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Misunderstanding China

http://online.wsj.com/articles/misunderstanding-china-1410972607

How did Western policy makers and academics repeatedly get China so wrong?

By MICHAEL PILLSBURY

The Wall Street Journal
Sept. 17, 2014 12:50 p.m. ET

On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China while standing atop Beijing’s Gate of Heavenly Peace. In the decades that followed, many China watchers in the West confidently predicted the fall of his regime. Others hoped that a cadre of moderates in the Beijing government would lead to a kinder, gentler, more democratic China.

As China turns 65 in a couple weeks, its ruling Party appears nowhere close to planning its retirement party. It is stronger, more nationalistic and more committed to maintaining one-party rule than at any time since Mao’s death.

Nor has President Xi Jinping been the moderate reformer some hoped for. Under the cover of anti-corruption, Mr. Xi has consolidated his power over the party and squelched talk of democracy. In a speech to the National Congress earlier this month, he said that preventing the government from becoming "leaderless [and] fragmented" with "political fighting and wrangling between political parties" was among his top priorities. Even in Hong Kong, the last bastion of political freedom in China, Mr. Xi has ruled out free elections for 2017.

What happened? How did Western policy makers and academics repeatedly get China so wrong? To this day there is no expert consensus on China’s economic growth and GDP, the size of its military and intelligence budgets, or even its intentions toward the West. Much less is there consensus on what direction China will take, even though most evidence points to political retrenchment, surging nationalism and opposition to the postwar international system.

Western governments failed to understand Mao’s China from the beginning. The experts in the Truman and Eisenhower administrations believed it would not enter the Korean War. Kennedy and Johnson believed that China would stay out of Vietnam. Every American administration up to that point also believed that China would be permanently aligned with the Soviet Union as something of a junior partner. Then a Sino-Soviet border war broke out in 1969, shocking the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

When Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger took office, the American view was that relations between China and Russia were permanently broken, thus leading to the surprising "opening" in 1972. By the time Ronald Reagan took office, the prevailing view was that "so-called Communist China," as Reagan himself liked to put it, was on the path to free market democracy.

That arrival is now three decades overdue. No one in the George H. W. Bush administration foresaw the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. A year later, American policy makers were shocked again when China reversed its diplomatic course and began buying Russian fighters and submarines to threaten Taiwan.

The forecast that the CCP would wither away in the face of political reforms and yield to a multi-party, democratic system has proven alarmingly wrong. Instead, the party has reinvented itself by recruiting the middle class and millionaires to its cause. Most estimates suggest China’s GDP is still half state-controlled (though we don’t know that for sure, either).

Similarly, continuing forecasts of democracy—such as Bruce Gilley’s "China’s Democratic Future, How It Will Happen"—continue to prove embarrassing for professors and journalists who write them. As for books on China’s economic future, there remains no consensus. One well-known book on the shelves of many China scholars—"The Coming Collapse of China"—competes with another called "When China Rules the World."

False predictions have also been made about the strength of the People’s Liberation Army—that it would remain a short-legged, land-based force. Instead, in August 2014, President Xi met with generals to discuss innovative plans to catch up with America’s military force. Which generals were there? The same ones we are reassured are mere "fringe" elements in the Chinese government—including General Liu Yazhou, the host of a venomous anti-U.S. video called "Silent Contest."

These generals are now attacking President Obama for a routine U.S. military exercise near Guam involving two aircraft carriers that is scheduled to run this week. They claim that the act is an American provocation designed to threaten China’s birthday party.

In other words, the Middle Kingdom—potentially the most formidable opponent we have ever faced—remains as much of a mystery as ever.

What accounts for this? Why does doubt and conjecture still shroud a nation that for six decades we have studied, worked against, then allied with, then clashed with again?

The answer that I’ve come to after studying the Chinese for 40 years is that the problem is not China, but us. For six decades we Westerners have looked at China through our own self-interest—as a potential check against the Soviets, or a source of American trade and business investment.

We have projected on the Chinese a pleasing image—a democracy in waiting, or a docile Confucian civilization seeking global harmony. We have been reassured by China’s leaders seeking our economic, scientific and military assistance, and have ignored writings, actions and declarations that warn of growing nationalism. After 65 years, we don’t know what China wants because we haven’t truly listened to some of the powerful voices that undermine our wishful thinking.

As China continues its rise, our first step should be to dismantle comfortable assumptions and false realities. We must study China anew and recognize that its Communist rulers are determined not to fade into history.

Mr. Pillsbury is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a consultant to the U.S. Defense De

Sex in China: An Interview with Li Yinhe

Ian Johnson
NYRBLOG
Imaginechina/Corbis
Gay couple Lu Zhong, 24, and Liu Wangqiang, 20, during a wedding photo shoot, Fujian province, China, September 2012

Li Yinhe is one of China’s best-known experts on sex and the family. A member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, she has published widely on sexual mores, women, and family issues. Li also runs a popular blog, where she has advocated for same-sex marriage and loosening restrictions on homosexuality, orgies, and sex in literature. In the 1980s, she studied at the University of Pittsburgh, earning a Ph.D. in 1988, but returned to China where she was asked by China’s pioneering sociologist, Fei Xiaotong, to be one of the first post-doctoral students at Peking University. Recently retired, the sixty-two-year-old spends much of her time on the Shandong coast.

I visited Li Yinhe at her country home outside of Beijing, where we discussed some of her work and current projects, including two unpublished volumes of short stories about sado-masochism.

COMMENT›INSIGHT & OPINION

Lack of school support for China’s migrant children a crying shame

Lijia Zhang says the social and emotional costs of keeping families separated are too high to bear

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 September, 2014, 3:17pm

UPDATED : Monday, 15 September, 2014, 11:38pm

Lijia Zhang

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Students pose for a photo at a primary school for migrant children in Hefei, Anhui. Photo: Reuters

The start of a new school year should be a joyful time. Instead, in Beijing, it has heralded tears and painful family separations: the children of migrant workers who failed to secure a place at a local school have been forced to leave.

The family of my neighbour, Mr Ma, a self-employed electrician, is among those affected. His wife has just taken their seven-year-old daughter, Qiuyu, and her visiting brother, Xiaobao, back to their home village outside Datong , in central Shanxi province.

Qiuyu had been at home for nine months, after her private unlicensed kindergarten run by a fellow migrant was shut down by the authorities who said it lacked safety measures.

My neighbourhood in Jiuxianqiao village is populated by migrant workers. In recent months, the Mas visited dozens of primary schools in the area. All migrant schools seem to have closed and all state schools demanded five documents, including a temporary resident permit, rental contract and proof of employment. Mr Ma had none of them.

He said at least 10 families he knows have met the same fate. In fact, the rules surrounding schooling of migrant children have been tightened, according to a recent report in Wen Wei Po, which claimed that around 10,000 migrant children have been unable to attend state-run schools after failing to provide the required documents. A small percentage may fight on, forging documents, paying sponsorship where required, or even bribes. Most families, however, will have to say goodbye to their children as they return to their rural homes, usually to be taken care of by grandparents.

Ever since China’s reform and opening up, some 260 million people have migrated from villages to cities in search of a better life. One of the biggest negative effects of the "greatest migration in human history" has been, in my view, the "left-behind children" phenomenon. There are estimated to be more than 60 million of them.

China’s hukou or family registry system, introduced by Mao Zedong in the 1950s as a way to control the flow of population, divides China into a rural and urban population, with the latter enjoying much better access to education, health care and other social services. At first, migrant children were not even allowed to enter local schools. Slowly, restrictions were relaxed, but many obstacles remain and migrant schools exist precariously in a grey area.

Mrs Ma’s decision to return home, leaving behind her husband in the capital, was made after many sleepless nights. Nine years ago, when the couple first ventured away from their rural home, they left their son, only six at the time, in the care of her parents.

Today, Mr Ma makes about 10,000 yuan (HK$12,600) a month fixing household electronic appliances, more than double his income as a village electrician.

But the Mas only see their son twice a year, once during the Lunar new year in their village and once in the summer when Xiaobao visits them for his vacation. I have noticed that he behaves like a guest in his parents’ little one-bedroom flat.

I sympathise greatly with the Mas. My own family was also a victim of thehukou system: my father worked in another city. Until his retirement, we rarely saw him.

In his book on left-behind children, author Ye Jingzhong discusses the many negative effects: these children don’t always get proper care, guidance or help from their guardians, who are usually their poorly educated grandparents; they often feel lonely and are more likely to suffer from mental illness, compared with those living with their parents; and they are extremely vulnerable to crime, especially sexual assault.

Aware of such perils, in 2010, Unicef started a pioneering child welfare model called the "barefoot social worker", inspired by Mao’s "barefoot doctor" – doctors with basic training who provided medical care to millions of farmers. In this modern version, someone in the community is given some basic training as a social worker to provide these needy children with help. The programme, in cooperation with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, has proved effective.

Yet, it’s clear that the government has not done nearly enough. Perhaps the authorities’ wish to maintain stability means they seek to prevent thousands of farmers rushing to the city. Perhaps our leaders do not fully realise the negative long-term effects on the left-behind children. If their problems persist into adulthood, how can we expect to build a "harmonious society"?

The government needs to take urgent action. It should offer financial incentives to local schools that take in migrant children or simply set quotas. Given that local schools cannot accommodate all the children, schools for children of migrant workers should be given legal status. Instead of simply shutting down substandard schools, authorities should offer support. And finally, the hukou system must be abolished.

Back in my neighbourhood, an air of sadness hangs over Mr Ma and his home; outside, where the family had spent many happy hours, little Qiuyu’s bike now stands forlornly.

Lijia Zhang is a writer, journalist and social commentator

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Lack of school support for China’s migrant children a crying shame

Last week, the author of best-selling River Town was in town to promote his new book "Strange Stones", which has just been published in Chinese. I had the pleasure of meeting him for a drink, amid his packed schedule of book talks and interviews. I’ve known Pete for years. I passed a column in HK Standard to him when he first came to Beijing, after his time in Fuling. It was him who encouraged me to write my memoir, for which I am always grateful. "Strang Stones" and his China triology have all made a splash in China among the educated young people. Few western writers achieved this level of success. I’ve been thinking what are the secrets of his success. First of all, he is a bloody good, extremely talented writer and sharp observer. Unlike some westerners who hold a colonial or superior attitude towards China, Pete treats Chinese people as equal. Despite the problems he describes, China comes out in good light. and I think he is such a nice person which shines through in his writing.

below is a piece about ‘Strange Stones’

China expert Peter Hessler goes to the ground in ‘Strange Stones’

Peter Hessler offers a ground-level view of the last 15 years in China and its rapid changes. He also throws in a few U.S.-based stories.

May 31, 2013|By Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times

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  • A Chinese man carries a fish he caught below the spillway of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, near Yichang, in central China's Hubei province on June 13, 2003.

A Chinese man carries a fish he caught below the spillway of the Three Gorges… (Greg Baker / Associated…)

Between 2001 and 2010, Peace Corps volunteer-turned-New Yorker writer Peter Hessler delivered three entertaining, richly detailed books on China told through his interactions with everyday people. Hessler left China several years ago, moved to Colorado and now lives in Cairo, but his new book, "Strange Stones: Dispatches From East and West," is a compilation of ground-level short stories mostly about the Middle Kingdom. Fans of his New Yorker work will find most of these dispatches familiar, though quite a few are a delight to reread.

Some, like the opening piece on the rivalry among two restaurants in the town of Luogang specializing in rat — Highest Ranking Wild Flavor Restaurant and New Eight Sceneries Wild Flavor Food City — have a timeless quality, with Hessler deftly capturing in detail the quirky (and not infrequently disturbing) aspects of eating and doing business in China.

Other tales, such as one related to youngsters migrating to work in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen in the late 1990s, or another on the nation’s preparations for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, or a third on Yao Ming’s 2002 foray into the NBA and its ramifications in China, cannot help but feel dated.

But somehow, reading them with a few years of distance almost heightens our appreciation for just how much China, and its laobaixing, or ordinary men and women, have witnessed, built and endured over the last decade and a half. The economic boom has brought unprecedented prosperity — new roads, new public toilets, Olympic gold medals — and problems.

Hessler chose not to arrange his anecdotes chronologically, which may have robbed the compilation of a bit of its power to serve as a time-lapse documentary of China’s transformation over the last 15 years. But that is a minor quibble. More puzzling is Hessler’s decision to include five (of 18) chapters set totally outside of China. The result can be more jarring than enlightening, like a greatest hits album interspersed with obscure B-sides thrown in on a whim.

A chapter on an American, David Spindler, researching the Great Wall through painstaking hikes is followed by a 25-page piece on a Long Islander of Nepalese descent, Rajeev Goyal, who lobbies Congress to boost Peace Corps funding. Twenty-two pages on uranium mining in the town of Paradox, Colo. (its health effects and battles over a new mine), come immediately after a chapter on the Chinese city of Wushan, which is being submerged thanks to the Three Gorges Dam.

Hessler contends he chose to intersperse these stories "because I like the idea of David Spindler standing next to Rajeev Goyal, and I think the people of Wushan might have something to say to the people of Paradox." Maybe, but some readers will find the choice dislocating, or undisciplined — one wonders whether Hessler simply wanted a vanity book of his favorite pieces over the last dozen years, even if some have only the most tenuous connection to the others.

One U.S.-set piece that does nicely complement the rest of the work is the penultimate chapter, "Go West." This sees Hessler moving to a remote corner of Colorado, engaging with the locals and reflecting upon the differences between Chinese and Americans — and where he fits in between the cultures after so much time abroad.

Americans, he rediscovered, were more solitary yet more accomplished raconteurs, eager to share personal topics. Compared to rural Chinese, who would pepper him with queries about the United States and the West, Americans were frequently more parochial, he found to his dismay.

"At times, the lack of curiosity depressed me," he says. "I remembered all those questions in China, where even uneducated people wanted to hear something about the outside world, and I wondered why Americans weren’t the same."

But, he added, "it was also true that many Chinese had impressed me as virtually uninterested in themselves and their communities. They weren’t reflective — they preferred not to think hard about their own lives. That was one of the main contrasts with Americans, who constantly created stories about themselves and the places where they lived."

Fortunately for his readers, Hessler has both a Chinese inquisitiveness and an American aptitude for storytelling. This makes "Strange Stones" a lively and worthwhile — if somewhat oddly curated — look back at China’s last 15 years.

The Uses of Culture

Posted: September 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

Yesterday, I had the honour to introduce the keynote speaker Professor Julianne Schultz, a famous Australian academic, author and public intellectual, at the annual conference organized by the Foundation for Australian Studies in China.

As usual, I added personal touch by mentioning that I had actually had the pleasure of meeting her a few years back when I went to Australia for my book tour. This is another use of culture – it connects people across borders of time, society or language.

Since we were to talk about culture, I did a bit research and learnt that the concept first emerged in roman classical antiquity, meaning the cultivation of soul. It re-emerged in modern Europe in the 17th century, referring to the betterment or refinement of individuals. Later it came more frequently to refer to the common aspirations or ideas of whole peoples. After Julianne’s talk, I have a new understanding about the concept of culture.

Below is her presentation.

The uses of culture

Julianne Schultz

There are four pillars that are essential to any successful nation. One is the land and its associated attributes and resources, the second is the people who make up the society, the third is its institutions, laws and regulations, and the fourth is the defining culture and values.

Culture is the most slippery of these pillars, and the one that receives the least attention. But it is just as important as the other pillars, arguably the glue that ensures the other pillars are robust and resilient.

Governments are more comfortable regulating land, population and institutions than they are when it comes to dealing with culture. Culture is not a creation of government. Yet the right of citizens to participate in the creation and enjoyment of culture isembodied in international agreements.

Culture can be used and it can be abused. It maybe that the potential and history of abuse in the name of culture acts to limit its expansive use. Culture can be a narrow straightjacket demanding conformity.

But it can also be a force for good, for enabling the achievement of the greatest human potential. It is culture that binds and embodies the society, it is culture that stretches and enriches, that draws on tradition and welcomes innovation.

Culture is always a work in progress, changing and evolving of itself and in response to the changes that happen elsewhere. If the land is affected by drought or fire, the local culture will draw on its embedded resources, but adjust in response; if the mix of peoples there change, the culture will also adapt to accommodate this; laws and regulations can strengthen this resilience or undermine it.

These principles hold everywhere, but are different in an open settler society than they will be in a more rigid, traditional society where the weight of history hangs more heavily. In a traditional, essentially mono cultural society history is likely to be more settled and firmly held than in a society in which the layers are newer and still accreting. In both there is a need to interrogate the past and incorporate the new, but the starting point is different, as are the obstacles that can get in the way of such an activity.

It is important to tease this out, because even in a global world, people come from somewhere, and that somewhere shapes how they see the world, their opportunities, their ease at home and abroad, the traditions that shape their expression and aspirations., the way they relate to others and the value they place on history and belonging.

There are more than a million Australians living abroad, and even as their accents soften and they adopt the mores of those around them there is something distinctive and recognizable about them. The Australian expat of the twenty-first century is very different to the expat of another age who was often recoiling from home. Now they move with ease in the world, coming and going, orbiting and settling.

This begs the question of what makes Australia and Australians unique and how might this be strengthened.

I would argue that there are four things that make Australia unique– the first is its Indigenous history, as home to the longest continuous living civilization. There is almost no other country that can trace such a lineage.

The second is that it is one of the most successful continuous representative democracies. This has underpinned Australia’s openness and its resilience. As a result successfully accommodating peoples from nearly 200 other countries and helping to make it the thirteenth richest country in the world.

The third is that, with the exception of devastating local battles, which accompanied European settlement, there has never been a full -scale war fought in Australia. Compared to the blood shed in almost every other country, this is remarkable and has a legacy, which we rarely acknowledge, but one which underpins Australian pragmatism and the sense that things can be sorted out.

The fourth is the accident of geography that places Australia in the Asian hemisphere. This provides both opportunities and has presented challenges. Yet we know that the Indigenous people had a long history of regional interchange, we know that Matthew Flinders after circumnavigating Australia recommended that Darwin be the capital so the colony could engage better with the trade with the region, we know that the Australasian movement of the nineteenth century envisaged a regional future, we know that Chinese settlers came south with the same ease that Irish settlers crossed the Atlantic to America, and we know that for much of the twentieth century Australia pulled up the drawbridge with shocking consequences.

As with all the characteristics there are layers, some we would now consider good, some we would consider bad – but there are layers, which are especially important, but easily overlooked especially in a pragmatic country not given to introspection pr hyperbole.

The culture of Australia grows out of these attributes. Culture is expressed in many ways, through education and language, through science and sports, through community activities and heritage, in all its many layered complexity.

The arts are particularly important in this, effectively the research lab of culture – pushing, expressing, developing, communicating – through visual art, music, dance, performance, design, writing and screen.

Culture has many uses in this context. There is the intrinsic value of creating works of skill and beauty that speak to the soul, a unique combination of creativity, discipline and talent.

Then there is the institutional value of culture, the way these works and others represent and help define a people and place. This maybe captured in the great buildings, in the heritage, in the great performing companies or more prosaically in tourism campaigns. But the institutional and nationally defining value of culture cannot be wished away even in a global world.

The third use of culture is instrumental – to ensure the greatest human potential can be realized. This ranges from participation in creative and community activities to education – but deliberately uses cultural tools to expand this capacity, rather than just the tools of economics or regulation.

The fourth use is commercial – the importance of the cultural industries can no longer be ignored. Even at a time when the business models of some of the traditional cultural industries are being challenged by digital technology, culture is an important part of the economy, generating in Australia more of the GDP than many other industries – up to ten percent by some calculations – employing hundreds of thousands of people in interesting and rewarding jobs. As this commerce is conducted globally, also sending a message to the world about Australia. In a tangible sense an export with more power that ships full of minerals.

There is a challenge in a settler society to unpick the recent history, as well as the ancient past and synthesise it and communicate this at home and abroad, to continue listening and thinking, to realise that this is a work in progress not something that stopped a hundred or fifty or ten years ago.

What we are now beginning to see in Australia is the outcome of this process. So some of the most remarkable and exciting art being produced draws on both the Indigenous and settler traditions. Two examples: Danie Mellor and Michael Cook who synthesise this in original ways. It is also happening in dance and music – Bangarra’s recent show tells such a story, Paul Stanhope’s oratorio does the same and it is present in literature, design and on screens and stage.

What these works point to, is the long history of settlement in Australia, and the interaction with the region that precedes European settlement is something that makes Australian culture truly unique – so there is a basis for a different and richer engagement with the countries of this region than maybe we once all realised.

The old clichés drawn from nineteenth and twentieth century are no long sufficient to capture this, so there is a need for an expansive approach, one that unpicks the layers of Australian history and identity, engages its peoples, and communicates with the world in a quietly self confident, unapologetic manner.

This is useful in many ways, for individuals, for the society, and maybe even for the world as an example of what is possible.

Chinese culture fails to make the grade for today’s mixed-race children

Lijia Zhang recounts her struggle to instil pride and love of all things Chinese in her daughters

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 September, 2014, 3:46am

UPDATED : Monday, 08 September, 2014, 10:34am

Lijia Zhang

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A mechanical horse-dragon made for a French show to be presented in Beijing this year. China may be the second-largest economy in the world but it lags behind the West in may aspects, pop culture for one. Photo: AFP

May, my 17-year-old elder daughter, told me the results of her school exams by phone. When there was a pause, she asked: "Are you disappointed?" I shouldn’t have been. Three As and a B were good results.

But the problem was that she got the B in Chinese. And she is half Chinese.

I see it partly as my fault in failing to speak Chinese consistently at home, at least for the time May and her younger sister, Kirsty, spend at my house. The truth is that she’s really interested in the language and, indeed, the Chinese part of her cultural heritage.

A few years back, I took the girls to Bangladesh for a holiday. As soon as we were out of my friend’s guarded complex, we were surrounded by curious locals.

"Where are you from?" they asked the girls. May, the spokeswoman of the two, replied without hesitation: "We are from England."

After we had settled down in a rickshaw, I said to May: "You were born in Beijing. Save for four years in London, you grew up in China. How does it qualify you as ‘English’?" May blinked her big round eyes. "Well, if I tell people I am Chinese, they wouldn’t believe me."

True, May doesn’t look very Chinese, with her fair skin and brown hair, especially the way she carries herself. Kirsty, who has a darker complexion and more delicate facial features, looks a little more oriental.

Yet they both fundamentally identify themselves as British, even though they do sometimes describe themselves as "half Chinese and half British".

They go to the British School in Beijing, they spend half their time with their British father, and all their friends are English-speaking international kids.

It’s been an uphill battle to inject the Chinese part of the culture into them. They like Chinese food but much prefer Western food. I speak Chinese to them and they often reply in English. I used to ask them to write a few characters every day or read them a story in Chinese. They saw this as a task, a burden and a bargaining tool to get their pocket money, instead of an amazing opportunity that will open doors for them in the future.

As we grew busier and their interest remained low, we gave up this drill. There’s little wonder that May obtained "only" a B.

She actually speaks Chinese fluently (her sister less so), but to master the characters demands a lot of time and effort.

Eurasian children fare differently in their Chinese exams, likely better than average; the top students usually have a tiger mother at home, enforcing extra Chinese lessons.

I don’t really worry about my children’s identity.

Research contradicts the earlier belief that mixed-race children were likely to have cultural identity problems.

In her 1987 book, Mixed Race Children: A Study of Identity, British sociologist Anne Wilson documented many children of black and white parents and discovered most of them to be well-grounded in their identity. Since Wilson’s findings, the multiracial population is more visible as they have become one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the US, and other parts of the world. The sheer number of them also makes it less of a problem; they simply have a more fluid sense of identity than the conventional definition.

What concerns me is the fact that my girls seem to think that Western culture is superior – though they may not say as much. If they describe something, for example, someone’s outfit, hairstyle or manner, as "very Chinese", it usually contains negative connotations.

Their attitude is common among children of Western-Chinese families. I know one half-Australian, half-Chinese girl who speaks Chinese fluently after attending a local school. After moving to an international school in Beijing, during her first school trip, she pretended not to know any Chinese and asked a classmate with poorer Chinese to interpret for her.

There are no doubt many reasons why these mixed blood children more readily identify themselves with Western culture. China may be the second-largest economy in the world but it still lags behind the West in many aspects, and the government may not be the most popular in the world. Western pop culture, for one thing, is extremely influential among the youngsters.

Will China’s fast-growing economy and rising position in the world change the equation? It may take a long time. These children may change their views as they grow older.

For now, how can we entice them to embrace Chinese culture, to see speaking Chinese as cool and take some pride in being half Chinese?

I’d be the first to admit that I’ve not tried hard enough and that I’ve failed rather miserably. But I wonder just how it’s possible to succeed, other than by transforming myself into a tiger mother.

Lijia Zhang is a writer, journalist and social commentator

Doubters Question China’s Corruption Push

  • COMMENTARY

By Russell Leigh Moses

China’s President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Reuters

The recent study examining the lives and labors of Communist party cadres in Shandong province is noteworthy not only because it shows that many Chinese officials have a tough time staying clean.

It’s also a telling example of the tension within China’s political circles about the best way to wage war against corruption.

The Xi leadership’s preferred approach thus far has followed two complementary tracks.

The first track has featured well-publicized takedowns of “tigers”–high-ranking party officials and even military commanders who have felt the wrath of the anticorruption crusade and will likely face trial. Making examples out of once-powerful figures like former security czar Zhou Yongkang shows both the public and party ranks that Beijing is dead serious about stopping graft.

The second part of Xi’s strategy is shaking up the way party cadres work. By pushing officials to focus on making policies that actually matter to people, Xi is also striving to “make cadres more honest and pragmatic simply by carrying out activities that will reflect better on them.” Those who don’t change their work style are subject to rectification campaigns and risk becoming political road kill.

That’s hardline stuff. It shows officials who behave badly that they can’t hide or run away.

But there are others who aren’t so sure that the current emphasis on cracking down by punishing officials will bring good results. Those skeptics say that there may be more effective ways of fighting graft in the system. One way is to look more critically at some of the ways China’s political system operates.

That’s a major reason why the Shandong study was so prominently featured across state media in the past few days. It supports a more complex view of China’s corruption problem. Specifically, it suggests that cadres might not immediately begin behaving badly. Instead, they become susceptible to a political system built more for self-promotion than sound policy-making.

According to the Shandong findings, the way forward isn’t so much reconnecting cadres to citizens. Rather, it suggests that officials should be able to rejoin their families and build a better social life. The “new normal” that Xi and his allies like to refer to isn’t normal at all, the study suggests. In fact, it’s putting pressure on officials to work even harder—leaving the root causes of corruption in the system long after the current crusade has expired.

Others voices in China are calling for different approaches.

One group favors a simple zero-tolerance policy where gifts of any sort are concerned, blaming officials for simply not being moral enough to resist enticement.

Some others want the party to stop being so concerned about what cadres do in the darkness and to start looking at what government isn’t doing well in the daytime.

For example, as one essay has it, Beijing should worry less about monitoring public opinion for dissent and focus more on acting on the reasons for discontent. Expressions of disgust from netizens aren’t signs of instability, this argument goes, but echoes of important work left undone. Castigating cadres for being corrupt has merit, this argument goes, but what’s really ailing the Chinese body politic isn’t graft but bad governance. Slapping down cadres and citizens might solve one challenge, but it leaves other social problems to smolder.

Another alternative approach calls for the party to move away from relying on abrupt inspections designed to catch cadres committing crimes. Instead it appeals for building better institutions and procedures, such as more regular audits and oversight. Combating corruption is fine, this argument goes, but clean government should be aiming to create better governance, not just cowed cadres.

After all, Beijing has historically been woefully reactive when it comes to enforcing its authority, believing that punishment after the fact solves problems. According to this point of view, fear is the best force for forward progress in the long run.

These dissents from the party line aren’t dangerous departures, but part of a larger debate about reforms in China. That’s the good news, because Xi’s leadership represents a general recognition in the Communist party that China needs new thinking to face new challenges.

The bad news is that the debate still has sharp boundaries, at least where activists are concerned. Restricting public input of any sort hampers Beijing’s ability to brainstorm other ways of tackling China’s corruption problem.

That even semi-official alternative analyses such as the Shandong study are appearing at all in the state media is a further sign that Xi’s rule isn’t dictatorial.

But it’s also a caution. It suggests that there are some who still believe Xi’s anticorruption crusade won’t ultimately do enough to stamp out the problem, and who want other options for political change placed on the table for discussion. That’s a debate that Xi surely doesn’t want.

Russell Leigh Moses is the Dean of Academics and Faculty at The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies. He is writing a book on the changing role of power in the Chinese political system.