April 05, 2007
A brief history of China

It's not easy to summarise 5 million years of history, but the Sinocidal history of China manages to get most of the main points in.

Update: the link has been fixed.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:25
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November 02, 2006
Amorous Local Customs

I've been looking into various cities in Guangdong (that are not Shenzhen or Guangzhou) for a day or weekend trip. I've settled on Jiangmen as a fascinating town with a rich local history, including the watchtowers of Kaiping, the Liang Qichao Memorial Museum, and perhaps a trip to the hot springs. A lot of money came back into Jiangmen from a host of its sons and daughters that made the dangerous trip as migrant workers overseas in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

But I was intrigued by the Jiangmen government tourism website. It's probably unfair of me to make fun of the English version, but I shall do it anyway. Under the heading local customs, it has this to say:

Amorous Feelings on Chuan Islands

[Evidently a place for courting couples - Ed.] Sea bath pool at Feisha beach...the first choice among sunny beach with snow-white sands, bright and clear water. Apart from that, other places worth a trip are Monkey Island [sounds like the title of a raunchy reality TV show -Ed.]; beautiful sunset glow in Shadi [no, that's Shah-DEE, Dave you dummy - Ed.]...oil cypress grove, diamond of vegetable kingdom [?-Ed/]; and mangrove.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 21:20
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November 01, 2006
Bot-toms Up

Via Gizmodo UK, the Chinese Cauca-bot(tress) that sings karaoke, apparently. Her renditions of traditional Chinese ballads seem great, although she's got the lip-symching abilities of Milli Vanilli. She's also stacked and doesn't wear a bra. Evidently the Russian girls working the Chinese body politic are not getting the job done, in terms of their singing local songs, anyway...

We've not had many lurid posts lately and I thought this perky Lara Croft-meets-Chinese diva robot might do the trick!

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 18:05
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August 25, 2006
Some Are More Equal Than Others

Who could forget that classic line from Animal Farm, George Orwell's parody of the cult of personality in the communist and authoritarian states.

Well, under the new rules of the People's Republic of China, if your Daddy contributes more than RMB3 million to tax revenues, you get extra bonus points put on your school exams, which will allow you to go to a better university.

Somehow I think even Mao would be squirming in his grave. Agreed, in the absence of a lot of 'old money', it is just similar to alumni 'donating' money to their school to get their inbred kids into their alma mater. But there is something powerfully repulsive to me, isn't there, in this system? I guess the social engineers of the system are trying to discourage wealthy parents from just getting their kids in direct to school by purchasing a place. Still, pardon me while I reach for the motion sickness bag.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 17:40
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August 22, 2006
Revising History

There was a rather odd, equivocal opinion piece about the Yasukuni Shrine visit controversy today in the Standard. At its heart is the well-worn sentiment that China is diverting domestic and regional attention from more recent national atrocities but continuing to make an issue out of shrine visits by the Japanese leadership.

While there is some truth to that, there is also truth to the fact that many segment of Japanese society live in a complete bubble, insouciantly ignorant of any past atrocities, and an influential minority that prefer to distort history by outright denying it. The power of history is strong, and nationalist leaders in Japan feel they must pander to these revisionists to carry their votes.

It is therefore regrettable, in an article about revisionism of history, that the author himself commits one of the greatest journalistic mis-statements of all time: "Will also pointed out a few things Beijing would never admit. Most Chinese resistance during the war was by Chiang Kai-shek's forces. "

This is actually a farcical claim when Chiang Kai-Shek's generals spent most of their time fighting pointless little battles with each other and running from any armed confrontation with the Japanese, and bilking America out of such amounts in the name of fighting Japan as to make the Iraq Oil-for-food scam look like a child's hand in the cookie jar. While the average nationalist soldier fought hard, this was in spite of the total incompetence and craven-ness of their generals with regard to the Japanese. Chiang had no desire to fight Japan at all and only used the possibility of fighting them throughout the war as a lever from which to extract more pork for him to distribute amongst his corrupt coterie of handers-on and yes men. The Communists, on the other hand, cut a much more noble figure, and were also far more effective as guerilla fighters against the Japanese.

Careful what you say there, Mr. Liu Kin-Ming. History is power, and if we are going to criticize distortions turn about is fair play.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 16:03
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August 15, 2006
American reporting on China

I'm in the middle of reading Chang/Halliday's Mao: One hell of a prick. So far the book has shown Mao to be a ruthless, heartless and opportunistic son-of-a-bitch who was politically savvy and was fortunate enough to be protected and coddled by another son-of-a-bitch, Joe Stalin.

It is the 40th anniversary of the launching of one the biggest pieces of state-run lunacy in history: the Cultural Revolution. While Communists generally love their anniversaries, even Beijing can't bring itself to commemerate the beginning of "great disorder under heaven". Which leads to an interesting remenicence from AP hack John Roderick on how American reporters covered China in those days and the somewhat surprising revelation that one of their key sources of information was the U.S. Government.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:24
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July 13, 2006
The Evil Train to Tibet?

I was quite amused by an article in the People's Daily today that expressed how China was 'soured and saddened' by Western press reports condemning the railway, not least from the Guardian newspaper in the UK. The funny thing is, they dredged up a report on railways in India, apparently from the Guardian a year ago, that had this to say:

"in India, nothing can link up the whole country but rail routes...­ From a broader sense, railways gives India a sense of unity."
Of course that is true also in a tragic sense this week. Now I've done a quick search of the Guardian website to find the article they reference, and I couldn't find it, so it's possible that this was not said, but I think it is entirely plausible given that I've read similar things expressed about railways in many other places.

The point is, I have to agree on this point with China. Why begrudge China's right to put a railway line in its own country? I think we must all be realistic and accept that Tibet, after over fifty years, is not going to be allowed its own independence by China. That being the case, why criticize a move that might help move at least a trickle of the economic prosperity enjoyed further east to Tibet? Some say that rampant tourism will wipe out what remains of Tibet's indigenous culture. But is that so that wealthy Western tourists can still fly up to Lhasa and, travelling a bit further, find some sort of Shangri-La untouched by time? Because there is no point trying to keep Tibet in stasis until some revolution somehow gives it back its independence.

If you travel to Germany, you don't expect, except on special occasions, Germans you meet to be wearing lederhosen. Does it make sense that we feel it's OK to want to expect indigenous costumes and historic poverty when we go to Tibet? Is it right for us not to want a railroad to a country, so that it remains too poor to afford anything except ethnic homespun?

'Free Tibet' is a pipe dream. The sooner people get over that and hope that people in Tibet can afford more opportunities, improved healthcare, safer roads, and more education, the better.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 08:18
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May 26, 2006
Condensed Chinese history

China's history in 4 web pages - one can quibble in parts, but one always can with history (feel free to let fly with your quibbles in the comments). If you want to cover 4,000 years of history in 4 pages, take a look. And if you're looking for a good list of China books, here is a recommended China books list.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:46
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May 06, 2006
Chinese sex toys

Time to bump up the ratings using that old adage that "sex sells". From the SCMP, a comparison of Chinese and Western preferences in sex toys. The main article discusses how one family got their start in the business, realising that yet again Chinese made sex toys could be cheaper but just as good as foreign models (pardon the pun). Far better is the breakout article:

The Chinese are much more adventurous than Europeans and Americans when it comes to sex toys, said Wu Hui , chairman of Wenzhou Adam and Eve Health Products. "It's strange. Among the countries we export to - developed countries in Europe and the Americas - they like simplicity. In China, they want more functions."...

At one of the company's shops in Wenzhou , a middle-aged woman clerk proudly shows products to a customer. "Before I worked here, I had never seen these things before," she said. Despite a lack of customers on a recent morning, she claimed that all the types of products on display had found buyers. "Someone has bought everything, even these," she said, gesturing to a pile of leather garments adorned with metal.

Holding up an item labelled the Erotic Butterfly, she said: "This is suitable for young ladies." She then moved on to demonstrate several other products. Customers who make it through the door are not usually embarrassed. One day last winter, a man bought an inflatable doll and declared he needed it to keep warm.

But even the clerk admitted she felt embarrassed sometimes. Dropping her voice to a whisper even though there was no one else in the store, she pointed to a device displayed in a sealed glass cabinet and said: "Someone from Shandong bought this once."

Those crazy people from Shandong. Could exotic sex tours of Chinese provinces be far behind? It would give new meaning to "Golden Week".

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:19
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» The Jawa Report links with: Chinese Sex Toys
» chinochano links with: Sólo para adúlteros
» Shanghaiist links with: Extra! Extra! Da Vinci Code, Manslaughter and Splitsville

May 01, 2006
Chinese cinema

While I'm pilfering things from the Economist, an article discusses the woeful state of China's cinemas even while it's cinema productions are becoming world beaters. Full article needs subscription so I've put it below the jump.

Everyone is in love with Chinese cinema. Except the Chinese

THE Chinese are hot in Hollywood right now. At last month's Oscars Ang Lee, who hails from Taiwan and is a hero in mainland China, won the best director award for “Brokeback Mountain”. “Memoirs of a Geisha”, which carried off a further three Oscars, starred Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi, two Chinese actresses playing Japanese courtesans. Tom Cruise, Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are all making films in China. And Britain's Merchant-Ivory studio has just released “The White Countess”, the first western picture to be shot entirely in China.

Unseen in China

It looks like a remarkable comeback for a film industry that was destroyed by the Cultural Revolution after a glorious early debut. Chinese cinema was born in 1896, just a year after it was invented in France. Yet between 1966 and 1972 not a single film was made on the mainland. Last year there were 260, almost twice as many as two years ago. Only America (425) and India (over 800) produced more. Box-office receipts have also been growing fast, reaching 2 billion yuan ($250m) in 2005, up a third on a year earlier, according to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), the government ministry-cum-regulator. Those figures pale beside the $23 billion that Hollywood raked in last year. But they compare decently with estimated receipts of $266m for India's Bollywood in 2004.

Like many a Californian starlet, however, the Chinese film industry is not as healthy as it looks. Zhang Hongsen, deputy director of the film bureau at SARFT, admitted this month that only 90 of those 260 films were ever screened in China. Many had to be withdrawn days after their release because of a lack of interest among cinema-goers.

A dearth of screens is partly to blame. China has only around 3,000 cinemas, with less than a tenth of the screens in America for a population five times as big. Much of the countryside is not covered. All in, China's 1.3 billion people managed a mere 200m cinema visits last year.

But the fault also lies with the quality and price of Chinese cinemas. Fewer than half of them are modern, reckons SARFT. The new ones charge a whopping 40-120 yuan ($5-15) a ticket, so are affordable only to the middle-classes. Xiang Yucheng, general manager of Kodak Cinema World, a 930-seat luxury cinema in Shanghai, says his average occupancy at just 20-24% is one of the highest in the country. No wonder China has never developed “a popcorn culture”, says David Wolf, a Beijing-based media consultant.

A more fundamental problem is that the industry is not making the films that people want to watch. Like nearly everyone else, the Chinese adore Hollywood blockbusters. “Titanic” is the biggest-grossing film in Chinese history and the fourth “Harry Potter” adventure is the favourite today. Yet only some 20 foreign films a year are allowed into China—although that number should rise to 40 in 2006 under the country's commitments to the World Trade Organisation.

Even then, though, choice will remain limited. China's censors are as prudish and culturally conservative as they are politically repressive, preferring bland family fare from overseas. Horror, violence (unless of the kung-fu variety) and anything challenging are ruled out. Since China has no proper ratings system, every film must be suitable for all. In a speech last December marking the centenary of Chinese cinema, President Hu Jintao left no doubt that censorship would stay: “All those working with China's film industry should stick to the correct political direction all the time,” he said. Neither “Brokeback Mountain”, with its homosexual theme, nor the Japanese-centred “Geisha” were screened in China. Mr Xiang, whose own cinema is barely profitable, says he could charge a third more to exhibit those films: “I just don't have enough good movies to show.”

Many domestic films are also banned. Directors are eager to comment on the rapid changes in Chinese society. But films such as Li Yang's “Blind Shaft” (a bleak, compelling picture about life in China's illegal coal mines) and “Cry Woman” (whose heroine uses her distinctive wail to become a professional mourner and buy her husband out of jail), were not shown to local audiences even though they had been acclaimed abroad. Liu Bingjian, the director of “Cry Woman” gave up, and now sells men's beauty products for Amway, laments Zhang Xianmin, a professor at the Beijing Film Academy.

A little help from the state

Even those Chinese films that survive the censor's blue pencil and are more than mere propaganda, often fall at the next hurdle: promotion. Budgets are low, advertising costs are high and marketing in China is haphazard. As Mr Wolf points out, “There is no studio system as in America where films must pass a series of executives judging their commercial viability. China needs its own Steven Spielberg—someone who really knows what people want to see.” Most Chinese remain glued to the television and opt to watch the latest pictures on pirated DVDs, which, at 10 yuan each, cost a fraction of a cinema visit and deprived American studios of $2.7 billion of revenues last year.

In response, the Chinese government is doing what it typically does to generate growth—build infrastructure. Cash has been found to set up mobile cinemas in rural areas, while businesses in Hong Kong and Macau were told in February that they could set up 100%-owned cinema chains. The same privilege should eventually be extended to western companies such as Warner Bros, the first foreign firm to get into film distribution on the mainland—it operates several cinemas there including a huge new complex in Chongqing, a city of 30m people. With cinemas being built from scratch, there are opportunities for foreign providers of the latest technologies, such as Imax, which is already selling 3D systems in China, and Texas Instruments, with its digital projectors.

New hardware, however, does not foster creativity. What the Chinese film industry needs is less regulation and greater competition. That would mean allowing in more western films, curbing censorship and removing the onerous cap that limits foreign-studio profits to 17% of Chinese box-office receipts. If a reliable ratings system replaced the censor, domestic filmmakers could take more risks, attract bigger audiences and plough back their growing revenues into marketing and more projects. If all that happened, even the Chinese might start to watch Chinese films.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:33
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» The Blind Man and the Elephant links with: The Current State of Chinese Cinema
» Check it out auburn links with: Check it out auburn
» leather backgammon set links with: leather backgammon set
» links with: http://#

March 07, 2006
Deconstructing the Long March

Jonathan Dresner has done a typically great job of pulling together the 3rd Asian history blog carnival. Plenty of interesting links and reading.

While on things history, Sun Shuyun in today's SCMP looks at the realities of China's founding myth in an excellent piece of historical analysis:

Every nation has its founding myth. For communist China, it is the Long March - a story on a par with Moses leading the Israelites' exodus out of Egypt. I was raised on it...
Continued below the jump.

...The myth can be stated succinctly. The fledgling Communist Party and its three Red Armies were driven out of their bases in southern China in the early 1930s by Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government. Pursued and harried by their enemies, they crossed high mountains, turbulent rivers and impassable grassland, with Mao Zedong steering the course from victory to victory.

After two years and 16,000km of endurance, courage and hope against impossible odds, the Red Armies reached northwestern China. Only a fifth of the original 200,000 soldiers remained, worn out and battered, but defiant. A decade later, they fought back, defeated Chiang, and launched Mao's New China.

How does China's founding myth stand up to reality? In 2004, 70 years after it began, I set out to retrace the Long March. Of the 40,000 survivors, perhaps 500 are still alive; I tracked down and interviewed 40 - ordinary people like Huang Zhiji, who was a boy when he joined the Red Army. He had no choice: they had arrested his father and would not release him until Huang agreed. He thought of deserting, but stayed for fear of being shot. Many did run away.

Six weeks into the March, Mao's First Army was reduced from 86,000 to 30,000 troops. The loss is still blamed on the Xiang River Battle, the first big engagement of the march. But, at most, 15,000 died in battle; the rest vanished. Another battle, at the Dadu River, is the core of the Long March legend: 22 brave men supposedly overpowered a regiment of Nationalist troops guarding the chains of the Luding Bridge, and opened the way for the marchers. Mao told Edgar Snow, author of Red Star Over China, that crossing the Dadu was the single most important incident during the Long March.

But documents that I have seen indicate that the general who commanded the division that crossed the Dadu River first told party historians a very different story. "This affair was not as complicated as people made it out to be later," he said. "When you investigate historical facts, you should respect the truth. How you present it is a different matter."

So, there was only a skirmish over the Dadu River. The local warlord, who hated Chiang, let Mao pass. As a reward, he was later made a minister in the communist government.

The marchers did not know where they would end up. When they converged in north China in October 1936, it was hailed as the end of the march. But the "promised land" could barely support its own population, let alone the Red Armies. Barely a month later, the party decided the Long March was to continue. But the communists were saved when Chiang was kidnapped by the general he had ordered to wipe them out. As part of the price for his release, Chiang recognised the communists as legitimate: the march was over. But not, however, for the 21,000 men and women of the Western Legion. They belonged to the Fourth Army, headed by Zhang Guotao, Mao's arch-rival. Their mission was to get help from Russia. But Mao kept sending them contradictory orders, so they could neither fight nor retreat. They were trapped in barren land, and the overwhelming forces of Muslim warlords wiped them out. Only 400 reached the border. It was the Red Army's biggest defeat, yet it is missing from official history.

So, what motivated the marchers? I asked a top general what he knew of communism at the time. "I had no idea, then and now," he replied. "I doubt that even Mao knew what it was." Perhaps no one knew how much suffering would lie ahead, and how great the difference would be between the dream and the reality.

My emphasis. The author is due to release a book on the Long March. I don't expect you'll be seeing many copies in China.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:46
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March 03, 2006
Asian history carnival

Have you got a blog and you've posted something pertaining to Asian history? Then my friend Jonathan Dresner wants to hear from you.

And early polling shows folders are outnumbering scrunchers. What's wrong with you people - do you fold paper before you throw it in the bin? The world would be a much better place if everyone scrunched.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:47
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Higher education reform in China

It's China Brief time and the standout article this time is Yitzhak Shichor's look at the revolution in China's higher education. Read the whole thing, but here's a taste:

Compared to other countries, China's higher educational system has one major disadvantage and two major advantages. Its main disadvantage reflects the time-honored legacy of conformity, discouraging innovation and lack of academic freedom. As much as Beijing would invest in higher education, if it does not manage to overcome these obstacles and provide a climate for fearless academic and scientific discussion, this revolution will be short-lived. At the same time, China has two formidable advantages: one is its huge population and the other is its mobilization capacity that is not bound by democratic values. Given that the ratio of talented people in the Chinese society is about the same as in other countries (and some would say it is higher), the Chinese government can feed its higher education system with millions of talented and even exceptional students for years to come.
That's a novel point: democracy hinders "mobilization capacity" and that's an advantage. Yet the very previous sentence the author tells us the lack of academic freedom is a disadvantage. A curious note to finish the piece on.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:10
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February 24, 2006
Keeping kids safe

Spike points out that China is banning a growing menace. Via the BBC:

Cartoons that blend live-action actors with animation are to be banned from TV in China...The move is aimed at promoting Chinese animators and apparently curbing the use of foreign cartoons.

China's State Administration of Radio Film and Television said people who flout the ban will be punished.

Lucky bastards won't have to put up with crap like this or this. Parents of young kids around the world will soon be beating a path to China's door, desperate to escape the inanity that largely is children's animation. Is that China's hidden agenda: attracting migrants? Could that be the solution to the coming demographic crunch thanks to the one-child policy? Isn't it easier just to remove the one-child policy anyway?

But hark, think of what horrendous wonders China's animators will come up with to fill this obvious gap in the market. And marvel at the stupidity of such a ban when any of the banned shows will still be freely available on DVD for a couple of yuan.

Invoking Occam's razor, the real reason for this ban is obvious: the head of the State Administration of Radio Film and Television the father of young kids.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 18:32
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January 18, 2006
The history of Chinese fakes (Updated)

Henry Ford said history is bunk, but far better is when fake history is debunked. The Economist, amongst others, hails an alleged 1763 map as a replica of an 1418 Chinese map of the world, proclaiming China beat Columbus to it, perhaps. The hedging in the headline isn't as noticeable in the article proper.

So using the power of the blogosphere, you click over to academic historian Jonathan Dresner's exposition of the problems with the map. That leads you to historian Geoff Wade (from NUS) rebuttal of the Economist article. Finally you click over to Hemlock (as you do daily) and find another piece ripping apart the validity of the map (reproduced below the jump).

Amazing what you can learn.

Update (18/1)

An astute observation by Peter Gordon in The Standard:

If Zheng He really did visit the Americas, it was a historical dead-end. This is, of course, the really interesting question: exactly why did China turn its back on its explorations, leaving the field to the Europeans? The net result was a long, slow decline in China's relative position in the world from which it is only now recovering.

It may still be, however, that some bright spark in China might see the map as a justification for demanding tribute from the United States, that it send large sums of money each year to build up central government coffers.

Except that America is already doing that.


Hemlock on the map:

The antiquary in me is intrigued. If an 18th Century Chinese map of the world really is – at its creator claimed – a copy of one from 1418, it would add serious weight to the theory that Admiral Zheng He/Cheng Ho’s fleet visited America before Columbus, and went round the rest of the world too.

Which is more probable?
1. The eunuch not only sailed to India, the Middle East and East Africa in 1421-23, which no-one doubts, but circumnavigated the globe via the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn a century before Magellan and also dropped in on Europe, Australia and Antarctica.
2. The mapmaker was lying – he had copied a more recent, Western-influenced work.

The first theory has gained popularity thanks to the book 1421 – The Year China Discovered the World by Gavin Menzies, whose beliefs rest on the spacemen-built-the-pyramids sort of evidence much loved by fans of pseudoscience. Menzies has been debunked as junk history. Other supposed evidence of Chinese exploration, like reports of Chinese DNA among Maoris or peanuts and tomato seeds in ancient imperial tombs, has never come to anything.

Viewing the chart, the words that come to my mind are‘17th Century’ and ‘gwailo’. Whoever put together the original outline knew the world was round and could place geographical features more or less correctly in terms of longitude and latitude and therefore in scale. The Jesuits introduced serious mappaemundi to China from 1600 and had their work criticized and even banned for showing the middle kingdom as anything other than a vast area surrounded by small and adoring tributary barbarian states. Up to that time (and later), all known Chinese world maps were wildly inaccurate. Portugal was described in one as a place south of Java that traded in small children as food. Another divided the distant world into lands of small men, large men, etc.

In the West, the great voyages of discovery from the late 15th century onward ignited interest in “capturing the world as a single ordered image.” But Zheng He's earlier--and in some ways much more impressive--sea voyages had no such effect in China; in fact, they were a source of embarrassment. And whereas the possession and display of a world map or globe from the Renaissance onward in Europe signified that the owner was “a knowledgeable and worldwise citizen,” it meant no such thing in imperial China. Thus, until forced to reconsider their craft by new political and cultural priorities, Chinese mapmakers generally made the choice to depict the world not so much in terms of how it “actually” was, but rather in terms of how they wanted it to be.
Richard J. Smith , Rice University

While even The Economist is taking this “fresh and dramatic evidence” seriously, China’s historical officialdom is bemused. Beijing appreciates Cheng Ho’s ability to stir feelings of national pride, and they especially like the idea of him zipping through the Spratly and Paracel Islands, thus providing incontrovertible historical evidence that the South China Sea is an integral part of the motherland. Claiming America would be pushing it.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:34
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January 14, 2006
China's education reforms

The SCMP often comes in for serious stick, the latest deserved example being the controversy over Peter Kovolsky, an anti-smoking campaigner who's interview was spiked due to pettiness. In a paper that often struggles for content (just try it's City section on any random day for an example) it seems bewildering. But to the SCMP's credit, they do have some good journalists filing good stories. Unfortunately again due to misguided policies, the SCMP hides its online articles and lets these stories miss a wider exposure, much to both their journalists' and own detriment.

Today's example is Josie Liu's story, headlined Equality finally gets a chance with revision of education standards. It's reproduced below the jump. China's "free" public schools are often anything but, with some of the elite ones in Beijing effectively turning themselves into high fee private schools. The abolition of the farmers' tax will, perversely, mean poor rural schools will lose their primary source of income. China's leadership continually frets about the widening gap between the rural poor and the urban rich, and the inequality of opportunities and education are a major structural barrier to closing that gap (so is the billions in unpaid wages to over a hundred million rural labourers working in cities, but that's for another time). Amazingly, especially for an allegedly socialist country, schools until now have not been funded by the central government. But reforms are underway and so long as they are properly funded, they will go much further in improving the lives of tens of millions than a bunch of pampered Korean farmers marching down Causeway Bay.

It through such steps that China's future remain optimstic and hopeful.

Beijing newspaper editor Zhang Xiujiang is not happy with his son's Grade Five English teacher. He says she is a bad teacher and those who are good have found jobs in "good" schools far from his home that charge tens of thousands of yuan a year. "There is huge disparity between public schools, even within one city," he said. "It's not fair."

Proposed revisions seek to reduce disparities in education standards between schools and regions. The State Council approved draft revisions last week, almost 10 months after 740 National People's Congress representatives filed the initiative at the last NPC session. The changes will be put to the NPC Standing Committee next month for review and final approval. If passed, China will have its first revised compulsory education law in 20 years.

A version released for feedback had more than 90 items covering issues from the way schools are run to management of teaching staff and legal responsibilities. In contrast, existing legislation has only 18 items in total. It came into effect 20 years ago, to guarantee basic education for every school-age child. By 2004, 94 per cent of populated areas met compulsory education standards, but the law has not kept up with problems that have emerged over the past two decades.

One of the biggest problems was the one-time drive to corporatise education, turning part of the public school system into a money-making machine.

In several instances, elite public secondary schools are allowed to operate like private schools, charging higher fees and adopting their own selection criteria. There are more than 40 such schools in Beijing alone, and pupils have to take many extra classes to acquire the skills needed to qualify for a place. Parents also have to "donate" thousands of yuan in admission fees.

Chu Zhaohui , from the China National Institute for Educational Research, said that in such cases, the few had access to the assets of the many. "Good public schools are funded by the government and the high-quality resource should belong to all taxpayers, but actually they are enjoyed by a small number of rich people," Dr Chu said. "It has been proved that compulsory education cannot continue this way, with the public paying for it. It doesn't work."

The draft revision bans public schools from being run along private lines and contains a consensus on the government's key role in providing free basic education. It says local governments should be prohibited from setting up so-called key schools in the compulsory system.

The government should not only provide sufficient funding for compulsory education but also strike a regional balance in the allocation of resources.

To narrow the chasm between rural underdeveloped regions and the country's east, the draft proposes that central finances pay for textbooks and upgrades to rural schools. Rural governments have had less money to spend on education because of reductions in the fees they can collect. The situation could worsen this year with the scrapping of the agriculture tax, a major source of income for local administrations over the past five decades.

Finances were so badly strapped in some Shaanxi village schools this winter that students turned purple because the school did not have money for fuel.

Peking University law professor Zhan Zhongle said it was widely agreed Beijing should shoulder more of the burden of funding rural education. Yang Dongping , director of the 21st Century Education Development Research Academy, said a State Council meeting last month had fostered hopes of allocating more money for needy rural schools. The council decided that by next year 15 billion yuan in annual fees would be waived for all rural students and Beijing would inject an extra 120 billion yuan into rural education over the next five years, the China Business News said.

Minister of Finance Jin Renqing , said in a speech last month that in the next five years, the central government will shoulder up to 80 per cent of the money needed for fee waivers and school budget improvements in the west and central regions.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 17:29
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January 10, 2006
Mao was a bigger prick than I thought

From a review of The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis, in the Economist (sub req'd):

The reader learns, for example, how close the Americans came to winning the Korean war and creating a united, pro-western Korea. At one point Stalin seemed resigned to the defeat of North Korea. Mr Gaddis quotes him as “wearily” remarking: “So what. Let it be. Let the Americans be our neighbours.” The pro-western tide was turned only when Mao persuaded his own advisers that China must intervene, and sent 300,000 troops to support Kim Il Sung. Mao's baleful influence reappears in 1956. Khrushchev apparently agonised over whether to put down the Hungarian rebellion of that year, and his final decision to send in the troops was made partly “under pressure from Mao Zedong”.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:28
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December 30, 2005
Targeting China's Children

Read a fascinating pair of articles today from the New York Times (free registration site). This first one is about how Viacom's Nickelodeon, the children's cable TV network, is targeting the children of China is fun, irreverent rogramming that dispenses with dogmatic messages about how to behave. Great strategy - will the parents and the government like it? A quote from the article:

Viacom already has a 24-hour MTV channel in southern Guangdong province. China Central Television and the Shanghai Media Group broadcast Nickelodeon's "Wild Thornberries" and "CatDog" cartoons. "SpongeBob SquarePants" is due to premiere here next month.

But with television programming in China entirely state-controlled, Western media companies must negotiate every nuance of programming. And experts say that parents here may be even more restrictive than the government, viewing American-style television as too unruly.

"It wouldn't be surprising if the government said no to programs like these," says Lei Weizhen, who teaches about television at People's University in Beijing. "The public may question whether or not these shows are good for Chinese children."

In the cutthroat competition of contemporary Chinese society, parents invest heavily in what is often their only child. Urban children especially may attend school from 7 a.m. till 4 p.m., followed by hours of homework, music lessons and other enrichment courses. Deviating from this rigorous program is not encouraged.

"We don't allow him to watch too much TV," Qiu Yi, a 41-year-old advertising salesman in Shanghai, said of his 11-year-old son. "I'm not against cartoons. But I try to encourage him to watch documentaries on dinosaurs and the Second World War. These programs are useful to his study."

I am sure both Viacom and the Chinese government are wondering the same thing. Are these 'creative' influences mildly suggestive of American child rebelliousness, and what impact will it have on Chinese society?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 08:57
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December 23, 2005
A Century of French Exploration

Today, on my own blog, I wrote about the misadventures of the French expeditionary force organized to rescue the embattled Legations of Peking during the siege of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. But while the French force mustered to save the Legations left much to be desired, many of the Frenchmen on the spot demonstrated tremendous bravery. One of them was a 22-year old French scholar named Paul Pelliot. Although not trained as a soldier (he was an academic that just unfortunately happened to be in Peking during the Siege), under fire he stormed an emeny position, and also relieved the dietary stress on the defenders by procuring for them fresh fruit.

True reknown came to him though, in his academic and archaelogical discoveries. He discovered a huge number of paintings and scrolls in many places near the Taklamakan Desert, including Dunhuang, which he felt were endangered by the anarchic last days of the Qing Empire and safer in French hands. So he bought them from a monk at the monastery named Abbot Wang.

Both were reviled by the Nationalist and Communist governments for giving away priceless Chinese artifacts. In Dunhuang today, you can still see a mini-museum dedicated to what they called the cultural robbers of men like Paul Pelliot and Sir Aurel Stein.

Which is why I was so surprised to read an article today about a joint Sino-French expedition, almost 100 years after Pelliot first set out for China, that discovered several ancient cities from the Western Han dynasty over 2000 years ago, on the southern fringe of the Taklamakan Desert (which means, he who goes in, will not come out - I can tell you from personal experience the area is so vast and arid that it can be believed at face value). Funny how things change!

Speaking of which, those of you in Hong Kong can enjoy a show entitled "The Silk Road: Treasures from Xinjiang" at the Heritage Museum in Sha Tin.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 14:24
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October 27, 2005
Do divorcees celebrate anniversaries?

Suppose you had been married to someone. Then she was whisked off her feet by a Japanese man. She grudgingly came back to you, decades later. But then, only for a couple of years - she then is forcibly taken away by your worst enemy, who happens to be your twin brother. She at first still believes that she will be reunited with you one day, but that belief gradually dissipates and she sometimes now believes that she never had anything to do with you in the first place.

Should you, 60 years later, still celebrate her brief return from that Japanese man 60 years ago? China definitely thinks so in the case of Taiwan. Please go to the link I have just provided, if nothing else for an eye-opening display of girls in banana skirts, bubbleheads and fellows in traditional costumes that go to show that the mainland choreographers seem to understand as much about modern Taiwan as a redneck from Iowa. Nevertheless, this display shows how China intends on keeping up the pressure on Taiwan for a resolution of its sovereignty in a way that is acceptable to the mainland.

As they say, all is fair in love and war...and with China and Taiwan, as always, it 's a schizophrenic mixture of both.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 08:40
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» The Useless Tree links with: Indisputable

October 20, 2005
Mao and the maoists

This review of Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday is also the chance to remind the bloody history of the man whose gigantic portrait still overlooks Massacre Square, whose statues still stand in chinese villages, towns and cities, whose political heritage CCP has never repudiated.
Keith Windschuttle starts and ends his piece highlighting the responsibility of western intellectuals and journalists for praising the barbarism of Mao era and for lying against every evidence:

Snow’s book played a major role in converting public opinion in both America and Europe towards a more favorable view of Mao. Its biggest impact, however, was within China itself, where it had a profound influence on radical youth. Red Star over China and the Mao autobiography were quickly translated into Chinese and widely distributed. Many young, urban, middle-class Chinese men and women who read Snow’s books were converted. They cut their long hair short—still a daring and eyebrow-raising gesture in the 1930s—and joined the Communist Party. By 1941, thanks to the reputation Mao had earned from the Long March, party membership had grown to some 700,000.

Edgar Snow was the first, but he was far from being the only Western writer or artist to succumb to Maoism.

Instead, the West was fed a steady diet of propaganda from respectable political leaders and writers who asserted the opposite. The future Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau visited in 1960 and wrote a starry-eyed, aptly titled book, Two Innocents in Red China, which said nothing about the famine. Britain’s Field Marshal Montgomery visited in both 1960 and 1961 and asserted there was “no large-scale famine, only shortages in certain areas.” He did not regard the shortages as Mao’s fault and urged him to hang on to power: “China needs the chairman. You mustn’t abandon this ship.” The United Nations was completely ineffectual. Its Food and Agricultural Organization made an inspection in 1959, declaring that food production had increased by 50 to 100 percent in the past five years: “China seems capable of feeding [its population] well.” When the French socialist leader, François Mitterand, visited in 1961, Mao told him: “I repeat it, in order to be heard: There is no famine in China.” Mitterand dutifully reported this assurance to a credulous world. At the same time, Mao enlisted three writers he knew he could trust—Edgar Snow, Han Suyin, and Felix Greene—to spread his message through articles, books, and a celebrated BBC television interview between a fawning Greene and Chou En-lai.
Among Western intellectuals, Mao’s most enthusiastic supporters came from the French Left. Simone de Beauvoir visited China in 1955 and declared: “The power he [Mao] exercises is no more dictatorial than, for example, Roosevelt’s was. New China’s Constitution renders impossible the concentration of authority in one man’s hands.” She wrote a lengthy book about her visit entitled The Long March. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, her consort Jean-Paul Sartre praised the “revolutionary violence” of Mao as “profoundly moral.”

This was the regime western intellectuals (and politicians) appreciated and excused:

Chang and Halliday calculate that over the course of his political career from 1920 to 1976, Mao was responsible for the deaths of 70 million Chinese. This is more than the total killings attributable to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin combined. The biggest single number of Chinese dead was the 38 million who perished in the famine of the four years from 1958 to 1961, during the so-called Great Leap Forward. Westerners have known since Jasper Becker’s path-breaking 1996 book Hungry Ghosts: China’s Secret Famine that the famine killed between 30 and 40 million people. Becker attributed this to Mao’s ideological folly of conducting an ambitious but failed experiment in collectivization. Chang and Halliday produce new evidence to show it was more sinister than that.

Mass homicide on the scale of the Great Leap Forward was something that Mao prepared for. He told the 1958 party congress it should not fear but actively welcome people dying as a result of party policy. It was a common theme of his at the time. In Moscow in 1957 he said: “We are prepared to sacrifice 300 million Chinese for the victory of the world revolution.” On the prospect of another world war, he told the party in 1958: “Half the population wiped out—this happened quite a few times in Chinese history. It’s best if half the population is left, next best one-third.” Hence, Mao’s eventual career tally of 70 million deaths was actually much less than he anticipated.

Mao used precisely the same model in the so-called Cultural Revolution of 1966–1968. Party historians and sympathetic Western academics, then and now, rationalize this event as Mao’s attempt to revive the revolutionary spirit and arrest pro-capitalist and anti-socialist tendencies. In reality, Chang and Halliday show, it was yet another purge of Communist officials designed to terrorize the party and secure Mao’s leadership. Indeed, Mao himself thought of it as the Great Purge. Its principal targets were those party leaders who thought Mao’s attempts at collectivization and industrialization during the Great Leap Forward were a disaster.

But what were the main differences between Mao and the other totalitarian mass murderers of the XX century?

What made Mao the greater monster was not just the sheer quantity of his killings. It was because so many of his victims came not only from his real and imagined enemies but also from his own supporters. Chang and Halliday make it clear that Mao built his political power out of a life-long strategy that easily outdid even Stalin in waging murder and terror among his own Communist Party comrades.

Mao’s innovation to the Soviet system was to turn this persecution into public display. Mass rallies, public denunciations by informers, and public confessions of being AB (anti-Bolshevik) became the order of the day. Mao used this accusation to purge the party hierarchy of anyone who disagreed with him or whom he thought potentially disloyal.

Unlike Hitler and Stalin, who used secret police to arrest and interrogate victims, Mao used all those not yet accused to spy on, guard, interrogate, arrest, and punish those already accused. The Yenan settlement became a self-perpetuating totalitarian state. No outside press or radio communication was permitted. No letters could be sent or received from the outside world: Indeed, letters were construed as evidence of spying. Humor, sarcasm, and irony were banned. The regime invented a new catch-all offence, “Speaking Weird Words,” which meant any comment that could be interpreted as a complaint or a wisecrack could have its speaker accused of being a spy or traitor. Two years of this regime transformed the once young and passionate volunteers into robots, capable of enunciating nothing but bland echoes of the party line.

Mao and CCP today:

Chang and Halliday finish their biography with a gloomy reminder. In the face of today’s renewed bout of Western enthusiasm for China and its purported miracle economy, they use their epilogue to emphasize just how little has changed politically. Today, Mao’s portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital. The current Communist regime declares itself to be Mao’s heir and fiercely perpetuates his myth.

Ever paid a visit to Mao's Mausoleum? So much for "socialist political democracy"...


In the past, books about China have played a major role in altering its politics. Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China was important in winning domestic support for the Chinese Communist Party. Chang and Halliday’s book will be impossible to ignore. It will no doubt be banned in China, but will still circulate secretly and be more sought after for that. The tens of thousands of Chinese students now studying at Western universities will see it in the bookstores. The story its authors tell is so awful it will both shock the Chinese people and confirm many of the private anecdotes and rumors passed down within families. Rather than being the man who made the ancient Middle Kingdom stand up again, Mao was the one who brought it to its knees. This is a powerful story which Mao’s heirs will have great difficulty denying or suppressing. Just as Snow’s book helped install the regime, Chang and Halliday’s could help bring it down. If any single book in our own time has the capacity to change the course of history, this is it.

Dedicated to the CCP (and sometimes Mao) apologists that still today people the world and the blogosphere.

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[boomerang] Posted by Enzo at 22:32
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» MeiZhongTai links with: Unknown Story Over China

October 04, 2005
Mao or Mao

Stumbling around Xinhua, I came across a forum titled Mao Zedong, a forever warm memory. The page holds 15 comments, all in praise of the Great Helmsman. One that stands out:

jjg: My father and grandfather were wronged and persecuted for 5 and 20 years, respectively. But I still think that Mao's merits outweigh his demerits….We can never forget that he helped lay the foundation for the growth of the People’s Republic of China.
And another links past with present:
Dhgsk: Mao Zedong is remembered not for the mistakes he made, but for the work style of "serving the people wholeheartedly"pursued by the Chinese Communist Party under his leadership….People have longed for a government that does its utmost to improve their well-beings. Fortunately, the current central leadership gives us that hope.
By way of contrast, there is Mao: The Untold Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. The wikipedia entry on the Chang/Halliday book summarises its findings:

According to the book "Mao Tse-tung, who for decades held absolute power over the lives of one-quarter of the world's population, was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth century leader" and claimed that he was willing for half of China to die to achieve military-nuclear superpowerdom.

Chang and Halliday argue that despite being born into a peasant family, Mao had little concern for the welfare of the Chinese peasantry. They hold Mao responsible for the famine resulting from the Great Leap Forward and claim that he exacerbated the famine by allowing the export of grain to continue even when it became clear that China did not have sufficient grain to feed its population. They also claim that Mao had many political opponents arrested and murdered, including some of his personal friends, and argue that he was a more tyrannical leader than had previously been thought.

The entry also has links to various reviews of the book and some of the disputed points in the book.

I imagine this book won't be available in China, nor will it get it's own Xinhua page.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:32
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November 16, 2004
The death of Chinese humour

If you only read one post about China this year, you should read more blogs. But if it really has to be just one, make it this excellent essay by David Moser titled "Stifled Laughter: How the Communist Party killed Chinese humour". A small taste:

It is ironic that China, with the world’s largest population, also wastes more human resources than any country on earth. An entire generation of talent was effectively lost during the Cultural Revolution. And it could be argued that, since 1949, China has metaphorically shackled and silenced all its Lenny Bruces, Mort Sahls, Richard Pryors, Dick Gregorys, Eddie Murphys and Margaret Chos. Of course, all cultures are different, and such potential Chinese comedic geniuses would have undoubtedly produced standup comedy with “Chinese characteristics”. The pity is that we will never know what that comedy might have been like.

If crosstalk is dying, it is not because of inexorable market forces, or because of some ineffable cultural difference. It is rather the fault of the Communist Party, whose paranoia and pathetic sense of dignity has produced a media environment in which nothing truly humorous can ever arise and flourish. It is the Party that killed the laughter. And this is truly no laughing matter.

Add humour to the pile of damage the Communists have done to China. I rarely say this: read the whole thing.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 16:03
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