quibbling, but…

I’ve just realized that all of Xi Jinping’s announcements refer to deepening “reform (改革).” Here’s the thing. Shenzhen has been about reform and opening (改革开放). I know. Quibble, quibble. But. I suddenly realized I wasn’t paying enough attention to the words used. And this in a country where words are serious politics. We were warned about the aggressive closing down of ideological alternatives, but because my eyes glazed over (from propaganda overload) when I got to “reform” in announcements, I unconsciously supplied the “opening” as if we were doing more of the same.

remembered origins

For those who haven’t visited the Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening, it’s worth a trip if only to check out where the story begins. All stories of the Special Economic Zone begin with Deng Xiaoping, however, the historical problems that Deng Xiaoping is said to have solve differ from museum to museum. At the Shenzhen Museum of History, for example, Deng Xiaoping solves the historic problem of colonialism. In contrast, at the Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening, he solves the social problems that were caused by political mistakes–famine during the Great Leap Forward and relative poverty during the Cultural Revolution.

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can shenzhen evolve from “suck it up theory” to creativity?

I have come to think of “theories” in Chinese political culture to function like guidelines to acceptable behavior. The difficulty for folks in Shenzhen arise from contradictions between extant theories and changing social condititions, or what might be called “double bind theory”; General Secretary Xi Jinping has tightened the space of critical thinking and debate, even as his government, especially Premier Li Keqiang is exhorting people to be creative. But there’s the rub; people need to take critical stances in order to create new solutions to entrenched problems and critical stances have been routinely discouraged throughout the Reform and Opening era, begging the question: can Shenzhen evolve from “suck it up theory” to creativity? Continue reading

harmonized

While in Tianjin a friend said to me that she wanted to forward one of my posts about the Hong Kong protests to her WeChat circles, but was afraid of being “harmonized” (被和谐掉) — a euphemism meaning “to be arrested for political activism”, or as Orwell might have said, the crime of speaking one’s position. The expression ironically activates Xi Jinping’s relentless calls for social harmony through a return to Chinese values, that might be otherwise expressed as “shut up and do what you’re told” much as Lee Kwan Yew deployed Neo-Confucianism in his pursuit of a well ordered managed Singapore. Continue reading

dishing on sino-american relations

There is a current blurb flitting through virtual space about a fictional meeting between Xi Jinping and Obama, who has just finished watching an episode of CCTV’s popular 舌尖上的中国后 (A Bite of China). A friend described this parody of bi-lateral mis/understanding as hilarious, another called it an example of literary talent, and yet another as nugget of cultural truth so Chinese it could not be translated!

High praise for a political side dish. So, I decided to create a taste challenge for bi-lingual readers, adapting the piece from Chinese to English. Four political facts might enhance appreciation of the spoof: (1) Obama is just Obama, but Xi Jinping is always, “General Secretary”; (2) there is an important role for overseas Chinese figured by US Ambassador to China Gary Faye Locke (骆家辉); (3) subtitled episodes of A Bite of China can be viewed on Youtube, which remains off menu for those of us dining chez Cafe le Firewall, and; (4) General Party Secretary Xi never mentions the iron rice bowl (铁饭碗), an expression used to described the difficulty of removing officials from their posts. Also of note, the expressions emphasize the acting of eating, not food. Consequently, more colloquial English would use variously use “take” or “swallow” or “suck up” or “eat” to translate 吃 — and therein, perhaps, is an experiential entry into cultural differences structuring Sino-American misunderstanding.

After viewing “A Bite of China [literally China on the Tongue]”, Obama said to General Secretary Xi Jinping, “I’ve realized that although Chinese culture consists of extensive knowlege and profound scholarship, it is really an eating culture. Consider: a job is called a rice bowl, working is called living from hand to mouth (糊口); to be employed is called getting enough to eat (混饭), getting by in style is called eating with gusto (吃得开), and things that are liked are said to whet one’s appetite(吃香); to be taken care of is called eating from the little stove (吃小灶), to spend your savings is called eating your principle (吃老本) to take advantage of a woman is called eating tofu (吃豆腐); to depend on your parents is called gnawing on the old (啃老); a man who spends a woman’s money is said to eat soft rice (吃软饭); to overwork is to eat without digesting (吃不消), to take advantage of someone is to eat an advantage (吃亏), jealousy is called eating vinegar (吃醋); to dither is called to eat indesively (吃不准), to do substandard work is to eat dry rice (吃干饭), to take advantage of anyone is also to eat tofu (吃豆腐), to be taken advantage of is to have swallowed the disadvantage (吃了亏), to be afraid to speak up is called a mute eats coptis root (哑巴吃黄连). To have nothing better to do than make trouble for others is called overeating (吃饱撑), to make a decision is called Eight Wang eats the scales (王八吃秤砣), to ignore an order is not to eat soft or hard (软硬不吃), and to have reached one’s limits is called can’t swallow and slink off (吃不了兜着走).

General Secretary Xi interupted him and said, “We should speak about Sino-American relations. Are you talking about this because you’ve overeaten?”

Obama fainted at these words!

When Obama had recovered, General Secretary Xi earnestly said, “With respect to the importance of Sino-American relations, we will eat deeply and throughly, because we haven’t any principle to eat. The way of the world is that big fish eat little fish, but Cold War thinking is no longer appetizing, and cooperating for mutual benefit is the only way to eat with gusto. Only if China and the United States join hands will the benefits be eaten together. There are those who eat at our table and secretly help others; they eat from the rice bowl of harming Sino-American relations. We eat too much bitterness because they eat vinegar, making us eat with effort to establish a partnership. We have to learn from eating the moat (吃一堑长一智), and prevent them from eating from their bowls with their eyes on the pot. This will also let the world eat heart balls of reassurance. Mister President, are you still eating indesively about these matters? If not, I’d like to dine with you in this compound.”

Obama was speachless, and said after a pause, “It really is too deep to be predicted! Only the last idea could be expressed without the character for eating!”

Gary Faye Locke was standing nearby and couldn’t resist reminding Obama, “That’s because he was actually inviting you to eat!”

奥巴马看了《舌尖上的中国》,后对习近平总书记说:我发现中华文化博大精深,其实就是吃的文化。你看:岗位叫饭碗,谋生叫糊口;受雇叫混饭,混得好叫吃得开,受人欢迎叫吃香;受到照顾叫吃小灶,花积蓄叫吃老本;占女人便宜叫吃豆腐;靠长辈生活叫啃老;男人老是用女人的钱叫吃软饭;干活多了叫吃不消,受人伤害叫吃亏,男女嫉妒叫吃醋;犹豫不决叫吃不准,办事不力叫吃干饭, 占人便宜叫吃豆腐,被占便宜叫吃了亏,还不敢声张叫哑巴吃黄连。没事找事叫吃饱撑的,下定决心叫王八吃秤砣,不听劝告叫软硬不吃,收不了场叫吃不了兜着走。
习主席打断他说:我们应该讨论中美关系,你怎么尽说这些,是不是吃饱了撑的了?奥巴马一听,当即晕倒!
奥巴马醒来后,习主席语重心长地说:对中美关系的重要性,我们一定要吃深吃透,这方面我们没有老本可吃。世界的规则就是大鱼吃小鱼,但冷战思维已不吃香,合作共赢才吃得开。只要中美两强联手,一定赢者通吃。有些人吃里扒外,专吃破坏中美关系这碗饭,跟我们争风吃醋,让我们吃了不少苦头,建设战略伙伴关系更加吃力。我们一定要吃一堑长一智,不能再让他们吃着碗里看着锅里,也让全世界吃颗定心丸。总统先生,对这些你还有什么吃不准吗,如果没有,我很愿跟你在这个庄园里共进晚餐。
奥巴马目瞪口呆,半晌才说:果然深不可测!一席话只有最后一句没有吃字!骆家辉在旁忍不住提醒:总统先生,习主席最后这句话您听懂了吗,他是要您请他撮一顿!。。。

monkey see…

IMG_5155

The monkey is reading about the “three represents“, a direct dig at former General Party Secretary Jiang Zemin. And, if weixin memes are to be believed — if not totally, perhaps partially — then current General Party Secretary Xi Jinping is targeting neibu, or inner circle folks.

In fact, online Xi Jinping’s talks are repeatedly characterized as “strict (严厉)”. The adjective, of course, emphasizes the current administration’s explicit task to broaden reforms. In the aftermath of mixed messages, we’re still trying to figure out what that means. A larger political role for civil society and public debate? Or are we simply talking about a new purge? Excerpts of “strict” talking suggest the both/ and muddling of the current political landscape.

Of note? The ongoing use of classical CCP rhetoric to make veiled attacks on opponents. There’s a fight going on, but who’s the actual target? Also of note, The fact that the “Talk on the meeting about development work” took place in September, but the memes are still circulating. I received these memes yesterday.

A picture (for a sense of the Xi Jinping meme aesthetic), three excerpts and translation:

20139619571399354Today some people are using reform like a tiger skin, [frightening] the people so they don’t speak or make judgments. In my opinion, this is using reform for anti-reform purposes.

We’re not not reforming, we’re actually reforming, actually satisfying the people, pursuing a reform that will increase and further reforms. And what has been the status of reform these past years? Handcuffing productive capacities, perverted models of economic development, and serious environmental problems; we’re killing the goose [reform] that lays golden eggs.
The gap between the rich and poor is too wide. This is not only a problem of individual abilities, but also a result of unequal access to opportunity and power. All along we’ve been saying that we want to empower society, that we want to liberate productive capacity, that we want to realize sustainable development and a stable society, but we haven’t done anything because within the Party there are small mafias (的利益集团的黑手) who benefit too much from the current situation. Is a tiger willing to spit out the meat in its mouth? All that can be done is fight the tiger.

There are many such memes and, whatever the actuall status of Xi Jinping’s reform efforts, the memes resonate. What’s more, the memes are online, which means they have tacit support from the Center. Have we truly entered virtual political world of “monkey see, monkey reform”?

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!