Category Archives: Jasmine Revolution

“Ai Weiwei at home, in absentia”

Evan Osnos has been speaking with Ai Weiwei, whose fight with the government has been relatively quiet over the last few weeks:

The branches are bare outside Ai Weiwei’s house this time of year, which leaves the police cameras bulging from the lampposts like overripe coconuts. Sometimes, the temptation is overwhelming. Ai Weiwei ended up at the police station a couple of weeks ago, accused of lobbing stones and “attacking a security camera.” (When word got out, one of his fans circulated his concern online: “Was the camera badly injured? Did it need a checkup? Perhaps, a CT scan?”)

It has become Ai’s new routine. “The police come every week or I have to go to the station—for education,” he told me one recent morning, at the giant dining-room table, winter sun pouring in from the south.

“I have to stay in Beijing until June 22nd,” he said. “Every time I go out I have to pronounce to them where I have to go and who I have to meet. I basically obey their orders because it doesn’t mean anything. I also want to tell them I’m not afraid. I’m not secretive. They can follow me or whatever. But to leave China? I think that’s a political decision they have to make. Of course, I have rights and am entitled to travel. But let’s see how they will play that. I’m not eager to leave or not to leave.”

“Internally, since they don’t have a way to discuss issues or communicate, it’s really a deadlock for them, and that keeps creating pressure. They had beaten him— [Chinese writer] Yu Jie— terribly, because he is related to Christianity, and that is what they hate the most or are scared of the most. They are scared of any form of unity. They wouldn’t be scared of me if I don’t get on Twitter, because on Twitter I can form a community. But, as individuals, they don’t care about you. So they crash down on people quite terribly, and subject people to abuse. I don’t think Yu Jie could stay any longer. In that kind of situation, you just have to say, ‘This is not possible,’” Ai said.

But, I asked, is the tax bureau his real counterpart in this, or does his case have its origins somewhere else in the government?

“This is something I’m always wondering. Because now people are putting out a lot of information, saying, oh, some official’s staff is saying that if they knew it was going to happen, they wouldn’t have allowed it, that it was a mistake. But I don’t really believe it. It’s some kind of political struggle. But who is using what? You will never know. It’s a struggle between them. It’s a secret.” He has his theories—mostly, that the arrest was not an impulsive decision, but one that took preparation and approval from high up.

“The first person who came to question me said he doesn’t know me, he’s just been assigned the job, and he had to go on the Internet to find out who I am. And I could tell from his questions, he had zero knowledge about me. But then another person arrived, and he said, ‘We prepared for a year. We checked your background for a long time, and we had a very difficult decision whether to arrest you or not. But we decided we had to.’” Ai tended to believe him. “But that person? I never saw him again. I always asked to see him again, but nobody ever seemed to have an answer.”

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Jasmine Revolution

“Han Han’s U-Turn?”

The latest to chime in on Han Han’s three essays is NYT blogger Eric Abrahamsen, who looks at the suzhi argument and writes that:

In this he’s exactly right: China’s deepest problems are cultural and social in nature, problems best addressed by reform, not revolution. It’s not that the Chinese are “not ready,” it’s that this will be a slow process.

“When the drivers in China turn their high-beams down as they pass each other on the road, they will be ready for revolution,” writes Han Han. “Of course, by then, revolution won’t be necessary.” Instead, he argues, the process will be a gradual one, in which the cultural values conducive to democracy evolve along with democracy itself. “Democracy is a long process of negotiation.”

Anyone who’s sat in on a Chinese primary school class, or a management meeting in a Chinese company, or witnessed authority being wielded at nearly any level of Chinese society, knows how long this process may be. An unhealthy deference to power is taught from an early age, as is a deep reluctance to pass on responsibility downward. The “not ready” argument is employed constantly within Chinese society, from parents who won’t let their children run in the park, to judges who aren’t allowed to make independent rulings. Many Beijing driving schools don’t include on-road training, because it would be “dangerous”— never mind what happens after the license is issued.

Sure, reform would be better than revolution- but both Abrahamsen and Han Han seem to ignore the Communist Party’s consistent sidelining of political reform. If reform is better, but it’s off the table, why are we talking about reform?

I still dislike the insinuation that Chinese people are somehow unworthy of democracy, too. The argument that Chinese people leave their high-beams on while driving seems fairly irrelevant- people all over the world do stupid things to each other. If China’s greatest problems really are cultural and social, is the CCP doing anything to address these problems?

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, interview, Jasmine Revolution

“China’s Unstoppable Billion”

Gordon Chang made the extremely bold prediction that China would collapse this year a few weeks ago, and seems to have been taking some flak since then. He’s made this call before and been proven wrong by the ongoing survival of the CCP, and his new piece in The Diplomat reads like an attempt to justify his predictions in the face of this criticism. His argument:

Despite how the nation’s young feel, most foreign analysts – and all of Beijing’s apologists – tell us the Chinese people don’t care about personal liberty, that they are content to reap economic gains while letting the Communist Party keep its monopoly on political power. Yet due to the repressive nature of the political system, we don’t know if China’s citizens are telling us what they really think. The best we can do is catch a glimpse of them as they make their dash into the future. Chinese society is changing faster than any other on earth at the moment, and the ongoing transformation is shaking the country, even the seemingly invincible one-party state.

Especially the one-party state. “China’s leaders may run what looks like a closed political system, and their decisions seem autocratic,” noted Clinton-era official Robert Suettinger in Beyond Tiananmen: The Politics of U.S.-China Relations. “But they are struggling to keep up with a society that is changing in a direction and at a speed they cannot fully control.”

Now, in a modernizing era, the Chinese people are putting themselves back together and creating an integrated society. As a result, the people are once again having national conversations, and this permits trends to sweep the nation. The Chinese are creating change by nothing more complicated than talking to one another. And this talk has implications because now, as social scientist Yu Jianrong says, “Everyone has a microphone.”

Mao also protected his new republic from the outside, with high and strong walls. As these walls come down, all the forces that apply around the world – political, economic, and social – are changing China as well. And as these forces continue to reshape the nation, the People’s Republic is taking on the look, and even some of the feel, of the modern world.

China’s leaders recognize, at least rhetorically, this irreconcilable dilemma. As Wen says, “our people cannot be suppressed.” Yet he is nonetheless trying to repress them by maintaining a political system that no longer serves an increasingly progressive society.

Perhaps the best evidence of this struggle between the Party and the people is evident every hour of every day on the web. Even though the Chinese state maintains the world’s most sophisticated set of internet controls, commonly referred to as the Great Firewall, it is engaged in a never-ending struggle it can’t win, even when it gets its way in the short term. “One site has been shut down thirty times,” noted Liu Xiaobo before he won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. “But after a month or two they open up again. You can’t shut them down completely.” Beijing officials can boast they have deleted 350 million articles from the web, but their claim indirectly confirms Liu’s point: the number of censored items is so high because netizens keep posting new pages, many of them more subversive than the ones taken down by the authorities.

Cyber China, the most vibrant part of the most exciting nation on the planet, reflects the growing interest of Chinese citizens in their society. It’s on the net that officials criticize government corruption and businessmen post tracts on democracy. Political dissent is sizzling, online, and available, at least most of the time. Chinese censors are being overwhelmed, by bad news, by the growing number of media outlets, by the new forms of social networking, by the sheer mass of users. Even when the authorities want to silence bold “netizens,” they often are intimidated by the weight of opinion in China’s boisterous online community.

And even when Beijing censors haven’t been able to completely erase history, Party spinmeisters have propagated their version of it. “The only thing I can remember about June 4 is watching television and hearing that riot police had died,” said Lu Jing, who was six at the time of the massacre, according to AFP. “I don’t believe any students died. China in this respect is democratic as China wouldn’t hurt its own people.” Ignorance of 1989 is contributing to the perception of a benign government among the younger – and most volatile – elements of the population.

Beijing now has a dilemma. Its leaders want to appear benevolent, but to do so they have had to whitewash Tiananmen. Yet whitewashing Tiananmen is far more dangerous to the regime than reveling in its brutality. The Chinese don’t take to the streets when they are angry, notes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. They do so when they think they can get away with it. “China has always operated to some degree on fear, and that fear is now eroding,” he wrote in 2003. Continual erosion means that Deng’s essential lesson of Tiananmen – that the Communist Party will resort to deadly violence on a mass scale to preserve its power – has been largely lost.

The biggest mistake China watchers make is that they think Beijing’s elite will be willing and able to once again employ brute force against massed protestors. In the newest version of New China, the options for the Communist Party are narrowing. Already, the leadership has its hands full trying to avoid a reexamination of the slaughter, and although no senior official is in favor of reconsidering the Party’s verdict on Tiananmen, no one wants to share former Premier Li Peng’s stain by being associated with another murderous crackdown. In short, it’s unlikely that Beijing’s current leaders would want to change long-held tactics and begin to rely mainly on fear.

Veteran China watcher Willy Lam, for one, says it’s extremely unlikely that the current Fourth Generation leadership would ever order another Tiananmen. For one thing, no one in today’s leadership has the personal authority to do so. For another, even if someone in the Fourth Generation gave such an order, it’s highly unlikely that the People’s Liberation Army would obey, says Lam. Even with his military record, it took Deng a long time to find a unit that would actually fight unarmed citizens in 1989. Nobody in the current civilian leadership has the same stature as Deng, and such an order might split the military and cause a revolt in the officer ranks. Finally, even if the top brass followed an order to shoot, it’s unlikely that ordinary soldiers would kill ordinary citizens on behalf of a regime that has lost the love and loyalty of its people.

There’s a lot more; certainly worth a read. I mostly agree with his reasoning about the various impetuses for change, but he definitely downplays the forces fighting on behalf of the status quo. His conclusions about the Communist Party being unable to use force to preserve their rule… that I certainly disagree with. They’d prefer not to, but when absolutely pushed? The idea that they wouldn’t be able to frame the necessity of violence against protesters the same way they routinely frame interactions with minorities- as a necessary way to stop forces seeking to destroy China- seems naive to me. They stress loyalty to the Party and the puppet government above all else, and China doesn’t seem so far gone yet as to override decades of propagandizing on that front.

Leave a comment

Filed under Communist Party, Jasmine Revolution, Tiananmen

“China rushes to jail activists before political handover”

Malcolm Moore from The Telegraph:

Li Tie, a 52-year-old essayist from Wuhan was given ten years for subverting state power. Two other men, Chen Wei, 42, and Chen Xi, 45, were handed jail terms of a similar length either side of Christmas.

All three had previous convictions, accounting in part for the severity of the sentences. A fourth man, a poet named Zhu Yufu, was charged with subversion on Monday.

Mr Liu said the Arab Spring continues to unnerve Beijing and that the current repression “is more to do with international affairs than problems inside China”. He added: “Local governments have been told by Beijing they can lock up anyone who seems like a troublemaker. Then they go back two or three years and trawl the records for anything that might implicate them.”

He added that the government was more worried about petitioners, people bringing specific grievances to Beijing, than about dissidents this year.

Meanwhile, Yu Jie, an activist whose family was allowed to leave China earlier this month, gave a graphic description of the house arrests and torture he had suffered after his friend, Liu Xiaobo, was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

Mr Yu said he had been grabbed by state security officers the day before the Nobel ceremony in 2010, hooded and beaten. “They stripped off all my clothes and pushed me naked to the ground and kicked me maniacally. They had a camera and were taking pictures as I was being beaten, saying with glee they would post the naked photos online,” he said.

Mr Yu said one of his attackers had told him: “If the order comes from above, we can dig a pit to bury you alive in half an hour and no one on earth would know.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Jasmine Revolution, prison

“Ai Weiwei turns tables on China’s Communist regime”

The latest from the Ai Weiwei tax bill fiasco comes from AFP writer Pascale Trouillaud, who collected reactions to Ai scoring yet another victory over the government:

Zhang Yaojie, a researcher at the China Academy of Art who is close to the dissident movement, said the government was “losing face” over the issue and “must regret its decision” to fine Ai.

Authorities have apparently censored the Internet for information on the issue and a search for the term “Ai Weiwei” in China is blocked. But the Communist regime now finds itself in an awkward situation, analysts say.

“They (authorities) were hoping to reduce him to silence but on the contrary, they showed that there is support for Ai Weiwei,” said Jean-Philippe Beja, a sinologist at the Paris-based research centre CERI SciencesPo.

“Ai Weiwei… has managed to transform this fine into an expression of defiance and into support for his cause.”

Renaud de Spens, a Beijing-based Internet expert, said the outcome was a “huge kick in the teeth” for the government. “The regime tried to scare him, but it was not a good strategy,” he told AFP.

One netizen named Shuxuediyijian joked online that the government had “failed”, adding, “it didn’t anticipate that Ai would receive donations and tell the whole world about it. How embarrassing!”

Even the state-run Global Times recently admitted “some donors say they see the donation as an act of voting” in a country with no real elections.

The wave of donations also shows that “there is a part of the population that supports critical stances and is not scared,” Beja said, pointing to many donors who left their names with the money.

Ai — who has been banned from leaving Beijing since his release — denies the government’s charge that he evaded taxes for years, insisting it is a politically motivated attempt to silence his vocal rights activism.

He is known for tallying the number of children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake — a hugely sensitive topic as many died in schools that were shoddily built and collapsed onto them, which many blamed on corruption.

Losing face really is the right way to put it. The massive, powerful government focusing so much strength and harassment on minor irritant/artist Ai Weiwei and yet continually coming out the loser is pretty much the definition of losing face.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Jasmine Revolution

“Mao namesake believes China will be set free”

The Sydney Morning Herald has an interview with Mao Yushi, whose irrepressible optimism about the future of China makes a nice break from all the doom and gloom elsewhere:

You might think that after enduring a mass hate campaign, including threats of blackmail and brutality, it would be time for an 82-year-old intellectual to consider taking a backward step.

But that would underestimate the fortitude of Mao Yushi, an important mentor for several leading liberal economists, as well as the conviction he shares with thousands of other active Chinese liberals that history is on his side.

Mr Mao lamented China’s backsliding on economic reforms and its recent surge of political repression.

He dismissed the country’s incoming leaders as being beholden to the current ones and for being focused only on protecting the Communist Party regime.

And he said officials and wealth have fused together into formidable vested interests that resist reform.

But he is nevertheless convinced that the country is on the brink of democratic change. ”I don’t know how it will happen but I feel confident,” he said. ”We will witness reform in the next five to 10 years.”

Mao Yushi’s recent cycle of trouble started in April when he wrote an essay about another Mao, the former god-like chairman, titled ”Returning Mao Zedong to Human Form”.

The Chairman’s ”thirst for power dominated his life, and to this end he went entirely mad”, he wrote.

Mr Mao’s own family had suffered greatly under Chairman Mao and he was appalled that such realities were being submerged by a tide of neo-Maoist nostalgia and leftist activism. Mr Mao posted his essay on his Sina blog and censors immediately took it down. He reposted it, they deleted it, but others reposted it on thousands of sites, including the progressive media platform Caixin Online.

And yet in contrast with some other nations, Mr Mao said China ”is not likely to see civil war”.

”Whether things improve when China’s dynasty changes depends on the maturity of the people,” he said. ”Thanks to the internet, the level of people’s awareness and knowledge has improved a lot.”

Last week, Mr Mao appeared on a panel at the Central University of Finance and Economics, in what was his first public appearance since being blackballed earlier in the year.

”During the break lots of students surrounded me and showed their support for me,” he said. ”They shouted ‘down with Mao Zedong’.”

Leave a comment

Filed under activism, Communist Party, democracy, Jasmine Revolution, Mao

“Ai Weiwei’s Paper Planes”

Evan Osnos has a blog post up about Ai Weiwei and the latest phase of his battle with Beijing. Served with a trumped-up tax bill by a government seeking to retroactively justify disappearing him, Ai’s fans are now the ones escalating the fight:

The long-running tussle between China’s most famous artist and his state entered a curious new stage recently, when the government served him a $2.4-million bill for tax evasion, to be paid in full within fifteen days. Every day that he is late adds $31,640.

Supporters began to send donations by PayPal; they wrapped cash around fruit and delivered it to his doorstep; they folded hundred-yuan notes into paper planes and sent them sailing over the wall into his Beijing compound. On Tuesday, the reporter Melissa Chan tweeted, “Man, wife, and baby just showed up in Mercedes outside Ai Weiwei’s studio/home looking to contribute.” The list of donors is a manifesto of its own; it includes people like Zhao Lianhai, who became a food-safety activist after his baby fell ill in 2008 from infant formula that had been tainted with melamine to appear to have more protein.

By Tuesday’s end, according to his assistant’s public accounting, his supporters had donated 6,082,451 yuan—more than 958,229 dollars, putting him nearly halfway to covering his bill. (The prospect of him being charged with illegal fundraising is especially intriguing, as one commentator to the Global Times article points out: “How is asking someone to lend you money ‘illegal fundraising’? This happens every second of every day in China.”)

It should be pointed out that he hasn’t actually asked anyone to lend him money- the donations began spontaneously. He probably doesn’t even need the money, given his reach and history of having sold art pieces abroad. What’s interesting is that this affair is giving ordinary Chinese a chance to make a statement, and many seem to be doing so. The Communist Party would have been far better off if it had just ignored him all those months ago.

Leave a comment

Filed under activism, art, censorship, China, Jasmine Revolution