“The Communist Party goes Kodachrome”

Evan Osnos with a good one on what we see in the Party Congress, and what we don’t see:

For a week, Beijing is flirting with memories of the pre-Internet age. By ramping up the electronic network of censors, dead ends, and other roadblocks, the government has succeeded in making the Internet, at times, as balky and circumscribed as at any moment since the Web arrived in China nearly a decade ago. It would be easy to forget that China now has nearly six hundred million people online, because the Chinese-language microblogs and forums have been scrubbed of the humiliating double entendre and mockery that citizens now pour forth on the Party and its leaders. At times, Google and Gmail disappear entirely. The outside world’s most nettlesome newspaper, the Times, has been blacked out. Likewise, it’s easy to think we’re back in the days before Bloomberg was anything but a person, because that site is blacked out, too, for publishing details on the fortunes of senior Party oligarchs, a subject the government considers an appalling breach of decorum.

For a week, all is quiet on China’s Western front, as far as the Party is concerned. It would be easy to miss the fact that six Tibetan protesters set themselves on fire in the course of two days last week, to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet, because the only Tibetan participants you’re likely to meet in the Great Hall of the People this week are the kinds of Tibetans who call each other “comrade,” speak Mandarin, and point out, as the delegation did on Thursday, that the Tibetan capital has been voted the happiest city in China four times in the last five years. To make sure that the present doesn’t intrude on that memory, teams of guards are stationed outside the Great Hall with fire extinguishers in case anyone tries to burn themselves.

For a week, the Party is unified, tolerant of debate, and clear in its mission. To ensure that today’s complexities do not encroach on that, the State Council Information Office, which helps tell the Chinese media what it can report, advised all Chinese news publications that they are “forbidden from reporting on, commenting on or publishing Hu Deping‘s online article ‘Reform Cannot be Wasted.’” Hu, the scion of the late leader Hu Yaobang, is a frequent critic of the Party’s reluctance to reform, but there’s no reason for newspaper readers to be burdened with those ins and outs. It was just one of scores of advisories given to the Chinese media this week to maintain what filmmakers call continuity. It is the authoritarian equivalent of ensuring that the extras in the shot aren’t wearing digital watches.

Like all parties, the Party’s party will come to an end, eventually: Thursday, to be precise, when the next generation of leaders will be revealed to the world. It will be up to those men to face the reality of the Party’s future, if the present is not unnerving enough.

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“Li Keqiang, China’s next premier, carries reformers’ hopes”

A good read to raise our hopes while we wait for the end of the Party Congress:

Li is described as an extremely intelligent self-taught speaker of English and a loyal Communist Party member who gave up a rare opportunity to study abroad when the party asked him to stay in China to work organizing students at Peking University as a top official in the Communist Youth League. It was at the university that Li made friendships with many outspoken pro-democracy advocates, some of whom were jailed or went into exile after the 1989 military crackdown at Tiananmen Square.

But some said he is not ruthless enough for the party’s internal maneuverings — a fact that some colleagues said may have relegated him to the No. 2 job, and not the presidency, which will go to the current vice president Xi Jinping.

Li entered Peking University, China’s most prestigious, in February 1978. Yang Baikui, who was an international politics student there, worked with Li for one year while at the school, translating an English book, “The Due Process of Law,” by British jurist Lord Denning. The book was brought to China by a professor, Gong Xiangrui, then one of China’s few British-trained lawyers, who inculcated his students in the ideas of Western-style liberalism and constitutional law.

“He learned a lot from the book he and I translated,” Yang recalled. “I’m not sure about democracy. But I’m sure he believes in constitutional government. And also the rule of law.”

Li had little formal English training. But Yang and others recall how Li diligently carried a stack of small notecards, held together with an elastic band, with English words on one side and the Chinese translation on the other. He would study the cards while waiting for the bus or standing in line at the school cafeteria. He became so proficient that in 2011 he stunned listeners at a Hong Kong University event by breaking protocol and speaking for two minutes in fluent English.

Li’s rise has not been without controversy. In Henan, where Li became governor in 1998, he has been criticized for not taking steps to prevent the spread of the AIDS epidemic to hundreds of thousands of villagers who were contaminated after donating blood through a government program.

Most of the infections happened before Li was governor. But one critic, Chen Bingzhong, a 79-year-old former head of China’s National Institute of Health Education, wrote an open letter that appeared on overseas Chinese Web sites in September calling Li “unsuitable to be the leader of a country.”

Will we get the rule of law aficionado, or the AIDS ignorer, or just another do-nothing Wen Jiabao?

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Self-Immolation Epicenter Shifting from Ngaba to Rebkong?

Perhaps in response to the Party Congress, another cluster of self-immolations has broken out in Amdo. This one seems centered on Rebkong, as the latest example shows (via Phayul):

In more heartbreaking news coming out of Tibetan, a second Tibetan set himself on fire today in the Rebkong region of eastern Tibet.

Sources are confirming with Phayul that the Tibetan identified as Nyingchag Bum, 20, passed away in his protest in Dowa region of Rebkong.

“Nyingchag Bum from Yonlag Dewa set himself on fire on the main street of Dowa town,” Geshe Rongwo Lobsang Nyendak, a Tibetan member of parliament told Phayul. “Monks from the nearby Dowa Monastery carried his charred body inside the Monastery premises.”

In confirmed reports coming in, Nyingkar Tashi, 24, who set himself on fire this afternoon in Dro Rongwo has passed away in his fiery protest.

Various sources are telling Phayul that the situation around Rebkong region is “very tense” following the five self-immolations in the region this month alone, including two today.

A heavy deployment of Chinese armed forces is also being reported in the region.

This is in addition to other self-immolations over the last few days, in Ngaba and Tsoe:

Another Tibetan teenager burned himself to death Saturday in protest against Chinese rule in Gansu province in the eighth self-immolation this week, sources said.

As he burned, he called for “freedom for Tibetans, the return of [Tibet's spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom of languages,” the source said.

Monks and other local Tibetans had wanted to take Gonpo Tsering to hospital but his condition was too critical and he was instead taken home, where he died, the source said.

After the burning, “Chinese security bureau officers arrived at the scene and they started investigating and questioning the monks and local Tibetans,” the source said.

The surge of articles on China caused by the Party Congress has resulted in a lot more press for the self-immolations than they had seen recently, including this good one from the NYT on the walls built between Tibetans and Chinese:

But while Tibetan rights advocates have long been inured to impassive officials, they are increasingly troubled by the deafening silence among Chinese intellectuals and the liberal online commentariat, a group usually eager to call out injustice despite the perils of bucking China’s authoritarian strictures.

“The apathy is appalling,” said Zhang Boshu, a political philosopher who lost his job at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences three years ago for criticizing the government’s human rights record.

The silence, some say, is exposing an uncomfortable gulf between Tibetans and China’s Han majority, despite decades of propaganda that seeks to portray the nation as a harmonious family comprising 56 contented minorities.

“It’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about,” said Wang Lixiong, a prominent Tibetologist and social theorist whose writings have drawn the unwelcome attention of public security personnel, including a contingent of police officers who kept him sequestered inside his Beijing apartment this week as the party congress got under way.

Mr. Wang and others say a subtle undercurrent of antipathy toward Tibetans suffuses the worldview of educated Chinese. That sentiment, they say, has been nurtured by official propaganda that paints Tibetans as rebellious, uncultured and unappreciative of government efforts to raise their standard of living.

One prominent filmmaker, speaking more candidly than usual, but only under the condition of anonymity, noted that many Chinese are alternately fascinated and repulsed by Tibetans. “We Han love their exotic singing and dancing, but we also see them as barbarians seeking to split the nation apart,” he said.

Ms. Woeser said that even her most open-minded friends are confounded by Tibetans, with their fierce religious devotion, their demands for greater autonomy and their aching for the return of the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing regularly dismisses as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Chinese intellectuals, she added, see Tibet as a forbidding, restive land, but also inseparable from China. “The Han are obsessed with issues of sovereignty,” said Ms. Woeser, who is married to Mr. Wang, the critic barred from leaving his home. “They want to claim Tibet as part of China, but they are not terribly concerned with the Tibetan people or their culture.”

Finally, a video from Kunleng showing the size of one of the protests in Rebkong:

This took place after one of the self-immolations. Watch the view at about a minute in, when the camera turns to show the size of the crowd behind the film-taker.

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Another Self-Immolation in Rebkong; UN Chides China

News of the latest one, via ICT:

A young Tibetan man called Dorjee Lhundrup set fire to himself today in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren) in Qinghai province, the Tibetan area of Amdo. Dorjee Lhundrup was a farmer in his mid-twenties from Chuma village in Rebkong. He had two children, a two-year old daughter and a four-year old son.

Dorjee Lhundrup self-immolated on the morning of November 4 on Taglung South Street, some kilometers west of Rongwo monastery. He died immediately afterwards.

According to a Tibetan in exile who is in contact with Tibetans in the area: “Many people gathered in the place where he set fire to himself, and then a number of monks went there too. They protected his corpse from Chinese police and troops, and brought him to the monastery where monks and laypeople prayed for him. His father spoke, and many people were crying. Dorjee Lhundrup was cremated on the side of a hill behind the monastery. Traditionally only high lamas were cremated there. Sonam Dargye, who self-immolated in March, was also cremated there.”

RFA reports that large protests followed, and has a few pictures that you should click through to see:

Thousands of Tibetans staged protests against Chinese rule after another self-immolation death Sunday in a Tibetan-populated area in Qinghai province, triggering a massive security buildup, according to sources.

The dawn self-immolation attracted a large crowd of monks and residents to the township, with many of them placing the “khata,” the traditional Tibetan scarf, on his charred remains as a mark of respect for the father of two, one source said.

Later, several thousand Tibetans converged at a hill site near the key Rongwo monastery as Dorje Dhondup’s body was taken there for prayers and immediate cremation to prevent the Chinese authorities from interfering with funeral rites, the source said.

“People shouted ‘Kyi! Kyi!,’ a Tibetan battle cry, and others raised slogans at the Dhongya-la cremation site where thousands of people gathered to mourn and pay their respect for the deceased and stand in solidarity with the family of Dorjee Dhondup,” the source said.

His family members pleaded with the crowd to end the protest for fear over their safety, saying Dorje Lungdup set fire to himself to “protect Tibet’s interest” and underscore demands for the return of the Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in India since 1958 following a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

“Soon after the self immolation incident, security forces poured into the town and patrolled the streets and the situation was tense,” according to the source.

This comes just days after the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights finally weighed in on the situation:

“Social stability in Tibet will never be achieved through heavy security measures and suppression of human rights,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a rare statement critical of China.

Pillay “urged Chinese authorities to promptly address the longstanding grievances that have led to an alarming escalation in desperate forms of protest, including self-immolations in Tibetan areas”.

She also urged the government to respect the rights to peaceful assembly and expression and to release all those detained for exercising those rights.

The Chinese foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment.

I shouldn’t think it would be.

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“The Dangerous Math of Chinese Island Disputes”

M. Taylor Fravel with a reasonably controversial claim that China may actually be willing to use force to consolidate its claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands:

Since 1949, China has been involved in 23 territorial disputes with its neighbors on land and at sea. Seventeen of them have been settled, usually through compromise agreements. Nevertheless, China has used force, often more than once, in six of these disputes. And it’s these cases that most closely parallel the Senkaku impasse.

To start, China has usually only used force in territorial disputes with its most militarily capable neighbors. These include wars or major clashes with India, Russia and Vietnam (several times), as well as crises involving Taiwan. These states have had the greatest ability to check China’s territorial ambitions. In disputes with weaker states, such as Mongolia or Nepal, Beijing has eschewed force because it could negotiate from a position of strength. Japan is now China’s most powerful maritime neighbor, with a modern navy and a large coast guard.

China has also used force most frequently in disputes over offshore islands such as the Senkakus. Along its land border, China has used force only in about one-fifth of 16 disputes. By contrast, China has used force in half of its four island disputes. Islands are seen as possessing much more strategic, military and economic value because they influence sea-lane security and may hold vast stocks of hydrocarbons and fish.

In addition, China has mostly used force to strengthen its position in disputes where it has occupied little or none of the land that it claims. In 1988, for example, China clashed with Vietnam as it occupied six coral reefs that are part of the Spratly Islands. China had claimed sovereignty over the Spratlys for decades—but had not controlled any part of them before this occupation.

The final destabilizing factor in the Senkaku standoff is that both sides are simultaneously engaged in other island disputes. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak recently broke with tradition and became the first Seoul leader to visit the disputed Dokdo (Takeshima) Islands, which are occupied by the Koreans but also claimed by Japan. Meanwhile, China has been dueling with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea. Tokyo and Beijing may both conclude that whoever prevails in the Senkakus will have a better chance at prevailing in these other disputes.

History is not destiny. China has not used force in a territorial dispute for more than 20 years. Escalation over the Senkakus may be avoided. Nevertheless, the current situation is fraught with danger. Should a fatal incident occur involving government ships from either country, a real crisis may begin whose end cannot be foretold.

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“Can China Be Described as ‘Fascist’?”

Can it? Seems like authoritarian is much more accurate, but NYT explores the issue:

That’s what Hu Deping, son of the late Hu Yaobang, the party general secretary forced to resign in 1987 for being too reform-minded, said to a group of mostly Chinese businesspeople and environmentalists in late 2005, in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square.

Here’s what Mr. Hu said, according to my notes: “No matter how authoritarian this society is, even fascist, the people of this country still want justice. One thing they seek is profit, and the other is justice.”

Is today’s China fascist?

To cite a few characteristics, starting with the one-party state: Since the economic reforms that followed the death of Mao Zedong, it has grown immensely wealthy through its state-owned companies, some of which rank among the world’s richest. What was once a poor, authoritarian state has become a rich, authoritarian state.

“The signs have long been there,” said Wang Lixiong, a prominent writer and scholar. “I feel there is a very clear trend toward fascism, and the source of fascism comes from the ever-growing power of the power holders.” China is “a police state,” he said, where power rules for power’s sake.

The passing of Mao did not lead to power-sharing, it just stripped China of its Communist ideology, and no convincing value system has filled the gap, he said.

“Power has become an interest group,” Mr. Wang said.

“Today the interest groups have no ideology,” he said. “Their goal is to protect their own profit and power. They can only rely on power to rule, because they have no goal that convinces the people. So the state relies on power to suppress society and attain its objectives. I think there’s no other route the power holders can go.”

“One of the strongest objections to using the word fascism is that a central element of fascism was mass mobilization,” which included the symbolism and choreography associated with, for example, Hitler’s rallies at Nuremberg, Mr. Delury said. While Mao did that, the current leadership does not, he said, a sign that the term does not exactly fit.

“I think still this leadership is very post-Mao, if not anti-Mao,” said Mr. Delury.

Yet for Mr. Wang, fascism is a threat, even without Mao’s charismatic leadership. He points to rising nationalism at home, increasingly directed overseas.

Does it surprise him to hear what was once a taboo word, an epithet to be hurled at the enemies of Communism, used by a member of China’s elite — even if a critical member — to describe China’s political direction?

“I’m not surprised to hear it, because they know, the people in these ruling circles, they don’t think it’s strange, they know what’s happening,” he said.

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“China powerless to prevent rising tide of Tibetan self-immolations”

The title of this WaPo article isn’t exactly correct, in that China actually does have the power to stop the self-immolations, but resolutely refuses to use it.

“Almost all of them were born after the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the Cultural Revolution,” Lobsang Sangay, the political leader of the refugee community’s India-based government-in-exile said of the perpetrators. “They have grown up in the Chinese system, received Chinese education. They are the primary beneficiaries of whatever the Chinese government gave them. They are saying ‘this is not what we want.’ ”

Last week alone, seven people doused themselves in gasoline and set fire to themselves in eastern Tibet, including two cousins in their twenties who called for “freedom for Tibet” before setting themselves ablaze in front of a government building. At least 62 people have set themselves on fire inside Tibet since February 2009, and all but nine are known to have died, the Free Tibet group says.

China says it rescued the Tibetan people from medieval serfdom under the Dalai Lama’s theocratic rule when it took over in 1950 and in recent years has poured money into the region to build roads, a high-speed railway and projects such as rural electrification.

It blames the self-immolations on the old regime’s attempts to split the country. “This is shameful and should be condemned,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news conference last week.

But many Tibetans appear to view the perpetrators as heroes, sometimes trying to prevent Chinese police removing their bodies, laying ceremonial scarves at protest sites, or paying tribute to their families.

“Tibetans are responding to China’s repressive policies, to seeing their neighbors, friends and families attacked, harassed, beaten and jailed,” said Lhadon Tethong, director of the Tibet Action Institute. “The self-immolations are a response to escalating repression, which the Chinese meet with more repression, and we are in this vicious cycle.”

“Local authorities are under pressure from the central government to put an end to this,” said Elliot Sperling, a Tibet expert at Indiana University. “But this is a form of protest that doesn’t need a conspiracy, it just needs a person. These fliers seem to me to be somewhat desperate.”

The protests have spread because the “tactic is resonating,” said Sperling, although some activists said the recent spurt could be linked to the imminent party congress.

One of the men who set himself ablaze last week had called a friend the day before and asked when the congress was taking place, said Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet, adding that the man had complained that the Chinese government was doing nothing to improve conditions in Tibet.

“This is the first direct evidence we’ve had that Tibetans are factoring this into the decision to self-immolate so close to party congress time,” she said.

In September, U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke paid a rare visit to Aba, the restive area where many of the self-immolations have taken place, and visited monasteries. He called the incidents “very deplorable.”

“We implore the Chinese to really meet with the representatives of the Tibetan people to address and reexamine some of the policies that have led to some of the restrictions and the violence and the self-immolations,” Locke told an online forum Monday. “We very much believe there should be respect for the culture and religion of the Tibetan people, as well as the language of the Tibetan people.”

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