The word for a Chinese government official — a bureaucrat — is ganbu (干部). For some reason it gets translated into English as “cadre,” (usually pronounce kad-er). You can spot a ganbu a mile away in China; there is a certain stance (hands behind the back or pointing, or listening to an underling explain something); and there is a certain style of clothing, often fairly casual (think collared t-shirts and zip-up jackets).
Back in the 80’s when I first went to China, the “ganbu look” included a cap — what we might call a “Mao Cap.” I preferred to call them “cadre caps.” Military ganbu wore green ones with red stars, but civilian cadre caps were usually blue — cotton in the summer, and wool in the winter. To be sure, almost everyone wore Mao caps back then, but it seems that these wool ones were the favorites of cadres, hence getting my designation “cadre cap.”
Last weekend my sister, brother-in-law, mom, and I decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather in Minnesota and go for a drive. When we got to my sister’s house, Jeff came bounding out of the house wearing a dark blue cadre cap.
When I saw that cap perched on top of his head, I burst out laughing; not because it looked funny, but because I hadn’t seen one in more than twenty years, and probably hadn’t seen this particular hat in more than thirty years!
I immediately remembered that I had bought it as a gift and brought it home to him at the end of my first year of teaching in 1985. There wasn’t much in the way of gifts to purchase back then, so I thought a cadre cap for Jeff would be perfect.
What is so unique about this particular cadre cap is the “sticky-uppy” piece of cloth at the top. If you look at the photo you might be thinking that it is a small loop; something to use when hanging the cap. You would be wrong, because it is just a single piece of material sticking straight up. For what purpose, I suppose, will remain a mystery, although Jeff wondered if it was some sort of secret transmitter that he was now activating by wearing it again!
But the inside of the hat was even more interesting, and once again provided an instant journey back into China of the 1980’s.
It says “San Xia Hat Factory,” followed by a 6-digit phone number!
I thought that san xia (三侠) meant “Three Gorges,” but a friend wrote me and said it could also be translated “Three Musketeers.” Google Translate says it means “romance.” Go figure!
If you ask me, this cadre cap belongs in a museum, not on Jeff’s head!
I’m guessing that anyone who has flown, either on occasion or extensively, knows the feeling of longing that comes over them as they board the plane and walk through the first class cabin where people sit smugly sipping champagne as you wrestle your luggage and family past the curtains into steerage. “Someday,” we whisper to ourselves…..
A few years back I was flying from Chiang Mai, Thailand down to Bangkok, on the first leg of a journey back to Beijing following a teacher’s conference. I was already seated near the front of the economy section when I spotted some colleagues coming down the aisle with their 4 kids in tow. The youngest boy was bawling; you know the cry — the one that expresses deep sorrow and anguish.
When his mom saw me, she leaned over and said, “he just saw the first class seats and wants to sit there.”
“Don’t we all?” I replied.
This young guy was giving voice to how all of us felt but were unable to express because, well, adults don’t cry and throw fits when we can’t sit in first class.
Fong explores the wide-ranging impact of what she calls the world’s “most radical experiment” in her new book, One Child. She says that among the policy’s unintended consequences is an acute gender imbalance.
“When you create a system where you would shrink the size of a family and people would have to choose, then people would … choose sons,” Fong says. “Now China has 30 million more men than women, 30 million bachelors who cannot find brides. … They call them guang guan, ‘broken branches,’ that’s the name in Chinese. They are the biological dead ends of their family.”
Fong says the policy also led to forced abortions and the confiscation of children by the authorities. Looking ahead, China is also facing a shortage of workers who can support its aging population.
Go here to listen to (or read) the entire conversation. It’s a fascinating look at the background and consequences of China’s 30 year experiment in population control.
And if you’re like me, you’ll add it to your reading wish list!
I first posted this photo to my blog ten years ago, when there were probably only a handful of readers, so I thought it would be OK to bring it back around.
One afternoon I grabbed my camera and headed downtown on my new bike to run some errands and take pictures. I ended up at the Forbidden City, one of my favorite spots in town. At the time I was taking an on-line Digital SLR photography course, and had a shooting assignment.
This wall/tower section was my destination, but I got lucky with this old man sitting against the wall soaking up the warm sunshine.
The Forbidden City was the home of Chinese emperors for 600 years, and was, in traditional Chinese thinking the center of the Middle Kingdom—the point around which all the universe rotates. Not just figuratively, but literally. The emperor was the earthly representative of Heaven (God). These massive high walls were what separated the emperor from his subjects, and were designed to remind the masses of the gulf that existed between ruler and ruled.
The man sitting against the wall captures that distance, and the smallness of the commoner in relation to the emperor. And if he’s more than 80 years old, he can remember the day when an emperor (albeit a young boy) was in residence behind those big red walls.