently violently evicted from their homes to make way for development seems almost satirical. Yes, the situation is better now than it was under the Nationalist Party, or under the Imperial system. But it’s 2010. How impressed are we supposed to be that China is doing slightly better at respecting rights now than it was prior to World War II?

In a sense, I agree with Mr. Li. Revolution is not going to help anyone; a war would be devastating to the Chinese people and maybe also the global economy. And he’s right to suggest that the China that emerged after a revolution might not be any more West-friendly than the CCP is. But to suggest that means we need to live with the “empty chair in Oslo” — essentially, that Westerners and Chinese must accept the Chinese government’s fragrant human rights abuses — is complete bunk. One can push for reform and the rule of law without revolution. There is room in China for the Communist Party and Liu Xiaobo to coexist.

So, why is Eric Li so interested in maintaining the status quo in China and not rocking the boat? I can’t be sure, but the skeptic in me wonders if it isn’t somehow connected to the fact that he runs an investment firm with millions of dollars tied up in Chinese companies. Certainly, a revolution in China would cost Eric Li an awful lot of money. But would reform? Would having true rule of law? I’m not sure, and we may never know the answer, because these are questions Li’s article inexplicably ignores.