Category Archives: Current Events

Carried Off: Abduction, Adoption, and Two Families’ Search for Answers

I’ve written a long feature piece for the Asia Society’s blog ChinaFile about abduction and adoption in China and how it relates to the US. Here’s the first paragraph; you can read the rest here.

In March 2011, Rose Candis had the worst lunch of her life. Sitting at a restaurant in Shaoguan, a small city in South China, the American mother tried hard not to vomit while her traveling companion translated what the man they were eating with had just explained: her adopted Chinese daughter Erica had been purchased, and then essentially resold to her for profit. The papers the Chinese orphanage had shown her documenting how her daughter had been abandoned by the side of a road were fakes. The tin of earth the orphanage had given her so that her daughter could always keep a piece of her home with her as she grew up in the U.S. was a fraud, a pile of dirt from the place her daughter’s paperwork was forged, not where she was born. Candis had flown thousands of miles to answer her daughter Erica’s question—who are my birth parents?—but now she was further from the answer than ever.

Translation: Guixi Orphanage Implicated in Re-Selling of Babies

The following is a translation of this article from Rights-Defender Online and republished on Shenzhen Information Online (as well as elsewhere). This obviously relates somewhat to our film (which you’ll get to see sometime this year), but it also relates to a long-form article I’m working on about how child trafficking in China relates to international adoption that should be available sometime later this month.

Jiangxi, Guixi Orphanage Revealed to Be Suspected of Infant Trafficking

Recently there have been many reported leads, indicating that specific leaders at the Jiangxi Province Guixi Social Welfare Institute and the local Ministry of Civil Affairs have conspired to falsify [records] and are involved in corruption. Even more serious, the social welfare institute [hereafter, SWI] has sold a number of adoptive children at high prices for profit.

Our source reports that the Guixi SWI divides its income into [donations from] infant adoptions, donations from society, government funding, etc., but the income and expenditures reported obviously do not match up. Beginning in 1995 some overseas families began adopting children from this SWI, and each adoption requires a donation of 30,000 to 40,000 RMB. Each year at least 50-60 and sometimes 70-80 children were adopted but the money from these adoptions is nowhere to be found.

From a report titled “Guixi SWI Infant Fostering Situation” it is clear that each year dozens of children were adopted, most of them by parents from outside China, and this report details the names, nannies’ names, birthdates, and adoption dates of these children.

This material shows that the SWI’s “infant director” Hou Shuying is the sister-in-law of the former Guixi Ministry of Civil Affairs director Wu Xiaojing. In 2001, after Director Wu Xiaojing had placed Hou Shuying in an administrative position at the SWI, whenever Hou Shuying picked up an infant from the hospital to bring to the SWI she would demand 1000 RMB, a sum that was later raised to 7000 RMB. Our source explains that most of these babies were not actually found by Hou Shuying, but rather brought to her by an SWI medical office worker named Peng Haiju. Peng’s husband was the director of the medical accident department of the Guixi department of sanitation […] Our source suspects that they were all communicating with each other and collaborating in order to sell children.

According to documents provided by the source, in 1996 the SWI built a “recovery center,” a 2,300 square meter building that actually cost 1 million RMB to build, but was reported by the SWI as having cost nearly 3 million RMB. In 1997, renovations on the “infant department” […] that should have cost about 100,000 RMB were falsely reported by the SWI as costing 400,000 RMB. In 2002, a Canadian philathropic organization built a new infant department of 400 square meters, which cost more than 400,000 RMB but was reported as costing more than 800,000 RMB by the SWI. In 2003, apartments for the elderly were renovated at a cost of around 800,000 RMB, but the SWI reported the cost as 1.5 million RMB.

A knowledgable source who did not wish to reveal his/her name said that the Guixi SWI does so much falsification and fraud that even the cafeteria’s books aren’t clean. According to a cafeteria report document provided by the source, “public recruitment/holiday extra meals” were reported repeatedly, “other fees” were directly falsified, and thousands of RMB were being spend each month on “buying beer.”

The source says that the workers at the SWI are not only involved in corruption, they are also abusing the handicapped children. In order to reduce the SWI’s workload, the orphanage only kept two special needs children, so if additional handicapped children arrived, they would place the more deformed ones in a corner to starve to death, and then call the coroner to cremate the body. If this source is accurate, this behavior is truly horrifying.

The Guixi SWI’s first director Wang Qing and second director Lv Jianming are both employees of the Guixi civil affairs office, along with the current SWI vice-director Yang Dong.Our source says that Yang Dong has also simultaneously held the position of office administrator for the past decade, is responsible for all kinds of [the Guixi SWI’s] services, and is very clear on the SWI’s finances, because each expense report check requires the signature of the director and vice-director.

After these allegations were first reported, investigator Yao Zhengyi [the author of this article] once called together media reporters and legal experts to investigate the issue, and on January 9, 2013 called the Guixi SWI vice-director Yang Dong to confirm the details. Yang Dong said that he was in Nanchang for professional development and that he would pass the report along to his boss. But our source reveals that actually vice-director Yang was not in Nanchang, but rather, was at a friend’s house drinking beer, and he had never gone to Nanchang in the first place.

On Jan 16, 2013, this reporter called the Guixi Civil Affairs bureau, and workers there said they didn’t know abything about the situation, and further said that [Civil Affairs] director Li Xinwen was out at a meeting.

This investigator’s report has already been submitted to the Jiangxi province Ministry of Civil Affairs. As if this writing, the Ministry has not given any response.

Follow-up Post

A follow-up post written by the same author as the article above and posted to a Chinese BBS forum reports that provincial authorities had visited the orphanage to investigate. However:

Last night at 10 PM I got another call from the anonymous source, saying that after the working groups from the Guixi civil affairs bureau and the SWI had been investigated, the evidence of baby-selling was to be burned.

The Government’s Solution to the Bijie Boys

I rarely if ever do posts like this, but if you haven’t come across this news already, you should read this post from Offbeat China. For the lazy, here’s the short version: dumpsters painted with this message are now appearing around Bijie:

Humans and animals are strictly prohibited to enter. Violators are at their own risk.

Normally, I would write a long, angry post about this, but this time I am literally dumbstruck. Even in the deepest depths of my cynicism, I couldn’t have imagined this would even occur to anyone as a serious idea, let alone that it could get approved and would actually be carried out.

Translation: ‘How to Break the Cycle of Black Jails’

Caixin’s recent package of stories (which I came across via the indispensable Sinocism) includes this opinion piece by professor Yu Jianrong. He’s a bit light on actual solutions aside from the usual (totally reform everything), but if nothing else, the piece is an excellent exposition of exactly why the petition system “works” the way it does.

How to Break the Vicious Cycle of ‘Intercepting Petitioners’

“Intercepting petitioners” refers to local officials using various measures to intercept people attempting to petition at the [provincial] or central offices and forcibly taking them back to their hometowns. In China’s current political climate, the intercepting of petitioners has long been an open secret, an “unwritten rule” of petition office stability management work, an uncivilized but tacitly accepted rule for government work, and an important part of the job of those who “greet petitioners.” Whenever the two congresses or National Day or some other “sensitive” time rolls around, many additional ‘petitioner interception’ workers come to Beijing to intercept petitioners from their local area to prevent petitioners from staying in Beijing and increasing the number of complaints about their locale on the record.

Reality shows us that there are three main downsides to these petitioner-intercepting activities: first, there is a high economic cost, and this has already become a heavy burden on some local governments, especially lower-level governments. Sometimes, the money it takes to intercept a petitioner would be enough money to actually solve the petitioner’s problem.

The second is that intercepting petitioners has serious political consequences; it violates the petitioners’ basic rights, directly cuts out the petitioning system, and has a definite draining effect on national legitimacy. What’s even more serious is that some local governments have made the ‘petitioner intercepting’ system even more effective by giving “perks” to provincial and central petition office authorities in return for information about local petitioners that makes it easier to intercept them. So, even if a petitioner has entered the petition office and registered their complaint, it’s possible to change what’s on the register by spending money. This is not only brazenly preventing information from reaching the highest-level authorities and deceiving the central [government], it is also creating a new source of corruption within the system itself.

The third is that because of petitioner-intercepting activities, the rulers’ attempts to eliminate social conflicts via the petitioning system are ineffective, and [petitioner-intercepting] can even become a source of new social conflicts. Petitioners are the ones who most directly bear the consequences of petitioner-intercepting; in their attempts to evade the pursuit of local government interceptors, some are ruined in the process, and when they finally reach Beijing or the provincial capital and then [still] get intercepted, they have no one left to turn to. And more horribly, some petitioners are beaten, detained, or even sent to reeducation through labor (劳教). For this reason, although intercepting petitioners temporarily reduces the number of petitioners in Beijing or at provincial petition offices, protecting the “social stability” of the capital or provincial cities, but it cannot address the roots of the problem, and instead it just creates more conflict.

‘Meeting petitioners’ and ‘intercepting petitioners’ ((“Meeting” and “Intercepting” are both pronounced “jie” so this is sort of a play on words)) are both important reflections of the variation in today’s national petitioning system. Petition officers and officials, local governments, and the central government all participate, using the system as a platform for a kind of game in which they attempt to maximize their own interests. But because of this they have fallen into problems [like the three Yu just listed and those below], this can be called the ‘petitioning paradox.’

First of all, there are the many predicaments the central government level [authorities] have already run into. When the CCP first established its regime, the highest-level policymakers created the petition system, with many political goals including deepening the regime’s legal legitimacy, resolving severe social problems, implementing policy and social mobilization, and also controlling lower-level officials in an unconventional way. However, after its establishment, a serious consequence was that problems began to pile up at the central level. In 1963, the Central Committee and the State Council admitted this problem in “Announcement regarding strengthening petitioning work,” and called on provincial level political and Party organs to strengthen their guidance, saying that local level organizations should do their best to resolve problems locally. From then on, methods for investigating responsibility for petition complaints became more and more complex, and more and more severe. The central government was trying to use pressure on local political and party organizations to stem the flow of petitioners coming to Beijing and increase the effectiveness and realize the goals of the petition system.

However, for the sake of their own political interests, local governments used all kinds of methods to alleviate the pressure coming from the central government, which created a shift away from the actual goals of the petitioning system and which has ultimately resulted in a shift of the pressure back to central authorities. The central government wants problems resolved at the grassroots level, meaning that it hopes the local government will actually solve the petitioner’s complaint, but after levels and levels of pressure, the biggest result is that the local government wants to use whatever methods it can to prevent petitioners from registering in Beijing.

Strict pursuit of the responsibility for petition complaints has forced local governments at all levels to make the number of petitioners into an important indicator of performance, so the blame is passed downwards, so local authorities intercept petitioners and bribe officials to reduce the number of petitions on file, and even detain petitioners and sentence them or their associates to forced labor or even jail time to suppress the number of petitioners. It’s not that the local government doesn’t want to resolve the actual problem; some problems are caused by the local government’s poor conduct or lack of action, and others are caused by central government policies that really can’t be controlled by the local government. Illogical power structures and twisted mechanisms of reward encourage local officials to choose the simple and crude methods of enforcement, often creating greater resentment [in the process] and even giving some irrational petitioners a real reason to complain after they have been beaten up.

Petition officials can completely recognize the conflicts and pressures between local and central authorities described above; they use these pressures and conflicts to protect their own interests, even gaining benefits outside of the system, that becomes a rational choice. Because of this, the more oppressive local governments are towards petitioners, the greater the power of the petitioners is. Many people believe the logic of this industry is whatever the opponent (the local government) fears is what you should do. They not only persist in going to Beijing to petition, they endeavor to use all sorts of unusual methods to petition, for example going to embassies and consulates, visiting the housing of government leaders, and even extreme methods like jumping into rivers or self-immolating, creating more political pressure.

The result is that as local governments use even more severe methods to deal with petitioners, the complaints of petitioners become more extreme, creating a vicious cycle.Because of this, the petitioning system has gone from useless to harmful; from reducing pressure to actively increasing it.

If you want to completely resolve the mess of petitioner-intercepting and break the vicious cycle described above, the short-term solution is to give party and government departments at every level less pressure and to untie the petition system. After that, legal reforms would need to strengthen the emergency powers granted to judicial authorities and use the judicial system to clear up old cases. In the long-term, there will need to be radical political changes that completely reform the petition system.

Specifically, it would be possible to collect the currently scattered resources of the petition system under the auspices of all levels of the People’s Congress and use that to oversee things. This would not only give the petition office a new body of authority, it would also give it the necessary accountability, and at the same time help move People’s Congress delegates towards full-time duties and create a new substantial condition [for being an NPC delegate].

Fundamentally, only with political reform and establishing a government with powers that are weighed and controlled, with an independent and fair judiciary, with mechanisms for the democratic election of representatives, and with organizations and channels for all levels of society to voice their interests can there arise an equal and harmonious modern society.

The Struggle of 15-Year-Old Hukou Protester Zhan Haite

A 15-year-old girl has made waves in the Chinese press recently for her fight against Shanghai authorities after she was banned from taking the high-school entrance examination because she does not hold a Shanghai hukou (household registration). She and her family have experienced harassment from locals and authorities as a result of their advocacy.

From Zhan Haite’s op-ed in the China Daily:

I’d been preparing for the high school entrance exam on June 16 and, although we didn’t have much hope, my parents and I never gave up talking to Shanghai’s education commission. I wanted to take that exam, same as my classmates at junior high and thousands of other Shanghai students.

I wasn’t doing badly at junior high, and I believed I could get into a good high school in Shanghai if I was able to take the exam.

All hope disappeared on June 7, coincidently the first day of this year’s gaokao (national college entrance exam). We were told I was not able to take the exam this year by the education commission.

I was desperate and I wanted to seek help from the public, so the week before the exam I set up an account on Sina Weibo using my real name.

The Internet is an efficient platform to speak out and gain support. My mother was against it, as she was worried I might be attacked by malicious netizens. But our family is open-minded and she respected my decision.

I started telling my story on Sina Weibo and received many words of support that encouraged me in my fight to defend my rights.

It was inspiring when celebrities such as Yuan Weishi and Shi Shusi forwarded my posts. They backed me up. I was not alone.

There were many disagreements, and I’ve received many comments from Beijing and Shanghai residents against the children of migrant workers taking the exam with their children. Some talked in a disrespectful way, which I was not happy about, but I tried to talk to them and persuade them to think about equality.

“Disagreements” is a mild way of putting it. Zhan and her family have been beng harassed. From an article about her in the Economic Observer:

15-year-old Zhan Haite has already been out of school for half a year, but in addition to studying English and Math on her own, she has been keeping busy helping her parents deal with all kinds of harassment. Recently, on November 28, an official from the local family planning commission came to the family’s home; “Someone called and complained that [the Zhan family] was preparing to have another child, so [the official] came to investigate whether we really were planning another birth,” Zhan Haite recalled.

Zhan says that this kind of baseless complaint is common harassment from locals who dislike that the family is ‘stirring up trouble’ by advocating that migrants be allowed to attend Shanghai schools. And the harassment directed at her isn’t just coming from locals. The official response to Zhan’s case hasn’t been much warmer.

After ‘dropping out’ of school, in addition to studying high school content on her own, Zhan Haite has sometimes gone along with her father to petition [the government]. The more they went, the more hopeless she became. Every time the answer was the same, and later after writing several letters to Shanghai authorities and having [the case] transferred to the education committee, the official response was just as cold.

(In fact, Zhan Haite’s father was even detained by the Shanghai police recently, although it appears that as of this morning he has been released or at least has come to an agreement of some kind with them).

So Zhan has been pleading her case on Weibo. She now has nearly 10,000 followers on Sina Weibo, and she and her family were even invited to do a Q&A session on Tencent Weibo. Unfortunately, before the Q&A took place, someone decided it wasn’t a good idea and shut it down. One of Zhan’s most recent Weibo posts reads, “The authorities have ordered us to shut down [the Q&A], I’m sorry.” The text is followed by the image of a heart breaking.

To [Zhan Haite], being blocked on Weibo is a common occurrence. “Either they say I have touched on sensitive topics of they say I have been reported, and there are too many complaints about me,” she said. As she sees it, all of this is done by the “skinheads,” a name she has used to refer to [anti-migrant Shanghainese] since a group of Shanghinese youngsters posing as maintenance staff came to Zhan’s apartment and threatened [the family].

Zhan’s weibo has also attracted some harsh comments from locals, some of whom present arguments about her family’s legal status and others of whom just sling violent slurs like “stupid cunt” at her.

Still, it may be telling that this incident has gotten so much attention in the Chinese press. Experts seem to agree that the hukou system has outstayed its welcome, and the media’s fixation on Zhan may help to push for reforms. Of course, it also helps that Zhan Haite seems to be quite an articulate girl; her case is not at all unique but it isn’t too difficult to understand why the media has fixated on her for the moment.

Additionally, though, Zhan may be an interesting example of what I might term the “dissidentification” of Chinese protesters. I have noticed and mentioned before how people frustrated with a specific issue in China seem to eventually become protesters and advocates in a more broad sense. Six months ago, Zhan was just a student, and shortly after that, she was just an opponent of Shanghai’s hukou policy. Now, though, her self-description on Sina Weibo beginss thusly:

A young citizen, a warrior for freedom, on the vanguard for democracy.

True, Zhan’s focus of discussion has remained mostly on hukou-related issues. But that language — and the fact that she chose to put all of that before mentioning hukous specifically when describing herself — is definitely interesting. I’m now following her on Weibo and will be interested to see if she becomes an advocate in other arenas as well as time goes on (that is, if she can keep her weibo account from getting blocked).

In Brief: Who’s Really Disappearing Reporters

At this point probably everyone is familiar with the “Bijie Boys” and most of you are probably also aware of how that turned out for the reporter who broke the story. The fact that a reporter would be held for reporting a story no one disputes the veracity of should surprise exactly no one, but there is one aspect of this story I’d like to explore a little bit.

Now, before I start, I want to say that I love Beijing Cream. I find the site both informative and funny and it has been one of my favorite China blogs for a while now. Moreover, I think every writer there is probably at least familiar with the argument I’m about to make, so I’m really just using the Beijing Cream article as an example here. In fact, I suspect Anthony Tao might actually agree with what I’m about to write, but going into all this was rather outside the scope of his article, so he understandably didn’t. Anyway, my point here is that this article shouldn’t be taken as a critique of Tao or Beijing Cream in general.

That said, this section of Tao’s take on the Li Yuanlong’s arrest jumped out at me:

What we shouldn’t assume is that higher levels of government had anything to do with this, considering no one — and I mean no one — would be dumb enough to think punishing a journalist here would be a good idea. If there’s one thing we know about how business is done in these fourth-tier, hinterland-type counties, it’s that the powerful can do whatever the fuck they want, and someone with some power in this case must have decided to act out on his vendetta.

While the latter half of this paragraph is undoubtedly true, I do disagree to a certain extent with the first half. On the face of it, of course, it is quite true: I’d bet an awful lot of money that the decision to detain Li was made and executed by local officials who were not in any contact with higher authorities.

But I wouldn’t say it’s really true that higher authorities had nothing to do with it. The central government’s inability to control, or perhaps lack of interest in controlling, local governments fosters and facilitates an I-am-king-around-here attitude in local officials, and that inevitably leads to stories like this. Central authorities didn’t order the arrest of Li, no, but they have for decades presided over and molded a system that allows local authorities to do things like arrest reporters with minimal consequences, and often no consequences at all.

In fact, the system often offers de-facto rewards to local officials who keep their regions quiet by quieting anyone publicizing negative stories, because the officials that get promoted are often the ones who come from the most “stable,” “harmonious” districts. Officials have long-since learned that the surest route to apparent “harmony” is threatening, arresting, coercing, and censoring the people who would spread negative stories about their districts — reporters, petitioners, protesters, bloggers, etc. This way, higher authorities don’t often have to order the detention of people like Li — they have set the system up in such a way that people like Li can be silenced without anyone in the central government getting their hands dirty.

Moreover, if I — some random dude living halfway across the world — am aware that Li Yuanlong has been detained and “vactioned” at this point, certainly the authorities theoretically responsible for overseeing this sort of thing should be aware of this particular case by now. If they disapproved, undoing it shouldn’t take more than a phone call — the story could have been killed before I even woke up this morning, probably — and yet something tells me that phone call isn’t coming. Even if this case requires a few extra days to work its way through the bureaucracy, I’d be willing to bet it won’t; come Monday, I’d bet Li will still be on vacation. (Though I hope I’m wrong; something tells me this “vacation” isn’t all that pleasant).

(It didn’t take the authorities long to respond to this local problem by sacking the creepy official in question. Somehow, though, I doubt that will happen to the men behind Li’s detention).

I’ve written about the this-is-a-local-issue argument before, because it’s something you hear quite frequently when discussing injustices in China. And while it is, to an extent, true, I think it’s also important to elucidate the higher-level indifference and the systemic structures that makes these kind of local injustices possible year in and year out.

Translation: “Looking Forward to When Anti-Corruption Has Some Culture”

I came across this short piece by Wang Gengxing in Southern Weekend today; I think it’s quite worthy of discussion. (All the links were added by me for the purposes of providing extra context; none of them are in the original piece).

Recently officials have been falling one after another: “Watch brother” Yang Dacai, Guangzhou former PSB chief He Jing, Yibin deputy mayor Chen Guangli…we can see that the government is resolute in opposing corruption and that the anti-corruption system is gradually improving. But even the most perfect system will not easily show results without corresponding cultural support. Taichung (Taiwan) mayor Hu Zhiqiang once dressed up as a beardless “modern-day Zhong Kui” and beheaded four kinds of green “corruption demons” with a group of children to plant the seed of opposing corruption in their hearts. Hong Kong’s ICAC uses many approaches to plant the seed of “clean governance” in the people’s hearts: they used the cartoon “Zhi Duo Duo” to communicate with children, set up an interactive website to communicate with young people, sent “clean government ambassadors” to colleges, held anti-corruption activities…Central Commission for Discipline Inspection secretary He Guoqiang recently emphasized that we must give prominence to the special characteristics of clean government culture, “in improving writing styles from top to bottom, in innovating new measures from top to bottom, ceaselessly raising the level of anti-corruption/pro-clean government education and propaganda work.” Why can’t you and I also put forward plans and make anti-corruption even more cultured?

Is cultural involvement really necessary to fostering cleaner government? Clearly not everyone thinks so. One commenter on the article above wrote:

Without civic consciousness, without consciousness of civil liberties, without an effective system of checks and balances, all we can do is count on idle talk, what’s the point?

Another wrote:

Culture’s influence is imperceptible [but present], however in today’s society, this road is destined to be long and winding [i.e., eliminating corruption via cultural changes is going to be a very slow and inefficient process]. Returning to the main topic; greed comes from human nature; unless we wait for the arrival of true socialism when there is no more inequality, we’re just treating the symptoms but ignoring the root cause.

Another commenter hit on my own personal reaction to the piece:

The system is useless, it’s all Monday-morning quarterbacking ((The original Chinese here is one of my all time favorite expressions, ‘an after-the-fact Zhuge Liang’)). Mostly it relies on net users, mistresses, and Gan’s daughters.

In other words, the system is often reactive and does nothing to stop corrupt officials who don’t draw attention to themselves. Indeed, one of the examples Wang cites in the original piece, “Watch brother” Yang Dacai, was only brought to justice after internet users uncovered his corruption and started raising a ruckus.

Returning to the original point though, despite the fun-sounding stunts in Taiwan and Hong Kong, I don’t think that corruption can really be regulated through education and culture, and especially not through the PRC government’s propaganda machine, which hasn’t proven to be particularly effective with this sort of thing. (For example, the government has been both promoting and legislating gender equality for years in the hopes that it can stamp out the traditional girl-bad-boy-good mentality; the failed results of that campaign so far are pretty evident in the country’s growing gender gap). As one commenter pointed out, greed seems to be a part of human nature, and it’s not likely to be overcome by a cultural campaign even if Zhongnanhai plasters the walls of the Forbidden City with red banners about fighting corruption.

On the other hand, though, the Chinese school system certainly could be doing more to promote transparency and honesty. At present, many students in Chinese schools are learning (among other things) how to get away with cheating; cheating and plagiarism are (in some schools) basically considered part of the game. I can only assume that attitude does contribute to the idea that it’s OK to cheat in other ways in one’s professional life, including — if one opts to go in that direction — one’s life as a public official.

Moreover, I suspect the larger issue facing China’s anti-corruption drive is the perception that Party membership and officialdom is generally motivated by personal interests rather than ideology or any genuine interest in serving others. For example, a cursory search for “Why Should I Join the Party?” turned up this question on Baidu Knows (What is the best reason why I should join the Communist Party?”). The top answer is exactly what you would expect, but here are snippets from some of the other answers users submitted:

…The best reason to join the Party is that after you commit a crime you’ll become famous. As soon as someone says official so-and-so did it. Otherwise, you won’t be able to become famous…

Of course, joining the Party has advantages for you…

Because you’re a Chinese person and you have to live in China…

Because these days many companies give priority to Party members when hiring.

Entering the Party is not just a reflection of improving your political identity, it is also creating a political foundation for your personal struggles. In a sense this means it will improve your personal value; for example when filling out a resume and putting down that you’re a Party member, the results will be very different [than if you weren’t; in other words, Party members will get jobs and meet other goals more easily.]

My personal opinion…when Party members make mistakes, they take away your Party membership first; if you’re not a member you’re just directly criminally prosecuted. Also I hear that if you’re a Party member and you’re arrested they can’t put handcuffs on you, haha.

There’s plenty more where this came from; the point is that clearly a lot of people feel that joining the Party ((which, granted, isn’t quite the same as public service although it’s generally the first step towards that)) these days is just a way to get ahead in your career or give yourself a little bit of padding in case you ever get caught breaking the law.

That’s a cultural problem of sorts, so could a cultural push really help stem the tide of China’s corruption? And if it could, would the Chinese government actually be able to effectively pull off such a campaign? I have my doubts, but I’m curious to hear what others think.

(Please keep in mind before you comment that we have recently changed the commenting rules. I highly suggest reading that link before commenting if you’re not already aware of the changes.)

The Recklessness of Nationalist Brinksmanship

So after a wave of rather violent anti-Japan protests I argued were state-supported, the madness has wound down — or rather, been wound down — by the same folks who drummed it up: the government. This is not an uncommon tactic at all, but it is an exceedingly dangerous one.

Let us take, for example, the attack on US Ambassador Gary Locke’s car that occurred near the end of this wave of protests. Chinese security stepped in fairly quickly and there was little damage to the car and no injuries to anyone involved. That’s fortunate, but just consider the ramifications if something had gone differently.

Say Chinese security reacted too slowly, being unprepared for a threat to the US Ambassador’s life at a time when everyone was busy destroying Japanese things. Say some overzealous protester in the crowd brought a molotov cocktail, or that Locke had been dragged out of the car and beaten or killed. It is certainly possible; while the vast majority of protesters would certainly never go this far, there were reported beatings in several areas during the protests and the ethnically Chinese US Ambassador could feasibly become a target of some rage if the US is perceived as opposing China’s claim to the islands. Anyway, let’s say things go badly and Locke is dragged out of the car and beaten, perhaps killed.

The damage to China’s international reputation would be immediate and severe. China’s government will claim that the protests were not government-supported and point out that Chinese security forces were attempting to protect and rescue the Ambassador, but these claims will be downed out as the international media reports on the many inflammatory articles and reports that appeared in state-owned media prior to the protests, and compares China’s approach to controlling anti-Japan protests to its approach to controlling pro-democracy ones ((I don’t have room to go into this here, but if you haven’t been following it, this is one of the interesting sub-stories from this round of anti-Japan protests. Many of the protesters who were arrested by security forces were people who were chanting slogans opposing corruption or advocating political reform, not people who were violently vandalizing Chinese-owned, vaguely “Japanese” businesses.)). It will point out articles like this one by Evan Osnos of the New Yorker, which says that police loudspeakers were blaring messages of sympathy and support even as they urged rationality and calm. The foreign media will come to the basically same conclusion I did: at best, China’s government could have done far more to control these protests; at worst, China’s government was actively encouraging them and supporting them until they got out of hand. Opinions of China will plummet internationally, and the incident will reinforce the stereotype that Chinese people are brainless nationalist drones. (To a certain extent, this has happened anyway).

China will condemn the attack, and find and punish the rioters responsible, but this will not sake the anger of the United States Congress, which will (because it is mostly full of idiots) be screaming for blood. Some will consider it an act of war. Chinese flags will be burned in the streets, and Chinese-Americans will start saying their parents are Taiwanese, at least for a little while. It will get ugly, and even imagining the best case scenario, it will impede any kind of development in the Sino-US relationship for years to come. Meanwhile, Chinese nationalists will be protesting the backlash, creating an echo-chamber of nationalist yelling and mutual flag-burning.

Of course, it’s possible that this will never happen. I’m not sure what the chances are. But the government is rolling the dice every time it encourages outpourings of nationalism like this with a media frenzy like the one we saw leading up to these protests. The media should be free to report whatever it deems newsworthy, and protesters should be free to protest whatever they want. But in China, where neither of those things are the case, the government must understand that it is going to be seen as ultimately responsible for what the press says and what protesters do. If it keeps allowing things to reach the brink of boiling point before pulling back, one of these times, it is going to be too late, and even though it wasn’t the government committing the crimes, the government will ultimately be left holding the ball.

China’s Anti-Japan Riots Are State-Sponsored. Period.

Apparent employees outside an Audi dealership with a banner that reads in rhyming verse: 'Even if China becomes nothing but tombstones, we must exterminate the Japanese; even if we have to destroy our own country, we must take back the Diaoyu Islands."

Like many people around the world, I’ve spent some of the past few days looking at photos and reports about the escalating anti-Japan protests in China. There is an excellent collection of them here for those that are interested. Browsing it, your first inclination may be to marvel at the particularly insane bits, like the hotel advertising that Japanese guests are no longer welcome or the Audi dealership with banners outside that literally advocate mass genocide (is this a new Audi sales campaign?). But for anyone who has been to a protest in China before, your second inclination is going to be to say this: where are all the fucking cops?

If you didn’t think that, try scrolling through the album again — or just doing an image search for “protest Japan” on weibo — and looking for police officers. You’ll see a few, sure. But you won’t see many.

Now, let’s compare that to photos from the Beijing “Jasmine revolution” protest, an incident so small that it not only didn’t have any car-flipping, burning, or rioting, it didn’t even have any protesters. There was an army of police there; it’s somewhat evident in the few pictures I have on my site, but you’ll find better photos of the incident here, among other places.

But perhaps that’s an unfair comparison, so let’s turn to a very fair one: the anti-Japan protests outside Japan’s embassy on September 18, 2010. Conveniently, I took video of that one, but here’s a short excerpt from the post I wrote at the time:

What was impressive was the show of control put on by the police, especially given that the protesters were there in support of the official government line. By the time we got there in the afternoon, police had cordoned off at least a one-block radius in every direction around the Japanese embassy. The streets to the north and east of the embassy, outside of the police tape, were lined with PSB officers, one standing every five feet or so for several blocks. There were easily a hundred of them, and obviously many more inside the police tape.

[…]

By the time we got to the Western approach to the embassy, where a small crowd had gathered on the intersection of Xiushui St. and Xiushui North St., there were reportedly no protesters left inside the cordoned off area, just some Western reporters and a whole lot of police. It was a show of force, a demonstration of control.

Now, obviously, these protests are much bigger than the 2010 protests, or the Jasmine revolution non-protests. And just as obviously there are police monitoring the protests in China right now; I am not suggesting that these people are rampaging through the streets completely unimpeded or anything.

But anyone who has followed domestic protests in China for even a short period of time should be clear on the fact that if it wants to, the government has the means to totally shut these protests down. They may have sent in the tanks back in ’89, but these days there are legions of trained riot police, People’s Armed Police, and other anti-protest forces. Every major city has them. If you think that China doesn’t have the law enforcement capability to totally shut down these riots, you’re delusional. If these were anti-government protests, not only would they not have carried on this long, but half the people in those photos would be in jail by now. Before the Jasmine protests (for example) police nationwide were literally arresting people just for considering going to the protests, not to mention people police thought might go.

The Global Times writes this morning in an op-ed condemning the violence:

There is no reason to suspect that the government is turning a blind eye to the violence seen over the weekend. This is simply the view of those who make a habit of criticizing the government.

Really? Then where is China’s police force? Even if all the riot police are busy doing traffic stops or something, I’d think if nothing else the chengguan could handle something like this pretty easily (and we all know how much they hate it when people dirty up city sidewalks).

The evidence that China is turning a blind eye to these protests is overwhelming. The absence of China’s police forces is glaringly obvious, especially in contrast to the vast numbers that turn up and start jumping in front of lenses and smashing cameras whenever a protest China’s government doesn’t like is scheduled to take place. China has clearly shown it is more than capable of keeping anti-Japan protests under control if it wants to. The obvious conclusion now — the only conclusion now — is that it doesn’t want to.

(Obviously, if we were to look at the sabre-rattling that has been going on in China’s media, we’d find more evidence that the government is not-so-subtly fanning the flames here. Case in point: a sympathetic editorial about the protests in the People’s Daily. That link is now broken, but the it is cited in the New York Times.)

Some will probably still feel that the title of this blog post is a bit sensationalist, but I disagree. The state many not be financially supporting — or even publicly encouraging — these protests, but I would argue the low police presence and apparent lack of attempted control sends a very strong message of support, especially in a country where you can get arrested and sentenced to a year of labor for a retweeting a joke.

Chinese citizens should have the right to protest publicly, of course, but that right should not extend to the destruction of property or to violence. The government should absolutely be doing much more than it is to control these protests, and I hope that it will step up soon, or tomorrow (9/18) could be very, very ugly. I think a lot of these protesters need to look themselves in a mirror and ask why they’re willing to beat their own countrymen and advocate exterminating the Japanese over some rocks they have never visited (and will never visit). But China’s government needs to be held accountable for the role it is playing in this violence as, by and large, it stands on the sidelines, content to let Chinese citizens in the wrong place at the wrong time driving the wrong car take the heat just because it’s a good distraction from the series of blunderous scandals that has been this year in Chinese domestic politics.

UPDATE: I have heard from several people who attended the Beijing protests that those were well-staffed with police and security. It does seem from photos and other evidence that the situation wasn’t the same in many other cities though, which would explain why there wasn’t much destruction in Beijing but there seems to have been elsewhere. I’m not sure why this is, but a Chinese friend emailed me a theory that I find very interesting. Make of it what you will:

The whole anti-Japanese thing is definitely state-owned, no doubt.
But I think you can go deeper…one party, different fractions
/clique…as far i as I am concerned,there are three major fractions
in ccp.

As for this event..it is Hu’s and Jiang’s at play….

Look at the most violent cities, Xi’an, Chang’ sha, etc…they all are
under Hu’s folks
Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou…lol….Shanghai clique…

UPDATE 2: Found this image just now, via this site. This would certainly seem to be evidence the protests are state-supported, no?

I suppose the police could be confiscating this vehicle, but somehow I doubt it. And I’m not sure why they’d confiscate it rather than ripping off the banners (since the result of getting in it without ripping off the banners is precisely this bad-PR photo, though it’ll be good PR to some folks in China). For those that can’t read them, the top one says “When Chinese people get angry the results are serious!” and the big one along the side is the same message as the Audi dealership; ‘Even if we turn China into a field of tombstones we must eliminate all Japanese.’ The other bits are (unsurprisingly) anti Japanese slogans about eliminating the Japanese, not worshipping Aoi Sola, etc.

In other anecdotal-but-interesting news, a friend of my wife’s family, who works for a city government in China, was taken along with his coworkers to a (mandatory) anti-Japan protest on Tuesday. Sounds pretty state-sponsored to me.

Another Lesson in How to Fail at Soft Power

I came across this story a couple days ago, and found it mildly amusing, but eventually decided it was worth sharing here because it’s indicative of the larger trend. First of all, here are the basics for those that haven’t already read the article:

Citing “strong resentment from the local Chinese community,” the Chinese government has asked the city of Corvallis to force a Taiwanese-American businessman to remove a mural advocating independence for Taiwan and Tibet from his downtown building.

But city leaders say the mural violates no laws and its political message is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

Taiwanese artist Chao Tsung-song painted the 10-foot-by-100-foot mural last month on the side of the old Corvallis MicroTechnology building at Southwest Fourth Street and Jefferson Avenue. The work was commissioned by property owner David Lin, who is renovating the space for a restaurant and has rechristened the building Tibet House.

In vivid colors, the painting depicts riot police beating Tibetan demonstrators, Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule and images of Taiwan as a bulwark of freedom.

In a letter dated Aug. 8, the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco formally complained to Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning about the mural’s content and asked for her help in having it removed.

“There is only one China in the world,” the letter reads in part, “and both Tibet and Taiwan are parts of China.”

Now, I can’t be too sure about the quality of the reporting here, because the article refers to Tibet as a “country” and as a “breakaway province” (it most certainly is neither, though some might like it to be). But I’m guessing the basic facts of the case here are true.

Let’s think about this from the perspective of the local Chinese consulate general. A business owner in your area of the US has put up a mural that you find offensive. If this were China, of course, you could have it taken down, and maybe have the guy beaten or tossed in jail for a little while to teach him a lesson. But you don’t have those powers in the US, so your only real options are to ignore it or make a big stink about it. Why in hell would you ever choose the latter?

If you ignore it, the only people who ever hear about it are the people who happen to visit or drive by that building, most of whom probably aren’t even going to understand its meaning. If you make a big stink about it, on the other hand, you turn it into a news story. What’s more, you turn it into a news story that the local government has an active interest in promoting because it makes them look awesome. ‘We stood up to pressure from the Chinese government and defended the first Amendment rights of an American business owner’ — what US government official wouldn’t want that story on the front page of every newspaper? That is exactly why what could have been a tiny non-story is now being discussed on this blog and elsewhere despite the fact that I don’t even know where Corvallis is.

The other question is what the hell did Chinese consular officials think they were going to gain from sending that letter? Surely Chinese diplomats are given at least some basic training in US laws, so they ought to know the local government wasn’t even going to consider taking the mural down. And while I understand this is probably the sort of thing that has to be done from time to time to please the overseers back in China, I can’t imagine anyone in China would have heard of this mural either of the Chinese consulate general hadn’t broadcast it to the world by formally making a complaint about it.

The complaint makes the Chinese government look petty and weak even as it draws attention to two issues the Chinese government doesn’t want anyone talking about. The publicity helps ensure that more Americans are going to come down on what the Chinese government would consider to be the “wrong” side. Sure, consular officials may have scored some points with their buddies at home, but they did so by putting yet another scratch in China’s already-battered international reputation and by setting the country back even further on its increasingly unrealistic-looking quest to wield some kind of measurable cultural power outside its borders.