China

Tank Man on Tiananmen Square

Wednesday, 4 June, 2014 0 Comments

Twenty-five years after the massacre of pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, nothing recalls the horror of it all better than the photo of the incredibly brave Tank Man by Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener. Today, China is seeking to suppress all discussion of the massacre by arresting, charging or harassing dissidents, artists, scholars, lawyers, bloggers and relatives of the victims.

Tank Man on Tiananmen Square


Mao, the mass murderer, and his supporters

Thursday, 26 December, 2013 1 Comment

In 1968, John Lennon was asked about Mao Zedong. “It sounds like he’s doing a good job,” said the Beatle, who once sang, “Imagine no possessions.” In the same ballad, the idiotic Lennon continued, “No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world.” Mao would have liked that. Regarding the bit about “No need for greed or hunger,” it is estimated that at least 45 million people died of starvation during Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.” When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, the local Communist boss, Xiong Dechang, forced his father to bury his son alive on the spot. Imagine.

Today, China “celebrates” the 120th anniversary of the birth of the monster Mao and in a piece that John Lennon would have been proud of, the BBC eulogizes the mass murderer claiming that “Unlike Stalin, Mao sentenced no-one and certainly did not intend to create a terrible famine.” Time for someone there to read Mao’s Great Famine.

Maoism lives at the BBC, the Guardian and similar outposts. There, it has turned itself into a nonsense on a Lennonist scale, but, then, Maoism made no sense. The worst famine in human history was caused by policies that made no sense, such as forcing farmers to melt all their metal tools in backyard furnaces, but those who used to be Maoists no have retained their commitment to following the latest madness with absolute faith. José Manuel Barroso, the current President of the European Commission, was a Maoist and Ireland’s political establisment has offered a comfortable home to a collective of former Maoists. The unrepentant (and now very fashionable) Maoist Alain Badiou has a new object of hatred these days: Israel and the Jews.

Badiou and his ilk would benefit greatly from reading Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, who survived the nightmare of Maoism. Snippet:

“In the days after Mao’s death, I did a lot of thinking. I knew he was considered a philosopher, and I tried to think what his ‘philosophy’ really was. It seemed to me that its central principle was the need or the desire for perpetual conflict. The core of his thinking seemed to be that human struggles were the motivating force of history and that in order to make history ‘class enemies’ had to be continuously created en masse. I wondered whether there were any other philosophers whose theories had led to the suffering and death of so many. I thought of the terror and misery to which the Chinese population had been subjected. For what?

But Mao’s theory might just be the extension of his personality. He was, it seemed to me, really a restless fight promoter by nature, and good at it. He understood ugly human instincts such as envy and resentment, and knew how to mobilize them for his ends. He ruled by getting people to hate each other. In doing so, he got ordinary Chinese to carry out many of the tasks undertaken in other dictatorships by professional elites. Mao had managed to turn the people into the ultimate weapon of dictatorship.

That was why under him there was no real equivalent of the KGB in China. There was no need. In bringing out and nourishing the worst in people, Mao had created a moral wasteland and a land of hatred. But how much individual responsibility ordinary people should share, I could not decide.

The other hallmark of Maoism, it seemed to me, was the reign of ignorance. Because of his calculation that the cultured class were an easy target for a population that was largely illiterate, because of his own deep resentment of formal education and the educated, because of his megalomania, which led to his scorn for the great figures of Chinese culture, and because of his contempt for the areas of Chinese civilization that he did not understand, such as architecture, art, and music, Mao destroyed much of the country’s cultural heritage. He left behind not only a brutalized nation, but also an ugly land with little of its past glory remaining or appreciated.”

Mao was a monster.

Mao


Post written while using a Lenovo ThinkPad X1

Tuesday, 30 July, 2013 1 Comment

In fact, most Rainy Day blog posts are written using a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 as it happens to be our workhorse of choice. But what if the trusty old X1 were so configured that it might be sending these posts back to Beijing? Would that affect our thinking about it’s lightness and sleekness and reliability?

You see, Lenovo, which has its headquarters in Beijing, acquired IBM’s ThinkPad brand and technology in 2005 and it hasn’t looked back since then. It had revenues last year of $29 billion and has a market share of nearly 17 percent. Note: The Chinese Academy of Sciences, a public body, owns more than a third of Legend Holdings, which in turn owns 34 percent of Lenovo and is its biggest shareholder.

And now comes the disturbing news that the intelligence and defence services of Australia, the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have banned Lenovo machines from their networks because of concerns they are vulnerable to being hacked. According to the Australian Financial Review, “malicious modifications to ­Lenovo’s circuitry — beyond more typical vulnerabilities or ‘zero-days’ in its software — were discovered that could allow people to remotely access devices without the users’ knowledge. The alleged presence of these hardware ‘back doors’ remains highly classified.

In a statement, Lenovo said it was unaware of the ban. The company said its ‘products have been found time and time again to be reliable and secure by our enterprise and public sector customers and we always ­welcome their engagement to ensure we are meeting their security needs’..

A technology expert at the ­Washington-based Brookings ­In­stitution, Professor John Villasenor, said the globalisation of the semi-conductor market has ‘made it not only possible but inevitable that chips that have been intentionally and maliciously altered to contain hidden ‘Trojan’ circuitry will be inserted into the supply chain.

‘These Trojan circuits can then be triggered months or years later to launch attacks,’ he said.”

By the way, Lenovo is not the only company with links to Beijing to run into trouble about its hardware. Similar allegations were made against Huawei Technologies, the telecommunications giant earlier this year after it was banned from competing for a huge broadband contract in Australia. And Huawei was accused earlier this month by a former head of the CIA of passing details of foreign telecommunications systems to the Chinese government. It has repeatedly insisted its products are safe and challenged its detractors to provide proof for their claims.

Those who think that this is all tech talk, should read the brilliant and frightening Death in Singapore by Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar of the Financial Times. This is a dangerous world and the stakes are higher than we can imagine.

ThinkPad X1


An American Spy

Tuesday, 18 June, 2013 0 Comments

With all this talk of the NSA and its activities, espionage has stormed back onto the front pages. Perfect time to publish a spy novel set in China, the USA and Germany, one should think, and cometh the hour, cometh the man in the form of Olen Steinhauer. That surname suggests another Nordic star but Steinhauer was born in Baltimore and attended the University of Texas, Austin. He now lives in Budapest and he’s bidding to be the new John le Carré. Given the quality of An American Spy, he’s got a great hand of cards.

An American Spy And better again, Steinhauer has got a great sense of the Zeitgeist because he’s peopled An American Spy with characters such as Comrade Colonel Xin Zhu, the corpulent head of the Expedition Agency within Beijing’s Sixth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security. He’s had 33 CIA agents killed across the world in a breathtaking act of liquidation, but he’s got to watch his back because Wu Liang and his associate, Yang Qing-Nian, of the Supervision and Liaison Committee, a branch of the Central Committee’s Political and Legislative Affairs Committee, are not fans. Xin Zhu speaks:

“It wasn’t just revenge, you know. Everyone thinks that’s what it was — the committee, you, probably even the Americans. Revenge factored into it, but it was also a practical decision. That’s something I’ll have to explain on Monday morning. By eradicating one of their secret departments, we have sent a serious message to the Americans, the same message we want to send with the Olympic Games. That we are the primary force in the world. We are a nation that has suffered long enough — that’s the past. The present is this: We are a superpower of unfathomable riches, and we will not stand for interference, particularly from a country on the other side of the planet that still refers to itself as the world’s only superpower.”

Yes, it’s only fiction but le Carré’s fiction was infused with fact and there’s a lot in An American Spy to suggest that Steinhauer intimately understands the nexus of global strategy and dirty deeds, too. His portrayal of Zhu is measured and menacing and the useful idiots who marched in Hong Kong at the weekend in solidarity with Edward Snowden would do will to read An American Spy. There are no paradises upon this earth.


riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore

Tuesday, 2 April, 2013 0 Comments

Great story in today’s Wall Street Journal about how Dai Congrong spent eight years translating Book I of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake into Chinese. Her translation sold out its 8,000-volume run shortly after it was released in December. Snippet:

“The first line of the novel, which begins mid-sentence, reads, ‘riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.’ To translate that sentence alone, Ms. Dai provides two definitions, five footnotes and seven asides in smaller type to describe its allusions to religion, memory and the 17th- and 18th-century academic Giovanni Battista Vico.”

Congratulations to Lilian Lin and Carlos Tejada for their excellent reporting and writing of ‘Finnegans Wake’ Is Greek to Many; Now Imagine It in Chinese.

By the way, in Finnegans Wake, Joyce summed up the madness of the scribbling business thus: “But by writing thithaways end to end and turning, turning and end to end hithaways writing and with lines of litters slittering up and louds of latters slettering down, the old semetomyplace and jupetbackagain from tham Let Raise till Hum Lit. Sleep, where in the waste is the wisdom?”


A multitude of memories rescued from death

Thursday, 21 March, 2013 0 Comments

In fast-moving China, people have embraced digital photography with a fierce fervour. The upside of this for Thomas Sauvin is that Beijing is awash in discarded film negatives, if one knows where to look for them, that is. Sauvin does, and in pursuit of his Beijing Silvermine project he spends a lot of his time visiting the recycling yards where they await destruction. Loved this statement of passion: “The birth of Beijing Silvermine in May of 2009 meant the end to this massacre of photographs, rescuing a multitude of memories from certain death.”

“This vast archive of 35mm color film negatives, taken by ordinary and anonymous Chinese, unearths discarded souvenir snapshots, often amusing, banal or intriguing, sometimes awkward, yet above all, undeniably authentic. Silvermine is a photographic portrait of the capital and the life of her inhabitants over the last thirty years.”

Talking of a photographic portrait of the capital, Reuters offers this interactive look at Beijing’s pollution problem. How long can this continue?


The Architecture of Density

Wednesday, 2 January, 2013 0 Comments

The urban landscapes captured my Munich photographer Michael Wolf look like collages of pixels created by graphic designers who cut their teeth on Lego. But they are very real buildings in today’s megacities, especially Hong Kong. Although these are residential silos, what makes Wolf’s images so perturbing is the almost complete absence of human inhabitants. But in many of Asia’s great cities, the concept of space, both private and public, is dramatically different to that which is considered “normal” in the West.

Hong Kong living


Sexy dictator satire produces red faces at the People’s Daily

Wednesday, 28 November, 2012 0 Comments

“No doubt, few would seriously describe Kim Jong-Un as sexy, much less as the world’s sexiest man. Nor would many people equate People’s Daily with sexiness. But if there’s one place in the world willing — or, at least, desiring — to believe that a foreign publication would praise him in such a way, it’s […]

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Democracy vs. Autocracy: USA vs. China

Tuesday, 6 November, 2012 0 Comments

Today, millions of people of the USA will elect a swathe of public representatives, from sheriff to president, in an open process that, despite its imperfections, is without equal in the world. On Thursday, China opens its 18th party congress, designed to usher in the next generation of Communist party officials who will govern the […]

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China: The Economist flatters; the New York Times reveals

Friday, 26 October, 2012 0 Comments

The latest issue of The Economist features Xi Jinping, soon to be named China’s next president, on the cover and the editorial accompanying the title mentions the word “corruption” three times. Here’s the penultimate paragraph: “The Chinese Communist Party has a powerful story to tell. Despite its many faults, it has created wealth and hope […]

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Disappearing Shanghai

Friday, 28 September, 2012

“This is a story that sounds familiar, that we think we know or can imagine: old houses torn down for luxury malls, ordinary people poorly compensated, an intimate way of life replaced by highways and high-rises. All of this is happening in Shanghai — and dozens of cities across China and around the world–but it’s […]

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