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The Kims, père et fils.
If the quickest way to get some insight into a phenomenon is to look at its most extreme manifestations, the student of modern totalitarianism can do no better than to curl up for half an hour with a copy of the Pyongyang Times, an English-language weekly newspaper published in North Korea. Take the occasion when... Read More
Teaching Eng. Lit. in China.
Everybody knows the frustration of having to explain a joke. Teaching the literature of one's country to foreign students is something like explaining jokes for a living. This has been my living for the past few months, as resident "Foreign Expert" in the English department of a teachers' college in North China. My course is... Read More
Pouring cold water on mid-1980s enthusiasm for China.
When you go to China they give you a banquet. The format of these functions is always the same, whether you are President of the United States or the export manager of Nuts & Washers, Ltd — though of course there are differences of scale. Smiling officials usher you to the seat of honour. The... Read More
An attack on the TV series The Heart of the Dragon.
The Heart of the Dragon — Channel 4's series on life in China, has attracted much attention. But, as one who has lived in the People's Republic in close contact with ordinary Chinese, I feel qualified to say that the creators of this series have been taken for a ride. I am sure the filmmakers... Read More
The difficulty of economic reform in China.
I have a friend in China — let us call him Wu Ming — who is a schoolteacher. His salary is £20 a month. He lives in a bare concrete dormitory with other single men and eats canteen food (which is awful). Wu Ming's hobby is electronics. He's quite a wizard — once I needed... Read More
Stones of the Wall, by Dai Houying
To Get Rich is Glorious, by Orville Schell
Since 1978 China has been settling down into an easy-going style of traditional oriental despotism, a re-tread of the old imperial order. For 30 years before that date, however, the country was a laboratory for experiments in chiliastic socialism. All the experiments were failures, of course; each one left behind a desert of abandoned marriages,... Read More
Strategy for Survival, by Chiao Chiao Hsieh
An acquaintance of mine arrived in Taiwan (alias the "republic of China") in 1971, the week after Nixon announced his intention to visit Peking. The air was thick with anxiety. Those who had somewhere to go were preparing to leave, considering that, with the collapse of American support and the anticipated expulsion from the U.N.,... Read More
Letter to the Editor
As a long-time subscriber to your newsweekly I wish to bring to your attention an unfortunate skew in your coverage of world events, namely your overemphasis on Europe and your under-reporting of the Far East. Such an observation may seem curious since your newsweekly clearly contains the best and most comprehensive western coverage of the... Read More
An account of my marriage.
On Thursday we went to the Civil Affairs Office. Like most substantial buildings in Manchuria, this one dated from the Japanese occupation. It had certainly not seen a coat of paint since Liberation. Running round all the interior walls was a sort of dado of black grime reaching to shoulder height, where generations of citizens... Read More
The Chinese Democratic Party gives a press conference.
The Chinese Democratic Party presented itself to the world on the afternoon of 8 May at a restaurant in New York's Chinatown. The world was represented by: a Japanese reporter somewhat the worse for drink, who kept falling asleep, two people from the New York Tribune (one of the Revd Mr Moon's enterprises), someone from... Read More
With the release of the Cox Commission report, the growing national hysteria regarding relations with China has reached troubling, even alarming, proportions. Growing international hostility between America and China rather than apparent Chinese spying in America is the far greater threat to our national security. The basic conclusions of the Cox Report are certainly correct:... Read More
China's colonial problem in Eastern Turkestan.
Western reporting on China's problems with her minorities tends to concentrate on Tibet. The spectacle of a picturesque and eccentric culture (the Younghusband expedition of 1904 found that the Tibetan official they were dealing with bore the title "Grand Metaphysician") being stomped into the dust by a brutish and amoral despotism naturally arouses our sympathy.... Read More
I am going to ask what Churchill would have called some naughty questions and offer some impertinent answers. I apologize in advance for the extreme political incorrectness of what follows. In the hope of persuading the reader that I raise these issues with no pleasure at all, I shall preface them with some personal notes.... Read More
And we could help.
Macao, Portugal's 400-year-old colony across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Hong, returned to Chinese sovereignty at midnight on December 19th-20th last. Considering that the place is tiny — eight miles from end to end, pop. 450,000 — and has no discernible economy — gambling and prostitution are the staples — and that the Portuguese... Read More
The March 18 elections in Taiwan.
————————— In the minds of Chinese people, the modern history of their country is marked off by "incidents," most of them unknown to the general Western public. Each incident is remembered by the digits of the month and day on which it occurred. The grandaddy of all these milestones is "Five Four": May 4th 1919,... Read More
Hegemon, by Steven Mosher
Steven Mosher is a hero to those of us who hate and fear the current Chinese government. He has the honor of having been persona non grata in the People's Republic for twenty years — longer, I think, than any other American scholar. Mosher was the first social scientist from this country invited to do... Read More
The China Threat, by Bill Gertz
In the middle 1930s, as Hitler consolidated his power in Germany and began re-arming that country in earnest, the facts of the situation were duly reported back to the British foreign secretary, Sir John Simon. However, Sir John, as one of his underlings later remarked, did not want to know "uncomfortable things." Still less did... Read More
Prospects for the next few years.
The world is full of surprises. With the Middle East coming to the boil again and the Russians acting up, it would be foolish to guess what foreign-policy headlines might look like this next four — let alone eight — years. However, there is not much doubt that China will feature in many of them,... Read More
What we can learn from them.
This week has seen the publication of the so-called "Tiananmen Papers." These are said to be transcripts of high-level discussions in the Chinese leadership in the period leading up to the suppression of the 1989 student movement. It possible that these documents are some kind of bluff, put out by a united Chinese leadership to... Read More
China's Three Kinds of Crises.
January 8th saw the publication of the so-called "Tiananmen Papers," transcripts of high-level discussions among the Chinese leadership in the period leading up to the suppression of the 1989 student movement. What do these documents reveal about the inner workings of the Chinese leadership? What guidance do they offer to the new U.S. administration in... Read More
Why Beijing shouldn't get the Games.
Inspectors from the International Olympic Committee were in Beijing last week, studying that city's qualifications to host the 2008 Olympic Games. The purpose of the inspection was to make sure that Beijing has suitable facilities for staging Olympic events, can accommodate the expected number of visitors, has sufficient infrastructure to move them around efficiently and... Read More
What George W. Bush should say.
The news that China is continuing its build-up of missiles opposite Taiwan, with 100 more short-range ballistic missiles now in place at a newly-built base, comes as one of China's most senior officials, Vice Prime Minister Qian QiChen, arrives in Washington for the first high-level Sino-U.S. discussions of the new administration. (That "q," by the... Read More
Trash that plane!
With all due respect, Admiral: the hell you say. The U.S. can prevent the Chinese from boarding the plane very easily, by destroying it. The administration should do this as speedily as possible, without any regard whatsoever to Chinese sensitivities, or indeed lives and property. The only question worth serious discussion is that of technique.... Read More
Hint: They're commies.
To judge from the Internet chat groups and radio call-ins, there is widespread disgust and anger in the U.S. at China's attitude in the spy-plane incident. China's peculiar way of addressing the matter has especially got people's backs up. Colin Powell's statement of regret over the loss of that Chinese pilot is "a step in... Read More
China wins first showdown with Bush.
So the United States has done a full kowtow, begging China's pardon for having the audacity to land a plane, crippled by the antics of a hot-dogging Chinese pilot, on a Chinese airfield, without first securing the written approval of 43 bureaucrats in Beijing. The President has also, by implication, blamed U.S. military personnel for... Read More
China crisis in the living-room.
At the height of the 1956 Suez crisis, the wife of the British Prime Minister is supposed to have remarked: "It seems as though the Suez Canal is flowing through my living-room." I know how she felt. This past couple of days, the South China Sea has been lapping against my favorite armchair. My wife,... Read More
Guess what? They're in it for the money.
In yet another display of that selfless humility for which I am well-known, and with the generous permission of our noble editor, I once again direct my readers' attention to a piece far superior to any of my own meager offerings. This one is by John B. Judis in the current (issue date 4/23/01) issue... Read More
Treason by the Book, by Jonathan D. Spence
Western enthusiasm for China waxes and wanes on long cycles. In the early 18th century it was waxing strong. "The constitution of their empire is the most excellent the world has ever seen," burbled Voltaire. The unfoxable Samuel Johnson scoffed at widespread popular conceptions of the "Chinese perfectly polite, and compleatly skill'd in all sciences."... Read More
In the latest issue of National Review, the usually sound John Derbyshire goes off the deep end in defending a double standard for the US and China in the matter of surveillance operations (aka spying). According to Derbyshire, whose rhetoric is reproduced with tremulous flattery in WFB's otherwise predictably unreadable column of April 18, it... Read More
Modern Chinese nationalism.
The recent crisis in Hainan Island has brought Chinese nationalism to the front of our minds. Specialist China-watchers have understood for some time that the events of 1989 — not only the student and worker movements that were crushed in Tiananmen Square on June 4 of that year, but also the collapse of Soviet and... Read More
China-Taiwan: What might happen.
[Local announcer] Viewers, please continue to stand by. Do not change station. The President's address will be carried on all network channels, and on all cable news services. As soon as … Excuse me … Yes? … We do? … Thank you. All right, we are now going over to … [Washington announcer cuts in]... Read More
The resolution of the conflict between China and the U.S. is over much more than the U.S. airpeople and airplane in Chinese possession and the question of a U.S. apology. What is at stake is sovereignty versus hegemony, ideology versus trade, and the old Cold War versus the new Cold War. In the United States,... Read More
Translation of a Chinese poem.
  A Song of Valediction: Dreaming I Roamed on TianMu Mountain by Li Po (Li TaiBai), tr. John Derbyshire Seafarers tell of the Blessed Isles — Veiled, indistinct in the mists of the sea. Southern folk speak of TianMu Mountain, Now seen, now hidden in slow-shifting clouds. TianMu soars straight to the sky, to the... Read More
Bush decides not to decide.
After careful deliberation, the Bush administration has decided to take no position on Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. By itself, this is not a very remarkable decision. The U.S. government is not required to take any position on bids to host the Olympics, and many people would prefer they not do so.... Read More
The Derbs do China.
————————— Beijing, China: Week of July 1st to July 7th Having written a couple of pieces on this site in strong opposition to Beijing getting the 2008 Summer Olympics, I find myself in something of a moral quandary over here. I still don't want Beijing to get the Olympics, for the aforementioned reasons. On the... Read More
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Cloudy, With Possible Tidal Wave
We should think about the Chinese. We are going to hear more from them. Several lives ago, after Saigon fell, I was free-lancing around Asia, and went to Taiwan to await the next war, which didn't come. I'd been there before, to visit friends in the military. This time I stayed, signed up for intensive... Read More
I actually went there.
This summer I spent six weeks in China with my family, travelling all over the country, visiting with friends, relatives and ex-students. (My wife is mainland-Chinese with a large extended family, and I taught college in China in the early 1980s.) We mainly stayed in the homes of these people: in Beijing, in the Manchurian... Read More
I practice humility.
I'm going to perform a little exercise in humility — one of the trickier virtues, in my experience, since it is one of the easiest to fake, and also one that is grossly unattractive when taken to excess. Well, I'm not going to fake it, and I'm not going to cringe and wring my hands,... Read More
Bad Elements: Chinese Rebels, from Los Angeles to Beijing, by Ian Buruma
The nail that sticks up gets hammered down, the Chinese teach their children. They further instruct them that the rock that stands out from the river bank gets worn away by the current. In case the child still hasn't got the point, he will then be told that the tallest tree is the first to... Read More
It's a funny business, writing. Sometimes you give up days to crafting a piece, sweat blood over it, research all the background stuff the way journalists are supposed to, make sure the ideas all connect, weed out all the superfluous adjectives and adverbs, add just the right amount of "seasoning" — a pinch of literary... Read More
Wang Ruowang, 1918-2001.
Wang Ruowang, 1918-2001 The Central Funeral Home on 41st Avenue in New York's Flushing district is, one of the ushers told me, the largest Chinese-owned establishment of its kind in the city. On Saturday we had its biggest room, but that was still too small for the crowd of mourners who came to pay tribute... Read More
The China Dream by Joe Studwell
The dream of Joe Studwell's title is the dream of the China market: of 1.3 billion consumers just waiting to be sold clothes, medicine, cars, toothpaste, or whatever else the dreamer has to offer. As an English writer of the 1840s put it: "If we could only persuade every person in China to lengthen his... Read More
A survey of the Middle Kingdom.
Let's start with the bad. China continues on its road to become the Wilhelmine Germany of the early 21st century. The Pentagon report released last week shows an intensifying of the nation's military buildup, with an increase in the nation's defense budget of 18 per cent this year, from a base believed to be three... Read More
China up? China down? Who knows? Me.
You can get whiplash reading commentary about which way China is going. Here was Nicholas Kristof, in the December 3 New York Times with an article titled "Will China Blindside the West?" Kristof is a capable journalist who wrote a decent book about China in the early nineties, so let's see what he has to... Read More
The New Chinese Empire: And What It Means for the United States, by Ross Terrill
Thirty years ago — at about the time, in fact, that Ross Terrill published his first book about China — the catch-phrase in political science circles was that people who studied the Soviet Union hated the object of their studies, while people specializing in modern China loved the object of theirs. There was truth in... Read More
Recalling Bruce Lee.
For web column topics I have an "Ideas" file that I dip into when I can't be bothered with the actual news — a state of mind that I find comes upon me more and more often lately. A lot of these ideas have been suggested by kind readers. This is one such. None of... Read More
SHANGHAI - Right now no destination, except perhaps Bangkok, can even dream of rivaling Shanghai as the most exciting city in Asia. If "to get rich is glorious", according to Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping's unforgettable war cry, nowhere is getting rich more glorious than in Shanghai. The city has discarded its Mao suit in favor... Read More
A demonstration in China.
Looking at the picture of those Chinese students demonstrating in Xi'an last weekend, a half-forgotten literary reference came to mind. I went to my books and found the reference. It's in Chapter Eight of Ba Jin's novel The Family, written around 1930. Ba Jin (old spelling: Pa Chin**) was the most prominent Chinese novelist of... Read More
China's New Order, by Wang Hui
Americans are usually a bit surprised to hear that mainland China has a vigorous culture of political and social critique. The dictatorship imposes some constraints, of course, and the political weather blows cold now and then, but tianxia da shi — the large matters of the world — are keenly discussed among Chinese intellectuals, and,... Read More
China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics and Diplomacy, by Peter Hays Gries
It is an item of current conventional wisdom that the Chinese Communist Party, confronted with a population to whom communism no longer has any appeal, has resorted to an extreme form of nationalism to justify its rule over China. The principal message of Peter Hays Gries's fascinating book is that while this is true, it... Read More
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