September 2010

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2010.

My Cousin

By Zhang Lijia

My cousin died in Nanjing shortly before his 56th birthday this September, killed by multiple myeloma, a rare and nasty form of blood cancer.

He was a good and honest man. “Why? Don’t people say ‘a good person stays well?’” My mother kept quoting the popular Chinese saying. “He was so young and so healthy.” My mother, who probably felt closer to him than to her own son, couldn’t comprehend or accept what had happened. Nor could his wife, his daughter, or his siblings.

It happened all too quickly. At the end of May, he first complained about pain in his arms and then shoulders. Since he was a driver, everyone presumed this was due to the driver’s usual problem of tense shoulders. One hospital suggested massage. But the pain intensified. By mid-June, he was hospitalized. Tests suggested something serious, possibly spinal cord cancer. He was then sent to Long March Hospital in Shanghai, which specialized in bone-related diseases. A famous doctor did operate on him, and my cousin did put up a brave fight. Still he lost: the survival rate of such cancer is extremely low, at least in China at the present. The fact that the tumor grew high up on the spine didn’t help his case either.

My cousin was called Ji Weiping—maintaining peace; he was born in 1954, shortly after the Korean War. When he was three, his mother (my father’s sister) brought him from Jinan, in Shandong province, to live with his grandmother in Nanjing. Grandma Zhang—as we used to call her, to differentiate from our own loving grandma Nai—demanded that each of her two daughters lend her a child, supposedly to keep her company, but also to make sure that her children would send her monthly payments. Described in my memoir as Granny Long Tits, Grandma Zhang was a big spender and a fierce woman. Towards the end of the month when money had run out, her household sometimes had to rely on a neighbor’s charity. Weiping’s mother, battling mental illness, didn’t pay him much attention, either.

Weiping nevertheless turned out to be a sweet and well-behaved child. He was very handsome, too, with broad shoulders and a pair of large, bright eyes. He wasn’t good with his studies, and his illiterate grandma, needless to say, couldn’t help. But he was smart in his own way. In spring time, I sometimes followed him and others to the city wall to fly kites, made from rice paper and fine bamboo and stuck together with sticky rice. His kites were often the best. Weiping even taught himself carpentry and made furniture for his wedding.

Since he was the only relative our family had in Nanjing, my mother relied on him heavily, especially since my father worked outside Nanjing. Weiping was often called on to help with handiwork at our home.

Weiping never held great ambitions. All his working life, he served contentedly as a driver—a good, reliable one who never had an accident. All Weiping really wanted was a happy family. His first wife was a girl from the neighborhood. They have a smart and lovely daughter named Candy. However, after a long affair with a married businessman, his wife dumped him, leaving Weiping devastated.

Often hanging out with driven and ego-filled men, I personally find my cousin—a kind-hearted, simple, and honest working man—a breath of fresh air. In today’s increasingly materialistic, money-driven, success-driven world, few would probably regard Weiping a hero and his kindness could be taken as a sign of weakness or stupidity. Indeed, some would describe him as “dai,” a Nanjing slang, referring to someone a little silly or square, since Weiping refused to cut corners and insisted on putting other people’s interest before his own. Around his death bed, Chen Zhihua, his colleague and best friend, told a story to illustrate Weiping’s “dai”-ness. One winter night years ago, Chen caught Weiping emptying a chamber pot—a job most men regard as beneath them—for his terminally ill mother-in-law, while his wife was out playing mahjong and screwing her businessman lover. Outraged, Chen disclosed the open secret. Weiping was probably aware of the affair already. He put up with it for years because he wanted to give his daughter the warmth of a family he didn’t enjoy as a child.

In 2003, having stayed single for seven years, he was introduced to an attractive and successful civil engineer named Chen Suqiu from Jinan. She fell for his kind and caring nature. They got married one year later but commuted between Jinan and Nanjing. The love between them grew, and one year ago she retired early to be with Weiping in Nanjing. They renovated their flat and bought new furniture. Weiping was enjoying the time of his life when tragedy struck. Upon hearing the severity of his illness, Chen Suqiu burst into tears and said: “The heaven above just can’t bear to see us so happy together.”

In mid-July, while in Shanghai for a lecture, I visited Weiping at Long March Hospital, with my two daughters May and Kirsty and the largest bouquet I could find. He lay stiffly on the bed, no longer able to move his legs. He had lost a little bit of weight, but was still a fine-looking man in his prime. His head had just been shaved, in preparing for the next day’s operation to remove the tumor in his spine, which compressed the nerves and led to the paralysis of his legs and caused unbearable pain, which no painkiller could cure. The operation was a gamble: at best, it would only prolong Weiping’s life, and he could easily die from such a major operation. And it cost 20,000 yuan. To save his life and to spare him further suffering, his family was willing to spend any amount of money and to take the gamble. He was surrounded by his wife, daughter, brother, and sister, who had rushed down to Shanghai from Jinan.

To cheer Weiping up, I asked my Euro-Asian girls to sing him songs. He listened carefully to the sweet singing, his right hand moving to beat time and his face looking peaceful as if being momentarily relieved from the pain. When they finished singing, he said in English with strong Nanjing accent: “Thank you very much,” which made everyone laugh. That turned out to be one of the few light moments Weiping enjoyed in the last months of his life.

It was so hard to imagine that he had actually walked to the ward himself only a week earlier. To save money, the family had taken public transportation to the hospital. In the metro, his daughter Candy had accidentally dropped the pigeon soup she had cooked for him. Although in great pain, Weiping immediately squatted down to wipe the pigeon soup off the train because he worried that people might tread on the soup and fall over. He always thought about others, even then.

Weiping survived the operation, but the cancer had spread. He was transferred back to Nanjing where my well-connected sister found him the best hospital and best doctor. He endured chemotherapy and more operations. But the nasty cancer continued to disable more parts of his body and made it harder and harder for him to breathe. His family, relatives, friends, and colleagues took turns to take meticulous care of him, often on duty at night. If Weiping didn’t feel well-loved as a child, he must have felt so in his last days. To me, that was the ultimate success.

I wish him rest well in heaven.

Zhang Lijia is author of “Socialism is Great! A Worker’s Memoir of the New China”. Read her China Beat interview with Nicole Barnes here.

By Ron Javers

I was booked to give a China talk in August, high season in the Hamptons, as part of the summer series at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton.

You never know who’s going to show up for these well-attended sessions—Southampton summer residents number everybody from Henry Kissinger to George Soros to Madonna, who made headlines this season when she plunked down $500k to rent a place for just one month. (Well, it was beachfront.)

I decided to title the talk “Five Things Americans Need to Know about China—Now.” And then, since the venue was a library, I tacked on “…and Six Books that Will Deepen Your Knowledge.” My plan was to scour my dusty shelves for a half-dozen China books I had read—whether months ago or years ago didn’t make any difference, but to make the cut the books had to have lingered in my mind, which can be a difficult task for any book. So of course I spent a lot of beach time rereading the lot. Here they are in the order I mentioned them in my talk:

1. The Search for Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence, Norton 1990 (Second edition 1999)

The key here is that Spence is both Sterling Professor of History, emeritus, at Yale, and a 1998 McArthur Fellow. He is not only one of the very best China historians, but he is a highly creative writer and storyteller as well. This magisterial history of modern China was a New York Times best seller—all 880 pages of it. And though I like Spence for his hugely imaginative (though not made-up) books like The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci and The Death of the Woman Wang, this more closely hewn account is pure history—modern Chinese history at its finest.

2. Mandate of Heaven by Orville Schell, Simon & Schuster 1994

Schell, now the Director of the China program at the Asia Society in New York City, and formerly Dean of the Journalism School at the University of California, Berkeley, is a longtime master of the here-and-now of the world’s largest country. The subject in this book is the first inspiring and then awful events in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the Chinese leaders who came before and after them. Though Schell writes with the on-scene verve of a journalist, the analysis and background underscore his long and deep scholarship of China.

3. When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order by Martin Jacques, Penguin Press 2009

In my remarks, I called this “the hot book right now” on China. But that was last month. Despite the apocalyptic title, Jacques’s argument here is sweeping, cogent and even a bit scary. The Guardian columnist conjures a world where China is back on top, once again controlling “tributary states” in the rest of East Asia. Joseph Kahn, writing on the front page of The New York Times Book Review, called the book “a work of considerable erudition…provocative and often counterintuitive.” Kahn should know. Now Deputy Foreign Editor of the New York Times, he was Beijing bureau chief for the Times, and before that a very savvy Beijing-based correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

Yet, for all its admitted erudition, When China Rules the World fails to seriously consider history’s great constant: change. What happens when China’s incredible streak of economic growth stops, or even slows as growth rates in developing countries tend to do? What happens then is another book.

4. Looking at the Sun by James Fallows, Pantheon 1994

What provoked this book was the fast rise of Japan in the 1980s, but his thesis is about far more than that overhyped moment. It’s about the rise of nearly all of East Asia, where, unlike our system, which often sets business and government at odds, business is often viewed as a way to national and international power (See also “mercantilism,” Britain). Fallows’s analysis is potent, and it remains timely. He is a longtime correspondent for The Atlantic, and he and his family lived in Japan while he was researching this book. Then the whole clan moved to Beijing to cover the continuing Asia saga. Over the years I’ve found that even when I don’t necessarily agree with Fallows’s conclusions, I greatly enjoy his books, which are always vividly reported and very well researched.

5. China: Fragile Superpower: How China’s Internal Politics Could Derail it’s Peaceful Rise by Susan L. Shirk, Oxford University Press, 2007

A former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for China relations, Shirk, who now teaches at the University of California, San Diego, contends that China’s internal political fragility, not its growing strength, presents the greatest challenge going forward. With more than 100 million farmers having moved to the cities in the last decade, she notes, “The Party can no longer keep track of the population, much less control it.” She expects economic growth will slow as social tensions increase. Perhaps someone should send a copy of this book to Martin Jacques in London.

6. China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know by Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Oxford University Press 2010

This is a savvy China crib sheet, written in a crisp, topic-by-topic fashion by a serious and highly-regarded China historian who also dabbles knowingly and effortlessly in the here and now. More than a few readers of The China Beat have likely heard of him and even heard from him (as he’s a co-founder of the blog and one of its contributing editors), but that is no reason to leave his very relevant and helpful book for Americans trying to figure out China off this list. So I didn’t.

While I was reading and rereading all of the above for my talk this summer I did manage to dip into a few non-China things as well. I’ve always found myself among that vast crowd of former history students who have no idea of the real causes of World War I. The assassination of old Arch Duke Ferdinand never seemed really enough given all the death and destruction that ensued. So this summer I picked up a paperback copy of The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1962 history of the Great War—and found, like many other readers before me, I could barely put it down. Tuchman’s legendary account of the first month of the war lives up to its billing, and now I think I know where David Halberstam came up with his writing strategy for The Best and the Brightest, his chronicle of the Vietnam debacle generations later: It’s the characters, stupid.

While we’re on the subject of memorable characters, consider the cast of Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia (Norton, 2007). Here we have everyone from Albert Einstein to Duke Ellington. We have ancient Greeks and Romans, Spaniards, French, Italians, Russians, Germans and Americans and Latin Americans, too, more than 100 personages in all. For this is consummate man of letters Clive James’s book of who’s who in modern history, politics and the arts, some 40 years in the making (and three years in the reading for me).

The missing pages, though, for China watchers and Asian specialists in this otherwise highly well wrought collection of short- to medium-length essays are the Asian pages. Only two Asian figures make this list—Mao Zedong and Isoroku Yammamoto, Japan’s cursed, versifying navy commander. Gender studies types might be equally disappointed, or at least tempted to send the author (male and of a certain age) a list of their own making.

What is here, though, is writerly sparkle and one man’s passion for a number of characters many of us might have missed, and for books themselves. The essay on Mao, for example, rips right along with all sorts of citations to works by previous authors. James begins with Jung Chang who penned both Wild Swans and, with her husband Jon Halliday, a 2005 biography of Mao (Mao: The Unknown Story) that “blew the gaff on the Cultural Revolution;” then moves to a discussion of Philip Short’s important 1999 biography, Mao: A Life; then on to The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Zhisui Li, his decidedly unliterary personal physician. Finally, Edgar Snow comes in for a spanking as one of the “useful idiots who endorsed the regime’s official lies.”

Come to think of it, I never did finish Wild Swans. But now I have put it on my fall reading list. After Freedom, of course, which has got to be better than The Corrections, don’t you think?

Ron Javers, former Executive Editor of Newsweek International, is founder and principal of Ron Javers Worldwide, a media advisory service that works with clients in the international sphere.

By Caroline Reeves

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are throwing a charity banquet in Beijing. On September 29th, the two American tycoons will host a dinner for China’s wealthiest magnates to convince them to give their monies away to charity. This event has caused a stir in the Chinese world. Everyone from movie stars to industry moguls is involved. Doonesbury is talking about it. Some billionaires have publicly declined to dine with the dynamic duo, wondering aloud if the event was planned to publicly part them from their new fortunes. Their response has called into question China’s “charitable impulse” and given rise to questions about China’s ability to “do philanthropy.”

Headlines in the international press have sharpened this controversy. The Financial Times“US Tycoons Take Philanthropy to Chinese Peers” [editor’s note: the headline has since been changed to “Buffett and Gates on Chinese mission”]; the Global Times“Uncaring rich may stifle Buffett-Gates”; or the NYT’s “Chinese Attitudes Towards Generosity are Tested” portray the visit as an American effort to bring an enlightened stance on giving to a nation of billionaires badly in need of tutelage.

Though Gates’ and Buffett’s efforts are certainly well meaning, in fact the Chinese do not need Americans to teach them about philanthropy. China has a centuries-old tradition of charitable work, funding education, cleaning up after natural disasters, and helping the poor and elderly. My own work on the Chinese Red Cross Society, founded in 1904 by dedicated Chinese philanthropists—the billionaires of the age—shows that the Chinese have been engaged in these kinds of activities, as well as feeding the hungry, clothing the destitute, caring for the sick and burying the dead, through well articulated networks of charitable giving long before America was even born. A growing literature on China’s charitable traditions (Joanna Handlin Smith on the late Ming, Nara Dillon and Jean Oi on the 1930s and 40s, Vivienne Shue in the contemporary period (see Stanley Katz’s Philanthropy in the World’s Traditions)) confirms these findings, and the topic has rightly become a hot one in academic circles. While Mao’s Communist experiment did indeed interrupt the normal course of Chinese philanthropy for five or six decades, this hiatus is trivial in light of the five or six centuries that China’s wealthy have been caring for their poor in China and beyond.

In recent newspaper articles, references to the Great American Philanthropic Past are rife. Gates and Buffett are called the Rockefeller and Carnegie of the age (NYT). But China’s history of philanthropy is either misrepresented or reduced to the last twenty years, a period hardly representative of China’s past. Rupert Hoogewerf, an expert on China’s wealthy, is also cited as an expert on China’s philanthropic traditions. He seems to be sadly misinformed, however. Hoogewerf is quoted as trumpeting worn and baseless assertions about Chinese philanthropy, the same ones this author has heard from other Western mouths:

“The Chinese have been very generous for a long period of time,” Rupert Hoogewerf, who publishes the Hurun Report, said by telephone. “The difference has been that they do it between families, and don’t publicize it. What we’re seeing now is a new era of transparency.” (NYT)

Here Hoogewerf—who elsewhere has characterized Western philanthropy as “pure” and Chinese philanthropy as its opposite (FT)—falls prey to a stereotyped vision of China’s charitable activity promoted by EuroAmerican missionaries at the turn of the twentieth century. These missionaries, anxious to legitimate the social gospel they were preaching to the Chinese, coined these characterizations to highlight the importance of their own work in China, ignoring the indigenous activities occurring all around them. Later social reformers and well-meaning Americans—such as the head of the American Red Cross in China during the 1910s and 20s—perpetuated these cultural myths to underscore China’s need for Western (particularly American) social and political interventions.

In fact, China’s philanthropists in the pre-Communist period confronted some of the largest natural and manmade disasters in the world with generosity and remarkable initiative. They gave to strangers across their large country—for example, Shanghai capitalists donating for refugee repatriation from Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905—publicly and proudly, with newspapers heralding their work and keeping public records of donations. They donated to San Francisco Fire victims in 1906 and to the victims of the Tokyo earthquake of 1923. This is hardly the clannish and secretive philanthropy suggested by some Western “experts.”

Many Chinese are themselves not aware of their own philanthropic past, including Chinese film star Jet Li, who (according to AFP) called China “a newcomer to the charity business.” The article quotes him: “‘China’s real development has only happened in the past 10 years,’ [Li] said, adding the United States had 100 years of experience in philanthropy.” Li apparently made this speech just as he was being named a Goodwill Ambassador of the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose Chinese affiliate has operated for over 105 years.

Despite the New York Times’ dismissal of the importance of situating contemporary Chinese philanthropy within China’s own tradition (“Academics grumble…about efforts to impose Western philanthropic values on Chinese tradition,” writes journalist Michael Wines), Buffet’s and Gate’s “crusade for converts” might well be viewed as another instance of US finger-wagging or even cultural imperialism by China’s nationalistic citizenry. China’s nouveau riche are no more in need of shaming to part with their newfound wealth than any other nouveau riche around the globe. I agree with Harvey Dzodin’s view that Gates and Buffett would be better off inviting Chinese tax officials to dinner (Global Times), and discussing with them tax incentives to encourage Chinese giving. Through that tactic, the American team might encourage the kind of state-private cooperation in charitable work that worked so well in pre-Maoist China. In light of the recent revelation of Bono’s well known ONE Foundation’s misadventures, Bill and Warren’s excellent adventure might not seem so excellent after all.

Caroline Reeves is Assistant Professor of History at Emmanuel College. She has previously written for The China Beat on the history of the Chinese Red Cross (Part 1, Part 2). For more on the Chinese philanthropic tradition, see Joanna Handlin Smith, The Art of Doing Good: Charity in Late Ming China; Nara Dillon and Jean Oi (editors), At the Crossroads of Empires: Middlemen, Social Networks, and State-building in Republican Shanghai; Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley, Tears from Iron: Cultural Responses to Famine in Nineteenth-Century China (and her China Beat essay on responses to the Sichuan earthquake); and Vivienne Shue’s essay in Stanley Katz, Philanthropy in the World’s Traditions.

Tags: , ,

By Adam D. Frank

On first blush, one would think that reviewing Nick Land’s Shanghai World Expo Guidebook 2010 would be an exercise akin to reviewing a movie poster for Avatar—a kind of 2-D portrait of a 3-D experience.

But Land’s guidebook, it turns out, has more in common with the grand tradition of literary travel writing than it does with, say, an American Automobile Association treatment of an interstate highway tour. Like the Expo itself, its style is both substantive and sensual, nineteenth century in its way, yet thoroughly “modern” in its central theme of Shanghai’s shifting, baroque, and often unique interpretations of modernity. Lafcadio Hearn’s work comes to mind, but so does Paul Theroux’s.

Land’s opening paragraph foreshadows the combination of intellectual carnival ride and useful information about to come:

Modern Shanghai and the World Expo were born within a single decade, over 150 years ago. Since then, the twin histories of the world’s most iconic modern city and the greatest festival of modern civilization have unfolded in parallel, with frequent cross-fertilizations, through dizzy ascents and calamitous plunges that tracked the rise, fall, and renaissance of the modernist spirit. Through all these vicissitudes, each has reflected in large measure the trials, tempests, and triumphs of worldwide industrial modernity, defining its promise, nourishing its achievements, and sharing in its setbacks. At World Expo 2010 Shanghai, these parallel tracks melt together, into the largest discrete event in world history.

The guide is organized for both readability and practicality. “Part I: Overview” places the six-month-long Shanghai World Expo in the context of the two-week-long 2008 Beijing Olympics, historical economics of world expositions (“exponomics”), the philosophy of the world exposition movement as exemplified by the Bureau of International Expos (BIE), thematic shifts in recent world expos, and the highlights of the Shanghai Expo’s unique innovations. It is here, for example, where we first learn of the Shanghai Expo’s central theme—“Better City, Better Life,” and its five sub-themes: Blending of Diverse Cultures in the City, Economic Prosperity in the City, Innovation of Science and Technology in the City, Remodeling of Communities in the City, and Interactions between Urban and Rural Areas. We learn that “World Expo Shanghai 2010 shatters Expo records” for site size (528 hectares, including the Puxi and Pudong sides of the Huangpu River that splits the city in two); projected visitor numbers (70 million, a figure Expo officials expect to reach by October 31, 2010, the official end date of the event); number of participating nations (240 plus); unique innovations of a special Urban Best Practice area with large-scale models of city life around the world, the Online Expo Shanghai (www.expo.cn), and numerous techno enhancements to ease the visitor’s experience.

“Part II: History” brings Land’s somewhat furtive project for the guide (hey, isn’t this supposed to be a tourist guide?!), as well as his formidable literary skills, into full view. “The modern world arose unexpectedly and has always perplexed itself,” he writes as his opening salvo in this section:

Modernity’s ceaseless, cumulative change defies every pre-existing pattern, abandoning stability without embracing the higher order of a great cycle or the simple destination of an eschatoalogical conclusion. Although establishing something like a new normality, it departs decisively from any sort of steady state. It displays waves and rhythms, but it subsumes such cycles, rather than succumbing to them. Whilst nourishing apocalyptic speculation, it continuously complicates anticipations of an end time. It engenders a previously unanticipated mode of time and history, characterized by ever-accelerated directional transformation, whose indices are quantitative growth and qualitative innovation. The worldwide consolidation of modernity only deepens its fundamental mystery.

Were in not for its context within a healthy supply of practical information about ticket prices, useful maps, and blow-by-blow accounts of Expo pavilions, such intellectual waxing poetic might come off as rather standard, perhaps even somewhat overblown, cultural studies fare. But as an introduction to and means of reflecting upon the powerfully sensual experience that is the actual Shanghai World Expo, Land’s ruminations of modernity make sense and, indeed, will illuminate the Expo tourist’s experience.

In his history of the Expo movement, Land takes us on a temporal tour from London’s 1851 Crystal Palace, through the birth of the Eiffel Tower at the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris, to the Wild West-esque American coming out party of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (which perhaps deserves to be seen as America’s nineteenth century equivalent of the Shanghai Expo in terms of brashness and splashiness—though Philadelphia did hold the country’s first World’s Fair seventeen years before earlier in 1876), to the science fictiony embrace of “the future” that became the hallmark of twentieth century expos, the existentialist disillusionment with modernity that marks the slow decline of the preeminence of expos on the world stage, and, finally, to China’s unabashed re-embrace of techno-charged future visions at the Shanghai event. Particularly noteworthy in this section is Land’s sociocybernetics-tinged discussion of “Modernity 2.0”, citing neomarxist sociologist Ulrich Beck’s notion of “second modernity” and Carlos Escudé’s and Agnes Heller’s defense of “the restoration of core modernist themes, as well as a fairly detailed discussion of “neomodernist” architecture as a response to the perceived “sterility” of a postmodernist style.

Heady stuff for the business traveler blowing off an afternoon in Shanghai with a trip to the Expo, but wonderfully relevant for those willing to take a tour through Shanghai’s architectural history and the not unexpected variety of zany/innovative architectural choices that world expo pavilions are famous for (in other terms, “modern” Crystal Palaces and Eiffel Towers giving way to new modernities in Shanghai). “Part III: The City” actually spotlights these features of Shanghai’s urban landscape, addressing Shanghai’s distinct early twentieth-century rejection of a modernist International Style and embrace of Art Deco, a tendency toward a “luscious cosmopolitan style,” Land points out, “perfectly adapted to the Shanghai of the early 20th century.” He brings us up to date, by the end of the chapter, on Expo-related urban design projects, including new transportation hubs and upgrades in power, water, and communication networks.

This latter section of Part III is perhaps the only section of the guide where Land opens himself up to accusations of adopting the apologist role for the Party. While he notes frustrations among Shanghai people regarding chaotic construction over the last decade, he leaves unaddressed the displacement of whole neighborhoods from the Expo site and the continuing complaints of unfair compensation from residents of many of those neighborhoods. While such governmental muscling out of the locals in the name of “the public good” is not unique to China (happens right here in Conway, Arkansas, US of A, as a matter of fact), the magnitude of the displacement in Shanghai results in “better city, better life” for Party officials, real estate moguls, and construction companies (often in the same person), far less so for the average worker. Land, of course, would have little choice in whether or not to address such issues here. The kind of abstract intellectualism (and, by association, abstract political discussion) that Land engages in throughout the guide passes muster among the censors these days in China, but for something so public, international, and riddled with security issues as the Expo, any overt political critique, even one that Party officials support, like “anti-corruption,” could not appear in the guide if it were to have any reasonable chance of publication. This is, after all, still a guidebook, isn’t it?

“Part IV: The Expo Site” really is a guidebook in terms of providing us with the lowdown on several of the national pavilions (still in the design and construction phase when the guide was published), followed by several useful maps and a detailed index.

Aside from the guide’s simultaneous utility as a treatise on modernity and as a tool for tourists, Shanghai World Expo Guide 2010 is pleasingly designed, with color and black and white photos and drawings on almost every page. Though much of the guide is devoted to advertising space, ads are relatively unobtrusive and notably include information about hospitals, activities for families with children, etc.

Though he achieves them with substantially more panache and aplomb than one would expect, Land’s goals in Shanghai World Expo Guide 2010 appear properly humble for a guidebook: to provide a readable, practical, yet intellectually challenging account of the Expo. That the guide does so while offering a serious dose of cultural critique not only makes for a surprisingly stimulating read but also serves double duty as a serious effort to document the biggest coming out party the world has ever seen.

Adam D. Frank is Assistant Professor (Asian Studies and Anthropology) in the Honors College of the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of Taijiquan and the Search for the Little Old Chinese Man:  Understanding Identity through Martial Arts.

Read two excerpts from Nick Land’s Expo guide here.

Tags: ,

By James Farrer

It was a bitter pill for the Democratic Party of Japan, no matter how they swallowed it. By releasing a Chinese fishing boat captain detained by Japan without a trial, Prime Minster Kan Naoto was clearly bowing under Chinese pressure. The captain had been arrested by the Japanese coast guard for allegedly ramming his boat into Japanese coast guard vessels while in territorial waters claimed both by China and Japan. The Japanese government appeared to buckle and released the captain to China on Saturday. According to an unnamed official in the prime minister’s office quoted in the Asahi Shinbun on Sunday (9/26/2010), “The Chinese could have recalled their ambassador, or cut off diplomatic relations. There was no other possible landing point.”

Within Japan this was a shocking turning point in bilateral relations, a sudden strategic victory for a rising China that could lead to many scenarios, including the possibility that China would send fishery administration or even military ships to patrol the waters off the disputed islands and back out of an agreement to jointly develop undersea gas fields in the area. An official in the foreign ministry quoted in Sunday’s Asahi said, “There’s no telling how overbearing the Chinese are going to be after this. There’s nothing to be done about it, this will go on for the next twenty years.”

The Japanese public seems to have reacted three ways to the release of the captain. One group, the sort who usually read the business-economics newspaper Nikkei Shinbun, was undoubtedly relieved to see the government release the captain last Saturday. As Chinese sanctions escalated into the economic sphere, including a stoppage of the export of rare metals to Japan, the worry was that this political spat would seriously affect Japan’s increasingly important economic relationship with China. It was this economic group that seemed to be making the decisions in Tokyo last week, hoping that pragmatism and mutual economic interests would prevail. The danger of this view, expressed to me by one Japanese reporter I spoke to, is that in the economic sphere the Chinese now see Japan as needing China more than China needs Japan, and will continually try to push this advantage on various fronts. Recent strikes against Japanese companies in China are a sign that more economic pressure can be expected.

Another segment of the public, who are more likely to read the relatively liberal Asahi Shinbun, was relieved, but also dismayed. This more internationally minded group, including many Democratic Party supporters, had hoped for the past few years that Japan and China were actually improving their relations. Now the DPJ’s China policy seems to be in tatters. Talk of an “East Asian Community” and a “mutual strategic relationship” seems naive in this tense atmosphere, to say nothing of the rhetoric of “fraternal love” of the previous Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. Now, there is a depressing sense that no relief from Chinese pressure is forthcoming. The Chinese government is now demanding an apology and recompense for the trouble caused in the case of the hapless fisherman. This may be perceived in Japan as a signal that the Chinese government has no interest, or perhaps no incentive, in improving relations with Japan. Most troubling of all to the Japanese internationalists, the recent actions against Japan included halting exchanges between school children, and canceling tours to Japan, acts that inflame tensions between the citizens of the two countries at the societal, not simply the political, level. Many Japanese China watchers are convinced that twenty years of anti-Japanese education in China (especially under the leadership of Jiang Zemin) have produced an atmosphere in which anti-Japanese rhetoric is all-purpose political medicine that the Chinese government can apply to any problem, domestic or foreign. If this is the case, there will be little chance for true détente.

In general the leftist and liberal segments of the Japanese public are worried that China has reacted only tepidly to the efforts of the DPJ to improve relations between the two countries. One of the most baffling acts involved the Chinese navy conducting exercises near Okinawa at about the time Japan was debating the agreement to shift US forces within Okinawa. The Chinese naval exercises seemed timed perfectly to embarrass both the peacenik and pro-China wings of the DPJ, which subsequently beat a retreat to the relative security of the US alliance. The US bases in Okinawa will stay put, and it seems likely that the hawks within the DPJ (a party which includes an extremely broad spectrum of politicians from socialists to rightists) will have a greater say in foreign policy.

Only one group seems genuinely energized by these events. This is the small but loud, and perhaps growing, right wing in Japan. Right wingers in Japan, like the so-called “angry youth” in China, thrive on Sino-Japanese tensions of any kind. Much of their online rhetoric is racist and dehumanizing, and aimed at stirring up anti-foreigner tensions within Japanese society as well as in Japan’s relations with China and Korea. The more rational right wing sees this as a chance to bash the government of Kan Naoto, who will likely pay a heavy price for kowtowing to Beijing. The conservative Sankei Shinbun even went after the Asahi Shinbun for not toeing a strict enough line on Japanese sovereignty claims for the disputed islands. The mainstream conservative Yomiuri criticized the weakness of the prime minister’s actions as not standing up for Japan’s territorial integrity.

Read in the Western press, these events may seem inconsequential. Westerners forget that China and Japan have one of the largest bilateral trade relationships in the world, and profound mutual interests at the societal and political levels. Living as I do between Tokyo and Shanghai, as so many thousands of people do these days (Japanese, Chinese and others), we can only hope that both governments find a way of managing the seemingly irresolvable territorial dispute, and perhaps even return to the policies of engagement begun between the previous Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

James Farrer is Associate Professor of Sociology at Sophia University, Tokyo.

Tags:

« Older entries