February 2009

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Harper’s has just put its famous “index” feature online and it is (thrill of thrills) searchable.

Of course, this has spawned a host of postings around the web about what the index has covered over the years. Among those are a few China watchers.

Shanghaiist notes that there has been only one substantive mention of “Shanghai” in the twenty-five years of the index (there are two hits for the word “Shanghai,” but one is for Shanghai Tang).

Tim Johnson did a search for “China” and shares some of the entries from the past three years, with the source of the information listed as well (just as interesting to track where Harper’s is getting its information). Here are a few of Johnson’s tidbits, but make the jump for more:

9/06 — Minimum number of Chinese censors who monitor Internet activity: 100,000 (Xiao Qiang, China Internet Project, Berkeley, Calif.)

4/07 — Maximum body-mass index that China now allows for any foreigner adopting a Chinese infant: 39 (China Center of Adoption Affairs, Beijing) Maximum number of divorces that prospective parents can have between them: 2 (China Center of Adoption Affairs)

11/08 — Average number of hours per week that an American and a Chinese person, respectively, spend shopping: 4, 10 (McKinsey & Company, NYC)

You can find a new interview with Jeff Wasserstrom at Shanghai City Weekend, in anticipation of the Shanghai International Literary Festival. You can find interviews with many other authors, including James Fallows and Cecelia Chang. There’s also an interview with Wang Gang, the author of the very interesting-sounding novel English (about which CB was previously unaware). Here is a short excerpt from the interview with Wasserstrom (much more at City Weekend):
CW: What’s one question you’d like to be asked at SILF? I’d love it if someone asked me: “If you could bring back to life, for a day, two people you’ve written about who are now dead, and ask them questions about what Shanghai was like then, who would they be and what would you ask them?”

CW: So who? I can’t tell you my answer, it would take away the mystery!

CW: What made you want to record your YouTube video about Karl Marx? I haven’t actually recorded a video of the song you are referring to, which is called “Oh, Karl,” and which I have been known to sing to classes on occasion (in part to convince students that they need to keep coming to every lecture, since if they skip one they might miss something surprising).

CW: Can you “sing” us a few lines? Here’s the way it begins:
Let me tell you all a story of a friend of mine
Who’s known from Cuba to Lichtenstein
As the man who set the workers’ blood aflame
‘Cause he told about their exploitation
Increasing fragmentation
His name was “Marx” and dialectics were his game.

Ken Pomeranz has several up-coming events that readers in the Bay Area and Phillie may want to mark on the calendar.

First, on Friday, March 6, Pomeranz will speak on “Land Rights, Resources, and Chinese Development in Long-Run Perspective” for the Center for Chinese Studies at Berkeley.

Then, on Thursday, March 26, Pomeranz will address “Chinese Development and World History: Putting the ‘East Asian Model’ in Perspective” at the Department of History at Penn.

By Robert A. Kapp

February, 2009: we are in the early days of a new Administration, and the Internet and print media bulge with messages of advice to the new President and the new Secretary of State about how to deal with China. Some of the missives are Olympian. Others are avuncular. They serve multiple purposes, and seek to reach multiple audiences.

Reading them, I was reminded of one of my own exercises of a similar nature, in the fall of the year 2000. Eight long years; so much has happened. Then, we were only a couple of months beyond the huge political battle over extending Permanent Normal Trade Relations to China – a Hill struggle brought the most strident arguments over China to the forefront of American attention.

Before that, in reverse chronological order, lay the Lee Wen Ho case; the Cox Commission and its allegations of Chinese nuclear theft; the Hughes-Loral furor over alleged transfer of military rocketry knowledge to China; Johnny Chung, John Huang, Charlie Trie and the scandal over “campaign finance.” Amid all that had come the Belgrade Embassy bombing and the siege of the Sasser embassy. Only a couple of years earlier had occurred the PRC missile tests off northern Taiwan and the sending of the Seventh Fleet to waters off Taiwan. Among the colorful Congressional comments along the way, in 1999, came the denunciation of the PRC leadership as a bunch of “child molesters.” One very well known Member of Congress, in a speech to members of his own party the same year, referred to the “big wet kissup” of the Clinton regime to Beijing as nothing short of “the full Lewinsky.”

Thus the immediate background to my open-letter message to our presidential candidates at the time, George W. Bush and Al Gore. China Beat readers can form their own judgments, eight-plus long years later, as to where the U.S. and China have been and where we have come, and whether this particular “advice” from a receding moment in time still burns, or whether it merely flickers feebly in the cooling embers of another era.

This piece was originally published in the September-October 2000 issue of China Business Review.

Dear US Presidential Candidates…

Congratulations on securing your parties’ nominations for the presidency. You have embarked on a deeply personal journey in which hundreds of millions have a vital stake. We wish you health and fulfillment in the campaign and, to the winner, we wish success in a tough job with unequalled potential for enhancing the well-being of all Americans…

…As you conduct your campaigns and prepare to serve the nation, I hope you don’t mind my offering a few personal thoughts on America’s future with China and the critical role of the president in shaping that future.

1. The United States and China must work at building a world system in which China is, for the first time in our 225-year history, a force to be reckoned with. Even if we wanted to, it is now impossible to shunt China back into its nineteenth- and twentieth-century identity: impoverished, self-isolated, riven by civil war, assaulted by more powerful states, or imprisoned in Marxist-Leninist doctrinarism. Those days are over. There is no going back. The United States and China must either find the means to maintain a civil and respectful bilateral relationship in a shrinking and perilous world, or face the consequences of their failure.

2. China must not be an American afterthought. Maintaining a productive relationship with China should rank high on the American agenda. Leaving US-China relations far down on the totem pole of US concerns will not serve our national interest well.

3. The greatest danger we face in our relations with China is the danger of unfamiliarity and of its partners, fear of the unknown and unwarranted casualness. Engagement with China is demanding, but it’s not extraterrestrial. We must grapple with a deeply ingrained habit of relegating China to the periphery of our national consciousness, except in moments of crisis; of assuming that China (or for that matter Asia as a whole) is somehow so exotic (or, as one Cabinet member once put it to me, “so darned far away”) that we need not place a priority on engaging with it day in and day out. Paying attention to relations with China only when something bad happens, or only when a domestic political storm breaks out, is a recipe for unnecessary tensions.

4. The president must frame American relations with China. There is simply no substitute for presidential energy on this. If he does not lead, others will fill the void: elected figures of more limited constituency, for whom China sometimes represents opportunity without responsibility; members of the media, who provide Americans with a fraction of one minute’s worth of information about China on any given day and who thrive on pungent momentary “news”; interest groups–business, labor, the non-governmental community–all of which have a role to play, but none of which can substitute fully for presidential leadership in the making of sensitive and far-reaching American policy decisions.

5. Presidential leadership on China requires hard work. The president must communicate to the American people about our relations with China, even when there is no crisis and no triumph. He must also communicate successfully with the Chinese, a very different audience. But before he communicates, the president must “know himself and know the other side,” as an old Chinese saying goes. It is not impossible, but it takes time and care. It takes meeting the Chinese. It takes seeing China. It takes consensus-building. It requires allocation of precious talent and time within an administration inevitably beset by limitless demands for both.

6. Far-reaching affinity will not come easily to nations as different as the United States and China. Happily, the world has created a number of structures and systems, including the World Trade Organization, to maintain predictable and stable relations among vastly different nations. China in the past 20 years has committed itself increasingly to participation in the world’s principal economic and political regimes. Wherever possible, the president should position the United States to encourage China’s growing commitment to multilateral regimes and norms. He should both ensure that the United States accords China the respect that full participation in international regimes entails, and do his utmost to ensure that China reciprocally displays the same respect and lives up to its own responsibilities.

7. At home, the president must not allow himself to be drawn politically on China. This is perhaps the hardest domestic challenge of all.For reasons too long to describe here–including real events in China–China sound bites sometimes have special pungency in the American public consciousness. Some will paint a simplistic picture of China–a single memorable phrase, a brilliant moral call to arms, a single riveting photo–and demand that the president “take sides.” They will present China as a morality play, a test of the president’s fidelity to elemental values pure and simple. They will suggest that a nuanced and carefully balanced US posture with regard to China is nothing short of “appeasement” or “kowtowing to Beijing.” China’s political radioactivity in the United States feeds on itself. If the president is to lead on China, he must stay out of the China trap at home. But presidential leadership is itself the best way out of the China trap.

8. In guiding American relations with China, the president should understand and draw upon the skills and insights of people of Chinese descent in the United States. People have come to the United States from China for a century and a half–first as exploited coolie labor, later as refugees from war and political convulsion, more recently as students and businesspeople. Some are now tenth-generation Americans. Others are new citizens. Some know their ancestral homeland well; others are total strangers to it. Some are brilliant, others are dull. Some vote one way, others vote another. But they are Americans of Chinese heritage, and even as they contribute to America’s strength, many cherish their roots and their relationships in China. Their position on the cusp of China-US cultural contact is an underutilized American asset. There is a misguided suggestion afoot in the land that Americans of Chinese origin are somehow vulnerable to the influence of a malevolent oriental despotism. The president should leave no doubt about where the nation stands on this, and should enhance our nation’s ability to manage its relations with China by drawing upon our country’s Chinese-American resources.

9. The president needs to lead the nation in recognizing that China, more than most countries, is a work in progress. China is in constant motion. Unchanging first principles are few, apart from an abiding sense of historical identity and a deep-seated determination to be respected by others. It is not easy, but the president must anticipate the certainty of uncertainty, the permanence of impermanence, the constancy of inconstancy, in US relations with China. That does not require suspension of ethical standards or of plain common sense. It does demand both strategic long-term vision and short-term flexibility.

10. The president must understand both the power of American example and the limits of American influence. “Sending China a Message” has proven rhetorically popular but substantively unproductive. Telling China to do as we say, on pain of economic punishment, is a fond fantasy. The American president should not take on the impossible burden of remaking China in America’s image, whether from the pulpit or the cockpit. He can, though, strengthen America’s influence with China. Many in China study the United States. They look for the sources of this nation’s vitality and productivity. Their search has century-old roots. China’s willingness to learn from American experience, and the desire to assimilate in some way America’s (and other countries’) strengths into China’s difficult environment, is genuine. It is both a reflection and a source of American strength.

No matter which of you attains the presidency this winter, we wish you well, and we hope that that the lessons American business has learned over nearly three decades of work with China may be of service to you and your nation al leadership.


While scholars, like James Hevia in English Lessons, have revised historical views of the impacts of Western imperialism in China during the nineteenth century, China’s government is arguing for a revision of its own. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the Chinese government has been pressing for relics stolen from the Summer Palace—about to go up for auction at Christie’s—be returned to China:

The two Qing dynasty bronze animal heads, one depicting a rabbit and the other a rat, are believed to have been part of a set comprising 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac that were created for the imperial gardens during the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the 18th century.

China views the relics as a significant part of its cultural heritage and a symbol of how Western powers encroached on the country during the Opium Wars. The relics were displayed as fountainheads at the Old Summer Palace, known in Chinese as Yuanmingyuan, until it was destroyed and sacked by British and French forces in 1860.

At a press briefing in Beijing last week, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry said the two bronzes should be returned to China because they had been taken by “invaders.” And a group of Chinese lawyers says it plans to file a lawsuit this week in Paris seeking to halt or disrupt the sale. But Christie’s says the sale is legal and plans to go ahead with the auction on Monday through Wednesday in Paris, where the two bronze items could fetch as much as $10 million to $13 million apiece.

The Edge of the American West (a group blog) provided a little historical context (hat tip: Danwei):

In both Tianjin and Beijing, there was extensive looting in the summer of 1900. As one American Marine remembered:

“Soldiers of all nations joined the orgy…Men of the allies staggered through the streets, arms and backs piled high with silks and furs, and brocades, with gold and silver and jewels.”

A brisk trade in looted goods broke out, with open air markets buying and selling goods.

This sometimes led to particularly odd moments. American troops began to sport interesting clothing combinations after the capture of Beijing. As one officer remembered:

‘Not a man was completely clad in American uniform. As they lined up for inspection, some of them wore blue or rose Chinese trousers, others mandarin coats, and almost all of them were shod in Chinese silk boots.’

For reflections on the debates surrounding Yuanmingyuan, see this feature at China Heritage Quarterly from 2006, including a piece by Geremie Barme:

In the early 1990s, the Western Pavilions became a site used by state and party leaders to recall the humiliations of the past and to celebrate the regnant nation (and it featured prominently in the 1997 return of Hong Kong to mainland control). In 1993-1994, the government proposed using foreign capital to construct a miniature replica of the Yuanming Yuan on the site of the original, and draft plans and initial archaeological surveys were made. This plan focused on three areas in the southwest section of the site—the Garden of Aquatic Plants (Zaoyuan), the Thirteen Locales (Shisansuo) and the Mountain and River Retreat (Shangao Shuichang). To comply with state regulations on cultural relics protection, Beijing Municipality commissioned archaeologists from the Beijing Cultural Relics Institute to survey and excavate the sites and prepare a draft plan. Shortly thereafter, an area of more than 4,600 sq m at Zaoyuan was excavated between September and December 1994. The entire building complex in the southwest corner of the garden was uncovered. Although all the buildings had been levelled, the outline of the stone paths and ponds could still be seen at the time of the survey.

The Beijing government’s proposal to launch incursive reconstruction project in the garden, however, resulted in a public outcry and the proposal was scrapped. However, the idea was floated again in 1998 at the Beijing Municipal Political Consultative Conference, and in May 1999 the Beijing government authorised the Beijing City Planning Authority to draw up a draft plan for the Yuanming Yuan site. The debate spread in the mass media after the historian Wang Daocheng and Chen Liqun voiced their opposition, and the novelist Cong Weixi published a rebuttal in Beijing Evening News (Beijing wanbao).[3] Fuelled by enthusiasm for Beijing’s 2008 Olympic bid, the plan was, however, eventually approved in August 2000. Authorities on ancient architecture and the environment were quick to denounce it again. The contretemps about whether the park be preserved as it was, partially restored, partially rebuilt or fully restored raged in the print media for some months, and every time a new incident involving the gardens occurs the familiar battle lines are redrawn and the debate unfolds anew.

The site has spawned other debates, including this one last year over plans for a Summer Palace theme park:

The Hengdian Group, a private company, initiated in 2006 the project to create a reconstructed version of this fabulous park, which was historically known as the “Garden of Gardens” for its luxurious palaces, mansions and décor that utilized both Western and Eastern architectural styles. Their plan would create an exact replica of the undamaged park at its original size. It is scheduled to be completed in 2013. The firm estimates that the investment will cost 20 billion yuan (US$2.78 billion)…

However, the plan has met with mixed public response. About 63 percent of the netizens surveyed were against the project, among whom 9 percent believed that it represented a lucrative business venture and would cause destruction; 23 percent felt that the project would promote traditional Chinese culture, according to a poll…

“It will be a multi-functional theme park and it will bring new growth to the local economy, especially regarding tourism,” Xu explained.

But, according to Xu, a specialized committee will be established overseas to collect missing cultural relics, thus making the project a public welfare undertaking.

He said that any reclaimed cultural treasures would be returned to the government after they had been duplicated.

Charles Hayford wrote a piece for Asia Media a few years ago that discusses the continued resonance of 1860 in China today:

Professor Yuan’s article begins by observing that after the Cultural Revolution people explained their violent excesses by bitterly commenting “we grew up drinking wolf’s milk.” But in looking through middle school history texts, Yuan was stunned to find “our youth are still drinking wolf’s milk!” The textbooks’ treatment of key nineteenth century incidents make his point. The authors present the Taiping rebels and the Boxers as patriotic and heroic precursors of revolution. The crimes of the British in the Second Opium War (1858-1860), such as the burning of the Summer Palace in 1860, are correctly characterized, he says, but the texts fail to hold the Qing government responsible for its own obstinate and criminal acts, which are simply described as patriotic. Yuan concludes that these views are not in the true spirit of China’s revolution but represent the “poisonous residue of the vulgarization of revolution.”

Punks at Kinko’s

By Pierre Fuller

Microfilm is deadly. Deadly for the eyes, the brain and, as I recently learned here on a research jaunt to Beijing, the stomach. So when a CD booklet on the bar of a Haidian district livehouse caught my weary eye I thought I’d found a good wall ornament for the apartment and a better image to set my evenings eyes on. The only problem was the insert – a black & white sketch of a mass of punks tossing Molotovs at a grinning Mao – wasn’t big enough. I was thinking poster size, so I took it to the first place that came to mind: my local Beijing Kinko’s.

The attendant lifted the thing to her face and, yes, things got uncomfortable. There was no mistaking the message on the graphic’s palace backdrop to the Chairman: fanzui xiangfa, pohuai (criminals minds, destroy). And I felt a bit awkward walking in as an American with this suggestive graphic, so I made sure the staff took in the CD cover: two hands, a bloodied hatchet and the head of George W. Bush. These rockers were clearly out for everyone.

The manager and attendant conferred in mutters while a third staffer busied himself with the printed album lyrics, half rendered in English. (E.g. “Kill your Television. We sit back passively as OUR culture is commoditized and force-fed back to us. We have nothing to talk about except TV’s imaginary lives that are safe and sanitized, while the real hours of our own lives are sold away as advertising space to corporations. Our lives become the commodity as the things we buy, the words we speak and the way we live all become reflections of what we watch. Smash your TV and live YOUR life!”; or “We destroy the red dream… The dream turned into a nightmare without end. Now it’s time to destroy this dream gone stale. Smash it up and find a new way!”)

The answer was in the negative. “Political” was the word, and the attendant directed me to the list of rules that Kinko’s (a.k.a. FedEx Office) had posted by the copiers.

I bought this up the street, I said, could it really be illegal?

Again, “political” was the word, and, I suppose, I could’ve been shooed out the door. Instead I got profuse apologies and the suggestion that I take it to a smaller shop in the area where waving cash might get someone to bend the rules. But I didn’t get around to it.

Weeks later I pulled the offending item out of my bag. This time I was in Irvine, California. It too has the convenience of a neighborhood Kinko’s.

Did you make this? asked the woman behind the counter.

I went with honesty: No, I bought it in a bar in Beijing.

You’ll need a release letter from the artist, she said.

A letter? I said. From Chinese punks?

The irony, of course, was lost on her. Legality? Property? She had to read the stuff she was holding. But then there was no chance that that would happen. She was one of two or so staffers. The Beijing branch was crawling with some twelve.

How about I copy it myself, I asked.

She wouldn’t have any of it. Poohed away by this haughty, middle-aged woman like a petty thief, I realized I’d been stumped by the respective power and property obsessions of two reigning systems. But at least the Beijing branch had offered an apology and a back-up plan.

Back to Beijing, and the first candidate I could think of: a photo shop at one of the Peking University gates. I figured I’d print and break the image up in quadrants; for some reason I thought it’d look better up on the wall that way. The young woman didn’t bat an eye when she brought my image up on her PC. I confirmed that I wanted each quadrant at 6 by 8 (cun, or inches; photos here, I learned, are measured American-style). It was smaller than I’d planned, but the price was right and I had them in hand the next day.

Now I’m working on the frame. I’m thinking I’ll go safe with black.


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