Thursday, June 30, 2005

Rising Tide - UPDATE 4

Martyn has sent me this latest update on the Shalan School tragedy from the unlinkable, subscription only, South China Morning Post:
Thursday, June 30, 2005

State media blackout fails to stop news breaking


Despite attempts by the authorities to muzzle mainland
reporters and keep the horrific story of the Shulan
flood secret, details of the disaster are leaking out
via the internet, and by word of mouth, fuelling a
massive public outcry that has quickly put public
officials on the defensive.

Since the accident on June 10, officials in
Heilongjiang province, aided by a ban imposed by the
notorious state publicity department, have been
working to strictly silence reporters covering
controversial aspects of the disaster.

Drawing on the lessons of poor media management in
disasters elsewhere, officials in Ningan vowed to
facilitate press coverage, even to the extent of
assigning an official to "accompany" each out-of-town
reporter, in order to assist the newcomers. But
pledges of openness were not matched by actions. For
instance, officials refused to release the list of
victims who died in the flash flood, despite a
challenge by villagers that the official death toll
was incorrect.

Bereaved villagers were also adamant that the
state-controlled media had - on the order of
propaganda authorities - deliberately omitted some
important aspects of the disaster in their coverage,
including a protest when hundreds blocked the way to
Ningan on June 12 to demand an investigation into why
officials ignored villagers' calls for help and were
slow to mount a rescue. Also unreported was a four-day
vigil at Ningan's funeral parlour and scenes of heavy
security there, where hundreds of armed soldiers and
police lined up against stunned villagers.

But the news blackout by state media has not stopped
attempts to get the truth out to the country's
internet users. Reports by two journalists on the
Southern Weekend, a respected Guangzhou-based
newspaper, were widely copied and circulated on the
internet. The reports were also read out on a
prime-time programme by the Hong Kong-based Phoenix
TV, popular on the mainland. Thousands of personal
blogs also were posted on the internet.

In Shalan, the news blackout and extremely biased and
sketchy reports in papers ironically worked as a
catalyst to bring the enraged villagers together to
appeal for their rights. "I was so disappointed with
those television reporters," said Sun Shoushuang,
whose sixth-grade son drowned before his eyes. "I saw
bodies everywhere. But those reporters cared little
about the devastated parents who carried their drowned
children on their backs and struggled their way out.
Their cameras only focused on the leaders who
inspected the scene. How sad and unfair it was to see
those cadres being presented as heroes on state and
local television, while the villagers' suffering was

"Did those officials actually save any children?" the
weeping 34-year-old father asked.

Tang Jiawei, the director of Mudanjiang city's
publicity department, said the government had to
impose a news blackout to avoid "trouble".

"It doesn't mean we don't welcome reporters. You can
still go to the daily press briefing to get
information," she said. "We simply don't want to see
trouble, which we've had with some Shanghai reporters
whose interviews with emotional villagers without our
guidance have caused great trouble with our work in
the last few days."

Previous stories can be found here, here, here, and here.

Thanks again to Martyn for helping to spread the news.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

After the Dam

The Three Gorges Probe news service has an English translation of an article that appeared in the Hubei Daily, about some of the human costs of the Three Gorges Dam:
The people of Wangusi village on the Xiangxi River, a major Yangtze tributary 45 kilometres upstream of the Three Gorges dam, have seen their way of life dramatically altered by the filling of the reservoir.

The 2,890 villagers, in 804 households, have faced tremendous difficulty getting across the river since the Three Gorges reservoir was filled to 135 metres above sea level in June 2003. This is because when the water suddenly rose 70 metres, the river also became much wider, and more expensive to cross...

...On many occasions they have looked in helpless frustration across the river to their fields, and to the town of Xiangxi, with its shops, schools and hospital. Sometimes, they have paid a tragically high price for the problems they now face in getting to the other side.

On Aug. 14 last year, villager Xiong Zuozheng was desperate to get his daughter, who was undergoing a difficult labour, to the hospital across the river. The boat took a long time to arrive, and although the woman survived the ordeal, the delay of more than an hour cost the life of the baby.
As they say, read the rest. And take heart that there are Chinese journalists out there who are reporting these stories, with editors and publishers who are willing to print them.

Mao Zedong And I Were Beggars (continued)


I'm not posting this in any kind of order because...well...because...a lot of what I wrote kinda sucks too much for my latent anal nature to post it...unfortunately that means you will miss the stories of Mao's obsession with Chinese novels like "Three Kingdoms" (he rooted for the villain Cao Cao, which shouldn't come as a total surprise) and how he managed to outmanuever his father to get the modern education that he craved...


In the autumn of 1913, the Hunan Fourth Normal School, where Mao had originally enrolled, merged with the more established First Normal School. Xiao Yu was a third year student at First Normal, the top in his class, he relates, particularly skilled at the writing of essays. He recalls his first impressions of Mao on the day that the Fourth Normal School's students, some two hundred of them, were transferred to the First. They were not as well dressed as the First Normal Students, who wore smart blue woolen uniforms. Xiao Yu thought the Fourth Normal students looked like raw army recruits. One of them "was a tall, clumsy, dirtily dressed young man whose shoes badly needed repairing. This young man was Mao Zedong."

There was nothing unusual about Mao's appearance, Xiao Yu reports; he was no "devil with hair growing low on his forehead," as some of his enemies would later portray him. "To me, he always seemed quite an ordinary, normal-looking person. His face was rather large, but his eyes were neither large nor penetrating, nor had they the sly, cunning look sometimes attributed to them. His nose was flattish and of a typical Chinese shape. His ears were well proportioned; his mouth, quite small; his teeth very white and even. These good white teeth helped to make his smile quite charming, so that no one would imagine that he was not genuinely sincere. He walked rather slowly, with his legs somewhat separated, in a way that reminded one of a duck waddling. His movements in sitting or standing were very slow. Also, he spoke slowly and he was by no means a gifted speaker."

"From the first day," Xiao Yu tells us, "I knew that he was Mao Zedong and he knew that I was Xiao Shutung (Xiao Yu's school name)," probably thanks to brother Emi, Mao's close friend at Dongshan Academy. But as a senior student, Xiao Yu had "neither time nor desire to form trivial friendships with those in lower classes," in his words. It was not until Mao complimented Xiao Yu on his essays, which were on public display, that the two had their first conversation. Several of Mao's essays had been honored this way as well, but what had impressed Xiao Yu most about them was the poor quality of Mao's calligraphy. Xiao Yu, let's face it, was a bit of a snob.

One day, Mao politely inquired if he might come around to Xiao Yu's study to look at his essays, a way of showing his respect for the writer and offering his friendship, which Xiao Yu accepted. Mao in those days seemed drawn to "superior" individuals, the best and the brightest of the people around him, a way perhaps of absorbing more of the learning that he had so single-mindedly pursued, of making up for the time he had lost hauling manure buckets on the family farm. And to be accepted by superior men meant that he must be one of them as well.

The two spent their first meeting in Xiao Yu's study (a communal dormitory he shared with several other upper classmen), avoiding for the most part any personal topics, focusing instead on "a discussion of the organization, curriculum, and teachers of the school, stating frankly our opinions on each."

As it turned out, neither Mao nor Xiao Yu were terribly impressed with their gym teachers. They had four, "one of whom specialized in military drill, another in dancing. But we did not like them, and we found it difficult to show any respect. They were too smartly dressed for teachers, and we suspected their moral standards were not what they should have been." The gym teachers, it seems, had a habit of missing morning classes because they stayed up too late playing cards.

There was another teacher about whom Mao Zedong and Xiao Yu agreed, in a positive sense. This was Yang Changji, the ethics teacher, called "Confucius of the First Normal School" by his students due to his impeccable conduct. Mao did not actually take a class from Professor Yang, who only taught upperclassmen, until 1915, but Yang seems to have been an influence on Mao from the time of his enrollment at First Normal. Mao's classroom notes from 1913 frequently quote from Yang's writings. Professor Yang was Mao's first real mentor, later to become his father-in-law, one of the few figures in his life for whom Mao expressed unqualified admiration. "He was an idealist and a man of high moral character," Mao told Edgar Snow, some fifteen years later. "He believed in his ethics very strongly and tried to imbue his students with the desire to become just, moral virtuous men, useful in society."

Yang was a "returned student" who had studied in Japan and Europe, receiving his first philosophy degree from Edinburgh University, his second in Germany. He was fifty years old, "clean shaven, with a swarthy complexion," Xiao Yu tells us. "His eyes were deep set and rather small." He was not, apparently, an immediately inspiring speaker; his first students at First Normal were "deeply disappointed" by the awkwardness of his speech, his seeming disinterest in explaining his texts and encouraging classroom discussion. Xiao Yu relates how he helped avert a student strike over Teacher Yang by contending that if one would only carefully study Yang Changji's writings, "he would find it most valuable."

"Also, it was important for us to explain and interpret Mr. Yang's 'Confucian' personality to them," Xiao Yu continues. It's not surprising that Yang Changji's personality might require some interpretation. Certainly Mao Zedong would not have ever previously met a person with Yang Changji's wide range of life-experiences and depth of philosophical study. This was a man who had spent ten years studying abroad, with degrees from two different European universities, an enthusiastic disciple of both Kant and Neo-Confucianist Chu Hsi. He professed the values of physical culture and insisted on taking cold baths every morning as a means to strengthen his will. Nonetheless, he arrived each day to teach his classes at First Normal borne in a sedan chair.

Within a school year, the students who had petitioned for Yang Changji's removal now dubbed him "Confucius of First Normal School." His favorites competed for "the Famous 100 plus five," a sort of A plus. Xiao Yu frequently received the coveted mark. Mao only got it once, according to Xiao Yu, for an essay entitled "A Discourse on the Force of the Mind." "Mao was very proud since it was the only time he received such a high grade, and he never tired of telling people about it."

And indeed, this essay was still on Mao's mind some fifteen years later, although he did not actually mention the Famous 100 plus Five. "Under his (Yang Changji's) influence," Mao tells Edgar Snow, "I read a book on ethics translated by Cai Yuanpei" (this was Friedrich Paulsen's "A System of Ethics," which Mao read in 1917), "and was inspired to write an essay which I entitled 'The Energy of the Mind.' I was then an idealist and my essay was highly praised by Professor Yang Changji, from his idealistic viewpoint. He gave me a mark of 100 for it." Mao could still take pride in his youthful work, but maybe the Famous 100 plus Five was a tad too elitist for the leader of the Chinese Communist movement.

The truth was, by both Mao and Xiao Yu's accounts, Mao was at times brilliant, but only when he was interested in the subject. He didn't care for courses in natural sciences, and he thought a compulsory course in still-life drawing "extremely stupid."

"I used to think of the simplest subjects possible to draw," he told Edgar Snow, " finish up quickly and leave the class. I remember once drawing a picture of the 'half-sun, half-rock' (a reference to a line in a famous Tang dynasty poem), which I represented by a straight line with a semi-circle over it."

"In drawing, the only thing he managed was a circle," Xiao Yu tells us.

"Another time during an examination in drawing," Mao tells Edgar Snow, chuckling over the red-felt table some fifteen years later, "I contented myself with making an oval. I called it an egg."

What Mao could do, and actually applied himself to doing, was write. Again, his ironic skill in composing classical essays worked greatly to his advantage. Mao was further polished by a teacher he called "Yuan the Big Beard." Yuan "ridiculed my writing and called it the work of a journalist. He despised Liang Qichao, who had been my model, and considered him half-literate. I was obliged to alter my style. I studied the writings of Han Yu, and mastered the old Classical phraseology. Thanks to Yuan the Big Beard, therefore, I can today still turn out a passable Classical essay if required."

"Of all the subjects in the curriculum, only his essay writing was good," Xiao Yu writes in his memoirs, with perhaps just a touch of condescension. "But at that time, essay writing was considered all-important. If the essay was good, then the student was good. So Mao was a good student!"

Mao was, apparently, good enough for Yang Changji to consider him one of the top three students in First Normal's Confucius's six years of teaching in Changsha. Xiao Yu himself tells us this. "In his diary, Mr. Yang paid me a compliment which he repeated on several occasions in public. 'My three most notable students, of the several thousands I taught during my six years in Changsha, were first, Xiao Shutung; second, Cai Hesen, and third, Mao Zedong.'"

Not surprisingly, the three became close friends, eventually styling themselves the "Three Worthies" after the heroes of Mao's favorite novel, Three Kingdoms.

"In relating the beginnings of the Chinese Communist Party," Xiao Yu writes, "mention must be made of our friend Cai Hesen, who was the first Chinese to accept, unreservedly, the principles of the Communist doctrine. He played a very important party in the conversion of Mao to Communism" (the quasi-religious nature of Communist conversion is oft-encountered in these narratives)

Cai Hesen's mother supported Hesen and his younger sister, Chang; father is not in the picture. Mother ran the town school, a position apparently not well-compensated, as the family was "desperately poor and often had no rice to cook on the fire," according to Xiao Yu. Xiao Yu describes Cai Hesen as being both "strong-willed" and lacking in initiative, but nonetheless, eternally kind to his friends. "Though he was one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party," Xiao Yu sums, "Hesen remained a dear and highly respected friend to the last."

Cai Hesen was a few classes behind Xiao Yu at First Normal, but in spite of Xiao Yu's stated lack of interest in forming friendships with underclassmen, Cai Hesen was Xiao Yu's friend before he was Mao's. One would assume that Mao and Cai Hesen became closer after Xiao Yu graduated and went to teach a few miles away.

Cai Hesen's lack of initiative coupled with his unwillingness to ask for help from others, Xiao Yu says, left him jobless after graduation. In Xiao Yu's account, Mao Zedong hears from another friend that Cai Hesen has taken a basket of books and gone to live in an open-air pavilion, where he dined on "the winds for his meals," Mao tells Xiao Yu. Mao himself has not spoken to Hesen; "there is nothing I can do to help him," he says with a shrug. Xiao Yu goes to Hesen's pavilion, where Hesen sits on a stone, book held in one hand, appearing "for all the world like a statue." Xiao Yu invites him to live on the campus where he teaches, in a little cubicle next to his quarters. At first, Cai Hesen turns him down, not wanting to make trouble. But Xiao Yu convinces him, saying that he feels very lonely there, and this way, they can "chat together."

Cai Hesen would become known as the theorist to Mao's realist among the progressive students of the Xin Min Study association -- a dramatic, uncompromising young man. Rigid, even. He seldom smiled, Xiao Yu remarked. Committed to the cause, though he hadn't found it as of yet. He would rather starve, sleeping with his books in an open-air pavilion, than ask a friend for assistance. He would have a great deal to do with establishing a Communist movement in China and die while still a young man, a life trajectory forming the perfect arc of a revolutionary martyr. I believe I have a drawing of him somewhere, hair tousled, hands bound, resolutely awaiting his execution.

Like many progressive students of the time, Mao and his friends devoured New Youth, a journal committed to radical reform that had begun publication in the fall of 1915. New Youth was edited by Chen Duxiu, a professor at Peking University who would later become the founding secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. "I would rather see the ruin of our national essence than the extinction of our race in the present and the future because of its inaptitude for survival," Chen declared in the inaugural issue. China must embrace the West's "Mr. Science and Mr. Technology" to cure "the dark maladies in Chinese politics, morality, learning and thought," cast out the old and corrupt traditions to survive. "The Chinese compliment others by saying, 'he acts like an old man although still young,'" Chen wrote in the periodical's first editorial, "Call To Youth." "Englishmen and Americans encourage one another by saying, 'Keep young while growing old.' Such is one respect in which the different ways of thought of the East and West are manifested. Youth is like early spring, like the rising sun, like trees and grass in bud, like a newly sharpened blade. It is the most valuable period of life. The function of youth in society is the same as that of a fresh and vital cell in a human body. In the processes of metabolism, the old and the rotten are incessantly eliminated to be replaced by the fresh and living...if metabolism functions properly in a human body, the person will be healthy; if the old and rotten cells accumulate and fill the body, the person will die. If metabolism functions properly in a society, it will flourish; if old and rotten elements fill the society, then it will cease to exist.

"According to the standard, then, is the society of our nation flourishing, or is it about to perish? I cannot bear to answer. As for those old and rotten elements, I shall leave them to the process of natural selection. I do not wish to waste my fleeting time in arguing with them on this and that and hoping for them to be reborn and thoroughly remolded. I merely, with tears, place my plea before the fresh and vital youth, in hope that they will achieve self-awareness, and begin to struggle. What is this self-awareness? It is to be conscious of the value and responsibility of one's young life and vitality, to maintain one's self-respect, which should not be lowered. What is the struggle? It is to exert one's intellect, discard resolutely the old and rotten, regard them as enemies and as a flood or savage beasts keep away from their neighborhood and refuse to be contaminated by their poisonous germs."

The impact of such explosive sentiments, written in non-literary vernacular language, cannot be underestimated. "It came to us like a clap of thunder which awakened us in the midst of a restless dream," recalled one reader. Chow Tse-tsung writes, in his classic study of the May 4th Movement, "As soon as a new issue appeared in bookstores, they (students) anxiously rushed to buy it, and, upon reading it, "could not refrain from rapture," as if they had obtained "the most precious gem." "The fifth issue of the magazine came out today," a young man wrote the editor, 'and I bought and read it earnestly. You must know that before this I had asked the bookstore several times, and could not wait any longer. After reading several pages I felt that every sentence in it deeply penetrated my mind. I was so greatly touched and aroused that I longed to introduce the magazine to vast numbers of the public." Chow points out that the Letters to the Editor section marked the first time that a Chinese publication created a forum for public discussion of important issues, something not only unprecedented for a magazine but largely unavailable elsewhere.

For young men like Xiao Yu and Mao Zedong, ideas were the meat of their lives, their bread and water. Xiao Yu wrote of how he and Mao would stay up past curfew engaged in passionate discussion, composing collaborative poetry, ignoring the blare of the trumpets summoning students to the dormitories as they walked along a riverbank that ran by the school grounds. Often Mao Zedong and Xiao Yu would climb a small hill behind the school called the Miao Kao Feng, where they could look down on the campus and across to Mount Yao-lu, watch "the little lights of the ten thousand homes...shining below we sat and talked under the moon and the stars."

"They must be going into the Common room now," one would say to the other, hearing the first trumpet call, in imitation of an Army bugle. "Now they will be going into the dormitory," they would say, hearing the next. A half an hour later, a final blast signaled that the dormitory lights had been put out. But Mao and Xiao Yu continued to talk, having more important things than campus curfew to consider: China's national salvation, and how they, as "superior men," might contribute to it. During one such occasion, Xiao Yu claims, the two formed the basis for the Xin Min Xue Hui, the New People's Study Association, a group whose membership would ultimately contain many founding members of China's Communist Party. In this first incarnation in 1914, the Xin Min was essentially apolitical: eleven young men "of high moral character" whose collective goal was to "strengthen our moral and spiritual well as bring about needed reforms in the country," Xiao Yu writes. "In the ardor of our youth, we considered ourselves eleven 'sages,' guardians of the wisdom of the ages!" Mao echoes this sentiment in his interviews with Edgar Snow. "It was a serious-minded little group of men and they had no time to discuss trivialities. Everything they did or said must have purpose. They had no time for love or 'romance' and considered the times too critical and the needs too urgent to discuss women or personal matters. I was not interested in women. My parents had married me when I was fourteen to a girl of twenty, but I had never lived with her - and subsequently never did. I did not consider her my wife and at this time gave little thought to her...My friends and I preferred to talk only of large matters - the nature of men, of human society, of China, the world, and the Universe!"

A frequent point of discussion was the conflict between remaining virtuous and reforming society. Mao and Xiao Yu saw themselves as superior men, persons of virtue who acted according to moral principles for the sake of the principles, virtue being its own reward. Activity, in much Chinese philosophy, is inherently suspect. Particularly Taoism, which sees human goodness as a sort of second-best fall-back position if you have lost the Way. Confucianism allows for considerably more action, but the emphasis is on remaining morally pure, refraining from involvement with politics if one's integrity might become compromised (and one didn't want to drown oneself in a lake, as outlined earlier). The force of virtue alone would eventually transform society. Such a stance led Chen Duxiu to write in the first New Youth, "While the tide of evil is now rushing onward, would it not be rare virtue for one or two self-respecting scholars to retire from the world, to keep themselves clean? But if your aim is to influence the people and establish a new tradition, I suggest that you make further progress from your present high position. It is impossible to avoid the struggle for survival, and so long as one draws breath, there can be no place where one can retire for a tranquil hermit's life. It is our natural obligation in life to advance in spite of numerous difficulties. Stated in kindly terms, retirement is the action of the superior man in order to get away from the vulgar world. Stated in hostile terms, it is a phenomena of the weak who are unable to struggle for survival."

Eventually Cai Hesen would condemn Confucian morality even more harshly, exclaiming in a 1918 letter to his good friend Mao Zedong, that in a time when evil men perpetrated immoral acts, such Superior Men "are able only to perpetrate acts of false goodness and not of false evil. What I advocate is to commit wrongs in order to achieve a greater good. In my view, it is impossible to be completely good without any evil. Even if the evil of the just man hides goodness, to demand perfection nonetheless easily leads to hypocrisy..." The true Superior Man "can commit any good, any evil," as long as the act was for the good of the whole, Cai wrote Mao. Such a man was Lenin, who by committing evil in the service of improving society, made the heroic sacrifice of his personal reputation. Heroic, because it seems that the reputation of virtue is nearly impossible to separate from the actuality of it.

Through much of his career at First Normal, Mao would wrestle with the idea of the superior man. In this he was hardly unique for his time and circumstances. But perhaps in the intensity of his feelings, in his struggle to understand and apply these ideas to his own life, he was somewhat extraordinary.

Ordinary people have much in common with one another, but have no spirit of independence," Mao wrote in his 1913 class notes - he was paraphrasing Professor Yang Changji. "Those who have a spirit of independence are heroes."

"Those who are criticized by others are also men of honor," Mao wrote on another occasion in 1913 (responding to a lecture on Han Yu). "Only the ordinary are not controversial. Men of virtue are the targets of the multitude. Therefore, it has been said: "After something has been accomplished, there arise slanders; people of high moral character tend to attract condemnation." (this is after Han Yu)

Quoting Wang Chuanshan, a Ming scholar at the time of the dynasty's fall to the Manchus: "'There have been heroes who were not sages, but there have never been sages who were not heroes.'" Mao's comment: "Sages are those who are perfect both in virtue and in accomplishment; heroes lack virtue, but have great achievements and fame. Napoleon was a hero, but not a sage."

Quoting Mencius: "'The mass of men wait for a King Wen, and then they will receive a rousing impulse. Scholars distinguished from the mass, without a King Wen, rouse themselves.'"

"Someone said, 'I see, in history, some great men did not regret even the sacrifice of their own lives and families.'" Mao wrote this in his classroom notes of 1913, again paraphrasing Yang Changji. "The Sages and worthies who wanted to save the world have acted thus, such as Confucius...Jesus...and Socrates."

Mao continues to quote directly from a journal written by Yang Changji that had been published in 1903.

"A saying goes like this. 'When a strong soldier's hand was bitten by a poisonous snake, he had to sever his wrist, not because he did not love his wrist, but because if he had not cut if off, he could not have saved his whole body. A benevolent man looks at the whole world and the whole of humanity as his body, and considers one individual and one family as his wrist. Because he loves the whole world, even if it costs his own life and that of his family, he is at peace about it...'"

Words that the future revolutionary leader would learn to live by, some of them anyway.

Because for Mao, this mixture of romanticism and detachment from familial - indeed, from all personal relationships - seems undeniably appealing.

There's something a bit chilly to Yang Changji, beyond his penchant for cold baths in winter. Xiao Yu was a frequent guest in Professor Yang's home, both in Changsha and later in Beijing, and he took many meals with the professor, Mrs. Yang and their teenage daughter, Yang Kaihui. "At the table we were always joined by Kaihui and her mother. When they entered we merely bowed our heads politely in greeting but none of us ever spoke. Every week for two whole years we ate our meal rapidly and in silence, not one of us ever uttering a single word...Mr. Yang himself never said a word and we all respected his silence and ate as rapidly as possible. The atmosphere reminded one of people praying in a church. Mr. Yang paid a great deal of attention to matters of hygiene but apparently he did not realize that it is better for one's health to talk and laugh normally during meals, that a happy atmosphere aids digestion."

Regardless, Yang Changji seems to have been the first person in some kind of position of respect and authority who recognized Mao's genius. For this reason, perhaps, Mao remained unreservedly loyal to him, to his memory at least, for the professor would not live long enough to see that loyalty tested. In fact, Xiao Yu believed that Yang Changji's icy baths in the frigid Beijing winter - "Every day one must do something difficult to strengthen one's will," Yang once told him - contributed to his death in 1919 at the early age of fifty-six.

In April 1915, Yang Changji wrote about Mao in his journal. Mao was a peasant, from a family of peasants, Yang Changji reported. "And yet it is truly difficult to find someone so intelligent and handsome as Mao. Since many unusual talents have come from peasant families, I exhorted him, using the examples of Zeng Disheng and Liang Rengong. Student Mao had worked as a peasant for two years and had also been a soldier for half a year at the time when the Republic superceded the empire. He has truly had an interesting life history."

This journal entry by his mentor sums up what First Normal gave to Mao Zedong: a measure of acceptance. For the first time, the great detriment to being recognized as a Superior Man, his grubby peasant background, was something else entirely. A strength to which he could play, a role to act - the rough, native genius.

Xiao Yu tells of the summer in 1915 that he and Mao lived together on campus. Mao seemed to delight in exaggerating his slovenly personal habits and teasing Xiao Yu about his somewhat compulsive fastidiousness. You take too many baths, Mao would exclaim, and brushing one's teeth after every meal was undeniably a bourgeois habit. Xiao Yu, for his part, "could not see why belonging to the proletariat and being a Communist prevented one from having a free will in such matters, or compelled one to be dirty." Mao, according to Xiao Yu, smelled so gamy that that the other two students staying at school that summer preferred to eat at a separate table. Observing Mao's habitually messy study, Xiao Yu joked: "if a great hero does not clean and sweep his own room how can he possibly think he is capable of cleaning up the universe." To which Mao responded: "A great hero who thinks about cleaning up the universe has not time to think about sweeping rooms!"

But at this time Mao was by no means certain that he was a great hero.

"Except for you, who would speak to me of the way?" Mao writes Xiao Yu in a 1915 letter. "After reading your precious statements, my heart feels lightened and refreshed. However, the knots which bind it are still thick, while the many heavy thoughts are deeply accumulated. They multiply and weigh down on me, and I am unable to free myself. Will you allow me to release them by talking to you?"

He is twenty-one years old, doubting his virtue, his will to act as a superior man; he is lonely for human contact, for friendship and understanding. His best friend at First Normal, Xiao Yu, has graduated and gone to teach at a neighboring middle school.

"I am frightened morning and night and ashamed to face up to the ideal of the superior man," Mao tells Xiao Yu, unburdening himself. He then quotes from his journal, an entry he calls "self-accusation." Read it, and you will know the pain in my heart, he writes.

"A guest said to me: 'Do you know the bottle gourd? When the sun shines and the earth begins to warm, it sprouts and spreads...If it is not interfered with by men, it will spread among the thorn bushes and reach out within the confines of the (beds?). The seasons progress in good order, and it throws out a bud furtively, here and there. People will say, "this is only some type of weed," but when autumn descends and the leaves wither, a shepherd boy passes among the plants, cutting away the reeds and separating the shrubs."

"What remains," the guest continues, "that substantial object" is the vine's gourd, a thing which can be used for a practical purpose.

"On the other hand, observe the peony which grows within the garden. Its green calyxes and vermilion blossoms lean this way and that, bursting with energy. Majestic and brilliant, the blossoms compete with one another in beauty and opulence. The unenlightened would say, 'The fruit of this plant must be enormous.' Who would think that when fall arrives and the cold weather returns, the flowers shrivel, and there is not fruit to harvest.

Observing these two plants, asks the guest, which should we emulate?
"I answered: 'the peony flourishes first and later declines. The gourd declines first and later flourishes. The one has no end product and the other has. One should emulate the one with an end product, and is this not the gourd?'

"'I see you have but one crude skill,' the guest responds. "And yet you make a treasured gift of it. You have not achieved any measure of virtue, and yet you wish to make a show for the crowds, gathering your kind around you and putting on airs by rolling up your sleeves and raising your eyebrows. You do not have the capacity for tranquility; you are fickle and excitable. Like a woman preening herself, you know no shame. Your outside looks strong, but your inside is truly empty. Your ambitions for fame and fortune are not suppressed, and your sensual desires grow daily. You enjoy all hearsay and rumor, perturbing the spirit and misusing time and generally delight in yourself. You always emulate what the peony does, without any hope for any end product, but deceive yourself by saying, 'I emulate the gourd.' Is this not dishonesty?'"

To a former teacher, Li Jinxi, who has just moved to Beijing, Mao writes: "Throughout my life, I have never had good teachers or friends. Regrettably, I met you, elder brother, only late. How much I desire to seek your guidance every day! In the last two years, my desire to find friends has become most fervent. After I returned from the summer holidays, I posted a notice in several schools. Five or six people responded. This is the only thing which makes my heart a little lighter these days."

A similar impulse led Mao to publish an advertisement in a Changsha paper, "inviting young men interested in patriotic work to make a contact with me," Mao told Edgar Snow some twenty years later. Mao signed the notice, "28 Strokes," a pseudonym based on the number of strokes needed to write his name. The results were not satisfactory. As he told Edgar Snow, the respondents consisted of "three future reactionaries and one half-hearted fellow named Li Lisan. Li listened to all I had to say, and then went away without making any definite proposals himself, and our friendship never developed." That's a nice way of putting it, really. The "half-hearted" Li would one day be the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, one of Mao's more significant rivals. By the time Edgar Snow interviewed Mao Zedong, Li Lisan had been expelled from his posts and exiled to Moscow. Reviled there as he was in China - nobody likes a loser - he was accused of "deviationism," interrogated and detained until he was allowed to return to China in 1945. During the Cultural Revolution, Li became a target for political attacks and supposedly committed suicide. These things tended to happen to Mao's rivals - even ones so thoroughly vanquished such a long time ago.

But in this moment of his life, Mao is more open about his emotions than he will ever be again. He longs for friendship, for comrades who will listen to his dreams, his fears, share in his goals, who will accept him. In the face of his country's continuing chaotic spiral, he is willing to admit his own fear, his despair at the ugliness of martial conflict that he would later celebrate. "Since we said good-bye, the rains have been very heavy, and I have not been able to return home," he writes Xiao Yu in 1916. "Also because robbery continues and unrest is breaking out on all sides, I dare not risk travelling." His mother is ill at home, he continues, "how can a wandering son be unmoved?

"...These bleak surroundings are depressing. In the vicinity are only soldiers, a rough crowd that comes from the mountain wilds. They talk like birds and look like animals...What my eyes and mind encounter is mostly tragic. Suddenly, I hear the blowing of a trumpet, then the clanking of army equipment, rousing martial sounds of fighting and battle. When I hear them in the deep of night, the tears begin to fall unawares...

"Regarding my earlier request that you write me, I hope you will not let me down," he signs off his letter to Xiao Yu. "Also please take care of your health. I have no way of revealing all that is in my heart."

But not two days after this somewhat despairing missive, Mao writes Xiao Yu in a far different mood: "I walked seventy li and stayed at the Yintian Temple. As I was previously acquainted with the host, I feel quite comfortable here. Although my limbs really ache, my spirit is full of joy. I washed off the dust, shook out my clothes, and grasped a brush to write this letter...

"The Guangxi Army is stationed outside of the city, where they swagger down the road, looking askance at those around them, gathering and gambling with other good-for-nothings in the big intersections. The patrolmen sees them often, but dare not question them...After questioning the men closely, I feel they are rather pitiful...

"The scenery along the road is emerald wherever one looks. The water in the ponds runs clear, and the fields are luxuriant with sprouts. At dusk, when smoke hangs in the sky, the clear dew splashes down, and the warm air steams upward. The mountain mists unfold; the gorgeous clouds intermingle; and as far as one can see, everywhere it is like a painting."

Mao would tell Edgar Snow that he was inspired to spend the summer walking through Hunan by a story about two Chinese students who had traveled across China, nearly to Tibet. "I wanted to follow their example, but I had no money, and thought I should first try out travelling in Hunan." In Xiao Yu's version of events, it was orginally his idea, not Mao's, to spend the summer as beggars.

Xiao Yu had just completed his first year teaching, that summer of 1916, and felt the need for some spiritual refreshment. To live by one's wits, unencumbered by material possessions, "outside the accepted pale of society," was the highest form of freedom, he explained to Mao, quoting the saying, "After three years of life as a beggar, one would not accept even a post as a mandarin."

Regardless of who originated the idea, it is agreed that the two set off together one summer, with shaved heads, worn tunics and peasant-style shorts, journeying through five counties of Hunan by begging their food and lodging. "On both sides of the road were fields of young rice plants," Xiao Yu recalls. "At the crossroads were stone signposts with chiseled characters, but we didn't look at these; rather, we looked at the roads and took the one that was widest," walking on the cool grass at the road's side rather than the slate slabs that ran down the middle and absorbed the summer's heat. They visited farm houses, monasteries, even a district capital, earning their meals by composing clever couplets and presenting calligraphic scrolls.

In Xiao Yu's account, the two argued politics and philosophy, as usual, with Mao coming down on the side of a strong state and Xiao Yu supporting a sort of utopian anarchism. Xiao Yu rails against the danger of political power; Mao considers it necessary to organize a nation. People are a flock of sheep, Mao argues, and it is necessary that the government play shepherd. Money power is worse than political power, in Mao's view, "the accumulated blood and sweat of the workers," the "father and grandfather of the mean of spirit." Money grants respect and power to the most unprincipled, wicked people, merely by its possession. Xiao Yu does not disagree with this; he will only argue for the transcendent necessity of following high principles of living. "When people are starving, they are not going to meditate on their moral development," Mao counters. And on and on, in teashops, on riverbanks, on the cool roadside grass.

Toward the end of their trip, as they traveled along the main road that leads to the district city of Yuankiang, the two decide to stay at a small inn. The owner, a pretty young woman, comes over to their table to chat while they have supper. It seems she has skill in reading faces and a gift for prophesy. Hesitantly, she agrees to tell their fortunes, only if the two promise that they will not be angry if her words are disagreeable.

Xiao Yu is "more like a spirit than a human being," she tells them. He will travel far but have "only a 'half' son, because a spirit wants neither family nor son..."

Mao will have six wives, she predicts, and he could become a great general, a Prime Minister, or a great bandit chief. "You are very audacious and have great ambition," she tells him, "but you have no sentiment at all! You could kill ten thousand or even a hundred thousand people without turning a single hair! But you are very patient."

Mao and Xiao Yu found this all quite amusing, with Xiao Yu joking that when Mao fulfills his destiny as Prime Minister or bandit chief, he will have to invite the fortune teller to serve as his advisor.

"She laughed loudly at my joke," Xiao Yu recalls, " and replied: "But he is a person without sentiment! At that time he will have completely forgotten me; he will not even remember a bit of my shadow.'"

It is the kind of story that is so ridiculously romantic that who knows, it might even have happened. And it is true that when Mao recalls that summer for Edgar Snow, of his best friend Xiao Yu, he says only that "this fellow" later became a Guomindang official and held the office of curator in the Beijing Palace Museum, where he "sold some of the most valuable treasures in the museum and absconded with the funds in 1934."

Later, official Chinese historians would characterize this philosophical ramble as a prescient investigation into the living conditions of the peasantry, part of a pattern to establish that Mao was not only the most correct of his comrades, he was also always the first.

The following summer, Mao repeated the experiment with Cai Hesen, this time as the experienced beggar of the team.

His summer travels seemed to reinforce in Mao an already established belief in physical culture, a value he shared with many progressives of his time, including "New Youth" editor Chen Duxiu, who would shortly publish Mao's theories on the subject. "In the winter holidays we tramped through the fields, up and down mountains, along city walls, and across streams and rivers," Mao tells Edgar Snow. "If it rained we took off our shirts and called it a rain bath. When the sun was hot we also doffed shirts and called it a sun-bath. In the spring winds we shouted that this was a new sport called 'wind bathing.'"

Serious young men, taking bare-chested walks together in the name of national salvation...

Monday, June 27, 2005

Floating Lives

I explained my thinking behind this project in the post below ("Mao Zedong & I Were Beggars"). To recap, about 10 years ago I was working on a book that I intended as a sort of pop history of the Chinese revolution and its aftermath, told mostly through the life of Zhou Enlai, and to a lesser extent, Mao Zedong. The writing doesn't always work, and this next excerpt covers a lot of ground (a nice way of saying, a tad disjointed). But since I am still too unmotivated to post that incisive, insightful essay about Unocal and Chinese geopolitical aspirations and American miscomprehehsions and the need of our leadership to find a better enemy that that raggedy old Osama...

Here's another selection...


"History is mostly guessing; the past is prejudice."
Will & Ariel Durant.

People used to say that Zhou Enlai could have been an actor. Some say, in fact, he was.

One of the first books on China that I bought back in California, when I resumed my personal investigation, was a biography of Zhou Enlai. On the cover is a series of four photographs, early Zhou-As-Premier, probably taken around the time of the Bandung Conference. They show a handsome man of indeterminate middle-age with strongly marked, regular features, dramatic brows and jet-colored eyes that observers claimed sparkled with unusual intensity.

In the photos, Zhou thoughtfully considers, then pensively responds, is taken aback, and finally chuckles, crinkley-eyed, as though he and his questioner have reached a point of understanding. He looks like he's posing for a commercial headshot, exhibiting his range: calculating, deferential, surprised, charming.

* * * * * * *

In 1936, Zhou Enlai told American journalist Edgar Snow that his father had died when he was an infant. The statement was not exactly a lie, given the tangled circumstances of Zhou's upbringing, but it certainly wasn't the truth. Perhaps there was an element of wishful thinking in Zhou's response. An early death of his father would have removed a portion of the ambivalence that seemed to have formed so much of Zhou Enlai's character.

* * * * * * *

One of the archetypes of old China, one that still operates in China today, is the Good Official. Good Officials are the sort that won't betray their Emperors but will drown themselves in lakes to protest poor policy decisions. Confucius pretty much set the standards in his "Analects." A quick note about Confucius, who lived c. 551 to c. 479 B.C. Confucianism is a philosophy that examines the relationship of government to morality and personal conduct: a prescription for how people should live together to encourage a responsible, moral society. Whether you agree or not with all the prescriptions (and what feminist could?), it's probably at least half-right, and we should be frightened to think that for many generations, Confucianism was reduced, in the West, to buck-toothed, pig-tailed caricatures. I guess that's the tendency of all Imperial societies, to ridicule the cultural glue of the opposing Empire.

Anyway, according to Confucius, the Good Official is required to serve his lord with absolute loyalty: "If one were to serve one's prince with perfect homage, people today would deem it sycophancy." At the same time, a Good Official must govern by example of his moral excellence, guided by virtue at all times (the conflict between loyalty and virtue being the thing that led to the drowning option). The ideal man, Confucius tells us, "in his personal conduct...was serious, in his duty to his superior, he was deferential, in providing for the people he was beneficent, and in directing them he was just." Confucius himself achieved only minor success in propagating these ideals in his lifetime; the princes he attempted to serve were not altogether fond of certain aspects of his philosophy. In Confucius's favor, you were supposed to know your place in the hierarchy - "let the prince be a prince, the father be a father, and the son a son," as he put it. Relationships were generally vertical, a hierarchy of superiors and inferiors, ruler above ruled, man above wife. Only the relationship of friends was one between equals. The idea behind all this was to perfectly link the present to an idealized version of the past, a mythical Golden Age set some time in the early Zhou dynasty of around 1000 to 800 B.C. This was a time, supposedly, when everything worked. Rulers were just and virtuous; families functioned thanks to clearly defined roles as outlined above; communities were a collection of non-dysfunctional families; the resulting benevolent Empire was the center of the world.

Confucius was big on rituals. "For me not to be present at a sacrifice is as if I did not sacrifice," the Master said. When one of his disciples wished to dispense with the sacrifice of live sheep for a ceremony, Confucius said that the disciple cared for the sheep, while he cared for the ritual. Ancestors should be worshipped, since they were the reason you were here, and your body was a temple, because it did not belong to you; it served the future. Rites and ceremonies summoned the past, real or not, preserved its relevance, particularly if the past was invoked with blood.

Since we cannot even fully understand life on earth, Confucius would say to his disciples, how can we presume to discuss the gods or the afterlife?

The Master said: "I will not grieve that men do not know me; I will grieve that I do not know men."

All of this was probably fine with the princes of Confucius' day. What they probably didn't like so much was the part where the first requirement of their rule was to provide generously for their subjects.

* * * * * * * *

In 1809, a man named Shen Fu wrote a fragmentary autobiography called Six Records of a Floating Life. Shen Fu was a yamen private secretary, a clerk in an Imperial government office who assisted the magistrate. The Yamen itself was the government compound, both office and residence, also, "the court of law, prison, barracks, arsenal and treasury, and, since taxes were usually collected in grain, a granary as well." Yamen secretaries in general were well-educated, men who studied to be scholar/officials but for whatever reason did not succeed. In part this was because the Imperial system that bred men like Shen Fu was in the process of collapsing under its own sclerotic weight. The Qing Dynasty, bloated by nepotism and profit-seeking factions who recruited officials to gain influence, no longer had room for many of the candidates trained practically from birth to serve it. In this it was following the typical pattern of dynastic decline: a gradual corruption that arises from too many generations of hereditary privilege, badly-paid officials who enrich themselves at the expense of their public obligations, a drain on Imperial resources that leads to overtaxing the populace and a neglect of infrastructure. Perhaps there is a flood or a bad harvest, worsened by an untended dike, a lack of stores of grain in the tenant households. For peasants already living on a razor-thin margin of existence, it meant unmitigated disaster.

For an educated man like Shen Fu, it meant a "floating life," drifting from job to job, living off relatives and borrowing deeply into debt, at one point sending his young son (to save his father's face) to pawn the family's possessions. Pleasure was the company of his wife and a few friends, with enough money to buy wine and a few fancy dishes, and they would drink and engage in poetry composing contests late into the evening.

By most standards, Shen Fu seems ineffectual, unable to adapt to his country's changing circumstances, unable to provide for his family (both his beloved wife and only son died before him), a passive passenger on fate's ride. On the other hand, he'd held up his end of the bargain, studied hard, remained virtuous (resigning in protest from unethical situations, in proper Confucian tradition), and what had he gotten in return? Still, he remained loyal to the way of life he knew, the authority he'd been taught to serve, even though his loyalty was seldom returned.

Zhou Yineng, Zhou Enlai's father, must have understood Shen Fu. Really, his life was Shen Fu's, except by 1898, the situation was worse. The Qing Dynasty, ill-equipped at the end of its life to deal with its internal contradictions, would in no way effectively manage competition from aggressive and expansionist European powers. By Zhou Yineng's time, the Continental Empires were busily declaring various portions of China their zones of influence, a process generally inspired by the earlier experience of Manifest Destiny in Africa, and specifically by British successes with gunboat diplomacy in the mid-19th century. China was then the only source for tea, and the tax paid on tea by British consumers was a major revenue source for the British Empire. The problem was, China was not terribly interested in trading tea for Western goods. It was the view of the Qings that China produced what it needed for its own consumption, even if distribution was not entirely equitable.

By the time of the Opium Wars, economic polarization in Chinese society had, in fact, reached a crisis state. At the beginning of the dynasty, the Qings had governed competently, and as a result of fairly consistent good times, China's population boomed, doubling in the eighteenth century and reaching 400 million by the mid-nineteenth. Now there were far too many landless peasants, not enough cultivatable land in any case, little industry to absorb this excess labor. Various things happened to the armies of the displaced. They became tenants, subsistence farmers who worked for food and little else, they starved to death; they joined provincial armies or bandit gangs, professions with at times little difference between them. Many emigrated, the Chinese Diaspora that spread throughout southeast Asia and across the Pacific to the Americas. They formed secret societies, mutual protection groups frequently invested with the ostensible goal of restoring the fallen Ming Dynasty, the ruling Qings' predecessor. At times they participated in full-scale rebellions, peasant uprisings that presaged dynastic decline.

But what did this have to do with selling tea to the British? The Chinese government preferred silver, the currency of the Empire, to goods in trade. Moreover, they could not see any particular advantage to increased intercourse with foreigners. They didn't understand who or what they were dealing with.

A measure of Imperial China's conceptualization of foreign affairs: until 1861, the two bureaus which managed relations with foreigners were called the "Office of Border Affairs," dealing with historically invasion-minded peoples to the North, Mongols and Muslims and Russians, and the "Ministry of Rituals," which managed relations with "tributary" states, countries like Korea, Thailand and Vietnam that had some cultural linkages to China and were traditionally subservient to the Empire. Initially, European nations seeking to trade with China were placed in the "tributary" category; eventually a small number of Chinese merchants in Canton were licensed by the Imperial government to manage commerce with Europeans, who, by the way, could be imprisoned for such transgressions as learning the Chinese language.

It is of course an easy stereotype in which to indulge, Great China, the Middle Kingdom, the center of the world with no interest in what lay beyond its boundaries. Easy, but there it is, stated bluntly by the Emperor Qianlong, who graciously received the first British Ambassador to China in 1793: "Our ways have no resemblance to yours, and even were your envoy competent to acquire some rudiments of them, he could not transplant them to your barbarous land...Strange and costly objects do not interest me. As your Ambassador can see for himself, we possess all things. We have never valued ingenious articles, nor do we have the slightest need of your country's manufacturers." Having set King George's ambassador straight, the Chinese emperor politely refused the British envoy's request for formal diplomatic relations and kicked him out of Peking, sending the delegation back to Canton, where the barbarians were allowed to live during trading season.

From the British perspective, the Tea Trade must continue, but England could not simply bleed silver to obtain Chinese tea. It was unfair for protectionist China to refuse to accept foreign goods and create this massive trade imbalance, the real White Man's Burden that was getting in the way of Great Britain's global destiny.

Finally a product was found for which there was Chinese demand: Bengali opium. The Empire objected; drug addiction tended to undermine Confucian family values, since the user, generally the patriarch, expended resources on the drug that the family could frequently ill-afford. After many diplomatic skirmishes, the British government proceeded to wage war upon China in the name of free trade. "Justice, in my opinion," said William Gladstone, then a member of the Tory opposition, " is with them; and whilst they, the Pagans, the semi-civilized barbarians, have it on their side, we, the enlightened and civilized Christians, are pursuing objects at variance both with justice and with religion...a war more unjust in its origin, a war calculated in its progress to cover this country with a permanent disgrace, I do not know and I have not read of."

Maybe the British Free Traders thought they were doing the tottering Chinese Empire a favor: if you can't provide for your subjects, stuptifying them has its points. Opium was, after all, perfectly legal in the dismal, impoverished factory towns of England.

By 1895, opium alone could not account for China's trade imbalance; in fact, imported textiles made up the biggest portion of the deficit. China, it seemed, had discovered a need for the West's "strange and costly objects" and "ingenious articles." Imperial China may have "possessed all things," but indigenous industry was not competitive with Western models. By the turn of the century, reformer Kang Youwei would write in a memorial to then Emperor Guangxu that China imported great quantities of textiles, foodstuffs, cigars, liquors, medicines, raw materials, manufactured goods and many other "amusing or ingenious items," in Kang's words. India and Ceylon were now producing the tea for which the British had originally gone to war. Particularly galling must have been the import of natural resources which China possessed in quantity but was unable to exploit.

You had to hand it to the barbarians; their methods were certainly effective in some areas - combat, for example, as was amply proved by the Opium Wars. Moreover, these Western skills appeared to be transferable, if the Sino-Japanese War was any indication. In 1893, the Japanese, who had adapted Western military methods, easily defeated the Chinese in Korea and Manchuria.

It was another body-blow to the reeling Empire. Thanks to the intervention of European powers not entirely comfortable with the idea of "Oriental" Japan as global power-player, China regained title, in name at least, to their Manchurian territory. But the war indemnity the Imperial Government was forced to pay turned China into a debtor nation. China lacked sufficient internal capital to pay for the loans. Therefore, the Imperial Government borrowed from foreign bankers, "who fell all over themselves pushing gold-linked, high interest loans, secured on the government's most important revenues." This is the cogent summary of one Harold Schiffren, writing about Sun Yatsen and the coming Nationalist Revolution. He continues: "This meant that China's tax system...was working largely for the benefit of foreign bondholders. Within forty months of the war, this foreign debt amounted to about 50 million pounds - or nearly three times the annual revenue collected by Peking. Since the value of gold was rising in relation to Chinese currency, actual indebtedness was much greater."

Equally damaging, and just as instructional, was the blow to the Middle Kingdom's construct of cultural superiority. Apparently the idea that Great China could possibly be defeated by Japan, a debased cultural off-shoot, "little brown devils" from an insignificant archipelago, was nearly incomprehensible.

A foreign observer in Manchuria, a Christian missionary and medical doctor from Scotland, one Dugald Christie, described the Chinese Army at the time of the Japanese invasion:

"Many were raw recruits, straight from their farms, or sturdy beggars swept in from the streets, who halted for a week or two here to be drilled before starting for the front...Rifles were put into the hands of youths who had never seen a gun, and there was neither time nor teacher to instruct them. There were not nearly sufficient weapons of one make, so some companies had old rusty muzzle-loading muskets, or ancient Chinese matchlocks, or even bows and arrows, and many were armed after the ancient fashion with a short sword and a long wooden lance with a red tuft at the end. The chief thing these lancers practiced was to make a simultaneous lunge forward, thrusting out their bristling lances and yelling "dza!" which means 'stab.' On asking why they made so much noise, we learned that it was to frighten the enemy.

"It was pathetic to see these poor deluded fellows preparing to be mown down by modern fire," Christie continues. "When their short training was over, they marched cheerfully to their doom, clad in the gay, unserviceable soldier's garb, bright red jacket with large round target on chest and back...The general view of the coming war was that the Japanese had presumed to rebel, and of course China must crush them - an easy task."

* * * * * * *

Zhou Enlai's family came from Shaoxing District, in the eastern seaboard province of Zhejiang. Zhejiang is one of China's smallest provinces, densely populated, traditionally prosperous because of its seaports and productive farmland, cultivated for so many years that the land has lost its original contours and vegetation. "A flat, featureless plain with a dense network of waterways, canals, and irrigation channels," a tourist guidebook describes it - one of China's rice-bowls.

The city of Shaoxing was an agricultural market town and administrative center, a trading nexus between the ocean and the interior, the city Hangzhou and the seaport, Ningbo. Shaoxing is located near the terminus of the Grand Canal, the longest artificial waterway in the world which had been built some thirteen hundred years ago to link China's four major rivers and provide a north-south transportation route. On the Grand Canal, Imperial barges carried boatloads of southern rice to the northern capitals and pleasure-cruising emperors south to warmer climates. For most of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when the invading Jurchens displaced the Song Court from their capital at Kaifeng, the ruling house fled south and set up in neighboring Hangzhou, no doubt increasing the Imperial traffic. Marco Polo called Hangzhou one of the finest cities of the world, and even today, though the original city has been surrounded and partially submerged by concrete-block horrors and Kentucky-Fried Chicken franchises, Hangzhou carries the reputation of beauty. Hangzhou is just north of Shaoxing. To the south is Ningbo, once a major port for the shipping of Zhejiang goods to Japan, the site of an early Portuguese settlement wiped out by locals fed up with their new neighbors' bad behavior in 1545. Never as prominent as its neighbors, Shaoxing, most accounts will tell you, is known for the production of two things: sweet rice wine and government civil servants, "shiye," found throughout China. By Qing times, Shaoxing clerks were so ubiquitous that "the term, 'Shaoxing Shiye' had come to connote corruption and every kind of bureaucratic vice." This was the background of Zhou Enlai's family. The wine is definitely included.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Mao Zedong And I Were Beggars

A few years back...well, about 10 years, actually...I started work on a book that was to be a sort of pop history of the Chinese revolution, focusing on Zhou Enlai and to a lesser extent, Mao. My intention was not to write a scholarly work - I'm not a scholar - but instead to provide people with no particular background in Chinese history an account that would be both accurate (to the extent I could make it) and entertaining (ditto).

Since I don't have anything particularly intelligent to say about, oh, Chinese oil companies bidding for American oil companies (except to note that if we had any kind of serious alternate energy and energy conservation programs going on in the US, it wouldn't be such a big flippin' deal, now, would it?!), I thought I might post a bit of this work in progress, long interrupted as it might be. I'll note that the writing is kind of stiff and rough in places - thankfully, I've learned a little about craft in the last 10 years, maybe even enough to pick the thing back up and finish it. But be that as it may, here's a little bit to start...

"Mao Zedong and I were Beggars'

"Even though history is basically gossip, it is better to know the truth."
Princess Elizabeth Karadjordjevic of the former Yugoslavia
(People Magazine, 5/27/96 p.76)

I. Village Idols

Mao Zedong's earliest available piece of writing dates from June 1912. At the time, Mao was eighteen, a first year student in a Changsha middle school. He had started his formal education late, and once started, was prone to interruptions: most recently, a brief stint in the provincial army that had spent the last six months marching raggedly around Hunan Province in half-hearted support of an already co-opted revolution.

In this school essay, which was well-regarded by his teacher and circulated throughout the class, exemplary passages marked by the teacher's circles and dots, Mao praises Shang Yang, a Prime Minister of Qin during the Warring States period that occurred during the long decline of the Zhou Dynasty. This was a time lasting from approximately 480 to 221 BC in which internecine rivalries and barbarian invasions tore apart an already weakening central authority. What was finally left were seven armed states capable of conquering their less organized neighbors and waging war upon each other, duking it out for supremacy.

Shang Yang, who lived from around 390 to 338 BC was from the Kingdom of Wei, just north of the Yellow River. Old Wei comprises the northern portion of modern Henan province, an area that can claim to be the birthplace of proto-Chinese civilization, home of the first real dynasty, the Shang, that rose around 1650 BC and fell some six hundred years later.

Shang Yang's original name was Kungsun Yang, "Kungsun" being his clan name. But Shang Yang is the name he is known by. He was not a figure traditionally singled out for praise. A Grand Historian of the Han Dyansty, Suma Qian, had this to say in his summary of Shang Yang's character: "Lord Shang had a cruel nature;" he was "false," and inhumane.

Shang Yang was descended from a royal house, regrettably through a concubine. As a young man, he served as an officer under Kungshu Tso, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Wei. When this Prime Minister became ill, the King of Wei came to him and asked him to recommend a successor. "Shang Yang is a young man of many gifts," Kungshu Tso replied. "I hope you will consider him." The king fell silent. Appoint Shang Yang? That insignificant nobody? Absurd! Obviously Kungshu's illness had severely affected his judgement.

Noting the King's silence, Kungshu sent the attendants and officers away. He waited until the two were alone, the King and his minister. "If you do not appoint him Prime Minister," he advised the king, "then you must kill him."

The next day, Prime Minister Kungshu regretted his words, and wishing to save his protege, he told Shang Yang what he had said to the king. Flee from Wei now, Kungshu Tso told him, or certainly the King will have you put to death. But Shang Yang wasn't worried. "If he ignored your advice to make me Prime Minster, why should he listen to your advice to have me killed?"

Shang Yang remained in Wei until his patron Kungshu died, waiting for an appropriate opportunity to act upon his ambitions. It came from the neighboring kingdom of Qin to the west, a powerful though primitive place whose ruling house, according to some accounts, was descended from a horse-dealer - code for "not quite Chinese," horses being associated with mounted raiders from the North.

The old kingdom of Qin was comprised of present-day Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces, known for the massive tomb of the First Emperor, with its ranks of terracotta warriors and horse-drawn chariots. In 221 BC, First Emperor Zheng would unite all of China with Qin's armies. But in Shang Yang's time, Qin was considered incompletely civilized. "Qin...has the heart of a tiger or a wolf," sniffed a nobleman of Wei. "It is greedy and untrustworthy. It is ignorant of polite matters, proper relationships and upright behavior. Whenever the opportunity arises, it will treat relatives as if they were mere animals." Qin was also in great need of competent administrators, and the king, Xiao, was seeking able candidates - the perfect opportunity for a talented young man of ambiguous background.

Shang Yang came to power this way: he had four audiences with King Xiao, arranged by Xiao's favorite eunuch. Eunuchs, for those curious, generally got that way through punishment, because of a political or criminal transgression, or the misfortune of capture in battle (nothing like literal emasculation to really show who's boss). Once created, there was a place for eunuchs in the courts of Chinese rulers, who often claimed divine descent. A divine being could not reveal his private life to ordinary men, but a eunuch was not ordinary; he was considered neither man nor woman, and there was no place for him outside palace walls. More to the point, in the Inner Court, there could be only "one man," the Emperor - no potential competition with the Imperial seed allowed. Eunuchs became integral components of the Imperial system, mediators between the emperor and his concubines, playmates to princes, and at times their subterranean power would control the Empire's destiny.

The King was not impressed by Shang at first; in fact, during the first audience, Xiao fell asleep. Qing, the eunuch, reproached Shang for his less than stimulating presentation. "I spoke to him about the emperor's way," Shang explained to Qing, "but he lacks the necessary enlightenment." Five days later, Shang was granted a second audience. This time, King Xiao did not fall asleep, but he still complained to his eunuch about Shang's foolishness. Shang shrugged it off. "I spoke to him about the king's way," Shang told Qing, "but he still did not understand." Shang begged for another audience. This time, Xiao was pleased, though still reluctant to take Shang into his service. "I spoke to him about the conqueror's way," said Shang, "and now he considers me. The next time, I will convince him."

The fourth and final audience lasted for days. The King sat next to Shang and showed no signs of weariness. "My master is delighted," Qing the eunuch exclaimed. "How did you do it?"

"Before I spoke to him of the emperor's way and the king's way," Shang replied. "I made comparisons to the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, which lasted nearly a thousand years. But the King said, 'those ways would take too long. A good ruler should make his mark in his own lifetime, not wait a hundred years to achieve the emperor's way or the king's way.' So I told him how to make his state powerful, and he was overjoyed. But he will never equal Shang and Zhou."

Shang was known as a radical reformer, the source of much of his appeal to Mao Zedong. The Grand Historian records that upon entering the King's service, Shang immediately proposed a list of new laws designed to increase Qin's prosperity by changing the basic social structure of Qin society. The King feared popular resistance and declined to introduce Shang's proposals. "Those who hesitate to act win no fame," Shang argued, "and those who falter in their course achieve nothing. Those who outdo others are condemned by the world. Those who see further than others are mocked by the mob. Fools are blind to what already exists, whereas the wise perceive what is yet to come. It is no use consulting the people at the start, but one can enjoy the fruits with them."

Mao would seem to concur. The title of his essay, "On How Shang Yang Established Confidence by the Moving of the Pole," refers to Shang Yang's tactical approach to introducing his reform decrees. For King Xiao was right about one thing: such radical changes were sure to provoke controversy, and in a populace that had little reason to trust the sincerity of its rulers, the measures' effectiveness would be undermined from the start. If I were popular among the people, Shang Yang reasoned, if they believed that I was a man of my word, there would be fewer protests and greater co-operation.

To establish his trustworthiness, Shang Yang offered ten measures of gold to anyone who could move a thirty-foot pole from the south to the north gate of the capital. One man succeeded, and Shang Yang gave him fifty measures of gold instead, a demonstration of his lack of deception.

To Mao, this was an example of "the wasted efforts of those who yield power," having to bribe a population too foolish to recognize a good ruler when they had one. "From this, we can understand the origins of our people's ignorance and darkness during the past several millennia, a tragedy that has brought our country to the brink of destruction. Nevertheless, at the beginning of anything out of the ordinary, the masses always dislike it." Even if it was for the masses' own good.

"Shang Yang's laws were good laws," Mao wrote. "If you have a look today at the four thousand-odd years for which our country's history has been not Shang Yang one of the very first on the list?" Mao lists Lord Shang's accomplishments: he conquered the surrounding states and unified the central plain, establishing the prestige of the Qin state; he passed laws "to punish the wicked and rebellious, in order to preserve the rights of the people. He stressed agriculture and weaving, in order to increase the wealth of the people...He made slaves of the indigent and idle, in order to put an end to waste. This amounted to a great policy such as our country had never had before. How could the people fear and not trust him, so that he had to use the scheme of setting up the pole to establish confidence?" Stupidity was the only possible explanation.

Well, stupidity combined with rigid conformity and the enduring power of a conservative ruling class fearful of any change that could threaten their position. Predictably, King Xiao's other ministers counseled against accepting Shang Yang's reforms. Don't discard tradition, they advised. Educate people according to custom, and there will be little discontent.

"A wise man creates laws," Shang Yang responded, "but a worthless man is controlled by them. A talented man performs rites, but a worthless man is enslaved by them. With a man who is controlled by laws, it is useless to discuss change: with a man who is enslaved by rites, it is useless to discuss reform. Let your Highness not hesitate."

Impressed by Shang Yang's intelligence and resolve, King Xiao approved the new laws. They were numerous, and far-reaching. In Shang Yang's own words (or words attributed to him in The Book Of Shang Yang), "the one who could conquer the strongest enemy, is he who regarded as his first task the conquering of his own people."

This was how Shang Yang went about it: "First, the people were divided into groups of five and ten households, mutually responsible for each other. Those who failed to denounce a criminal would be cut in two; those who denounced him would be rewarded as if they had beheaded an enemy." The people were compelled to work in the "fundamental occupations" of farming and weaving; tradesmen, the idle and the destitute were enslaved. Yang's reforms rewarded merit in battle with the granting of titles. Particularly productive farmers were exempted from certain taxes and from otherwise mandatory labour on public works. Those who violated the laws were swiftly and surely punished, even the nobility - though when the crown prince broke the law, Yang could not punish him directly. Instead, he ordered the faces of the prince's tutor and guardian to be tattooed. Suspected troublemakers were banished to the far frontiers, and only the worthy were allowed to make public displays. In Qin, little value was placed on scholarship; ceremonies were not performed, nor music. Shang Yang stressed martial virtues, and those nobles who failed to distinguish themselves in battle lost their ranks. In Shang Yang's military philosophy, there was little room for chivalry in battle as it had been practiced in the past. Victory was the thing, the taking of the enemy's heads a concrete indication of valor.

After ten years, the people of Qin were well-content and materially comfortable. The hills were free of bandits, the towns competently governed, and if you lost something on the road, not one of your mutually responsible Qin countrymen would pocket it for his own use. Someone might report such an individual, after all.

Shang Yang was promoted to the sixteenth rank, only four steps below the highest level in Qin. He then led an army to conquer a city in Wei, the homeland that had not recognized his talent, after which he built himself a palace, with many archways.

He decided to impose new laws. Fathers, sons and brothers were forbidden to live together in the same house, in order to lessen the traditional influence of clans and families and increase the power of the central state. Shang Yang divided Qin into thirty-one countries, grouping villages and towns together to form them. He introduced regular taxation and standardized weights and measures. It was around this time that the prince's tutor, Lord Qian, broke the law again. Shang Yang ordered his nose cut off. By now the state of Qin was so powerful that the King of Zhou sent sacrificial meat to King Xiao.

Shang Yang turned his attention again to the neighboring state of Wei. He defeated the Wei army at Maling, capturing their prince and killing their general. "Wei is like a cancer in our heart," he advised King Xiao. "Either Wei will annex us, or we must annex Wei." The King agreed and gave Shang Yang command of an army to march on Wei.

Shang Yang and the Wei commander, Lord Ang, were old friends. As the opposing armies prepared to fight, Shang Yang sent Lord Ang a message, urging that as old friends, they meet and feast together, swear their good faith and withdraw their troops so that Qin and Wei could live in peace. Lord Ang agreed to the parlay. As the two drank toasts to each other, armed men under Shang Yang's orders seized Lord Ang, and Qin's army ambushed Wei's encamped troops. Eventually the King of Wei was forced to sue for peace, offering up all of Wei's lands west of the Yellow River, necessitating a move of his capital. "I should have taken Kungshu Tso's advise," the King of Wei supposedly said. I should have made Shang Yang Prime Minister or killed him.

King Xiao chose to grant Shang Yang lands in Shang and Wu, making him Lord Shang and then Prime Minister of Qin.

But Lord Shang had made a lot of enemies. Among the nobles, who resented their loss of privilege, the tattooed faces and missing noses among them a permanent reminder of the humiliation suffered by members of their rank. Among the common people, who may have profited materially from Lord Shang's rule but who also bore the brunt of his repressive laws: the fathers, sons and brothers who wished to live together in the same house. A respected recluse tried in vain to warn Lord Shang that a ruler who failed to win support would soon fall. A man who relies on force instead of virtue will perish, warned this philosopher. Return your lands, abandon your palaces; better now for you to retreat to a farm and work the soil, if you wish to keep your life. Advise the duke to honor the wise men who live in caves, advise him to care for the aging and the helpless, to reward virtue. If you continue to rule as a dictator, provoking the hatred of the common people, your end will come swiftly.

Lord Shang did not take this advice. Not surprisingly, when the crown prince came to power after Duke Xiao's death, the nobles quickly banded together and declared Shang Yang a traitor.

He fled the capital, seeking refuge at an obscure country inn close to the frontier. But the innkeeper, not recognizing his former Prime Minister, would not allow him to stay the night. "According to the laws of Lord Shang, I shall be punished if I take in a man without a permit," the innkeeper told him.

Shang Yang was said to have sighed, saying, "So I am suffering from my own laws."

Fleeing Qin, he sought refuge in Wei, but Wei had not forgotten Shang Yang's treachery toward Lord Ang and drove him back across the border. Eventually Lord Shang was killed in battle, his body torn from limb to limb, his family put to death, all done as a lesson regarding those who in their arrogance would press the power of the state beyond all acceptable limits. Who would reserve too much power for themselves. "The bad end he came to in Qin was no more than he deserved," wrote Suma Qian.

At least this was the Grand Historian's version.

And perhaps Mao Zedong was right to be suspicious of this account of official history, for weren't such "histories" the creation of officials, persons with an interest in how events of the past were portrayed in relation to their own actions of the present? After all, Shang Yang's Legalist philosophy was anathema to a staunch Confucianist like Suma Qian. No wonder Shang Yang himself advised King Xiao to proscribe the "Book of Odes" and the "Book of History." His acts would be magnified a little over a hundred years later, when the First Emperor ordered the burning of works of literature and philosophy written prior to his reign, so that "the past could not discredit the present."

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Bring It On...

I'm going to start by saying that it really doesn't matter whether the US soldiers dying in Iraq are men or women. Every loss is a tragedy. Women who've joined the military want to do their jobs, and they earn the right to do so. The whole notion that women in uniform are a threat to "unit cohesion" is being disproved every day in Iraq, where there are no front lines, where female medics are called "Doc" just like the guys (the WaPo article I'd like to link to is no longer available, email me if you'd like text).

Nonetheless, a bitter milestone was passed today when four female soldiers, including three Marines, were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Falluja. Eleven other female Marines were wounded. The attack seems to have deliberately targeted the women soldiers, who were assigned to search Iraqi women passing through military checkpoints.

For the record, here's the paragraph that got to me, the last lines in the article:
The women had an important role in Falluja, because in Iraq the American practice has been to assign only women to pat down women and girls passing in and out of the city. The girls going through the checkpoints often appear afraid, so the American women requested donations of teddy bears to give them. They recently arrived from the United States.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging...

Library Cat
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

...or Saturday, depending on your time zone...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

RISING TIDE - Update 3

The excellent China Digital Times received this report on the Shalan School tragedy, written by a Chinese journalist and posted on a BBS - he was not allowed to published it in the mainstream Chinese press. I suggest you read it in full (and if you can't access, drop me a line at, and I'll send it to you). Here's an excerpt:
Guoqin Zhao came to the first-year classroom. She shouted to the teacher Li (pseudo-name), “Teacher Li, please stop the class! The dam upstream is broken!”

Students started crying. After lady Zhao picked up her two granddaughters and was ready to leave, she saw their neighbor’s kid Lei Sun was there. So she offered him to leave with her too. At that time, Li’s response was typical as a teacher and an authority. She yelled to her students, “sit down, all of you! No one could leave without your parents!” Lady Zhao left with her two kids without giving further warnings. And teacher Li didn’t even bother to ask what was going on.

Two hours later, only one girl survived out of the 46 students in that classroom. All of them were buried in the cold mud water, including Lei Sun who was stopped by teacher Li to leave with lady Zhao.

The only survived girl named Yuxin Liu, a 7-year-old. When flood dashed into her classroom, Yuxin struggled with her classmates to try to stand up. Luckily, she gripped the heating radiator and climbed onto the windowsill. She managed to stand in the deep water for more than one hour. The mud water once even merged her completely.

About 3pm, Yuxin’s uncle rushed in to search the dead bodies, when he suddenly heard his nephew’s voice from above. “Uncle, what are you looking for? I am here.” Yuxin’d uncle cried out loudly, while the little girl was still calm.

Later people found teacher Li sitting outside alone on the windowsill.

When the parents entered the classroom, their experiences were the worst nightmares: they touched and fished one after another small dead bodies out of the blackened water.

Most of the kid died in their classrooms with their bags and books. We still can find their belongings until June 14th: cut-and-paste, teacher-parents communication cards, photos of the June 1st show, one-finger-long yellow shoes, candies, and their writings.

There are a lot of fingerprints left on the wall: the large ones were from their parents who tried to clean their hands after searching in the mud; the small ones, some of which almost reached the ceiling, were from the kids. The flood once reached the level right below the top panel of window glass.

There are only 2 dead out of 22 students in the third grade, class II. A girl named Ningning Song said that Teacher Rong Li asked them to pile up the desks and chairs. They broke windows, and tried to sit on the top window-frames. They were crying, and teacher Rong Li calmed them down, “It will be OK. The water will be gone soon.”
In spite of government censorship, the Shalan school tragedy has attracted a great deal of attention in Chinese cyberspace. The CDN reports:
The flood has been a hot topic on Chinese BBS sites. A moving poem written for the children killed has received widespread attention online. For more about media coverage of the Shalan tragedy, see ESWN's recent posts.
Links to the BBS sites and ESWN's posts can be found in the CDN article.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Giant Popsicle Floods NYC Park

snapple disaster
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

From today's AP:

An attempt to raise the world's largest ice pop in a city square ended with a scene straight out of a disaster film — but much stickier.

The 25-foot-tall, 17 1/2-ton treat of frozen Snapple juice melted faster than expected Tuesday, flooding Union Square in downtown Manhattan with kiwi-strawberry-flavored fluid that sent pedestrians scurrying for higher ground.

Firefighters closed off several streets and used hoses to wash away the sugary goo. Some passers-by slipped in the puddles, but no serious injuries were reported.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Great Wall

In our early days in China, back in 1979, when the fall weather was delightfully crisp and the sky a clear, brilliant blue, three of Paul's parents students took us on a sort of "greatest hits" tour of what passed for underground Beijing. One of the stops was Democracy Wall. It was not a particularly impressive structure, as I recall: just a brick and plaster wall, ten or twelve feet high. At the time, there was a sort of illegal art show posted there, realistic drawings of peasants, with accompanying text about the difficulties of their lives, the things that had happened to them, their suffering. The students read us aloud their stories. I'm afraid I don't remember the details now. But I still remember one of the drawings, of a young peasant woman, her wide, stunned eyes. Clumps of people stood around in their green or blue suits (those were the fashion choices at that time), reading the posters in an oddly hushed, I will even say, reverent silence.

At least, I think I remember it. Memories become distorted over time, conflated with other tangentially related incidents. Paul's parents, for example, had drawings sketched of themselves and Paul. I may have had one done as well, I really don't remember. And they had a drawing, a portrait, of a peasant girl, a poignant piece done in charcoal. Maybe that's the drawing I remember, not anything I saw at Democracy Wall. Somewhere I have some notes I took back then, when I was trying to write about it. Maybe those have better details. It was a long time ago.

But just now, when I was looking for a link to put up about the Wall, I came across this excellent article at the Harvard Asia Quarterly that outlines the history of Democracy Wall and the movement that surrounded it. I was looking for confirmation that the Wall had been closed down during my stay in Beijing. That's how I remembered it, but then, I don't entirely trust my memory. And I read this:
Democracy Wall also provided a space for non-socialist realist art and for abstract artists who showed their works in front of the Wall. When a group of these artists tried to present their work in what was called the Star Star exhibit in the fall of 1979, the police banned the exhibit. A few of the sculptures ridiculed Mao. As with suppression of other colleagues, Democracy Wall activists organized demonstrations to protest the closure. Despite the ban on the Star Star exhibit and later criticism of "misty" poetry as incomprehensible, these artistic innovations, associated with the Democracy Wall movement, brought new vitality and originality to Chinese literature and art and have had a lasting impact.
I can't tell you what an odd sensation it gave me, to read this. That's right. I remember that. I remember the abstract art and the statues and the controversy. I was there, and I saw it. I remember hearing about the exhibit getting shut down, shortly after we'd seen it.

And I remember later, when they closed Democracy Wall. This article confirms it, December of 1979. We received the news as a sort of gossip, living in isolation in our Designated Foreigners' Compound. "Did you hear? They closed Democracy Wall. Isn't that a shame?" We knew in the China of that time that it couldn't last...

I didn't really understand it, at the time. Didn't really know about the activists who got arrested, about "the 5th Modernization," meaning democracy, about how wide-spread and influential this movement was. As the Harvard Asia Quarterly article puts it:
China's leaders may choose to ignore the Democracy Wall movement for political reasons, but that does not explain why others should follow their lead. Perhaps the violent events of June 4, 1989 have superceded and focused attention on the later movement, but from the perspective of the end of the 20th century, the Democracy Wall movement, much more than the spring 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations, was a transformative political event in the People's Republic. It precipitated unprecedented political debates, fresh political issues, unofficial magazines, and independent political organizations. As Wang Juntao, one of the participants in both events, has pointed out, the political activists who came to the fore in the Democracy Wall movement played a key role in China's "struggle for democratic change"1 in the post-Mao era. This movement not only began the public critique of the Cultural Revolution and Mao's policies and demanded a reversal of the unjust verdicts of the Mao period (1949-76), it also ­ for the first time in the People's Republic ­ called publicly for political reform and human rights. Unlike the participants in the spring 1989 demonstrations, who begged the party to reform, the participants in Democracy Wall movement attempted to achieve their own political rights.
You can read Wei Jingsheng's account here.

If you have any trouble accessing these articles, drop me a line at, and I'll be happy to send them to you.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Religion?

(sung to the tune of...oh, never mind)

From the Associated Press:
A Romanian Orthodox monk has been indicted in the death of a 23-year-old nun in an apparent exorcism in which she was allegedly bound to a cross, had a towel stuffed into her mouth and left without food for three days...

...The monk said Sunday he was trying to "take the devil out of her," N24 news television reported.

When asked whether the nun was mentally ill and in need of medical help instead of exorcism, he told the television station, "you can't take the devil out of people with pills."