Earlier this week, the Asia Times Online reported that China is planning on setting up military bases in northern Pakistan. Yes, the country in that sentence was China not the US.
While I grasp the real politik of the situation, I have to say this might not be a good idea. The motivations are obvious: bolster Pakistan to counterbalance a rising India (who China still has border disputes with) and rein in extremism that might spill over the border (or already has).
But I really don’t think China has any idea whatsoever what kind of shitstorm it’s getting itself into.
First, let’s just look at the names of the provinces China wants to set up there their base(s) in: the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) or the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA). That’s a mouthful, ain’t it? (Although certainly not as much as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.)
FATA and FANA are as federally administered as Xinjiang is autonomous. Since the partition, they’ve existed essentially beyond Islamabad’s jurisdiction, governed by tribal leaders, much as had been done during the Raj, when the British gave up on the region after failing to take complete control. Basically China will be moving next door to the Graveyard of Empires, into a place that seems equally inhospitable.
As such, it appears that Pakistani President Zardari may be hoping China will help bring these restive regions into the fold (while also giving the middle finger to India).
Recipe for Disaster
Here are just the first things possible downsides that came to my find:
NIMBY Radical Islam Style. We know that Osama bin Laden’s original animus against the US was driven partially by the existence of American bases on Saudi soil. Pakistan might not be home to Mecca and Medina, but it is nonetheless home to 160+ million Muslims and the law of percentages says there should be enough extremists among them to be perturbed at Chinese military bases in their backyard.
Radical Islamic terrorists hate the US, if not just for supporting Israel, but because it represents the major force behind globalization, a phenomenon they ferociously oppose. China’s projection of its power (which, it actually could do more often. See, DPRK, Burma, etc) could make it lose the veneer of being eastern and different. Throw in the frequently reported news that China oppresses its Muslim minorities ((There are 30 million of them constituting ten separate groups, my favorite of which being the 保安族 because, yes, their name does translate to the Security Guard People, which would be a great name for a Village People cover band.)), and you have a nasty recipe for radical Islam’s newest bete noire.
Pakistan is duplicitous. The Inter-Services Intelligence (Pakistan’s CIA) probably knew about Osama bin Laden’s residence for years. There are links between the ISI and the Taliban. ((This shouldn’t be surprising. Since the 80s, the ISI has been involved in promoting Muslim extremism in Afghanistan as a way to overcome the lack of inter-tribal cohesion among the Afghan peoples in the fight against the USSR.)) And the ISI has been training and arming (some of the guns probably initially came from the US) terrorists to carry out attacks in India and Kashmir. The ISI has been increasingly independent since Zardari, who has no military cred, took over after Gen. Musharraff stepped down.
This will piss off India. Okay, so we know India and China don’t exactly get along. But it’d probably be best for the world if they at least tried. Some Indian reports say there are already Chinese troops in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. I’m sure setting up bases isn’t going to win the hearts and minds of the Indian people.
Unpopular wars can take down governments. This isn’t a full-blown war, and may never be, but there is a possibility of escalation. If it does, and things fall apart, the CCP could be in trouble. There are countless examples of this happening in democracies. Here’s one from an authoritarian government. ((Now that I think about it, this might actually be a good thing; if the next government we get is better than what we have now.))
I’m sure there are plenty other reasons why this is a bad idea (this, for example), which doesn’t necessarily mean the effort will fail. But I’d hope China would learn from America’s mistakes, rather than repeat them.
Let me start by saying that I have no grudge against your company. You guys have made some great movies! Blood Diamond? I enjoyed that. The Social Network was great. Granted, you also made Doom, but everybody makes mistakes. So I want you to know it’s not about the movies.
It’s not even about 21 and Over, although let’s face it, if I wanted to watch The Hangover again, I could just watch The Hangover, and if I wanted to watch a shitty version of it, I could watch The Hangover II, so I’m not sure what market you’re shooting for with this film. But hey, that’s why I don’t work in the film business.
No, my concern is not with your terrible-sounding movie, which I’m sure will gross a bazillion dollars. It’s with the place you’ve chosen to shoot it: Linyi, Shandong, China.
Now, I suspect you had reasons for choosing this location. Probably even a lot of reasons. And it certainly seems like you’ve made good friends with the local authorities, who are more than happy to have you visiting Linyi:
The Chinese Communist Party Secretary of Linyi’s Municipal Committee, Zhang Shajun, who ranks above the local mayor, issued a statement welcoming the production to his city and adding that he “particularly welcome(s) my good friend (Relativity CEO) Ryan Kavanaugh and his great company” to his “historic city,” adding: “We promise to provide the best service possible in order to help make the movie successful worldwide.”
And you guys are excited too, clearly:
Tucker Tooley, Relativity’s co-President said the Sky land partners love this “hysterical film and it’s gratifying they want to build a foundation immediately alongside our cast and crew. We are very much looking forward to shooting in China, especially in a place as amazing as Linyi.”
Linyi is an amazing place, and what’s more, it makes total sense to shoot an American buddy-comedy there, especially these days when the US is full of icky poor people whining about how they don’t have jobs because American companies have taken all the work overseas.
I wonder, though: do you guys know who you’ve hopped in bed with?
It’s a rhetorical question; even if you didn’t know before, after yesterday’s media firestorm you certainly do. So you know that those same local officials praising your decision to come to Linyi are probably the ones paying teams of thugs to surround Chen Guangcheng’s village and beat anyone who tries to get near it. You know that they’re the ones who’ve been holding an innocent ((Convicted of a crime, yes, but served his time and was released; by Chinese law he should be free)) man and his family hostage, without charges or any kind of legal proceedings.
Until recently, your Linyi government pals were the same ones preventing Chen’s six-year-old daughter from attending school. But hey, good news on that front! They’re letting her go to school now, as long as she never leaves the sight of a couple of their agents. After all, you never know what kind of trouble a six-year-old could get up to! In fact, that sounds like it could make a hilarious movie! Six and Over! There you go, guys, that one’s a freebie. Use it for the prequel.
So anyway, yes, Linyi is an “amazing” place, in that it’s currently at the center of a human rights firestorm, and its government is clearly complicit in something that’s completely indefensible even by the sometimes-Orwellian laws of China. Sounds like a great place to film a comedy. And I’m sure all the money you’re paying those Linyi officials is being used only for, you know, tourism or something. I’m sure none of it goes to paying the thug army they’ve got surrounding Chen’s village.
Now, to be fair, you probably didn’t get yourselves into this on purpose. My guess — and this is just pure speculation — is that you were offered a ridiculously cheap place to shoot with some extra perks and you said yes without looking into it. And yes, in doing that, you placed your foot squarely into the PR bear trap that you’re in right now.
Because now, you’re kinda fucked. If you stay in Linyi, it’s a PR nightmare. My little blog is one thing, but I have a feeling we’ll see this story in some Western papers come Monday.
My guess? That’s just the beginning.
But if you leave Linyi, you’re definitely going to piss off local and perhaps national government officials. My guess is you’d be giving up any chance to shoot in China again for a long time. These guys don’t like being criticized, and they don’t like being embarrassed by Western companies that grow a conscience.
So, what should you do? I’m no expert, but let me help you weigh the options here. You can either piss off the American media and whatever percentage of your audience chooses to pay attention, or you can piss off some government leaders who are giving you a great deal on shooting your hilarious movie so long as you keep quiet about how they’re using your money to hold a blind man hostage.
Personally, I’d say leave Linyi. Like, tomorrow. Or hey, even today! It certainly seems like the moral choice, and I don’t understand why you’d want to shoot an American buddy comedy in China anyway (well, except for because of this).
We know you’re aware of the issue (see image). And while I understand the “no comment” response — you probably need some time to get your ducks in a row — please be aware that people are not just going to forget about this if you choose to do nothing. People haven’t forgotten about Chen and his family, and even though they’re beaten and robbed, people keep trying to visit him. Relativity Media needs to seriously consider which side of that equation it wants to be on.
Because maybe it’s just my sense of humor, but holding an innocent blind man and his family in their house, beating and robbing well-intentioned net users trying to visit him, and then lying about it to the world does not sound like a great premise for a hilarious buddy comedy. And every day you’re in Linyi shooting 21 and Over, you’re funding that, too, whether you want to be or not.
Do the right thing here.
Update: Who to Send This To
If you’d like to send this letter to Relativity Media or people associated with the film, Artists Speak Out has collected a good list of people and ways to contact them.
I recommend you check out their whole post, which also includes sample messages to send, but excerpted below are a bunch of contact details from their post:
SVP, Theatrical Distribution
SVP, Theatrical Distribution
Vice President, Field Marketing
Director of Development
SPV, Theatrical Distribution
Senior Vice-President, Sales & Operations
UPDATE: Relativity Media Responds:
Their official statement:
“From its founding, Relativity Media has been a consistent and outspoken supporter of human rights and we would never knowingly do anything to undermine this commitment. We stand by that commitment and we are proud of our growing business relationships in China, through our partnership with Sky Land, its strategic alliance with Huaxia Film Distribution Company. As a company, we believe deeply that expanding trade and business ties with our counterparts in China and elsewhere can result in positive outcomes.”
First off, apologies for the lack of posts recently. As you might imagine, I’ve been busy with this and the guest posts and other features associated with that.
But, I’ve also been following the Chen Guangcheng case, which I wrote about somewhat recently here. Since then, there have been three major developments in Chen’s case: one positive, one negative, and one weird.
First, the good news: thanks to increasing pressure from netizens and “adventure tourists” (more on that in a moment), Chen’s daughter is now being allowed to attend school, although she will be trailed by guards at all times. That’s understandable, I suppose. If she were to attend school unsupervised, she might cause all sorts of trouble for the establishment. After all, she’s a full six years old now, and kindergartens have always been the fertile bed in which the seeds of revolution are sewn….OK, I’ll stop. At least the poor girl will get an education of some sort. That’s a victory, albeit a small one.
Second, the bad news: as netizens have ramped up the pressure on Chen’s case, local officials in Linyi seem to have doubled down. Chen’s village is full of thugs who beat anyone trying to enter it, and even the local police are smacking people around (and telling them the thugs who beat them and rob them are just in their imagination). More and more people have been attempting to visit Chen in what netizens are cheekily calling “Adventure tourism to Shandong,” but thusfar they’re not getting much more than bruises for their troubles. See this post for photographic evidence that some of these “adventure tourists” have received harsh beatings.
Finally, the weird: Amidst all this madness, the folks at Relativity Media (an American film company) have decided now’s a great time to film a raucous buddy comedy in Linyi. Seriously, you couldn’t make this up. Here’s Tom Lasseter of McClatchy on his blog:
Hollywood Reporter has an item that caught me by … surprise. Apparently, the U.S. film company Relativity Media is shooting part of a movie in Linyi under a partnership called Sky Land.
This is the Linyi in Shandong Province. The same place where blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng is being held under extra-judicial house arrest in a local village. He was placed under detention after being released from prison — the consequence of his trying to lead a class action lawsuit against local officials’ campaign of forced sterilization and abortions. Chen and his wife were reportedly badly beaten at the behest of local officials earlier this year.
In a fit of quasi-journalism, we’ve reached out to Relativity Media and a couple of the film’s stars for comment. I expect we’ll hear back roughly never, but in the event we do, I’ll certainly post whatever we get. In the interim, we have the comments thread.
See end of this post for an interactive guide to China’s aircraft carriers.
In August this year, the world’s attention was caught up in the sea trials of China’s first aircraft carrier, a refitted former Soviet vessel Varyag which China purchased from Ukraine. A few months further back in March, the UK Ministry of Defense put its decommissioned aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal up for bidding. Not surprisingly, it attracted a few Chinese buyers. James Hardy, Asia Pacific editor of Jane’s Defense Weekly, told Reuters:
It is very difficult to gauge what is going on here. The links between Chinese businessmen and the Communist Party are always somewhat ambiguous. The Chinese have a reputation for playing a long game, as well as for reverse engineering.
China has in fact played a long game in terms of foreign carrier acquisition. China has been enhancing its carrier technology for the past three decades. During this period, it has acquired four carriers, starting with HMAS Melbourne, a former British-designed Australian aircraft carrier which China purchased in 1985. The remaining three, Minsk, Kiev and Varyag, are all former Soviet vessels.
Melbourne, Minsk and Kiev had all been purchased as scraps, with all the sensitive kits removed. Furthermore, the purchases of Minsk and Kiev were made by businessmen intended to convert them into casinos or theme parks (this is in fact what they are now). However, it is reasonable to assume that they have all been thoroughly surveyed by the Chinese military for naval construction designs, as they sit for years in the dockyards before being transformed into something else.
Varyag is a little bit different. It started life as an unfinished Soviet carrier which was later transferred to Ukraine. It was also the largest and the newest among the four, with technologies from the 1980s. When Ukraine tried to sell it to China in the 1990s, the US pressured Ukraine to remove all the sensitive equipment before doing so. Nonetheless, it was chosen to be transformed into China’s first operational aircraft carrier, after spending years in the naval dockyards in Dalian. Interestingly, like the cases of Minsk and Kiev, Varyag was also intended to be used for entertainment.
With three out of the four aircraft carriers that China purchased being Soviet-designed, it is reasonable for China to refit an ex-Soviet carrier as its first functional aircraft carrier. This brings us to the question of why China is now bidding for a British Ark Royal design. Is it really for a purely business purpose, or is China switching models?
The answer could perhaps be found in China’s purchase history. Its very first purchase of HMAS Melbourne is a Majestic class British light aircraft carrier design dating back to 1942, and has been in use by eight other naval forces until 2001. HMS Ark Royal is also a light aircraft carrier, belonging to the Invincible class which was developed in the 1970s with the successful vertical landing technology.
The other three larger, ex-Soviet vessels variously belonged to the Kiev and Admiral Gorshkov classes, which were both a combination of a carrier and a cruiser, capable of engaging in anti-aircraft, anti-submarine and surface warfare. They thus represent a different design philosophy from that of the British carriers, which are more intended for the projection of air power than providing an air support platform for other guided missile cruisers and submarines, as in the Russian Navy.
Thus, China’s bidding for HMS Ark Royal might signal that it wants to pick up from where it left off at HMAS Melbourne. Perhaps mastering two design philosophies would be the way to go in the complex maritime geographies surrounding China. But another equally plausible reason is that, given that China is far behind in carrier technologies, and the difficulties of purchasing a foreign craft due to the world’s distrust in China’s rise, it has to jump at every bidding opportunities. Only after getting as much on the table as possible can it decide which way to go.
I came across this poll on Sina Weibo today and couldn’t help but be amused by the responses to it. This year’s Civil Service Exam is kicking off, and millions of budding officials the nation over are putting pens to paper — or at least talking about doing it on Weibo. Buy why do they want to take the test and become government officials? Let’s find out!
You can check out the poll here, but you’ll need a Weibo account to vote, and you’ll need to vote yourself before you can view the results. Of course it’s highly unscientific, but can anyone say they’re really surprised to see this? It goes a long way towards explaining why Chinese officials are often so terrible at serving the people — apparently only 19% of them were interested in doing that in the first place!
Everybody else is apparently just in it for the perks (or because their moms told them they had to).
(Note for the tonedeaf, because I have a feeling the disclaimer isn’t going to be obvious enough for some of you: this is being posted mostly for the purposes of humor and yes, obviously, a Weibo poll with a few thousand results doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of China about the civil service exam or the service that comes after it.)
Reminder: We’re making a movie about kidnapped kids in China and we kind of need your help. Please check out our official site, or the special section we’ve created on ChinaGeeks. Or just check out the trailer below. You can make a donation via that Paypal button over there on the right hand side of the page, you’ll get cool rewards, and 20% of your donation goes to help the Xinxing center, so you can help them and us at the same time!
UPDATE: I didn’t expect this to happen so soon, but Foreign Policy has published a freelance article I wrote on the problem of kidnapped children in China. I think it’s a good primer on the issue in general and some of our subjects in specific. You can check it out here.
Longtime readers of the site have probably been aware for some time that some of the folks behind ChinaGeeks have also been working on a documentary for the past year or so. Today, I want to share with you a bunch of new information about that work.
We’re still in the process of shooting it, but we’re a lot further on than we were the last time I updated you here. The film now has an official title — Living with Dead Hearts: The Search for China’s Kidnapped Children — and we’ve even put together an early trailer which you can watch below to get more of a feel for what it’s going to be like when it’s finished (the trailer starts at about 0:30).
As you can see, we’re raising money again to help us continue production, and also to help out our friends at the Xinxing Aid center. We’re raising the money ourselves this time through Paypal so that we can give 20% of it to Xinxing rather than using Kickstarter and having to fork over a percentage to them and to Amazon payments. We’re looking to raise about $4,000.
We’ve got a new website for the film set up at www.livingwithdeadhearts.com but I thought I’d also lay out a little but of information for you here. We may not be using Kickstarter, but we will be running things the same way they do, in that donors can choose how much they donate and are eligible for rewards based on their donation (you can also opt out if you don’t want the rewards).
Donate $1 or more: Your name goes in the end credits of the film and you get access to exclusive donor-only content like desktop wallpapers.
Donate $15 or more: All the above, plus access to our monthly production updates via email.
Donate $30 or more: All the above, plus access to production stills.
Donate $50 or more: All the above, plus access to exclusive video clips and a DVD copy of the finished film once it’s done.
Donate $100 or more: All the above but now the DVD is signed and accompanied by a personal thank you letter from the director.
Donate $250 or more: All the above, plus contact our producers to ask your own questions to our interview subjects and get their responses translated for you.
Donate $500 or more: All the above, plus you’re listed as an Executive Producer and an invitation to one free dinner with the director the next time you’re in Beijing.
Donate $750 or more: All the above, plus personalized updates on the film’s progress straight from the director, who you can also chat with on Skype about the film’s progress.
Donate $1000 or more: All the above, plus exclusive early access to the finished film and the chance to record an audio commentary for the soundtrack.
Donate $2000 or more: You are incredible. You get everything listed above, and anything else you can think of that we can feasibly provide. Talk to us about how we can make you a part of the film.
Some pretty cool stuff, no? Hey, how did this button get here…
You may recall we did this last year, and were pretty successful, so it’s quite reasonable to be wondering why we have to do it again. The main reason is that my computer simply isn’t going to be able up to the task of editing hours and hours of HD video. A dual-core processor and 2 GB of RAM would be pretty suspect specs under the best of circumstances, but of late it’s also been corrupting files and has outright stopped recognizing the AVCHD files that make up about half of our footage. Probably there is some kind of software fix for that, but given that the battery, power cord and optical drive are all broken, it seems like a better idea to buy a new computer so we can do our work on a system that’s reliable.
Additionally, we’re having to travel quite a bit more than we originally expected, and travel is costing more because in several cities we’re being forced to stay in three-star hotels because the cheaper hotels aren’t willing to book a foreigner, which we hadn’t anticipated because it’s never been an issue for me before.
Of course, there’s much more to say, and you may have questions; there are lots more details on the official site so go check that out. I’ve also created a special section of ChinaGeeks dedicated to the film and the problem of kidnapped children; you can check that out here.
Anyway, if you enjoy ChinaGeeks I hope you’ll consider making a donation. If you can’t make a donation, I hope you’ll at least consider passing the link around to your friends and family or tweeting it to your followers on Twitter and Weibo. Even if you’re not willing to do any of that, keep an eye out for the film which we’re hoping to have finished by late 2012.
We engage in a lot of debate on this blog, and anyone who reads it knows that I personally have some pretty strong opinions. Even so, most of the issues that we debate do have shades of gray, and there are reasons — sometimes logical ones — for many of the things the Chinese government does.
But not everything. We rarely talk about the things the government does that are utterly indefensible, completely cruel, and entirely black-and-white full-on evil.
So we debate about Liu Xiaobo, his “crimes” — were they crimes? — and his NED connections — do they matter — but we rarely talk about his wife, Liu Xia. For those who aren’t aware, Liu Xia has been under house arrest since the day after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Xiaobo last fall. She has been denied access to friends, family ((for the most part; supposedly she has had a few family visits, although it’s difficult to be sure since she herself is incommunicado)), phones and the internet. She has managed to get online once, though (from The Guardian):
Her only known contact with the outside world came in February, when she managed to get online briefly and told a friend that she was miserable, that no one could help her, and that “my whole family are hostages”.
Of course, many Chinese dissidents experience similar treatment, but here’s the thing: Liu Xia is not a dissident. Her only crime is being Liu Xiaobo’s wife. She’s been under house arrest for nearly a year now, and yet she has never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. She is by all definitions — including that of the Chinese legal system — entirely innocent, and yet her life has been taken away from her because of who she chose to marry.
Another example: Chen Guangcheng, the blind activist and lawyer who remains under house arrest in Linyi. Given that Chen has completed his jail sentence and should legally be a free man, his own detention is indefensible, but Linyi authorities are also holding his entire family under house arrest. This includes his daughter Kesi, who can no longer attend school because she’s not allowed to leave the house. Netizens who have attempted to visit Chen’s family have been harassed, beaten, detained, and threatened. (For frequent updates on these efforts, follow @pearlher, @wlyeung, @bendilaowai etc. on Twitter).
For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on Chen’s daughter, Chen Kesi. She’s currently being detained by authorities because of the crimes of her father ((which he has already served time for; according to Chinese law he should be a free man)). More concerning is that she can’t attend school, an injustice that threatens to influence the course of her entire life. Of course, we all know how dangerous students can be, but Chen Kesi isn’t exactly a rebellious college student. No, in fact, she’s barely in primary school. That’s right, the Chinese government is detaining a six-year-old girl.
Detention really isn’t the right word here, though. Perhaps being held hostage is more apropos. Liu Xia and Chen Kesi aren’t being held for any crimes they committed, they’re being held to scare other people into silence. They’re being held hostage, and if one day they’re freed, others will most certainly be held in their place. The faces may someday change, but the song remains the same.
Perhaps we don’t debate these things as much because there is simply nothing to debate. By any reasonable standard, the detention of innocent people is unconscionable and evil. The concept of guilt by association has a long history in China, of course, especially guilt via bloodlines, but this is not the dark ages. Nor are these isolated local incidents; rest assured the central government is fully aware of these detentions, like as not at the highest possible levels.
The fact is, the authorities detain people like Liu Xia or six-year-old Chen Kesi for two reasons:
As a threat to other dissidents. Harassing, threatening, and detaining a dissident’s loved ones sends a pretty strong message: ‘If you follow this path, we will fuck with the people you love. We do not care if they’re innocent or not. We do not care if they’re young or old. Fuck with us and we will fuck you you, and we will not be gentle.’ As reprehensible a strategy as that is, it is quite effective — in fact, I have seen it work firsthand. People may be willing to give up their own lives in the pursuit of justice (or whatever), but how many are willing to give up the lives of their wives? Their parents? Their daughters? Very few, and who can blame them?
Because they can. As effective as it may be in deterring dissent, detaining an innocent child is a strategy that would not play well in public. Luckily, it need not be public in a country where the media — even social media — can be controlled. Regardless of their opinions about Chen himself, can you imagine the reactions on Weibo and elsewhere if it were widely reported that the government was detaining his daughter and preventing her from attending school? It would be a PR nightmare — and anyone who was watching the news this summer knows that the Chinese government is pretty terrible at PR in the face of public dissent. But none of that matters. The news can be blacked out in the mainland, and foreign reporters who discuss it can be painted as anti-China forces who are nitpicking small issues while failing to note how fast China has developed. The few Chinese who know about the issue are welcome to have their discussions on Twitter, where no one else can see. There’s really no risk for the government; why not detain Chen Kesi if it can help keep him and other dissidents in line?
The obvious answer to that would obviously be “because you are a human being with a functional conscience,” but I don’t believe there’s a real human conscience anywhere near either of these cases.
I wanted to write about this not so much because it’s newsworthy ((Although as I type this, word is spreading on Twitter that a netizen group has reached Chen’s village and is being attacked by village thugs, or possibly plainclothes police))as because I rarely do; we rarely do. Perhaps it’s because there’s not much to debate, but personally I think it’s because it’s just too depressing to think that there’s a six-year-old girl being denied an education because some old men are scared of a blind lawyer and a few other critics of the system.
A spate of recent stories points to part of China’s modern conundrum where seething frustration sometimes erupts in unsettling violence.
One story (Chinese) going around Beijing recently is of a patient who viciously attacked his doctor with a knife, leaving her in serious condition, but alive. The attack was apparently revenge for her failure to cure his throat cancer. To make things more complicated, the attacker had initiated a malpractice lawsuit against the hospital in 2007 and was frustrated that he hadn’t received a ruling and his case was slated for indefinite recess.
It seems like remarkably misdirected anger for someone to attack their doctor, but it’s not an unknown phenomenon here. A quick search revealed several otherrecentstories (all Chinese) of patients violently attacking their doctors when they didn’t get better. In one case, a man who had received treatment for an STD killed his doctor and then jumped out a window to his death when the treatment didn’t work.
The other story that caught my eye this week is of a fight on a train, where after a seating dispute a passenger was beaten to death by railway staff. That even railway employees are unable to restrain themselves from violence is startling. People getting angry is not surprising, but the extent of the violence over such a seemingly small matter is.
It’s tempting to think of these as isolated, sensationalized incidents, but there is a steady stream of dramatic violence in the news here. Last year there was the series of unstable middle-aged men attacking pre-school children. Then there’s the story last week about the man who kept six women in his basement as sex slaves, ultimately killing two of them.
Some of the violence is so absurd it’s hard to understand, but a lot of the incidents have common themes, like attacks on doctors. For example, one of the regular themes is the self-righteous violence of the privileged, often involving traffic disputes. The most famous recent incident is probably that of Li Gang’s son, who stabbed a woman to death after hitting her with his car[struck two college students with his car and then attempted to flee the scene -ed.] last year. When confronted by passersby the guy apparently said, “My father is Li Gang,” invoking his powerful father to avoid punishment. Two incidents this month even prompted David Bandurski at China Media Project to write an article on the subject.
Then there’s the theme of stress induced suicides. This week’s entry is the story of 3 elementary school girls who attempted suicide apparently as an escape from too much homework. The famous entries in this category are the Foxconn suicides last year and a few self-immolations to protest forced land acquisition.
Another theme is police violence, most famously the illegal detentions and beatings that prompted a high level investigation and the closure of pretrial detention centers around the country a few years back. More common however are reports of special city security teams, or Cheng guan, beating up street vendors.
Perhaps the best blanket interpretation is to chalk it all up to the stresses of a fast changing society. High pressure, competition, a sense of entitlement, frustration—people can only take so much before they crack. Of course, China is far from the only country with incidents of shocking violence (see any of a number of shootings in the US for example), but it’s fair to say: China has a violent side.
25 September 2011 was the 130th birth anniversary of Lu Xun (1881 – 1936), considered to be one of the founders of modern Chinese literature. Known for his plain criticisms of hypocrisy, dogmatism and irony appearing in China’s political life at his time, most famously coining the political lexicon Ah-Q-ism (meaning self-deception) from his novel The Real Story of Ah-Q, his status has been compared with that of England’s George Orwell. Han Han’s immensely popular blog posts, which are characterised by satire and a dark sense of humor about contemporary China, are sometimes compared with Lu Xun’s essays.
While contemporary Han Han pokes fun at the absurdity and falsehood of the Chinese system, which pleases many young readers, a lot of observations made by Lu Xun many decades ago are equally applicable to modern-day China. Pan Caifu, an editor, has recently conducted an “interview” with Lu Xun, published in Shanghai’s Dongfang Daily, to mark his 130th birth anniversary and to highlight to readers what we can learn from Lu Xun’s works about today’s China. Many things have changed from Lu Xun’s China, but some have not, which makes Lu Xun’s works even more profound.
Is China any better than it was 100 years ago? From Pan Caifu’s imaginary interview with Lu Xun, a few sections of which are translated below, with some references added to recent news, you may think that the answer is no.
The world is not getting any better
Pan Caifu: Today is your 130th birthday. After having been away for so long, what’s your feeling? Lu Xun: I have never had such a long journey. I do not feel excited. But seeing that the market is as peaceful as it was, and China is still the China as before, the one I’ve lived in, I feel relived.
Pan Caifu: In some universities, statues of Confucius are erected. On both sides of the Strait, ceremonies in honor of Confucius are being played out. The revival of Confucius seems hopeful ((Daniel A. Bell, The Confucian Party, The New York Times, 11 May 2009)). Lu Xun: I also hear that a guy called Jiang Qing self-proclaims himself to be the master of the Confucius religion. Confucius is being held up by power interests in China. He is the sage for the powerful; there is nothing to do with ordinary people. But the powerful would only be enthusiastic for a short while. Yuan Shikai, Sun Chaunfan and Zhang Zongchang have all treated Confucius as the building blocks in their nation-building schemes, only to end in failure. It is true that Confucius had raised useful proposals on national governance, but they are all directed towards controlling the citizens in the interests of the ruling class. He has no proposals solely for the benefits of the common people. — Confucius in Contemporary China, 1935
Pan Caifu: Korean traditional medicine is now universally recognized as a world cultural heritage ((Mirror of Eastern Medicine Becomes UNESCO Heritage, The Korea Times, 31 July 2009)). China also wants its traditional medicine to receive the same recognition. You have a comment which hurts Chinese traditional medical practitioners… Lu Xun: I once said, “Chinese medicine is no more than a fraud, intentional or unintentional.” If this comment affects their bid, I apologize. If Chinese medicine makes it, then Qigong, the “Golden Bell” martial technique and acupuncture can all become world cultural heritage. — Preface to Call to Arms, 1923
Pan Caifu: When you were alive, there were already talks that you should receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Many years have passed. Why are still local Chinese writers unable to get the prize? Lu Xun: This is because we don’t know how to speak. What politicians dislike most is people opposing to their opinions, or people opening their month to fight for things. Look at the monkeys in the zoo. They have their own leader; they absolutely follow the leader’s lead. Every tribe has a chief; people in the tribe follow the chief’s orders. If the chief wants you to die, you have to die. There is no literature we can talk about. Even if there is, it is only about praising the God. You cannot expect to win the Nobel Prize by singing hymns. — Divergence between Arts and Politics, 1928
Pan Caifu: Hunan Satellite TV’s Super Girls and Happy Girlstalent shows are very popular. But there are orders that these shows be discontinued next year ((Lights out for TY program Super Girls, China Daily, 19 September 2011)). Lu Xun: I have said it early on. Only a real voice can capture the hearts of people in China and around the world. Only with a real voice can we live with people from other parts of the planet. — Three Leisures: Collection of Essays, 1932
Pan Caifu: You are very critical of the feudal ethical codes, especially the concept of filial piety. But you are a filial son yourself. Today, are you still critical of these ethical codes? Lu Xun: In reality, the old Chinese ideals of harmonious family and father-son relationships have already collapsed. It is not correct to say that the problem is “especially serious today”, but has “already been so in the past”. Historically, China has promoted “five generations under one roof”, and this just shows the difficulties of cohabitation. The lack of filial piety is shown by the desperate promotion of it. The crux of the problem is that we promote hypocritical moral codes instead of real human emotions. — What is Required of a Father Today, 1919
Pan Caifu: You used to frequently eat out at a restaurant. At the time, although food was not abundant, they were at least not harmful. Today, we have tainted milk powder ((Tainted-Baby-Milk Scandal in China, TIME Magazine, 16 September 2008)), poison pork ((China: Pigs Fed Illegal Additive, The New York Times, 18 March 2011)), rice ((Heavy metals tainting China’s rice bowls, Caixin Online, 14 February 2011)) and vegetables ((Toxic vegetables uncovered in south China, China Daily, 31 March 2010)). Can you tolerate that? Lu Xun: People at the bottom also hurt each other. They can be sheeps or beasts. When they meet a beast more fierce than themselves, they will become sheeps. When they meet a sheep weaker than themselves, they will become beasts. — Bad Fortune: Collection of Essays, Sudden Thoughts – 7, 1926, in Lun Xun Collected Works, Vol. 3, p.46
Pan Caifu: This makes me think of some people who complain about social injustice, but point their knives to school kids ((China seaches for answers after school attacks, BBC, 30 April 2010)). Lu Xun: When angry, the brave points the knife to the strong ones; the cowardly to the weak ones. Match a beast like a least, and a sheep like a sheep! Then, no matter what kind of devils, they can only go back to their hells. — Bad Fortune: Collection of Essays, Sudden Thoughts – 7, 1926, in Lun Xun Collected Works, Vol. 3, p.47
Pan Caifu: Some local governments have established private channels of clean food and vegetable supplies for officials ((In China, what you eat tells who you are, Los Angeles Times, 16 September 2011)). Lu Xun: Luxury and extravagance are the phenomenon of social collapse and corruption. They are never the reasons. — Accents from South and North • About Women, 1934, in Lun Xun Collected Works, Vol. 4, p.396
Pan Caifu: A while ago, a bullet train accident happened in China ((China: Dozens die as bullet trains collide in Zhejiang, BBC, 24 July 2011)). I’m sure you’ve heard of it. How do you see it? Lu Xun: Chinese people are reluctant to face problems squarely. With evasion and fraud, they create a wonderful path of escape, thinking that it is the correct path to take. This path is evidence that the Chinese people are cowardly, lazy and tricky. Day by day, they are contented; day by day, they decay. But they think that they are becoming more and more glorious. — The Tomb • On Seeing it with Open Eyes, 1929, in Lun Xun Collected Works, Vol. 1, p.328
Pan Caifu: But at the beginning China announced that its rail technology is world-leading and patented. It even offered to assist other countries in developing their rail systems ((China Offers High-Speed Rail to California, The New York Times, 7 April 2010)). Lu Xun: China is developing its “self-deception power”. Self-deception is not a new thing, but it is becoming more conspicuous, eclipsing other things. — The Concession • Has China Lost its Confidence?, 1934, in Lun Xun Collected Works, Vol. 6, p.91
Pan Caifu: Some people even think that they are blessed. Lu Xun: What’s most painful in life is that you wake up to find yourself in a blind alley. People who dream are happy; if there is no way out, the most important thing is not to wake them up. — The Tomb • What Happens after Nora Leaves Home, 1929, in Lun Xun Collected Works, Vol. 1, p.270
Pan Caifu: You’ve been very nice towards young people, but you’ve also been trapped by them. Han Han, Guo Meimei ((Guo Meimei Red Cross Controversy Pissing Off Chinese Netizens, chinaSMACK, 29 June 2011)), Li Tianyi ((Son’s Scandal Engulfs Chinese General, China Real Time Report, The Wall Street Journal, 13 September 2011)) and Lu Meimei ((“Lu Meimei” and China-Africa Project Hope Controversy, chinaSMACK, 22 August 2011)) are all young people of today’s China. How do you think about them? Lu Xun: Today’s youth, it seems, are smarter than before, and they also see material interests as more important. For some small gains, they can make false charges and bite you back. This is beyond my expectation…… — Letters • To Cao Juren, 1934, in Lun Xun Collected Works, Vol. 7, p.141
Pan Caifu: At last, what else do you want to say? Lu Xun: There is too much pain in life, especially in China. — Bad Fortune: Collection of Essays, Teacher, 1926, in Lun Xun Collected Works, Vol. 3, p.44