Friday, November 28, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Nov. 25: Can Hillary Clinton Succeed?
"Only a true believer can envision Obama and Clinton making a good team. You have to believe in Obama's ability to control Clinton's independence, believe in Clinton's capacity to execute someone else's policies, believe in the ability of these two rivals to suddenly become close..." Nov. 24: The last thing we need is a Clinton in charge of foreign policy
Related post from this blog:
Nov. 18: Hillary, Please Say NO
For your enjoyment, here is a picture of my favorite hometown flower of the season: winter plum blossom, taken by my sister in January. I can almost smell its fragrance from Chongqing.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
It has surprised me how many Republicans have come out to sing the praises of Hillary Clinton and hailed her as a great choice for the new Secretary of State. I always thought she was unpopular in the Republican camp. But even Arnold Schwarzenegger who did not think Obama had the quads to be President, sees this as a good move, apparently seeing
On reflection, I guess it makes some sense. Going back to the love fest primary debates, where Obama and Clinton seemed to agree on most everything, it was foreign policy outside of
During the primary debates, Obama said he would meet with "rogue state leaders." He said the notion that not talking to countries is punishment to them – "which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration – is ridiculous." While Hillary Clinton said she would not meet directly with those leaders.
And she opposes lifting the ridiculous embargo on Cuba.
Hillary Clinton does have a great deal of experience and understanding and would certainly be formidable negotiator. She is tough, but tough to a point where she already knows where she stands. More to the point, others outside the
Hillary Clinton is tremendously popular among my Chinese friends in the
In April this year,
I applaud Obama's swell heart and wise actions to "ally the majority, including even those who were against you before" (as Chairman Mao once taught us :-)). And I think that
So Hillary, should you chance to read this, please say NO to being Secretary of State. You can serve
Monday, November 17, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
by Jonathan Chamberlain with a foreword by Sir David Tang
ASIAN STUDIES / ORAL HISTORY
Blacksmith Books, 348 pages, HK$140 / US$17.95A Review by Xujun Eberlein
It is said that oral history did not become an academic discipline until 1948, when Alan Nevins established the Oral History Research Office at
When oral history is recorded in books, it is considered part of the nonfiction genre of literature, yet it is almost as all-encompassing as fiction in presentation and effects. In recent years, we have heard several big quarrels over the truthfulness of memoirs, but books of oral history are seldom the center of such disputes, even though they cover similar ground. One reason for this, I guess, is that the readers realize and embrace both the indispensable benefits and certain unreliability inherent in word of mouth. It probably doesn't hurt that the author of the book is usually not the oral storyteller, which serves as a natural reality check.
From time to time, I have the pleasure of meeting a person who can recount an episode of his or her life that is so captivating, I cease to care whether or not I believe the storyteller. I even know a few people who are full of such stories. I have never, however, had the delight of meeting someone with the breadth of stories told in King Hui: The Man who Owned all the Opium in Hong Kong by Jonathan Chamberlain.
These are the stories, presented as a first person narrative, of Peter (Shen-Kei) Hui, an uncommon, though largely unknown, man with an astounding range of experience. Told shortly before his death at the age 79 in 1993, the stories reflect not only the man, but also the times he lived through. The earliest are from his childhood during the First World War, the latest from the years leading up to Hong Kong’s handover to China. For all his breadth of experience, Peter Hui traveled little and his stories are concentrated in
The stories told are full of colorful details that, for a historian or anthropologist, they provide a wealth of hooks for cross-referencing against other materials. For the less academically oriented reader, those of us reading for pleasure, these details serve to bring history to life.
As I read how a downing man always gets three chances, a dead grandmother's month closes only after a silver coin is dropped in, a legendary herbalist uses bamboo saps to cure a stroke patient, and how, during the Sino-Japanese war, the children trained by the Chinese army go into Japanese camps in the middle of the night and, by touch, kill anyone with pants on, for the children themselves are not wearing them, I can't help but be fascinated.
In fact, fascination is a good word to describe the book's narrative. The details become more intriguing as they portray a complex personality. The first-person narrator, Peter Hui, presents a conflict between his honest, moral uprightness and his willingness to do many things that suggest otherwise. Well educated, he appears to have strong, if confused, feelings of obligation and responsibility. Though trained when young and possessing outstanding kung fu skills, he doesn't fight often. But every time he fights, he is taking up the cudgels for a just cause. Yet this is the man who decides to work for the Japanese during the war, heads a gang of robbers in peace time, and works for money as a CIA spy during
With his wife and children living in
An intriguing character is hardly the only thing the book offers. It is full of events and activities that shaped
One also gets a good glimpse of the triads. Before reading the book I wasn't aware that those crime organizations had migrated from the mainland before the Communist victory, less still how they had evolved and how British policing might have influenced it. Another thing the book made me recognize was the intricacies of British rules in a Chinese population. I had heard about corruption and moral lapses of course, but was still charmed by the dispassionate description Peter Hui provided of working with the
To me, the book effectively puts a personality, a live face, on
During the recent two decades,
Still, despite the cultural permeation, we knew very little about the real
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Another, smaller city involved in cab strike this week is Yongdeng County, of Gansu Provence. See Xinhua's report.
From guardian.co.uk: Vietnam born writer Nam Le has won the 2008 Dylan Thomas prize, picking up a cheque for £60,000 at a ceremony in Swansea last night for his first collection of short stories, The Boat. The Guardian reports that the chairman of the judges, Peter Florence, hailed Le as a "winner worthy of Dylan Thomas". (I've read a couple of Nam Le's stories and he's a natural.)
From bridportprize.org.uk: Malaysia born writer Elaine Chiew, who currently lives in London (and is a cyber friend of mine) won the 2008 Bridport's 1st Prize £5000 for her story "Face." Congratulations Elaine!
Sunday, November 9, 2008
[Note: I started writing this for NAM on Tuesday. Realizing the timing conflicts with all the coverage of the election news, I waited until Thursday to send in the piece. I was hoping it would get published Friday, but am happy enough it showed up Sunday instead of Monday.]
This week began with shocking news from my hometown. On Monday and Tuesday, an unusual taxi strike swept through all the streets in the urban area of Chongqing, one of the largest cities in China. While international reporters found excitement, local media worried about the city's image, residents experienced inconvenience, and the cab drivers on strike were angry and desperate. My biggest concern was how the city government would react. Never an optimist, I always fear the worst.
I visit Chonqging about once a year, and the taxi is my primary means of transportation in the city. With a writer's habits, I always chat with the drivers. During all these years I don't remember meeting a single cab driver who was content. I learned that many of them were laid-off factory workers. They were bitter with the factory management who sold them out, and, after losing their familiar jobs, driving a taxi is one of the few options left to them to make a living. They complain that they have to make unreasonably big daily payments to the taxi companies, often more than what they collect in fares.
Last year, when I visited Chongqing, I saw a long line of taxies waiting on a street with no passengers around. Chongqing's taxies mostly use compressed natural gas (CNG), and filling up is apparently a slow process, hence the long lines. I remember the tank takes about half of the car's trunk, with insufficient space left for passenger luggage. It is always a challenge to fit in my bags at the airport.
Knowing how hard it is for the cabbies to make a living in my hometown, I often try to pay a bit more than the regulated fee. When I do this, my sister blames me for "upsetting China's market prices." Still, I had never expected a strike. Strike is just not something that happens often in China. The consequence could be dire. Unlike Western countries, there are no unions to represent workers' interests. There is only the official union in state-owned factories, no different from any other government agency from the perspective of workers.
In the early morning hours of Monday, November 3rd, however, passengers in Chongqing waiting to go to work by cab were the first to discover them missing from the streets. At the same time, some drivers unaware of the strike, were stopped by their colleagues. Tempers flared, and some 20 to 30 cabs had their top lights smashed, according to reports.
Within hours, several national outlets of the official media, such as China Daily, Xinhuanet.com, and People.com.cn, published the first eyewitness reports, which included interviews with taxi drivers and customers alike. The frankness of those reports surprised me.
While it was good to see a refreshing departure from the familiar bureaucratic style of official news, the real journalism approach was certainly not as widespread as I would have liked. On the same day, another official agency, China News, published a curt and rigid briefing of the situation, in the usual manner that conceals as much bad news as possible. It opens with a description of the all-city strike as "a partial number of taxis that met with obstruction and were unable to operate normally." It ends with the conclusion that "by 4 pm of [November] 3rd, 1,000 taxies had resumed operation," with no mention that the total number of taxies on strike was about 9,000. The strike, in fact, went on for another day, through Tuesday. It was not until Wednesday morning that the government announced the full resumption of normal operation of all taxies.
On Monday, when I searched to see how Chongqing's local papers reported the incident, the only thing I found was the curt report from China News, reprinted in Chongqing's Morning News.
Meanwhile, I watched on-line with great concern as the incident unfolded. The city government reacted quickly. An urgent meeting was held Monday morning, and police began to investigate. When cctv.com reported Monday afternoon that the Chongqing Bureau of Roads and Transportation Management said "a small number of individuals controlled this all-city strike," the familiar gun-powder scented term "a small number of individuals" made me seriously worry about violent conflict. That term had preceded every crackdown and wave of large-scale arrests following mass demonstrations in China.
Instead, on Tuesday afternoon, the spokesman for the city government acknowledged that the main cause of the strike was the recent "illegal increase" in drivers' daily fees to the taxi companies. Consequently, the government ordered the companies to reduce the fee to last year's level. The spokesman also promised to increase the supply of natural gas in response to the complaints that the cabs had to wait for hours each day to refill.
The tension eased after this, and the cab drivers gradually returned to work. I communicated with friends and relatives in Chongqing, and they assured me the crisis had passed more or less as reported. What a relief.
On Wednesday morning, however, I was again alerted by a headline on sina.com.cn: "Chongqing taxies completely recover operation; unlawful elements arrested." Unlawful elements? Another term smelling of gun-powder. I know my Chongqing townsmen. They are upright guys with firecracker tempers and soft hearts. They might have broken someone's top light in anger, an anger that, as a cabbie relative put it, arose from an "unbearable" situation. But they are hardly unlawful elements, and wouldn't have taken the risk except out of desperation. I certainly hoped no one would be thrown in jail.
A careful read of the report, however, indicates inaccuracy of the headline. The spokesman said the government caught some people hitting top lights on others' vehicles, and was "educating and admonishing" them. The government also apologized to Chongqing's people for its ineffective management of the taxi industry. Another thing one doesn't see happen very often.
The latest news was that, at 10 a.m. on Thursday, a top leader held a televised meeting with representatives of the taxi drivers and citizens to discuss their requests. Bo Xilai, who is not only the Party secretary of Chongqing but also a CCP politburo member, listened to the drivers' grievances for three hours (China Daily). This was a gracious move and I applaud it.
I wasn't satisfied that, in the press conferences, the government spokesman kept using the China News expression that "taxis met with obstruction and were unable to operate normally" in describing the strike, though he did abandon the qualification "a partial number."
He also failed to acknowledge that the root of the problem, as many folk analysts active on the Chinese cyberspace have pointed out, lies in the system itself. That is, the government has delegated the power to taxi companies to issue operation licenses. While the only way for a driver to obtain such a license is to become an employee of a taxi company, there is no mechanism to prevent the company from exploiting the driver.
But my overall reaction is relief. I'm relieved by the peaceful ending of the strike. I'm relieved by Chongqing government's benign willingness to solve the problems. Evidently, China is changing. It would have been better if the government noticed the problems before an extreme measure like a strike had to be taken, but that might be too high an expectation of any government.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Unlike the LA Times report that quotes some Chinese who brush off Obama’s words as rhetoric, the columnist at the Southern Metropolitan attributes the statements to Obama’s persistent protectionism, and dolefully predicts that, if his policy is to be realized, southern China’s unemployment rate would increase. Under the article, a couple of readers commented that McCain as the
But this is not the first time we’ve heard that the Chinese should increase their domestic consumption, and it is more than simple American protectionism. While it seems doubtful that this would be enough to make up for the lost consumption from
Coincidentally, just yesterday I saw that WSJ translated Premier Wen Jiabao’s essay, which also says
On a note related to the
Among those who are interested, however, the opinions seem more diversified than the polls’ indication of Chinese preference for Obama. Beside the aforementioned columnist at the Southern Metropolitan, as a Chinese student studying journalism in the US blogged about, many comments left in a chat room on Baidu.com are not very complimentary of Obama (whether those opinions have any sound basis is another question).
In contrast to mainland
It is also interesting – though not surprisingly – to note that the question of which candidate would carry more beneficial policies toward
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Now I’m taking a journalism class, one of the assignments is to establish a “listening post.” The idea is to visit a community you are less familiar with, so as to increase the understanding of diversity. Since I never knew what this church across street was doing, I decided to pay a visit to it this morning. That is, a Sunday morning when it’s running a service.
At 10 am sharp I walked into the church. On a desk in the hall lay some handouts. I picked one up; it’s titled “Values Voter Guide for 2008 Presidential Candidates.” It highlights issues debated between McCain and Obama, 21 of them all. A simple “Yes” or “No” column indicating each candidate’s position on each issue. Not surprisingly, on 16 of the issues listed, the two candidates take opposite positions. They agreed on three of them, while the remaining two issues were alternately addressed by only one of the candidates.
At first glance, this list is quite impartial. It does not spell out a recommendation, and the issues listed are quite informative. The Guide only asks you to compare the candidates. I was impressed.
Walking into the nave, for a moment I suspected I was in the wrong place, or at a wrong time. The stage looked ready to start a musical, or some Broadway performance. A glass room located on the left side of the stage housed a man with a full set of shining silver percussion instruments. In the center of the stage were a pianist, two guitarists, and a row of seven men and women waiting to start singing.
And singing they began soon after I took my seat. The choirmaster, a black man with beautiful voice, called for the audience to stand and sing with them. A large pull-down screen hanging above the stage, showed colorful moving pictures with the lyrics. People raised their arms and sang enthusiastically and repeatedly: “I’m desperate for you, I’m lost without you…We live to glorify your name.”
They stood and sang for 40 minutes. When they finally finished, the priest took the place of the choirmaster and explained the voting guide. He called his audience to “vote for our values, not by the party line.” He then went on to say “we don’t want the government to redefine the values of our families; God defines it, Jesus defines it.” And he said he puts his hope in God to place the right man in the government.
As he continued, I read the handout again and realized that he was calling for people to vote for McCain and Palin, mostly for Palin, who was viewed by some people as representing American family values.
During the next hour the priest preached Revelation 12 to 14, and he emphasized diversity.
Later, on the way home, I wondered how diverse the church members actually are. Will all, or most of them, listen to the priest and vote for McCain? Do most Christian churches want McCain and Palin to lead America? If the result turns out to be the opposite, is God wrong, or are the churches wrong?