Monday, May 30, 2005

Wow...

Once again, Eastsouthwestnorth has done us a great public service by translating a huge chunk of an important article that recently appeared in the Chinese press. In ESWN's words, the article is significant because:
First, the newspaper is the Chinese Youth Daily, an organ of the Chinese Communist Youth League and therefore an article of this nature must have received official blessing from higher up. The editor-in-chief of Chinese Youth Daily would not dare to publish this without the approval of his superiors at the Chinese Youth League; in turn, they would not have dared to approve this without the approval of someone in the State Council.

Second, the author is Lung Ying-tai, one of the top public intellectuals brought up in Taiwan, educated in the United States and Germany and presently affiliated with Hong Kong University. She had been named as one of the top 50 public intellectuals of the Chinese world, and then promptly attacked by official Chinese media for being unduly influential.

Third, the topic of the article is Taiwan and its mainstream values of democracy and freedom. This article goes a long way to explaining that the overall reluctance of the people of Taiwan for immediate re-unification has little or nothing to do with any independence movement but much more with a lifestyle that has democracy and freedom ingrained in every aspect of daily life. The appearance of this article may be interpreted as a relaxation of media control about discussion on the Taiwan issue. How shall the government or people in mainland China respond to what Lung Ying-tai is saying?
Talk about mixed messages from China regarding the media, with the appearance of this piece virtually coninciding with the detention of the prominent reporter Ching Cheong in Guangzhou.

But one should never assume that the CCP is a monolithic entity these days, with everyone marching in lockstep to the same party line. There are factions that strongly favor reform and greater openness in public discourse, and there are factions which most certainly do not. Still, coming practically on the heels of the Anti-Secession law, you could get whiplash trying to follow the debate on Taiwan, particularly when the article under discussion contains passages like this:
People in Taiwan are accustomed to living in a democratic system. This means that the democracy system holds the same place in their daily lives as as daily necessities such as tea, rice, cooking oil and salt.

Here is one such person. His government building is open. There are no guards at the door to check his documents. He comes out of the government building just as he would come out of a shopping mall. If he has to go through a procedure, apply for a document or get a few stamps on some documents, there is no barrier. He gets a queueing number and he waits, and no one will jump in the line ahead of him. When his turn comes, the workers will not give him a hard time or cause him trouble. When he is done, he can wander around the government building, browse in the bookstore and have a cup of coffee. The coffee and the snack is brought over by a mentally handicapped youth, because the government requires that every government office must employ mentally or physically handicapped people in certain ratios. He sits in center court to sip his coffee and if he sees the mayor walk past, he can run over to get an autograph.

If he waits too long at the government office, or if the attitude of the government worker was bad, he can cast his vote for another mayoral candidate in four years' time.
There's much, much more. Do go and read the whole thing.

Paper Tiger Now Available in the PRC

I've created a semi-mirror of this site at blog city, so that readers in the PRC can access the site. You can find it here. I've got most of blog city's idiosyncracies figured out, though I don't yet know how to put that cool Chinese characters script on it...

UPDATE: for those who've asked, I will be maintaining both sites, at least for now. I like some of the features better on blogspot, plus all the archives are here. I may end up merging the sites in the future, but my hope is that blogspot will get unblocked in China...someday soon...for now, Paper Tiger PRC will contain the same posts I put up here, plus selections from the archives.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

One Night In Shanghai...Part Four

(part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, and if you haven't read them, I suggest you do before reading part 4, or it will make little sense...)

Paul became increasingly particular about what food he would eat. This began before we went to Shanghai. I remember one night, the two of us wandering aimlessly up and down the Santa Monica Promenade, looking for a restaurant that would suit him. Nothing seemed to. I think eventually I insisted that we pick a place and eat something, because it was getting late and my blood sugar was dropping. But I can't remember what we ended up eating...

During our Shanghai stay, not surprisingly, this issue resurfaced, though not as often as you might think. Shanghai, even ten years ago, presented a comforting, modern facade. I mean, Shanghai had Italian restaurants, with decent pasta dishes! If you are a recent traveler to urban China, you might wonder, what's the big deal about that? But from the China that Paul and I knew, the China of 1979, it was nearly inconceivable. I remember the two of us having dinner in an Italian restaurant in some fancy hotel, chuckling over the silverware, repeating to each other: "Can you believe this? Fettuchini Alfredo!"

When we took a day trip to Hangzhou and Suzhou, however, Paul's food fears came roaring back. He simply could not find a place where he felt comfortable eating.

I on the other hand was getting very hungry.

The Hangzhou leg of our trip consisted mainly of a wild taxi ride around the lake, where we could vaguely glimpse the famous scenic spots (I really do need to go back there someday. I hear it's a pretty nice city). The taxi driver seemed like a nice young guy. So finally, I asked him, in my minimal Chinese of that time, if he knew anyplace where we could get a decent lunch? Paul's food neurosis of that day was that he couldn't eat any meat. Mind you, he had been eating meat throughout the trip, but today, he was convinced that eating any meat would make him deathly ill. "He cannot eat meat," I explained earnestly to the driver. "It is bad for his health."

Of course the driver knew a place. Grinning, he aimed our hurtling cab through a series of narrow, rutted side streets, until at last we reached our destination: a small shack made up of narrow concrete slabs, open in the front like a box that is lying on its side, with a couple of rickety tables. "My family," he said, beaming at us.

"I can't eat here," Paul said to me. "Look at this place!" He really was on the verge of a meltdown.

"Hey, come on, let's just try it. If it's bad, you don't have to eat it. And sometimes the best places look like dives." Besides, it would be very rude, I thought, to tell the driver that we weren't willing to eat at his family's restaurant.

In retrospect, I suppose that even though I knew Paul was ill, had counseled him to get some help, had encourage him in his attempts to lead a healthier lifestyle, I still was in some form of denial about his condition. Maybe, in retrospect, eating at the Chinese equivalent of Mom's Diner was not the wisest choice.

I dutifully repeated Paul's dietary restrictions, and the two of us sat there uncomfortably, Paul utterly convinced that he would be eating his last meal.

But in this particular instance, things worked out just like you'd hope they would. The young woman who was serving - a sister? a cousin? - brought out an endless succession of vegetarian dishes, all of which were beautiful, delicious, and dirt-cheap. At some point in the meal, the restaurant workers and our driver wanted to take a photo with us and our meal. I happily complied. If you look at the photo, you will see a small group of smiling Chinese people and one very glum foreign male.

The irony of this is that Paul didn't get sick, I did. Not from the Hangzhou meal, presumably, but from something I ate later. The day before we were to fly home, I started feeling ill. By evening, I was very ill. Throwing up, feverish, wishing I could just go ahead and die already. The hotel doctor advised me not to travel. But I had to. I wasn't getting paid for this vacation; I had to get home to my job, that is, if I still had a job.

The friends we'd made saved me. Brigitte, the German, gave me some descriptively named meds from her home country called "Vomex." Mark, the injured Hong Kong movie villain, pedaled a borrowed bicycle to a local pharmacy and returned with three kinds of Chinese medicine, including what turned out to be the local version of Dramamine. A note to travelers: Dramamine is not only good for motion sickness. The active ingredient is a weaker version of Compazine, what they'll give you in an ER to stop vomiting. A doctor once told me this, when I was sick with food poisoning, too sick to drive myself to urgent care. Since then, Dramamine has been a lifesaver for me, especially when I'm traveling. Don't leave home without it! Anyway, I stopped throwing up, managed to drink some Coke and get on the plane, 102 degree fever and all...

But this happened later. After Paul and I returned to Shanghai from Hangzhou and Suzhou, we ran into Mark, who announced that we should all go out that evening. He knew the perfect place. Paul wasn't in the mood. He was tired, he said. I wasn't sure what to make of this. Paul had always been the partyer, the guy who could stay out till dawn, and it was hard for me to tell how much of his reluctance to go out was genuine fatigue and how much was the paranoia that he could barely keep in check. Regardless, I wanted to go. I was back in China, things had changed, and I wanted to see it for myself. "We'll go to JJ's Disco," Mark decided.

JJ's Disco. Okay...

Now, back in the ancient days of my youth, there were of course, no discos in China. In fact a continuing theme of our stay there was the paranoia on the part of the school officials where we taught that Paul and I would infect the students with the knowledge of "the disco dance," as though it were some sort of contagion that would lead to...well, Mao knows what. Presumably sex, or some other type of bourgeoise Western decadence. When we first got to Beijing in the fall of 1979, I remember seeing the most charming scene in a public park: a young man, wearing a top hat, of all things, dancing his version of a ballroom dance to some scratchy old record on a portable phonograph player. I cannot remember if he danced with a girl or not. But what I do remember is, being told later by one of Paul's parents' students, a young man named Simon, about how the authorities had shut the dancing down. "They weren't doing anything," he told me bitterly. "They were just dancing. And the authorities forbid them to. Why? What is wrong with just dancing like that?"

So, JJ's Disco Square, Shanghai, 1993. We get out of the cab, pay our cover charge, and enter through a long black hallway. Into...

A disco. I mean, an honest to god, decadent, mirror ball spinning, laser lights flashing, speakers booming goddamn disco. Huge dance floor. Mylar confetti falling from the distant catwalk above.

I desperately needed a beer.

I went and got one. I believe it was a Heineken, though I much would have preferred a Reeb. Stumbling dazedly amongst the tables, looking for Mark, I suddenly felt a tug on my sleeve.

"Hey. First the Democratic Convention in 1992. Now JJ's Disco in Shanghai. You certainly get around, don't you?"

It was the Famous American Director, surrounded by his Asshole Buddy posse.

"Sit down," he continued. "Let's talk."

Why not? I did. We chatted a bit.

In addition to the coterie of asshole buddies, there was a young Chinese woman sitting at the table. Very young. Cute as hell, wearing an outfit that vaguely resembled a tightly cut sailor suit.

"Ni hao," she said brightly.

I said hello back.

"Say, do you speak Chinese?" the Famous American Director wanted to know.

"A little."

"Great. Maybe you can help me out. Because I think she wants to have sex with me, but I'm not sure."

Ah.

The young woman and I chat a bit, minimally, because I really don't speak much Chinese. Finally I ask what she wants.

"I want to go to the foreigner's hotel!" she chirps.

"I think you're right," I tell the famous director."She wants to go to the foreigner's hotel."

The Famous American Director grins. "Great. Ask her how much."

"Is he your boyfriend?" the girl wants to know. "Can the three of us go to the foreigner's hotel together?" She liked the idea of having someone along she could talk to, I think.

"No, he's not my boyfriend," I assure her hastily. "He's a well-known man in America."

"What are you two talking about?" the Famous Director asks me.

"I'm telling her that you're a well-known person in America."

"Don't tell her that! It'll raise the price."

I just sit there for a moment. "You know, I'm really not comfortable with this," I finally say. "Cause right now she wants to know if you're my boyfriend and if we should all go to the hotel together. And I don't think that's a great idea."

The Famous American Director exchanges a look with one of his Asshole Buddies (the one who played a non-speaking role in his last big movie). "No," he says, looking a little uncomfortable himself. "No, that's probably not a good idea."

The next morning, I see the Famous American Director in the lobby of our hotel, with a different Asian woman - older, more sophisticated than last night's Japanese anime heroine. "Hey," he says with a lazy smile. "Linda. How's it going?"

"Lisa," I correct him. "It's going fine, thanks."

Revenge of the Mingong

While cruising around the web tonight (procrastinating, in other words), I stopped in at one of my favorite places, the Asia Times, and came across a series of articles by reporter Pepe Escobar, who always has an interesting, if at times controversial, take on world events. This one is really something. The title is: "The Peasant Tiananmen Time Bomb," and it begins with a discussion of the infamous banned book, Zhongguo Nongmin Diaocha, in English, The Chinese Peasant Study. If you are not familiar with "Peasant Study," it was the result of a heroic effort by authors Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, who traveled throughout China's countryside for three years, gathering research and stories for their book:
A typical passage reads: "Farmers worked all year long to earn an average annual income of 700 yuan. Many farmers lived in mud-clay houses that were dark, damp, small and shabby. Some even had tree bark roofs because they couldn't afford tiles. Because of poverty, once someone fell ill, he either endured it if it was minor disease, or else just waited to die. There were 620 households in the whole village, of whom 514, or 82.9%, were below the poverty line. Even though the village was very poor, the leaders were prone to boasting and exaggeration about their performance, and as a result the government struck it off the list of impoverished villages. So the villagers were burdened with exorbitant taxes and levies."

Chen is no maverick: he is a member of the respected, state-sanctioned Association of Chinese Writers. Chen and Wu definitely are not "splittists" - the unforgivable ideological sin. They are in essence moderate reformists who believe the party is reformable: one of the chapters in the book is a glowing tribute to the fairness of Premier Wen Jiabao, who was just a simple official at one time. Nevertheless, the book had the capacity to scare the fourth-generation leadership because it graphically depicts the workings of a time bomb - the other side of the market-Leninist glitter in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. It details how the rural masses have gotten next to nothing since Deng Xiaoping's reforms were introduced in the late 1970s. The average annual income in Shanghai, 14,800 yuan ($1,790), is seven times as high as in rural Anhui, 2,100 yuan. In a nutshell, the annual income of a farmer in today's China is only one-sixth to one-seventh that of an urban professional - but he pays three times as many taxes, plus a plethora of local taxes of dubious legality. Moreover, untold millions subsist on less than 2 yuan (24 cents) a day...

...Inequality in China is much more acute than in India. A recent study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CAAS) says it is actually the worst on the planet, barring the odd sub-Saharan African country. China's "peasant question" is an economic, social and political crisis of gargantuan proportions. Scholars at CAAS estimate that since the start of Deng's reforms, 270 million Chinese have escaped poverty. That's not enough in a nation of 1.3 billion people. The crucial question is how "one system, two countries", where 400 million people advance while 900 million are left behind, can possibly co-exist. One billion peasants - 80% of the total population - can never be fully assimilated, no matter the rhythm of the economic miracle.
In the course of writing this book, Chen and Wu exhausted their personal savings; upon its publication, they were sued by a local Party secretary for libel (the case is still unresolved). This has not stopped their work; Wu and Chen have enough material for three more books and are currently writing an account of their legal travails.

I strongly recommend that anyone interested in this case and its larger implications for China read the entire article - there's a lot more to it than what I've quoted here. But these paragraphs towards the end particularly caught my attention:
Successful urban professionals in both Shanghai and Guangzhou are unanimous: the libel case against Chen and Wu demonstrates how the law, for the party, is an instrument of control, and how, for Chinese society, it should function as a check on the power of party officials, and as a way to protect individual rights. Premier Wen, according to diplomats in Beijing, is a passionate proponent of a Singapore-style neo-authoritarian system for China. There's one enormous difference, though: Singapore may have been a one-party state since Lee Kwan Yew's early days in the 1960s, but government corruption is in essence non-existent.

It all comes back to the same point: is the Chinese ultra-authoritarian system reformable? Dialectical contradictions abound. According to a Beijing scholar, the party recognizes that courts should be impartial and trusted by all in a country facing what some believe to be an imminent social volcano. Courts should have a major role in fighting corruption and improving governance. At the same time the party leadership fears that the primacy of the law will spell a clear and present danger to its power monopoly.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Spike's Relative?


Spike's Relative?
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

I got this photo in my email the other day - it's a "liger," a cross between a lion and a tiger. All I gotta say is, that is one big cat.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Government Versus Government

When people talk about the inconsistency of the rule of law in China and the limits to good intentions in the drafting of regulations, this is the kind of thing they are talking about:
A hundred Chinese tombs more than 2,000 years old have been crushed or buried to make way for a housing project in Inner Mongolia province, state media reported.

The destruction, backed by the local government, continued even though the Helinge'er county site was one of the largest and best-preserved cultural heritage sites in China, the Beijing Youth Daily said.

Nearly 50 of the tombs were razed and more than 50 others were covered over by earth when construction equipment flattened the ground...

...The site in the north of China was once the cemetery of the former city of Tuchengzi and has a history dating back to the Warring States period in the latter part of the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-221 BC).

In 2001, the Chinese government placed it on the list of important national sites to be preserved.

County authorities, however, were eager to turn the 300,000 square metre (3.2 million square feet) plot of land over to the Xiangyu Real Estate Development Company to cash in on the local housing boom.

They failed to conduct a required cultural heritage assessment, said the report, citing heritage experts and local government officials.

Their actions amounted to a violation of China's cultural relics protection law, but so far no one had been arrested.

Inner Mongolia cultural relics protection officials ordered a work stoppage on May 10, but construction crews had continued to destroy the tombs as the county government and police refused to stop the workers.

Officials from China's Cultural Relics Bureau rushed experts to the site in April after learning about the destruction and were trying to salvage as many of the tombs and their relics as possible, the report said.

The developer and its workers have reportedly been putting up resistance, warning the preservationists that they need to finish up their work fast or risk being run over by bulldozers.

Westerners often tend to think of the Chinese government in stereotypical terms - a strong, central authority that rigidly controls peoples' actions and is defied at great risk. But as this story illustrates, local authorities flouted the central government's laws with impunity. These and other similar incidents lead one to speculate on just how much control Hu Jintao's national government actually has over local power brokers. Sure, some of these modern warlords will get their comeuppance, eventually, but apparently "killing the chicken to frighten the monkey" only gets you so far these days.

Still, it's a positive sign that the "state media" reports on such stories. While this may be a case of the central government's attempting to manipulate public opinion, it still clearly shows that not all authority in China is legitimate. Nor, in the case of the central government, is it omnipotent.

Guantanamo "the Gulag of Our Time"

This according to Amnesty International:
Amnesty International branded the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a human rights failure Wednesday, releasing a 308-page report that offers stinging criticism of the United States and its detention centers around the world.

"Guantanamo has become the gulag of our time," Amnesty Secretary General Irene Khan said as the London-based group launched its annual report. Amnesty International called for the camp to be closed.

The annual report accused the United States of shirking its responsibility to set the bar for human rights protections and said Washington has instead created a new lexicon for abuse and torture.

"Attempts to dilute the absolute ban on torture through new policies and quasi-management speak, such as 'environmental manipulation, stress positions and sensory manipulation,' was one of the most damaging assaults on global values."
Yep. I'm proud to be an American right about now...

Monday, May 23, 2005

Electronic Waste

No, not the crap that floats around the blogosphere from Little Green Footballs and such...junked computer parts, circuit boards, monitors...

According to Greenpeace China, China has become one of the world's major dumping grounds for electronic waste:
As much as 4,000 tonnes of toxic e-waste is discarded in the world every hour, equivalent to the weight of 1,000 elephants, the global environmental group said in a statement on Monday.

While there is no breakdown on how much of the global electronic waste ends up in China, Greenpeace said the country was a favorite dumping ground, with many of the world's electronic products being made there.

Although China has banned electronic waste from being imported, companies still export the waste there illegally while a lot more is generated domestically, said Greenpeace campaigner Yue Yihua.
This story has been covered at length in publications like the New York Times, but this is the first time that I have heard reference to Greenpeace China, which in best activist style, on Monday "tried to shame electronics companies attending a show in Beijing by unveiling a 2.7-metre (8.9-foot) high statue shaped as a wave, built using the companies' electronic waste collected from e-waste recycling yards in Guiyu."

As I've mentioned in these pages before, I think China's environmental movement is hopeful on many levels, not the least of which is its capacity to encourage and develop citizen activists who are raising awareness, helping to generate a real public discussion of the issues and perhaps even creating a genuine political force outside of the CCP's monopoly. If there are seeds for a more democratic China, I wouldn't be surprised if a good number of them were planted by China's environmentalists.

Good Luck With That...

In an effort to crack down on corruption, philandering Nanjing officials will be required to confess their extra-marital affairs, according to a new Nanjing regulation:
Ninety-five percent of China's convicted officials caught sticking their fingers in government coffers had mistresses, it said, citing psychologists.

The report said that in China's prospering southern cities of Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Zhuhai, of 102 corruption cases recently investigated all of the officials were having affairs.
Not everyone agrees with this attempt to regulate morality:
"The measure violates a citizen's privacy rights and China's marriage law, which allows everyone the freedom to marry and divorce," said Mo Jihong, a researcher at the Institute of Law Science under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

He added that the regulation was preposterous since no official in their right mind would volunteer information about their extra-marital love life.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

What Can I Say?

Some things require little comment:
Need a plastic White House? How about an "I love Washington" sweatshirt or a Stars and Stripes for the car? Well, thanks to communist China, you won't break the bank.

As Washington simmers over trade and currency spats with Beijing -- policymakers need not stray far to test America's addiction to the fruits of China's great economic leap forward.

Little more than a flick of a patriotic frisbee from the White House is a cornucopia of tourist kitsch, at knockdown prices courtesy of low-wage workers halfway across the globe.

Tourists can choose a "President of the United States" baseball cap, with a pirated official seal across the front -- good value at 12 dollars.

Or plump for a pewter-style handheld statue of Abe Lincoln or a model of the US Capitol for eight dollars.

Even more ironic is the seven buck scene of one of the quintessential moments of American mythology, the raising of the US flag by marines at the World War II battle of Iwo Jima.

In one of the most patriotic nations on earth, each of these pieces bears a "Made in China" sticker on its base.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Spike and Wolfgang


Spike and Wolfgang
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

Spike and his best buddy, Wolfgang, in the window. Wolfgang is the oldest of my crew, Spike the youngest. Wolfgang loves all things, except vacuum cleaners. This is good, because the girls can't stand Spike, maybe cause he weighs more than 20 lbs and is kind of a brat. Shortly after I got Spike, he became very ill with a mysterious fever. The vets thought he probably wouldn't make it. Wolfgang routinely groomed Spike, who didn't have the energy to do it himself.

Spike recovered, as you can see. They still like to groom each other.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Evil Empire

I am not a huge Star Wars fan - which is to say, when the first film came out, back in the seventies, I and my friends went nuts. I couldn't tell you how many times we went to see that movie - we'd never seen anything like it before, and we couldn't get enough. Star Wars seemed like the first film for our generation of youths and adolescents. Who knew it would prove to be a template for an endless succession of mediocre space shoot 'em ups?

After that first film, it was diminishing returns for me. Yeah, I know the second movie is supposed to be the best one, but when I saw it, I was annoyed by the cliffhanger and thought the warmed-over Zen schtick was kind of silly. By the third movie, forget it. Between the spear-waving koalas living in the Marin redwoods, formerly dead people reappearing with blue haloes around them to fill in essential plot points, and dialog like, "Join the Dark Side!" "No, I won't join the Dark Side!", I was done.

So I didn't even go to see the two newer films. They looked pretty dumb. The third film, Revenge of the Sith, looked promising, however. And one of the advantages of being an entertainment industry drone is that I do have frequent opportunities to see movies for free. Sometimes, even during my working day. Which, if you think about it, kind of means I'm getting paid to see them.

So anyway, when the opportunity to see Revenge of the Sith came up this week, I decided to go for it. I even managed to squeeze in a viewing of Phantom Menace the day before (it was on broadcast TV). Boy, that is one bad movie. It really is. But it helped set the bar pretty low for my viewing of "Sith."

Revenge of the Sith
is not a perfect film. George Lucas can't write dialog very well; nor can he direct actors. You're on your own, guys! And there are silly things throughout, like: an asthmatic robot General. I'm sorry, how can a robot have asthma? Are there no robot inhalers?

But still...there is a grandeur to this film. The sets, the effects - they really do create an all-encompassing world - series of worlds, more accurately. Some of the scenes are stunningly beautiful.

But what was really resonating just a bit too much for me were the film's themes. Not so much the "how does a good man become a bad man?" one. The "how does a good government, a republic, devolve into an evil Empire?" part. The part where the rule of law is subverted, where we are told to sacrifice freedom for security, "in defense of democracy."

It got pretty obvious as the movie went on. Darth turns way bad and threatens: "You're either with me, or you're my enemy." By the time we reach a climactic battle between Good and Evil in the august Senate chamber, all that was going through my head was: "My god! It's the nuclear option! May the Force protect the filibuster!"

I'm far from the only one to have noticed these parallels. The New York Times and the Washington Post both cover the story at length, including reactions from the foreign press ("Agence France Presse reports that the movie delivers "a galactic jab to US President George W. Bush," according to the Post). Lucas himself has done little to dispel this impression, says the Times piece:
Alluding to Michael Moore's remarks about "Fahrenheit 9/11" at Cannes a year earlier, Mr. Lucas joked, "Maybe the film will waken people to the situation."

Apparently in all seriousness, though, he went on to say that he had first devised the "Star Wars" story during the Vietnam War. "The parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable," he told an appreciative audience.
Naturally, the Right wing blogosphere is going nuts, with calls to boycott the film (to which I can only say, "good luck with that, guys") and much opprobrium over Lucas' daring to criticize our Dear Leader.

Now this is what gets me: why is it that Bush's hardcore supporters are so quick to see Lucas' movie as a criticism of Bush? I mean, if we are fighting for democracy and keeping the Homeland safe from terrorists, these are good things, right? Why aren't these guys saying, "hey, this movie isn't about our President and our America? It's about, you know, ancient Rome! The Soviet Union! Those evil empires!"

Instead, they take it as a given that Lucas intends a critique of Bush and the United States. I find this peculiar. Have they so little faith in their cause?

Or do they, on some level, deep down somewhere, fear that Lucas is right?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Golfing the Great Wall

Okay, I really don't get golf. Aside from getting to walk outside in a pretty setting on a beautiful day, and I guess I'd rather just skip the golfing part and concentrate on the walking. And watching golf on TV has got to be just about the most boring thing outside of Nascar...

Maybe it's the class issues associated with golf. What can I say? I am not an upper class kid. My roots are middle class to lower middle class, at times skirting that stumble down to the next rung (child of divorce and all that). So things that are associated with the upper crust...well, I have some issues (I have managed to overcome class resentment when it comes to eating and drinking well, however - it took some adjusting, but I soldiered on).

Now that China's booming economy has created not only a growing middle class but an upper class as well, golf courses are sprouting up all over the place, including a world-class courses that are becoming a part of the international professional circuit:
Under an hour's drive from Beijing, spread over 404 hectares facing the Great Wall at Badaling, is the Pine Valley Golf Resort and Country Club, which claims to be the most exclusive private club in China. (Whether the patrons include the top echelons of the Communist Party is one of those questions you just don't ask, but that the question even suggests itself is symbolic of the end of enforced egalitarianism.) The facilities are superb, and include the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, a 27-hole Jack Nicklaus II Links Course, and two spectacular clubhouses with no end of places to eat and drink; but the facilities that really make you rub your eyes are the equestrian club and (believe it or not) pet hotel.
There's a lot more to China's new wealthy class than just golf. Read this Asia Times article for a look at how China's new super-rich are transforming the country, for good and for ill...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

More Hope for a Greener China

Two interesting and to me, uplifting articles about the increasing attention being paid to environmental issues in China in the May 10 Asia Times. The first covers a recent contest held in China to award the most innovative sustainable development schemes. The article focuses on a small city in Inner Mongolia and its creation of a long-term development plan that protects the surrounding environment and gives incentives for this protection:
Mayor Qian Ruixia said: "We do not want to turn our attention to protecting the environment only after terrible damage is already done." Accordingly, in 2002, the city government worked out a long-term development plan, which was greatly dependent on local ecological resources. According to Qian, 90% of the city's land area is covered by virgin ecosystems. "Here you can find [every type of ecosystem except] maritime resources, including grasslands, wetlands, forests and rivers," she said.

Local farmers are encouraged to turn cultivated land back to grasslands and breed livestock such as cows. A dairy industry has been set up and eco-tourism is well-developed. Ecological resources are the base of economic development, and therefore, any activities harmful to such resources are prohibited, Qian said. For example, the number of tourists entering the city is restricted because too many of them could be a heavy burden for the local environment.

The development plan has helped preserve the local ecology, while still achieving a double-digit annual rise in gross domestic product (GDP). The city's development plan was listed as one of the 10 best examples of sustainable development nationally, as ected from more than 100 entrants by a panel of experts. The experts' comments on the Ergun practices noted that the city government's plan has effectively combined the protection of ecological resources with economic development and will preserve a beautiful environment in the area for future generations.
The article goes on to discuss the role of NGOs in promoting sustainable development and details one NGO's successful effort to create a watershed management program for Lashi Lake, in Yunnan.

The second article talks about the resurrection of an old Socialist concept for China's new economy:
In the old days of the socialist command economy in China, when scarcity of goods was the order of the day, almost everything was recycled: packaging, clothes, car parts, building materials, and human, animal, and plant waste. Now China's leaders are trying to re-inject that ethos into the world's fastest-growing economy, but with little success so far, experts say.

In mid-2004, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) began recycling a concept that has been around for a long time in China's policy-making circles - that of a circular economy, in which optimum reuse of materials and resources is achieved, boosting the green GDP index recently unveiled by the agency.
Though many experts believe that it will be difficult for China to translate slogans into action, not everyone is a pessimist:
David Moskovitz, director of the Regulatory Assistance Project, a US non-profit research group that works on conservation issues in China, said the government had already set new national efficiency standards for air conditioners in September and new "Euro II" standards for automobile emissions in Beijing. It also imposed fuel economy standards on new cars for the first time in September.

"More and more high-level officials are becoming aware of the very large cost that the heavy pollution load in China is imposing on their people and on their economy," Moskowitz said. "I suspect it's really laying the groundwork for even more serious environmental protection actions that will be taken in the coming months."
As I've mentioned in previous posts, the Asia Times is a great source for news from Asia and elsewhere. Both of these articles are well-worth your time.

Slacker Blogger

I've not been as productive a blogger as of late, due to a spike in social activity. Plus I am starting to do some serious work, finally, on a new writing project. But things are starting to calm down, and I promise to keep the content fresh(er), even if I'll never be the Posting Machines that Richard and ESNW are. I have some interesting stories about environmentalism in China to post later. And I will continue - and conclude - the Shanghai story in the near future...

Saturday, May 07, 2005

One Night In Shanghai...Part Three

(part one here, part two here)

The cool thing about being a low-level employee of a famous American entertainment company at the first International Shanghai Film Festival in 1993 was, it didn't matter how many times I scrupulously explained that I was not attending in any official capacity and moreover, I was not in the least an important person in my industry - I was still treated like a VIP and got invited to all the cool parties. And there were some pretty cool genuine VIPs in attendance. I rode in an elevator with Sophia Loren! And she really was, no other word for her, magnificent, dressed head to toe in red, with plunging d├ęcolletage and a giant red hat. I think my jaw actually dropped. She had an aura that both encased her and projected out around her, like a force field. Men and women alike fell at her feet.

I started hanging out with Susan Strasberg's interpreter. Susan Strasberg was the daughter of the famous acting teacher, Lee Strasberg, and in addition to her acting career, she was well-known for her close friendship with Marilyn Monroe. In 1993, she'd just published a book about that relationship, Marilyn & Me, and she'd given her interpreter, call him Xiao Li, a T-shirt publicizing it, red, with Marilyn and Susan's faces in black. I think he wore that shirt every day of the festival.

Xiao Li was a very young college student, or at least, he seemed that way to me. He was probably in his early 20s. His English was very good, and he was actually pretty cute, though I doubt if he saw himself that way. He lacked confidence, he told me.

About those parties. The one I recall most vividly was held at this new, upscale real estate development. I think it was called "The Fountains of Shanghai." We were taken there in a new minibus, and from the moment I stepped out of it, I knew I was in for a trip. "The Fountains of Shanghai" was a collection of high-end townhouses, encircled by a wall. It had a very large pool, Olympic-sized at least. There were, naturally, fountains, lit by colored spotlights. This was not your Chairman Mao's China, that's for sure.

The Fountains of Shanghai included a restaurant and small nightclub/disco/karaoke room. First, we had quite a nice banquet. Then, the rounds of toasting began, with moutai. Moutai is the traditional Chinese toasting liquor. It comes in a white bottle that looks suspiciously like Drano's. But I've kind of developed a taste for it, actually. Up to a point.

On this occasion, I sat at Susan Strasberg's table and chatted with Xiao Li. One of the festival's biggest VIPs had come tonight, a famous American director. Xiao Li was a fan of his. "I'd like to meet him," he confessed. "But I'm too embarrassed."

"Come on," I said. "You have to take chances sometimes. Tell you what, I'll introduce you."

And in point of fact, I'd met this particular Famous American Director the year before, at the Democratic Convention. So why not introduce Xiao Li and reintroduce myself? Even though, truth be told, I'm really more like Xiao Li when it comes to these kinds of things - an introvert, and easily embarrassed. Plus, the Famous American Director was surrounded by an entourage (which I would later christen "the Asshole Buddies"). But I had by this point had several rounds of moutai.

The Famous American Director was very gracious. "The Democratic Convention. That was a special experience," he said to me. I agreed that it was so, and left him and Xiao Li to talk. Shortly thereafter, it was karaoke time.

If you have ever traveled in Asia, you probably have experienced this phenomenon. People get up in front of each other and sing. For cultures that emphasize face and shame and not making a spectacle of yourself, this seems somewhat contradictory. But nonetheless, singing in public is something that people do. My first time in China, in 1979, Paul and I were constantly asked to sing "a traditional American song." The only song the two of us knew all the way through was the Beatles' "Rocky Raccoon." Close enough. We sang that song all the way across China.

But things had changed. Not just in China, but with me. I'd gone back to America and learned how to play bass and sing and write songs, and I'd been playing in bands for over 10 years. And in China, they now had karaoke machines.

I sat back and watched our Chinese hosts get up and do their numbers. Surely, some brave Western foreigner would participate as well. But no. Just Chinese, and maybe a Japanese or two.

What can I say? I had to do it.

I sang two songs (the second by popular demand). I think one of them might have been "Hang On Sloopy." It was one of those rare times when I felt like a ringer. Hey, I not only know how to do this, I'm good at doing this. And it was one of those acts that ended up having long term consequences. Two days later, film festival officials took us on a boat tour of the Huangpo River. Two of them approached me. We started talking. The usual, "how do you like Shanghai?" conversation (though I did confess my admiration for Zhang Yimou, who had been rehabilitated and was one of the Festival's biggest guests, along with Gong Li. Their relationship, by the way, was a huge scandal at the time, the two of them having an affair while one of them was married to someone else).

But then, the woman, call her Yan, said, "I heard you sing. You are a very good singer." I ended up giving her a tape of my band. Okay, I'm as susceptible to flattery as anyone. The significant part came later. About three months after the festival. I got a call from someone named Anna, a Chinese woman living in Los Angeles. She had something for me from Yan. We met. The "something" was a tape of Cui Jian, Beijing's famous seminal rock star. The significance was, Anna and I became friends and sometime writing partners, and more than ten years later, we are still friends and partners. I see Yan now and again, in Beijing and in Los Angeles. So you never know what might happen, when you take a small risk...

(to be continued...)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging


Mags
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

Mags is a Doris Lessing fan...