January 31, 2012

The future leader of China and high school wrestling

When Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visits the United States next month, I'm sure there will be all sorts of very interesting analysis about the future of relations between the two nations. Xi is widely expected to be named the next leader of China later this year. He is scheduled to meet with President Obama on Feb. 14.

But if I were in America during the trip, Washington would not be first on my list. For my money, Des Moines is the place. The Des Moines Register has reported that during Xi's visit to Iowa on Feb. 15 and 16, the vice president and his large delegation will be lodging at the Des Moines Marriott. The Chinese are said to have wanted to rent the entire hotel but were told they'll have to split it with ... "fans and participants of the Iowa high school wrestling tournament, which will be held that same week."

A blog item at the Register's website quotes the general manager of the hotel as saying,“There was concern about how the two groups would blend together.”

But according to the newspaper's interview with General Manager Terry McLane: "Hotel officials have assured the foreign visitors that all the proper protocols will be followed to keep dignitaries safe – and keep a distance between the two groups."

(I learned of Xi's travel plans from a tweet by Time reporter Austin Ramzy, who wrote a smart blog post on the upcoming Iowa trip: "Why China’s Future Leader Is Going to Iowa")


January 17, 2012

The Chinese Communist Party as fire extinguisher

(Image from: http://hexiefarm.wordpress.com/)

As I've begun to pay more attention to the Google+ platform, the work of an anonymous political cartoonist has caught my attention. The cartoonist posts at a blog named Hexie Farm -- or river crab farm. River crab is a term common to Internet users here who are critical of the government's push for all things "harmonious," a word that sounds like river crab in Chinese. (For more on that turn of phrase and others in the Chinese netizen lexicon, a great link is here.)

The cartoon above, an apparent reference to ongoing self-immolations by ethnic Tibetans in Sichuan Province, is the latest entry. It's typical of the River Crab Farm oeuvre -- a simple image with a razor sharp message.


January 05, 2012

"Rationally handling group incidents" in China

Just a quick note: This upcoming year will see a shuffling of the deck (probably seven of nine seats) at the Politburo Standing Committee, the very core of power in China. Against that backdrop, the Global Times, a state-run tabloid, carried an editorial yesterday about the prospect of incidents of social unrest in China during 2012. More specifically, it offered guidance on how we should think about such matters.

An excerpt:

"China's group incidents are characterized by reasonable requirements as well as extreme demands. It's hard to generalize. Various reforms are proceeding in China and are driving improvements in people's livelihoods. In general, the public has a positive expectation for social development and China will continue to hold a favorable position on the international stage.

Chinese society in 2012 will be shaped by various forces as well as various problems. What's important is not to exaggerate the implication of certain issues, for example, minor matters shouldn't be given attention that is out of proportion  to their scope.

China is learning to deal with group incidents. It is still uncertain about the results of those protests, how will they develop and what the solution is. Protests usually disturb Chinese more than they disturb people in other countries. 

China should make substantial efforts to reduce group incidents, including doing its utmost to eliminate public dissatisfaction, ensuring smooth communication channels and promoting favorable social sentiment. These are the basis for social stability and harmony. 

But it's far from enough. China should avoid allowing grass-roots mass incidents to become national political issues. This is particularly important considering the forthcoming 18th National Congress of the Communist Party. Much of the public has the impression that society may easily get caught up in turbulence during this national party congress year. If the authorities focus too much on group incidents, they will encourage certain people to mount protests as shortcut way of realizing and maximizing their interests."

(The full text can be found by clicking here.)

December 17, 2011

Video postcard: After the rally, a march in Wukan

When the rally was done today, the entire crowd stood up and began to march through this Chinese village that has rebelled against local police and officials. They stretched into a line that was longer than the eye could see.

Reviewing the video, I noticed that many people glanced over their shoulder, to something off camera when they passed by. They were looking at the barricade erected at the mouth of the village, where a jumble of downed trees keeps the police out, but a Chinese flag waves atop a tall bamboo pole.

China video postcard: A rally in Wukan

Leaders of the local uprising in Wukan held a rally in downtown today -- a regular occurrence since police and officials abandoned the village in the face of local anger over allegations of massive land grabs. I shot a quick video of the crowd doing call and response before the main speakers took the microphone.

The crowd made sure to praise the Communist Party of China and ask for help from the central government. It also screamed that local officials are corrupt and demanded that their land be returned.

It's not at all clear what will happen here. For the time being, the fact that an entire village has gone into revolt in a nation known for strict social control is remarkable.







December 16, 2011

China postcard: Checkpoint Wukan

Am just back from a trip to a couple checkpoints here in Wukan, the Chinese village in open revolt against local officials and police, and wanted to pass along some photographs. (My stories from the past two days can be founding by clicking here and here.)

Journalist moped convoy

Food at cp
People from nearby villages bringing food

Chinese flag, tied to bamboo pole, flaps above villagers' checkpoint

Images from Wukan

I am on my second day in Wukan, the village that has rebelled against government control on China. (My story from last night can be found by clicking here.) Some images from today:

Mourners at funeral service for Xue Jinbo

Mourners at funeral service for Xue Jinbo

An abandoned government building in Wukan

Crowd at memorial service-rally in Wukan

Crowd at memorial service-rally in Wukan

December 12, 2011

China is fully committed to democracy! Who says? The Communist Party of China.

I was at dinner in a hotel a couple days ago and, having finished the only book I had and with little to do that evening, I picked up a copy of China Daily to give it a second look.

There in the Comment section was a lengthy speech by Dong Yunhu, vice minister of the State Council Information Office. The headline: "China fully committed to democracy."

A few passages called for further contemplation, including:

“China’s democracy is to implement the rule of law. It is an important 

principle for China’s building of political democracy to integrate the 

people’s status as masters  of the country and the rule of law.”

and ...

"The grassroots democratic self-governance system is the most effective

and widely-used way for the people to directly exercise their democratic

rights and realize their positions as masters of the country.”

and …

“China’s democracy is to put people first, respect and safeguard human 


The full text of the speech can be found by clicking here.



December 02, 2011

America, China and the map

"America's first Pacific President"

--President Barack Obama, referring to himself, November 2009 speech in Tokyo.


After writing a story this week about foreign affairs observers in China and their views on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Myanmar, I got out the map. There are some in Beijing, perhaps many, who see Washington's push in Asia and the Pacific as a campaign toward encirclement or, dusting off the Cold War term, containment.

American officials strenuously deny the suggestion, saying they want to engage the region as a whole, including China. 

I wondered what it would look like if one plotted out recent trips (I picked 2010 and 2011) to the neighborhood by Obama, Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden.

Above is a decidedly unscientific attempt along those lines, with the red dots for Obama, the blue for Clinton and green for Biden. (Again, unscientific -- am sure I've missed something, and this isn't plotted versus two-year periods of previous administrations, etc.) It strikes me that the map's message is in the eye of the beholder. If you throw in Obama's trip to China in 2009, it suggests the blanket approach that the Americans have claimed. And there are, of course, many non-China reasons for trips to places like Pakistan and Russia.

But if you don't trust the United States and see its increased engagement in Asia as a way of hemming in China's rise, well, it might suggest that too.

As we noted on Wednesday:

"When President Barack Obama said Nov. 18 that Clinton would visit Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, he emphasized 'flickers of progress' by President Thein Sein and American desires to 'empower a positive transition.' He said he'd received support for U.S. engagement from Myanmar's most famous democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi.

A senior Obama administration official said later that day, speaking anonymously as a condition of the briefing, that 'it's about Burma, not about China.'

But the backdrop of Obama's announcement suggested that China and its clout in the region were very much on the minds of those in his administration.

Obama announced Clinton's trip while he was attending a summit in Bali, Indonesia, where American officials pushed for an open discussion of China's ongoing territorial disputes with neighbors in the South China Sea. It was a conversation, with Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in the room, that China had very much wanted to avoid.

A day earlier, Obama had told the Australian Parliament that the United States had made a 'deliberate and strategic decision, as a Pacific nation' to take 'a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.' While in Australia, he unveiled plans to post a rotating group of 2,500 U.S. Marines in the country."


November 28, 2011

China and its gentry

I've just finished reading a slender volume by historian Jonathan Spence about life and its troubles in China's Shandong Province during the 1670s, "The Death of Woman Wang."

I folded a corner for future reference:

"He knew from experience that gentry could not be treated like commoners when it came to tax collection: commoners would usually pay out of fear, if pressed hard enough, but with gentry there was always delay and the danger of making them lose face if one pushed them too hard; this could lead to local antagonisms and even to appeals over the magistrate's head to other officials, or else to harassment of his staff."

The sentence reminded me of a couple recent articles about China's elite and their complexities. There was an excellent story in The Wall Street Journal this weekend, which journalist Jeremy Page began with a description of the sort that fans outrage among average Chinese in a nation with wide disparity in both wealth and privilege:

"One evening early this year, a red Ferrari pulled up at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Beijing, and the son of one of China's top leaders stepped out, dressed in a tuxedo.

Bo Guagua, 23, was expected. He had a dinner appointment with a daughter of the then-ambassador, Jon Huntsman.

The car, though, was a surprise. The driver's father, Bo Xilai, was in the midst of a controversial campaign to revive the spirit of Mao Zedong through mass renditions of old revolutionary anthems, known as 'red singing.' He had ordered students and officials to work stints on farms to reconnect with the countryside. His son, meanwhile, was driving a car worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and as red as the Chinese flag, in a country where the average household income last year was about $3,300."

Another story, last week in Bloomberg Businessweek, looked at the issue from a different angle: "China's Super-Rich Buy a Better Life Abroad."

"What began as a trickle a decade ago ... has become a flood as China’s new rich seek foreign passports or residency permits (commonly known as green cards in the U.S.) largely from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Singapore, and New Zealand. More than 500,000 Chinese have investable assets of over 10 million yuan ($1.57 million), according to a joint survey released in April by China Merchants Bank and Bain & Co. The study says almost 60 percent are considering emigrating, have begun the process, or have emigrated."

While the piece emphasized that China's rich aren't permanently fleeing their homeland, instead seeking things like real estate and better education for their children, it did point out examples such as: 

"One émigré in Boston (who asked only that his last name, Yang, be used since he still owns a factory in China) points out that the Chinese government spent more money on internal security (549 billion yuan) than on defense (534 billion yuan) in 2010. He says that if things got ugly, the rich would be targets not just for being rich but for their close connections with the government."

To get a sense of why the issue of China's elite is a sensitive one these days, it's helpful to consider the experiences of those who are faced with frustrating living conditions. Earlier this year, I was in Shandong Province (the setting of Spence's book), to report about the gold industry there. 

A scene from the family of a man named Teng, who was killed in a mine fire last year:

"After being turned away from the mine, Teng's mother and his wife drove to the hospital just in time to see bodies being carried into the building. After his mother collapsed amid loud sobs, she said, she and her daughter-in-law were driven to a hotel by a group of men and held there for four days until they signed a contract agreeing to accept 514,000 yuan in compensation, about $80,560.

'They said that if we didn't accept it, we would get nothing,' said the mother, who alternated between kneading a tissue in tight circles in her hands and lifting it to wipe away tears. 'After we signed the contract, his body was cremated and we got his ashes.'

Teng's 31-year-old wife, in a black cotton dress with a white flower print, said she didn't bother reading the agreement.

The mine bosses had made it clear that they didn't have to answer for what had happened.

'They never gave us an explanation,' the widow said."



"China Rises" is written by Tom Lasseter, the Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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