Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Foreigners in China: Now and Then

If you are like me, you are baffled by the idiotic mindset of those Chinese bureaucrats. Apparently, Melissa Chan was expelled because the "relevant" authorities were unhappy about some reports criticizing China that involved her (or not). I'm sure the authorities' desired effect was "killing one to admonish a hundred" (杀一儆百) — but guess what?  It is only natural that such a move greatly increases the awareness and impact of those previously less-known reports.  How clever is that? 

The disturbing thing is, from my contacts with Chinese bureaucrats, they really do believe what they are doing is both good and smart. There is a great gap between reality and their view of it.  Unfortunately, as far as I can tell China's officialdom is dominated by such. Their way of thinking is at least two decades behind the times. I doubt China can have effective political reform before this generation of officials withdraw from the stage.

And be sure to read this hilarious (no kidding) report: Chinese Official Questioned About Al Jazeera Reporter's Expulsion, count how many times the word "relevant" is used, and get a kick out of it.  I'm sure the speaker really believes his answers were very smart.

On a related note, Foreign Policy's Isaac Stone Fish has an interesting post that analyzes the possible connection between race and China's expulsion of Melissa Chan.  To further Fish's point, race has almost always been a factor, if sometimes demonstrated in different ways, in Chinese attitudes toward foreigners.  This again is a generational thing that’s waiting for change.

Following the Melissa Chan incident, NYT's Edward Wong dug up – and Tweeted about –  an old tale of another American journalist, John Burns, who was expelled from China in 1986 because of his exploration of the kingdom’s backwaters.  Burns' story recalls intimately the experience of my husband during that same period. In the summer of 1987, Bob rode his bike across China coming to see me in Chongqing, and enroute he and his bike were both arrested. I wrote about the episode here:    

That was 25 years ago.  China may have made great advances in economics and technology, and seen a substantial increase in its openness, but surprisingly little has changed in the depth of official thinking.


David Morrison said...

That press conference is almost mystically recursive. Q: Which rule was broken? A: The answer to that question can be found in the Book of Rules. Q: Having read the Book, I cannot see which Rule was broken. A: I believe the Book is quite clear. Refer to the Book.

Richard said...

Just so you know, VOA archived the page you linked to, so the link is now broken. The new link is http://www.voanews.com/content/article/369849.html

Xujun Eberlein said...

Richard, thanks for letting me know! The link is now updated.

ChinaMatt said...

I'm just glad I never had to encounter such problems. Of course, I tried to avoid writing anything that was overly critical (although I did tell a class of 40 police officers that their textbook, which was written by a Beijing official, was full of garbage and in desperate need of a proofreader).