Who Was Liu Xiaobo?

You may have seen on the news on Thursday that imprisoned Chinese dissident and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo passed away from liver cancer in a hospital in northeast China. He had been sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for his part in the writing of “Charter 08,” a document calling for political reform in China.

In case you are wondering who he is and the significance of his life and work, I recommend reading these two articles, both in the New York Review of Books:

The Passion of Liu Xiaobo, by Perry Link

After his release from Qincheng Prison in 1991, Liu was banned from publishing in China and fired from his teaching post at Beijing Normal University—even though students there had always loved his lectures. He began to support himself by writing for magazines in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas. The rise of the Internet in China in the early 2000s gave a huge boost to circulation of his essays, not only outside China but inside, too, as overseas friends found ways to skirt the government’s Great Firewall and send them back into China. Before 1989, his essays had been mostly on contemporary Chinese literature, but now he addressed topics in history, politics, and society, revealing a rich erudition.

China’s ‘Fault Lines’: Yu Jie on His New Biography of Liu Xiaobo, by Ian Johnson

In 2003, Yu converted to Christianity and increasingly complemented his provocative writing with political activism of his own. He was an early signer of Charter 08, the landmark human rights manifesto, and in 2010 cemented his position as a leading political critic by writing a biography of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in which he refers to his subject as “China’s best actor.” Last year, Yu completed a rough draft of his biography of Liu Xiaobo, who is now serving an eleven-year prison sentence. Authorities warned Yu that he too would be jailed if the book was published and put him under house arrest for several months. In January, he fled China with his wife and son for the United States, where he now resides.

I spoke to Mr. Yu at a church in the Washington area.

It is a sad day for China.

Don’t Do This in Shanghai

22 years ago, in an effort to improve the social environment of Shanghai, the city government issued a list of 7 “Don’ts” — behaviors that the citizens were to avoid. It was an attempt to eradicate the bad habits of Shanghai citizens. They included things like spitting, smoking in public, and cursing.


Earlier this month the office of the Shanghai Spiritual Civilization Construction Commission (what’s not to love about that name?) issued an updated list, one designed to address more modern bad habits.

Here the are:

  1. Don’t let pets disturb neighbors.
  2. Don’t cut in line.
  3. Don’t park vehicles in a disorderly manner.
  4. Don’t waste food.
  5. Don’t make noise.
  6. Don’t jaywalk.
  7. Don’t litter.

If you’re heading to Shanghai in the near future, you might want to keep this list handy!

Related Posts:

Do’s and Don’ts

Eight Glories, Eight Disgraces

Walking Backwards Through Shanghai

Shanghai Sidewalk Cafe


Shanghai Books

Battle Zone Shanghai


Image credit: by Alfred Weidinger, via Flickr


Ripples of the Population Policy

On February 1, the NPR show Fresh Air broadcast an interview with Mei Fong, author of the book One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment.

One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment

Here’s the introduction to the interview:

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 Love a Parade

I’m actually ambivalent to parades in general, but I must admit to having a strange fascination with Chinese military parades. I’m not sure why, but perhaps it’s because they are multi-layered and there are interesting things going on at every level.

china military parade

On Thursday, September 3, China held it’s 14th grand military parade in Central Beijing. While past parades have been held to commemorate the founding of the People’s Republic or other Communist Party milestones, this one was designed to mark the end World War II; specifically the defeat of Japan. And just to be sure that everyone got that, it was given the somewhat clunky (at least in English) name: Commemoration of the The 70th Anniversary of the Victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War.  

From a purely visual aspect, the production of the parade was stunning. Nobody can stage manage and produce images (still and moving) better than CCTV, the Chinese national broadcasting entity. They are true masters.

Watching a Chinese military parade is also somewhat jarring, culturally. Parades in the west tend to be laid-back (albeit well-organized), often winsome events. The goal is to have a good time. Not so with a military parade; goose-stepping soldiers, tanks, and nuclear missiles tend not to have that kind of effect on people.

And perhaps that’s just the point. The parade wasn’t about or for the enjoyment of the people; it was about communicating a message to the people: “We have risen; we are strong.” To many (perhaps most) people in China, this message (rightly) inspires pride; to many in the west, consternation.

In other words, mission accomplished.

If you missed it the first time around, you can watch the entire parade here.

It is a little over an hour. If you would prefer to watch the 1-minute version, you can do so here.

Jonah Kessler has produced an excellent short video about the parade titled Pomp and Power at China Military Parade.

If you are more inclined towards still photos of the parade, The Atlantic has collected some of the best.

The Economist highlights the specific message that China was sending to Japan:

The government described the display as an international celebration, befitting the 70th anniversary of an Allied victory. But an online article in the People’s Daily, the party’s mouthpiece, earlier this year made clear what this meant. The parade’s purpose, it said, was to “deter Japan” and “show off China’s military might”. This was promptly toned down to “conveying to the world that China is devoted to safeguarding international order after world war two, rather than challenging it”. China argues that the main threat to the international status quo is the desire of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, to rewrite his country’s pacifist constitution. So the polite version is not, in fact, all that different from the blunt one.

It was also a more personal message from President Xii Jinping saying to the Party and the nation (and to potential rivals): “I am in charge now.” An article in The New York Times delves deeper into the meaning of the parade for Mr. Xi, and especially his use of the parade to announce troop reductions:

But the highly public manner of Mr. Xi’s announcement that 300,000 military personnel would be demobilized, China’s largest troop reduction in nearly two decades, carried another implicit message. He was demonstrating his grip on the military and on the party, amid economic squalls and a grinding anticorruption campaign that have left some wondering whether he and his agenda of change — including in the People’s Liberation Army — were faltering, several experts said.

“It’s Xi in command,” Andrew Scobell, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation who studies the Chinese military, and who was in Beijing during the parade, said of the announcement.

Writing at The New Yorker, Even Osnos notes that one of the issues underlying the parade was skeptism:

Seventy years after China emerged from the Second World War, the greatest threat facing the nation’s leadership is not imperialism but skepticism. Chinese Communist Party leaders built their legitimacy on economic performance, and now they must rebuild confidence that they are able to negotiate a more complicated financial and political moment.

The Wall Street Journal does an excellent job in presenting five takeaways from the parade.

Since this was the first parade to be held in the era of social media, there were numerous stories about how Chinese netizens were reacting online to the parade. The Wall Street Journal identified 5 memes, or topics of particular interest and comment on social media. They range from the red dress worn by President Xi’s wife to fans taking selfies with Chairman Mao’s grandson.

Finally, if you are interested in the history of Chinese military parades, I recommend the Parading The People’s Republic, posted at The China Story. It reminds us that these parades have a long and glorious history!

The 3 September 2015 Grand Military Parade is the fifteenth large-scale event of its kind in the history of the People’s Republic (not counting such confected crowd-sourced events as anti-US rallies, Mao’s eight reviews of amassed Red Guards in 1966 and celebrations following the coup d’état against the ‘Gang of Four’ in October 1976). It is an out-of-sequence triumph, heavily freighted with Xi-era self-congratulation.

Congratulations, China, on a parade well-marched!

Image credit: The Atlantic

This is a slightly edited version of a post that was first published at ChinaSource on September 7, 2015.

The No Smoking Dance

Nobody can launch a massive nationwide propaganda campaign like the Chinese government. Whether it is to promote an event or mobilize support in favor of a new policy pronouncement, they are in a league of their own.

Today (June 1), a smoking ban goes into effect in Beijing that will outlaw smoking in all indoor public places and most outdoor settings as well. And what better way to promote it and get people behind it than the No Smoking Dance, one of a number of events held at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing.


I wish them success!

And in case you may have missed them, here are some of my past posts about smoking in China:

Smoking in the Park

No Smoking

No Smoking! Dream On

No Smoking Room Please

What are the Characters on that Sign?

Alas, It was too Good to be True

Second Hand Smoke

Image credit: ecns.com

All Aboard!

This post is for all you train lovers. The Guardian recently published a wonderful photo essay of China’s last steam train line,which runs along a rail line in Sichuan province.


Here’s the introduction:

It’s a bumpy ride, and it takes over an hour to go 12 miles. But the trip from Shixi to Huangcunjing in rural Sichuan is one of the last regular passenger steam train services in the world – and a lifeline to locals, who could not travel to nearby towns without it.

Click on over to The Guardian to see all the photos.

Related Posts:

Of Tones and Trains

So, How Fast is this Train? 

A Tale of Two Tickets — The Train

Dancing on a Chinese Train

On the Train

Night Train to Manchuria

Image credit: Kevin Freyer, Getty Images, via The Guardian

The Chinese are Coming!

During my first year in China (1984) I was an English teacher at a small teachers college in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. My students were middle school English teachers in smaller cities around the province. Many had previously been Russian teachers, but were now being re-trained as English teachers. For most of them, I was the first foreigner they had ever seen.

As is common practice in an EFL classroom, I tried to come up with activities to get the students to practice; to actually use the language (not something they were used to). Of course, asking questions that require some thought is a good technique.

I remember asking my first class of students “if you could go anywhere in the world, where would choose, and why?” and being greeted with absolutely blank stares. To me it was a rather simple question, but for them the possibility of traveling to another country was so far out of the realm of possibility, and thus the realm of what they could imagine, that they couldn’t even answer the question. I might as well have been asking them what planet they would like to visit and why.


Not so anymore. According to an article on the travel website Skift, there were over 100 million Chinese tourists traveling abroad last year, and by 2019, that number is expected to nearly double:

Here are the numbers: 174 million Chinese tourists are tipped to spend $264 billion by 2019 compared with the 109 million who spent $164 billion in 2014, according to a new analysis by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. To put that in perspective, there were just 10 million Chinese outbound tourists in 2000.

How much is $264 billion” It’s about the size of Finland’s economy and bigger than Greece’s.

I have seen this first hand since moving back to the States from China 2 years ago. I have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit around the United States and Canada. Every single place that I have been I have heard Chinese being spoken. And I’m not just talking about the famous and oft-visited places such as Las Vegas, Pike’s Peak, Disney World, or Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. I have run into Chinese tourists in some pretty out-of-the-way places, from sand dunes in Utah to ferries in Southeast Alaska.

And now, a half-dozen of my friends in Beijing have 10-year tourist visas to the US.

One of my favorite Chinese phrases is relie haunying (热烈欢迎), which literally translated is “warmly welcome.”

Here’s to hoping that’s what Chinese visitors to the US will experience!

Photo: CRI English