Sunday, December 12, 2010

Great Photos from Shaanxi

I just came across Julen Potron's photos on Flickr via China Digital Times. They're great images of my favorite part of China: the northwestern loess plateau. Shaanxi, not my preferred Shanxi, but still great.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Stupid response to Wikileaks

China needed a good excuse on censorship. The United States provided that excuse when it went after Wikileaks, showing that liberal democracies, if powerful enough, will also not hesitate to shut down internet gadflies. Of course, hypocrisy by the U.S. does not undo China's obligations. But it makes the argument of rights activists that much harder.

Wikileaks is now banned from the Library of Congress computers. The site's temporary host,, has been pressured (successfully) to drop it. Funding for Wikileaks via Paypal and even Swiss banks has been cut off.

Beijing must be sighing a big sigh of relief.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Back again

I haven't posted things here in quite some time. So, this is partially just a test of whether anyone reads the blog anymore!

In the past month, I've started school again and am hoping I can use Old Tales Retold to force myself to keep better track of goings on in China amid all the other stuff cluttering my head.

So... random comments on two bits of China news:

One, while I more or less supported Obama's tire tariffs a while back (or at least I think I did... check the old posts), I really can't justify the United Steelworkers' demand of action against China for subsidizing green technology.

The USW are incredibly forward-thinking in general when it comes to international solidarity. During the Vale Inco strike in Sudbury, Canada, steelworkers reached out to union brothers and sisters in places as far-flung as Brazil, Mozambique and Indonesia. Earlier this year, the USW signed an innovative deal with a group of Chinese wind energy companies "to create long-term, good-paying, green American jobs."

But the new trade complaint, as a friend pointed out to me, essentially makes the argument that governments should not invest in green energy, at least not "too" much. Instead of attacking China for not meeting WTO rules, the USW should be forcing the U.S. government to invest more. No need to carry water for neo-liberalism.

And... (unrelated) comment number two: what's with this new anti-Japan stuff?

Sure, I get that the detention of the Chinese boat captain pisses people off. That sort of thing pisses people off anywhere in the world, rightly or wrongly.

However, leaving aside the overall debate about whether China is pushed around by or is itself pushing domestic nationalism, I think, as Han Han has argued, this case in particular seems more about Beijing looking for a distraction than anything else. Just a gut response.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A few points on Thailand, China and stuff

Now that the Thai uprising has been acknowledged by even the mainstream, Western media as a class war (see this article from The Guardian and a blog post from the Wall Street Journal comparing the uprising to the situation in China)---and a pro-democracy one at that---it seems to me like the only moral response a person can have to the unrest is to support the Red Shirts.

Wishy-washy liberals won't back the Reds Shirts. They would unconditionally, of course, if the protesters were all middle class Chinese students marching for free speech or monks facing down the Burmese junta---both of which are worthy causes, but not legitimate litmus tests for what constitutes a worthy cause.

However, left-leaners and principled liberals should support the Thai protesters because the protesters are on the side of the basic tenants of electoral democracy (the Red Shirts' middle class opponents, the Yellow Shorts, want to reduce the voting power of rural areas because they don't like the leaders that rural people have helped elect, simple as that); because the alternative is an endless series of democratic votes overruled by courts or by military coups because, again, the wealthy and the monarchy don't like the outcomes of the votes, with resulting chaos again and again and again; and because the Red Shirts are poorer than their opponents.


In China, the nexus of property speculation / local government budgets / giving middle and upper class people somewhere to invest their money when banks give next-to-zero interest is a mess.... The worst example of the mess is what is going on in Hainan. See this NY Times article.


There's a lot of argument over whether privatizing China's land makes sense. I tend to think that it does not make sense, at least not without a court system that can support farmers' claims against the more powerful interests of developers and local governments. But the gall of the liberal intellectual cited in an an article I just read (and am trying to find so I can link to it) who took a longtime farmer-activist's manifesto and changed it so it didn't demand expropriated land to be returned to the public but instead demanded that the land be given to individual farmers as private property... is astounding. The activist ended up in jail for a belief he (apparently) didn't hold. The intellectual scored a point for his rigid free market view of freedom.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mine tragedies, again

Two mine accidents occurred last week, both in predictable places: Shanxi, China and West Virginia, U.S.A. One of the tragedies, the one in the People's Republic, ended in something of a "miracle," with 115 miners rescued---but still dozens dead. Some good articles on both include an interview in the Global Times with Dave Feickert, the New Zealander who was recently given a friendship award by the Chinese government for his work to reduce mining accidents; a piece in Daily Kos about Massey Energy's wanton disregard for safety; and a comparison between the U.S. and Chinese experiences in In These Times.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Damn! Another wonderful part of Beijing destroyed!

I thought Beijing had slowed down its destruction of hutongs. Then, the city government went and decided to wreck one of my favorite spots in the city, the Drum and Bell Tower hutong, to build an underground mall, so it could make a little more money and so some developer that's all buddy-buddy with some local official can make a killing. Before you rush to say this is an inevitable part of modernizing, consider the following:

1) The cities in the world that people like to visit (rather than visit for purely business reasons) have old parts, and not just a few stand-alone old buildings with museums in them, but tons and tons, blocks and blocks of beautiful old buildings with real character. This is true of Rome, New York, Paris, Valparaiso, and Varanasi alike. Who will want to visit---let alone settle down in---a Beijing that, with the exception of a few tourist sites, looks like a giant shopping center? Not me.

2) The people who make Beijing what it is, the workers and old people and professors and small shopkeepers, are leaving the city center as each hutong is torn down. In their place, yuppies from across the country and world are moving in. Is a crude class transfer like this (mirrored in Manhattan and elsewhere) really something progressives should cheer for? Really?

3) There's a wonderful little bar in the Drum and Bell Tower hutong called Drum and Bell. You can sit on the roof on warm summer weekends and branches from trees tickle your ears and you can hear noises from the hutong below and read a book and eat peanuts. Sucks for that bar.

If you don't want this destruction to continue, consider writing a polite letter to the Beijing Municipal Institute of City Planning here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Breaking the blockade

I'm glad China is managing to break the Gaza blockade with everyday necessities, though this article is a little strange.

Is it an ad for the quality of "Made in China" goods? A critique of the blockade?

Maybe if China would speak up about the human catastrophe that Israel has imposed on Gaza, rather than focusing their Security Council activism on blocking pressure on Iran...


What struck me most about the whole Google-China thing was the surprise some people expressed that the e-mail addresses of human rights activists were being hacked at all. I mean, how many of the activists thought for a minute that their accounts were safe? No one who does that kind of work trusts their phones, their computers, anything (see, for example, Marquand's story about journalists' experiences with hacking in China).

Google should get a lot of credit, but not for saying enough is enough to a particularly egregious problem that the company alone had been suffering in silence. They should get credit for finally stating something blindingly obvious, for finally acting as if something everyone else had put up with for ages was not, actually, normal.

The sharpness of China's reaction---Google's decision was on the cover of the Chinese-language, paper edition of the nationalist Global Times the next day; the English-language China Daily followed with a deceptive "point-counterpoint"-style piece on Google the next day, if I recall correctly---was surprising for me. But maybe it shouldn't have been. Stating the obvious is sometimes a big deal.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

China's inequality

After carping about China's Gini coefficient for ages, it's interesting to see that it is finally leveling off, if the OECD can be believed. According to the organization's recent survey, China even fell slightly from 41 to 40.8 between 2005 and 2007. I don't like the Kuznets Curve on ideological grounds and because, while it only seems to have held true in some cases, it has been used as almost a prescription for developing countries: become more equal, let a few get rich first, and things will settle out later. But it might be true for China.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Obama at one

Reading over the contributions in The Nation's special issue on "Obama at One," a few things stuck out. One was that exaggerated expressions of love for Obama and exaggerated disappointment in Obama similarly miss the point: it's not about one person. But the left's fall-back lesson, namely that you need outside movements to pressure even a good president to do good, is also incomplete.

Yes, the activism needs to go on. However, to put a twist on Malcolm X's most famous statement, I would argue: "By any means necessary---even boring, institutional ones." Progressives need to achieve a better marriage of protests and community activism, on the one hand, and of an effective governance strategy and savvy spin-meistering, on the other. The right gets it. We don't, at least not entirely.

We shouldn't be afraid of dirtying ourselves with a sustained commitment to effective inside politics, just as we've always embraced the limits of civil and uncivil disobedience. But ours---like the rights---must be an inside politics aimed at achieving concrete goals, not just treading water like the Clintons. And achieving those goals not under the noses of the American people but with their full knowledge and support.