A Few Reading Recommendations

1. The new Journal of Current Chinese Affairs is out—and all its articles are available for free in PDF at its website. Those of possible interest to CB readers include:

“Beijing Bubble, Beijing Bust: Inequality, Trade, and Capital Inflow into China” (by James K. Galbraith, Sara Hsu, Wenjie Zhang);
“Realpolitik Dynamics and Image Construction in the Russia-China Relationship: Forging a Strategic Partnership?” (by Maria Raquel Freire, Carmen Amado Mendes);
“The Regulation of Religious Affairs in Taiwan: From State Control to Laisser-faire?” (by André Laliberté);
“Nationalism to Go - Coke Commercials between Lifestyle and Political Myth” (available only in German, by Nora Frisch);
“China’s Employment Crisis – A Stimulus for Policy Change?” (by Günter Schucher); and others.

2. The 60th anniversary assessments have started to roll out. At The Daily Beast, two commentaries stand in contrast to one another. First, Peter Osnos’s optimistic take in “Why China Eclipsed Russia” (Osnos is the Washington Post’s former Moscow correspondent):
...when it comes to comparing China today with the Soviet Union at a comparable stage, it feels safe to conclude that China is a country with a much stronger foundation for progress than its predecessor Communist behemoth. This is mainly because it has abandoned Marxist-Leninist economic principles without meaningful political reform, a trade-off its own people seem largely to accept. The simple way to summarize the difference is that the Soviet Union, for all the immense nuclear strength and apparent self-regard of its heyday, was really a facade, behind which was an economy that, at its pinnacle, was shallow and shoddy. Neither the industrial nor the agricultural system was of a size or quality to fill its needs. Most of its international trade was essentially in barter, particularly with its Eastern European satellites. Those were the early years of the computer age, but for all the engineering and scientific talent in its population, the Soviets were way behind the West in most areas, except the military—even as the United States, in particular, chose to portray the Soviet Union as being on the verge of overtaking it in crucial ways.

Russia still has a nuclear armory of immense strength and has become a formidable petrocracy. But whatever Russia’s revived superpower pretensions, there is no real doubt that China far exceeds it in economic, financial, and technical development. By sheer size, China’s military capacity and reach is enormous, though still lagging far behind that of the United States. History suggests that armed power tends to be used one way or another once it is accumulated. Yet the Chinese leaders appear for now convinced that only by steadily lifting the living standards of its people can party supremacy be assured. The Soviets said they would and could improve the lives of the citizenry, but never remotely reached their goals…

Over thousands of years, China’s history has experienced cycles and eras far longer than the six decades since 1949. My own measurement of time is even shorter. It is only twenty years since the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement ended in tragedy, and forty years since the upheavals and violence of the Cultural Revolution. There are deep-seated tensions in China—the riots in Tibet last year and in Urumqi this summer being only two recent examples. Nonetheless, this is an extraordinary period of largely positive changes for China. And unlike in the Soviet Union at sixty, the Chinese leadership’s rhetorical declarations of triumph seem to be anchored in accomplishments that are measurable to the population in ways that count. As the fate of the Soviet Union dramatically showed, modern superpowers cannot be sustained by polemics and police forever.
Isabel Hilton (editor of China Dialogue), takes a more pessimistic tack:
…But mistakes not acknowledged tend to be repeated, and policies that have provoked angry responses in the past are unlikely to promote harmony in the future. The test of China’s future trajectory, of its ability to go from large power to great power, is only partly about economics. Thus far, China’s economic growth has been based on unsustainable low-end manufacturing for the export market and the legitimacy bestowed by rising living standards. To manage the next phase of development successfully, China needs to move up the value chain, improve its governance, cut down on the huge waste in the economy, distribute the rewards of the effort more fairly, and inject some justice into its politics and legal affairs. But to do that, the Communist Party has to take on the vested interests on which it depends for its power.
We all have an interest in China’s success, as President Obama underlined at the opening this week of a two-day high-level dialogue with visiting Chinese officials. With just a nod to the recent troubles in Xinjiang, Obama ticked off a list of common concerns from climate change to economic recovery. In all of them, Chinese cooperation is essential.

In a globalized world, China’s troubles are everybody’s troubles and the U.S. has little interest in seeing them grow. But China’s solutions, to date, are unlikely to help. The revolt of the minorities is only a symptom of a wider political malaise. Even taken together, their numbers, compared to the overwhelming majority of Han Chinese, are small. But the indignation and resentment that burst into view in Xinjiang in Tibet are also visible, for a wide variety of reasons, in the Han population.
3. Pico Iyer reflects on travel writing in the post-imperial age at Lapham's Quarterly in "Travel Writing: Nowhere Need Be Foreign," with a mention of Peter Hessler (he writes “if you want an American narrative of sensitivity, learning, and reflection, there are few better books (let alone better guides to contemporary China) than the deeply literate, graceful narratives of Peter Hessler”):
I call, therefore, for a travel writing that doesn’t care where it comes from and doesn’t get fussy about what it’s addressing (The Mall of America and John F. Kennedy International Airport are scenes as worthy of scrutiny as the Great Wall of China or the Pyramids of Giza ever were). A kind that, as in the best of Greene, blurs to some degree the issue of nationality in favor of something more human. Our hybrid world makes a mockery of saying that Kenyans are all savages, or that Laotians or Tibetans are all saints. The Kenyan is now an upper-class girl from Edinburgh; the Laotian is working in a hospital in Sacramento; the Tibetan is busy setting up a shop in Paris with his Breton wife. Writing about travel becomes a matter of writing about confusion and mixed identity and the snares of cultural transformation.
4. At PopMatters, a review of Ted Koppel’s 2008 Discovery Channel documentary on China (as well as of Leslie Chang’s Factory Girls). Jack Patrick Rodgers writes:
In essence, it’s a broad primer on the Chinese pre-meltdown economy and culture, designed to appeal to viewers who don’t know much about the country. The series opens with a segment on US-Chinese relations that quickly taps into the resentment of many blue-collar Americans who have watched their jobs migrate to China over the past two decades.

Take for example the company Briggs and Stratton, a maker of small motors for lawnmowers, which recently moved a manufacturing plant to the Chinese city of Chongqing and laid off almost 500 US workers in the process. At first it seems like Koppel is ready to depict this situation as an example of China stealing jobs that should rightfully belong to Americans, but the truth reveals a more complex relationship between the two countries.

Goods manufactured in China are substantially cheaper thanks to lower wages, and superstores like Wal-Mart owe their success to the rock-bottom prices that Chinese factories are able to provide. Koppel interviews Pam Leaser, a 50-year-old former employee of Briggs and Stratton, who is angry about the loss of her job but admits she does most of her shopping at Wal-Mart. When Koppel points out that her own shopping habits are the reason why China is siphoning jobs away from the America, Leaser has no response.
5. If her blog is not already on your RSS feed, this post from Xujun Eberlein (we’ve re-run several of her blog postings at CB in the past) should convince you to add it. It is a smart analysis of how the Tonghua Steel Corp. riots demonstrated that the government’s media policies continue to be ill-suited (at least in practice) to a changed media environment:
Two seemly unrelated but notable events took place in China on Friday, July 24th. In the morning, the official news agency Xinhuapublished an article titled "Ten Suggestions for Local Governments on How to Respond to Internet Opinion" on its website… [CB Edit: Eberlein directs readers to Danwei’s full translation of the article.]
As if setting up an immediate reality test for the government's new media policy, that very day a large mass incident erupted in Tonghua,Jilin. Thousands of workers of the Tonghua Steel Corp protested a private takeover of their enterprise, which had a 50-year history of state ownership. The steel factory had already suffered a failed privatization attempt from the same company. It was recovering from that and last year's financial crisis, when the renewed and expanded ownership was announced. Angry workers beat to death the new general manager appointed by the private company, Jianlong of Beijing, on his first day at work. The workers gradually dispersed only after the Jilin provincial government announced its on-the-site decision to have the private company withdraw from Tonghua Steel's business. Some Chinese netizens called the event "the first workers movement since 1949" – the year Communist rule in China began.
As a test of the new media policy, it seems to have failed. For three days, China's media kept totally silent on the shocking incident, not even the independent and daring papers such as Caijing said a word. On every commercial web portal, posts and discussions on the Tonghua riot were quickly deleted. The Western media first learned the news from a Hong Kong human rights group and reported the incident briefly on the 25th , all in a monotonous and minimalist way, quoting the same source.
Meanwhile, Chinese netizens acted quicker than the government's media controllers, and one detailed anonymous eye-witness account landed on overseas Chinese websites and was circulated around the world. It could no longer be deleted. (An English translation of this account can be found on Hong Kong-based ESWN, one of the most popular China blogs.) So far no Western media outlet has cited the far more informative account, whose content seems to be verified by various sources, including the government's own belated reporting. The speed of selection and elimination by internet surfers is amazing, and the quality control of the selection process is even more impressive.
6. At “Writers Read,” Guobin Yang gives some of his recommendations.

7. Just in case you haven’t heard, some violent video games are now verboten in the PRC.


The Urumchi Unrest Revisited

The violence in Xinjiang took place almost a month ago, but it continues to generate interesting commentary (see, for example, this thoughtful essay by Pallavi Aiyar). The early July events have also recently had two reverberations in Australia, as Jia Zhangke and two other Chinese filmmakers pulled out of a Melbourne film festival where a documentary expected to present a sympathetic view of one of the people Beijing blames for the unrest was to be shown, and then hackers attacked the festival's website to protest that film’s inclusion in the line-up. In light of this, we asked James Millward, a leading specialist in the history of Xinjiang who has written about related issues for us before, to share with the readers of China Beat his take on what happened in early July and how it should be understood.

By James Millward

The ugly mob violence that roiled the western Chinese city of Urumchi in Xinjiang on July 5th was rather quickly suppressed, and Urumchi is now quiet. Thanks to an unprecedented degree of openness to the international press, moreover, we have a better idea specifically what happened than we have for other such incidents in China.

Students who are members of the Uyghur minority—a largely Muslim, Turkic-language speaking group who are natives of the Xinjiang region in far northwestern China—demonstrated on Sunday, July 5 to call for a more thorough investigation into a deadly brawl among Uyghur and Han workers that had occurred at a factory in Guangdong province the previous week. The demonstration turned violent, possibly while it was being repressed by security forces, and thousands of Uyghurs went on a rampage, attacking Hans and destroying property. By Monday, July 6, mobs of Han—the majority ethnic group in China—took to the streets armed with clubs, meat-cleavers and other makeshift weapons, seeking revenge. Police eventually calmed the situation with batons, tear-gas, firearms with live ammunition, curfews and mass arrests. At least 192 people died, and some 1000 were injured.

Though we know the broad outlines of what happened, why it happened remains in dispute. The official story from the Xinjiang regional and Chinese authorities is that the riot was instigated by Rebiya Kadeer and the World Uyghur Congress, an umbrella group made up of overseas Uyghur organizations in Europe, America and Central Asia that claims to represent Uyghur interests internationally. (A Uyghur economist and outspoken blogger, Ilham Tohti, has also been blamed by Xinjiang authorities for inciting the riot, and has apparently been detained.) The PRC routinely claims that the WUC and Kadeer—a charismatic spokeswoman for the Uyghur cause who enjoys sympathy in the US Congress and EU parliament—is surreptitiously engaged in separatist and even terrorist activity. Some of the commentary in Western media has harkened back to the issue of alleged Uyghur jihadism, involvement with Al Qaeda, and terrorist plots—issues much discussed with regard to the Uyghurs who wound up in Guantanamo.

When it comes to the recent Urumchi riots, however, terrorism and even separatism are red herrings. China’s control over Xinjiang is not threatened by these demonstrators or even the handful of jihadi Uyghurs outside of China who espouse terrorism or militancy. No government internationally has ever challenged the PRC’s sovereignty in Xinjiang or officially sympathized with calls for an independent Eastern Turkestan state. The mainstream Uyghur exile groups—World Uyghur Congress and Rabiya Kadeer’s Uyghur American Association among them—do not call for an independent Uyghur or East Turkestan state; rather, these groups lobby for cultural autonomy, legal rights, equal employment opportunity and similar issues—they could not lobby for an independent state without losing their access to members of Western governments or, in the case of Rabiya Kadeer’s Uyghur American Association, jeopardizing funding from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy. But most telling of all is the fact that the Uyghur students in their initial demonstration marched under the flag of the People’s Republic of China, explicitly sending a non-separatist message of loyal dissent.

What Urumchi experienced was what Americans, recalling our own troubled history, might call a race riot. The reasons underlying it were likewise familiar: mundane prejudice including easy use of racial slurs by both Han and Uyghur about the other; a widespread perception by the minority Uyghurs, with some justification, that the political, legal and economic system, especially job opportunities, are stacked in favor of the majority Hans; and a simple lack of understanding or empathy for the different cultures of fellow citizens.

Diversity in the US is the result of the colonization of North America by northern Europeans, our proximity to parts of the Americas first colonized by Spain, subsequent migration from other parts of the world, and of course the African slave trade. Though China is of continental dimensions and has long been diverse, the most pressing ethnic issues today largely stem from the 17th and 18th century expansion of the Qing empire which brought Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Taiwan under Beijing’s rule. Regardless of the different historical background, however, China shares with the US, and, for that matter, with India, Great Britain, France, Canada, Australia, Russia and other large nations, the strengths and challenges of an ethnically diverse population. Economic growth, urban development, political evolution, globalization and other processes can exacerbate tensions among ethnic communities in any country.

The proximate cause of the Urumchi troubles was labor migration, both of Uyghurs from Xinjiang to Guangdong, and of Han from other parts of China to Xinjiang, all associated with China’s super-charged market economy and state program to develop western parts of the country. But the deeper problem is essentially the same as that in any large, modern state: how to incorporate ethno-cultural diversity into the national vision. Chinese official rhetoric and policies in the past—especially in the early 1950s and late 1980s—were directed at this goal, but more recent approaches have too often depicted Uyghurs and Tibetans as ungrateful “others,” and even as threats to security. Both Uyghurs and Han have absorbed this message from state media. It has fueled Uyghur frustration and violence, and instilled in Hans a sense of grievance against minorities, their fellow Chinese.

China faces problems of interethnic tension and civil rights all too familiar to other countries in the world. Chinese leaders could enjoy international sympathy and support should they address these issues directly. But claiming that all ethnic problems at home arise from the conspiracies of exiles or machinations of foreigners will only elicit more international sympathy for Chinese minorities and criticism of China's human rights record.

James Millward is professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author of Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang and an expert on China and Central Asian history.


Race and Espionage

By Sam Goffman

The fact that China and the US spy on each other should come as no surprise to anybody. Each country is nervous about the other, and espionage, though it is surely not conducted with the same vigor as during the Cold War, is still an important part of interactions between states.

What’s interesting about Chinese espionage operations in the US, however, is that they appear to involve strong racial and nationalist overtones. The Soviet Union tended to appeal to ideology, or simply offer money or other types of benefits to its agents; China, it seems, is mainly going after overseas Chinese communities in its efforts to recruit spies.

In the latest example, Dongfan “Greg” Chung, a Boeing employee who had been with the company for 30 years, was convicted two weeks ago for passing numerous sensitive documents to the Chinese government. The judge in the case proclaimed, “The trust Boeing placed in Mr. Chung to safeguard its proprietary and trade secret information obviously meant very little to Mr. Chung. He cast it aside to serve the PRC, which he proudly proclaimed as his ‘motherland.’” Afterwards, a think tank analyst told the New York Times, “The Chinese communist government is seeking to divide the loyalties of Chinese-Americans. By defending ourselves in this way, asserting our sovereignty, we are making clear to all those who would be turned by nationalist appeals from China's communist government that there is price to pay.”

This kind of language is indicative of a broader fear in the American government and its environs that Chinese-Americans are more likely to serve as spies than Americans of other ethnic backgrounds. Several Chinese-Americans have been convicted of espionage activities in recent years—for example, Chi Mak, Tai Shen Kuo, and Katrina M. Leung—and quotes such as the one above indicate there is a broad understanding that the PRC targets Chinese-Americans in its recruiting efforts. Ira Winkler, a security consultant, has said, “They [the Chinese government] play upon the ethnic heartstrings of people with Chinese heritage, telling them they must help. They identify in social settings who is here on a Green Card, who has relatives in China and who can be compromised."

Another alleged strategy of the Chinese government, which has gotten some attention from the media, is a phenomenon that could be called “micro-espionage.” A former Chinese diplomat named Chen Yonglin, who defected to Australia in 2005, has confirmed that this strategy exists. In a discussion about Chinese espionage efforts in Canada, he said, “China has a huge network of secret agents, and it is working hard to influence governments, including Canada’s. It infiltrates the Chinese community and also puts pressure on groups that it considers the enemy, like Falun Gong, democracy activists and others.” And Sreeram Chaulia, in an article on Chinese espionage, writes, “US counter-espionage professionals contend that this is a unique style patented by China wherein the agents are relative amateurs such as Chinese students, businesspersons, visiting scientists as well as persons of Chinese heritage living in the US. Each individual may produce only a small iota of data, but a network of such persons could vacuum up an extensive amount of sensitive military and economic information.”

Such is the vision: a vast array of overseas Chinese, working in every corner of the economy and government, all funneling small pieces of information back to their “home” country, which, presumably, fashions the pieces together to form a comprehensive view of America’s secrets. It is difficult to think of a conspiracy theory grander in scope, more racist in content, and more frightening in its implications. Every Chinese-American is a suspect. Not only does the vision assume that a large number of Chinese-Americans would be willing, even eager, to spy for the “motherland”; it also assumes that the Chinese government has the kind of sophisticated information-gathering apparatus in place to collect all these little shards of information, and that it would be capable of forming them into something useful.

It perhaps should not be surprising that Americans would extrapolate the Chinese practice of targeting individual Chinese-Americans into a grand conspiracy—during the Cold War, similar fears of broad Soviet espionage were all too common. And it should not be surprising that the PRC would attempt to use race to persuade Chinese-Americans to become spies—Chinese nationalist discourse has consistently invoked race as a fundamental part of being Chinese, and such rhetoric has seen a resurgence in recent years. Both countries are merely doing what they have already been doing for a long time.

It may boil down to competing ideas of what a nation-state should look like: in the US, the specter of large numbers of Chinese-American spies could be yet another test for American-style multiculturalism. Caught in the middle, of course, are Chinese-Americans themselves.

Sam Goffman previously published a piece on the Seoul Olympics at China Beat and blogs regularly at his own blog.


Brought to You by the People’s Republic of The Onion

By Haiyan Lee

America's finest news source The Onion has a new owner! Since last week, readers have been bombarded with the good tiding, from the modified masthead, logo, and tagline, to news headlines, editorials, audio and video clips, and ads, lots of ads. The new owner goes by the appetizing name of Yu Wan Mei 鱼完美 Amalgamated Salvage Fisheries and Polymer Injection Group, supposedly a Chinese conglomerate from the inland province of Sichuan. The corporation specializes in fish by-products salvaged from the “ocean’s bounty.” Some of its finer samples are “Broiled Shark Gums,” “Multi-Flavor Variety Pack Of Pickled Fish Cloaca,” “Lightning Power Monkfish Cerebral Fluid Energy Drink,” “Mr. Steve's Safe And Natural Rhinoceros-Cure For The Inferior Male,” and “Yu Wan Mei Miscellaneous Flavor Paste.”

But, as the YWM homepage proclaims in bold letters, the corporation is “diversifying into myriad subsidiaries” such as “Szu-Maul Lethal Injection Truck And Van Manufacturing,” “Speedee Slab Quick-Setting Concrete Consolidated,” “Jhonson & Jhonson Baby's Shampow,” “Yu Wanmei EZ Home Foreclosure Program,” and “Amalgamated Chinatowns of America, Inc.” The new owner is pushy, to say the least. Every news and non-news item in the paper comes with at least one YWM product placement reference. Ads containing shibboleths in simulated non-grammatical English (“Glorious Fish By-Product Make for Long Life, Good Fortune”) rudely bisect or multiply interrupt any and all reports. At a more subliminal level, the end of every text is marked with the Chinese character for fish. The video clips go overboard with animated YWM icons and messages flashing across the screen and with the anchors blending YWM commercials effortlessly into their tabloid-style interviews. The Onion has positively turned fishy.

No savvy Onion reader should be fooled by this non-too-subtle effort at mocking the sorry state of the publishing industry and the corporate takeover of the media in contemporary America. No one, really, should even be surprised that a fictive Chinese corporation is the villain of this imaginary apocalypse. After all, wasn’t GM’s Hummer just sold to an obscure Chinese company called Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company Ltd.? Bizarre as it may have sounded, that piece of news shouldn’t have surprised too many either. For better or for worse, China has been on Americans’ mind for quite some time—at least those Americans who have been paying attention to the intricate linkage between the Chinese compulsion to save and the subprime mortgage crisis that has brought the American economy to its knees, to the chattering class ratcheting up the specter of “China rising,” to the media coverage of the Beijing Olympics and the ethnic riots, to news stories about poisonous toothpaste, carcinogenic toys, and tainted milk powder.

In the new millennium, China’s has mostly shed its Cold War cartoonish image as an evil Communist regime that hates freedom and democracy but cannot stop its citizens from loving those beautiful ideals, at least not in their basements (they must have basements where they can write subversive poetry, build little replicas of the Statue of Liberty, and dream of rising up against the gerontocrats ensconced behind the Gate of Heavenly Peace). Today, the Chinese are viewed with suspicion not as ideological fanatics (that role has been taken over by Islamic fundamentalists) but as relentless profit-seekers bound by neither law nor conscience. Thus a Chinese company coming out of nowhere to take a stab at acquiring a piece of what was once the pinnacle of American industrial achievements was truly a remarkable event whose significance could not be adequately marked by mainstream media trying to steer clear of fear-mongering. Thus it has fallen on a cabal of professional satirists to spell out its full implications.

It is commonly said that humor does not translate easily because it is deeply entrenched in the nitty-gritty of a given cultural and social milieu. It requires sustained immersion in local knowledge for the cues to be picked up and savored and for the punch line to hit home. The Onion has owed its success to mostly in-jokes designed for the well-trained ears and eyes of a stratum of Americans very much tuned in to the shifting landscapes of American culture and politics and yet disgusted with the many absurdities unfailingly trotted out by politicians as well as an assortment of celebrities. That we now have a China-themed issue of The Onion is an unmistakable indication of how much China has become part of American life and perhaps the American psyche as well.

But what exactly is it about China to which The Onion is directing its mordant sense of humor and irony? And if China is no more than a foil, what is it about the American self that is also being skewered? Let’s begin with the mock-announcement of the transfer of ownership. Couched in the hoary voice (“news-paper,” “owner-ship,” “any-way”) of the paper’s 141-year-old “publisher emeritus” T. Herman Zweibel, the piece is strewn with racial slurs evocative of the times of Fu Manchu. Mr. Zweibel speaks of “China-men” crawling out of their “dank hut” to extend their “clammy clutch” into the Western world, getting what they wanted with “infernal bowing and other assorted chinky-dinkery” plus “an appropriately absurd parcel of riches.” But the real bogeyman turns out to be Mr. Zweibel himself, who casually lets drop the paper’s inglorious origin: his ancestors founded it to fleece “its porridge-brained readers out of as much precious capital as could be wrung from their grubby, desperately toiling fingers.” Sharing his ancestors’ profound contempt for readers and journalists alike, he is sick of trying to keep up the pretense of providing objective reporting for the benefit of an informed citizenry.

What is at first blush a spoof of old-fashioned American racism turns out to be a savage attack on the profanation of the profession of journalism by rapacious capitalists. Still, the racial slurs pile on, and the announcement ends with Mr. Zweibel wishing the “whimpering clods” who call themselves readers good luck with the new owner, who he promises will “surely dizzy you into stupefied obedience with their unnatural black Orient arts.”

Is this funny? Does playing on unsavory, threadbare racial stereotypes tickle the American funny bone? The Onion does not seem so confident about the comic longevity of such old hat gags. Elsewhere in the paper, good old Americanisms about the “Chinaman” are banished in favor of a subtler brand of humor that invokes a different mythology: a China run by a ruthless and humorless authoritarian government. It’s a government that has maintained its grip on power through unapologetic censorship and by feeding its populace falsehoods about itself and the outside world. It imprisons and butchers its citizens if they dare to grumble a bit or even take it to the streets.

Alarmingly, this recluse of a country has in recent decades steadily opened itself up and joined the global capitalist game without—aggravatingly enough—playing by the rules. It is like the genie let out of the bottle, gaining in size and menace in the blink of an eye and manifesting no intention of doing our biddings. For three decades now it has been sewing our clothes and shoes, stuffing our children’s toys, filling our homes with cheap gadgets, packing our canned food, even financing our deficit spending at both the individual and national levels, but it doesn’t seem to want to share our values and ideals. It doesn’t seem to want anything from us other than our dollar, and maybe a few Hollywood blockbusters—not something we are unanimously proud of. What to make of such a “frienemy”?

Niall Ferguson has given a name to this uneasy interdependency: “Chimerica,” a pair of Siamese twins joined at the hip and yet feuding and straining to turn their backs on each other. Humor is one way to diffuse the tension and diminish the perceived threat of the other. The Onion at least gets this much across to its readers, with a wink and a nudge: Look, the Chinese have been stuck with a ridiculous control-freak of a government that blithely carries on its hilariously flawed propaganda blitz thinking that it’s cleverly pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. Now they’re trying the same bag of tricks on us. Unfortunately, we Americans are defenseless against the onslaught because we have been disarmed by their cheap wares and capital infusion. They have bought us out, literally. In capitalism, money talks. So what can we do but surrender to their at once bombastic and insinuating messages, commercial as well as political? So here we go (and brace yourselves):

*China is a police state: there is no rule of law, no freedom of information; its media serve up lies, half-truths, and illiberal prejudices. If the oligarchic Party had its way, there would be only 12 websites altogether (“Internet Adds 12th Website”), with two of them being YuWanMei.com and ConfuciusQuotes.net (one imagines the latter site full of such gems of wisdom as “Confucius say, man who sit on red hot stove shall rise again,” though the actually existing ConfuciusQuotes.net doesn’t appear, unlike YuWanMei.com, to be a companion mock-site of The Onion). An Internet user registers total satisfaction with the extent of his virtual universe: "Who knew that someday we'd be able to carry forth our rich cultural traditions and promote the ethical norms of a socialist society, all at the touch of a button?" If you click on the editorial piece intriguingly entitled “The Internet Allows For A Free Exchange of Unmitigated Information,” a stern warning page springs up on your screen with the following message:
Secure Connection Failed
You have made a grave error.
(Error code: sec_error_cn_dissident_invalid)
Access to this page has been denied for your benefit by the Ministry of Public Security of the People's Republic of China.
The State suggests: www.yuwanmei.com, www.mps.gov.cn, http://bit.ly/jqfPe
* Your ISP has been noted.
*China is a bully, especially vis-à-vis Taiwan, which it regards as a break-away province. In “Toddler Chokes To Death On Plastic Taiwanese-Made Toy,” it tries, preposterously enough, to unload its toy scandal on the de facto island state that has over the years built a reputation for the reliability of its exports: “The cowardly and disloyal American-child-killing territory of Taiwan—properly known as Chinese Taipei—whose people and illegitimate government could be annihilated at any moment, has not yet issued an apology for murdering this gentle child with its hazardous toy product.”

*China does not play fair. In “Intellectual Property Rights As Fleeting As The Scent Of Jasmine, Mayfly's Wing In Autumn,” we are treated to a Daoist meditation on reality and illusion. Ever heard of the sage Zhuangzi waking up from a nap wondering if he was Zhuangzi who had just had a dream about a butterfly or if he was a Butterfly dreaming that it was Zhuangzi? Ever tried to apply that piece of ancient Chinese wisdom to our conceited world? Here’s the Chinese (or is it YWM?) showing you how to do it.

*China is a peculiar hybrid of arrogance, ignorance, and intolerance. In “Weakling President Asks Imaginary Man In Sky To Bless Nation,” it’s bad enough that the president should ask “a pretend man who lives in the clouds” to watch over his nation, “even more incomprehensible, sources said, is that hundreds of millions of Americans openly worship the all-knowing invisible man—who apparently observes the world's events from atop his perch in outer space—without fear of mockery, shame, or violent government reprisal.” Clearly, the Chinese have never heard of religion or spirituality and can’t even recognize a figure of speech. In “Grandfather Disrespected In Own Home,” an American family are chided for deficiency of filial piety, as evidenced in the scant attention they pay to the patriarch’s “expert counsel on matters ranging from home maintenance to the best methods for attaining low-cost airfare to Florida.” Worse, the daughter-in-law dare deny the old man his request for a second slice of pie, forgetting that “to this day she has not produced a single male heir.”

You get the idea.

The kick one gets out of mocking one’s opponent can be delectable. But when the opponent is one’s (evil) twin, there’s always the nagging doubt that the self is implicated. The Onion offers a few soothing salves for injured American pride. In “U.S. Hunger For Fish Byproducts Not As Strong As First Imagined,” YWM is dismayed by evidence showing that “the American palette is far too unrefined and pedestrian to appreciate such delicacies as ground gas bladders, lymphoid tissue, and fresh gill paste.” Americans have discerning tastes after all and have not entirely lost their gastronomical independence, which bodes well for keeping the browbeating Chinese at bay in other, more vital areas. In the “Infographic” feature called “The Following Are Examples Of American Weakness,” Americans are reminded of their virtues and strengths by means of a slanderous and uncomprehending litany of defects: “Gymnasts are old, bulky and without grace”; “When people are permitted to so loudly discuss their rights, it is impossible to sit down and enjoy a peaceful Fish Time”; “Unwieldy system of checks, balances”; and so on. A beautiful landscape picture (the Rockies?) is given this caption: “Clear American Sky A Constant Reminder Of Industrial Inferiority.”

What makes China such a delicious target of the lampoon artists and such an obliging foil for the American ego? If humor plays on perceived incongruity, then China very much has it coming, what with its bloated self-image and its bumbling presence on the international stage. The Chinese have an excellent sense of humor too, even under the most austere and repressive circumstances, as Guo Qitao’s collection of Cultural Revolution era jokes testify. But satire, with its critical thrust against the powers that be, has always had to tread a very fine line. In the People’s Daily’s comic supplement Satire and Humor 讽刺与幽默 (inaugurated in 1979), the majority of the cartoons and comic strips are of a eulogistic nature, inconceivable as it might be. Entries with a bit of a bite usually target social ills and official corruption (the kind that is being openly prosecuted). High politics is strictly off-limits.

For all its avowed atheism, China has many sacred cows. This alone is an irresistible temptation for American satirists who thrive on brinksmanship with taboos of any kind. Politics has always been the most legitimate and prized target of caricature and its rich and inexhaustible supply of joke butts have sustained the careers of legions of satirists and catapulted a few to national stardom. Comedians-cum-journalists are national heroes: think of Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Stephen Colbert, and Michael Moore. Politicians who are at the receiving end of their caustic commentaries are apparently eager to appear on their shows, as if to be a good politician entails not only the ability to withstand barbed wit, but also the proof that one knows how to deflate one’s own pretentions and does not imagine oneself an uppity elite who is above the jesting of the common folk. Politics, in other words, has little of the mysticism or sacrality that typically shrouds it in authoritarian countries.

There is another aspect to Chinese politics that lends it to well to parody: theatricality. This is of course closely related to the mystified nature of political power in China, where pomp and ceremony is how power presents itself to the people and where reverence, obedience, fear, and enchantment are the proper response to the displays of power, not derisive laughter. Politics amounts to a theatrical spectacle, a ritualistic enactment of what James Scott calls “public transcript.” It is a drama that commands participation, willingly or unwillingly, from the rulers and ruled alike. Both have their roles to inhabit and their scripts to act out; whatever foolish or insubordinate thoughts they might harbor in private (their “hidden transcripts”) matter very little.

American politics, by contrast, leans on an ethos of authenticity. Politicians are expected to bare their bosoms to the voters, to speak their minds under any circumstances, to be his or her true self in public as in private, to show emotion when emotion is called for, and above all, to convince the electorate that they mean what they say and are not just going through the motion. They must come off as “genuine” and “sincere,” not a phony robot manipulated by strategists or merely refracting public expectations.

Against this backdrop, the Chinese style of politics can strike a casual American observer as hopelessly hypocritical, a sort of gigantic shell game in which none of the players believe in what they are doing and nonetheless keep on with the charade. All that playacting, the disconnect between speech and action, between belief and practice, is an open invitation to mockery. (In that light, American politics is not without its own theatrical dimensions, which is why its comic quotient is also very high.) Theatrical politics makes for good satire because satire is theater too: what are speaking tongue-in-cheek, punning, impersonating, and ventriloquizing if not theatrical arts? Who is a better match for the mealy-mouthed politician than the slick-tongued comedian? (One can only wonder why it should have taken the Minnesotans that long to send Al Franken to the U.S. Senate.)

Judging from the fun The Onion has been having with the China motifs, we would not be exaggerating in saying that China is a godsend to the comedic profession: an oversized arriviste on the global scene now preaching like a forbearing Confucian sage, now haranguing like a self-righteous commissar, now gushing like an overzealous salesman. Who among the funny set could have made that up?

Haiyan Lee teaches Chinese literature and civilization at Stanford University. She can be reached at haiyan@stanford.edu.

Screenshot of The Onion from NPR.


A Reader: The 2010 Asian Games

The PR folks for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou have added China Beat to their mailing list, so we got their note this week about organizers' plans to seed clouds to prevent rain during the Games. Our interest was piqued--we hadn't heard much yet about the 2010 Asian Games. Here are a few of the things we found when we went looking...
1. As with the Olympic preparations in Beijing, there is massive construction, investment, and environmental management (not just cloud-seeding) underway in Guangzhou, according to Xinhua:
Authorities are pumping in more than 58 billion yuan (8.5 billion U.S. dollars) to boost the transportation system and protect the environment as Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province, is preparing for the 16th Asian Games next November. ...

The latest projects include a large urban metro subway network consisting of eight lines, to be completed before the opening of the sporting event. ...

On the environmental front, Yang Liu, deputy director of Guangzhou environmental protection bureau, said the city had set a goal to ensure as many as 361 days of better air quality next year.

Air quality in the city improved in the first five months of this year, with 37 fewer days of haze and dust than in the same period of last year, the newspaper said.

"But the task of ensuring better air quality during the Games remains tough," Yang said.

To fight the problem, authorities plan to raise up to 1.8 billion yuan in private funds to complement public funding toward improving air quality.

"As many as 32 highly polluting chemical plants will be removed or ordered to stop production by the end of this year," he said.

Similarly, 38 sewage treatment facilities are scheduled to be built before the Games' opening next year, with an added sewage treatment capacity of 2.25 million tonnes a day, sources with the Guangzhou water affairs bureau said.
2. The Games will sponsor a variety of cultural events along the theme of “Thrilling Games, Harmonious Asia” (激情盛会,和谐亚洲), to build excitement as the countdown to the Games begins:
At the one-year countdown, GAGOC will invite people from across Asia to meet in Guangzhou to celebrate the anniversary date for the 2010 Asian Games … and at the 100-day countdown, GAGOC will announce a new promotion “Guangzhou is ready”, while the Games’ Theme Song, Torchbearers’ Song.

Also underway is the nation-wide Asian Games Cheerleader Selection Contest, which is expected to attract more than 100,000 participants from over 300 cities. The top 30 cheerleading teams, with final approval from GAGOC, will perform in a number of venues during the Asian Games.
3. Dragon Boat Racing and Cricket will be added to the Asian Games for the first time in Guangzhou.

4. The torch relay for the Games, titled “Road of Asia," is already underway, with officials telling the Macau Daily Times that the Games are already the "best Asian Games until now":
The campaign has been on tour since its launch in Kuwait in early March and has already travelled through Pakistan, Malasya, Thailand, Vietnam and the Phillipines before arriving to its final destination in Guangzhou, in November in time for the one-year countdown to the 16th Asian Games.

“Road of Asia” consists of three routes and transportation means, aimed to bring toghether all Asian regions that will take part in the 2010 Asian Games. Thus, air, sea and land routes will propagate Guangzhou's Asian Games expectations, reaching out to everyone, everywhere.

According to GAGOC top officials, the 16th Asian Games are already close to completion and have already exceeded all expectations, becoming the “best Asian Games until now”.
5. We've saved the best detail for last. You may have been wondering about the little guys at the top of this post. Please meet the mascots for the 2010 Asian Games, the "five sporty goats," as one news report dubbed them (the GAGOC website calls them "sporty and cute"), Le yangyang 乐羊羊. The mascots are a play on one of Guangzhou's nicknames, "City of Goats" (羊城); you can read more background at the official website for the Games and also see there a lot more drawings of the goats being sporty (a la fuwa).


A Cultural Symbol Passes from the Scene: Ji Xianlin, Not Michael Jackson

By Timothy B. Weston

It’s been moving to watch the response in China to the July 11 death of renowned scholar, Ji Xianlin (1911-2009). While Ji’s unsurprising departure at the ripe old age of 98 has not brought quite the same flood tide of emotion and cultural stock taking in China as Michael Jackson’s completely unexpected death a few weeks earlier at age 50 has in the United States and around the world, the way the venerable scholar is being remembered in Beijing is nevertheless remarkable. Long lines of people wishing to pay their last respects waited for hours to gain entrance to a memorial ceremony held on the Beijing University campus where Ji taught, the press was full of tributes, and Communist Party leaders were very public in the honors they paid to the man from academe. In the United States it is hard to imagine the death of an elderly scholar, of a humanist who worked on the ancient past no less, ever attracting anything approaching the level of attention that Ji’s passing has in China.

Ji Xianlin and Michael Jackson shared nothing in common except the coincidence of the timing of their deaths and the fact that in passing both were mourned as departed cultural symbols. Frankly, as the hysteria over Michael Jackson’s death has continued to pulsate through American society I have found it refreshing to follow the treatment that Ji Xianlin’s high-minded life has received in China. I feel this way even though it’s clear that the Chinese Communist Party’s highly public paeans to the deceased scholar have not been free of political considerations and while also acknowledging that Michael Jackson’s life and career certainly merit serious reflection and social commentary. Still, when looking at the way Ji’s death has been treated as compared with Jackson’s, and at what the two cultural symbols meant to their times and places, I find myself more drawn to the values and maturity on display in China than to the self-referential, entertainer-obsessed conversation that Jackson’s death has occasioned in the United States (even if much of that conversation has been about the sadness and oddity of Jackson’s life).

Ji Xianlin was without doubt an outstanding scholar whose career was noteworthy for its singular achievements and cosmopolitan dimensions. Originally a student of Western literature at Qinghua University, in 1935 Ji traveled to Germany for foreign study. At the University of Göttingen he moved in a dramatically new direction, choosing to major in Sanskrit and other ancient Indian languages under the direction of Ernst Waldschmidt and Emil Sieg. Ji received his Ph.D. in Germany and after World War II returned to China where he took a position at Beijing University and founded the Department of Eastern Languages. He chaired that department for the next three decades and built it into one of the most important academic departments at Beida and China’s premier center for the study of Eastern languages.

Ji’s greatest scholarly accomplishments came in the realm of the history of Indian Buddhism and comparative linguistics. According to his former student Zhang Baosheng, now a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages at Beijing University, Ji’s academic achievements represented the next wave of greatness within the long, proud tradition of Chinese evidential scholarship after the great contribution made by Ji’s patron, the celebrated historian Chen Yinke, who helped bring Ji to Beida in the first place. Whereas Chen Yinke used literary works as a means of verifying history, Ji Xianlin pioneered a method of using comparative linguistics to verify historical events and to track changes over time. Ji’s scholarly findings attracted international attention and made him a world leader in his field; over the course of his career he was awarded major academic prizes in India, Iran and Japan.

In addition to pioneering new methodologies and creating new knowledge, Ji Xianlin also held important administrative positions in the later part of his life. Following the Cultural Revolution he was called upon to help re-build major Chinese academic institutions ravaged over the previous decade. In 1978 he became vice president of Beijing University (which position he held until 1984) and also director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ South Asia Research Institute. During his career he also served as chairman of various professional organizations, such as the Chinese Foreign Literature Association, the Chinese South Asian Association, and the Chinese Language Society.

Ji Xianlin’s achievements within academe distinguish him as one of the towering humanistic scholars of the Chinese twentieth century, as an intellectual whose name deserves to be mentioned, as it was again in a tribute piece recently published in Beijing, along with luminaries such as Chen Duxiu, Chen Yinke, Hu Shi, Li Dazhao, Liang Qichao, Lu Xun, Wang Guowei, and Zhao Yuanren. But Ji’s career, centered as it was in the esoteric academic field of Indology, which few people understand or appreciate, cannot account for the long lines of people wishing to pay their last respects at Beijing University nor for the tributes that poured in from highly placed people within the academic, publishing and cultural spheres upon news of his death. Likewise, Ji’s scholarly accomplishments and official positions at key academic institutions do not explain why the Chinese press has carried so much discussion of the scholar’s life, why Communist Party leaders Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin, Wu Bangguo and Xi Jinping sent flower wreathes and offered condolences upon news of his death, or finally why, on July 19, his corpse draped in the red flag of the People’s Republic (Ji joined the party in 1956) and laid out for a final viewing, other top officials, including Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Chanchun, and Li Keqiang, showed up to make their farewells in person.

To understand why Ji Xianlin’s passing has struck such a chord it is necessary, I believe, to recognize that in his later years he had become a living symbol of the ideal Chinese scholar, and as such of a type of person who it is ever more difficult to find in today’s fast-paced, money-crazed Chinese society. Here was a man who had been born and raised in the old society, who knew the classics, who had attainted great fame and yet who did not attempt to convert his glory into power, wealth, or celebrity, who in fact talked down his achievements and continued to work hard at his research as long as he was able. Ji was not first and foremost a Confucian philosopher but he nevertheless came to be seen as a kind of secular Confucian sage who personified the committed life of the scholar. His integrity and wisdom, then, not his outstanding scholarly achievements, led to his being recognized as a “national treasure” (国宝), though he himself rejected such a label.

While the world around him buzzed first with Maoist revolutionary fervor and then with Western-style modernization, Ji Xianlin, identified with the secluded garden campus that is Beijing University, remained committed to his study of the ancient, non-Western past. He devoted his life not to the practical but to historical discovery, and in so doing was adamant in claiming that civilizational values other than those associated with the modern West deserve to be known, celebrated, and even selectively embraced as humanity collectively makes its way forward in time. The steadiness of conviction that informed Ji Xianlin’s life, and the messages he derived from his life’s work, proved highly reassuring during a period of unceasing and disorienting change.

In his humility and seriousness of purpose it is hard to imagine a greater contrast to Michael Jackson, the fallen American cultural symbol. Whereas Jackson forever reinvented himself and never ceased turning his life into spectacle, Ji occupied a well-established scholarly role with grace and distinction. Jackson was all artifice, Ji not the least bit affected. Jackson appears never to have known who he was, Ji to have possessed a remarkable inner compass and knowledge of self. The scholar lived simply, dressed in the clothes of a common worker, and was available, kind and respectful to one and all, regardless of social station. As those themes come up again and again in the articles that appeared after Ji Xianlin’s death I sense in them a nostalgia for the ideal of a life defined by the quest for pure knowledge and self improvement, for an age when those ideals were aspired to by society’s best and brightest.

For Chinese intellectuals Ji Xianlin meant more still. To them he was a hero who used (and so risked) his reputation to speak out on issues of concern to all. Like most of his colleagues, Ji suffered during the Cultural Revolution. Nevertheless, during that period he secretly worked to produce a brilliant Chinese-language translation of the Ramayana from the original Sanskrit, an act of bravery and scholarly devotion for which he later became celebrated. When after the Cultural Revolution he was named to high administrative posts at Beijing University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences he became one of the great survivors of the age and a symbol of the indomitable spirit of truth-seeking Chinese intellectuals.

In the mid-1980s Ji Xianlin added to that reputation when he published an essay calling for a new and more favorable appraisal of Hu Shi, who of course had been vilified during the Cultural Revolution. Ji’s point was that whatever Hu’s political mistakes, his contributions to the study of Chinese literature stood on their own and needed to be recognized. Not everything should be politicized, Ji maintained, a message that was widely praised within Chinese intellectual circles at the time. In the late 1990s, with the publication of his widely read and highly acclaimed account of his own experience during the Cultural Revolution, Memoirs from the Cowshed (牛棚杂亿), Ji’s reputation for speaking the truth in a courageous and thoughtful manner was deepened still further.

While it is impossible to know with certainty, it would seem that the Communist Party lavished so much praise on Ji Xianlin upon his death not only because many of its top leaders recognized his scholarly achievements and admired him personally (Wen Jiabao is even said to have referred to Ji as his mentor) but also because in embracing him and what he stood for they were able to communicate to Chinese intellectuals on the eve of the all-important Sixtieth Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China that they share heroes in common, that they speak a common language. Unlike American political leaders, most of whom do not feel compelled to demonstrate any cultural competency whatsoever, top political leaders in China desire to be taken seriously by intellectuals and to display to the public at large that they are not only working to protect and strengthen the country but also that they prize the scholarly custodians of the Chinese past. Culture, history and politics are intertwined. So to bind Ji Xianlin to the political leadership in a clear way, the party press went out of its way to identify Ji as a great Chinese patriot, as a figure who dedicated his life to his people and to his country’s improvement. In these ways it was useful for the Communist Party and its official media organs to mark Ji’s passing and to extol his virtues.

Finally, Ji Xianlin happened to pass at the very moment when the sad and murderous recent ethnic violence in Xinjiang was filling the media in China and around the world. As the fractiousness of contemporary Chinese society, at least one part of it, was on display and impossible to deny (even if its causes will long be debated), and as Party leaders scrambled to contain the damage, an orderly period of mourning for a great man, a great Communist with popular appeal, was an attractive possibility.

And here Ji Xianlin’s worldview and unique scholarly contributions proved particularly meaningful, for one of the things that Ji stood for most powerfully was the idea that, to quote Ji himself: “Cultural exchange is the main driv[ing force] for humankind's progress. Only by learning from each other's strong points to make up for shortcomings can people constantly progress, the ultimate target of which is to achieve a kind of Great Harmony.” Not only should the Chinese people admire Ji Xianlin for his great scholarly achievements and his integrity, the official obituaries seemed to suggest, they should also realize that he stood for cultural tolerance, for the idea that only by accepting and interacting with one another can all people (the nation) prosper. Harmony as the goal—something Hu Jintao and Ji Xianlin, the great sage, could agree on.

Timothy Weston teaches in the department of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is a participant in the National Committee on US-China Relations' Public Intellectuals Program and author of The Power of Position: Beijing University, Intellectuals, and Chinese Political Culture, 1898-1929 (UC Press, 2004).

All photos from Xinhua: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


Confucianism in Chinese Academia

By Daniel A. Bell

Over the last decade or so, there has been a revival of Confucianism. Popular books on Confucianism are best sellers, and official discourse from the government often expresses traditional Confucian values like harmony. What is less well known, however, is the resurgence in interest among academics in China.

Rigorous experiments by psychologists such as Peng Kaiping and Wu Shali show that there are striking cognitive differences between Chinese and Americans, with Chinese more likely to use contextual and dialectical approaches to solving problems. Psychologists Huang Guangguo and Yang Zhongfang from Taiwan and Hongkong advocate the use of traditional Chinese ideas like the “relationism” (guanxizhuyi) and “middle way” [zhongyong zhi dao] for psychological research. Economists such as Shen Hong take the family as the relevant unit of economic analysis and try to measure the economic effect of such values as filial piety. Feminists such as Chan Sin Yee and Li Chengyang compare care ethics and Confucian-style empathy, particularity, and the family as a school of moral education. Theorists of medical ethics such as Fan Ruiping discuss the importance of family-based decision making in medical settings. Those working in the field of business ethics like Huang Weidong research the influence of Confucian values on business practices in China.

Political surveys by political scientists like Shi Tianjian, Chu Yunhan and Zhang Youzong show that attachment to Confucian values has increased during the same period that China has modernized. Sociologists such as Kang Xiaoguang and Sebastien Billioud study the thousands of experiments in education and social living in China that are inspired by Confucian values.

Theorists of international relations such as Yan Xuetong and Xu Jin look to pre-Qin thinkers like Mengzi and Xunzi for foreign policy ideas. And philosophers such as Jiang Qing, Chen Lai, Bai Tongdong, and Chen Ming, draw upon the ideas of great Confucian thinkers of the past for thinking about social and political reform in China. Wang Richang discusses the Confucian foundations of government slogans like “yi ren wei ben” (“the people as the foundation”)

But academics doing research on Confucianism often work within rigid disciplinary boundaries borrowed from Western academia. At a recent conference, "Traditional Values in a Modern Chinese Context: An Interdisciplinary Approach," which was held at China’s Renmin University in Beijing this June, we tried to break away from this pattern. Leading academics working on Confucian values from different disciplines met to see what they could learn from each other. The conference, which was convened by Shi Tianjian, Kang Xiaoguang, Peng Kaiping, and myself, was supported by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and organized by the Non-Profit-Research Center, Renmin University.

Chen Lai pointed to the complexity of measuring Confucian values, which would involve tracing their origin in classic texts, their historical development, as well as evidence of contemporary influence. But most participants still felt that the research was well worth doing, given the importance of Confucianism for understanding Chinese society and furthering social and political reform rooted in local conditions.

As one might expect, there were important areas of disagreement. For one thing, the starting points were often different. The majority sympathized with Confucian values and openly admitted that they begin with normative standpoints, just as liberal thinkers try to promote liberal values. Some claimed that they are doing purely scientific work measuring Confucian values. And some do both: most notably, Kang Xiaoguang both promotes political Confucianism and studies its development in Chinese society.

The participants also identified areas of study that could not be researched fruitfully from other perspectives. Philosophers like Jiang Qing pointed to values like tian and liangzhi that could not be studied by the empirically-minded social sciences, and Confucian educators like Yang Ruqin argued that moral growth is long term and could not be measured in controlled laboratory studies.

But the workshop also led to some fruitful proposals for cross-disciplinary research. The participants noted areas of weakness in their own disciplines that could be usefully addressed from other perspectives. Philosophers and historians could help to refine the questions posed in political attitude surveys. For example, the “Confucian” attitude measured by political scientists that children should blindly obey their parents should be made more conditional if the aim is to measure attachment to Confucian values rooted in classic texts. Philosophers might also suggest questions for research inspired by less well-known Confucian values, such as the idea that listening to different types of music or believing in different views of human nature (性善vs性恶) have different moral consequences during the course of one’s life.

Social scientists, for their part, can help philosophers determine which Confucian values are most effective in contemporary society. For example, the claims that filial piety provides the psychological basis for extending morality to non-family members could be researched by means of longitudinal studies. Psychologists could also identify the key ages that best allow for the memorization of classical texts. Social scientists could also help to study whether morality normally improves with age and whether learning the Confucian classics really does make rulers more morally sensitive and politically effective.

The findings of social scientists might also help Confucian philosophers to determine which Confucian values are particular to societies with a Confucian heritage and which ones might be universalized. For example, the finding that collectivist attitudes are more typical of Chinese subjects in experimental settings means that there will likely be resistance to promoting those values abroad (just as there would be resistance to promoting highly adversarial and interest-based politics in China). Yan Xuetong pointed out that Confucianism won’t be taken seriously abroad unless it is practiced by political leaders at home.

These research questions remain open. What is clear, however, is that academics need the freedom to discuss and publish their ideas and adequate funding to carry out research in order to pursue these questions in fruitful ways. Under the right conditions, China could well develop into a leading center of global learning, with academics researching questions and values hitherto neglected in the West.

Daniel A. Bell is a professor in the Department of Philosophy of Tsinghua University. His latest book is China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society (Princeton University Press, 2008).


China at the World’s Fairs

Five Things to Know about China's Links to World's Fairs and International Expositions

By Susan Fernsebner

The city of Shanghai will be the official host to Expo 2010, an international event celebrating the theme “A Better City, A Better Life,” with an opening celebration next May. As the event’s website and preview videos below reveal, Expo 2010 is intended as an example of a new and shared urban modernity. Visitors will have the opportunity to tour the site personally and, if lacking an opportunity to visit Shanghai next summer, also to take a virtual tour of its grounds online.

As the videos note, Expo 2010 is intended as an event that will fulfill and expand upon the legacy of world expositions while also helping to make the “world feel at home in China.” This endeavor of global exchange amidst the scene of the exposition is one in which China has, in fact, its own lengthy history of participation. An account of important events in this lesser-known history follows...

1. Chinese objects and merchants were both on hand for what is commonly considered the first major exhibition of the modern day. In 1851, a variety of actors displayed Chinese goods at London’s Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations held at the Crystal Palace that summer. While the Qing state did not send an official contingent, at least one Chinese merchant participated alongside Western diplomats and merchants in offering displays of Chinese goods at the grand event, winning a commendation for fine silks.

2. Between 1851 and the First World War, China would participate in at least twenty-eight world’s fairs and expositions including grand events staged at London, Madrid, Paris, Philadelphia, and Vienna, among others.

3. Though originally planning to attend, the Chinese government would withhold official participation in Chicago’s “World’s Columbian Exposition” of 1893 as a protest against the exclusionary Geary Act. The passage of this act in 1892 by the United States Congress renewed restrictions on Chinese immigration and imposed a strict regulation system for Chinese laborers residing in the U.S.

4. In 1904, Prince Pu Lun of the Qing imperial clan would personally attend the St. Louis Exposition and host a grand reception for over three thousand guests at one of the city’s fine hotels that spring. His visit also would be preceded by the reformist critic (and temporary expatriate) Liang Qichao, who toured the exposition grounds during the course of their construction the previous year (this was not the first time Liang Qichao spent time thinking about Expos, as in 1902 he wrote a story that imagined a Chinese international exhibition taking place in Shanghai in the far-off future date of 1962...).

5. China staged its first national fair, the 1910 Nanyang Exposition in the city of Nanjing under the co-sponsorship of the Qing state and independent investors. Intended as an event that would further industrial development and “enlighten the people,” the exposition offered discounted tickets for students and soldiers and included presentations by Japan, the United States, England, and Germany, among other nations. The exposition grounds would also offer multiple theaters, musical arenas, shops, restaurants, and a grand display of over fourteen thousand electric lights. As organizers noted, China had, like other nations around the world, reached a day in which both an education in material things and popular amusement itself was indeed “a certain necessity.”

Susan Fernsebner, an associate professor of history at the University of Mary Washington, is currently completing a book-length study on the history of China’s participation in world’s fairs and expositions.


China Beatniks Around the Web

After a few weeks of vacation, China Beat is back to posting (though we considered making an 8 percent reduction in our future posts in honor of the UC furlough, we’ll just be back to business as usual). Even so, it is still summer and a few contributors have been using the time to publish in other venues.

Last Saturday, Ken Pomeranz mentioned a few of his recent publications, including this one at the New Left Review.

Jeff Wasserstrom recently reviewed Lisa See’s new book, Shanghai Girls for Time Asia. (We ran an interview with See this spring, which you can read here.)

The new issue of Journal of Democracy also features a piece by Wasserstrom, “Middle-Class Mobilization,” which revisits some issues he’s written about for China Beat and The Nation. This issue also includes pieces from Yang Guobin (a China Beat contributor) as well as Elizabeth Perry and Andrew J. Nathan. Journal of Democracy makes a few articles from each issue free; this issue the free-access articles are “The Massacre’s Long Shadow” by Jean Philippe-Béja and “Authoritarian Impermanence” by Andrew J. Nathan. (The other essays can be accessed through Project Muse, for those with library access.)

Here is a short selection from Wasserstrom’s piece:
I worry that some foreign observers will jump to the wrong conclusion when thinking about Chinese middle-class protests, especially if we see more and larger ones in the years to come: namely, that they signal the imminent arrival of the sort of democratic transition that has so often been predicted for China since the 1980s. When protesters took to the streets of Beijing twenty years ago, with the fall of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos fresh in many minds, some thought that the CCP would be toppled by something akin to the “people power” rising in Manila. Then, after Solidarity won elections in Poland and the Soviet system unraveled, some outsiders predicted that China would follow in the footsteps of one or another East European country. All it would take would be some “X factor” or other, perhaps the appearance of a reform-minded official with bold ideas or the rise of a charismatic organizer able to bring workers and intellectuals together.

More recently, while the search for a Chinese counterpart to Mikhail Gorbachev or Lech Wa³êsa has not been abandoned completely, one “X factor” on which some have begun to bet has been a restive middle class. Once an authoritarian country has undergone a dramatic period of economic development, members of the middle class will demand more of a say not only in how they make and spend money, but in how they are governed. The CCP, according to this logic, could end up facing the same pressure to share power that its erstwhile rival, the Nationalist Party (KMT), faced and eventually gave in to on Taiwan. It is easy to see the appeal of the thought that China, a country which has so often surprised us of late, is still destined to have a future that will resemble some other formerly authoritarian country’s recent past. Yet there are important flaws in this mode of thinking. How justified, for instance, is the assumption that because a number of Leninist regimes fell between 1989 and 1991, communist rule everywhere must be teetering?

In Central and Eastern Europe and many parts of the old USSR, communist rule was essentially a foreign imposition. In China, as in Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea, the communist regime has at least some basis for grounding its claim to legitimacy in its role in a struggle not to impose but to throw off foreign domination. Then too, one must account for the cautionary lessons that many Chinese (ordinary citizens as well as rulers) have drawn from watching the post-communist travails of places such as the former Yugoslavia and the former USSR. Have the economic hardships, internal wars, social upheavals, and loss of respect in the world that such countries have had to bear made them seem like models for emulation in Chinese eyes, or worrisome examples of sad blunders best avoided?
And here is a short selection from Yang Guobin's article, "Online Activism":
One reason why contentious activities thrive in online communities is that controversy is good for business—disagreement raises interest, and with it, site traffic. Within limits, websites encourage users to participate in contentious interactions. Some sites strategically promote and guide controversial discussions in order to generate traffic. Behind this business strategy of promoting user participation is the logic of nonproprietary social production in today’s Internet economy.

Internet consumers are Internet-content producers too. When they post on message boards, write blogs, upload videos, or protest online, they contribute directly to the Internet economy. Chinese Internet users are active and prolific content producers. A January 2008 nationwide survey shows that about 66 percent of China’s 210 million Internet users have contributed content to one or more sites. More than 35 percent indicated that in the past six months they had either posted or responded to messages in online forums. About 32 percent had uploaded pictures, while 18 percent had uploaded films, television programs, or other video materials.

A third important condition is the creativity of Chinese netizens. Generally speaking, netizens try to stay within legal bounds and refrain from directly challenging state power. As skilled observers of Chinese politics, they understand which issues allow more leeway for discussion, and when. To a certain extent, the four types of online activism reflect netizens’ strategic responses to the political opportunities for pursuing different issues. If the cultural, social, and nationalist varieties of activism online are more widespread than political activism, that is partly because the former types enjoy more political legitimacy. As in street protests, cyberprotests directly challenging the state are much more constrained than those that can be based either on existing laws or else on claims about justice and morality that do not touch directly on questions of state authority.


Shanghai Expo: The US Pavilion is On

Last November, we ran a little preview of the 2010 Shanghai Expo, pointing you to a few readings about this big “coming distraction.” Last week the US finally committed to attend the Expo, prompting a new round of Expo stories around the web.

1. It’s pretty unusual for the U.S. to land on any world list between San Marino and Andorra, but that’s its position on the Expo sign-up sheet, as reported by the AFP:
The United States signed up Friday the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, officials said, making it the last major country with diplomatic ties to China to join the event…

Fundraising difficulties had threatened to prevent the US from building a pavilion for the Expo but organisers said they got a boost from donations in the past two months from Pepsi, General Electric and KFC owner Yum! Brands…

The US is the latest country to sign up after San Marino, the world's smallest city state.

The Western European principality of Andorra is now the sole Expo holdout among countries with diplomatic relations to China, according to Expo organisers.
2. As the Wall Street Journal notes in their report on the last-minute fundraising for the US pavilion, financial woes wouldn’t serve as a sufficient excuse for an American absence:
Clearly, the global financial crisis hasn’t made it easy for U.S. firms put their hands in their pockets, particularly considering there are better ways to use their advertising budgets. However unintentional, thought, the absence of the world’s largest economy from next year’s event would inevitably be perceived as a slight by the Chinese organizers. “An undercurrent of ill-will” is what Frank Lavin, former commerce department official and chairman of the USA Pavilion steering committee, predicted when he spoke to The Journal back in April.
The concern hasn’t been lost on the Obama administration, with Secretary of State Clinton, in addition to Locke, throwing her weight behind the effort. In a March letter to Amcham in Shanghai, Clinton said U.S. participation is “crucial” and will “demonstrate America’s commitment to…a forward looking, positive relationship with China.”
In an era of instant communications, Expo is in many ways an anachronism. Why do you need a foreign government to come build in your city a projection of how they want you to view their country? But that’s not really what Shanghai 2010 is about. It’s about China projecting itself to the rest of the world. So from the vantage of Shanghai, participation isn’t optional.
3. Access Asia has provided a typically caustic write-up (that makes for delicious reading, as usual) of the American reluctance to commit to the Expo:
Of course, America’s will they/won’t they EXPO shenanigans has been a political issue at heart. The official Sino-American line is that the financial crisis was to blame for the inability of the Americans to raise much funding – US diplomats argue this (in public at least) and the Chinese media is all over this argument, like a cheap suit, backing it up.

But what everyone really knows is that the lack of funding was due to a lack of enthusiasm and interest from American corporates – and who can blame them? They, like most of us, just didn’t see the point of the EXPO. The only winners at EXPO (excepting the Chinese) are the host of shonky PR companies and other liggers who’ve jumped on the bandwagon, knowing a free lunch when they see one, and smaller countries that can use the EXPO to get some “face time” with officials. Of course, come 2010, the other winners will be the plague of politicians and jumped-up petty officials getting a free trip to Shanghai at their respective tax payers’ expense too – we can’t wait for Shanghai to be infested with them! The losers are the larger (in terms of economic investment in China anyways) countries, who have had to cough-up plenty of tax payer money for a non-event they all know they’ll get little to no benefit from.

The US EXPO effort has also been weird, to say the least. That is something that will probably continue, as the job of constructing a pavilion that is not a cause of national embarrassment, despite the depleted budget, still lies before them (this is less of a problem for those of us from declining nations who are now used to this state of affairs – it’s a new sensation to the Yanks)...
And Access Asia also made a point of introducing the made-over Haibao dressed in cowboy hat and jeans (shown above; the focus of the web chatter on this is...well, the Shanghaiist tongue-in-cheek take on the costume, titled "Haibao looks goooood in tight jeans!", should give you a sense of it). This costume is part of a series of costumes for Haibao, including the image at right and many others here.

4. Meanwhile, China Daily provides a typically enthusiastic take on the announcement:
...the Asian power was earlier worried the world’s biggest economy might skip it as the 1991 American law blocked the nation from using government funding for expo projects. The signing of a participation contract with Chinese organizers last week put an end to the speculation.
"Our pavilion will be among the largest and we want it to be one of the best," said US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, who arrived in Shanghai to witness the groundbreaking ceremony. "United States and China enjoy many areas of friendship and cooperation, and we believe our pavilion will deepen that bond.
"It will provide insight into the life and culture of American people, insights that will intrigue millions of visitors expected at the 2010 World Expo, including visitors from China and all around the world," he added.
He also said the Obama Administration is committed to strengthening the relationship between the two nations’ governments and friendship between the two peoples.
Calling on more US firms to help fund the country’s presence at the mega event, Locke said: "I want to assure you that your commitment to the US Pavilion and building the friendship with China and Chinese people will not be forgotten."
5. As Adam Mintner points out at Shanghai Scrap, those are pom poms on the shovels used for the groundbreaking of the US pavilion. (Surely these aren’t Haibao’s “favorite things”? *cue the music* “Pom poms on shovels and bids for more sponsors…” We’re still working our way toward an Expo mood around here.)


Self-Promotion Saturday

By Ken Pomeranz

“Self-promotion Saturday?” My mother would be appalled, but times (and media cultures) change, and I do have a few things that might be of interest to China Beat readers. In addition to co-editing China in 2008 (which regular visitors to this site might possibly have heard of), I have another co-edited volume that came out this spring, and another book I edited has just come this summer.

The spring volume is The Environment and World History, 1500-2000 (UC Press), co-edited with Edmund Burke III; it includes both regional essays (I did the one on China), and topical ones (on energy and land use), plus an overview by yours truly (in which China figures prominently), that tries to make sense of the big picture.

The brand-new volume is The Pacific in the Age of Early Industrialization ca. 1800-1914 (Ashgate Publishing). This is the final volume in Ashgate’s 11 volume “Pacific World” series, and we take that term seriously – my volume looks at developments in Chile and California as well as China, Japan, Korea, and various parts of Southeast Asia. Several of the essays are classics – by Takeshi Hamashita, Kaoru Suighara and others – that were originally published in places where English-language readers may have a hard time finding them. I have added a long essay of my own on how development in different parts of the Pacific littoral have affected each other, on what is and isn’t distinctive about the way industrialization has occurred in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and coastal China, and about what some of this may mean for the contemporary world.

Last but not least, I have an essay coming out in two different places this week (actually already out in one of these venues) on China’s water problems, plans for additional mega-projects, and what the most ambitious of those plans – which focus on the waters of the Tibetan plateau – may mean for various groups of Chinese and for the even larger numbers of people who rely on Himalayan waters that start on China’s side of the border but wind up in South and Southeast Asia. (Those governments, of course, have their own plans, which are also covered.) This actually started out as a few paragraphs in the conclusion for China in 2008 and grew, and grew and

Anyway, there’s a more concise print version in the July/August issue of New Left Review, and a more detailed (and heavily footnoted) one online in Japan Focus: Asia-Pacific Journal. Not the most fun way to spend one’s summer – I became pretty depressed as I researched some of this – but it is an attempt to think through water problems and policies directly affecting roughly half the world’s population, whose future drinking water, irrigation water, hydropower, and so on may intersect amidst the retreating glaciers of Tibet.