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Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Bird Photobomb, an Upcoming National Congress, and the Great Firewall

Two years ago I shared photos which included dragonflies making unexpected appearances: one in Zhuhai and another in Changsha. Today I had a similar experience involving a bird. As before, I appreciated the flyby. So here is a view of Zhongshan from behind Xishan Temple (西山寺):

view of Zhongshan from behind Xishan Temple (西山寺) in Zhongshan, China


The bird timed things wonderfully. The photo also catches a moment when the wind was helping the flag put on a good display.

Speaking of that flag . . .

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China opens in eight days. This means all sorts of things. One of those is that China may make it more difficult to use VPNs to get through the Great Firewall, which appeared to happen five years ago during the 18th National Congress. At least I was able to post a photo of bridge in Changsha while briefly commenting on my VPN woes.

Possibly related, over the past twelve hours or so I have had an unusually difficult time setting up a functional VPN connection. I also see chatter indicating some others are having problems as well. Whether this represents something broader connected to the upcoming National Congress isn't clear though. I will be saying more here about VPNs in China soon, assuming I can . . .

On a related programmatic note, if I am not able to use a VPN I won't be able to post from mainland China. So I will take this moment to say that if things soon go quiet here for an extended period of time, it is likely due to the Great Firewall extending its reach. Hopefully I will be back soon.

Now you know.

And bird.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Liu Xiaobo: Hidden, Missed, Undefeated, and Passionate

One day before the death of human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, I serendipitously met a friendly married couple in Bengbu, Anhui province. They have a little girl and both are highly-educated professionals. Upon learning my nationality, one of them said, "I like the US."

When I asked why, he replied, "Democracy".

So I asked what he thought about Liu Xiaobo, who had sought a democratic China.

After repeating Liu Xiaobo's name several times in apparent bafflement, he said he didn't know who I was talking about. I didn't pursue the matter as we walked into a small crowded local restaurant known for its wontons.

———————————

The following are excerpts from three recent pieces well worth reading in full. They say much about Liu Xiaobo, the reaction to his death, and a conversation I had in Bengbu that could have occurred in many other places in China.

Nicholas Kristof in "Liu Xiaobo, We Miss You":
Most Chinese have never heard of Liu Xiaobo, because the state propaganda apparatus has suppressed discussion of him. Thus the paradox: The first person to win a Nobel for work in China has died, and he is little mourned in his own land. Yet for those of us who followed his extraordinarily important and courageous work over the decades, there is a great sense of emptiness and sadness—not so much sadness for Liu himself, who is now free of persecution, but sadness for China’s backward march and sadness for the timidity of world leaders at the brutalization of one of the great men of modern times. There is so much we can learn from Liu’s courage, decency and vision, and some time I look forward to placing flowers at the memorial to him at Tiananmen Square.

Wu'er Kaixi in "Murdered but Undefeated"
During [the Tiananmen Square protests], I was to talk to US broadcaster Barbara Walters. Liu Xiaobo was my advisor on almost everything I did during the protests of 1989, and he helped to prep me for the interview.

I asked him, “What if she asks, what it’s like in Tiananmen Square? Do the students know what they want? Is it orderly? Is it hygienic?”

He looked at me in exasperation, and said, “Tell the truth.”

I was shocked. In China, you did not tell the truth.

Perry Link in "The Passion of Liu Xiaobo":
It was hard to find people who disagreed with the Charter once they read it, and it was precisely this potential for contagion that most worried regime leaders. That was their reason (not their stated reason but their real one) for suppressing the Charter, for imprisoning Liu Xiaobo, and for denouncing his Nobel Peace Prize. Their efforts have been effective: most young Chinese today do not know who Liu Xiaobo is, and older ones who do are well aware of the costs of saying anything about him in public.

The controls on Chinese society have been tightened during the last few years, under the rule of Xi Jinping—the opposite direction of what Charter 08 called for. This raises the question, “Is the Charter dead? Was the effort in vain?” It is difficult, but my answer would be no. The organization has been crushed but its ideas have not been. The government’s continuing efforts—assiduous, inveterate, nationwide, and very costly—to repress anything that resembles the ideas of Charter 08 is evidence enough that the men who rule are quite aware of its continuing power.

Liu Xiaobo, Dead But Not Gone

"As a tribute to the absent Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Medal and Diploma were placed on an empty chair during the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony in Oslo, Norway, 10 December 2010. Photo: Ken Opprann."

Incredibly sad in so many ways . . .

Chris Buckley in The New York Times:
Liu Xiaobo, the renegade Chinese intellectual who kept vigil on Tiananmen Square in 1989 to protect protesters from encroaching soldiers, promoted a pro-democracy charter that brought him an 11-year prison sentence and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize of 2010 while locked away, died on Thursday. He was 61. . . .

Mr. Liu’s illness elicited a deluge of sympathy from friends, Chinese rights activists and international groups, who saw him as a fearless advocate of peaceful democratic change. He was the first Nobel Peace laureate to die in state custody since Carl von Ossietzky, the German pacifist and foe of Nazism who won the prize in 1935 and died under guard in 1938 after years of maltreatment.

Portion of the statement from Ms Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee:
Liu Xiaobo's absence from the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony was marked by an empty chair. We now have to come to terms with the fact that his chair will forever remain empty. At the same time it is our deep conviction that Liu Xiaobo will remain a powerful symbol for all who fight for freedom, democracy and a better world. He belongs to a heritage of former Nobel laureates such as Carl von Ossietzky, Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela and Shirin Ebadi, to mention a few.

At the end of June the news reached us that Liu Xiaobo had been released from prison. He had been transferred to hospital, but was still under guard and held in complete isolation. We find it deeply disturbing that Liu Xiaobo was not transferred to a facility where he could receive adequate medical treatment before he became terminally ill. The Chinese Government bears a heavy responsibility for his premature death.

The news of Liu Xiaobo's serious condition was met in part with silence and belated, hesitant reactions world wide. Eventually the governments of France, Germany, and the USA called for his unconditional release, as did the EU through its foreign policy spokesperson. It is a sad and disturbing fact that the representatives of the free world, who themselves hold democracy and human rights in high regard, are less willing to stand up for those rights for the benefit of others.

One of the "fundamental principles" endorsed in "Charter 08", the manifesto which led to Liu Xiaobo's fourth and longest prison term:
Freedom is at the core of universal human values. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom in where to live, and the freedoms to strike, to demonstrate, and to protest, among others, are the forms that freedom takes. Without freedom, China will always remain far from civilized ideals.

And a more personal note from Liu Xiaobo's Nobel lecture in absentia "I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement", which he had hoped to read at his trial:
If I may be permitted to say so, the most fortunate experience of these past twenty years has been the selfless love I have received from my wife, Liu Xia. She could not be present as an observer in court today, but I still want to say to you, my dear, that I firmly believe your love for me will remain the same as it has always been. Throughout all these years that I have lived without freedom, our love was full of bitterness imposed by outside circumstances, but as I savor its aftertaste, it remains boundless. I am serving my sentence in a tangible prison, while you wait in the intangible prison of the heart. Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, stroking every inch of my skin, warming every cell of my body, allowing me to always keep peace, openness, and brightness in my heart, and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning. My love for you, on the other hand, is so full of remorse and regret that it at times makes me stagger under its weight. I am an insensate stone in the wilderness, whipped by fierce wind and torrential rain, so cold that no one dares touch me. But my love is solid and sharp, capable of piercing through any obstacle. Even if I were crushed into powder, I would still use my ashes to embrace you.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Tied to Trump in China

The woman sitting across from me looked out the window as the train crossed the unusual border between between Hong Kong and mainland China. We had 18 more hours before the train would reach its destination in Shanghai where we would pass through an immigration control point within a country we hadn't left. As the train later made its way through the city to Hong Kong's north, Shenzhen, the woman and I began a conversation. Upon learning she was from Shanghai I said, "Nong ho!" — "hello" in the Shanghai dialect.

Upon learning I was from the U.S. she said, "Trump."

The outcome of the U.S. presidential election had been decided more than a week earlier and the news was still fresh. Shortly after the one word statement, the woman expressed her disappointment in the election's result. At one point, she sharply outstretched her right arm, tilted her head slightly to the side, and contorted her face. I couldn't place the expression, but it was clearly made in a derogatory manner. The unmistakable Nazi salute left a much larger impression.

Her expression then became somber, and she quietly said, "I'm afraid of him."

During the next couple of weeks in Shanghai, almost every time a stranger asked me about my nationality, whether while waiting in a breakfast line for deep-fried dough-sticks, riding a metro train, or doing another everyday activity, I heard the same one word response. Sometimes people expressed a wish that Hillary Clinton had won. Sometimes they asked how Americans could make such a choice. Only one time did somebody express positive feelings about Donald Trump.

Then Trump spoke with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and raised questions about the One-China policy — surely not a way to win over the hearts and minds of most people in China. Presumably anti-Trump sentiment in China has only grown since then. After leaving Shanghai and traveling to several other cities in China, I have heard Trump-related comments less frequently, but they continue to be negative. For example, while I was at a street market in Xiapu, a county of small fishing villages in southeastern China, a woman angrily derided Trump over his Taiwan comments. All I had said before, in response to another person's question, was, "I'm from the U.S."

People who inquire about my home country and express their feelings about the President of the U.S. don't necessarily represent all Chinese people. But I haven't had regular experiences in China like these since the days of George W. Bush's presidency. Trump hadn't even been sworn into office yet, so I wonder what may be in store for the future.

I may have little control over my government, but it is far more than the Chinese people I meet have over their own. So I refrain from complaining that occasionally I have to answer for the decisions made by my country. Sometimes I will see a silver lining in a nonthreatening negative response and use it as an opportunity to share some of the diversity of views in a country far away. Particularly with people who rarely, if ever, meet foreigners, impressions are made when an American explains that they too believe invading Iraq was a huge mistake. That they too are deeply troubled about what their president-elect may do.

At Yuyuan Gardens, a popular destination in Shanghai for tourists, a few shops and stalls sell paper-cut portraits. You can have one custom-made or buy an already-finished portrait. Old standards and some more contemporary options are typically offered. Two years ago I saw a portrait of Edward Snowden grouped with the more common portraits of Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, and Michael Jackson.

When I recently returned to Yuyuan Gardens with a visiting relative, I wasn't surprised to see a portrait of Donald Trump displayed — a small sign of how much the world had changed since my last visit. But I was surprised by the familiar image of Trump used by the artist. The portrait's spirit significantly differed from the others.

And I suddenly had an answer to a question I had long given up trying to answer. That was the expression the woman imitated on the train to Shanghai.

That is what China won't let me forget.

portraits in style of traditional Chinese paper cutting including one of Donald Trump with an unusual expression

Monday, November 28, 2016

Bowing and Waving: Contrasting Statues of Japanese Prime Ministers in China

Steve George, a journalist for CNN International, recently commented on a photo of a statue at a mall in Northeast China.

statue of Abe Shinzo with a Hitler-style mustache and bowing

I wasn't surprised to see how Shinzo was depicted or to later discover that the mall is in Shenyang, where six years ago I saw rows of statues depicting the "disgraceful end of the Japanese aggressors" — all in a similar pose — at a museum.

However, the photo also reminded me of a contrasting set of statues I saw several weeks ago between a Starbucks and a Burger King at the ICITY shopping center in Dalian, another city in Liaoning province.



The statues of five world leaders, past and present, were all clearly labeled.

statue of Barack Obama in Dalian, China
"President of the U.S.: Barack Obama"


statue of Nicolas Sarkozy in Dalian, China
"President of France: Nicolas Sarkozy"


statue of Vladimir Putin in Dalian, China
"Prime Minister of Russia: Vladimir Putin"


statue of Bill Clinton in Dalian, China
"President of the U.S.: Bill Clinton"


statue of Junichiro Koizumi in Dalian, China
"Prime Minister of Japan: Junichiro Koizumi"


Obama and Putin were the only current leaders of the set, and Putin is now the President of Russia. It was the statue of the previous Prime Minister of Japan which most caught my eye. Unlike the statue in Shenyang, the design showed no sign of humiliation or apology. Or even a Hitler mustache. Instead, the statue of Koizumi was on equal footing with the others and greeted shoppers as they exited one of the two facing elevators.


elevator doors at the ICITY shopping center in Dalian, China


The statue in Shenyang reflects the anti-Japanese sentiment common in China. But as Chinese traveling to Japan during a Victory Over Japan holiday last year indicated, the full story of Chinese attitudes towards the country and its people is complicated. The statue of the Japanese prime minister in Dalian appears to be representative of a more positive side.

Koizumi did have some small scruff marks though.

statues of world leaders at a mall in Dalian, China

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Book and Magazine Messages About Trump in Hong Kong

I don't know for sure if the Eslite bookstore in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, deliberately arranged some of the books for sale to express a message.

"The Myth of the Rational Voter" and Donald Trump's "Great Again" displayed next to each other


It would be harder to claim the message on a cover to a Taiwanese business magazine available in Hong Kong wasn't deliberate.

magazine cover with Donald Trump's head in a mushroom cloud explosion


That's all.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The U.S. Election, China, and Blogging

I have been asked about the reaction in China to the recent U.S. presidential election. I point people towards "What the Chinese State Thinks About President Trump" on China Digital Times, in part because it refers to a number of relevant pieces.

There is much value in understanding people's perspective on the U.S. election, and it is rather relevant to some of my interests. But I have not dedicated much time asking people in China about the election, mostly because after spending so much of my own time on it, I wanted to focus on other things when "out in the field" — yes, even including Halloween pizzas.

And I saw reasons to focus on other topics here. For example, I remembered readers back in 2012 telling me they appreciated having a place to get away from election news, commentary, and discussion. Elections are important, but so is relative sanity. Had China come up in the election in a way where I thought I could add something to what was already out there, I would have. Overall, I figured my 1 or 2 cents to the world would be better spent focused on things more closely related to my current explorations in China.

The election's effect on posts here was mostly in reducing their numbers or depth. Admittedly the election absorbed a significant portion of my mental energy and time, perhaps too much in respect to what I could or did contribute and how much it could influence that — interesting questions there in general. It mattered a lot though.

Anyway, back to things tomorrow . . .

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Trump, Kaine, and "Lock Her Up": An Unexpected Conversation at a Fitting Location in China

Chinese man and Irishman standing in China with North Korean mountains in the background


A few weeks ago in Northeast China while I walked alongside a river somebody shouted at me "Do you speak English?"

I looked over and saw two men. I replied "I hope so!"

I soon learned that one of the men was Irish and visiting China. The other was Chinese and had grown up in the local area but had spent 15 years living in Ireland. The Irishman asked me about my nationality. After answering, his immediate followup question was "Will you be able to go back to vote?"

He wasn't asking out of idle curiosity. Like some other non-American foreigners I have recently bumped into in China, he expressed great concern over the U.S. presidential election and the ramifications it would have on the rest of the world. He feared Donald Trump winning. When the Irishman called the election "crazy", my mind immediately went to something I would have hoped to never experience — a U.S. presidential candidate declaring that if they won their opponent would go to jail and saying "lock her up" in response to a chanting, supportive crowd.

I briefly thought about politics in the place where I was standing. I also thought about the mountains within view on the other side of the river. I had never been so close to them before. Now they seemed closer in a more figurative sense as well.

Regarding the nearby town next to the mountains, the Chinese man shared reports from locals of how 600 people had died there during a flood several months earlier. Even from our own vantage point, it was apparent they had far less to protect themselves from floods. Life is different on the other side of the river.

Fortunately, the conversation included many cheerier moments. To my surprise, the Irishman had several fascinating stories to share about his connections to the Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine, who has strong Irish roots. Based on his account, many in Ireland are proud of Kaine.

Soon it was time to part ways, and the three of us took a photo together. Afterwards, the Irishman asked, "Is it OK to share the photo? Do people know you are here?"

I pointed across the river and joked, "I think they know I'm here." I gestured to our side and added, "They know I'm here."

They both laughed. And then I asked if I could take a photo of just the two of them. They stood next to each other in front of some trees. I suggested they stand in another location so I could get a different angle. The Irishman immediately recognized why and agreed it was better.

It wasn't usual for either of us to be just across the river from a town and mountains in North Korea.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Many Faces Around the Mao Zedong Statue in Shenyang

Mao Zedong statue at Zhongshan Square in Shenyang, China


The statue of Mao Zedong at in Zhongshan Square in Shenyang is remarkable for its size and how it fits in with a skyline that continues to be altered by new tall buildings. And on many days, smog adds adds to the effect. The figures surrounding Mao are what caught my attention the most though. The photos below begin at the front and go around in a counter-clockwise direction. There is a lot going on, and I won't try to suggest what most deserves attention or what to take from it all. But the dense scenes are worth a closer look.


figures surrounding the Mao Zedong statue in Shenyang, China



figures surrounding the Mao Zedong statue in Shenyang, China



figures surrounding the Mao Zedong statue in Shenyang, China



figures surrounding the Mao Zedong statue in Shenyang, China



figures surrounding the Mao Zedong statue in Shenyang, China



figures surrounding the Mao Zedong statue in Shenyang, China



figures surrounding the Mao Zedong statue in Shenyang, China



figures surrounding the Mao Zedong statue in Shenyang, China



figures surrounding the Mao Zedong statue in Shenyang, China



figures surrounding the Mao Zedong statue in Shenyang, China

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trump in Taiyuan, Trump on Tiananmen

This afternoon in Taiyuan I came across a newsstand.

newsstand in Taiyuan displaying covers of various magazines including one featuring Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

One of the featured magazine covers included a mockup of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton having what appears to be a vociferous discussion. So I wondered if when I returned to my laptop I would be able to find a new quote regarding China from either of them to accompany the photo I took.

As it turns out, today The New York Times published the transcript of its recent interview with Donald Trump. In reference to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Turkey, surviving a recent coup attempt, Trump had this to say:
I do give great credit to him for turning it around. You know, the first hour, it seemed like it was over. Then all of a sudden, and the amazing thing is the one that won that was the people. They came out on the streets, and the army types didn’t want to drive over them like they did in Tiananmen Square when they sort of drived them over, and that was the end of that. Right?
I will refrain from commenting on Trump's perspective. I will just say that it should be interesting when he and Clinton face off for real in a debate.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Dash of News for Today

I am not an expert on the South China Sea territorial disputes, but I feel safe saying this is big:
An international tribunal in The Hague delivered a sweeping rebuke on Tuesday of China’s behavior in the South China Sea, from the construction of artificial islands to interference with fishing, and ruled that its expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis.

The tribunal also said that Beijing had violated international law by “causing severe harm to the coral reef environment” and by failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from harvesting endangered sea turtles and other species “on a substantial scale.”
The website for the Permanent Court of Arbitration is down at the moment. Andrew S. Erikson has helpfully posted links to download the full award and the more compact 11-page press release.

There are now many questions about what happens next. Given some of the rhetoric currently coming out of China, I wonder if I will soon be sharing more experiences like the one four years ago of a Japanese mother living in Shanghai during a time when another territorial dispute stirred up China.

I am going to digest this all more before possibly saying anything further. For now, here are some relevant tweets (possibly not fully viewable in an RSS reader and better to view on the blog) made after the announcement:














Friday, April 29, 2016

Assorted Links: People's Daily's YouTube Rant, Taiwan's Principles, Delhi's Pollution, and Composer Chou Wen-chung

Some links for today:

1. China's People's Daily is upset about its YouTube account. No, People's Daily isn't advocating for YouTube to be unblocked in China. It is mad because thousands of its YouTube subscribers suddenly disappeared, and it is letting people know about it:
On Wednesday, Ren Jianmin, managing director of People’s Daily Online USA, penned an English-language online column about the paper’s YouTube channel losing thousands of subscribers in two days. Mr. Ren, who also oversees the newspaper’s social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and other foreign sites, concluded that “YouTube did not show a bit of respect to our 3,552 subscribers by removing them from our channel without any reasons.” . . . .

Naturally, the People’s Daily took to another blocked social media network, Twitter, to voice its indignation.
As explained, one possible innocuous explanation for the disappearance is that they were simply accounts for artificial users. There was no word on Ren's thoughts about this. The article ends with a question one can only hope Ren will also address.


2. I am in Taiwan at the moment. And Taiwan's status is an especially fascinating topic. So here is some recent news:
Taiwan President-elect Tsai Ing-wen said she will maintain the status quo in the island's relationship with China, but that her policy will be based on democratic principles and transcend party politics, a nuance likely to be lost on Communist Party leaders in Beijing.

3. An article titled "What It’s Like to Live in the World’s Most Polluted Place" isn't about any city in China. Instead, it is about Delhi, the capital of India. But the two sets of photos featured reminded me of similarly polluted scenes I have seen in China. The caption for the tenth photo in the first set especially caught my attention:
A dairy farm sits between a massive construction project and a garbage dump. Livestock are regularly in contact with waste, increasing the risk of contaminated dairy products
I thought back to some questions I recently had after seeing fresh goat milk sold and a goat eating outside in Jieyang, Guangdong.


4. Finally, a story about a composer whose teachers included Edgard Varèse and Bohuslav Martinu shares how 91-year-old Chou Wen-chung doesn't identify himself as a "Chinese composer" even though he grew up in China. Yet he doesn't deny his experiences there have had an influence:
But the sternest teacher of all was war, which swept over Mr. Chou’s native China in 1937, and which, over the next eight years, forced him to flee from one town to the next and often brought him face to face with death. In Shanghai, he practiced Bach and Mozart on the violin to the sound of artillery fire. Later, he trained his hearing as a university student in Guilin, where he learned to identify the flight path of Japanese warplanes by their sound. During a recent interview in his West Village townhouse, Mr. Chou recounted many harrowing war stories.

“This is the kind of thing we don’t want to experience,” he said after describing a traumatic escape from Guilin in 1944, moments before Japanese forces entered the city. “But if you do experience it, use that. We have to learn from life.”

Friday, March 4, 2016

A Small Survey in Jieyang, China, on the U.S. Presidential Candidates

This morning I felt inspired (not sure that's the right word) to watch the Fox News GOP Debate. I tuned in after the "hands moment" but was able to watch most of the debate on the live stream both with and without using a VPN (useful for jumping China's Great Firewall to reach blocked sites). The only exception was towards the end when I could only watch it without the VPN, I suspect due to increased local internet traffic.

This afternoon I looked for a place in Jieyang, Guangdong, to do a small survey, and Monkey Noodles seemed like a good choice. There I presented three people in their 20s photos of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates still participating in the televised debates. In short, nobody recognized Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, or Bernie Sanders. Two people recognized Hillary Clinton and one of them recognized Donald Trump as well. I didn't hope to draw broader conclusions from this small sample, but the results mapped reasonably well with what I would expect for a larger similar sample.

The person who recognized two candidates described Trump as a man who became rich through real estate. His first comment about Clinton was he thought she was very pretty. When I asked which would make a better president for the U.S., he immediately said Clinton. He felt she had stronger management skills. He described Trump as extremely egotistical and having strange ideas.

I didn't ask about hands.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Ten Assorted Taiwan 2016 Election Tweets

I will keep things simple on an historic night in Taiwan and just share some recent tweets (photos in tweets may not appear if viewed through an RSS reader):










Monday, January 11, 2016

Hong Kong Media Not Steering Clear of Politics

Despite an increasing number of similarities, Hongkonger's ability to freely express themselves at yesterday's rally speaks to how Hong Kong remains different from cities in mainland China. Two stories on the front page of today's South China Morning Post speak to the same issue.

Front page of South China Morning Post with headlines "Steer clear of politics, Shanghai media told" and "Thousands Rally For Missing Booksellers"
"Why can't the police solve this problem? Because it is a political issue."

A Quick Comment About Today's Rally for the Missing Booksellers in Hong Kong

man bounded with a noose in front of him and the word "kidnapped" in Chinese
"Kidnapped"

I have much to say and share about today's rally / protest in Hong Kong regarding the missing booksellers. Unfortunately, I expect to loose internet access any minute (unexciting maintenance issues) and may not have it again until morning. And tomorrow I expect to be heading elsewhere, so I'm not sure when I will be able to post next. For one look at today's events, check out a piece by the Hong Kong Free Press here.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

"Hong Kong is Dying": People Power's Demonstration for the Missing Booksellers

When I stopped by Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong this afternoon, not much had changed since yesterday's visit to the currently closed store yesterday. The sign at the building's entrance warning of mainland Chinese police was gone. Most of the same notes for Lee Bo and the other still-missing booksellers were on the store's still-locked door. I did not see the man who reminded me of Zhou Yongkang. Instead there was a different person nearby. I wasn't surprised when he took a few photos of me while I stood in front of the door. After I asked, he confirmed he was a press photographer. He soon joined several other photographers waiting outside who appeared bored.

When I returned to the area in the evening on my way to the nearby MTR station I saw a demonstration was about to start, so stayed around. It was led by People Power, a familiar political group in Hong Kong I have seen before, including at a Hong Kong fair half a year before the beginning of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement. Photos of today's demonstration appear below along with a video of one of the demonstrators who spoke in both English and Cantonese.

The video would be more effective in some ways if shorter, but I have left it unedited to offer a look closer to what one would have experienced there. The speaker passionately expresses his concerns. Some people stop to listen. Many others in the busy commercial area simply walk by. Demonstrators hold signs and pass out informational flyers. There are even jokes.

I'm still digesting the events, so for the moment just a few informal points. The speaker in the video expressed a clear desire to reach out not only to Hongkongers but the rest of the world as well. This desire could also be seen in how another demonstrator made a point of speaking with foreigners, including me. I roughly estimate there was somewhere between 50-100 people watching at any moment while I was there. Uniformed Hong Kong police were present in an nonintrusive manner at the beginning but soon became less visible, if they were around at all.

Notable English comments made by the speaker in the video include (some paraphrased):
  • Lee Bo felt that if he stayed in Hong Kong and did not go to mainland China he would be safe. Lee Bo was wrong.
  • How can this happen in Hong Kong? It is very dangerous in Hong Kong nowadays.
  • They are trying to kill Hong Kong. Hong Kong is dying.
  • Why can't the police solve this problem? Because it is a political issue.
Finally, People Power is just one of many voices in Hong Kong. Others will make themselves heard as well. They can still do that in Hong Kong.



People Power demonstration in front of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong

Sign with photos of the five people missing from Causeway Bay Books

Signs at the People Power demonstration in front of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong

"Missing Impossible" sign at People Power demonstration in front of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong

Imitation of a street sign reading "Bookstore Five people WHERE they"

"Missing Impossible" sign hanging form the Causeway Bay Books sign

People Power demonstrator speaking to foreigners

People Power demonstrators holding signs

Speaker next to a woman holding a sign reading "Sometimes it's a short step from banning to burning" at the People Power demonstration in front of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Few Perspectives on the Chinese Government's Strength

In the essay "China After the Reform Era", Carl F. Minzner argues China has taken significant steps back from many of the reforms it made during the post-Mao era. Some examples he mentions include:
The crackdown on public-interest lawyers has tightened. Social-media sites have been subjected to tighter controls. Even those used to a degree of immunity have found themselves targeted. Foreign businesses have been alarmed by stepped-up corruption probes into pharmaceutical companies, dawn raids by antimonopoly regulators on firms ranging from Microsoft to Mercedes-Benz, and proposed antiterror rules that would require foreign software companies to hand over their encryption keys. New civil society laws have tightened restrictions on foreign NGOs. As of early 2015, central CCP organs had begun to speak of the need to “rectify” higher education, purge “Western values” from textbooks, and redirect art and architecture back toward traditional Chinese forms.
In "Is Xi Jinping Losing Control of China?" J. Michael Cole argues that recent changes indicate a decline in power:
All of this—the new stricter laws, the crackdown on non-governmental organizations, lawyers, bloggers, web sites, and journalists—is indicative of a government that does not have the situation under control, a situation that is unlikely to be helped by the recent stock market crash. Rarely is authoritarianism a signal of strength; instead, it stems from fear, paranoia, and panic . . .
But not everyone is convinced these are all signs the Chinese government is losing control. In the ChinaFile conversation "China’s ‘Rule by Law’ Takes an Ugly Turn" Keith Hand suggests quite the opposite:
I think we need to consider a different possibility. Together with China’s assertive posture in territorial disputes, the adoption of a broad national security law, and proposed legislation that would place strict new limits on the Internet and activities by foreign non-profits, the mass detention of rights lawyers suggests to me that China’s leaders are so confident in their strength that they no longer need to maintain the pretense of limited engagement and tolerance.
For now, I simply recommend the above three pieces. They offer plenty of food for thought.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Was Hong Kong Lawmakers Missing an Important Vote Really an Accident?

Hong Kong's Legislative Council has spoken and did not pass a Beijing-backed government reform package which would have given Hongkongers the ability to choose their leader from a set of Beijing-approved candidates. The Chinese government has already indicated it will simply disregard the results and expects its plan to be implemented nonetheless. In other words, it appears China will force Hong Kong to have a "democratic" vote that Hong Kong's legislative council has now voted against due to the successful efforts of the pro-democracy camp. Yes, these are special times.

Making the times extra special was a walkout which lead to a number of lawmakers who were expected to support the reform package missing the historic vote, which did not effect the outcome except for causing the numbers for the defeat to appear all the worse. The Hong Kong based South China Morning Post described it as a "botched" effort resulting from a "miscommunication". The Wall Street Journal reported a similar story while providing other details. The New York Times called it an "embarrassing political misstep". None of these accounts question whether the lawmakers truly intended to vote. The same holds true for much of the other reporting and commentary I have seen, including on Twitter.

However, it is easy to think of plausible reasons why these lawmakers may not have wanted to vote for the bill but also not have wanted to displease the Chinese government with an explicit "no" vote or abstention. Perhaps the event was staged so the lawmakers had an excuse to miss the vote, and everything went as planned. On this note, James Pomfret and Clare Baldwin reported some intriguing details for Reuters:
Political analyst Johnny Lau, who has close ties with several pro-Beijing politicians, said a few had expressed privately to him they were considering abstaining to bolster their prospects in the next city-wide legislative polls.

"Some of them told me that they planned this before. They were thinking about the legislative elections next year," Lau said in a telephone interview. "If they voted for the plan, then the democrats could use this as a reason to attack them, so they didn't want to leave a record."
So at the very least, at this point I don't think it can be said with great confidence that the missed voted was indeed an accident. Instead, it is possible the lawmakers felt it was the best move they could make, even if they felt no truly attractive options existed.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

More Yellow in Hong Kong

Umbrella Movement supporter holding a banner and yellow umbrella while posing for a photograph outside Hong Kong's Legislative Council Complex
Umbrella Movement supporter posing for a photograph outside Hong Kong's Legislative Council Complex

Today in Hong Kong I spent some time observing the relatively small but lively demonstrations either supporting or protesting a Beijing-backed bill that would allow Hongkongers to vote for their city's leader with the catch that candidates would need to be approved by the Chinese government. The Legislative Council began debate on the bill today, and it appears headed for defeat.

I will have more related photos to share later. And at some point I hope to also say something deeper about today's and previous protests in Hong Kong.