Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Happy Holidays - Just To P.O. Bill O'Reilly

To start, I am not a religious person. I have probably seen the inside of a church more often as a tourist - you know, gazing at the gorgeous, stained glass windows and medieval statuary - than for any occasion of worship. But I like Christmas. I like the trees and the wreaths and the pretty colored lights, and the cheesy decorations. I like the carols and the songs. I like getting together with friends and family. Hey, I like presents!

You move away from home, and, if you're lucky, you start to form your own traditions and holiday rituals. I have a number of them. Every year, I say I'm going to get my own tree, and then I never do. Ditto with sending out Christmas cards. And I shop at the last minute.

Then there are the social gatherings. There's the annual work "holiday party," which is generally a bore. Plus, it usually occurs during my annual "Christmas cold." I don't get sick that often, but I will, every year, get sick in December. It's like, all the hard work of the year is over, okay, you can get sick now. This year it came slightly early, but made up for that by lingering as a mild sinus infection.

And then there is, for me, the traumatic holiday psychic reading.

Now, I can't claim this as a full-fledged ritual yet, as it's only happened twice. But it's happened within the context of one of my genuine annual events, Jodie's Christmas party.

I can always count on Jodie to have this party, even when she claims she isn't going to have it. At the last minute, she'll change her mind. It will start as, "well, maybe I'll have a few friends over for potluck," and morph into a full-fledged party in about 48 hours after she announces it. With the party comes the psychic.

I am like a little kid in many ways. "Oooh, there's a psychic? Cool! Sign me up!"

I was fourth on the list. This was not the best set-up for the psychic, as she was in residence in the front sitting room where the stereo was located - the stereo which is so sophisticated and complicated that no one can figure out how to make the speakers work in the main house. So this poor woman is trying to give psychic readings with Johnny Mathis crooning "White Christmas" loudly in the background, in the hopes that the music will be heard in the living room too.

Plus, she had a cold and couldn't stop coughing. "I never get sick," she told me. "But I've been in bed for the last week."

This particular psychic does a combination computer-assisted astrologic ("I use Indian astrology, so this may not look familiar to you") and tarot card reading, helped by her spirit guides, one of whom is Merlin - I don't know whether this is the Merlin or some other less well-known spirit guide. And I didn't ask.

Because, as mentioned above, this was a sort of traumatic psychic experience. Oh, it started out harmlessly enough.

"I can see by your chart that you're a very creative person. Do you see yourself as a spiritual warrior?"

Me: "Erm...I don't know."

From there, it was all trauma, baby. Without going into all the details, let's just say that my chart made her want to cry, and that she gave me her card, saying, "I haven't given this card to anyone else, but I think you could really benefit from an extended reading and some healing soul work."

To her credit (I think), I surveyed others who'd had readings, and in fact, none of them received business cards.

Afterwards, I shrugged it off and went forth to mingle. I had a nice time. Towards the end of the evening, I mentioned the trauma aspects of the experience to several friends (and nope, they hadn't gotten business cards either).

One of them said, "Oh my god. Don't you remember?"


"I saw that psychic and I thought you must have recognized her, and I couldn't believe you signed up for a reading."

And she proceeds to tell me how, several years ago, I'd had an even more traumatic reading with this psychic, to the extent that I came out of it teary-eyed and mumbling about how this was a great capper to a really shitty year.

I thought about this. I sort of, kind of, remembered it. I couldn't pin down the year, though. I'm thinking, huh, maybe 1997, that kind of sucked, but my friend insisted it was more recent than that. Now I'm thinking, it must have been 2002; the end of that year was just a tad gnarly.

Lest you think this is the result of, oh, too much drugs and alcohol, I've always had a kind of weird memory. I mean, I can remember song lyrics (and tunes and orchestrations) pretty much forever; I'm good with foreign languages and facts; I can learn lines for plays and up to a point, recall conversations with a high degree of accuracy. But in terms of that last category, I only remember up to a point. Then I might remember that something bad or intense happened, but I can't remember what it was.

Certain events I remember with a high degree of vividness. Or I forget the actual events and remember the relevant sensory details. This is the kind of stuff I mine when I'm writing fiction (and for whatever it's worth, I'm pretty good at writing fiction. Apparently I'm better at creating characters than directly deconstructing my own).

And if you remind me what happened, I usually will remember it myself.

Unfortunately, my friend with the better event memory didn't witness the first traumatic psychic reading, so I'm still not sure what the psychic said that got me so upset that Christmas party...erm...whenever it was...okay, I'm going with 2002.

This year, I wasn't all that upset. I've learned to accept that, as much as I in general enjoy the holiday season, for me it is also suffused with an inevitable melancholy. Another year has passed. My life is pretty good, but there are things I think I'm missing. Some of what's lacking I could name, some of it...

Well, I'm just not sure. There's the inchoate sense that I'm not quite doing what I could be doing, what I should be doing, but I don't know how to get from where I am to a place I can't even define.

Jodie's party is only one of several gatherings that I attend this time of year. There's the Monday Before Christmas Musicians' Party. Working musicians tend to work this time of year, so one of my former bandmates has always thrown a big bash on the Monday before Christmas, when musicians are more likely to have an off-night. He mixes up this concoction called "Gin Alexanders" in a blender - the starter is something that's decades old and passed down from family members to the next generation, and it lives in the freezer, in the dark, until it's loosed in December, and the resulting drink tastes like a minty milkshake that will drop you to your knees if you aren't careful. And he serves Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale - more my speed. I see people I see maybe a few times a year; we talk politics (good, lefty politics, because these are musicians we're talking about) and stay up really late, and eat samosas and drink beer.

Then, Christmas Eve. My other bandmate has, for the last ten years or so, thrown a party. His parents were from Sicily, which means the party includes a huge vat of cioppino. My job is to bring the desert wine. I did this once, sort of by accident, and Tony's mom, born and raised in Sicily, was so pleased that I did it every year. When she passed away a few years ago, I brought a couple of bottles to her wake.

This year, I brought a bottle of excellent port (from Lion's Peak Winery - try their cabernet!). About the time we opened it up, Dave sat down at the upright piano and started playing tunes - Christmas songs, Vince Guaraldi. Tony got out his guitar. One guy had brought his hollow-body metal electric bass along - that came out too. Christmas blues came next. I had to sing "Rocky Raccoon" - because Tony's wife, Nancy, asks me to every year, mainly for the line, "But everyone knew her as Nancy."

We do some Beatles. A guy with a great soul voice sings "My Girl," and hey, this is a houseful of musicians, so we have an entire girl choir for the backups.

And somewhere in the middle of this impromptu but predictable jam session - it happens every year - I am having this flurry of thoughts, like: this is what most people in America have lost, the ability to get together and entertain each other, to sing and play and make a joyful noise.

And, more importantly: this is what I do, every year. To bring some ritual and meaning and joy into my life.

Christmas day, I drive to my folks' house. We exchange gifts, eat party mix and ham and pie. I will read at least one mystery novel. My mom and I will take a walk. I'm in no hurry for this to change. I want it to go on as long as possible. All of it. Jodie's party, the musicians' party, Christmas Eve at Tony & Nancy's, Christmas with my folks (and New Years Eve with Billy, but that's another story).

If there are things I am missing, there are so many more things that I have.

I'm not so sure about the traumatic psychic readings, though.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Sometimes We Get Burned...

And the only thing to do is correct the record ASAP:
The UMass Dartmouth student who claimed to have been visited by Homeland Security agents over his request for "The Little Red Book" by Mao Zedong has admitted to making up the entire story.

The 22-year-old student tearfully admitted he made the story up to his history professor, Dr. Brian Glyn Williams, and his parents, after being confronted with the inconsistencies in his account.
. Rest of thes tory is here.

So rest easy, everyone - you can hang on to your Little Red Books for now...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

China's Gemstone Workers - How You Can Help

Last week I posted an article about the horrific conditions in China's gemstone industry. Now I'd like to direct you to a Hong-Kong based campaign advocating better working conditions in the Chinese gemstone industry, via CSR's Stephen Frost. There were some technical problems with the campaign's website, but it's up and running now. Please take a minute to sign their letter - you can send it to Hong Kong, American or European jewelry associations, depending on where you're located.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

My Little Red Book

It takes a lot to flabbergast me these days. I mean is anyone really shocked by the relevation that the NSA is engaged in domestic surveillance, authorized by the Preznit, without any judicial review, not even by the secret court which generally reviews such things (apparently any kind of oversight is too much oversight for the Bush Administration, which certainly leads one to question just whom they are surveilling, and why).

Here's what it took for me to gaze upon my computer screen in slack-jawed amazement: this story, via the invaluable Digby, about a student who was visited by agents from Homeland Security because, wait for it...

He tried to check out a copy of Mao Zedong's "Little Red Book" from a university library.

No, really.
Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."...

...The professors had been asked to comment on a report that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to spy on as many as 500 people at any given time since 2002 in this country.

The eavesdropping was apparently done without warrants.

The Little Red Book, is a collection of quotations and speech excerpts from Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung.

In the 1950s and '60s, during the Cultural Revolution in China, it was required reading. Although there are abridged versions available, the student asked for a version translated directly from the original book.

The student told Professor Pontbriand and Dr. Williams that the Homeland Security agents told him the book was on a "watch list." They brought the book with them, but did not leave it with the student, the professors said.

Dr. Williams said in his research, he regularly contacts people in Afghanistan, Chechnya and other Muslim hot spots, and suspects that some of his calls are monitored.

"My instinct is that there is a lot more monitoring than we think," he said.

Dr. Williams said he had been planning to offer a course on terrorism next semester, but is reconsidering, because it might put his students at risk.

"I shudder to think of all the students I've had monitoring al-Qaeda Web sites, what the government must think of that," he said. "Mao Tse-Tung is completely harmless."
So can I just say, I am so going to Guantanamo? I mean, I have maybe four Little Red Books floating around my house, in both English and Chinese, including one featuring Mao's then "Closest Comrade in Arms" Lin Biao's calligraphy on the frontispiece, which I figure, given the brief tenancy of anyone occupying that particular position, has got to be some kind of collector's item.

In fact, I've had one of my "Xiao Hong Shu" since high school, when my school represented "Red China" in the annual Model United Nations conference. Which, come to think of it, is probably another black mark on my permanent record.

And boy, if any of these hard-working Homeland Security agents have actually surveyed my house - I'm doomed. What would they make of the wall of books dealing with the history of the Peoples Republic of China? The Collected Works of Mao Zedong? The compilations of CCP documents? The framed Four Modernizations posters on my wall, one of the "Peoples' Premier," Zhou Enlai, showing his domestic side, spinning yarn in Yenan, the other of a rosey-cheeked, chubby baby holding up this, well, I'm not sure what it's supposed to be, some kind of festive, lantern thingie with a nuclear atom in the center and a rocket ship on top? Not to mention my, erm, Chairman Mao piggybank.

Remind me again. Was it ultra-leftist, unreconstructed Red Guards who flew planes into the WTC?

But maybe I've got this whole thing wrong. Maybe owning such things isn't the problem. Given the obsession that the Bush Administration seems to have with wanting to access library records (without the patrons' knowledge), well, maybe it's libraries that are the real danger here, the subterranean threat to American security.

Just remember: if library cards are terrorized, soon only terrorists will have library cards. Or something.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

One Life, One Story...

No reporter does a better job of illuminating the vast complexity of modern Chinese life on a human scale than the Los Angeles Times's Ching-Ching Ni. A few months back, I blogged about an incredibly moving piece of hers, "Loving Others' Rejects, the story of an old man and his wife who rescue abandoned babies, literally from garbage heaps and the side of the road.

Now, Ni has written about the struggle of a young man who is dying from lung disease caused by years of working in a gemstone factory. I hesitate to edit Ni's work, so here's the beginning:
The boulders were as big as farm animals, and for $20 a month Feng Xingzhong's job was to slice them with an electric saw, cutting the hulks into fillets small enough to throw into a bowl.

Other workers in the jewelry factory would trim the pieces of jade, turquoise, onyx and other gemstones into little hearts and beads, polish them, drill holes and string them onto earrings, bracelets and necklaces to be shipped off to American shoppers.

Feng thought little about that, or anything else during his earsplitting 12-hour shift. By day's end, he looked like a coal miner emerging from the shaft, covered from head to toe in red, green or yellow dust, depending on the stone he had been cutting.

From age 18 to 26, Feng toiled without so much as a mask, trying to turn himself from an impoverished peasant into a prosperous city worker. He married a fellow employee, had two sons.

"We had a beautiful dream," Feng said. "To make some money, go home and start a small business."

Today, Feng hopes mostly to live long enough to collect some money from the factory where he developed silicosis, an incurable ailment known as dust lung that kills more than 24,000 Chinese workers each year in professions such as mining, quarrying, construction and shipbuilding.

Most slowly suffocate without protest. But not Feng. He sought workers' compensation. He sued his employer in two courts. He picketed near the company headquarters. He went to arbitration with the help of a Hong Kong labor group and even won a judgment.

But he hasn't received so much as a penny.
The area where Feng worked, near Shenzhen, processes some 70% of the world's semiprecious stone jewelry, much of which ends up exported to US wholesalers. Not surprisingly, conditions in many of these factories are dismal:
When Feng started in the early 1990s, his factory, called Gaoya, had about 50 employees. The crowded workshop had no ventilation system.

"We asked for masks, but they said no. There was no why," Feng said. "They knew we were peasants thrilled to have a factory job."
Ni details Feng's struggle to collect what he's owed, in the face of incredible obstacles. The company literally packed up and moved its factory to avoid workers' lawsuits; it further evaded them by changing its name - by one letter:
Furious, he tried in 2002 to apply for workers' compensation from the Labor Dispute Arbitration Committee in Haifeng. His factory had moved there from nearby Huizhou and changed its name from Gaoya to Gaoyi.

He was turned down on the grounds that the factory where he had worked was in Huizhou.

Next, he tried to sue. But two courts rejected his case, ruling that the factory in Haifeng was not the same business as the one in Huizhou.

"They changed their name from Gaoya to Gaoyi," Feng said. "One letter, and they are able to dodge all responsibility."
Feng continues to struggle, and a group called the China Labor Bulletin is helping him with his case and living expenses. So far, victory has proven elusive:
The group relaunched his claim against Gaoya through an arbitration committee in Huidong County, the site of the factory where he worked. He sought $76,000 in compensation for his disability and to cover medical and living expenses for himself and his family...

...In May, the committee ruled in favor of Feng. The factory was ordered to pay him $3,800 for medical expenses, plus $100 a month for the rest of his life.

It was a hollow victory. Staphany Wong, the Labor Bulletin case worker assisting Feng, said officials ordered the defunct Gaoya factory to pay Feng, not the working Gaoyi factory.
All of this takes place against the backdrop of Feng and his family's grinding poverty, the motivation that drove him to work in such wretched conditions, in the hope of bettering their lives.
As Feng waits in Shenzhen for his appeal to move through the bureaucracy, his family is scattered and struggling to survive.

His wife is working in another city. Her room is too run-down and cramped for Feng to live there full time, and there is no phone or fax to allow him to keep up with his case.

His sons, now 8 and 10, rarely see their parents. They still live in the remote village where they were born, looked after by Feng's ailing, widowed mother.

Large cobwebs dangle from the concrete walls of their farmhouse, and bugs crawl in the kitchen. All they have to spice up their meals of rice and scavenged vegetables is salt, held in a dirty sack. Barefoot and dressed in dirty clothes, the children kill time watching a tiny black-and-white TV with one blurry channel showing cartoons in the afternoons.

Feng has not told his mother about his ailment. But she suspects he is dying.

"I know a guy from our village who did the same work, he died three years ago. I think my son has the same disease…. I know he probably won't live long," said Li Sulan, 64, who is blind in one eye.

Her biggest worry is her grandchildren. "If my son dies and I die too, and his wife doesn't come back, what's going to happen to these kids?" she said.

Li calls her son from the village pay phone, crying and asking when he'll come home. Feng always tells her soon. Very soon.

"I want to go home, to take care of her and the kids," he said. "But I can't. I have no money."
Read the whole thing. And think about how many more stories there are like this, behind the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the gadgets with which we amuse ourselves...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Dongzhou Update

From AFP:
The official who gave the order for security forces to open fire on a group of demonstrators in southern China last week, which state press says claimed the lives of at least three people, has been arrested.

The official Guangzhou Daily newspaper did not give the name or title of the official or specify when he had been detained but said he had been arrested for his decision to open fire on the villagers' demonstration.

China on Saturday broke its silence on the protest, acknowledging demonstrators were killed when police opened fire and put the death toll at three -- far fewer than the dozens described by residents.

The official Xinhua news agency said police fired into a mob of explosives-lobbing protesters on Tuesday after being blockaded near Shanwei city, Guangdong province.

Hundreds of armed villagers had earlier attacked them in a "serious violation of the law", Xinhua said, quoting a Shanwei government report.

One villager said on condition of anonymity that 30 people were killed while the New York Times quoted residents as saying that "as many as 20" died.
Yes, it's once again time to quote Zhou Enlai, when asked for his opinion of the French Revolution...

"It's too soon to tell."

Turning Point?

The LA Times files its report on Dongzhou today. Much of the information is similar to the accounts posted below. But the story asks an essential question, the answer to which I believe will profoundly affect China's immediate future - and specifically, the future of the Hu/Wen administration and perhaps the CCP's continued monopoly on political power:
Residents said the police who opened fired Tuesday appeared to be from the area, but reinforcements sent later were outsiders equipped with armor, shields and machine guns. Experts said it was unclear whether local police had panicked and exceeded their authority, or whether there had been a policy shift by the central government.

"Part of the pattern is continued tension and inadequate central control over local governments," said Sharon Hom, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights in China. "This doesn't take Beijing off the hook, but there are tensions between local police and other arms of government. It's not a monolith."

Jean-Philippe Beja, a senor fellow with the Paris-based Center for International Studies and Research, said the central government usually opposes strong shows of force. But indications are that Beijing also gave more authority to local officials to deal with unrest after villagers in Taishi, also in Guangdong province, tried to eject a local official over corruption charges.
If this is yet another case of a corrupt, out-of-control local government that the central government has been unable to bring to heel, well, then Hu and Wen still have some time to make good on their promises of greater "social harmony" and bringing some economic justice to the rural masses who have been left behind by China's "Economic Miracle." But if this escalated use of deadly force comes as a result of a policy change by the central government...

Well, then Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen had better prepare themselves for a very bumpy ride. And perhaps a rather short ride as well.

No regime in China has been able to survive very long or very well if it loses the support of the peasant masses. By the Chinese government's own account, there were around 76,000 significant demonstrations in China last year, which if nothing else, indicates an increasingly desperate - and emboldened - population. There aren't enough police, there aren't enough soldiers, and empty promises have lost their power to pacify the millions of Chinese who have very little to lose, who are quickly adopting modern organizing tools and are able to communicate with others across distances who feel as they do.

Hu has made things worse for himself by cracking down on China's media, which could at least give honest reports on local problems about which the central government would otherwise be unaware (I know that there is some debate as to whether this crackdown is Hu's doing or the remnants of that bad old Shanghai clique, and I'll hold that possiblity open). Hamfisted, violent responses to poor people with legitimate grievances open the door to levels of chaos which China has not seen in a long time.

I can't say this scenario is something that I would celebrate, because the pain and misery which are likely to result would be staggering. And if the current regime were to collapse, what would rise in its place?

On a lighter (?) note (now that was a poor segue!), check out Richard's take-down of Xinhua's account of what happened at Dongzhou. Y'know, just a bunch of criminals and hooligans disturbing the social harmony again...

Friday, December 09, 2005

Death in the Countryside

Howard French reports on a deadly protest in southern China:
Residents of a fishing village near Hong Kong said that as many as 20 people had been killed by paramilitary police in an unusually violent clash that marked an escalation in the widespread social protests that have roiled the Chinese countryside. Villagers said that as many as 50 other residents remain unaccounted for since the shooting. It is the largest known use of force by secur1ty forces against ordinary citizens since the killings around Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The violence began after dark in the town of Dongzhou on Tuesday evening. Terrified residents said their hamlet has remained occupied by thousands of security forces, who have blocked off all access roads and are reportedly arresting residents who attempt to leave the area in the wake of the heavily armed assault.

"From about 7 p.m. the police started firing tear gas into the crowd, but this failed to scare people," said a resident who gave his name only as Li and claimed to have been at the scene, where a relative of his was killed. "Later, we heard more than 10 explosions, and thought they were just detonators, so nobody was scared. At about 8 p.m. they started using guns, shooting bullets into the ground, but not really targeting anybody.

"Finally, at about 10 p.m. they started killing people."

The use of live ammunition to put down a protest is almost unheard of in China, where the authorities have come to rely on rapid deployment of huge numbers of security forces, tear gas, water cannons and other non-lethal measures. But Chinese authorities have become increasingly nervous in recent months over the proliferation of demonstrations across the countryside, particularly in heavily industrialized eastern provinces like Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiansu. By the government's tally there were 74,000 riots or other significant public disturbances in 2004, a big jump from previous years.
As with so many of disturbances in rural China, the demonstration at Dongzhou began over a land dispute, in which land was seized to build a coal-fired generator. Farmers claimed they were not properly compensated for the lands seized, and villagers worried over potential pollution from the plant. Additionally, authorities planned to fill in a local bay, which for generations had supported the area's fishermen. The villagers' complaints led to arrests, which led to a burgeoning protest movement that now has apparently triggered an unusually violent and harsh response from authorities, all of which French chronicles in detail.
Early reports from the village said the police opened fire only after villagers began throwing homemade b0mbs and other miss1les, but villagers reached by telephone today denied this, saying that a few farmers had launched ordinary fireworks at the police as part of their protest. "Those were not bombs, they were fireworks, the kind that fly up into the sky," said one witness reached by telephone. "The organizers didn't have any money, so someone bought fireworks and placed them there. At the moment the trouble started many of the demonstrators were holding them, and of those who held fireworks, almost everyone was killed."...

..The Chinese government has yet to issue a statement about the incident, nor has it been reported in the state media. Reached by telephone, an official in the city of Shanwei, which has jurisdiction over the village, said, "Yes, there was an incident, but we don't know the details." The official said an official announcement would be made on Saturday.

Villagers said that in addition to the regular security forces, the authorities had enlisted thugs from local organized crime groups to help put down the demonstration. "They had knives and sticks in their hands, and they were two or three layers thick, lining the road," one man said. "They stood in front of the armed police, and when the tear gas was launched, the thugs were all ducking."...

Over the last three days, residents of the village say that other than people looking for their missing relatives, few people have dared go outside. Meanwhile, the police and other security forces have reportedly combed the village house by house, looking for leaders of the demonstration and making arrests.

Residents said that after the villagers' demonstration was suppressed a senior Communist Party official came to the hamlet from the nearby city of Shanwei and addressed residents with a megaphone. "Shanwei and Dongzhou are still good friends," the party official said. "We're not here against you. We are here to make the construction of the Red Sea Bay better. Later, the official reportedly told visitors, "all of the families who have people who died must send a representative to the police for a solution."

Today, a group of 100 or so bereaved villagers gathered at a bridge leading into the town, briefly blocking access to security forces hoisting a white banner whose black-ink characters read: "The dead suffered a wrong. Uphold justice."
The AP reports:
Armed with guns and shields, hundreds of riot police sealed off a southern Chinese village after fatally shooting as many as 10 demonstrators and were searching for the protest organizers, villagers said Friday...

...Police fired into the crowd and ki11ed a handful of people, mostly men, villagers reached by telephone said Friday. Accounts of the death toll ranged from two and 10, with many missing.

Although security forces often use tear gas and truncheons to disperse demonstrators, it is extremely rare for them to fire into a crowd...

...State media have made no mention of the incident and both provincial and local governments have repeatedly refused to comment. This is typical in China, where the ruling Communist Party controls the media and lower-level authorities are leery of releasing information without permission from the central government.

All the villagers said they were nervous and scared and most did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. One man said the situation was still "tumultuous."

A 14-year-old girl said a local official visited the village on Friday and called the sho0tings "a misunderstanding."

"He said (he) hoped it wouldn't become a big issue," the girl said over the telephone. "This is not a misunderstanding. I am afraid. I haven't been to school in days."

She added, "Come save us."

Another villager said there were at least 10 deaths.

"The riot police are gathered outside our village. We've been surrounded," she said, sobbing. "Most of the police are armed. We dare not to go out of our home."

"We are not allowed to buy food outside the village. They asked the nearby villagers not to sell us goods," the woman said. "The government did not give us proper compensation for using our land to build the development zone and plants. Now they come and shoot us. I don't know what to say."
It will be interesting to hear what sorts of responses come out of the local and central governments. The fact that such uses of force remain rare in China has to be a reflection of central government policy - and one to their credit. With protests on the rise throughout rural China, one wonders if this escalation of force marks a turning point in official policy or is yet another example of a local government running rampant over the rights and lives of its citizens.

Coming hard on the heels of the Harbin crisis, will the central government respond in a way that increases confidence? Or instills fear?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Pink Cadillac

I'm not sure what to make of this:
Four years after the death of Mary Kay Ash, nearly 350,000 Chinese women are emulating the icon, some earning big money selling TimeWise cleansers and facial whitening masks.

In every province, they're reading her books, which have been translated into Chinese, and singing her songs, like "That Mary Kay Enthusiasm," in Mandarin.

This fall, a few began driving her car, a pink Cadillac.

A decade after Mary Kay entered the country, China represents its second-largest market, even though a 1998 ban on direct sales threatened to ruin the venture. Within another 10 years, executives predict, this Asian giant could surpass the United States to be the No. 1 market.

The direct seller of skin care and cosmetics owes much of its success to an amazing marketing feat.

In a nation still coming to terms with memories of Mao Zedong and his Communist teachings, Mary Kay has gotten Chinese women to identify with a Caucasian cosmetics mogul with big hair.
This article, from the Dallas Morning News (and what city would better understand Big Hair?), had me alternately chuckling and shaking my head in the sheer wonder of just how weird the world can be. It profiles several Chinese Mary Kay distributors, some of whom are making six figure incomes. And it explains some of the adjustments that Mary Kay has had to make for the Chinese market:
In a country lacking religious freedom, Ash's mantra - "God first, family second and career third" - became "Faith first, family second and career third." "Principle" is often used instead of "faith". And unlike in the United States, prayers are absent from large company gatherings.

The company also discovered it needed to broaden the appeal of its culture. In addition to Ash's principles, such as her belief in the beautiful potential inside each and every human being, it added Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" to its employee training seminars starting in 2000.

But one of its biggest challenges involved something much more mundane: where to hold its annual seminar.

The seminar, modeled after the one held every summer in Dallas, brings together the company's managers and thousands of its sales force members for award ceremonies, executive speeches and educational sessions. The event helps motivate Mary Kay's sales force each year.

Two years ago, the Chinese government, which is suspicious of large gatherings, told Mary Kay it couldn't hold its seminar. It wanted the company to conduct smaller meetings around the country. But that would have defeated the seminar's purpose.

So Mary Kay moved the event last year to Hong Kong. This past August, attendance reached 16,000.
But many of Mary Kay's traditions have been transplanted to China intact. The pink cadillacs, for example. Mary Kays' books and songs (including "That Mary Kay Enthusiasm"), translated into Mandarin. And this:
The day Hao officially debuts as a national sales distributor is filled with ceremony.

Twenty-one lower-level Mary Kay distributors, women Hao helps, form a circle around her. The lights go out. And the smell of melting candle wax begins to fill the air.

With her husband and 7-year-old daughter looking on, Hao calls out the name of each distributor. She gives each a hug, a personal note and a candle in the shape of a small ball of pink roses.

A few distributors silently cry. Others dab at their eyes. Gradually, a glowing circle of pink lights appears in the middle of the room.

Then, Hao picks up a tall pink candle and places it at the bottom of a giant heart-shaped candleholder. Her distributors follow her, setting their lit candle balls in the slots around the pink heart.

Everyone gathers around the now burning symbol of love, clasps hands and silently makes a wish. Together, the women blow out the candles and clap.