the winners of the mistress awards have been announced!

The results of the “National Awards for Mistresses (全国包二奶大奖赛)” spoof the time and money and presumably effort that some of China’s leaders have expended on accumulating mistresses. The results indicate that many have crossed that fine line between peforming masculine virility and paradoy, which in turn slides into corruption charges because no one actually believes these old men are achieving sexual satisfaction, let alone satisfying their young mistresses — the numbers are just too high. Indeed, the results seem more like baseball cards than gossip; we’re trading statistical representations of performance, rather than vicariously participating in the realization of desire (or actually enjoying a sunny afternoon game). I’m also wondering about how many of these leaders were simply pimping their way to business deals and higher political ranking because these statistics are invariably linked to corruption charges and convictions. Consequently, when available I’ve also linked the offenders’ names to English language reports about these cases.

Results of the National Mistress Awards

1. Quantity Award: Jiangsu Province Department of Construction, Xu Qiyao Director, Xu Qiyao (徐其耀) who has had 146 mistresses;

2. Quality Award: Chongqing Municipal Party Committee Department of Propaganda Director, Zhang Zonghai (张宗海)for having kept 17 beautiful co-eds in five star hotels;

3. Scholar’s Award: Hainan Province Textile Bureau Chief Li Qingshan (李庆善) for his collection of 95 sexual diaries and 236 illustrated guides;

4. Youth Award: Leshan Mayor Li Yushu (李玉书 Sichuan Province) for keeping 20 mistresses between the ages of 16 and twenty;

5. Management Award: Xuancheng Municipality Party Secretary Yang Feng (Anhui Province) for using his MBA to effectively manage 77 lovers;

6. Expense Award: Shajing Credit Union Manager Deng Baoju (邓宝驹 Bao’an District, Shenzhen), also known as the “5 mistress youth” for spending 18.4 million yuan over 800 days on mistresses, this averages to 23,000 perday or almost 1,000 per hour;

7. Solidarity Award: Zhouning County Head Lin Feilong (林龙飞 Fujian Province) for organizing a dinner for 22 mistresses and awarding a 300,000 prize for best mistress;

8. Harmony Award: Lingao Municipal Administration Chief Deng Shanhong (邓善红 Hainan Province) for having 6 children by 6 mistresses and a wife who says she doesn’t believe the gossip;

9. Effort Award: Hunnan Province Telecommunications Bureau Chief Zeng Guohua (曾国华) for guaranteeing that before he turns 60, he will have sex three times a week with each of his 5 mistresses.

the party’s assets

So the investigation of the State Assets Administration Committee (国资委) Director, Jiang Jiemin (蒋洁敏) has begun. Just a day after the Bo Xilai trial ended, netizens have described Jiang Jiemin’s corruption as “unbelievable” . How much more off the top can China’s leaders go? Or are we still struggling for a vocabulary to describe the scale and scope of China’s modernization and attendent robber barons?

In point of fact, Jiang Jiemin did have access to money and resources well beyond Bo Xilai. After all, Bo Xilai only oversaw the assests of Chongqing, one city. In contrast, as Director of the State Assets Administration Committee, Jiang Jiemin oversaw , The all of China’s state-owned industries, including the country’s energy and telecommunications companies, as well as all the natural resources development companies. In everyday language, this extensive monopoly is called “the Party’s assests (党产)”.

This is the political-economic context in which Shenzhen residents speak of the city becoming more and more like the interior; as the city apparatus increases its regulatory control (through mechanisms such as the urban plan) opportunities to take advantage of the SEZ’s economic boom are increasingly monopolized by the Party State. In turn, second and third generation reds (红二代、红三代 as the children of Party leaders are called) overwhelmingly control opportunities to head these industries.

the social media production of mutual assured cross-cultural contempt in the US and China

By now, most have heard that Global Times, the Party’s international mouthpiece printed an editorial which called for the Chinese public to permit a moderate amount of corruption; if you haven’t jump over to Fauna’s piece at ChinaSmack for translation of the article and web responses. The self-justifying rhetoric and virulent counter-attacks illuminate the cynicism and anger that increasingly characterize public debate in the PRC micro/ blogosphere. Moreover, the virulence and smugness of English language responses to the post need to be analyzed in terms that explain the ongoing social media production of mutual assured cross-cultural contempt in both the US and China.

In many ways, the cynicism of the exchanges remind me of populist diatribes in the US; I actually can hear Mitt Romney and other anti-gay or anti-black or anti-women or anti-child advocates calling for “moderate levels of discrimination” and exhorting the country to “understand” the necessity of continued legal inequality because there are so many incompatible definitions of discrimination and we need to respect everyone’s traditions. The pseudo-rational justifications for continued discrimination understandably anger those who directly suffer the consequences of said laws and customs.

Just how closely does the tone and rhetorical form of US and Chinese popular debate mirror each other? Below, I have copied the Chinese editorial and substituted the following keywords, underlining the substitutions in text:

  • discrimination for corruption
  • prejudiced for corrupt
  • strong economy for development
  • prejudice for income
  • America for China
  • Western for Asian
  • Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney for Railway Minister and Party Secretary Liu Zhijun (and yes, in both countries we keep pandering to our lowest acceptable prejudices and greed, respectively)

I have made these substitutions to make a simple point; although the effects of economic globalization and political inequality are different in the PRC and the USA, nevertheless the turn to cultural justification and excuse-mongering is similar. Moreover, tone of the debate transcends relative levels of legal freedom of expression. The anger and absurdity of debate in the Chinese micro/ blogosphere is matched by the anger and absurdity of debate in American television and radio programs (Hello, weibo and Fox News).

The implications of this point, however, are far from simple when our respective national debates end up in our interlocutor’s public sphere. For US citizens, for example, it is difficult to understand the prevalence of and popular resignation to Chinese corruption. Likewise, most Chinese see US concerns about gay marriage and reproductive freedom to be a cases of privileged angst. In the worst case scenario, we focus on the other’s words to explain/ justify our inability to reach mutual understanding because, it seems so obvious, that our interlocutor has such fuck-up values. As a result, in both both countries, we end up focused on the cultural content of public debate, rather than on a shared political-economic structure that has created what are in both the PRC and USA, untenable situations.

So, another call for creative rethinking of what forms cross-cultural understanding and dialogue might assume when translation might do more cross-cultural harm than good.

The modified text begins below:

The American Public Should Permit a Moderate Amount of Discrimination

It was announced yesterday that Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney won the Texan nomination. This piece of news once again touched the public’s most sensitive nerve, that dealing with discrimination. From a national perspective, there is indeed continuous news of discriminatory officials being elected, which does give people the feeling that discrimination is “unending/overwhelming”. They aren’t catching/arresting less, it’s that you can never catch them all [never finish catching them all]. Just what is going on?

America obviously has a high incidence of discrimination, and the conditions for completely eliminating discrimination do not exist at present. Some people say, as long as we have “democracy”, the problem of discrimination can be easily solved. However, this kind of view is naive. The West has many “democratic countries”, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, India, etc. where discrimination are all much more severe than America. But America may very likely be the Western country with the most pronounced sense of “resentment towards discrimination”.

This is related to America’s “serve the people!” official political morals having deeply been engrained in the people’s heart throughout society. However, the reality is that the market economy has attacked its practicality/feasibility, resulting in government officials who half-heartedly observe it or have even betrayed it constantly slipping through various cracks in the system. America is a country that has been deeply penetrated by globalization and the high standards of integrity of developed countries is already known by the American public, and with information coming from different periods and different circumstances being forcible stuffed into America’s sphere of public opinion, bitterness and consternation can find no relief.

Discrimination in any country is unable to be permanently controlled/cured, so the key is to control what the degree that the people will permit/allow. However, to do this is particularly difficult for America.

Singapore and China’s Hong Kong institute a policy of high pay to discourage discrimination. Many Chinese political candidates are wealthy, and normally when someone becomes a government official there, they accumulate renown and connections. After office, they can use then various “revolving doors” to change all they have accumulated into financial return. However, these options and possibilities are not available in America.

Giving government officials power to discriminate is something American public opinion cannot accept. Allowing government officials to step down and use their influence and connections to discriminate against groups is something the system does not allow. Allowing the prejudiced to become government officials is something that people find even more unpalatable. The legal prejudice of America’s government officials is very low, and the compensation for officials of some places is often realized through “unwritten rules”.

All of American society now has some “unwritten rules”. In industries that involve the public welfare such as doctors and teachers, “unwritten rules” have also become popular. Many people’s statutory prejudice isn’t high, but they have “gray prejudice”.

What are the boundaries for “unwritten rules”? This isn’t clear. This is also one of the reason for why there are relatively many discrimination cases now, with some even being “cases of a community of discrimination”. Amongst the people, there is the popular saying that “what is commonplace amongst the people cannot be punished by the law”, and the moment government officials believe this saying while believing “others are the same as me”, then he is already in danger [of becoming prejudiced].

Those who engage in discrimination must be strictly investigated, and not to be tolerated, as this would greatly increase the risk and cost of discrimination, creating the requisite deterrent effect. The government must make the reduction of discrimination the biggest objective of their governance.

The people must resolutely increase supervision through public opinion, pushing the government to fight discrimination. However, the people must also reasonably understand the reality and objective fact that America is unable at its present stage to thoroughly suppress the discrimination, and not sink the entire country into despair.

Writing this definitely does not mean we believe fighting discrimination is not important or should be put off. Quite the opposite, we believe fighting discrimination indeed is the number one problem that must be solved for the reform of America’s political system, and it is also the common demand of the entire country.

However, we believe that fighting discrimination is not something that can be completely “fought” nor completely “reformed” because at the same time, it needs “strong economy” to help solve it. It is a problem of the individual prejudiced officials as well as the system, but that’s not all. It is also a problem of the American society’s “overall level of strong economy”.

Fighting discrimination is a difficult/entrenched battle in the strong economy of American society, but its victory at the same time hinges upon the clearing of various obstacles on other battlefields. America can never be a country where other aspects are very backward and only its government officials are egalitarian. Even if it is for a time, it won’t last long. Eliminating discrimination would be a breakthrough/turning point for America, but this country ultimately can only “advance overall” [any specific progress requires overall progress/strong economy].

Shajing Wanfeng Community learns from Wukan

Weibo reports that on the afternoon of April 8, 5-600 Wanfeng (万丰社区) community members/ villagers took to the street to protest Community Secretary and  Wanfeng Ltd CEO, Pan Qiang’en selling off collective lands for private profit. The protests began February 17, when 20-30 elder villagers gathered outside village offices and have continued until today.This afternoon, Epoch Times reported on the event, noting that villagers are calling for an accounting of the past twenty years. Currently, Wanfeng Community has an area of 6.8 sq km and a population of 2,067. Most are surnamed Pan. It is estimated that over 50,000 migrant workers also live in Wanfeng.

Apparently, no one is clean…

Shenzhen seems engaged in a classical turn, not simply in terms of neo-confucian efforts to remake the citizenry into folks who know and are happy in their place, but also to shrug off the possibility that any official might be clean. “They’re all corrupt; it’s tradition [speaker’s emphasis],” I was told. The inevitability of official corruption was demonstrated with a phrase from the late Qing: 三年清知府,十万雪花银, which means “after three years in office, even a clean magistrate will have accumulated 100,000 taels of silver”.

mapping ignorance

Was conversing friends about political succession since Mao and how to interpret reports coming out of Beijing and Guangzhou with respect to Shenzhen’s political status and symbolic valence within the national imaginary. Their 15 year old daughter was at the table, politely ignoring us, when someone mentioned Hua Guofeng (华国锋). She lifted her eyes and asked, “Who?”

Her father explained Mao’s appointed heir had been at the center of a political struggle with Deng Xiaoping to decide if China would continue Maoist policies or pursue reform. This struggle ended with a coup d’etat and the Sino-Vietnamese War as Deng Xiaoping gained political control by securing support of military leaders and high-ranking Party commissars. We then mused about the relationship between violence and political succession, even if indirectly, because Jiang Zemin (江泽民) only became Deng’s appointed successor in the aftermath of Tian’anmen and Zhao Ziyang‘s (赵紫阳) fall.


All this to say, that dinner I experienced a We Didn’t Start the Fire moment with post Cold War Chinese characteristics — recent history actually is this easily forgotten. Or more to the point, I realized (again!) the extent that what we know of recent history comes only as events disrupt our daily lives.  Continue reading

so where did 1.35 million rmb go?

Yesterday, Nanfang Urban Daily (南方都市报) published an article on corruption in the renovation and upgrading of pedestrian overpasses, a topic near and dear to my heart. Reporter Zhao Yanxiong (赵炎雄) paid 300 rmb for a tip on the extent of corruption in repairing and upgrading pedestrian overpasses. The six overpasses in question are in Futian District on the Shenyan Road between the Wutong Tunnel and the Shatoujiao Bonded Area.  The Shenzhen Road & Bridge Construction Group Corp got the bid. The gist:

Eastern Area Bureau of Traffic spokesperson, “Every square meter cost 400 yuan, the total price was 1.6 million. The project could not be subcontracted out. We required Shenzhen Road & Bridge to do the job themselves.”

Subcontractor, “The construction costs per square meter were 115 yuan. The total area was 2,300 square meters, bringing the project cost to 250,000 yuan. We were contracted by Female Boss Cao.” Continue reading

futures – yuanling 2

jijian kindergarten

Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

even as yuanling’s factories are upgraded to retail storefronts, the old neighborhoods – especially the old courtyard residential areas – are being razed to make way for highrise developments.

watching the chickens feed in the courtyard of new yuanling village remind us (1) that shenzhen was imagined and built in a very different social economy and (2) that value is not simply a matter of upgrades, but nevertheless remains tied to how we imagine the future.

new yuanling village is not an actual village, but an example of the first generation of work unit courtyard residences in shenzhen. in the early 80s, homes here appear in some of the first corruption scandals as early cadres scrambled for homes, which they used as investments and rewards (in turn).

housing in yuanling is still some of the most expensive in the city because with each home comes one elementary and one middle school seat (学位). this is important because yuanling schools are ranked first provincial (省一级), a ranking that suggests students from yuanling do well in the national college entrance exam (高考).

although much of the old housing is rented out, those school seats are coveted and circulate not only with the sale of the house, but part of rental negotiations. not unexpectedly, many have bought in yuanling, but live elsewhere, simply so their children can go to school there.

in addition, the area has been approved for redevelopment, which means that within the next two years, all this will be razed and new housing built. homeowners in yuanling will be compensated with replacement housing (based on square footage conversions, but i’m not sure what precisely the terms are.)

housing and education are two of the great goods in shenzhen. indeed, many women will not marry unless they have a home; many parents spend time, energy, and money trying to provide for their child’s education. consequently, it is useful to think about what new yuanling village signified to early shenzhen residents because housing and education are sites where we actively and vigorously create the future.

yuanling looks battered and worn, but the shenzhen dreams of a house and providing for one’s only child still resonate. moreover, the importance of this future to shenzhen identity explains how corruption may have been built into the city. it is hard to imagine how communist cadres may have been reduced to scrambling for moldy bits of concrete and in retrospect, the object of their scrambling appears ridiculous. however, it is more than easy to understand how private hopes and dreams for their families’ future might have gotten entangled in what those cadres saw when they drew up blueprints, laid foundations, and built a post-mao, post cold war future at yuanling.

when i asked if there were any other benefits to buying a house in yuanling, the salesman looked at me somewhat confused – after all, is there anything more important than a new house (even if many years down the road) and a child’s education? – and offered lamely, “you could open a ground floor store.”

i like yuanling in its current incarnation. the streets are narrow, quiet, and clean, the buildings shaded by banyan trees, and the occasional palm tree straggles into the sky above working class residents. pictures, here.

going, going, gone …

Shenzhen’s mayor Xu Zhengheng (徐宗衡简历) has been arrested for graft and yesterday the resume of the new  mayor Wang Rong (王荣简历) was broadcast on televisions throughout the city, including on street corners, buses, and taxis.

And not even with much of a wimper, let alone bang. What has been interesting is the lack of conversation about the scandal. Maybe people haven’t spoken to me about the topic because I’m foreign, but it could also be because Shenzhen people take corruption to be business as usual. When the topic did come up, most complained that Xu Zhengheng had gone too far (太过分), or that maybe somebody was gunning for him, or maybe that possibly didn’t have any friends in Beijing. The general consensus, however, was that if Xu Zongheng had  had been content with five million, even 10 million, all would have been well. However he just “went to far”. Indeed, I heard graft figures as high as “several hundred millions (上亿)” for himself and even more for his “network”. Rumors rumors…

The most interesting analysis came from one of my better connected friends who said that this case showed that there was a clear difference between “the people’s will (民意)” and “righteousness (正义)”.  He thought the arrest of the mayor was a good sign (of oversight) and expected to see more arrests follow.  However, in his opinion tolerance for graft and corruption had a deep history in China, so taking a few million, especially if you worked hard for the city wasn’t a problem, but in terms of making China a “just” society more had to be done. He also thought this general tolerance for some level of graft explained the difference between the amount of tax revenue the city generated and the actual amount of money going in and out of the banks. How, he wondered, could the government know, come to terms with, and actually regulate all the economic activity in Shenzhen, let alone Guangdong and the rest of the country if at every level the “people’s will” allowed for leaders to take an unreported portion of the profits for themselves?