Sunday, May 29, 2011

Language Learning: An Update

My job is going well. I am quite in love with the English language, as those of you who know me can attest. I love puns, idioms, and other rhetorical devices; I love etymology and homonyms; and I am a stickler for grammar and spelling (recognizing that the latter does not matter and is often "sloppy" because of dyslexia or some other fairly adequate excuse).  I have made my way through a serious chunk of the heavy tome that I lugged to Asia--Rod Ellis's The Study of Second Language Acquisition. A WISC test long ago identified me as a 139 on verbal, I believe, but it is a number so I may be wrong, because I did considerably worse on the quantitative portion of said exam. (I frequently cannot remember a phone number all the way from the phone book to the phone.) Some might assume that I have all the motivation, knowledge, and mental facility to learn a second language, but it is going very slowly. I will get to that in a second, but first I want to spend a couple more minutes on English and the butchery of it here, especially by the police. Pardon the digression.

Shake Your Dragon Tail

A recent New York Times piece (not in the humor section of the paper) told of a banner unfurled at The Forbidden City in Beijing where some poor sheikh (pronoucned "shake") of the police tribes made a grave error. In the Chinese equivalent of a spelling mistake (they don't really spell words here, they "characterize" them), the banner glorified the successful return of stolen artifacts through diligent police work, “To shake the great strength and prosperity of the motherland and to safeguard the stability of the capital.”

“The pronunciation of the word for “shake” — han, with a falling tone — is exactly the same as that for “guard,” even though the written characters are different," reports the Times. While I cannot affirm this declaration--my vocab and dictionary skills being insufficient--my favorite Chinese dictionary website does not back up this claim. The word Han means, in a usage that I am familiar with, Chinese man of the Han race (all ethnic Chinese except the 56 minorities) and, in a usage which I am only now coming to be familiar with, it can mean "sweat." It can also mean South Korea, simply "man", or be a surname. With a rising tone, it can mean cold, poor or tremble with fear or, if you use a different character, to hold, contain or "keep...in the mouth." 

Rosetta Stone vs. Kyle

Zongzi is the traditional food of the
Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on
June 6th this year.
Kyle (or Fan Xin) is my tutor, who brought me Zongzi last week and who tells me every time that I see him (twice a week at my home) that he considers me not just a student, but a friend.  He has brought me a tea set and some jasmine tea. While the odd assortment of words that he has presented on his tidy, one-page lesson follow-up sheets might make you think he has neither rhyme nor reason to his pedagogy, this is not true. Most of the words in any one lesson use the same tone or the same convention as the others. In other words, he is carefully teaching me proper pronunciation through drilling words that are similar in sound and tone. He does not stop there, though. He is intent on making sure that Andy--one of my favorite colleagues here--and I learn "practical" things like how to introduce ourselves, how to order in a restaurant, and how to say things like, "Help!" or "I am allergic to wheat and dairy." This week, Kyle and I will, I hope, play Go (or weiqi), which is one of my college adviser's favorite pastimes.

Rosetta Stone is an over-priced, annoying piece of software, reputedly used by the FBI, CIA, NSA and other government agencies that don't have time to send staff to Middlebury College or the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Those of you who follow my Facebook posts know already about some of my complaints. They are petty, but when one spends 500 US dollars, you hope for something flawless.  


First of all, Rosetta Stone takes forever to load all the extra games and things. There is no community to speak of, despite this advertised advantage. There have been problems with my mouse not lining up with what I am clicking on so it thinks I am choosing the wrong answer. It is interminably slow on start-up if I decide to operate it without being connected to Internet...which is a real pain in China where Internet connectivity is intermittent. My newest set of problems include getting it to advance from one lesson to the next and not repeat. I have spent a fair amount of time wrestling with their technical support staff to get it working smoothly.

For all of the bad things that I have said so far, it is a great program. The methodical, carefully researched program is top-notch. Once I overcome my desire to blame its shortcomings for my own, I am sure that I will gain some proficiency with the language. (That said, if I am asked to repeat nü ren one more time into the headset, I think I might turn into a misogynist.)

NanHu Park
If I felt like sitting down for half an hour more in front of this computer every day, I would be much further along with my Chinese. That is both my laziness, as somebody who is working a heavy schedule, shining through and an inherent flaw with the program: Language is for communicating with and between people. Learning it from a non-responsive, inanimate machine is a hard thing to motivate yourself to do when the sun is shining and it is 88 degrees Farenheit, which is why my friend and I blew off studying yesterday and dropped ¥99 (or $15.25) on tea and green-tea flavored pumpkin seeds at an authentic tea house after a one hour walk around NanHu Park and a "pricey" lunch at a restaurant, where we ate duck and pork with rice and vegetables for a whopping 39 RMB (or $6.01).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Electricity and Water Crises Are Related

"In a little-noticed milestone, the latest data from Beijing and Washington shows that China passed the United States last year as the world’s largest consumer of electricity," reports the New York Times, in an article that is much more interesting for what it does notice: a growing restlessness in the utility industry about the government's price-setting practices.

It is scary to watch the plethora of tornadoes sweeping death and destruction across my own country. Iceland is erupting and Taiwan had an earthquake. The prognostications about the Judgment Day may be wrong, but one cannot help but wonder how humanity can long endure in the face of so much chaos and extreme weather. 

Most of the environmental news right now is about the drought that is affecting the nation--it is the worst in fifty years. There could be a lot of hungry people this year. "Between January and April, the Yangtze River basin received 40 percent less rainfall than the average level of the past 50 years." As China Daily (English), the official newspaper, admits in the caption to this picture, the drought is partly responsible for the electric supply shortfalls:

A worker at a railway station in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province, unloads coal from a cargo train on Tuesday. Railway authorities in the province are accelerating coal transportation to coastal regions that have been facing power shortages partially caused by severe drought.

The major changes to the Yangtze caused by Three Gorges are a double-edges sword. The project is likely the root cause of the drought, but it does, at the same time, allow bureaucrats to open sluices and control where the water goes a bit better. "The Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters asked the Three Gorges Dam to increase water discharges to up to 12,000 cubic meter per second (about 3,000 cu m per second more than the water flowing in) from May 25 to June 10, in order to raise the water level in the middle and lower reaches."

Please keep the people of these provinces in your thoughts and prayers.  Government policies here will be less effective than prayer, I am afraid. "China’s 700 million rural residents have been on a two-year buying spree of electric devices, purchasing hundreds of millions of air-conditioners and other energy-hungry appliances with government subsidies aimed at narrowing the gap in living standards between cities and rural areas." [my emphasis] One cannot really ask: How many lives have been saved as a result of air-conditioning? One cannot really ask, Why do country people need to have the same amenities as city people or why do the city people set the standard for what we all need? One, certainly, cannot assert that the Chinese should not be permitted to have air-conditioners or drying racks if Europeans and Americans do.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

One Cup of Tea: O'Keefe in a Glass

Good morning!

I know it is 9:30 PM, where most of my readers live (my beloved New England), but I wanted to show you my cup of tea this morning, which is beautiful. This is the first time I have dropped one of these gorgeous blossoms into hot water and I am much pleased with the result.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Remarks of Former Ambassador to China Charles W. Freeman


I encourage you to read this thought-provoking speech that Ambassador Chas Freeman gave May 10th at a conference at the China Maritime Studies Institute.

Beijing, Washington, and the Shifting Balance of Prestige
Remarks to the China Maritime Studies Institute by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)

The organizers of this conference recruited me to address it because I am a sort of living fossil. As a certified antique, exhumed from the diplomatic strata of the past, they thought I could not avoid having an historical perspective on things. While you were pondering naval matters today, they were sure that I would be contemplating my navel and reminiscing about ancient events. I don’t want to disappoint them, so bear with me as I speak of things as they were forty years ago today — on Monday, the tenth of May 1971.

I had then just returned from training in Mandarin and Taiwanese. In the inscrutable wisdom of government personnel systems, this was thought somehow to qualify me to become, among other things, the officer-in-charge of the United States’ virtually non-existent economic interaction with the China mainland. (In all of 1971, bilateral trade came to less than $5 million. We do more trade with China in a single hour now.) Instead of focusing on that not very demanding aspect of my job, on that Monday, forty years ago, I was busy at other things. Like a few other colleagues in the State Department’s Office of Asian Communist Affairs, I was writing papers in support of Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to “Pei-p’ing,” as political correctness then demanded we call it. The United States had spent more than two decades trying to destabilize and overthrow the People’s Republic, championing the lost cause of its defeated rival in the Chinese civil war, and excluding it from participation in international councils.

This was hardly an auspicious basis on which to enlist China in our then quarter-century-old grand strategy of containment of the Soviet Union. The shift from antagonism to attempted cooperation reflected realistic judgments about our international circumstances and the trajectory we were then on as a country. President Nixon recognized that our interests would be best served by abandoning failed policies and preconceptions. He boldly sought to seize previously unimagined strategic advantages for our country. To the surprise of many, he brought this off.

To reach an accommodation with China, the United States had to choose between our longstanding politico-military commitment to Taipei and the imperatives of our national interests as affected by the Cold War. Then, as now, the Taiwan issue constrained our relations with Beijing. It threatened an eventual, bloody rendezvous between Chinese nationalism and American military power. Then, as now, war would have been disastrous for both sides. Washington and Beijing crafted our rapprochement by deferring to later resolution the casus belli between us — the question of Taiwan’s relationship with the rest of China. Both this issue and the American role in it remain unresolved. Neither Chinese nationalism nor the Taiwan issue has gone away.
China has been patient for four decades, but it is now actively pondering how best to remove the United States from what is — from its point of view — our very unhelpful residual military role in cross-Strait relations so that Beijing’s negotiators can settle the Taiwan issue with their counterparts in Taipei. That, I take it, is a principal focus of the national review of policy toward the United States that China is reportedly poised to launch. Americans cannot safely assume that China’s recent objections to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan or other military actions on our part are pro forma or “just more of the same.” It’s at least as likely that we will soon once again confront the necessity to choose between the self-imposed shackles of longstanding policy and the imperatives of our long-term strategic interests.

The underlying issue today is at root the same as forty years ago — the contradiction between U.S. policies designed to frustrate China’s achievement of its core objective of national unity and our need to reduce enmity and increase cooperation with China. But the context in which we must wrestle with this contradiction today is radically different. The balance of prestige, if not yet the balance of power, between the United States and China has shifted.

In international affairs, prestige is the shadow cast by the power of states to shape systems, attitudes, trends, and events. It is generated by the perceived decisiveness of a nation’s political system, its economic strength, and the vision and wisdom of its leadership, as well as its military prowess. Prestige is a major determinant of the ability of a nation to preserve the privileges of the past or frame the freedoms of the future. Current trends in this regard do not favor the United States over China.

It is not just that China and others are regaining the regional preeminence they enjoyed before the now defunct era of Western colonialism. It is also that America’s fractious politics are now dispiriting rather than inspiring to foreigners and citizens alike. The financial system and economic model of the United States have been discredited in the world’s eyes. Few look to us for leadership on either global or regional issues, whatever their nature. Only our military power is fully respected. But, as we have shown the world in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya, there are limits to what military power alone can accomplish. China is widely seen as having its act together. The United States is universally viewed as in big trouble on a dismaying range of issues and not doing much, if anything, about any of them, other than more of the same.

Our fiscal situation is a central element of this perception. Total federal revenue, from all sources (income, corporate, excise, social security, and medicare taxes) is now $2.2 trillion annually. Total federal transfer payments to individuals for unemployment, pensions, medical care, and the like come to $2.4 trillion. The United States government is out of cash; it has to borrow $200 billion even before it begins to fund its operations. The $1.3 trillion it costs to run the government is, in effect, all borrowed, much of it from foreigners. About $700 billion is for the defense budget. Another $300 billion or more is military-related but in other budgets. Total U.S. military spending comes to well over $1 trillion. Most of our politicians remain in denial, but growing numbers of them have begun to realize that America can’t afford to continue anything like this level of outlays for our armed forces.

To our creditors, America now looks like a huge, insolvent insurance company with a mostly military workforce living on credit rollovers. Washington can’t even pass a budget, let alone devise a credible plan to pay down our debt. Increasingly, America’s creditors see the United States as a bad bet, not a safe haven for their money. This is not good. And it is not smart, in such circumstances, to enter a race with the People’s Liberation Army, as we did with Soviet armed forces, to see who can spend whom into the ground.
Unlike the Soviet Union, China has a highly successful economy that is widely seen as a model combination of industrial policy with market economics. Not everybody likes China, but it has a reputation for coherent strategic vision. China does not operate an empire of captive satellite nations, have a history of global power projection, seek to export an ideology, or propose to expand beyond its traditional frontiers. It has not configured its forces for an attack on our homeland, even if it has made provision for retaliation against us in the event we strike its homeland. China has begun, however, to object to American naval operations in its near seas that it considers hostile to it. By its attempts to deny our right to carry out such operations, China jeopardizes our exercise of at least a portion of the global hegemony to which we have recently become accustomed. And the Chinese seem bent on developing defenses we cannot easily overwhelm. These are threats to our omnipotence even it they are not threats to our homeland.

China is also beginning to show a capacity to innovate militarily in ways that challenge American ingenuity. The good news is that China thus stimulates expensive new U.S. research and development projects as well as procurement and a conference or two. It is becoming a justification for “military Keynesianism.” But, as the numbers show, even without China as a major driver, military spending is already an unaffordable burden on the U.S. economy. In marked contrast, China’s defense budget is neither a significant strain on its economy nor likely to become one. With a GDP that seems destined to dwarf that of the United States in the foreseeable future, China does not anticipate resource constraints as it seeks to counter and outmatch the threat to it from America.

The United States is now fiscally hollow. Yet we are entering a long-term military rivalry with China on terms that are easily bearable by China but fiscally ruinous for us. This rivalry is all the more disadvantageous because China is competing in notably cost-effective ways, and we are not. 

Aggressive reconnaissance in cyberspace is a less expensive and fatiguing way than naval and air patrols by which to probe military capabilities and map targets in other nations. Ballistic and submarine-launched cruise missiles can kill capital ships like aircraft carriers at a fraction of what it costs to build them. It’s much cheaper to shatter or blind satellites than to launch, maintain, or protect them. Defensive measures are less demanding of human and material resources than power projection against them.

This should give us pause. In some disturbing ways, Sino-American competition is beginning to parallel the contest between us and the Soviet Union in the Cold War. This time, however, the United States is in the fiscally precarious position of the USSR, while China plays the economically robust role we once did. The political and economic weaknesses of the USSR made it unable to compete with us on any terms other than military. The huge expense of a military contest with an economically fitter enemy ultimately bankrupted the Soviet state and brought it down. Moscow’s conviction that the best defense is an overwhelmingly strong offense locked it into a military competition that, in retrospect, was as unnecessary as it was ultimately fatal.
Based on parallel logic, we have come to spend as much as the rest of the world combined on capabilities for military coercion. Our current force structure and global military posture are not dedicated to the defense of our homeland but to sustaining a credible capacity to overwhelm other nations’ ability to defend their homelands and adjacent areas, including their near seas. Americans do not worry that foreigners will impose their will on us. Our armed forces exist to impose our will on those who challenge or resist it. In this context, China’s improving defenses are only part of what drives our military strategy. Still, they loom ever larger in its sights.

As their strong preference for asymmetric counters to the instruments of American power projection illustrate, the Chinese are not just seeking security, but affordable security. Perhaps, given the state of our finances, we should do so too. But it’s hard to see how an objective of affordable security for the United States could be compatible with maintaining the assured ability to overpower China’s constantly improving defenses.

The subject you are discussing — China’s strategy for its near seas — is very relevant. The Chinese have begun to make it clear that they will not be prepared indefinitely to tolerate the long-term menace of provocative foreign naval operations near their homeland’s coasts. So it is in its near seas that China’s determination to carve out an exception to America’s global dominion is finding its clearest expression. This determination does not make China a threat to the United States, but it reinforces the point that China is a threat to U.S. military supremacy in Asia and possibly beyond it.

In this context as in others, it would seem wise to minimize activities that increase rather than diminish China’s perceived need to prepare itself for future combat with the United States. To the extent that the U.S. and PLA navies come to confront each other in China’s near seas, the stimulus for China to focus on ridding these seas of foreign threats simply increases. There is, after all, an ineluctable asymmetry at play. The United States can cease to patrol China’s near seas if it chooses, but China cannot cease to abut them.
The U.S. Navy insists on the right to conduct all sorts of operations in exclusive economic zones — EEZs — as an essential legal underpinning of our national interest in maintaining a dominant naval presence around the world. China sees its maritime perimeter through its experience of national humiliation by repeated assaults from the sea. What is a legal principle for Americans is a defense imperative for China. Such differences are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. Nor can we assume that bringing them to a head would necessarily resolve them in our favor.

The United States is not a party to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and so not in a position to avail ourselves of the Convention’s dispute resolution mechanisms. International law evolves to reflect changes in military preoccupations, technologies, and balances. Hence, the worldwide move — which the U.S. Navy stoutly resisted — from a three to a twelve-mile limit. Hence the subsequent creation, also initially opposed by the United States, of a two-hundred-mile EEZ. It’s hard to argue that American views enjoy greater international deference today than they did thirty or forty years ago.

There are many countries concerned, like China, to secure themselves from potential attack from the sea. In the post Cold War era, there are not many nations interested in preserving conditions conducive to global power projection or worldwide naval operations. If push came to shove, a majority of UNCLOS member states might support China’s views over ours. If the Chinese were to mount their own aggressive reconnaissance operations off Guam, Pearl Harbor, San Diego, and Puget Sound, even our own politicians might object to their right to do this. In a world of more than one large and competent navy, the application of the golden rule to naval operations is an ever-present, if perhaps novel and unwelcome, possibility.

In sum, having a legal right to do something does not make it wise to rub others’ noses in it. Lurking offshore to satisfy a prurient interest in the military preparedness of other nations to defend themselves can clearly be useful. Possibly, in some circumstances, it could be essential. But the best way to preserve the right to do it may be to refrain from doing it too obviously, too frequently, or too intrusively.

Antagonistic encounters in China’s near seas are a significant factor in worsening Sino-American military relations but they do not have the impact of U.S. moves to shore up Taiwan’s resistance to reunion with the mainland. The Taiwan issue is the only one with the potential to ignite a war between China and the United States. To the PLA, U.S. programs with Taiwan signal fundamental American hostility to the return of China to the status of a great power under the People’s Republic. America’s continuing arms sales, training, and military counsel to Taiwan’s armed forces represent potent challenges to China’s pride, nationalism, and rising power, as well as to its military planners. These U.S. programs appear to reflect judgments by the American elite that the Communist dictatorship on the mainland is fundamentally illegitimate and should be prevented from extending its sway to other parts of China even by peaceful means. U.S. interactions with Taiwan and Tibet belie the lip service American officials pay to the notion of “one China.” The message China’s civilian and military elite get from these interactions is that the United States wants “one China in name but not in fact — not now, and perhaps never, if America has anything to say about it.” The Chinese don’t think we should have anything to say about it.

The kind of long-term relationship of friendship and cooperation China and America want with each other is incompatible with our emotionally fraught differences over the Taiwan issue. These differences propel mutual hostility and the sort of ruinous military rivalry between the two countries that has already begun. We are coming to a point at which we can no longer finesse our differences over Taiwan. We must either resolve them or live with the increasingly adverse consequences of our failure to do so.

For Chinese, the Taiwan issue presents an increasingly stark choice between national pride commensurate with rising prestige and continuing deference to America’s waning power. With Taiwan and the mainland integrating in practice, China sees the policies of the United States as the last effective barrier to the arrival of a ripe moment for the achievement of national unity under a single, internationally respected sovereignty. Dignity and unity have been and remain the core ambitions of the Chinese revolution. China may, for now, continue to emphasize the avoidance of conflict with the United States. But the political dynamics of national honor will sooner or later force Beijing to adopt less risk-averse policies than it now espouses.

For Americans, the Taiwan issue presents an unwelcome choice between potential long-term military antagonism with China and the perpetuation, despite rapid cross-Strait economic and social integration, of Taiwan’s de facto political separation from the mainland. So far, the United States has in practice given priority to Taiwan, in what is now best described as an effort to retard the speeding tilt of the cross-Strait military balance against Taiwan. Given the huge stakes for the United States in our strategic interaction with China, this choice might well strike someone looking afresh at the situation as oddly misguided.

American priorities look all the more inverted when one considers that Beijing has offered to negotiate what amounts to purely symbolic reunification with Taiwan, forgoing any political or military presence of its own on the island. This offer cannot be dismissed as incredible. China’s willingness to tolerate amazingly different politico-economic orders on what is nominally its territory has been amply demonstrated in both Hong Kong and Macau. Its proposal to Taipei offers far greater autonomy than either of these city-states enjoy. Is it worth a war with China to prevent such an outcome? If not, why are we behaving as if it were?

Both our global military posture and our approach to China seem unlikely to work out well for us. Perhaps it’s once again time to throw off the intellectual shackles imposed by longstanding policy and address the imperatives of long-term strategic interests. Just something to think about as you plot a course for the U.S. Navy in China’s near seas.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Three Gorges: Lessons for North America

"China said on Wednesday that the Three Gorges Project, the world's biggest hydropower complex, had affected shipping, irrigation and water supply downstream on the Yangtze River." The article in China Daily, the newspaper of record for the Chinese Communist Party, went on to say, "The giant project is also facing problems that need immediate solutions, such as the livelihoods of people displaced by the project, the protection of ecosystems as well as the prevention and treatment of geological hazards, according to a statement issued after the State Council conference." [my emphasis]


Senator Shaheen needs to be briefed on this and reminded that the people of her state oppose large hydro-development. It causes epic ecological problems. Governor Lynch appears sympathetic (with an emphasis on the pathetic) to his old friend Gary Long, CEO of PSNH, and to the Governors of states to the south that thirst for Canadian hydro-power. I cannot remember a time when the former Democratic Governor did not follow the current Governor's wind sock on issues of domestic concern (i.e. state issues); however, this is a national security issue and one of international import. Shaheen prides herself on her environmental credentials and sits on the Armed Forces Committee. She may dare to step out on this one, as she, Senator Ayotte, and Representative Bass did when they encouraged an extension of the public comment period, but she must be pushed.


PSNH, NU, and NSTAR will continue to look for alternative routes instead of abandoning the project. The people of New Hampshire are dam(n) fools if they want to be turned into a "pass through" for electricity flowing to Massachusetts and Connecticut. Matt Bonner has stepped up and Bode Miller and Clay Buchholz may soon speak up, too. (That would be a hat-trick without a hockey player!) Nobody has been more eloquent than John Harrigan:
Never in my 64 years have I seen an issue that so galvanized public opinion and so angered and impassioned so many people of all stripe, politics and origins. An entirely new corridor, 150 feet wide at minimum, in places much wider, would be carved through the North Country. Pittsburg, Stewartstown, Clarksville, Colebrook (maybe even towns to the East) are “in the way” of this devastating and unnecessary for-profit scheme.

I hope that we can learn from the hubris of Chinese daydreamers who began construction on Mao's dream some 17 years ago. The damming of the Yanghtze is a monument to human greed and arrogance. The papers here are full of stories about the 230,000 plus people who will go without water this spring and summer because of dry reservoirs. Plans to build other large projects--whether in Laos or Canada--will face many of the same problems.

The most important admission by the State Council in their statement released after their recent conference is this: "Some of the problems had been expected during the research and design of the project, with the others emerging throughout the construction period..." Indeed, we cannot know the effects of playing God with mighty rivers so we had best focus our efforts on conservation and efficiency, as well as harnessing inexhaustible resources like the wind, tides, and sun.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Beijing: The Soft Sleeper Experience

It is so easy to get on the train at 10:30 pm and wake up in Beijing at 8 am that I did it again. Did not bring a camera this time. I took the hard sleeper down, but my friend wanted to take the soft-sleeper back. It was a pleasant experience both ways.

I visited the newly-renovated National Museum of China with my German friend, where there was an exhibit entitled "The Art of the Enlightenment." It was beautifully done. They spared no expense.

In his article for The Art Newspaper, András Szántó asks some probing questions, "Will investments in the National Museum and the Enlightenment exhibition pay off for China and Germany? The question begs larger questions still. Can museums shape social attitudes? Does culture have a meaningful role in statecraft? Should art institutions act in the service of governments?"

En route to the museum on Friday, around noontime, we hit the so-called Night Market off of Wangfujing Street, Dongcheng District. A picture is worth a thousand words:

Spiders, silk worm or bee larvae, geckos, starfish, two kinds of scorpions, and seahorses to name a few of the edible delicacies.
On this trip, I also bought about US$100 of clothes for the coming spring weather. We wandered the streets of Qianmen and eventually went to the Temple of Heaven. We had intended to get to the Summer Palace, but the weather was hot and we got a late start so it made more sense to visit some of the sites in the city.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Obama, not Huntsman, in 2012

Join me in spreading the word to expatriates living in China about a new group supporting Obama in 2012: http://my.barackobama.com/page/group/Obamain2012-China.


My Fellow Americans in China,

While I am a big Matt Damon supporter and even like a lot about the former Ambassador to China, Mr. Huntsman, there is no question in my mind that Barack Obama is the right man for the POTUS job in 2012...since Elizabeth Warren is not running.

In a recent Vanity Fair article, Nobel Laureate in Economics, Joseph Stiglitz, identified the most serious problem facing our nation and Paul Krugman has also written powerfully on the topic of a type of elitism that does not adhere to the Jeffersonian meritocracy that was once the basis for our nation (e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/09/opinion/09krugman.html?src=me&ref=general).  Barack Obama, certainly not Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Huntsman, Pawlenty, or the fake from Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, is most likely to address these issues--even if we cannot hope for audacity.

Let Barack Obama continue what he has started: http://whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com.  

He has made great appointments, like Lisa Jackson and Elizabeth Warren, Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. He stopped Osama bin Laden and begun the glacial movement towards an improved health care system. His foreign policy and economic teams had productive meetings with China this week.

Join me in spreading the word to expatriates living in China about this new group: http://my.barackobama.com/page/group/Obamain2012-China.

I am a JD with a Master of Studies in Environmental Law. I am an experienced campaign staffer from New Hampshire, who has been the controversial head of the county Democrats (I accused the State Party of illegal fundraising and spoke ex cathedra about the shamefulness of the Democratic Governor's budget there). I worked for Howard Dean's Presidential campaign (and was a 2004 Convention Delegate for him), volunteered for Ralph Nader in 1996 and 2000 (I know, I know, but I lived in Vermont then), and supported John Edwards in the 2008 NH Primary (I know, I know, but he was for a carbon tax and he talked about poverty).

Before moving to Changchun in February, I ran a nonprofit for fifteen years, called Project Laundry List (www.laundrylist.org), that was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal twice and appeared in the New York Times eight times. We/I were on the World News, CBS Morning Show, and the major national TV stations in Japan, Germany, and Korea. I am proudest that we were on The Colbert Report, though. I am telling you all of this because I want you to know I am serious and doggedly persistent.

I am also busy as can be, teaching and learning about the Waking Green Dragon (the name of my blog). We cannot do this without teamwork so I am asking you to consider joining Team Obama in 2012- China. China Daily reports that there are at least 71,000 Americans (mostly highly educated foreign experts) living here. That is too many people to ignore.

I am looking for steering committee members and individuals with broad networks. Please DO NOT respond to this message, but email me personally at alee@alexanderplee.com.

My goal is to create a massive electronic movement of American expatriates in China who support the President. My main focus in life is on energy and environment issues, but this is a general group. For those interested in energy and environment issues specifically, please see: http://my.barackobama.com/page/group/OFA-EE-China and http://my.barackobama.com/page/group/EnergyandEnvironmentTeam.   

Thanks. Are you in?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Freedom of Religion in China

Regrettably, I have not been to Mass since I arrived here three months ago. I work on Sunday and I have not made a great effort, given my pre-conceived notions of how it might earn me a ticket home or worse. I am not comfortable with attending the services of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, despite my concomitant discomfort with much of the Roman hierarchy.

It seems that dialogue and embracing the religious spirit espoused by China's religious community are essential at this juncture. A total prohibition on communication between the Chinese Catholic clergy and the Vatican seems the most egregious of the accusations leveled by the Commission in the report referenced below. The Great Leap Backward seems to be the biggest thing standing in the way of smoother sailing for the US and China. I pray that we can find common cause.

China Daily reports:

BEIJING -- China's religious community on Friday rejected a US commission report accusing China of religious freedom violations, saying its "finger-pointing" practice and "irresponsible remarks" are not in conformity with a religious spirit.

The section with regard to China included in the report is "strongly subjective, full of prejudices, and not true to reality", according to a written consensus released after a joint meeting of the secretary-generals from China's five major religious groups -- Buddhists, Taoists, Islam, Catholics and Protestants.

In an annual report on religious freedom released on April 28, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission, attacked China, saying it found violations of religious freedom in the country.

"What has been described about China in the report is entirely different from what we have observed and experienced," the consensus said.

 

This is the summary of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom:

FINDINGS: Unregistered religious groups or those deemed by the Chinese government to threaten national security or social harmony continue to face severe restrictions, although the government tolerates some religious activity within approved organizations. Religious freedom conditions for Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims remain particularly acute as the government broadened its efforts to discredit and imprison religious leaders, control the selection of clergy, ban religious gatherings, and control the distribution of religious literature by members of these groups. The government also detained over five hundred unregistered Protestants in the past year and stepped up efforts to destroy churches and close illegal meeting points. Dozens of unregistered Catholic clergy remain in detention, in home confinement, or have disappeared. Falun Gong adherents continue to be targeted by extralegal security forces and tortured and mistreated in detention. The Chinese government also continues to harass, detain, intimidate, disbar, and forcibly disappear attorneys who defend the Falun Gong, Tibetans, Uighurs, and unregistered Protestants. Because of these systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, USCIRF recommends in 2011 that China again be designated as a country of particular concern., or CPC. The State Department has designated China as a CPC since 1999.

Religious communities continue to grow rapidly in China. Hundreds of millions of Chinese manifest their belief openly. Senior-level government officials, including President Hu Jintao, have praised the positive role of religious communities and articulated a desire for religious groups to promote economic and social development.. There are reports that the government is considering legalizing charitable activities of recognized religious organizations. These are positive steps that could lead to greater accommodation of religious activity sanctioned by the government. At the same time, the government praises religious groups who resist foreign infiltration,. supports extralegal security forces to suppress the activities of so-called cult organizations, actively harasses, imprisons, tortures, and disappears advocates for greater religious freedom, destroys unregistered religious venues, and severely restricts online access to religious information and the authority of religious communities to choose their own leadership and parents to teach their children religion.

PRIORITY RECOMMENDATIONS: Religious freedom encompasses many issues in U.S.-China
relations, including the rule of law, freedom of expression, and the well-being of ethnic minorities. Promoting religious freedom in China is a vital U.S. interest that can positively affect the United Statese future security, economic, and political relations with China. As part of Chinaes CPC designation, USCIRF urges the Secretary of State to impose a new sanction targeting officials or state agencies that perpetuate religious freedom abuses or provinces where religious freedom conditions are most egregious. In addition, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. raise religious freedom concerns in multilateral fora where the United States and China are members, coordinate potential sources of leverage within the U.S. government and with allies to build a consistent human rights diplomacy with China, develop and distribute proven technologies to counter Internet censorship, raise religious freedom and negotiate binding human rights agreements at the U.S.-China Strategic Dialogue, and integrate human rights concerns, consistently and openly, into the entire structure of U.S.-China bilateral relations. Additional recommendations for U.S. policy towards China can be found at the end of this chapter. (pages 124-40)

The section on Catholics begins on page 128.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Shanghai: A Modern City

The airport in Shanghai is tremendous, but I arrived late and it was vacant which struck me as an amusing way to chronicle the journey. The rest of my weekend in this megalopolis was chock full of humanity. This was a very misleading entrance to a city that swarms with people, especially on a holiday weekend. (May 1 is a big deal around here; some of my colleagues have eight or nine days off.)

I proceeded to my CouchSurfer's home where I found that she works in communications for International Paper. We had only the beginning of a good conversation about paper versus pixels. She was incredibly generous and had another chatty (conversation-starved) American sleeping on the floor. Unable to house a third person, she had referred Irina from Romania to another CouchSurfer, but suggested that the two of us pair up for a fun weekend of adventures. That is exactly what I did.

This photograph is more interesting inverted.
In the morning, I left Pudong by subway and headed to People's Square. I waited at a Starbucks where I was approached for a picture (this is very common) by a young Chinese man from Harbin who was in the city for holiday and to get a passport to Singapore so that he could take an exam there later this year. Soon, Irina showed up and the three of us set off. Probably put-off by the price of admission ($35 yuan for the regular and special exhibit), he abandoned us at the door of the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, which another Shanghaier and CouchSurfer had marked as a "must-see."

Inside the museum, by far the most amazing thing is the scaled model of the whole city of Shanghai. The skyline of this city rivals any other city I have ever visited and The Bund is one of the most gorgeous, urban environments I have ever witnessed. Following are some images from the museum and from The Bund by day and by night. Irina and I paid 30 RMB for a double-decker bus tour that was worth every penny.







The Oriental Pearl Tower



The TCM Museum
On the following morning, I decided to abandon plans with Irina for a shopping trip (prices on clothes are said to be cheap in Shanghai while the food is expensive). I was going to go to Qi Pu Lu (nicknamed Cheapo Lu), but decided instead to go to the Traditional Chinese Medicine Museum by myself, where I lingered for a couple hours and talked a young woman who was studying acupuncture at the Visitor's Desk to give me a tour. As it was the holiday, the gift shop (does anybody need some snake or ginseng?) and the English audio tours were unavailable.

Pictures were not permitted inside the museum, but she and her fellow medical student allowed me to snap a panorama of the third floor's extensive collection of herbal, animal, and mineral samples. It was like Noah's Ark combined with the Arnold Arboretum and the Colorado School of Mines. There were hedgehogs and tiny deer and their antlers and gall bladders from ungulates, armadillos, horns from water buffalo and turtles (live and mounted). There was ginseng and plants few have ever seen. There were geodes and stones that get ground into a dust, too.

In the afternoon, I met Irina and her host, Fiona, for a lunch at YuYuan Gardens. YuYuan Gardens is a charming delight and was filled with amazing architecture and dragons.

A small fraction of the humanity--many foreigners--visible from our restaurant's second-story window. Those on the bridge were on their way to the inner-sanctum (the non-commercial part) of YuYuan Gardens.


Finished lotus leaves which wrapped sticky rice and a sesame ball stuffed made of lotus paste with a poppy-seed filling. The purple scoop is sweet potato. I also had a long kebab-skewer with a fish on it.