Category Archives: history

“Foreigners Under Fire”

The Diplomat has a piece from writer Tonio Andrade, who describes the changes requested by Chinese censors when he tried to publish a book in the PRC:

My new book, Lost Colony: the Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West, won’t be published in mainland China. It might have found a strong readership there. Its main personage, Koxinga, is famous for driving the Dutch from Taiwan and bringing the island under Chinese rule. The story of his triumph is a gripping one, and I strove to tell it in a balanced way: no East versus West, just humans scrambling to do their best during hard times. As a member of the global history movement, this kind of balanced history is what I strive for. It’s the mission of my scholarly life.

But Chinese censors apparently don’t truck with balance. My erstwhile publisher asked whether I would acquiesce to omitting some “sensitive material” and changing some wording. It sounded like an innocuous request until I got to the details. Since Koxinga is considered a “positive figure in China,” my publisher informed me that the text would have to omit any discussion of torture by him and his soldiers. (Descriptions of Dutch atrocities were acceptable, though.) The book couldn’t refer to Koxinga as a “conqueror” or a “warlord,” and his “restoration of Taiwan” couldn’t be referred to as an invasion or an attack. Similarly, any mention of resistance by Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples (who, historical sources make clear, rose up and killed thousands of his soldiers), would also have to be excised, on the grounds that such episodes hint of “some sort of consciousness of Taiwanese independence.” The Chinese publisher said that if I refused to make such changes, the translation wouldn’t proceed. “Abridgement,” I was told, “is unavoidable.”

And so I set aside my dreams of renown and royalties and said no.

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Pu Zhiqiang on Nagoya

Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang on the recent scandal caused by Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura denying the existence of the Nanjing Massacre (via Shanghaiist):

“I can absolutely understand why the mayor of Nagoya would deny the Nanjing Massacre. All of your history is propaganda. There’s no credibility and no historical evidence. 300,000 victims, you say, but the number looks like it was plucked out of thin air anyhow you turn it. And let’s not forget how you’re so ready to greet your own countrymen with the knife, gun, sword, halberd, ax, hook, fork and other weapons. Up till now, you still haven’t owned up to the small massacre in 1989. What right do you have to demand that the Japanese mayor acknowledge the big massacre?”

On the one hand… yeah, the irony of Chinese officials getting mad about historical revisionism is pretty thick. But on the other hand, unless the major of Nagoya really is denying Nanjing specifically because of Chinese historical revisionism, defending him still doesn’t feel right. Two wrongs, a right, etc.

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Woeser in Nyarong and Lithang

High Peaks Pure Earth (with a sweet new trilingual layout, by the way) has yet more from Woeser’s travels. In “Nyarong County’s Gonpo Namgyal” she describes a famous Khampa from the area, while in “Tibetan Buddhist Gatherings Worship a Portrait of His Holiness” she writes about the huge gathering in Lithang last summer:

On the bumpy road leading from Nyarong to Lithang, I used my mobile phone to note a few sentences describing my feelings at the time: road inspection points have been set up in every county, there are piles of ordinary and armed police forces registering people’s ID cards in a suspicious manner. The ordinary police are mainly Tibetans, whereas the armed police are basically Han Chinese. In Gyangpa township, Lithang County, we stopped to take pictures, the police car that was always following us stopped right in front and waited, afraid that we would start a conversation with any local Tibetans.

Lithang Monastery (also called Tupchen Chökhor Ling Monastery) has a special meaning in the history of Tibet. In March 1956, the Chinese Communists who claimed to bring happiness to the Tibetan people, flew over Lithang and bombed the Monastery and on the ground they sent troops of the PLA that massacred monks and laymen; only in the 1980s did the monastery recover, albeit with great difficulties. I have been to Lithang Monastery many times but because we were being followed I discarded the thought of paying it another visit. This was probably sensible because otherwise I would have been subject to great analysis by concerned parties. Many days later, on the road when I was online and unexpectedly managed to “jump the great firewall”, I saw the following shocking news: On July 15 (precisely 2 weeks before we passed through Lithang) Lithang Monastery held the 4th Winter Buddhist Assembly, which was attended by thousands of monks from several hundred monasteries of different Buddhist Schools from Kham and Amdo. What made this one different from previous gatherings, however, was that at the beginning, during the prayers, a large portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was revealed on the solemn altar; monks and devotees respectfully offered khatas, many with warm tears in their eyes. According to the report, prior to the assembly, many monks had revealed to the local government and public security department that a portrait of His Holiness would be worshipped during the meeting and that if this was stopped by the local authorities, they could not guarantee the smooth running of the event and protests may erupt.

He then moved on to express in a suppressed and low voice that could hardly cover up his excitement that the revival of traditional Tibetan Buddhism is already approaching and that during the critical and determinative times today, the efforts of many visionary Lamas from different Buddhist Schools have brought back to life the united religious movement that had been initiated over 200 years ago by the monasteries of Derge County, Kham.

Indeed, three months later, the 7th Kagyu Buddhist Assembly took place in Nangchen County, which is situated near Yushu; it was attended by 1500 monks from 35 different monasteries of different Buddhist Schools from Kham and Amdo. Once more, a large portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was presented and most sincerely revered by practicing Buddhists and believers. Clearly, the portrait of His Holiness has already become a distinct symbol for the unification of monks from different religious schools and regions in Tibet.

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“Is China Ripe for a Revolution?”

Historian Stephen Platt on the likelihood of a violent revolution today:

The Qing Dynasty, founded in 1644 by Manchu tribesmen who conquered China from the north, was brought down by a highly organized revolutionary movement with overseas arms and financing and a coherent governing ideology based on republican nationalism. The Communist Party today faces nothing like that.

What it does face, however, is enormous, inchoate rural unrest. The dark side of China’s economic rise has been a shocking widening of the gulf between the prosperous coast and the poverty-stricken interior, a flourishing of corruption among local officials and, by such data as we can gather, widespread anger and discontent. The government has acknowledged tens of thousands of yearly “mass incidents,” which can range anywhere from a handful of elderly widows protesting a corrupt real estate grab to communities in open revolt (like the southern village of Wukan) to murderous ethnic rioting, as occurred in the last few years in western Xinjiang Province and in Inner Mongolia.

In that sense, it is instead the Taiping Rebellion, which nearly toppled the Qing Dynasty 50 years earlier, that bears the strongest warnings for the current government.

What was so remarkable, and so troubling, about the Taiping Rebellion was that it spread with such swiftness and spontaneity. It did not depend on years of preliminary “revolutionary” groundwork (as did the revolution that toppled the monarchy in 1912 or the 1949 revolution that brought the Communists to power). And while Hong’s religious followers formed its core, once the sect broke out of its imperial cordon and marched north, it swept up hundreds of thousands of other peasants along the way — multitudes who had their own separate miseries and grievances and saw nothing to lose by joining the revolt.

Beijing has learned its lessons from the past. We see this in the swift and ruthless suppression of Falun Gong and other religious sects that resemble the Taiping before they became militarized. We can see it in the numbers of today’s “mass incidents.” One estimate, 180,000 in 2010, sounds ominous indeed, but in fact the sheer number shows that the dissent is not organized and has not (yet) coalesced into something that can threaten the state. The Chinese Communist Party would far rather be faced with tens or even hundreds of thousands of separate small-scale incidents than one unified and momentum-gathering insurgency. The greatest fear of the government is not that violent dissent should exist; the fear is that it should coalesce.

He also describes the end of the Taiping Rebellion, where the British ultimately stepped in to preserve the Qing dynasty. Given the scale of economic links, he asks, would global powers like America end up doing the same to preserve Communist Party rule? It’s a good question, although I think China’s rise and ongoing American fears of China pushing America out of east Asia entirely might radically change the equation this time.

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Saturday Tibet Update GrabBag

First, a picture found on Weibo of Chinese troops in Lhasa carrying fire extinguishers, one consequence of the self-immolation crisis:

Second, an official statement from Kalon Tripa (Tibetan Prime Minister) Lobsang Sangay on the crisis:

I’ll have to congratulate the CTA on somehow finding a picture of the Potala Palace without a dozen Chinese flags planted obnoxiously in front of it. Perhaps that explains the side angle. Next up, a story from the NYT about a Tibetan school in Amdo:

But perhaps the greatest marvel unfolds each morning in the newly built classrooms here at the foot of one of Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest mountains — six hours from the nearest city and far from the circumspect eyes of Communist Party technocrats — where dozens of young men and boys learn to write the curlicue letters of the Tibetan alphabet and receive their first formal introduction to a history, culture and religion that many Tibetans describe as embattled.

“Tibetan language is the key to our culture, and without it all our traditions will be locked away forever,” said Abo Degecairang, 25, a ruddy-cheeked monk who is among the inaugural class of young men enrolled at the school, the Anymachen Tibetan Culture Center, which opened in September here in southeastern Qinghai Province.

Nonreligious schooling is typically controlled by the state, most often anchored in Mandarin, although poverty and geographic isolation deprive many children of any formal education.

It was those young people whom the Rinpoche [Tsering Lhagyal]— a title bestowed on high-ranking teachers in Tibetan Buddhism — has sought out, eager to give them a future that he hopes will help preserve their heritage. Today, 30 shepherd boys, orphans and novice monks are learning the fundamentals of Tibetan culture, as well as Mandarin and English. Some are garbed in burgundy monks’ robes, others in jeans and trucker hats. A few arrived unable to read or write in any language, but the Rinpoche has faith that these challenges can be overcome, just as he succeeded in establishing this center despite the daunting political and financial odds.

“If your heart is in the right place, everything else will fall into place,” said the Rinpoche, who raised more than $3 million to build the vermilion-painted building topped by shimmering gold roofs. The main building, which dominates a breathtakingly picturesque valley, also houses an ornate temple filled with colorful Buddhas and altars illuminated by butter lamps. The school is so far off the grid that it must rely on solar power.

The government, he says, hopes the center, which he says will eventually house 600 students, will attract tourism and raise local living standards. To raise money, the Rinpoche traveled across China seeking donations, and received them largely from Han Chinese, who make up 80 percent of his 1,000 contributors. “Han people give me money for the same reason Tibetans donate: they want to do good,” he said.

Many donors — most of them newly affluent Han — say they view Tibetan Buddhism as an antidote to the materialism and greed that have flourished alongside China’s breakneck development.

Those who now call the center home have seen their world profoundly altered. Some, like Tuzansanzhi, 19, a shy youth dressed in monks’ robes who, like many Tibetans, uses a single name, had never been to school before. “I’m an only child, and my parents needed me to care for our sheep,” he said in Tibetan, the only language he knows. Before he arrived in July, Tuzansanzhi was illiterate. Now, he sits at a desk writing a Tibetan script that is crisply uniform.

A great story, and I hope the school succeeds. On a side note, I do wish newspaper writers would take the time to run their stories past a Tibetan, or at least someone knowledgeable about Tibet, before publishing them- this piece is full of Tibetan words which were clearly transliterated from Chinese, not Tibetan. That is to say, instead of directly taking Tibetans names from Tibetan, they’ve first been transliterated into Chinese, and then the Chinese names were spelled out in pinyin. Place names, too- I’d doubt that any of the Tibetans there actually call this (Tibetan) town ‘Zhandetan.’ A minor gripe, but it’s like calling Beijing ‘Peking’ these days: using a name bestowed by outsiders instead of the one used every day by the people who have lived there for generations.

Finally, High Peaks Pure Earth has the next part of Woeser and Wang Lixiong’s travels through Tibet last summer, this time in Kardze- a town which has been in the news for protests and self-immolations lately:

After we arrived in Kardze at the end of July, I suddenly noticed a street sign attached to an electricity pole at the side of the road, which read: “Memorial Hall for the Commander in Chief, Zhu De and the 5th Geta Rinpoche”. Had this been built in recent years? I followed the sign, was slowly guided out of the city and finally found a tightly closed red door with a Chinese-style building behind it and verdant trees and lush flowers surrounding it; the hall name was an eye-grabbing piece of calligraphy created by Jiang Zemin.

Afterwards I found on the internet that the construction of this hall began in 1991 and was completed in 1993, becoming the “base for patriotic education” from Kardze County and Prefecture all the way to Sichuan Province. According to the introduction, “the hall features the detailed descriptions of the 5th Tulku’s entire life, accounts of how the Red Army passed through Kardze during the Long March as well as revolutionary relics”. I noticed that among them were “paintings and photos of the establishment of the first ethnic minority region during the Soviet Tibetan Bopa Government; and also images of Geta Rinpoche, the Vice President of the Bopa Government and its other Tibetan members”.

How did the name of “Bopa Government” come about? It is quite a complicated story, just as the Communist Party admits, on its Long March, the Red Army established two “Republics”, namely the Gyarong Republic and the Bopa People’s Republic. These regimes were all established on Tibetan territory, the former where today’s Gyarong area of Rongdrak county is located and the latter in today’s Kham Region (Kardze and other counties); their declarations did by no means go against the native population’s political and religious authority, instead they determined the following: “all Tibetan territory will always be administered by the regional Bopa Government. We swear to oppose Han Chinese aggressors, KMT officials and warlords that have put in place politics of annexation for thousands of years and we firmly stand for the course of liberating and making an independent Bopa”; “Our flag is one of an independent Bopa, our current mission is to revive Tibet and extinguish Chiang Kai-shek.”

After that she relates the history of Geta Rinpoche and the Bopa Republic- well worth the few minutes it’d take to read. What a pity that the early CCP claims of opposition to Han annexation came to nothing!

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Filed under ethnic conflict, history, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

“After 20 Years of ‘Peaceful Evolution,’ China Faces Another Historic Moment”

Damien Ma at The Atlantic has a lengthy piece up about Deng Xiaoping, the evolution of the Chinese political science, and why today it’s approaching another fork in the road:

Twenty years ago this month, the octogenarian Deng Xiaoping embarked on his “southern tour,” a journey that would turn out to be one of the most significant acts of modern Chinese history. Although Deng would die five years later at 92, his organs donated to medical research, the elder leader’s bold maneuvering in the winter of 1992 made the China of today possible. Deliberately ambiguous in intention, the trip was in fact a political campaign of sorts aimed at achieving two crucial objectives: First, to sustain the political conditions that would facilitate continuous reform and economic liberalization; and, second, to rescue the Communist Party — via a reform agenda – -from reducing itself into a speck in the dustbin of history.

Indeed, Deng was thrusting himself into a political climate that was entirely anathema to his “reform and opening up” policy. The conservatives in the party seemingly emerged victorious after the Tiananmen crackdown three years earlier, only to have the collapse of the Soviet Union hand them another convenient justification to block economic and political reforms. A considerable conservative faction vehemently discredited further reform, claiming that it would bring the party to its knees. To them, the Tiananmen tragedy of 1989 and the Soviet disintegration were all products of “peaceful evolution,” which they viewed as the clear and present danger. Peaceful evolution was the most serious and threatening in the economic sphere, they claimed, and any economic reforms must be first and foremost subject to the question, “is your surname socialism or capitalism”?

Very much worth a read.

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A Second Day of Violence in Kham

The protests have spread to Serthar, which is still in Kardze prefecture but which has been much quieter than Kardze town and Ngaba over the last few months:

Chinese authorities shot dead five Tibetans and seriously wounded 40 others on Tuesday in the second day of bloodshed as protests escalated in the troubled Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture in Sichuan province, local sources said.

Protests were also reported in neighboring Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba prefecture) as several hundred monks and lay-Tibetans sat along a road crossing to speak out against Chinese rule.

“The laypersons took off their upper clothes and remained half naked reciting mantras and eating [roasted barley] in protest,” one source said.

“They marched to the main town in Meruma and when the Chinese police tried to block them, they refused to stop and marched ahead,” the source said.

Tibetans who tried to attend a 15-day special prayer at the Kirti monastery in Ngaba were also stopped and beaten by Chinese security forces, the source said.

Meanwhile, Kathleen McLaughlin writes about the difficulty of reporting on Tibetan affairs when China prevents journalists from entering troubled regions:

Violence has reportedly rocked Tibetan areas of China again this week, with reports on Chinese police firing on Tibetan protesters in Sichuan and killing at least one. Tibetan rights groups outside of China say Chinese forced turned their guns on unarmed protesters in a remote mountainous area, The protesters had refused to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

And herein lies the crucial problem with reporting on Tibet and getting accurate information. Chinese journalists are constrained by censorship and state-owned media rules. Foreign correspondents require special permits to enter Tibet proper. In cases like this reported violence in a Tibetan area of Sichuan province, journalists are certain to be barred, detained and turned away from reporting on the scene. So how does one verify the facts of what happened in what was certainly a violent outburst in Tibetan parts of Sichuan province?

Many rely on Tibetan groups based outside of China and what contacts they can collect from within the country. China then puts forth its own version of the story. But most often happens, the real truth of events remains clouded in shadows, without independent verification.

I’d say that the real truth remains only temporarily clouded, because as time goes by more and more locals will be able to get their accounts out of the country. Take the 2009 Urumqi protests, for example- although China initially managed to confuse the issue greatly, within a few months hundreds of eyewitness accounts had been gathered by groups outside of China who then reconstructed a pretty solid timeline of what happened.

Oiwan Lam at Global Voices Online writes about how Chinese intellectuals have remained largely silent on the self-immolation crisis:

Since 2009, there have been at least 17 Tibetan self-immolation incidents in China. The latest case was reported on January 15, 2012. The public discussion about the protests of Tibetans has been manipulated and monopolized by state controlled media outlets who blame the Dalai Lama and western media for inciting to violence and terror.

The reaction among Chinese public intellectuals and netizens is practically indifferent when compared to other self-immolation incidents, such as the Yihuang demolition case. Some netizens wonder, where have all the public intellectuals gone?

She goes on to detail conversations between Woeser and a number of Chinese bloggers on the subject.

Finally, the Tibetan Political Review has an interesting piece on recently declassified documents from Canada. The Chinese government loves to remind everyone that every government in the world acknowledges Tibet to be a part of China, but they don’t like to mention how hard of a decision it was for foreign governments. England, India, and the US spent years deciding whether or not they should consider Tibet as a part of China, and the decisions were in the end made using reasons that don’t exactly line up with what China teaches in their history books. Now we have proof that Canada, too, struggled on that issue:

Declassified documents from 1950 through the 1960s show that Canada considered Tibet to be “qualified for recognition as an independent state.” These documents also show how the Canadian government’s concern over the outcome of United Nations votes led Canada to publicly avoid the question of Tibet’s political status in favor of human rights. But while Canada downplayed Tibet’s political status, it also accepted that the issue of human rights includes the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination.

These declassified documents consist of a trove of secret memos, correspondence, and diplomatic cables.

One of the most important documents is a November 21, 1950 cable from Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs to the Canadian Ambassador in Washington DC (another identical cable was sent the same day to the head of the Canadian delegation to the United Nations). The Secretary of State discloses that the department’s Legal Division had asked and concluded:

“The question is, should Canada consider Tibet to be an independent state, a vassal of China, or an integral portion of China. It is submitted that the Chinese claim to sovereignty over Tibet is not well founded. Chinese suzerainty, perhaps existent, though ill-defined, before 1911, appears since then, on the basis of facts available to us, to have been a mere fiction. In fact, it appears that during the past 40 years Tibet has controlled its own internal and external affairs. Viewing the situation thus, I am of the opinion that Tibet is, from the point of view of international law, qualified for recognition as an independent state.”

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“At 105, Chinese Linguist Now A Government Critic”

Zhou Youguang, whose involvement in developing pinyin took Chinese romanization methods into the modern era, is in the news again. Now the man who put a stop to linguistic madness like saying ‘Peking’ for a city roughly pronounced ‘bay-jing’ is in trouble, though. From NPR:

Zhou has published an amazing 10 books since he turned 100, some of which have been banned in China. These, along with outspoken views on the Communist Party and the need for democracy in China, have made him a “sensitive person” — a euphemism for a political dissident.

When Zhou was born in 1906, Chinese men still wore their hair in a long pigtail, the Qing dynasty still ruled China, and Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House. That someone from that era is alive — and blogging as the “Centenarian Scholar” — seems unbelievable.

In the late 1960s, he was branded a reactionary and sent to a labor camp for two years. In 1985, he translated the Encyclopaedia Britannica into Chinese and then worked on the second edition — placing him in a position to notice the U-turns in China’s official line.

At 105, Zhou calls it as he sees it without fear or favor. He’s outspoken about what he believes is the need for democracy in China. And he says he hopes to live long enough to see China change its position on the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989.

“June 4th made Deng Xiaoping ruin his own reputation,” he says. “Because of reform and opening up, he was a truly outstanding politician. But June 4th ruined his political reputation.”

Far from shying from controversy, Zhou appears to relish it, chuckling as he admits, “I really like people cursing me.”

That fortitude is fortunate, since his son, Zhou Xiaoping, who monitors online reaction to his father’s blog posts, has noted that censors quickly delete any praise, leaving only criticism. The elder Zhou believes China needs political reform, and soon.

“Ordinary people no longer believe in the Communist Party any more,” he says. “The vast majority of Chinese intellectuals advocate democracy. Look at the Arab Spring. People ask me if there’s hope for China. I’m an optimist. I didn’t even lose hope during the Japanese occupation and World War II. China cannot not get closer to the rest of the world.”

The elderly economist is scathing about China’s economic miracle, denying that it is a miracle at all: “If you talk about GDP per capita, ours is one-tenth of Taiwan’s. We’re very poor.”

Instead, he points out that decades of high-speed growth have exacted a high price from China’s people: “Wages couldn’t be lower, the environment is also ruined, so the cost is very high.”

Zhou’s century as a witness to China’s changes, and a participant in them, has led him to believe that China has become “a cultural wasteland.” He’s critical of the Communist Party for attacking traditional Chinese culture when it came into power in 1949, but leaving nothing in the void.

Someone really should compile a list of old men who terrify Beijing.

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Filed under democracy, history, inequality, political reform

“Abusing History?”

On a list of things that wouldn’t surprise me, Beijing abusing history is pretty high (via The Diplomat):

Historically, China was the dominant power in East Asia and considered lesser powers as its tributaries. By insisting now on territorial claims that reflect a historical relationship that vanished hundreds of years ago with the rise of the West, Beijing is, in a sense, attempting to revive and legitimize a situation where it was the unchallenged hegemon.

The ambiguity about what parts of international law China recognizes and which bits it doesn’t gives rise to the current dispute, which directly involves Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, and indirectly involves the interests of many other nations.

The claims made by Southeast Asian countries rest primarily on the provisions of the Law of the Sea. China, however, is taking the position that its sovereignty over the territories concerned precedes the enactment of the Law of the Sea, and so the law doesn’t apply. History trumps law.

In 2009, China submitted a map to the UN Commission on the Law of the Sea in support of its claims to ‘indisputable sovereignty over the islands of the South China Sea and the adjacent waters’ as well as ‘the seabed and subsoil thereof.’

The map featured a U-shaped dotted line that encompassed virtually the entire South China Sea and hugged the coasts of neighbouring countries including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. This was the first time China had submitted a map to the United Nations in support of its territorial claims, but there was no explanation given as to whether it claimed all the waters as well as the islands enclosed by the dotted line.

China’s resort to history is a relatively new development in international law, although it isn’t completely unprecedented. For example, coastal states have been allowed to claim extended jurisdiction over waters, especially bays or islands, when those claims have been open and long-standing, exclusive, and widely accepted by other states.

In China’s case, however, its claims are evidently neither exclusive nor widely accepted by other states since they are being openly contested. Still, Chinese officials and scholars have attempted to buttress their arguments by appealing to historical records.

For example, Li Guoqiang, a research scholar with the Research Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences wrote in July in the China Daily: ‘Historical evidence shows that Chinese people discovered the islands in the South China Sea during the Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-AD 220) dynasties.’ China’s maritime boundary, he asserts, was established by the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

‘In contrast,’ he wrote, ‘Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines hardly knew anything about the islands in the South China Sea before China’s Qing Dynasty.’

Vietnam, in pressing its case, has cited maps and geography attesting to its ‘historical sovereignty’ over the Paracel and Spratly islands going back to the 17th century. This doesn’t match the antiquity of China’s claims, but, at the very least, it shows that Chinese claims have been contested for centuries, and that China didn’t enjoy exclusive and continuous jurisdiction over these islands.

And, if history is to be the criterion, which period of history should be decisive? After all, if the Qin or Han dynasty is to be taken as the benchmark, then China’s territory today would be much smaller, since at the time it had not yet acquired Tibet, Xinjiang or Manchuria.

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Filed under history, South China Sea, Vietnam

“1911: The Failed Institutional Revolution”

Yet more pondering on the Xinhai Centenary- this time a good one from ChinaBeat:

The 1911 revolution, whether because of the initial weakness of its proponents or through a series of unlucky historical coincidences, rapidly led to the restoration of Yuan Shikai to the imperial throne. The long-anticipated democratic system and the greater social and civic equality that was to result from it remained elusive, prompting a decade of soul-searching among China’s intellectuals. The most famous product of these reflections was without doubt Lu Xun’s Ah Q, the epitome of a revolutionary who is unequipped and unable to become a citizen. How were China’s Ah Qs to be made into citizens? This became the foremost preoccupation of the country’s intellectual elite for many years, setting them apart from the world of power politics. The New Culture movement, with its emphasis on education and individual autonomy, was followed by cultural agendas that became increasingly utopian as politics became more cynical and polarized. When Duan Qirui sent his troops into Beijing, Lu Xun’s brother Zhou Zuoren took his Beijing University students to study in the countryside, emulating the Japanese “New Village movement.” As Chiang Kai-shek massacred supposed communist sympathizers, Liang Shuming set up utopian rural schools in China’s remote backwaters. “Real” democracy was always seen as outside the corrupt institutions of party politics; however, the utopian vision of “fostering citizens” never led to the desired changes in the political system. Similarly to Weimar Germany, the Republic of China was a time of great freedom and intellectual ferment, but also a Republic without republicans, a regime whose institutions no one was prepared to invest in.

In this manner, mistrust of institutions remained strong among critical Chinese intellectuals for most of the century, and was notably instrumentalized to great effect by Mao during the Cultural Revolution – which is not to say that “organic” intellectuals did not crave recognition from the state when the opportunity arose. However, it was only after the beginning of Reform and Opening up (改革開放 gaige kaifang) that the Chinese elite again warmed to the theme of institution building: throughout the 1980s – a decade of intellectual ferment and political reform in many ways similar to the 1900s – the feeling dominated that an institutional compromise was possible between inner-Party reformers and idealistic intellectuals. After the violent crackdown of the 1989 student movement, a similar pattern emerged: rather than embarking on an uncertain long march through the institutions, many of China’s foremost critical thinkers once again took refuge in other realms: academia, legal activism, grassroots civil society organizations, personal investigations of recent history, documentary films, or emigration. Only Liu Xiaobo, loyal to the spirit of the 1980s, reaffirmed his commitment to formulating an institutional alternative, demonstrated most clearly in the Charter 08 he co-authored. On the whole, however, institutional reform was seen as both hopeless and useless (a point tragically demonstrated by Liu’s arrest) and the real battles were elsewhere.

It took almost one century from the fall of the Bastille until French citizens of all political stripes could to come together at the funeral of Republican icon Victor Hugo, a sign, according to historian François Furet’s famous pronouncement, that “Revolution had entered port.” This has not happened in China. To the contrary, the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, with its carefully crafted historical narrative, took great pains to avoid sketching out a possible political consensus on how to define the nation in the 20th century, closely confining itself to the cultural bric-a-brac of its “5,000-year history.” This absence of even a minimal consensus on the nature of the Chinese polity speaks eloquently to the open legacy of 1911. One hundred years on, the divide between an institutional apparatus that seems less and less amenable to reform and an aspirational form of democracy that has not yet found a satisfactory institutional translation on the Chinese mainland remains as deep as ever.

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“China’s Century-Long Identity Crisis”

On the Xinhai Centenary, WSJ has a good post by a Chinese history professor:

The Chinese Communist Party would like to forget this internationalism. Today the Party’s idea of a “superpower” is a nation capable of taking anything it wants from the global arena and free to give nothing back if it so desires. With the ideological heritage of communism neutralized by cronyism and corporatism, the CCP insists that the revolutions of 1911 and 1949 were powered by the elusive stuff of “nationalism.”

Non-Chinese take their notions of nationalism from the history of countries like Britain and France—where in the early modern period nationalist officials, historians and rhetoricians could work in the context of continent-wide laws recognizing absolute sovereignty and of emerging bases of civil opposition to royal power, military forces to protect economic independence and essential farmland, and boundaries defined by treaty. But during the same period, China was part of the Qing empire, ruled by foreign invaders, the Manchus.

The Chinese themselves had no armies, no defined boundaries and above all no concept of national sovereignty. At the end of the 19th century, as in the cases of many peoples entering the twilight of the great land empires, Chinese leaders arose who claimed the banner of nationalism. Their opposition to the Qing, British and French empires was clear enough. What was unclear was the basis of this nationalism once the Qing fell and the assaults of foreign empires withered away.

Today the CCP condemns questions, criticisms or opposition from abroad as assaults on China’s “national sovereignty,” a reaction only possible from a government with no historical grounding in what sovereignty is. Officials, along with collaborating writers and academics, have engineered a Chinese “nationalism” that consists of odds and ends of resentment against real wrongs done to China by foreign invaders and imperialists in the past; glorification of a genuinely distinct literary, artistic and philosophical tradition of some 4,000 years’ duration; fictive narratives of political and geographical continuity of a Chinese “empire” for that same period; and circuitous claims to dominate the former Qing empire territories of Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan.

China’s national evolution in the post-imperial period is rooted in a vibrant tradition of popular opposition to tyrannical government and an openness to international cooperation, but CCP-approved history and rhetoric feverishly denies this truth. The Party wields a blunt club of undefined and amoral “nationalism” that would be dangerous to it were the club to fall from its grasp. If a future government recognizes the history of China’s transition from empire to republic, however, it could temper relationships with its own people, as well as with international friends and rivals.

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“Fear of Dragons”

The NYT has a great piece by Yu Hua on the Xinhai Revolution anniversary:

Lord Ye, it is said, loved dragons so much that he had them carved on his wine vessels and personal accessories and even made them the theme of his interior decoration. One day a real dragon came down to check things out, pressing its nose up against Lord Ye’s window while its tail swished about outside. Lord Ye, scared out of his wits, turned around and fled.

I am reminded of the story as I observe the centennial of China’s 1911 revolution, the series of uprisings that brought down the Qing dynasty and established a democratic republic. The government loves the hoopla, which culminates Monday, as long as it can invent it and control it. But when the real thing shows any sign of approaching, it panics.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Chinese history has never opened its door to democracy. As 1911 demonstrated, democracy enters China only by smashing down the door. The years of intellectual ferment that followed, from 1912 to 1927, marked perhaps the period of greatest freedom in 20th-century China. In that era of social activism and freedom of speech, an immense variety of political parties and organizations played a role in society. Today, the eight so-called “democratic” parties are just helpmates to the Communist Party.

The freedoms of the early Republican period did not last. They were strangled in the cradle, and the guiding principles and separation of powers that Sun Yat-sen espoused perished with his passing.

Liang Qichao, a key reform figure in the late-19th century, once said that the measures taken by the Qing government to guard against popular unrest were infinitely more elaborate than those of advanced countries. Over a hundred years later, China remains the leader in efforts to forestall popular protest.

So it is with only superficial gestures that our officials commemorate 1911. They claim to be celebrating 1911, but in fact they are hailing 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed.

In Wuhan, the birthplace of the 1911 uprising, police were directed to reinforce their patrols between Aug. 27 and Oct. 10. Apart from the several thousand officers conducting patrols each day, 100 paramilitary police and 200 special police armed with submachine guns have been assigned to street duty. A quarter of a million surveillance cameras watch every corner 24 hours a day — all in the name of “creating a peaceful environment for the centennial.”

I have no doubt that Lord Ye loved dragons — so long as they were purely ornamental. Nor do I doubt that our government wants to commemorate the 1911 revolution — so long as the tributes are confined to decorative knickknacks, or to flights of fancy in interior design.

Exactly right. Even the random-numbered anniversaries were given bigger play this year than the 100th of Xinhai seems to be getting.

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“The Xinhai Revolution and Counter Revolution on the Frontiers of Republican China”

Awesome historian Tsering Shakya on the significance of the Xinhai Revolution for minorities on the edge of Qing China:

The Xinhai Revolution of 1911 and the subsequent founding of the republic sought to remould China as being composed of five nationalities: Han, Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan, and Uyghur. This vision of a multi-ethnic nation had no appeal to Tibetans and Mongols. In divergent ways, the Xinhai Revolution created an opportunity for China, Tibet, and Mongolia to create a modern nation state.

The revolution profoundly impacted China’s frontier regions. China’s authority disappeared, particularly from Tibet and Mongolia. Tibetans and Mongolians saw the overthrow of Manchu rule as an opportunity to free themselves from Qing colonialism. In the aftermath of the 1911 revolution, Tibet and Mongolia declared independence and became de facto independent states, remaining so until the mid-20th century. But only Mongolia achieved full recognition as a separate state while Tibet failed.

Independence from China brought Jazandamba, the Bodg Khan (spiritual and secular ruler), to power in a theocratic Mongolian government in the 1910s. Mongolian leaders shared the modernist goal of the Chinese revolutionaries and viewed traditional social structure as an impediment to modern nation status. Later Mongolian revolutionaries embraced the idea of the radical transformation of society and in 1921 became the first Asian country to declare a Communist revolution. Mongolia turned towards the Soviet Union in a strategic and ideological alliance.

Tibet, after expelling all vestiges of Manchu rule, became isolationist and any demand for social change was aggressively resisted. The death of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1933 left Tibet without leadership and plunged its ruling class into a power struggle, which further blinded them from developments occurring in China.

Between 1911 and 1949, the new regime in China was preoccupied with internal politics and faced resistance from Tibetans and Mongols. China was unable to reassert power in these two regions. Mongolia’s Communist revolution afforded Mongolians the protection of the Soviet Union and ensured its independence. Tibet remained independent of China’s rule between 1911 and 1950, although it never achieved de jure recognition.

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“Deng’s Heyday”

Journalist Ian Johnson has an amusing and interesting look back at his first visit to China in the mid-80s. Obviously, a place that seems only tangentially related to the China of today:

I ended up in a tiny language class of misfits. My most memorable classmate was Sasha, a burly middle-aged Russian who never mastered more than a handful of Chinese words. The rest of the time he smiled pleasantly and nodded his head. Word has it that he was the minder for the Russian students, the first group to study at Beida since the Sino-Soviet split of the early 1960s.

Beijing was a much smaller city then and it was a trip through North China’s hardscrabble countryside, where we caught glimpses of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms: free vegetable markets, small “getihu” businesses and snatches of colorful clothing that slowly were replacing the blue and green tunics of the Mao era. We ate in restaurants that required grain coupons and when one of my tires blew, Lao Zhang lashed my bike to his and the two of us rode on his several kilometers to the nearest village.

Lao Zhang also taught me lessons in how to skirt the military that still occupied most of western Beijing’s suburbs. One day in November, he and I rode out to the Eight Great Sites (八大處) along a country road and just before arriving at a corner, he pulled over, plunked his enormous fur hat on my head, pulled up my collar and said to ride with my head lowered. I did so and we passed the bored guards standing at the side of the road. Once past the guards he ordered me to look up — everyone would assume I was supposed to be there if I was there, he wisely said. Soon after we rode out of the military zone. I asked him why the area was restricted and he said that some military dormitories lay on that stretch of road, something of a disappointment as I’d assumed we’d slipped by a top-secret nuclear testing facility.

It wasn’t the greatest subterfuge but it taught me about the paranoia of the state. I learned that restricted sites in Chinese are often only out-of-bounds to people who look different. The people who devised these silly rules (some of which one still encounters in China) never seemed to consider that a blond-haired, blue-eyed person like me would be the last sort of person a foreign intelligence agency would employ to spy on the Chinese military. If you looked Chinese you were a “neiguoren” (內國人) and that meant you were okay. If you didn’t, you were a problem. On a practical level, it was a lesson I’d draw on many times in the future when slipping past guards — big hat or hood, look down, walk briskly and act like you belong.

One of our favorite games was to use an old copy of Nagel’s Encyclopedia, a Swiss guidebook written by French graduate students on the eve of the Cultural Revolution. It had essays on everything from Chinese chess to Daoism, but most importantly it offered interesting descriptions of sights that would later be attacked and destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. We ignored the local guidebooks or maps, which had only a handful of reopened sights, and used Nagel’s to find dozens of temples, halls and palaces that officially didn’t exist. Few were open to the public but we often could talk our way in — gatekeepers, we found, were happy to show off their grounds to earnest foreign students. It was a reminder of how weak China’s cultural and religious organizations are; even today many temples and mansions are occupied by government agencies. Many others have simply been torn down.

Occasionally, we caught glimpses of bigger events. We saw Beida students protest the administration’s decision to turn off their lights at 11 pm. It seemed like a minor issue but for them was symbolic of their poor living conditions and lack of independence. They threw bottles — a homonym for the given name of the country’s paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping — out of their dorm windows, a sign of the disgruntlement that would flare up five years later.

More memorable was the Oct. 1 parade on Tiananmen Square for the 35th anniversary of the People’s Republic. It featured the first military parade since 1960 and, despite some of the anger, students still called out “Xiaoping, ni hao!” (How are you, Xiaoping!) when he passed by in a limousine. Five years later, of course, the students and Deng collided and this almost naïve era ended in a bloodbath. But at this point Deng and the government were popular for having unshackled China and given people the first taste or prosperity in decades.

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“The Hero Propagated by Nationalists”

Woeser is on a roll again- High Peaks has translated one of her posts about Zhao Erfeng, a Qing dynasty official who had a career as a warlord in western Sichuan/ eastern Tibet. He is remembered by Tibetans for a series of horrific massacres, but Chinese officialdom is trying to rehabilitate his perception and make him into a hero for bringing part of Tibet into the Chinese fold:

Zhao Erfeng was a late Qing Dynasty Imperial Minister in charge of the Sichuan-Yunnan border area and also of troops stationed in Tibet; between 1905 and 1908 he sent his army into the eastern Tibetan Kham region to brutally stop Tibetan protests; he also put into effect the abolishment of the hereditary Tusi system and with it the the establishment of the “Liuguan” system to forcefully assimilate Tibet. Tibetan people felt deep hatred towards him, referring to him as “Zhao Tufu”, which means murderous dictator.

According to records, Zhao Erfeng first “destroyed Qigou Village of Batang County, killed several hundred Tibetans, and threw their dead bodies into the Yangtze River; then he cut out the hearts of the several leaders of the rebellion and strained their blood”. After that he “burned down Sampel Ling Monastery of Chatreng County and Chode Monastery of Batang County for no reason and threw all Buddhist statues, bronze ware, cast copper coins and sacred texts into the toilet; The coloured silk cloths protecting the deities were taken by soldiers and used for foot-binding. It is hard to tell how many innocent people were murdered and slaughtered. But it reached the point where those who escaped into all directions were left destitute and homeless”.

An executioner who not only murdered people like scything flax but also in the same undignified way destroyed Tibetan culture, has been regarded as supreme by Chinese officialdom. The Party Committee member of the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Ma Jinglin, said: “with regards to the specific course of events and the specific measures implemented by Zhao Erfeng, no matter what social class one comes from or whether the methods were or were not correct, we need to analyse, understand, and grasp what happened in the context of the particular times and environment at the time. As long as what he did was in tune with the inevitable laws of historical development, we should give him full approval.” This kind of explanation was also used for the massacre on Tibetans in the 1950s, and also during the bloodbath in 2008.

Scholars and writers from within the Chinese system also think highly of Zhao Erfeng; one example is the Han Chinese writer Ma Lihua who lived in Tibet for over twenty years and who became famous by writing books on Tibet; in one of her books she says: “when a dynasty comes to an end, it is possible that a regional general who acts in such a way appears” and then infallibly adds “later on, even though overall, Tibetans spoke badly of Zhao Erfeng, a third of them couldn’t help but express their respect.”

When one searches for “Zhao Erfeng” online, one is confronted with many thought-provoking phenomena. Many Chinese mention that Zhao Erfeng killed Han Chinese people, which they consider the “dark spot in his life”, but his evil behaviour in Tibet is endlessly being praised; one finds headlines such as “the misunderstood national hero of the last century”, “the historical contributions of the great Qing minister Zhao Erfeng who led an army into Tibet to put an end to the rebellions”, “cherish the memory of the national hero Zhao Erfeng”, or “recapturing a Tibetan hero”. This very clearly shows that killing Han Chinese is cruel and mean, whereas killing Tibetans is an act of patriotism.

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“China’s Tibetan Theme Park”

A month or two ago I had a post about Tibetan writer Woeser visiting Chengde, a city in northern China where a large-scale model of the Potala is a huge tourist draw. Woeser slammed the entire thing, noting the inauthentic aspects of the presentation and the highly inaccurate history being related by Han tour guides. Richard Bernstein has an article up in the New York Review of Books about the same subject, and slams it as well. Describing a ‘historical’ performance shown to tourists, he says:

In one scene, accompanied by a revolving, luminous model of the solar system, Kangxi learns astronomy from the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci. In another scene, one of the show’s most lavishly produced, a huge procession of Tibetan lamas, marching to the music of rumbling bass horns and headed by the Dalai Lama, arrives to demonstrate their fealty to the Chinese emperor. Did these events actually take place?

The Matteo Ricci episode reflects the historical presence of the Jesuits at the court in Beijing at the time. But Western historians of the Qing and the Qing’s complicated relations with Tibet make no mention of such a visit by the Dalai Lama during Kangxi’s reign, although the 3rd Panchen Lama, the number two Tibetan spiritual leader and an ally of the Qing, did visit Chengde in 1779—shortly after the Little Potala was built—to help celebrate the 60th birthday of Qianlong. During that visit, Qianlong famously treated the visitor as an equal. The Panchen Lama did not, for example, perform the kowtow, which was required of other visitors from the “outer lands,” and he was recognized as a spiritual authority for China proper, the “inner lands,” as well Tibet. As the late historian of imperial China Frederick W. Mote concluded, “Tibet remained wholly independent of Qing China in all aspects of its domestic governing….Chinese control, something previously found not feasible, perhaps traditionally not held to be highly desirable, was in the end accomplished by modern military force”—led not by Kangxi or any other Manchu emperor but under Mao.

Both the [Tibetan-style temples in Chengde] were crowded with thousands and thousands of Chinese tourists, led by Chinese guides with loudspeakers, turning large bronze Tibetan prayer wheels, burning incense sticks sold to them by Chinese men and women wearing period costumes, and receiving instruction from Chinese temple staff in the proper prayer gestures to make before the Buddha images by Chinese functionaries. The tone is respectful, conveying the sense that the Tibetan culture, part of the great Chinese multi-ethnic family, is deeply respected in China and has always been deeply respected.

There is nothing heavy-handed in these messages—none of the ritual denunciations of the Dalai Lama as a “jackel” and a “splittist” that regularly appear in the Chinese press, no overt praise of China for having liberated Tibet from serfdom and slavery—and, of course, no mention of the bloody suppression of the 1959 rebellion in Tibet, one result of which was the flight of the present Dalai Lama to India. Yet the Chengde sights are a bit like exhibits in a Tibetan theme park devoid of actual Tibetans. In one room in the sprawling Puning Temple, several photographs of a handsome young man in safran robes were on display. This is Gyaltsen Norbu, now twenty-two years old, who was selected in 1995 by the Chinese Communist Party to be the authentic reincarnation of the Panchen lama, after the Chinese police took into “protective custody” the boy whose selection was approved by the Dalai Lama.

In the end, the underlying assumptions of the Chengde presentation are unmistakable: that Tibet has been governed by China since at least the time of the Kangxi emperor, that this had the ready consent of Tibet’s highest spiritual authorities at the time, and that the current Chinese government honors Tibet’s religious traditions—that reminder in the photographs of the “Chinese” Panchen Lama of the Communist Party’s intrusion into Tibet’s religious traditions notwithstanding.

The real story of Chinese-Tibetan relations would of course be vastly more interesting than Beijing’s version, but the narrative implied by the Kanxi Ceremony seems widely accepted by Chinese who in many other respects are skeptical of official Chinese history. In August in Beijing, I had a talk on this subject with a small group of journalists and academics of the sort who chafe under censorship restrictions and who are fully aware that on sensitive subjects the truth is what is dictated by the Communist Party. But they seem to feel that Chinese rule, especially in the past couple of decades, has greatly benefitted Tibetans, who show an annoying lack of appreciation.

When I brought up the case of the Panchen Lama to illustrate the harshness of Chinese control, the response generally was that, yes, that was a bit heavy-handed, but the government supervises the appointment of all senior religious figures in China, including, of course, Catholic bishops, and therefore the Panchen Lama incident was not discriminatory against Tibetans. As for the Dalai Lama, the general position during my conversation was that he is a socially retrograde figure who would restore the feudal system that Chinese rule has ended, such as requiring that 30 percent of all income go to the Buddhist establishment and that lamas have to provide permission for people to marry.

Such assumptions, which are contradicted by widely available facts, may seem all the more surprising since it is very easy to find a meeting of minds with Chinese journalists and academics on other subjects, including the notion that the ruling party has become a conspicuously corrupt oligarchy and is increasingly unpopular. But on Tibet, the version of truth that prevails is the version to be found in Chengde.

I’ve noticed the same thing in conversations with Chinese- even people who are at least vaguely aware of Tiananmen and the extent of censorship, for example, are still unlikely to realize that the history they’ve been taught about Tibet is completely inaccurate. The propaganda even primes them to ignore foreigners on that subject, because Xinhua claims that all problems in Tibet are caused by the Dalai Lama and by foreigners who have been ‘tricked’ by the ‘splittist’ Dalai Clique. The way this turns Han and Tibetan against each other is really poisonous, but that’s the only way Beijing can keep the majority on their side.

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“The Xinhai Revolution And Tibet”

Tibetan writer Woeser, still stuck in Beijing, writes about the Xinhai Revolution (translated by High Peaks):

Hence, it is possible to argue that the Xinhai Revolution represented an opportunity for Tibet at the time. The 13th Dalai Lama sensed this very clearly and also almost managed to seize this opportunity. After returning from exile he took over the office of the several hundred years old Kashag (government of Tibet) and in 1913, officially declared Tibet an independent country. However, such a major announcement is really worth nothing if it does not gain recognition from the international community.

On the other hand, the Xinhai Revolution had long-lasting, profound and intense impacts upon Tibet. I am referring to the period after the revolution when first Yuan Shikai raised his notion of “Five Nationalities as One Family” and later, when Sun Yat-sen was the temporary President of the Republic of China and proposed his notion of the “Republic of Five Nationalities”, meaning that the “unification of lands inhabited by the Han, Manchu, Mongol, Hui and Tibetan people into one country means the unification of the Han, Manchu, Mongol, Hui and Tibetan races”. From this moment, the saying of “Tibet has always been a part of China” was born, completely ignoring the fact that Tibet and Mongolia had already declared independence and were mutually recognising their independent nations.

Sun Yat-sen is not only the founding father of the Republic of China, his portrait was also exhibited on Tiananmen Square during the national celebrations of the People’s Republic of China, together with that of his counterpart Mao Zedong. This shows that regardless of whether we look at the Kuomintang or the Communist Party, they have all carried on this legacy of thought, especially the notion of the “Republic of Five Nations”. What sounds like equality, harmony and beauty, is in fact not like that at all; regardless of whether we take the “five nationalities” from back then, or the 56 minorities from today, at the end of the day, we are only talking about one single ethnic group.

So, Tibetan people should always try and look far ahead. For a weak and vulnerable group of people, it is extremely important to be clear about which path to take in the future, otherwise it will be impossible to turn back.

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“1911, The Other Revolution”

From Granta.com, a post about the two big anniversaries this year: the 100 years since the toppling of the Qing Dynasty, and the 90 years since the founding of the Communist Party. Writing about being in Beijing on the day of the 90th CP anniversary:

The passengers on the Beijing underground that morning seemed unmoved by the celebrations, glancing away from the screens with what seemed like indifference or even contempt. The public’s real feelings about the Party were visible less than a month later, when thirty-nine people died in a crash on a hastily built and badly run high-speed rail line. Public anger at the Party’s corruption and untouchability exploded across the country.

Once, the Party’s celebrations would have been enacted in every workplace, with obligatory attendance at long political meetings and glum official concerts. Today, it no longer pretends to inspire or to include: its rituals recall the gigantic choruses of Soviet state occasions or North Korea’s mass games, but the masses have long since left the auditorium. The more they are reminded of the early Party, with its ethos of sacrifice and struggle, the sharper the contrast with today’s millionaire bureaucrats, with their oppressive taxes and their overweening security services.

Corruption loomed large in President Hu Jintao’s birthday speech, as it has in every leader’s speech for nearly three decades. From time to time, a prominent official will lose his job or be executed for embezzling large sums from the public purse. But picking off individual officials, as everybody knows, is no substitute for a systemic clean up and the repeated promises are as empty of meaning as the parade of red flags and other symbols of a shrivelled revolutionary age.

Harmony is a code for political stasis, for the right of China’s present rulers to stay in power. The evils that revolutionaries of 1911 had identified: bureaucracy, corruption and a suffocating Confucian conservatism, are thriving and the Party’s appeal has shrunk to the warning that without their firm hand there would be chaos. It is not a good moment to remind the Chinese people of the revolution that bred a ferment of ideas ten years before the Communist Party was born.

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“China’s Fluid Ideology”

The Diplomat has a piece here talking about the history of the Chinese constitution, which has been overhauled many times since the founding of the People’s Republic. On what the future holds for this document, which faces extreme limitations in practice but provides important ideological cover for the Party:

In his 90-minute speech, without mentioning himself, Hu talked of his own stewardship of the party since 2002.

‘Since the Party’s 16th National Congress, the Party Central Committee has united with and led the entire Party and the people of all ethnic groups in following Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of Three Represents, fully implementing the Scientific Outlook on Development, energetically promoting scientific development and social harmony, and continuing to advance the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics by building a moderately prosperous society in all respects,’ Hu said.

He also clarified where Communist ideology stands today. Mao Zedong Thought, he said, was a great theoretical achievement in the historical process of adapting Marxism to China’s conditions.

The other great theoretical achievement, he said, is the system of theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics. ‘This,’ Hu said, ‘is a scientific theoretical system consisting of Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development and other major strategic thoughts.’

The scientific outlook on development and social harmony are Hu’s contribution, and it’s possible that they will be added to the party constitution at the congress next year. So, although the party has held up Marxism-Leninism from the 1950s to now as its guide to action, Marxism-Leninism has itself been defined and redefined.

In the long run, it’s likely that this is how the Communist Party—and China—will change: not as a result of outside pressure, but through the transformation and redefinition of its ideology, all the while insisting that it continues to be guided by Marxism-Leninism.

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“Harbin’s Past, Modern Style”

Writing in China Beat, James Carter talks about the unique architectural heritage of Harbin, and why it may soon be lost. A familiar story, being played out in cities across China:

When I first visited Harbin, in the early 1990s, the city’s architecture was shabby, but magnificent. Russian-designed onion domes and spires are Harbin’s signature, but they were just one element. Near my dormitory, the former Danish embassy—then a kindergarten—resembled a fairy-tale castle. The city’s mosque, built in the 1920s, seemed to combine Islamic and art nouveau influences. Unique to the city, in the Fujiadian district—Harbin’s “Chinatown”—was the “Chinese Baroque” style, found nowhere else. Developed when Harbin was truly cosmopolitan (because of the Trans-Siberian Railway, it was closer to Europe than any other Chinese city and boasted a sizable population of Russians), this style blended European and Chinese with a result that was neither Chinese nor European, yet both Chinese and European.

A June China Daily article discussing ongoing changes to Harbin’s streetscape shows that this idea of Chinese Baroque has taken a new turn. The city government, eager to spur development in this economically depressed metropolis, is razing millions of square meters in the city center and replacing the old with new buildings intended to recapture the architectural sensibility of the structures being torn down. The new development style, also named “Chinese Baroque,” is meant to be modern and efficient, while maintaining the city’s architectural richness. But in the process the very buildings that made up Harbin’s older diversity are being lost.

Chinese Baroque, the sequel, will certainly maintain a sense of Harbin’s unique identity. But it will do so in the soulless, too-perfect spirit of Shanghai’s Xintiandi or Nanjing’s 1912, Beijing’s Qianmen Dajie or any of the other dozens of projects that remodel China’s architectural past in user-friendly packages. Soon, China’s major cities may all be unique… in exactly the same way.

I can see the appeal in the clean new ‘ancient’ areas, for people who grew up in far shabbier circumstances. I’m afraid that in time, though, the Chinese may come to regret choosing to replace, instead of repair, their ancient architecture.

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