Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Travels with my Censor

Posted: April 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

my friend Peter Hessler’s piece in the New Yorker. Enjoyable and insightful as always.

Travels with My Censor – The New Yorker.pdf

I’ve just returned from US where I attened the annual Asian Studies Conference in Chicago. It’s an annual gathering of acedemics engaged in Asian Studies. This year, since they had some extra funds, they decided to invite a couple of journalists. Chris Buckey, a big shot New York Times correspondent and myself – one of the few Chinese writing in English for international publication, were invited. I took it as an honour.

Although I give speeches frequently, I was nervous about this one because I don’t have the acedemic langague and I faced an audience with finest minds, some of who have conducted Chinese studies for years. in the end, all went well and poeple came to congratulate me for doing a good job.

see attached my presentaiton.


Friday, March 20, 2015 – 4:18pm

Lijia Zhang

Although China’s revolution significantly improved women’s position in society, it ultimately failed to balance the power between men and women. The social transformation, no matter how seemingly dramatic, hasn’t wiped out the male chauvinism so deeply rooted in our culture that it leads to gender asymmetry.

Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up policy also caused setbacks for women as the government surrendered some of its responsibilities to the market.

In the past three decades, the income gap between men and women has widened. The latest official statistics suggest that urban women make income that is only 67.3% of what urban men make. Women in the countryside make only 56% of what men make.

Female graduates have a much harder time finding employment—especially now that jobs are no longer assigned by the government. Maoist style equality has been replaced in the workplace by open sexism. On China’s many employment websites, one often can spot job advertisements that exclude women for no good reason or specifically request good-looking women. One salesperson’s position demands “a pretty woman with height no less than 1.7 meters.” Such blatant discrimination occurs because people think it is perfectly alright to assign work on the basis of gender.

Some private companies try to avoid employing women of child-bearing age and sometimes sack them once they become pregnant. It is feared that the relaxed family planning policy which allows only children to have a second child may make some companies even less willing to hire young women.

Women’s representation in all social activities has decreased in the reform era as state support and intervention has dwindled.

In the face of growing problems Chinese women have started to take the matter into their own hands and are putting up a fight.

Before The Forth Women’s Conference was held in Beijing in 1995, there were no autonomous NGOs in China. There was only All-China Women’s Federation, an umbrella organization with a nationwide network. It is supposedly responsible for promoting the government policies for women and protecting women’s interests and rights.

Inspired by the conference, self-organized women’s NGOs started to emerge, providing legal aid, helping sex workers, or dealing with issues such as domestic violence.

I first met Li Maizi, one of the five detained women, on a bitterly cold day in February 2013, outside the Chaoyang District Court where we both waited anxiously for the verdict of American Kim Lee, who had filed for a divorce against her abusive Chinese husband. Shortly after arrival, Li put on a blood-stained wedding gown. I realized Li was one of the three young activists who had gone out in the Beijing street to protest against domestic violence one year earlier on Valentine’s Day.

In recent years, I’ve noticed increased activism. In 2012, a dozen women in Guangzhou queued in front of a toilet to protest against the lack of public toilets for women. In November 2013, ten university students, wearing giant paper pants over their winter coats, staged a demonstration in front of a local government building in Wuhan, to protest against an invasive gynecological exams imposed on women applying for civil service jobs. Earlier in that year, 20 women across the country shaved their heads, silently expressing their anger against the discrimination in admissions standards at universities. Some universities set higher standards for entrance examination scores for female students. In 2014, I marched for a week in central China with a young feminist friend. She walked all the way from Beijing to Guangzhou, in protest against child sex abuse.

I do believe that such activism has made a difference. Child sex abuse has gained plenty of attention in the media; Guangzhou authorities have promised to build toilets for women and a new comprehensive law against domestic violence will be enacted in August this year, partly thanks to the push by activists such as Li Maizi.

Activism is a sensitive word in China, like any activity that is not sanctioned by the government. More than once, due to her daring acts, Li has been “invited for tea” by authorities. Such intimidation hads’t stopped her.

The latest detention of five activists probably was the reaction of some officials lower in the hierarchy responding to the general political tightening up and lessening tolerance towards dissent in any form. But will these women’s fate put off activism by others? No. Never! More and more young savvy Chinese women have realized that rights will not be bestowed upon them. They’ll have to fight to get them instead.

for the full conversation, please click the link below

Sinosphere - Dispatches From China


Q. and A.: David Shambaugh on the Risks to Chinese Communist Rule

By CHRIS BUCKLEY MARCH 15, 2015 9:00 PM March 15, 2015 9:00 pm 2 Comments
PhotoChinese paramilitary officers marching on Tiananmen Square before the opening session of the National People’s Congress on March 5.
Chinese paramilitary officers marching on Tiananmen Square before the opening session of the National People’s Congress on March 5.Credit How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency

David Shambaugh, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, is one of the United States’ most prominent experts on contemporary China. He has also been prominent in China. His books have been translated and published there, and his views cited in the state media. He was profiled by the overseas edition of People’s Daily, and in January researchers at the China Foreign Affairs University, which comes under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, named him the second-most influential China expert in the United States, behind David M. Lampton at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

PhotoDavid Shambaugh
David ShambaughCredit Courtesy of David Shambaugh

Hence the intense debate ignited by Prof. Shambaugh’s recent essay in The Wall Street Journal, where he argued that the “endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun” and the Communist Party’s possible “demise is likely to be protracted, messy and violent.” Some experts have endorsed his view that China’s outward order and prosperity mask profound risks for the ruling party. Others have argued that the party is more robust, politically and economically, than Prof. Shambaugh asserts. In an interview, he answered some questions raised by his essay:


Several years ago you published a book titled “China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation,” which highlighted the party’s potential to overcome or contain its problems, such as corruption and eroded authority, through learning and adaptation. Your latest assessment of the party’s long-term prospects of surviving in power seems much bleaker. What prompted you to shift your views?


My book on the Communist Party was completed in 2007 and published in 2008. The publication date is important because, as you note, I emphasized in that analysis that the party was taking a number of “adaptive” steps to legitimize, reinstitutionalize and save itself. The book analyzed in detail the reasons for the adaptation — largely the results of the party’s study of the causes of collapse of the Soviet Union and other Leninist states, but also because the party had persons in the top leadership during the period I studied, notably the president and party leader, Jiang Zemin, and his ally Zeng Qinghong, the vice president, who derived the main lesson from the Soviet post-mortem that the party had to be proactive and dynamic in its leadership.

So, the book was mainly about the “adaptation” the party was undertaking. But remember the other word in the subtitle: “atrophy.” The reason that is important is that I argued then, and argue now, that atrophy of late-stage, single-party Leninist, and other authoritarian, states is a normal, natural and ever-present condition. The question is: What do Leninist parties do to cope with the atrophy and stave off inevitable decline? Essentially, they can be reactive and defensive — ruling by repression, in effect — or they can be proactive and dynamic, ruling through opening and trying to guide and manage change. From roughly 2000 through 2008, under Zeng Qinghong’s aegis, the party chose the latter. But in the middle of 2009, after Zeng had retired, it abruptly shifted, in my view.

One can date it very precisely — Sept. 17, 2009 — the day after the Fourth Plenum of the party’s 17th Central Committee closed. That plenum meeting, which was on “party building,” put out a very progressive “decision” basically codifying everything Zeng and the party had been undertaking the previous eight years. I was living in Beijing that year, and when I read it I thought, “Great!”

But it was not to be. The party had, in fact, already grown very nervous during the previous spring and summer with riots in Tibet and Xinjiang. So, my guess is that the Plenum document was a kind of summary of previous years’ reforms, but had to be released because it had been in preparation for nearly a year and it was difficult to publicly announce that the party was going to reverse course, turn towards harsh repression and abandon the proactive political reforms. But that is what happened.

I have my theories about why they reversed course, essentially having to do with the coming together of strong bureaucracies that have a vested interest in control — propaganda, internal security, the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police, state-owned enterprises — what I call the “Iron Quadrangle” — being able to persuade the party general secretary, Hu Jintao, who no longer had to deal with Zeng Qinghong, that the party was losing control if it did not crack down and get better control over a variety of spheres. There were other factors as well, but in Chinese politics bureaucratic explanations are usually important. There is also big money in repression. Those bureaucracies’ budgets all ballooned as a result.

So, there has been a shift in my views of China and of the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy and tactics of rule — simply because China and the party changed! No China watcher can remain wed to arguments that have lost their empirical basis. I have, in fact, been speaking publicly, teaching and publishing along these lines for the past five years. I am the first one who would applaud a return to Zeng Qinghong-like political reform. The party has choices. Repression may be its “default mode,” but it is not its only option. Opening and proactively managing political change is an alternative.

True, if they tried that — again — there is no guarantee that they could keep control of the process and, as in the Soviet Union, the reforms could cascade out of control, and they would fall from power anyway. So, they have a kind of Hobson’s choice or Catch-22. They can repress and bring about their own demise or they can open up and still possibly bring about their own demise.

But it is not quite so simple. That is, even if they lightened up on the repression, the other elements affecting the party, economy and society are already hemorrhaging to the point that they may not be able to reverse or halt the slide. This is where the exodus of the elite and the systemic traps in the economy come in. I would add other factors that are contributing to public discontent with the regime: high levels of social inequality, inadequate provision of public goods, pervasive pollution and stagnating wages along with a slowing economy. For these reasons, this is why I see the “endgame” of the Communist Party as being underway. That said, my views about the protracted process of atrophy and decline of the party are more nuanced than the catchy headline used by The Wall Street Journal.


What has most surprised you about Xi Jinping since he became Communist Party leader in 2012? At the time, you judged that he was likely to be shackled by the influence of rival leaders and party elders. That doesn’t seem to be the case, so far at least.


In most ways I am actually not surprised by Xi Jinping. I was one of the few observers to write at the time of the 18th Party Congress that we should not expect reform from Xi and were likely to get much more of what we had been witnessing since 2009.

I think that judgment has been proven largely correct. The one area where Xi has surprised me, though, is the rapidity with which he has consolidated his own personal power as China’s leader. I expected, like most China watchers at the time, a two-to-three-year protracted process of power consolidation, which clearly has not occurred. But, as I argued in the Wall Street Journal piece, we should not mistake Xi’s personal consolidation of power either with the overall strength of the party or even his own grip on power. I see both as very fragile.


You say that he’s determined not to follow Gorbachev’s fate, and yet he may end up having the same effect as Gorbachev. Could you explain how? We think of Gorbachev as a liberalizing leader who, for better or worse, opened the way to political relaxation in a way that Mr. Xi appears set against. So where do the two leaders’ fates possibly converge?


My argument on this point in the article is very simple: Xi has deep animosity about what Gorbachev did in the Soviet Union with his reforms and has zero interest in pursuing similar reforms, because he thinks that they would lead to the collapse of the party and state. My argument is that he will likely have the same effect by resisting political reforms and by embracing harsh repression. I believe that repression is seriously stressing an already broken system and could well accelerate its collapse. That is why I compared Xi to Gorbachev. Different tactics, same likely result.


In your assessment of the party’s faltering political hold on the population and its own apparatchiks, you describe your experience at a mind-numbingly dull conference where party scholars appeared as bored as you were. But surely they were no less robotic under Hu Jintao? Don’t the broader messages spread by the party, especially under Xi, have some holding power over many people — such as the party’s claim to be the means of national unity and rejuvenation that will bring China prosperity and strength?


What I argued at the end of the article is that: “Looking ahead, China-watchers should keep their eyes on the regime’s instruments of control and on those assigned to use those instruments. … We should watch for the day when the regime’s propaganda agents and its internal security apparatus start becoming lax in enforcing the party’s writ — or when they begin to identify with dissidents. …”

That is future tense — the potential for the regime’s enforcing agents to become lax in their enforcement. I was not arguing that it has already occurred for the propaganda authorities, media, Internet and social media monitors and the Public and State Security apparatchiks. Thus far, these enforcers are showing no such signs of lax enforcement or civil disobedience.

What you seem to refer to are my observations of “intellectuals” in the system and whether their “robotic” behavior — your term but I agree with it — is more pronounced than under Hu Jintao. Yes, I think it is and that there has been a qualitative shift in the more routinized direction since Xi came to power and launched his Mass Line campaign in the summer of 2013.

I participate in several such conferences per year — five in 2014, including three sponsored by Central Committee party organs — and have been doing so for a number of years, so I am in a pretty good position to monitor change over time in the behavior of party “intellectuals” and cadres. I lived there from 2009 to 2010 as well. With the exception of the “national rejuvenation” narrative, I do not find that Xi’s slogans and “broader messages,” as you put it, are resonating with the population. Everyone I talk with in China is not at all “inspired” by the unrelenting tsunami of slogans pouring out of the propaganda system, many attributed to Xi himself.

The national rejuvenation narrative seems to have had greater traction. But I would remind you that virtually every leader of China since the Qing dynasty — Li Hongzhang, Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao, Deng and every leader up to Xi – has asserted this meme. So, Xi is hardly unique. To be strong again, and thereby respected in the world, has long been the primary craving of Chinese.

People also seem very put off by the mounting personality cult around Xi and his breaking of the collective and consensual decision-making norm that the Chinese leadership has worked so hard to build and maintain since the days of Mao.


Under Mr. Xi, the party has waged an intense offensive against dissent, independent civic groups and maverick news media, which you note. Why do you expect that will ultimately come back to haunt the party? For the time being, the government appears to have extinguished many sources of potential criticism or opposition with little backlash. Do you expect that to change?


Please see my previous reply about repression stressing the system and the need to carefully watch the enforcer-agents of repression of these sectors. If — and that is if — they begin to get lax in their enforcement, then the party system could all unravel rather quickly. But, for the time being, like you, I see what I describe as the “coercive apparatus” as being quite strong and doing their jobs effectively. It is unfortunate for China, but it is the reality.


What is likely to happen if the party opts for a path of political liberalization? You say that it’s Mr. Xi’s best hope for escaping a crackup, and he could resume the tentative embrace of greater engagement and openness that you say China saw under Jiang Zemin and even Hu Jintao. But party leaders appear convinced that liberalization would stir social demands and pressures that could seal their demise. So, are they damned if they do liberalize, and equally damned if they don’t?


Again, go back to examine what the party was doing circa 2000-2008. A return to that politically reformist path could conceivably be managed by the party, implementing step-by-step, incremental political opening and change without losing control and falling from power. It is not certain, but given what I know about Chinese political culture and society, I think it is a far better option for the party than the default repression option they are currently exercising. So, I am hopeful this might occur.

But, actually, I’m very doubtful it will, because of the way that Xi Jinping, Liu Yunshan — the party leader responsible for ideology and propaganda work — and other senior leaders think about political reform. Still, I would note that Chinese politics since Mao has undergone a series of opening-closing cycles (known in Chinese as fang and shou). Normally the open phases last about five to six years and the closing cycles two to three years. We are currently in year seven of “closing.” An optimist would say that we are well overdue for an opening period! I would like to be optimistic, but my analytical judgment, unfortunately, tells me otherwise.

The festival kicked off with a session ‘Why I write’ at bookworm, moderated by me.

I quoted Goerge Orwell’s famous essay, attached here. still relevant.

Why I Write orwell.docx



China Hails, Then Bans a Documentary

The country’s Silent Spring falls victim to government feuding
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byChristina Larson

4:59 AM CST
March 13, 2015

A man wears a mask as he waits to cross a road near the CCTV building during heavy smog on Nov. 29, 2014, in Beijing.

Photographer: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

It was no surprise that the Chinese government banned the environmental documentaryUnder the Dome, by Chai Jing, a well-known former television reporter. The surprise is that it took the authorities so long to do it. The film, which exposes the tremendous damage China’s heavy industry has done to the environment, and the powerlessness of the Ministry of Environmental Protection to enforce antipollution laws, attracted 200 million viewers in the week after it was released on the Internet for free on Feb. 28. Environment officials at first praised Chai’s chilling account, and state-owned media said the film was a wake-up call.

On March 7, Under the Dome disappeared from the Chinese Web. It was abruptly removed from file-sharing sites, and references to the film in state-run media ceased. Chai “really pointed fingers at the lack of regulatory enforcement on the government’s part,” says Hao Wu, a Chinese filmmaker who’s a fellow at the Washington-based New America Foundation. “It was confrontational and cathartic. She was able to do what we cannot do: Go to government and say, ‘Here’s what you have done wrong.’ ”

Wu says the sudden shift from support to censorship reveals disagreement among factions of the government, perhaps between the environmental ministry and the powerful economic ministry. “It’s a reflection of some kind of political infighting that they chose to shut it down,” he says. Calvin Quek, head of sustainable finance for Greenpeace East Asia in Beijing, speculates that timing may have been a factor: “The government censored the film because it got 200 million views, and they did not want it to dominate the twin conferences,” the annual meeting of top party officials and the National People’s Congress, which started in Beijing on March 5.

Under the Dome

Deleting the movie from public file-sharing sites, however, isn’t the same as erasing it from public memory. “The video has already gone viral and will continue to do so—perhaps even more,” says Angel Hsu, an expert in environmental governance and policy at Yale University who works frequently in China. As of March 10, the full video was still viewable on the website of independent newsmagazine Caixin and, for those in China with a virtual private network, on YouTube and several foreign news sites.

“Many people have saved the file, and there are ways to watch it if someone tries to search for it,” says Wen Bo, a longtime environmental activist who’s now China adviser for the National Geographic Air and Water Conservation Fund. “In today’s world, information spreads really fast. Preventing the free flow of information can really backfire.”

While censorship makes it more difficult to access the file, it also generates excitement over the film. “Given the lack of transparency, ordinary Chinese have a fascination with the unpleasant secrets of the government,” says Beijing-based writer Lijia Zhang. “Now people know about the inaction of local government, and how coal is produced just to keep up GDP levels. People are not surprised by such facts, but angered by them anyway. The days when the Chinese authorities can brainwash its citizens are over in this Internet age.”

The film could yet strengthen the hand of China’s environmental enforcers, who granted rare interviews to Chai. “I think it’s already served the purpose the [environmental ministry] had intended,” says Yale’s Hsu, “to jockey for more power and positioning within the government, where its enforcement capabilities have been notoriously weak.”

The bottom line: Despite a ban, Chinese can still find Under the Dome on the Web if they try hard enough.

Power struggle in the name of pollution fight

A documentary film has effectively stolen the show from China’s “two sessions” being held in Beijing.

Chai Jing (柴靜), a former anchor at state broadcaster CCTV, singlehandedly set air pollution as the talk of the nation through her 103-minute production Under the Dome (穹頂之下), which has reportedly got over 100 million hits on video hosting platforms across the mainland.

The film, although offering nothing new in content and presented in a TED-like manner, has diverted the limelight from the “two sessions”, an annual political ritual that Communist Party mouthpieces are directed to promote with much fanfare.

The huge success has prompted the ruling party to order editors and censors nationwide to purge official publications and forums of any reference to the film.

The film has become such a hit because it zeroes in on two prominent groups perceived to have substantial vested interests — the so-called “petroleum clique”, comprising officials from the northeastern provinces with Zhou Yongkang (周永康) and Bo Xilai (薄熙來) as its bigwigs, and the “coal clique”, composed mainly of family members of former premier Li Peng (李鵬) whose son Li Xiaopeng (李小鵬) is now governor of the coal-rich Shanxi province. It is believed that the two cliques have a common backer: former party boss and president Jiang Zemin.

China’s 1.3 billion people are all victims of pollution and other environmental woes, one of the major crises facing the government.

Chai’s film came out at a sensitive time, one day after Environmental Protection Minister Zhou Shengxian (周生賢) — who was slack in his job and hounded by rumors of corruption — was transferred to a nominal position in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Princelings of communist officials in the oil and coal sectors needed someone from their ranks to head the environmental watchdog and that was how Zhou — who fawned on his subordinate, Jiang’s sister Jiang Zehui (江澤慧), when working at the State Forestry Administration — got promoted to the nation’s top environmental post.

Tsinghua University president Chen Jining (陳吉寧), who has become Zhou’s successor, praised Chai’s efforts to raise the public awareness about air pollution and pledged to step up measures to ease the problem. Before that, rarely could ordinary people’s concerns over environmental issues get positive feedback from a senior communist cadre.

With Chen’s endorsement, the film got into more headlines nationwide — until Beijing issued its gag order.

Some say that Chai herself has profound connections in high places and her motive is doubtful. It has been asked: If the film was shot solely by her team, how come she was able to approach and interview so many top environmental experts and even officials, some of whom were exceptionally outspoken about the excesses of state-owned oil and coal firms?

Thus it is alleged that Chai is an ally of President Xi Jinping who wants to find fault with the two powerful cliques in a renewed political struggle to consolidate his position; environmental issues offer a perfect excuse to start the ball rolling.

The ban from the party’s publicity department, controlled by Jiang and Li, comes as a proof of that conjecture.

Xi is indeed the second generation “paramount leader” of the Communist Party as he, a representative of the so-called “second-generation reds”, is the son of one of the revolutionaries who founded Communist China. The Hu Jintao administration was merely a transitional arrangement just like Yen Chia-kan who briefly served as Taiwan’s president before Chiang Kai-shek passed the “throne” to his son Chiang Ching-kuo.

Jiang, on the other hand, was an interval in the process and an obstacle when the second-generation reds are set to inherit power and leadership from their fathers. Jiang, Li and their lackeys have formed a syndicate, taking up virtually all the lucrative posts in key sectors and monopolizing state-owned enterprises.

Those who have ascended to power after Xi took office in 2012 covet those posts, and Chai’s film may indeed facilitate the process. Aside from the ongoing anti-graft drive, the fight against pollution offers a means for them to deploy.

But the film may have just become a wake-up call to the mainland’s long-missing civic awareness. Any push from independent-thinking citizens is deemed a threat to the party, especially when hundreds of millions of people are drawn to engage attentively in a lecture about people’s rights, even if it is about non-political issues.

No one in the history of the party could ever do that like Chai, so it is intolerable to an authoritarian regime.

The film compares China’s current air pollution problems to London’s Great Smog in December 1952 which claimed 6,000 lives according to official records. But when China’s economic output per square kilometer reaches the level of London’s in the 1950s, it’s likely that its people will inhale even filthier air in the future.

“Conflict of interests” is non-existent in Beijing’s dictionary; people with close ties with PetroChina or Sinopec may be tapped to draft pollution control standards. It’s like posts in the police watchdog Independent Police Complaints Council being taken up by police officers. But Beijing’s philosophy is that the Communist Party can discipline itself.

It’s just like the dilemma of the anti-corruption initiatives. Since there is no separation of powers to ensure an independent judiciary, the party leader has powers above the law. It’s plain that without a clear directive from the top, anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan (王岐山) wouldn’t have dared to intensify the campaign, from crushing the “big tiger” network to swatting brigades of “flies”.

In economics, pollution is the result of a malfunctioning market in which people who pollute pocket the savings and leave the costs for others to pay.

Government intervention is needed to solve the problem. On the surface, the party should have been more effective given its unlimited authority. But with its habit of clinging to supreme powers and innate gluttony for economic advantage, there’s no solution whatsoever.

Xi and Wang may nail down all the big tigers, but ten years on, who knows they won’t become big tigers themselves to be netted by the party’s new leadership?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 5.

Translation by Frank Chen