February 2010

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1. Hat tip to China Digital Times for directing us to this video by Ian Johnson at the Wall Street Journal site. Johnson narrates a quick tour of the Palace of Eternal Joy (Yongle Gong) in remote Shanxi Province, where a 700-year-old Daoist mural covers the walls. The paintings include rare depictions of Daoist gods, as well as representations of Yuan Dynasty architecture, “very little of which has survived.” Amazingly, the temple housing the mural was disassembled and relocated, piece by piece, during the Mao era, as a planned Yellow River dam would have flooded its original location.

2. “Bloggers Open an Internet Window on Shanghai,” reports an article by Maile Cannon and Jingying Yang at the International Herald Tribune. Mentioning some of our own go-to blogs, including Shanghaiist and Shanghai Scrap, the authors detail the shape of the Shanghai blogosphere. As blogger Wang Jianshuo explains,

the broad rise of blogging has meant a welcome increase in available information; and more information means a better idea of what is really happening in the city.

“Everything in this world is just like the elephant in the blind men and the elephant story,” he said, referring to the tale of blind men confronting a strange beast, trying to identify it by touching different parts and each giving a different answer. “As a blogger, I’m just one of the blind men to feel this elephant. I am very sure that I write everything that I know and I never write anything that I know is not true, but this does not mean that my article is the whole Shanghai.

“Blogging provides a way for all the blind men to sit down together and share whatever they see,” he added, “and when more and more people blog, we can understand this world better from many different perspectives.”

3. Thanks to UC Irvine graduate student Silvia Lindtner for sending us the link to this story by Jane Qiu in Nature, which discusses the results of a survey conducted among Chinese scientists in the wake of last month’s announcement by Google that it might pull out of the country. The survey explored how much the Chinese scientific community would be affected by the loss of Google’s search engine. Results seem to indicate that while other internet search sites would fill the Google gap, quite a few of the almost 800 scientists responding to the questions would prefer to maintain their access to Google’s resources.

4. At Open Democracy, William A. Callahan writes about “A new approach to human rights (and China),” arguing that the time has come to move away from debates about the universal rationality of Western-style human rights and consider instead how we can develop an understanding of human rights as a culture,

a shared moral identity that extends sympathy to others. Here the reason to support for human rights is not because they are true, but because they are “good” — and more importantly, because violating human rights is bad. . . .

In the effort to expand human-rights culture, it is not possible just to rely on conversations among (for example) Hu Jintao, Barack Obama, and the Dalai Lama. There must be more transnational conversations in all sectors of society, including people who work in education, business, and NGOs.

5. We recently ran a Q-and-A between Jeff Wasserstrom and Warren I. Cohen, author of America’s Response to China. Cohen has a provocative essay at the Columbia University Press blog, titled “The China we’re stuck with.” From the piece:

Much of Beijing’s current outrage with American policy toward Taiwan, with American sympathy for the Dalai Lama, is based upon the conviction that China is a rapidly rising power and the United States is in steep decline. Chinese leaders, perceiving a change in the correlation of forces in their favor, expect Washington to behave more deferentially. They probably don’t expect the koutou, the prostrations and head-bangings that the emperors demanded of foreign visitors back in the days when China was on top of the world, but the rough equivalent—acceptance of Chinese values and priorities—would be welcome. Of late, American scholars and diplomats have been struck by the growing arrogance of their Chinese counterparts, lectures on the superiority of the Chinese model to the American model, the failure of American democracy, American economic profligacy, even on human rights in the United States. This will only get worse until we get our house in order, until we can demonstrate again that democracy works and that our economic system can provide jobs and a decent standard of living for all Americans.

The Chinese have been wrong before about America’s decline, their analysts predicting it on the eve of the great expansion of American economic and military power in the 1990s. We can only hope to prove them wrong again—before they do much more harm to the international system. In the interim, our choices are very limited. China is too strong, too important to the world economy to be ignored or pressured into doing what we believe to be right. That leaves us with the unappealing policy of “engagement,” to which Washington has ultimately turned under both Democratic and Republican administrations for decades. It means coexisting with a difficult, unsavory regime, relying on diplomacy to persuade Beijing that what we want is in its interest and accepting what little progress can be made.

Historically, China has overreached and self-destructed whenever it played the role of hegemonic power. The arrogance it currently exhibits suggests it is headed in that direction again. But it is not in the interests of the United States for China to collapse. It remains in our interest to have a strong, stable, and prosperous China. Optimally it would also be friendly and democratic. Don’t hold your breath.

Upcoming Events

A few upcoming events that we think will be of interest to China Beat readers:

1. On Monday, March 1, Professors Richard Baum and Barry Naughton will be speaking at UCLA. Their talk, “Trading Places: China and the U.S. in the International System,” is co-sponsored by UCLA’s Center for Chinese Studies and the Center for Social Theory and Comparative History, and will be held from 2:00-5:00 p.m.

2. Autumn Gem, a documentary about the life of “China’s first feminist,” Qiu Jin, will be shown at UC Irvine on the evening of Tuesday, March 2, followed by a Q-and-A session with the filmmakers. If you’re not in the Southern California region, check out the Autumn Gem website for a full schedule of screenings around the country in the coming months.

3. For our readers in Northern California, here are a couple of events coming up next weekend. On Friday, March 5, Jeff Wasserstrom will be speaking at San Francisco State University’s Center for U.S.-China Policy Studies; the topic of his talk is “China in 2010: Legacies of the Past, Prospects for the Future.” The Institute of East Asian Studies at UC Berkeley is holding a one-day conference on March 6, “Moderne and Modernity: Visual Narratives of Interwar Shanghai.” The conference is being held in conjunction with an ongoing exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, “Shanghai,” which will run through September 5.

4. Moving over to the East Coast and looking ahead a bit, those in the Mid-Atlantic region should mark their calendars for a week-long series of lectures that Ken Pomeranz will give at Princeton University in late April. More details will be available as the date draws closer, so watch this page for updates.

By Ross Terrill

Terrill Mao cover 1When Mao died I wrote: “China does not have, and does not need, a real successor to the bold and complex Mao. Now the revolution is made, another Mao would be as unsuitable as a sculptor on an assembly line”  (Asian Wall Street Journal, 9/10/76). I ended the first edition of my biography of Mao in 1980 with the expectation: “‘Raise High the Banner of Mao Zedong’s Thought,’ cry official voices now that Mao is safely in his crystal box. Up it goes higher and higher, until no one can read what is written on its receding crimson threads” (Mao, Harper & Row, 1980, p. 433). For eight years after its American publication and editions in six foreign languages, Mao was never mentioned by the Chinese press. In 1981, when a delegation of Chinese publishers came to New York and my publishers showed them the book, the Chinese fingered it gingerly like a teetotaler shown a bottle of whiskey. The book was well received and I thought that was the end of my attention to Mao; I turned to a study of his widow (Madame Mao, Morrow, 1984). But I was wrong about Mao’s life after death.

In 1981, after five years of deafening silence about Mao, the CCP reassessed him in its “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party.” Each major nation that experienced dictatorship in the 20th century emerged in its own way from the trauma. Japan, Germany, Italy, even Russia departed sharply from systems that brought war and/or repression. By contrast, China was ambiguous about Mao. Although Mao’s portrait and tomb still dominate Tiananmen Square, Mao himself has floated fairly smoothly into an a-political zone. One must give some credit to the 1981 Resolution for this delicate, if incomplete, evolution.

I said of the Resolution that if the Chinese leadership “delivers on its promises to modernize, and if the growing aspirations of the one billion Chinese people for a higher standard of living begin to be significantly met, the current Delphic dissection of Mao [in the Resolution] may well solidify into history’s verdict on him” (Newsday, 7/22/81). This seems to be happening so far.

But, surprisingly, there occurred a revival in China of Mao studies. Its intellectual kernel was fresh research on Mao undertaken during the 1980s. As a result of a loosened ideological straitjacket, some formerly “banned” aspects of Mao could be investigated. It turned out that the 1981 Resolution gave a green light to work on Mao’s life. As former Mao assistant Li Rui remarked, the Resolution “was not the end but the beginning of research on Mao Zedong” (Li Rui in Xiao Yanzhong, ed, Wannian Mao Zedong, p. 2). Memoirs by military figures and Mao staff members, biographical studies of senior figures, and selective issue of Party documents added to the knowledge of Mao’s actions and words.

Read the rest of this entry »

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China Tweetniks

Those who follow China Beat on Twitter might have noticed that our long-neglected feed has shown signs of awakening lately. We’re slowly trying to figure out the best ways to use Twitter to complement the blog, and have come up with a few ideas that we’ll begin incorporating over the next several weeks. Ours is a publicly available page, so you don’t need to be a Twitter-er yourself to view our tweets.

Twitter screenshot

We’re looking forward to playing around with this technology, and hope it serves to enhance the China Beat experience for everyone. If you have suggestions for how we can be the best China Tweetniks possible, send your thoughts to thechinabeat [at] gmail [dot] com.

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The lead-up to the Dalia Lama’s meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House last week received a great deal of attention from the press, and there was also a considerable amount of after the fact assessment of the event.  In order to place what happened into a broad historical perspective, I put a few questions to A. Tom Grunfeld, who is a past contributor to “China Beat” and the author of The Making of Modern Tibet.  Here are the results of our interview via e-mail, and if you live in New York and want to hear him talk about the subject live, he’ll be giving a couple of lectures on related issues in early April through a program sponsored by that state’s Council for the Humanities.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom: What did you think of the media coverage of the Dalai Lama’s meeting with President Obama and the general tenor of commentary on the event?

A. Tom Grunfeld: It’s not very good in that it is largely uninformed. General news reporters, or those with White House beats, cannot be expected to know much about Sino-Tibetan history or the nuances of the current state of affairs between the Dalai Lama and Beijing. But, of course, they could take some time and consult someone who has this knowledge.

I suspect that for the US media the Dalai Lama is more of a symbol than anyone of real importance. He has become a cultural icon rather than a political player. This is understandable when we keep in mind that apart from the moral issues of human rights Tibet is not very important to the US politically, strategically, economically or militarily.

JW: Do you have any thoughts on how this meeting was similar to or different from past interactions between the Dalai Lama and American presidents?

ATG: President Obama is the fourth president that the Dalai Lama has met. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton met him privately, not in the Oval Office where official guests are taken. There was no press allowed and pictures were few, if any.

George W. Bush changed that by meeting with the Dalai Lama publically, in front of the press and presenting him with a Congressional Medal of Honor.

President Obama’s meeting reverted to past practice. And, in spite of the public condemnations, I suspect the Chinese government, knowing it couldn’t prevent the meeting, was satisfied with how it played out.

JW: One point that various people made, including me when I was interviewed about the visit on NPR, was that there were many aspects of the Dalai Lama’s trip to Washington, as well as the official Chinese reaction to what took place, that were predictable and stuck to familiar scripts.  Was there anything about the event or the discussion it generated, on either side of the Pacific, which surprised you?

ATG: The photos of the Dalai Lama exiting the White House through the backdoor and having to pass by mounds of garbage.  They could have done something a little more dignified. The entire episode is like a Kabuki play where the actors use scripts agreed to long ago and play their parts accordingly and the outcome is known long before the event itself.

The real question is what good does it do?  Meeting the president in the White House (regardless of the room) gives the Tibetan exiles and their supporters a moral boost. But it doesn’t help the Dalai Lama-Beijing talks.

If anything, it hinders them because Chinese officials see it as a renewal of the Dalai Lama-CIA collaboration of the 1950-1960s, which was intended to destabilize the Chinese government.

In addition it gives Tibetans inside the PRC the erroneous notion that Washington supports the Dalai Lama politically, if not militarily. This can only lead to disappointment and feelings of betrayal much like how Tibetans felt when China became an American ally after the Kissinger-Nixon visits and the CIA abandoned their Tibetan allies.

If the goal of the Dalai Lama and the Tibet Lobby is to further the interests of the Tibetans inside the PRC and to facilitate the Dalai Lama-Beijing talks, then presidential visits have been failures.

JW: If you were able to pose one question to the Dalai Lama about the meeting, what would it be?

ATG: How far are you willing to go in compromising your positions if the Chinese are also willing to compromise some of theirs?

JW: Is there any question you wish you’d get asked by members of the audience when you speak about Tibet—or by people like me who interview you about it—but your interlocutors never bring up?

ATG: The complications of the internationalization of Tibet and the involvement of the US government and Congress. The extraordinary success of the public relations campaign on behalf of the Dalai Lama and the independence of Tibet has masked the effect that this campaign has had inside China. It has strengthened the political positions of the hard-line Chinese officials who wouldn’t mind assimilating all the Tibetans, and who are opposed to dealing with the Dalai Lama in the belief that all their troubles will go away when he is no longer alive.

Yet the Dalai Lama has few resources and very little leverage against China. The campaign has given him prominence and publicity, which he can use to some extent in his negotiations.  So his internationalization of the Tibet issue has created a double-edged sword, which has complicated the relationship between the exile Tibetans and the Chinese government.

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