not just a china thing: thoughts on keep’um stupid governance and open access to academic publications

While in Beijing, I have been reading David Campbell’s Politics without Principle: Sovereignty, Ethics, and the Narratives of the Gulf War. I am grateful that Campbell has made a pdf of this important work available online not least because as an unaffiliated intellectual who happens to be based in Shenzhen, internet access structures my encounters to academic work. One would think that US institutions would be working to make more research available to more people, but alas this is not the case. University libraries and the virtual services they subscribe to continue to function as if they had limited paper copies of books and journals –with no lending privileges extended beyond their hedges. Continue reading

contradictions within the party?

Happened upon a newspaper article that quoted Tianjin Party Secretary, Sun Chunlan (孙春兰)as saying,

We must thoroughly study and understand the spirit of General Party Secretary Xi Jiping’s important talks, and deeply realize that criticism and self-criticism are vital weapons for resolving contradictions within the Party (要深入学习领会习近平总书记重要讲话精神,深刻领会批评和自我批评是解决党内矛盾的有力量武器。。。)

Talk of reform and harmony has characterized post Mao political discourse in China, so when a major player such as the Tianjin Party Secretary starts speaking of contradictions within the Party inquiring minds want to know — just how entrenched are political differences between top leaders and, more practically, to what extent has the legal system become an important arena for these ongoing battles?

Of note, the public execution of Xia Junfeng and the equally public non-conviction of Bo Xilai. In the former, an ordinary citizen was executed for defending himself against two Shenyang urban managers (城管). In the later, the court found Bo Xilai guilty of illegally owning a French villa. By today’s standards if that was all he did he was a clean official (清官)!

But. These rulings had obvious and interrelated political messages. In the case of Xia Junfeng, the courts made it clear that they will support the urban management officers in any and all disputes with ordinary citizens. In the case of Bo Xilai, the courts made it clear that the high ranking leaders can engage in all sorts of criminal activities, including accessory to murder, so long as they hold the Party line.

In other words, the Xia Junfeng and Bo Xilai convictions expressed the same political logic — hold the Party line and you will be protected. Fail to hold the line and you may find yourself in a life or death battle to resolve those pesky contradictions within the Party. Those outside the Party must fend for themselves as best they can.

Happy National Day!

in honor of the detention of wang gongquan…

I’ve uploaded a political cartoon that was circulating before police arrested the popular billionaire activist. Even without translation, “selection theory” speaks to the dangers that those who speak out face:


the 18th npc: princelings and the jiang gang

This afternoon at lunch, the new members of the Central Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China trundled out, in order: re-elected members Xi Jinping (习近平) and Li Keqiang (李克强), and newly elected members, Zhang Dejiang (张德江), Yu Zhengsheng (俞正声), Liu Yunshan (刘云山), Wang Qishan (王岐山), and Zhang Gaoli (张高丽). Other than the fact that the Standing Committee members rank number 1-7 in the country, we also know that they overwhelmingly represent the Princeling Party and the remnant strength of Jiang Zemin’s power base (Liu Yunshan and Zhang Gaoli). For those of us in Guangdong, we also learned that Wang Yang will remain in Bejing as a vice-premier, with a very good chance of becoming a standing committee member in the 19th national people’s congress. Pictures of Chinese top 7:

demise of the shenzhen youth herald

In April this year, Cao Changqing (曹长青 who now operates an influential Chinese language news source) posted “Bo Xilai’s Father Destroyed the Shenzhen Youth Herald (薄熙来父亲灭掉《深圳青年报》)” to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the closing of the Shenzhen newspaper, where he began his career in journalism. The post was prompted by a conversations with Yan Jiaqi (严家其), who had been the Head of the Politics Department, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (中国社科院政治所长) during the 1986-87 student movement and was an advisor to both Hu Yaobang and his successor, Zhao Ziyang. Indeed, Yan Jiaqi himself would flee to Paris after his support of student protests in the 1989 democracy movement.

In the early years of reform, the Shenzhen Youth Herald was, along with Shanghai’s World Economic Herald (世界经济导报), one of the two most independent newspapers in China. Consequently, despite being a small newspaper, the Youth Herald had a national subscription base, providing Chinese intellectuals a platform for debating progressive ideas and evaluating ongoing experiments in reform Chinese society. On October 21, 1986, for example, the newspaper printed Qian Chaoying (钱超英)’s contraversial opinion piece, “I Support Commerade Xiaoping’s Decision to Retire (我赞成小平同志退休)”.

In the manner of traditional intellectuals, Shenzhen University professor of literature, Qian Chaoying’s writing style was sincere and humble, but the content was unmistakably radical. Moreover, the piece drew directly on and from Shenzhen’s experience, asking: Why must the People show our sincere and deep feelings for Deng Xiaoping by sacrificing further reform of the political system (为什么表达人民对小平同志纯朴深挚的普遍感情,就非要以延缓政治体制改革的进程为代价不可呢)? On Qian’s reading, Deng’s retirement would allow China to reflect on and establish a more just political system, a system that was more in keeping with the needs of reform, rather than a return to the cult politics, which had characterized the Cultural Revolution glorification of Mao Zedong.

Yan told Cao that Bo Yibo (薄一波, Bo Xilai’s father and one of the Eight Elders of the CCP) was not only furious about the opinion piece, but had also approached it as an attack the power of older and already retired leaders. During a meeting on political reform, Bo Yibo participated as a consultant. Zhao Ziyang was talking about the opinion piece with Peng Chong (彭冲). Upon overhearing the conversation, Bo Yibo became livid and is reported to have screamed at the younger leaders, “You are already fifty, sixty and seventy years old. We won’t die and you won’t rise (你们也五十六、七岁了吧?我们不死,你们也上不来).” Hu Qili (胡启立) was apparently so frightened that he immediately showed his support for the elders, wishing that the the old leaders of the proletarian revolution would live to a healthy old age (我们希望老一代的无产阶级革命家健康长寿). Importantly, at that closed meeting, Bo Yibo called for the Party to investigate who had written and the newspaper that had published the opinion piece. The word used, zhuicha (追查) meant to find out who Qian Chaoying was speaking for. Bo Yibo assumed that neither Qian Chaoying, nor the Youth Herald was acting as an independent voice, but rather was acting on behalf of one of the young reformers, most likely Hu Yaobang.

The opinion piece was published at a critical time in Central politics. Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, Deng Xiaoping’s “right and left hands” were pushing for further political liberalization. Less, than two months after the letter was published, students organized public protests across over a dozen cities in support of political and economic liberalization. Astrophysicist, Fang Lizhi (方励之) led the protests, calling for introducing political reforms that would ultimately end the one-Party system and the continuing use of government as an instrument of Party policy. Two other intellectuals, Wang Ruowang (王若望) and Liu Binyan (刘宾雁) also led the intellectuals. It is said that Deng disliked Fang, Wang, and Liu, directing Hu to dismiss them from the Party, but Hu refused. In the fallout, Hu was forced into retirement because it was said he had been too lenient with student protestors. The Shenzhen Youth Herald was also one of the victims of the 1987 crackdown. The Shenzhen Youth Herald was closed and Cao Changqing banned for life from working in journalism at the same time that Hu Yaobang was forced into retirement. Two years later, the Tian’anmen protests would begin when students gathered to eulogize Hu Yaobang. The now defunct World Economic Herald published an article supporting the students’ call to re-evaluate Hu’s legacy.

the chief eats a fish

So a translation of a story making the rounds, again. The Chief Eats a Fish first appeared at the end of 2011 and keeps circulating. Fish, of course, is a common pun for “extra, or too much”. Of note are the different ways that each of his subordinates addresses Chief Yu and the way that puns function, making the social body out of different parts of the fish. Nevertheless the satire speaks for itself.

 The Chief (局长) Eats a Fish

The weekend had come and as was their custom, the work unit staff gathered to dine. According to Chief Yu this activity was “going deeply into the lowest levels of society (深入基层)” and the best shortcut for connecting with the masses.

Chief Yu loved to eat fish, which was of course on the menu. They had drunk three rounds of wine and five different dishes when the fish was served. The waitress knew Chief Yu and so she made sure that the fish head was directly facing him. Without waiting for anyone’s input, he immediately drank three cups of wine (fish head wine is a colloquialism which means “delicious wine”). When he had put down his wine cup, Chief Yu began to allocate the fish.

Chief Yu used his chopsticks to pluck out the fish’s eyeballs with practiced ease. He gave an eyeball each to the people on his left and right. He said, “this is known as the far-seeing eye. I hope the two of you will act in concert with me.”

The two vice-chiefs smiled and gave the Chief their heartfelt thanks, saying, “Chief Yu we will not let you down and will completely support the work you have begun.”

Chief Yu removed the fish skull and presented it to the Head of Accounting, saying, “this is known as the axial column. You are the key worker in our department so of course I’m giving it to you.”

The Head of account was surprised to be treated so well, but said, “Thanks, boss.”

Chief Yu gave the pretty mouth to his “young cousin”, saying, “The lips and the mouth rely on each other (唇齒相依)”, which is a traditional proverb to express the idea that two people cannot get along with each other.

The Chief’s “young cousin” shot him a flirty glance and said, “Thank you older brother Yu.”

Chief Yu gave the fishtail (wei 尾) to the office manager, making a pun on the expression, the committee takes responsibility (wei 委以重任). The office manager was completely grateful and said, “Thank you, elder.”

Chief Yu gave the fish stomach to the assistant (fu 副) head of the planning department, again making a pun, “this is called treating others with sincerity (推心置腹 – fu is also the character for stomach).” The assistant head dipped his head and replied formally, “Thank you Chief.”

Chief Yu gave the fins to the administrative director, saying “open your wings an fly. You are the nearest to our Chief and so will definitely go higher everyday.”

The administrative director a huge smile saying, “I hope that the Chief will give me the necessary support.

Chief Yu gave the fish buttocks (ding 腚) to the union chair and said, “If you hold the course, there will be happiness in the end (ding 定有後福).”

At the end of the allocation, all that was left was a picked over slab of meat. Chief Yu smiled bitterly and shook his head, saying, “I should probably take care of the leftovers, after all that’s what a Chief does.”

of floods and politics, or how the beijing disaster helps wang yang

The official death tole for the Beijing floods is 77 people. Weibo reports however, that in Fangshan District (房山区) alone over 800,000 people have been affected. In response, Mayor Guo Jinlong resigned yesterday, acknowledging his failure to be responsible for the people’s well-being. Today, Beijing Party Secretary Guo Jinlong went to Fangshan to show solidarity with those suffering. Yes, that is correct. In one of the more off the wall moments of Chinese politics, Guo Jinlong was both the Mayor and as of a month ago, also the Party Secretary of Beijing. Even in Chongqing, Bo Xilai was only able to act as Party Secretary, while the Mayorship was held by Huang Qifan.

Here’s the beauty of Guo Jinlong’s gesture. As a government functionary, Guo Jinlong could legally resign. However, as the holder of a Party appointment, Guo Jinlong can only loose his position as Party Secretary if the Party leadership decides to remove him from office — hee!

Now, Guo Jinlong is of interest to those of us in Guangdong who are following Guangdong Party Secretary Wang Yang’s career because like Bo Xilai, Guo was one of Wang Yang’s key rivals to become either Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party or President of the Country. To be appointed to one of the top two positions in China, Wang Yang must first be appointed to the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, CPC Central Committee during the 18th NPC. These nine hopefuls will be chosen from provincial level appointees, which includes the Secretary Generals and Mayors of the four independent cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing) as well as provincial secretary generals and governors.

In January this year, Wang Yang’s top rivals for one of the nine positions in the Standing Committee were Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai and Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong. Whatever one thinks of Wang Yang’s “three attacks and two establishes” campaign, notwithstanding, as a recent text message reveals, the Beijing floods may have given Wang Yang the push he needs to get one step closer the highest positions in Chinese politics. So the country may flip neo-liberal even faster than expected, not because privatization works, but simply because recently several political high-fliers are crashing and with them, alternative models of development.

Insights from the Beijing Floods (北京水灾几点启示):

1。The water in Beijing is deep;2。In Beijing, having a house and car is nothing, you also need to have a boat;3。All Beijing subway stations have the same name — Drainage Pool (a pun on the actual station 积水潭);4。Car owners finally understands the government’s great efforts to collect “car and boat taxes” from private citizens;5。The South to North Water Diversion Project (南水北调工程) is finally seeing results (this massive engineering project will be completed in 2013, connecting northern provinces to the Yangtze River);6。The Northern Drifters finally have a correct footnote (artists who go to Beijing to make a career are known as “northern drifters (北漂)”;7。As soon as Wang Yang enters the capitol he will have a job (because both characters in Wang Yang’s name have the water radical: Wang (汪) is a surname that means an expanse of water and Yang (洋), his given name, means ocean).

cultural revolutionaries? bo xilai, mao zedong and populist politics in china

According to a politically savvy friend, if anyone has a chance to democratize China, it will be a leader like Bo Xilai because 1. he had the support of the people; 2. he had support within the Party; and, 3. he could have held power after the transition from a one party to a multi-party system.

The purpose of government is to distribute and justify the distribution of goods, which range from food and shelter through education opportunities and healthy living environments throughout society. Some societies use money as the primary tool to mediate the allocation of social goods, in China, however, political status — power with explicit connection to either the military or the police — is the primary social means of deciding who gets what and how it is delivered. This means that the closer one is to the Center, the more opportunities one will have to monopolize not only the allocation of social goods, but also what those social goods are and how they are produced. In short, opportunities to control and benefit from state monopolies over the means of production.

My friend explained that Chinese politics is a series of expanding circles. At the center are high officials, in the next circle their family and friends, and then lesser relatives, and then the families of friends of friends of family friends… The point, of course, is double.

First, with respect to those who have occupied the center, there are no compelling reasons to change the current structure of unequal distribution. What’s more, successfully changing the structure would entail creating political alliances that cut across all those circles in such a way as to first be able to dismantle the system and then maintain power in the new system.

Second, the one hundred surnames are so far from the center that direct appeals to the people constitute a political wild card, which can be wielded by anyone with a wide enough power base. This is frequently the case in local and regional level politics where national appointees navigate and negotiate unfamiliar terrains before they are sent to their next position. However, most national appointees do not become popular in their brief bureaucratic tenures and popular local leaders rarely convert their local appeal into national charisma.

Bo Xilai, however, was exceptional: he had widespread national appeal; he had deep support within and across the Party organization, including ties to the military and the police; and, he was savvy enough to navigate political upheavals. Indeed, he seemed particularly adept at outside-the-box responses to unexpected problems and it will be interesting to see if he is executed or ends up back at the center in ten years time.

On my friend’s reading, the insular structure of Chinese political interests  overdetermined the Cultural Revolutionary connection that linked Bo Xilai to Mao Zedong. Like Mao, Bo Xilai made highly symbolic gestures to help the people. In Chongqing, fore example, Bo set up neighborhood help systems for elderly residents whose family was working in other cities. A solitary elder could directly ring a bell that linked her to the neighborhood committee representative who would be responsible for coming to her aid. This gesture resonated across generations who have been separated as children have left home to work in other cities. Moreover, Mao and Bo’s willingness to upset high-ranking leaders when making these gestures further endeared them to the people.

Bo Xilai skated at the edge of central Party politics for many years before transmuting a minor appointment in a Dalian county into a springboard to national politics precisely because like Mao, he not only dazzled the people, but also impressed journalists and intellectuals, who in turn promoted his project. Not only journalists sang Bo’s praises, but recently closed leftist websites like Utopianet (乌有之乡) publicly supported the Chongqing Model in contrast to the Shenzhen Model, which remains a key symbol of the success of Reform and Opening.

Bo Xilai symbolized the possibility of an end to Party politics as usual and his “Sing Red, Attack the Black” campaign resonated across Chinese political classes in ways that nothing Xi Jinping or Hu Jintao or Jiang Zemin have done. Today, there are efforts to disparage the Mao-Bo connection, but none have addressed the man’s capital C charisma. In fact, I’ve heard someone say, “I don’t care who he did or didn’t kill, Bo Xilai moved me. I only saw him once, but I felt like a crazy fan, who wanted a body autograph” and this comment goes straight to my point du jour.

Weber has warned us that charismatic leaders do not necessarily overturn unpopular regimes and establish democratic governments. Moreover, the rise and fall of populist leaders in Eastern Europe and Russia have demonstrated that its difficult to uproot the Party machine from national politics. Nevertheless, Bo Xilai’s popularity despite his acknowledged crimes not only hints at just how high levels of dissatisfaction with Chinese politics as usual are, but also alerts us to how much violence is necessary to maintain the status quo.

three class theory: speculating on the scale and possibility of reforming china

A while back I heard a princeling turned Shenzhen nouveau riche (and they do surface every now and again, entrepreneurs in their late 50s and 60s, who came to the SEZ to live well below the national political radar, but nevertheless take advantage of their status to reap economic benefits in the city that launched Reform) half-mockingly challenge a lunch table of intellectuals, saying:

China has three classes — high ranking officials (高干), national intellectuals (高知), and peasants (农民). Officials need help governing and are good to those who help them, but that’s not the important issue. The real question is: do you really want to share power with peasants?

That smug question provoked self-conscious chortles because most at the table were low-level national intellectuals, not peasants, no, but certainly ecclesiastes, who Gramsci defined as the category of intellectuals “who for a long time…held a monopoly of a number of important services: religious ideology, that is the philosophy and science of the age, together with schools, education, morality, justice, charity, good works, etc. The category of ecclesiastes can be considered the category of intellectuals organically bound to the landed aristocracy.”

The a-ha moment in “three class theory” is the emphasis on political, rather than economic power. Take a look at Chinese society and what becomes obvious is that high-ranking officials are, by and large, China’s property-owning class and national intellectuals are, by and large, members of the bourgeoisie. Within each of these classes, of course, exist various opportunities to confirm and strengthen social status, as well as opportunities to transfer and exchange socially valued goods, including money, but also including housing, medical care, and other social benefits. In contrast, peasants are those organically tied to the land, with all that the status has historically entailed: providing quota grain under Maoist collectivism to fund socialist urbanization, and presently being excluded from China’s urban boom except as members of the proletariat. The point, of course, is that in Chinese society economic opportunity is a function of political and social status, rather than the reverse.

The status of peasants and their ties to land are at the center of Shenzhen’s development.On the one hand, as rural areas urbanize, the question of land comes to the fore and in it we see how officials and intellectuals cooperate to expropriate land and justify its expropriation. In this scenario, the class struggle is over the terms of proletarianization and the creation of what are called “peasant workers (农民工)”. On the other hand, to the extent that villages retain control of their land and pursue capitalist projects, we see the stability of the three class system as local systems reproduce this hierarchy, producing “local emperors (土皇帝)”.  In this parallel scenario, the struggle is over the extent to which local emperors and local intellectuals might launch themselves into national politics. Obviously, although both historical trajectories transform individual lives, it is also clear that these changes are not bringing about a more just society, but rather using previous injustices to make and legitimate power grabs and the concomitant distribution of the spoils.

As China enters its fourth decade of reform, Gramsci’s call for intellectuals to theorize and provide alternatives to the present situation still haunts us. The fact that US and Chinese leaders continue to cosy up to one another and that US and Chinese intellectuals find so much in common makes salient the compatibility of US neoliberal ideologies and Chinese ideologies of socialist exceptionalism. However, this ideological compatibility has blinded many of us to a simple truth; the quality of life for Chinese nongmin remains the standard for evaluating the scale, possibility, and social forms of Reform and Opening, not the cross-cultural comfort level of high-ranking officials and national intellectuals, whatever their passport status may be.

Thoughts on Shenzhen’s New New Districts: Longhua and Dapeng

This past week, when the Center brought the country’s 3,300 provincial, municipal, and county members of the Politics and Law Committee (政法委) to Beijing to learn “what to do and how to do it,” they did so to strengthen top-down unity, or the line from the Center (中央) to the “local (地方)”. Party control of the Politics and Law Committee means that it directly controls the writing of laws, their interpretation, and enforcement. As far as we know, Zhou Yong “Noodle Master” Kang remains the Chair of the National Committee. We hypothesize that Hu Jintao was critical to making the decision to convene a Politics and Law Committee meeting and what would be taught there. Ergo, we are waiting to see whose line actual becomes the standard that will be brought back to Local governments, like Shenzhen.

How does this administrative apparatus shape the possibility of progressive social transformation in Shenzhen?

One way to answer the question is to think of all the districting and redistricting and micro-districting and statutory planning that create what the Municipality spins as Shenzhen’s “Industry First” as ways of side-stepping Center intervention and oversight by giving investors in hi-tech manufacturing, logistics, finance, and cultural industry preferential policies without any kind of political reform. Continue reading