Friday, December 30, 2011

What's up, Ducks?

Beijing's professional basketball team, after winnings its first 13, lost its third straight game Wednesday night -- all at home -- to drop into a first-place tie with eminently hatable Guangdong. The Ducks surrendered a huge lead against Zhejiang Guangsha to lose 118-112, squandering a great performance by Stephon Marbury -- the China Daily columnist -- who, best I can tell, was not stoppable. He scored 34 points on 15-for-24 shooting and was credited with 9 assists, but who knows how many he'd had if the CBA weren't notoriously bad at tracking assists.

But he was outdone by one Wilson Chandler, one of the three Denver Nuggets players who elected to sign with the CBA during the NBA lockout, who scored 44 and grabbed 18 rebounds. Those are, indeed, eye-popping numbers, but Guangsha also got remarkable contributions from Puerto Rican big-man Peter John Ramos, who went 26 and 14. Ramos, in the minutes I saw of him, sealed his spot in my heart as least likable basketball player in the world, with his scowls, his complaints, his uninterested demeanor, his sleepwalking up and down the court, and the elbows he threw after every rebound attempt. The man does not look happy to be alive when he's playing basketball.

POSTSCRIPT: Unsurprisingly, Chandler was selected player of the week. Eurobasket also reports: "Guangsha L. will need more victories to improve their 12-4 record."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The new New Colossus

Via Beijing Today, a story written by Huang Daohen that's not yet online:

“Come the new year, it may be hard for new expats to gain employment in the country, at least legally," said Liu Yan, consultant at FESCO, a local HR services company.

Liu said as the country tries to move up the value chain, it simply does not need foreigners with little or no actual skills. Chinese returnees can fill the positions.

“Essential expats will remain, but recent graduates will be replaced, or simply asked to work on tourist visa to keep them off the welfare payroll,” Liu said.

Perhaps you know a couple people this applies to. No more weekday binge drinking and playing of 80-cent XBox games for them.

Unless... unless there were some other developing country willing to harbor the West's tiresome, its poorly educated, its talentless masses yearning to breathe "free" in the worst interpretation of the word...

[Some girl working as an English teacher mentioned earlier in the story] will leave Beijing after Spring Festival. But since the economy in the US isn’t much better, she’s decided to try out other parts of Asia, like Vietnam.

This how the mob works, isn't it? Work flows down, money trickles up.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chinese official calls democracy "sunshine"; Sun barfs

Global Times has an interesting editorial that, other than getting Mao Zedong's birthdate wrong (the online version's date reads December 25; I'll allow that the writer thought the article was appearing in the print edition the next day, thus writing "today" instead of "tomorrow," but still), features a few interesting quotes by one Li Jie, identified as the "vice director of the Literature Research Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China."

Here's quote No. 1, coming at the end of the article titled "Mao's past mistakes show need for open government" (HT: Alicia Lui):

The report of the Party's 17th National Congress says that power should operate in the sunshine. This sunshine is democracy. Only with the supervision of the people can people's power be used for the people and controlled by the people.

Here are some other similes for democracy I just thought of:

  • This accretion of holiness is democracy.
  • This bag of kittens is democracy.
  • This Paulo Coelho novel is democracy.
  • This Fallout 3 stimpack is democracy.
  • This porn star's climax is democracy.
  • This Lady of the Lake miniseries poster is democracy.
  • This roast turkey breast is democracy.
  • This panacea to all our ills is democracy. (Oh wait, I'm getting confused... sunshine is panacea to all our ills.)

On a serious note, I'd like to quote Richard MacGregor from the highly illuminating book The Party, who points out that "democracy" as used by a Chinese official never really means what we would like to think it means:

Wen Jiabao blindsided many... in 2007, declaring at his annual press conference that "democracy, law, freedom, human rights, equality and fraternity" did not belong exclusively to capitalism, but were "the fruits of civilization jointly formed through the entire world's slow course of historical development."

Wen's pronouncement produced the usual flurry of stories in the foreign media about how China seemed to be embracing western-style political reform. But most missed the fact that, mindful he was addressing an international audience, Wen had left out the all-important rider carried in official documents on democracy in China, including the Party's own 2005 White Paper on the topic. "Democratic government is the Chinese Communist Party governing on behalf of the people," the paper said. Within the system, the reaction to Wen's 2007 pronouncement was more hard-headed. As a former senior official ousted after the 1989 Beijing crackdown joked to me, "You need a new dictionary to understand what Chinese leaders mean when they talk about democracy."

(You should probably read that book if you haven't already.)

Quote No. 2 from the Global Times editorial:

Just as the Party's central committee concluded in a resolution issued in 1981, Mao's positive contribution to the building of a new China was much greater than his mistakes.

IS IT REALLY? (Pardon my use of third-person singular present ["is"], but I'm confused by Li Jie's statement: does he mean "Mao's positive contributions," or does he really mean Mao's contribution -- some lone positive deed -- outweighed all his mistakes? I'm being arch with the grammar thing, but my question isn't completely facetious, is it?)

The editorial, as it reads to me, makes the assumptions that 1) readers think Mao acted maliciously when he set in motion the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, and 2) readers think Chinese people uniformly worship Mao. When you assume such things, you're liable to pen an editorial as flimsy as Li Jie's.

As to point No. 1: Educated outsiders (i.e. those not moonlighting as commenters at the end of CNN articles) don't think of Mao as a mass murderer; they merely condemn the blithe idiot for his gross incompetence. Yet criticism levied against Mao doesn't usually sit well with the conservative Chinese set, who, as they're wont to do, get defensive. But you don't know his positive contributions, they claim.

Actually, we're well aware, but were Mao's contributions to New China in the years from 1958 to 1976 actually substantial and sufficient to override all the horrors he inflicted? It's a difficult question, made more so because of the residual trama (how many thousands who survived the Cultural Revolution are too emotionally scarred to talk about it?). Yet it's one that intellectuals in this country should ask and answer, lest we want to live as the post-Mao Party nostalgics who "looked back to the Mao who was the revolutionary leader of the Party during their own youthful days as revolutionaries" (from Maurice J. Meisner's Mao's China and After). The revolution is over, people. Time for some adult questions.

As to point No. 2: without mentioning the whole "70 percent right, 30 percent wrong" silliness, I'd really like to hear someone speak objectively about whether Mao could have achieved his goals without, you know, sacrificing millions of lives. There's a difference, methinks, between failing to move forward and moving a country back via swift punt to the gonads; shouldn't we collectively be a little harsher in the judgment of one who does the latter?

So yeah, I understand that the Party needs Mao to legitimize itself post-Mao, and I understand the trappings of nostalgia, and I think I understand why so many Chinese are defensive when it comes to this subject, so inextricably tied as it is to nationalism and a fiercely nationalistic period in this country's long history, but still... I'd like an honest discussion about this, and I'd like to not be talked down to by flaks like the vice director of the Literature Research blah blah blah. Maybe that's asking too much for the time being.

Finally, a third quote from the article:

The main reason the Cultural Revolution happened and ran out of control was because of the absence of collective decision-making in the Party. Blind worship of Mao took over, and he enjoyed unchecked power.

YOU FUCKING THINK?

Monday, December 26, 2011

"Translating a good deal of the 'paratext' as well as the text"

Yesterday, to no one's attention, I added the website Paper Republic to the "Best" category on the blogroll sidebar. I'm still combing through its archives, but if you want an idea why it's such a great read, check out Lucas Klein's May 11 post "A Good Translation of a Bad Poem?" and the ensuing discussion, from which this blog post's title quote is pulled. A quick excerpt:

But then I came across this poem:

Spring Dawn

From spring sleep
I awake before dawn
To a world filled
With birdsong

A stormy night
Wind and rain I recall
But of ten thousand blossoms
I wonder how many have fallen

I like this poem. I like the detail, the specificity of pre-dawn birdsong, the slight lilt of formalized poetic phrasing in l. 6, the suggestion of an ancient Chineseness in “ten thousand blossoms,” and especially the way the poem snuggles up against rhyme without taking it over (dawn / birdsong) before jettisoning it conspicuously (recall / fallen).


I'd also recommend these related sites:

  • Xiao Kang 2002: No updates for a while, but all bloggers out there, take note: sometimes it's wise to go for quality over quantity, because then your best work remains visible even after other affairs of the world suck up your time and attention; Xiao Kang 2002 is a prime example.

  • Notes on the Mosquito, a blog (by Lucas Klein) about poet Xi Chuan (whom I had the pleasure of hearing at the Bookworm) and "Chinese Poetry in English translation."

  • The always good Bruce Humes, whose site has been buried under the wrong category in the blogroll for much too long.

  • Twelve Hours Later: Chinese sci-fi.

  • And I think everyone knows about this already, but Popup Chinese is a site that's here to stay. Check out its podcast on the translation literary journal Pathlight, a copy of which arrived at my door today. (Pathlight is very good so far.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wukan update: you don't really know

A few interesting points to take away from the two New York Times articles yesterday about Wukan (Canny Villagers Grasp Keys to Loosen China's Muzzle; Demonstrators Who Took Over Chinese Village Halt Protest).

The villagers have been very welcoming of reporters. They even set up an impromptu "press center":

On one wall of the living room was a portrait of God staring down from the heavens. Below that was a small wooden cross with a figure of Jesus. And below that, taped to the wall, was a white sheet of paper with a statement in Chinese and English. It beseeched reporters not to call the protest an “uprising.”

“We are not a revolt,” it said. “We support the Communist Party. We love our country.”


Of course. In a country whose citizens are as outwardly apolitical as here, no one wants to risk their livelihoods over ideology. People would much rather cooperate, get what's theirs. In this case, we're not exactly sure what that is. Perhaps to keep their homes or be properly compensated? Though that seems like an unlikely result, for land disputes never end well for the majority of people. Expect a compromise in which some profit while most get just barely enough to begrudgingly stop their demonstrations.

You know how sometimes, at the scene of a fight or an accident, everyone rubbernecks it or gathers around to watch? This happens all the time here. Public disputes are a spectacle, a free show. But ask someone to intervene, and watch them turn their heads. Anyway, I wonder how much of what's happening in Wukan is simply a spectacle for the villagers. They don't actually want to risk anything, and you can't really blame them, or say "too bad," for there's a measure of hypocrisy in that sort of response -- we too just want a spectacle, don't we? Because we're safe and sound wherever we're at, and god forbid we're the ones asked to make the real sacrifices in the name of change.

In midmorning, as officials began arriving outside the village, hundreds of residents lined the roadside. Dozens held up a red banner that welcomed the officials “to come to Lufeng to resolve the Wukan incident.”

And the central government's stance?

On Thursday, People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, criticized local officials for letting the situation spiral out of control while praising the efforts of Mr. Wang’s team to resolve the dispute. The provincial officials “created the basic conditions for stability and harmony” in Wukan, the newspaper said.

And finally:

There was relief that the blockade of the village was ending, but also fear among some residents. What would happen, they wondered, once all the outsiders decamped and the spotlight shifted away from Wukan?

“I’m afraid they might come and take people away,” said Huang Rongrui, 40, a construction worker. “The local government always says one thing, but does another.”

An excerpt from "Last Train Home: An Amanuensis"

I may have mentioned a while back that the documentary Last Train Home, by Chinese Canadian filmmaker Lixin Fan, was "stunning and heartbreaking" and that "I don't have any other words to describe the viewing experience." I sorta lied about that last part. Below, an excerpt of the viewing experience, in words.

***


85


This film is dedicated to the migrant workers and their families


1


Opening credits. Zeitgeist Films: the red Z flies into place. We’re zoomed in as the letters in “Eye Steel Film” chug across to a backlit scrim the color of the sun. Pitter-patter of rain. In a tidy white font at the bottom left of a black screen are the words “TELEFILM CANADA and the ROGERS GROUP OF FUNDS through the THEATRICAL DOCUMENTARY PROGRAM present.”


2


FADE IN. Only a uniformed policeman, bundled in black, occupies the public traffic lane. He walks toward the camera, which is perched high and panning left, and quickly we understand that the emptiness on the right of our screen is a foil for the congestion on the left, the serried bodies so tightly packed that we lose the human face, the human arm, the leg, the semblance of movement: we see only a concourse of black-haired beings corralled by a vertical line of officers as barricade. There is a buzz of flesh and blood, a swelling commotion of such bestial strain that the sound of a steady downpour could well be part and parcel of this manmade scene. We see a scattering of umbrellas in the colors of neon, sky blue, army green, sandstone, burgundy, yellow, fuchsia, brown, turquoise, teal, charcoal, light purple, mahogany, orange – and as the camera pans, they proliferate until our screen is filled with these varicolored mushrooms abloom in this soil of humanity.


At ground level, men and women are rushing forward amid an expanding hiss of babble. They flow with the tide, and divested of agency, individuals are freed from obligations of human compassion, sympathy, and courtesy. Uniformed men with hard-billed caps steer traffic best they can, but they are outnumbered. The energy is ramifying from some heart of the matter, the heart which is this: the primal, animalistic instinct and need to be at a place called home. We zoom in on a man being tugged from behind by one who does not want to lose him. A woman emits a screak. A cop says into a megaphone, “Be patient, don’t crowd.”


3


We are in the bowels of the station, our vision pointed down a concrete gully daubed with the pale glow of cylindrical fluorescent lights. Plaster is peeling off the walls. There are over 130 million migrant workers in China. Travelers appear from the vanishing point hauling roller suitcases, handbags, duffel bags, buckets, makeshift carts – and their weighty footsteps, their burdens, their haste. They go home only once a year, during Chinese New Year. They jog, fast-walk, and now they are rounding the corner. This is the world’s largest human migration. Cut to station platform: a man cranes his neck to make space for an oversized blue bag of woven plastic, possibly containing everything he owns in life, that he hoists onto his shoulder. We see the side of the train, already in motion. The faces inside are a blur. A bright light, belonging to the camera, reflects off the windows, blinking in symphony with the clank of the train’s metal wheels. The clanks grow distant, for we have remained on the platform while the locomotive slips into the night. A whistle sounds, the mistuned French horn, distant and muted. The screen cuts to black, except these words, in English and Chinese:


LAST

TRAIN

HOME


Clank, clank, clank. Again, that distant and muted whistle…


A film by

LIXIN FAN


4


Winter 2006. Here is the postcard of a modern Chinese city: a layer of buildings, a mildewed sheet of fog, a few construction cranes. Arrayed in two dimensions: at the bottom are white and dull-pink low-rise buildings; slightly above that, a vanilla six-story building, possibly a factory; rising a little, pink apartments that could be dormitories. We are halfway up the page now, and here everything is hazy, implying distance. There is the mound of a hill. Higher up, hazier still, is the outline of a skyscraper, one side rounded off like a half-licked Popsicle. The top third of the page is simply a swath of gray-red, Teflon-soot, particulates of orange, the hue of cancer. It is the sky. We hear the tittering of a jackhammer, that metal woodpecker. Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Chinese government on Christian Bale, and another protest


"But he was not invited to create a story or shoot film in a certain village," said [Foreign Ministry spokesman] Liu [Weimin]. "I think if you want to make up news in China, you will not be welcome here."

There's no sense getting angry at Chinese government mouthpieces. They're just doing their jobs. No one really cares about what they think, not the Chinese, certainly not, I hope, Christian Bale.

But you know what? Fuck you, Liu Weimin. Fuck you.

OK, glad we got that out of the way.

MEANWHILE in Guangdong... another protest!


Thousands of people besieged a government office in a southern Chinese town Tuesday and blocked a highway to demand a halt to a planned coal-fired power plant because of concerns about pollution, protesters said.

Riot police used tear gas in an attempt to disperse the protesters at the highway in the town of Haimen in Guangdong province, and the demonstrators hurled rocks, water bottles and bricks in return, said one of the protesters, a 27-year-old man surnamed Chen.

It is the second major protest in two weeks in a corner of coastal southern China that has been seeing periodic unrest over the last few years, primarily over land disputes. In much of Guangdong province, conflicts have been intense because the area is among China's most economically developed, pushing up land prices.


You treat your people like shit, and they'll throw rocks at you. Literal and metaphorical. The literal rocks you probably don't care about, since you have armor and guns. The other kind? It'll ruin your day, believe that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

China Daily just does not give a fuck

Yes, they will spit on your intelligence and then tell you how stupid you are. Because sometimes, their stories just aren't meant for you. Why would they be? You're just a person.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang must be pretty happy with this cover. They are, as you know, allies.


The culture of "journalism" here, folks. Like it or leave it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Changes abound in this city of ours


We can talk about big changes all day, but it's the little stuff that's more likely to sneak up on us and one day to make us exclaim, "Holy shit, that happened?" Take note of the neighborhoods between Dawanglu and Shuangjing, i.e. between Carrefour, Today Art Museum and Beijing City International School. There's some shit happening.


Two people kicking around a shuttlecock.

If you ever want to buy property, look here. It's still somewhat affordable -- by which I simply mean it's not in the millions of usd as a place near Second Ring Road might be -- but the area's nice enough that prices are probably only going to increase.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Cardboard Men (A Video)

You touch the cardboard man, talk to him.
What does he say?
Nothing, probably. He is made of
thickset crenellated pulpwood, after all,
and is mono-dimensional, and even if
he understood your words, golden like a metaphor,
he would not deign to reply,
to hand back your arrogance,
you prehistoric mumbler,
alien wanderer of our streets,
for the cardboard men
have evolved beyond language,
which is why, to you,
they make no reply.

Even if i know that tomorrow the world would go to pieces I would still plant My apple TREE



Also see: still LOVE U.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Highlights from the latest NYT article on Wukan

Full article here.

The pessimistic:

How long they will last is another matter. As the days pass, the cordons of police officers surrounding the village grow larger. Armored trucks and troop carriers have been reported nearby. On local television, a 24-hour channel denounces the villagers as “a handful of people” dedicated to sabotaging public order, with the names of protesters flashing on a blue screen, warning that they will be prosecuted. Many here fear this will all end badly.

The... not pessimistic:

Here in Wukan, many residents believed that the national government had not yet intervened to resolve matters simply because it had been misled by nefarious local officials to believe that all was well.

So far, however, it seems from inside this locked-down village that government leaders at all levels are flummoxed at their blue-moon, if temporary, loss of control.

Lin Zuluan, 67, a retired businessman who is now the village’s de facto leader, said that officials had approached him to negotiate an end to the protest, but that talks had gone nowhere, in part because the officials would not meet villagers’ demands to return all their land.

“I do have concerns” over the lack of progress, he said. “But I do believe this country is ruled by law, so I do believe the central government will do whatever it has to do to help us.”

Why a big fuck-you kick should be aimed at a whole lot of authorities:

They said that he had died of a heart attack in a hospital and that medical records of his care would be provided.

But family members say officials confiscated their mobile telephones before allowing them into the funeral home, apparently to prevent them from taking photographs. Mr. Xue’s nose was caked with blood, his body was black with bruises and his left thumb was broken, apparently pulled backward to the breaking point, one of them, a nephew named Xue Ruiqiang, said on Friday in an interview.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

We should probably all be following what's happening in Wukan

The New York Times called it an "open rebellion." Business Insider gave three reasons the protests are "totally unprecedented." Roads are blockaded. It has its own Wikipedia page ("Siege of Wukan").

The situation: a bunch of people are angry that government officials or cadres, in cahoots with developers, are evicting them to build luxury housing that they won't be able to afford. Of course they haven't been properly compensated -- oh, and a village representative was killed while in custody. This is a huge deal. Because while chai-qian (demolish-relocate) is common -- the biggest surprise is these large-scale protests don't happen more often -- a death of a well-respected villager is the type of cataclysmic event that can galvanize and embolden the masses, and suddenly a dispute has become a months-long protest.

We should probably be clear about what the villagers are fighting for, though. It's not, as Hong Kong's Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China chairman Lee Cheuk-yan rather selfishly put it, "democracy in China" (quote: "We are very much encouraged by their struggle and we believe this is the hope for democracy in China.") For fuck's sake, their land is being pillaged; I think "democracy" and all its nebulous meanings is the last thing on their minds. We can help the movement or we can hurt it, and wielding words like "democracy" and, really, "rebellion" (implying overthrow of the government) probably aren't the best. In this sense, this is nothing like Occupy, and not really at all like Arab Spring: these villagers have a specific reason for protesting, and it's a pretty narrow, selfish reason, however justified they are.

Still: we should pay attention. You never know where the threshold is for critical mass, and once that's reached, things will never be the same.

POSTSCRIPT: Somehow related: Christian Bale stopped from visiting Chen Guangcheng. Some days, I tell ya... fuck this government.

Friday, December 9, 2011

J.R. Smith is the CBA's Carmelo Anthony

Laid out on flu medicine here and just finished watching the Beijing-Zhejiang game on CCTV-5. J.R. Smith missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have erased a nine-point deficit in two minutes. Back rim. Decent game.

Afterwards, Beijing's coach basically said Smith had no help and that the team's strategy was to let Smith get his points (at least 37, I think) and contain everyone else. Success!

This might be the Beijing Ducks' year. With its win over Zhejiang (now 5-2), Beijing sits atop the standings as the last undefeated team at 9-0. Every other team has at least two losses.

In another Chinese sports happening, there's this Peak commercial with Shane Battier where he says, "Indomitable heart and aggressive mental power." Perhaps Peak should consider a different writer.

Also, Kevin Love is sponsored by 361. Who knew? It's too bad, because Stephon Marbury's the one rocking that whole "love" theme.