November 10, 2006
400 Million Revolutionaries?

Some of you may have seen this headline already. Simply, state agencies in China have calculated that if the country did not have a one-child policy in place, it would have had 400 million more people.

Certainly the policy has borne fruit (just not of the baby variety!). China's economic growth could arguably have the policy to thank - and that growth would never have taken root if the large 4-7 children families of the past had continued to exist. Environmentally, if nothing else, it gives the world a bit more breathing room without that added consumption.

But surely now, as China begins to face up to its ageing population, exacerbated by illegal but nevertheless widespread sex-selective abortions, it will require a re-think on this strategy. Many seem to now be debating the wisdom of such a policy with these issues, particularly now in a China that is permissive about sex (but apparently not with the consequences!).

I do not want to get into that argument now. But I would say is this: I think the reason the CCP has not moved on this policy has to do with demographics. As I believe I've mentioned once before, the baby boom generation in America were born just after World War II, and came of age in the 1960s. There was probably a substantial correlation between the youth movements and protests of that era, and the demographic bulge in the 20-something age group. Does China perhaps fear the same? That if they allowed people to have more babies, and this would cause a youth surge that could potentially doom the Communist Party?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 14:48
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October 27, 2006
Regrets, C.I.Q.

My apologies for not filling in for Simon of late, I too have been travelling a fair bit.

I am in fact just back from Thailand, and where I found people in great spirits despite (or more correctly, because of) the military coup. As I was departing on Thai Airways at the new Suvarnabhumi (pronounced Sue-wanna-poom) Airport, (the cab ride to Sukhumvit area should be under Bt 300)I found myself sitting next to a large rabble of mainland tourists. I found myself frequently embarrassed by the behavior of these johnny-come-lately Ugly Americans in one of the most hospitable foreign countries in the world - the less said about specifics the better. I did note though that all of them were wearing stickers that had the initials 'C.I.Q.'. Might this be a bit of Thai humor?

Eschewing more uncharitable acronym explanations, my money was on "Curious Inability to Queue'...

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 11:11
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September 21, 2006
Bear hug

Things not to do when drunk, part 316: don't try hugging a panda.

In newspapers the old adage says that "Dog bites man" isn't news but "Man bites dog" is. Apparently "Man bites panda" always qualifies. And lest you still think it a good idea to have a cuddle, remember:

A lawyer contacted by the reporter said that the Beijing Zoo bears no liability for the accident because a warning sign in front of the panda's playground informed tourists of the potential danger and Zhang is responsible for his own medical bills.
You've been warned.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:46
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May 17, 2006
Arrangement of the Christ

I am sure we are all aware of the massive friction that has arisen between the Vatican and China on the issue of the appointment of Bishops in China. Obviously, a 2,000 year old organization has always appointed its own bishops and metropolitans, and sees no reason to change. The Communist Party of China, although far younger but more confident and feeling the weight of 6,000 years of history on its side, sees no reason to budge and allow a foreign power outside of their control to choose leading members of an important non-governmental organization (the Catholic Church either).

Typical of comments from Beijing are those of Liu Bainian, whose quote below gives you some idea of my choice of title:

"The current prosperous development of the Chinese Catholic church owes totally to China's long-term practice of selecting and ordaining its own bishops and independently managing the churches, " said Liu Bainian, vice-president of the China Patriotic Catholic Association, during an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Tuesday.

"This is the arrangement of the Christ."

China now has a total of 5 million followers nationwide, in sharp comparison with 2.7 million in 1958, according to statistics released by the association.

"The development of the Chinese Catholic church in the past 20 years has greatly exceeded that of the 300 years before," said Liu.

In the history of the Catholic church, he said, a bishop can be selected by believers, appointed by an emperor and consecrated by the neighboring diocese.

"The practice for the pope to install a bishop started just about two centuries ago," he said.

But Mr. Liu is only partly correct. The Pope and the Vatican in Rome has always had control and some say in the appointment and approval of every bishop and archbishop. As flawed as the Catholic system has proven itself over the past two millennia, the idea is that the Popes represent an unbroken line of authority stretching back to St. Peter and to 'the Christ' Himself. Their approval is therefore a necessary part of a church that considers itself Catholic, rather than Anglican where Henry VIII of England, for instance, considered himself the head of the Church of England, and had to fully break with the Vatican as a result.

Naturally, this debate boils right down to control over Chinese civil society, and whether the Chinese government will tolerate any form of civil pluralism or alternate authority hierarchies in the country, or whether the corporatist model it has adopted will dominate social and even religious life in China, in all its aspects, for the forseeable future.

Maybe China should just break with the Vatican officially and form its own 'Sinican' (as opposed to Anglican Church) since it appoints its own bishops anyway. Or should we call it the Cynical Church?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 16:11
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April 11, 2006
Model worker

This could be titled "what they don't teach you at Havard Business School". People pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to business schools when all they needed to do was take a Shanghai taxi.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:53
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March 23, 2006
China's one child policy
The family planning policy has helped China prevent 400 million births in the past three decades, Zhang Weiqing, minister in charge of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, said Tuesday.
That's from Xinhua, where Mr Zhang also said that China's people have a more "comfortable" life because these 400 million people don't exist. While crowing about this "success", Mr Zhang also noted that China's population is projected to peak in the mid 2030s and the country is preparing for another baby boom, although demographically this echo can only be a shadow of former booms. And it's desperately needed - China will get old before it gets rich. It is a demographic truth, universally acknowledged, that as people get richer they have fewer kids.

The policy is being made irrelevant while still extacting too high a cost. In that regard, it's not unique in China.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:29
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February 10, 2006
Chinese Restaurants in Kabul

A rather interesting article in the Independent about the Chinese 'restaurants' in Kabul. They cater more to the diplomatic and NGO corps, and in addition to serving food, the skimpily-clad Chinese ladies in the restaurants also offer themselves as prostitutes. The Afghan Interior Ministry has arrested 46 of them. Presumably they were deported, shipped north to Afghanistan's very short 76km border with China, or flown back.

There is an uproar, of course, with the blame predictably going to the West. Let us set aside queries of how prostitution can be so widespread in China, a country which is starting to have a significant male-female imbalance. Prostitution, while underground, has always existed in Afghanistan. And allow me to disabuse anyone who believes that a highly religious Islamic society Afghanistan's could not also contain the world's oldest profession. I remember while I was travelling in Iran, there was an article in the Iranian English daily about how in Iran's holiest city, Mashad, two dozen local prostitutes were arrested. One dubious fellow, I remember, in Kerman, actually offered me his sister. I demurred. When I was in Pakistan, one chuffed local gent told me about his exploits with dancing girls in, this instance, the amusingly-named city of Lahore.

But really this is an economic issue. What makes Afghanistan different from Iran or a city like Lahore, is that there are probably far fewer people that can afford such 'luxuries' (and certainly compared to Kabul before the Russian revolution), or, in the case of women, earn a living off of the profession. That there are wealthy men in Kabul is evidenced by the 'steady stream' of local clientele. It's just a shame that asking for the nearest Chinese restaurant in Afghanistan takes on an entirely dodgy new meaning.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 08:49
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January 24, 2006
RMB Morality

There is a fascinating article today in Xinhua, with the irresistable title, "Rich Guy Seeks Girl, Must Be Virgin" (not your father's Xinhua!). It talks about how a newly-minted, and newly-divorced RMB billionaire in China was looking for a new wife. Speaking to a friend, he came upon a solution: place an ad, to the effect of wanting a charming, hot virgin. His lawyer received 600 applications, shortlisted 100, then got 20 for his client friend to interview. One was successfully selected. Oh, and the lawyer took one of the rejects for himself. The lawyer now does a roaring business in matchmaking billionaires with virgins.

What was particularly interesting about this story though, is the aside Xinhua's editorial board deemed necessary to fit into the final stages of the story. Allow me to quote:

For centuries, Chinese practiced arranged marriages complete with dowries, leaving little place for Western-style notions of romance.

Only recently has the idea of living together unmarried gained limited social acceptance in China.

In a breathtakingly short period of time, though, sexual and romantic opportunity has sprung up everywhere in a society that still thinks of itself as conservative in such matters.

Prostitutes work openly in almost every hotel in China. The Internet has made possible everything from online dating to nude Web cam dancing, sprouting a vocabulary all its own, like MBA, or married but available. Unsurprisingly, divorce rates in cities like Shanghai are skyrocketing.

Aside from the surprisingly candid acknowledgement of the prevalence of prostitution in China, it made me wonder - what was the motive of putting this last bit into the story? I can only conclude that the message to girls is: save your virginity - you might be able to use it to land a tycoon. And guys, oh boy, but money sure can buy you love.

Is money the final bastion of public morality?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 11:10
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December 15, 2005
The Boy Who "Moved China"

Welcome aboard our newest co-blogger, Gordon of The Horse's Mouth.

There are no shortages of people in this world who pity themselves and seek the sympathy of their fellow man for the misfortunes that burden their lives. There are also those who find the strength to rise up and silently endure those burdens while trying to make a difference in someone else's life. However, I doubt many of them are 12 years old.

Hong Zhanhui, a 23-year-old college student, struck a chord in China with the story about his adoption of his sister and support of his troubled family...

Born to a poor peasant farmer's family at Hongzhuang, an outlying village in Xihua County, central China's Henan Province, Hong led a relatively peaceful life until an accident tore apart his five-member family 11 years ago. During one day in August 1994, Hong's father, Hong Xinqing, suddenly began smashing the furniture in their tile-roofed house. His crying mother was kicked to the ground and his one-year-old sister was grabbed by his father and lifted above his head.

"My full sister died, my dad went crazy and my mom was fractured," Hong, now 23, recalled as his eyes reddened at Huaihua Institute, a quiet university campus in central-south China's Hunan Province, where he studies. "It was such a nightmare."

His father was diagnosed with mental illness and then 12-year-old Hong felt like the sky had fallen. Deeply affected by his family's misfortune, Hong first encounter with wide-eyed Chenchen in an abandoned swaddle under a tree outside his village made him believe he was destined to adopt the child.

"You don't raise the baby, I'll take her," Hong told his mother,who considered finding another guardian for the infant. "Whatever happens, I won't leave her."

To add to his hardship, Hong's mother fled their home one day as she could no long stand the violence and pressure brought on by her mentally ill husband. The family collapsed and Hong had to bear the burden of looking after his sick father, his young brother and his new adopted sister. The nights were long as the hungry Chenchen wailed in wee hours and Hong couldn't find anything at their destitute home for her to suckle.

"All I could do is to take her in my arms, walk back and forth and rock her gently," Hong said. To keep the baby away from his insane father, Hong committed Chenchen to a relative's care after he begged nearby woman to feed her every morning before going to school. In the eyes of Hong's neighbors, he was a pathetic kid who had to bring up another one, work in the fields and earn money to buy ataractic for his sick father and support the family.

"At his age, other kids are usually naughty but Hong can handle adult problems," said Sun Liuzhuang, a village doctor and Hong's neighbor. Hong never complained to others about the pressures he endured."He rarely talked about his family and just stayed home, reading and studying," villagers said...Hong sold ball-point pens, books and tapes for learning English. "Many people looked down upon me for the peddling then," Hong recalled. "But I didn't care."

To take good care of his adopted sister, Hong first took her around with him in the county, then to his college about a thousand kilometers away from their home.

I hate to quote so much text from an article, but with all the bad news coming out of China that many of us tend to focus on, it's reassuring to know that not everyone in this world, and especially China, is caught up in selfish materialism.

I'm sure there are more people like Hong in China, but unfortunately their stories usually take a back burner to all the reports of riots and corruption that plague the country.

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[boomerang] Posted by Gordon at 07:14
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November 28, 2005
Hukou's back

Only a few weeks ago it seemed the Hukou system of household registration would be abolished. This system registers people as "urban" or "rural" residents, regardless of where they actually live. Those classified as rural do not qualify for numerous benefits including health care, housing and social security. It means, for example, that Shenzhen, a city of several million, is mostly comprised of "rural" residents (exceptions are made for babes). An added advantage is cities can wash their hands of being responsible for rural residents, so these residents work for peanuts in (sometimes) attrocious conditions.

So reports of the abolition of this system was met with glee. Yet today's Standard reports the Hukou system is to remain and the reforms shelved thanks to pressure from regional and city governments (who are baulking at the cost of actually servicing the people living in their cities) and companies (who are baulking at the potential increased costs of their rural slaves). Another key factor:

The simple fact is that large numbers of newly officially registered residents artificially dilute per-capita GDP, the single statistic on which local officials make their careers.
While President Hu and those in Beijing prattle on about closing the rural-urban divide, the reality on the ground and in the provinces is that large vested interests want that gap to remain. In this case, those vested interests have won.

Kind of makes this "rising power" look more like Puff the Magic Dragon.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:51
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» East Asia Watch links with: Hukou reforms stalled

November 24, 2005
Boomtown Babe

Some of the readership may already be familiar with Wang Lei, the pleasantly proportioned girl from Harbin crowned Miss Asia 2005. Those fans from Hong Kong will be pleased to know she has moved to the booming bordertown just north of us. But the granting of permanent residency to her immediately has created a rather large outcry from many migrants from other provinces that have been slogging away in Shenzhen factories without becoming eligible for official residency.

Official residency confers many benefits, including healthcare, social services and education for children. While China is in the process of scrapping these residency laws, they are very much still in place. Given that Shenzhen was just a fishing village 25 years ago, about 90% of the population don't have that official status, which you can apply for only if you've paid RMB80,000 in taxes, or are sponsored by a big company. Or it seems, if you're really hot. They acted immediately after she let it slip that: "Shenzhen is my second hometown and I wish I could become a real Shenzhen citizen."

How did the Shenzhen government justify the quick turnaround on her application? It was because of her "special expertise" in the "cultural industry." Xinhua provides the beefs from migrant workers up in arms about this, but then concludes the article in its signature bland, understated way:

However, some who call the city home supported the decision to make Wang a registered Shenzhener, believing her example will encourage young people that excellence in any industry can bring success.
Especially physical excellence, apparently.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 11:38
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November 16, 2005
I Wish They All Could Be Chongqing Xiaojies

To paraphrase, of course, the chorus of the famous Beach Boys tune. I have read, shall we say, with interest, that the city government has declared their women the city's top tourist attraction. Apparently the Sichuan babes from Chongqing (yes that's Chungking for you Nationalists and HK Indian food-lovers) trumped the city's other major export - oops, I mean attraction, Sichuan hotpot.

I mean, I have heard from everyone that's been there that the city is an ugly place, but I do find it strange that the city government would declare open season on its own women for legions of domestic tourists, many with a penchant for whoring. Allow me to quote in closing for the city's explanation of why their women are the hottest:

The city's climate and migrant background have made it a place famous for beautiful women, the paper said. High humidity and cloudy skies are good for their skin, while the bumpy roads and spicy food help to shape their slim figures, it said.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 18:48
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November 03, 2005
Goodbye Hukou

China's rapid economic change can drive social and political change. For example the system of hukou or residency permits have for a long time restricted rural residents from claiming benefits when they move to cities. But the massive and ongoing migration from poor farms to richer cities has put pressure on this anarchonism. These migrants have made a mockery of the idea of residency permits, with conservative estimates of 87 million people living in areas with permits. And now the growing shortage of cheap migrant labour has forced cities and provinces to concede the system is broken.

Up to 11 provinces are contemplating abolishing hukou. This would allow rural migrants access to the same health, education and social security benefits as city dwellers. It will also end distinctions based on where you are from rather than where you live. The move is also considered part of the effort to close potential unrest over China's income gap between the rural poor and richer cities. Given the new 5 year plan's obsession with stability, more of these measures recognising economic reality are likely going forward. Another example was the recent doubling of the income tax threshhold.

But a key question remains. Are the cities ready for this change? Suddenly recognising the rights of 87 million (and likely more) people will put incredible strain on city resources. The China Daily report notes a previous effort to abolish hukou in failed:

In November 2001, Zhengzhou, capital of Central China's Henan Province, offered free permanent registration permits to people with relatives already living in the city. Increased pressure on transport, education, healthcare and a rise in crime forced the city to cancel the measure three years later.
The same report has a comment from the Beijing Public Security Bureau which notes that most large cities are similarly unprepared for a rapid transfer. Such a change will only happen gradually. Joseph Kahn's IHT story notes this change has been coming since 2002:
The central government first declared that it intended to do away with the hukou system at the 16th Communist Party Congress in 2002, and has been making incremental changes since then. The overhaul got a major boost in 2003 after a college-educated migrant in Guangdong Province, named Sun Zhigang, was beaten to death in police custody after being detained for vagrancy. His death brought nationwide outrage and led to the abolition of vagrancy laws.

"We knew it was a dead duck after they abolished the custody and repatriation system," or vagrancy law, said Nicolas Becquelin, a researcher for Human Rights in China based in Hong Kong. "The police had no power to enforce the hukou laws."

The key point is this: facts on the ground can push governments into changes they may not want to make. Even if they don't realise it, changes like this bolster those of us who believe China's economic changes will eventually force the collapse of the CCP and lead to democracy. Either way, this is a significant turning point in realising the old system is broken and a new one is growing before our eyes.

(via LfC)

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:39
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October 28, 2005
Chateau Zhang Lafitte

Some readers of this blog seemed mystified as to why Chinese would want to send Taikonauts into space 40 years after Russia and the US did so, and without the threat of a technology race or a Cold War. This article in the Telegraph seems to show that same tendency mirrored in China's nouveau riche elite. Just look at the self-satisfied smirk of Mr. Zhang Yuchun (via the Telegraph link), who appears to be suffering from some sort of alcohol excess. The French palace Mr. Zhang Yuchun has built for himself in the dusty suburbs of Beijing is modelled on 1642 Chateau Maisons-Lafitte, but he thought the wings were too small and he added two bigger wings based on Fontainebleu, one of the Ancien Regime's summer palaces.

I remember thinking when I visited Versailles and Fontainbleu over a decade ago, that I understood why the French Revolution and the beheadings took place. But now, what is happening in China is completely different. Ever watch one of those movies that happens in reverse, where the baby gets sucked back into the womb, or the messy red paste on the streets miraculously reforms itself into a sack of tomatoes and deposits istelf neatly on a skyscraper window ledge? That seems to be what is happening, in some gross perversion of the Hegelian dialectic - we are going from dictatorship of the proletariat to crass capitalistic binges of the most embarrassing kind.

I can't help but hear Hong Kong's favorite ABBA song in the background: "Money, money, money - it's a rich man's world."

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 15:14
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October 21, 2005
China racism redux

Back in April I had a post about racism in China after the controversial comments made on Sina about Condi Rice. A reader has sent the following thoughts on the issue:

I don't think scientifically justified racism is special to Chinese people but, as I understand it, it is is still taught in schools.

As I understand it the education system in China teaches that the Chinese 'race' evolved from "Peking Man" (Homo Erectus) an ancestral hominid. The overhwelming evidence is that all of us are derived from Homo Sapiens who evolved in Africa and migrated from there around a 100,000 years ago. We may look different but, under the skin (as it were), we are all the same. I guess the Peking Man view taught in China reinforces the racism described. It's a worry and it would help if the syllabi in Chinese schools and universities could be brought up-to-date. The "monkey" taunts probably come from stupid stereotypes but it's likely that these is reinforced by tainted 'science'.

Is this still taught in Chinese schools?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:29
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April 20, 2005
China racism

Cecilie Gamst Berg in today's SCMP has an article on racism in China. At first I was going to use it as a talking point on this little discussed side of Chinese life and suggest the more homogenous a population the more likely it is to be racist. I have reproduced the full article below the fold. But, and you know there was a but, there were two parts that stand out...for the wrong reasons.

Firstly, discussing the racist outpourings when Condi Rice recently visited China:

Dr Rice deserves to be attacked for her country's foreign policy and for her own questionable taste in employer. Why would a black woman want to get mixed up with the Republicans at all? But devoting an entire rant to the two things she cannot help - her appearance and her sex - is just scoring easy points.
Wowsers. Talk about slipping in a kidney punch. How does this help an article discussing the racist comments made during her visit. The implication is the author thinks Condi is a fool and betraying her sex and race, but that calling her an "ugly black bitch" is wrong. Ms Berg concludes:
Meanwhile, Dr Rice is a woman of many accomplishments. Let us hope that the ability to read Chinese is not one of them.
Does Ms Berg think the US Embassy and Consular staff in China didn't report these things back to State? Sticks and stones and all of that, but to think that Rice isn't aware of this is naive.

Convenient channel for public fury

The first political discussion I had in Putonghua was in Shanghai, in 1989. I was having lunch with some money changers when some Africans walked past the restaurant. The money changers started making strange animal noises and grimaces. Seeing my puzzled expression, they explained: "They are black devils." In broken Chinese, I asked the head money changer why he did not like blacks. "They are dirty. Their skin is black because they don't wash."
"How about Mike Tyson, do you like him?" I asked. "Oh yes," came the reply. "But he's black." "Yes, but he is American black." The whole table erupted in laughter.

That episode and many similar experiences have led me to believe that racism in China is not so much about skin colour as about what people perceive to be the haves and the have-nots.

I was, therefore, surprised by the vitriolic attacks on US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, posted on the popular mainland website, before her state visit to China. Reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, the rants were full of racist terms like "black devil", "black pig" and "black bitch". Another word frequently used was "ugly".

To my knowledge, Colin Powell - who is also of African origin - never got the same treatment. But then, he is a man. Interestingly, most of the racist slurs on the website had to do with Dr Rice being a woman. Indeed, it seemed that users of the website had the biggest problem with her being a woman and "ugly" - her colour was thrown in almost as an afterthought. And, inevitably, because a woman was the target, the word "whore" was trotted out.

Dr Rice deserves to be attacked for her country's foreign policy and for her own questionable taste in employer. Why would a black woman want to get mixed up with the Republicans at all? But devoting an entire rant to the two things she cannot help - her appearance and her sex - is just scoring easy points.

I do not think the Chinese are any more or less racist than other people. I believe the attacks on Dr Rice - supposedly carried out by members of China's "elite" - have everything to do with a repressed population's need to lash out at someone, to shout out some kind of protest, knowing that there will be no repercussions from the government.

In a country where mature political discussion is not only discouraged, but can be downright dangerous, hurling insults at people for reasons that bear no relevance to what they do or stand for has always been a safe way to vent built-up anger.

Indeed, it is tempting to suggest that Beijing secretly encourages this kind of "letting off steam" - as it has been doing with the anti-Japanese protests and violence, and as it did after the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

The Chinese government is busy enough keeping an eye on everything that goes on in the country. I do not think, as some have suggested, that officials should interfere with this kind of cyber-nonsense, even if they did find it offensive. Whoever posted the messages will one day look in the mirror and start pondering the word "ugly".

Meanwhile, Dr Rice is a woman of many accomplishments. Let us hope that the ability to read Chinese is not one of them.

Cecilie Gamst Berg is a Hong Kong-based writer

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:53
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