Without Committing a Crime, Five Female Activists Detained in China

By , March 15, 2015

International Women's DayWhile the rest of the world celebrated International Women’s Day (March 8) with gender equality marches, women empowerment conferences, and female-oriented concerts, the Chinese government opted for a decidedly different approach: detaining a number of Chinese women activists.

On March 6 and 7, 2015, in various cities across China, public security officials rounded up at least 10 women, each of whom sought to mark International Women’s Day with a nation-wide campaign highlighting the increase in sexual harassment on public transportation.  Their goal?  To pass out leaflets and stickers calling for the end of such sexual harassment and for the police to take some action against sexual harassment on public transportation.

One of the five detained, Wu Rongrong, founder and executive director of the Weizhiming Women’s Center in Hangzhou

One of the five detained, Wu Rongrong, founder and executive director of the Weizhiming Women’s Center in Hangzhou

While five of these 10 women have been released, five were officially criminally detained on Friday allegedly under the Chinese government’s increasing catch-all for ideas and speech it does not like: “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” (Article 293(4) of China’s Criminal Law).

“It is extremely alarming that these five young women have been criminally detained for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’” Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, wrote in an email to China Law & Policy.  “The women were merely planning to commemorate International Women’s Day by raising awareness about sexual harassment on public transportation – hardly an issue that would threaten the central government’s power or social stability in any way.”

In fact, the Chinese government itself has noted the growing problem of sexual harassment – including groping, rubbing and pictures taken under one’s skirt – on public transportation.  Unfortunately, instead of stepping up law enforcement of this quality-of-life crime, the Chinese government has largely left it to women to combat this harassment, urging female riders to forgo wearing mini-skirts or “hot pants” and looking to have women-only subway cars during rush hour.

Another of the detained, Wei Tingting (right), the director of Ji’ande, an LGBT rights organization based in Beijing

Another of the detained, Wei Tingting (right), 27 and director of Ji’ande, an LGBT rights organization based in Beijing

“The detention of these women reveals the hollowness of [the] Chinese government claims of commitment to gender equality, particularly as China prepares to co-host the 2015 Global Women’s Summit at the United Nations, and the world marks the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing” Dr. Hong Fincher wrote to China Law & Policy.

But if you think detaining people for leafleting an issue we can all get behind is scary, here is the real frightening part: these five women – Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, Wang Man and Li Tingting – never actually committed a crime, even under Chinese law.  By detaining these women prior to March 8 – when they were going to distribute their stickers and pamphlets – the women never caused a public disturbance as required by Article 293 of China’s Criminal LawPu Zhiqiang, Cao Shunli, Xu Zhiyong, all detained, arrested or jailed for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” were at least able to partake in their “public disturbance” before the authorities took them away.  These women did not.  At most, in their attempt to make this a nation-wide campaign, they amassed an online following, all eager to partake in the March 8 events.

One of the detained, Zheng Churan, 25, and staff member of Yirenping based in Guangzhou

One of the detained, Zheng Churan, 25, and staff member of Yirenping based in Guangzhou

But, as Jeremy Daum at China Law Translate has noted, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and Supreme People’s Procuratorate’s (SPP) Joint Interpretation of Article 293 (July 2013) makes it clear that causing a disturbance by picking quarrels must happen in some kind of public venue – a bus station, a market, a train station, a park, or “other public venue.” In prosectuting an Article 293(4) case, the courts are required to analyze the totality of the circumstances, including the type of public venue, the number of people attending the event, etc.  (See Article 5 of the Joint Interpretation of Article 293).

Further, as Daum has highlighted, even the SPC’s and SPP’s controversial Joint Interpretation on Internet Speech Crimes (Sept. 2013), which does interpret Article 293(4) of the Criminal Law, would only apply in situations where the individual has spread rumors on the internet or other online network.  The only public prosecution under Article 293(4) involving the internet – the case of blogger Qin Houhou – is precisely this situation.  In addition to being charged with violating Artcile 293(4) – the picking quarrels provision – Qin was also charged and convicted of criminal slander.

Another detained activist, Li Tingting, 25 and Beijing-based manager of the LGBT program at the Beijing Yirenping Center

Another detained activist, Li Tingting, 25 and Beijing-based manager of the LGBT program at the Beijing Yirenping Center

By criminally detaining these women, the Chinese police have stepped up this game, making a formal arrest and prosecution more likely.  While prosecution under Article 293(4) usually has a maximum prison sentence of five years, that sentence can be extended to 10 years where the defendant organizes others to commit the disturbance multiple times.  Given that these women likely were the organizers of the event, a 10 year prison term is a possibility.  Even though the current charge is groundless under Chinese law.

On Friday, the U.S.’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, tweeted her disgust with the Chinese government’s detention of Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, Wang Man and Li Tingting.  But the United States, and the rest of the world, must maintain this rhetoric.

 

Fifth detained activist, Wang Man, Beijing-based coordinator for the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP).

Fifth detained activist, Wang Man, Beijing-based coordinator for the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP).

Twenty years ago, in Beijing China, Hillary Clinton ignored Chinese pressure to soften her remarks at United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women.  Instead, she rocked the world by forcefully stating that ” human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”  It’s time that Secretary Clinton, a potential presidential candidate, renew that sentiment and call for the release of these women – innocent even under Chinese law.

恭喜发财!Welcome Year of the Horned-Sort-of-Something?

By , February 17, 2015
Happy Lunar New Year!

Happy Lunar New Year!

On Thursday, the world says goodbye to year of the horse and welcomes year of the…..what? Is it a sheep? A ram? A goat? For this Lunar New Year, it’s okay to be confused. And walking down the streets of Chinatown does not make things any clearer. Fuzzy stuffed sheep abound, as do cute little billy goat statutes and the occasional muscular ram. What in heaven’s name is going on with this Lunar New Year?

The confusion stems from the Chinese word used to describe the upcoming year – 羊 (yáng). Each of the animals – the sheep, the goat, the ram – use this character in its name. In Chinese, sheep is 绵羊 (mián yáng), literally meaning “soft, horned, hoofed animal;” goat is 山羊 (shān yáng), a “mountain, horned, hoofed animal;” and ram is 公羊 (gōng yáng), meaning a “male, horned, hoofed animal.” For sure if you go into a Chinese restaurant and order a dish of yang, it will be lamb meat. But the same doesn’t hold true for the Lunar New Year. Does yang mean sheep, goat or ram?

In Vietnam, a country that also celebrates the Lunar New Year (known there as Tet), they dispensed with this

Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram?  You decide!

Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram? You decide!

problem a long time ago, declaring the zodiac sign a goat. But in China, the debate still rages. While many feng shui experts declare that goat is the more fitting translation (because of the “horns” that appear a top the character yáng), the attributes given to a person born under the Yang sign resemble a sheep: kind, polite, creative, filial, timid in nature, and sensitive.

It is these sheep-like characteristics that have caused couples in China to delay having a baby for a year. For those couples who get one bite at the apple, they do not want their only child to be a “follower.” As a result, the Chinese state-run media has launched a campaign encouraging couples to have sheep babies. CCTV ran a segment entitled “Hardly a Terrible Sign if People like Bruce Willis and Whoopi are Sheep.” Others listed, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner (both sheep!). Unclear if this will do the trick.

What's so bad about being a sheep?  These guys are fun!

What’s so bad about being a sheep? These guys are fun!

But at any rate, year of the sheep, with its more docile personality, should be a bit calmer than last year’s horse. As every year is on its own five element cycle (wood, fire, earth. metal, water), this year is year of the Wood Sheep, However, each zodiac animal is associated with its own element – here, sheep’s intrinsic element is earth. Unfortunately, according to feng shui master Raymond Lo, wood – 2015’s element – conquers earth – the sheep’s internal element. Thus, the two are in a destructive relationship causing disharmony, but given the nature of the sheep, while 2015 will be filled with conflicts, these conflicts will be easily resolved through compromises.

But what Year of the Sheep has in store for you depends on YOUR sign. How will you do this year?  Check out your personal horoscope here (note you may have to do a Bazi test to determine the strength of your birth year element.  You can do that here – note that birth date is entered day-month-year).

To all of our friends who celebrate the Lunar New Year, may you have a healthy, happy and prosperous Year of the Sheep!

Heaven Help the Working Girl: The Impact of the Law on Women in China

By , January 28, 2015
Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women

Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women

Sure women might not demand that their names be on the deed even after giving money to purchase the house, but does that matter in the case of divorce in China?  As Dr. Leta Hong Fincher points out in  Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, you bet that matters.  Changes in the law in 2011 – requiring physical proof of monetary contribution – has diminished women’s ability to claim their rightful part of the marital property in the case of divorce.  By why this change?  And why now?  Fincher expounds upon these questions in Part 2 of her interview with China Law & Policy and informs us why the rest of the world needs to wake up and  care about what is happening to women in China.

Read the transcript below of Part 2 of this two-part series or click the media player to listen to the podcast.

Length: 10:15 minutes

For Part 1 of this interview, please click here.

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EL: To switch gears a bit, you mention in your book some of the laws that impact this. You discuss the Supreme

Who gets the ugly couch in the case of divorce?

Who gets the ugly couch in the case of divorce?

[People’s] Court 2011 Interpretation of China’s Marriage Law. You basically argue that this Interpretation – which in cases of divorce only allocates property to those whose name is on the deed absent some exceptions – denies women even more rights in the property market. Can you give a little bit more background on this Interpretation? Also, do you have any background on what caused the Supreme People’s Court to issue this Interpretation?

LHF: Effectively the Marriage Law was originally a real cornerstone of the Communist Revolution and it gave women rights to property, the right to divorce, all sorts of new rights. Over the years actually women’s rights to common marital property were strengthened. But in 2011, with this new judicial interpretation, effectively if the woman is unable to prove through legal, financial receipts that she put in a certain amount of money toward buying the home, she’s not entitled to that home in the event of a divorce. None of the women that I interviewed kept any receipts of their financial contribution to the homes. Moreover, money is fungible. So there many ways in which women’s money – if they are working women working for pay – there are many ways in which their pay is supporting the household. The man’s money may be going directly to paying off the mortgage so there is a receipt for the man’s contribution to the home.

This law is really detrimental to women’s property rights. Now, what I have heard anecdotally – I wasn’t specifically researching why the court issued this new judicial interpretation – but what I’ve heard anecdotally from some lawyers is that the Court was deluged with letters from parents of men who wanted to protect their sons when they got married. They didn’t want the wives of their sons to have any share in the home because the parents tend to put up so much money to buying these homes for their own sons. Because of China’s rapidly rising divorce rate, I’ve also heard that the Court simply wanted to simplify divorce rulings; just get these cases through the court fast.

But it has been an incredibly controversial interpretation and a lot of women across China are very upset about it but there’s no organized movement to protest it because organizing and protesting is so difficult [in China].

gender_balanceEL: I guess in looking at the Supreme Peoples Court interpretation and how that has a negative impact on women, one of the things though that has happened recently is that China has had its first gender discrimination lawsuit in employment. That seems like a positive development in terms of womens rights. So how do you gel the fact that in a country where the court can reject cases, so they allowed obviously this case to be heard and even though it settled, they did allow it and its been published in the newspaper. How do you gel that kind of a development with the leftover women and the 2011 Marriage Law Interpretation?

LHF: Well, Chinese society is certainly not static and there are some legal success. That gender discrimination lawsuit was very important and it set an important precedent. But the fact is that there are so many other systemic ways in which women’s rights and gains are being reversed in the past two decades. One successful lawsuit here or there doesn’t fundamentally change the situation for the vast majority of women. Most notably there is still no specific law on domestic violence. Feminist lawyers and activist had been lobbying for over a decade to pass a law. And they’ve drafted the language, it’s all ready, but it simply hasn’t been passed.

EL: To go back to that because your book ends where you do discuss some individuals that are trying to change things a little bit, incrementally, but I have to admit it didnt seem like there was going to be a lot of change from them even though theyre brave in what they are doing. It sounds like, based on what you say you dont see a lot of change happening soon. Is that correct? Or if you do see any change, where do you see it coming from?

LHF: I certainly don’t see change coming from an organized nationwide women’s rights movement simply because

Will there be an organized and vocal  women's rights movement in China?

Will there be an organized and vocal women’s rights movement in China?

the political atmosphere is too severely oppressive for that to happen. But what does give me hope is that individual women can make choices in their own lives to avoid getting trapped in a very discriminatory system.

For example, there are women in their late 20s who have told me that they refuse to ever get married because marriage is a bad institution for women in China. They see this as an empowering choice. That doesn’t mean that they’re never going to have a lover or a boyfriend or maybe they’re lesbian. But there are individual ways in which women can act to empower themselves. But once they enter the institution of marriage it is very, very difficult. Marriage as an institution doesn’t protect women’s rights.

Contrary to the myths that are spread by the propaganda of the state media that single women in China are extremely miserable and lonely, I see the reverse. Single women are the ones who tend to do better. They don’t have husbands holding them back, telling them what to do; they have a lot more freedom. Women who are married, if there is any problem at all in the marriage, they’re extraordinarily vulnerable.

EL: And just in closing, youre book is a fascinating book and I do recommend for everybody to read, especially if they really want to understand China today and women in China today. But why do you think the rest of the world should be paying attention to this issue if at all?

"Working women are a great revolutionary force"

“Working women are a great revolutionary force”

LHF: Well the thing is that, let’s put aside the issue of fair treatment for women. Obviously women are being treated unfairly in China and are being discriminated against. But, as an economic issue, it’s very important. China’s obviously becoming increasingly a driver of global economic growth. The fact that women are basically being told by the government that they should stop working so hard and return to the home is going to end up having very damaging long-term economic consequences for China.

There’s already a declining labor force participation among women, particularly in the cities according to the latest census results; there’s a dramatically widening gender income gap. These are the most talented women in the country and if you’re telling the most talented female workers in China – it’s okay just leave the workforce – that’s going to hurt China’s economy. Of course if China’s economic development is hurt, if it is destabilizing, that’s going to affect the rest of the world. So it is something the rest of the world should be interested in.

EL: I want to thank you again for spending time with China Law & Policy. Just so our readers know, Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, that can be purchased at amazon.com. Thank you again.

LHF: Thanks so much for having me.

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For Part 1 of this interview, please click here.

It’s All Wrong, But It’s Alright: Women in Today’s China

By , January 27, 2015
Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women

Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women

The opening of China to market forces in 1978 unleashed tremendous benefit for the Chinese people – raising hundreds of millions out of poverty, establishing China as the world’s second largest economy.  But it has witnessed a lot of bad – enormous environmental degradation, rampant corruption, and severe income disparities.  Unfortunately, one negative effect has gone less noticed: the declining status of women in Chinese society.   In emancipating women from traditional roles, Mao Zedong once proclaimed that “women hold up half the sky.”  But as Dr. Leta Hong Fincher has revealed in her new book, Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China,today, women don’t even hold half of the deed to marital property.

In an interview conducted in July 2014 with China Law & Policy, Fincher explained how women – through the pressure to marry at all costs – have been excluded from one of the largest accumulations of wealth in the history of the world: China’s hot real estate market.  And as Fincher shockingly explains, this phenomenon is not merely an accident of China’s growth.  It is very much an intentional government policy.  (Note that posting of this interview was delayed as a result of CL&P’s backlog)

Read the transcript below of Part 1 of this two-part series or click the media player to listen to the podcast.

Length: 14:05 minutes

Please come back tomorrow to read or listen to Part 2 of this interview.

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EL:   Thank you for joining us today. Let’s start with the title of your book – Leftover Women. Can you explain more what this is; when the concept first came about?

LHF: The term leftover women or shengnu (剩女) was defined by the All-China Women’s Federation in 2007 to mean an urban professional woman over the age of 27 whose still single. And the same year, China’s Ministry of Education adopted the term as part of its official lexicon. Ever since 2007, China’s state media has very aggressively disseminated the term through its news reports, columns and commentaries. And you also see a lot of cartoons insulting single, urban educated women in their 20s; basically sending the message that these women are too ambitious they should stop focusing on their careers and they should instead look for a good husband before time runs out and they remain single forever.

EL: So you mention the state-run media promoting this and that also that this was a term created by the All-China Womens Federation which is a government-backed organization. So is this an intentional concept that the Chinese government is pushing on women and if so, why?

LHF: I think there is no question that it is a deliberate campaign. If you look at the news reports that Xinhua put out in 2007 and 2008, there are quite a few of them that re-appear over and over and over again over the years and are still re-appearing even in 2013 with only slight changes in the wording. And maybe they will change the picture.

"Participating in the establishment of an industrialized nation makes us proud"

“Participating in the establishment of an industrialized nation makes us proud”

So there’s no question that the Propaganda Department wants to get these reports out and is pushing them out continuously. When I looked into the origins of the term, I noticed that in January 2007 China’s State Council issued a population decision which was a very important statement about what they called unprecedented population pressures facing China in part because of the sex ratio imbalance which they described as a real threat to social stability. And they said that China has a problem of so-called low quality of the population which would make it very difficult for China to compete in the global marketplace. So they set a key goal of so-called upgrading population quality. This term “population quality” or [renkou] suzhi (人口素质)can refer to a complex mix of superior genetic make-up, education, a more nurturing environment. The women who are being targeted in this leftover women media campaign are precisely the women who are considered to be of highest quality. So I argue that this campaign is in part an effort to get these highest-quality sort of speak women to marry and have a child for the good of the nation.

EL: In your book, you talk about the leftover women and then you tie that concept to the current property market. You argue basically that because of the fear of being leftover, the women end up losing the opportunity to gain from one of the largest accumulations of wealth in Chinese history which is basically the current urban real estate market. Can you explain that tie a little clearer?

LHF: First of all, there are a lot of complicated dynamics that go into home buying in China. So marriage is inextricably connected to home buying in contemporary China. Along with very intense marriage pressure there is also intense pressure to buy a home. The norm is that the man is supposed to be the official homeowner and there’s a lot of propaganda, real estate developer advertisement and online matchmaking advertisements all perpetuating the notion that a man must own a home in order to attract a bride. And they also spread the notion that Chinese women will refuse to marry a man unless he owns a home.

So one of the consequences of this is that Chinese parents tend to only buy homes for their sons and not for their

Home buying in China

Home buying in China

daughters. Women are shut out of property accumulation first of all because their parents tend not to support them in anyway. These homes are too expensive for young people to buy on their own. If your parents are not helping you then you’re really stuck. So the women that I’ve interviewed who are in their 20s and have a boyfriend and they’re thinking about marriage, they often will take their life savings and transfer it to the boyfriend to finance the purchase of a home which is then only registered in the man’s name. These women who are extremely educated and very, very intelligent and sophisticated and they actually want economic independence and they say that they actually want to own their own home.   But then I ask them, well then why when you are buying this marital home, why aren’t you putting your name on the deed?

A lot of them say that it’s simply because they are at the age where they’re considered leftover. Which can start as early as even before 25 years old. Some women can already start feeling that way. So they’re very anxious to get married. They’re own parents are pressuring them to get married. They’re certainly coming under a lot of pressure from the media. They’re coming under pressure from their teachers, the educational system, and their own doctors who tell women in their 20s that they really need to have a child in their so-called best child rearing years which is before the age of 30. Even doctors tell them that if they wait until past 30 to have a child, there child will have a birth defect.

So there is intense pressure on these women to marry because they genuinely believe that time will run out for them. These women, when it comes down to it, are very often unwilling to walk away from an unequal arrangement even if they really want that. And in most cases they do want equality. But the pressures against them are just so intense.

Getting Married in China - bliss until you realized you are not on the deed!

Getting Married in China – bliss until you realized you are not on the deed!

EL: I guess in reading your book, that was the hardest part for me to understand, that you have these very well-educated women. Most the of the women you interview are at least college educated if not PhDs. Very urban and sophisticated. They seem like this modern woman. It just seems so hard to comprehend that you have so many so willing to give up their equal economic rights in a relationship because of this concept. Is it just this media campaign – I guess if you can talk more about how strong this media campaign is. Or is it also something with the education system itself, that women arent questioning this propaganda. I just think if you were in a Western country, there would be more questioning of it.

LHF: Well it’s certainly not just [media]. I talk about the leftover women campaign. But when it comes to home buying, that’s simply one factor that’s shutting women out of property ownership. The fact that homes are so expensive is a huge factor as well. If homes were not so expensive then these women would be able to save up enough money on their own. Most of the women I interviewed wanted their own homes. So if they were able to afford it on their own, they would buy their own homes.

So part of it is China’s privatization in housing and the subsequent real estate boom has created these tremendous
new pressures on everybody in Chinese society: on the parents, on men and women. Even if the woman actually transfers her life savings over to the man to finance this loan [to buy the house], usually the man’s family ends up putting in more money than she does simply because the man’s parents have been saving all their lives. So then it may come down to the fact that the man’s family says: “well we put in more money therefore you have no right to put your name on the deed.” It may be the man’s parents who are really fighting with her and maybe her boyfriend would support adding her name to the deed. But it’s a very complicated transaction involving extended families pitted against each other.

But because of this fear that women over a certain age in their mid to late 20s are not going to be able to find a husband, it often winds up being that the parents of the daughter may actually help her finance the purchase the home but they don’t want the daughter to insist on adding her name because they’re afraid that her boyfriend or fiancé will walk out on her.

So even the parents of the daughter are urging her to stop being so assertive and not fight with the boyfriend and to

What's wrong with being single?  These ladies look like they are having fun!

What’s wrong with being single? These ladies look like they are having fun!

just give in. In fact a lot of these young women again argue a lot; they can get into very heated arguments with their fiancés over the issue of putting their name on the property deed. So it is not as though they just blindly go into it and willingly give away all of their money and don’t think about it. Although that said there are some women who do that.

But it’s just a multi-layered form of discrimination against women. It also has to do with state regulations on the purchasing of property. For example, one woman I interviewed who was a PhD candidate, extremely educated, she desperately wanted her name on the property deed but her boyfriend and her own parents were telling her that it’s not worth putting her name on the deed because then if they want to buy a second home, then they would have to pay a much higher down payment. So that was the reason she gave for leaving her name off the deed. But she felt very bad about that. Then when I asked her well can you afford to buy a second home, are you going to buy one, she said no we can’t afford to buy it. So there are just many layers of obstacles for these women.

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Part 2 of this two-part series will be posted tomorrow. 

Just for Fun – Movie Review: The Search for General Tso

By , January 9, 2015

search for GTGeneral Tso is only one of the many fascinating characters that appear in this charming documentary that seeks to uncover the origins of one of America’s favorite dishes: General Tso’s Chicken. But The Search for General Tso is more than just a story of a dish central to America, it also recounts the history and struggle of those who make the dish.

General Tso starts simply enough, asking how did Chinese food become so popular in America and who was this General Tso. It’s that question – and uncovering how the dish came into being – that takes the movie across America, to China and eventually landing in Taiwan. But through that journey, the director – Ian Cheney – deftly interweaves the story of the Chinese in America. Unlike General Tso’s Chicken, that story is not always tasty.

Cheney interviews various historians and academics who explain how a people that represent a little less than 2% of the U.S. population have restaurants in almost every city, town, and village in America. Unfortunately, the explanation is often tied with our prejudice. By the late 1800s, with anti-Chinese laws and bias in California, Chinese

General Tso's Chicken

General Tso’s Chicken

could not find work and were driven into the laundry and restaurant businesses. Many left California in the hopes that other parts of the United States would be less prejudiced. But as the story of David Leong demonstrates, that was often a misplaced hope. A World War II veteran, Leong moved to Springfield, Missouri to open a Chinese restaurant. In 1963, his new restaurant was bombed days before it was set to open. Leong would eventually find acceptance and popularity after inventing Springfield Cashew Chicken, but his story recounts the prejudice and violence that many Chinese-Americans faced.

But the movie leaves you with hope. The characters are poignantly portrayed -from the collector of Chinese menus (one from 1916!), to the man who travels the United States in an attempt to eat at every Chinese restaurant, to Cecilia and Philip Chang (of P.F. Chang fame), and finally to the chef who invented the dish. And each demonstrates that the love of this dish transcends race and that maybe, just maybe, has brought us all a little closer.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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The Search for General Tso will be showing in select theaters throughout the United States this weekend. A complete listing can be found on the movie’s website: http://www.thesearchforgeneraltso.com/

The movie can also be easily downloaded through iTunes or Amazon Instant Video.

Xi Jinping’s New Year’s Resolutions: Rule of Law and Join Facebook?

By , January 1, 2015
President Xi Jinping taking his cue from the Queen

President Xi Jinping taking his cue from the Queen

For the second year in a row, China’s president, Xi Jinping (pronounced See Gin-ping) has taken a page from democracy’s playbook addressing the Chinese people directly in an annual New Year message broadcasted throughout the country. Think the Queen’s annual Christmas message but without the pearls, British accent or lavender dress.

This year, Xi spoke with more confidence about the direction of his rule: deepen reform, continue the corruption crackdown and rule the country in accordance with law. Expect 2015 to bring more corruption inquiries against Chinese Communist Party members both high and low. But what should be made of “rule the country in accordance with law ” (依法治国)? According to Xi, rule the country in accordance with law should “safeguard the rights of people” and “maintain social justice.” But since taken power, Xi has made it clear that this “safeguarding” and “maintaining” is to come from the Party itself, not from the people.

Rights activist & Lawyer Teng Biao

Rights activist & Lawyer Teng Biao

Unlike the U.S. President’s weekly radio address, there is no opposition party response because in China, there is no meaningful opposition party. But if anything comes close to countering Xi’s speech it would be Teng Biao’s (pronounced Tongue Beow) recent op-ed in the Washington Post. Teng, a Chinese human rights lawyer, notes the hollowness of Xi’s mantra of “rule in accordance with the law” in light of the fact that civil rights activists and lawyers have repeatedly been persecuted, prosecuted and in the case of citizen activist Cao Shunli (pronounced Tsow Shun-lee), killed in custody.

Teng also highlights the limitation of reform in China. Contrary to Xi’s speech, legal reform – or at least the version Xi seeks to implement – is not about the people’s rights. Rather it is a way to enhance the Party’s legitimacy. Even the anti-corruption campaign is not about officials following the law; it is a necessity for the Party to maintain its power. But ultimately, if these reforms are to have true success, they will have to undermine the Party’s rule.

Good Times!  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with Chinese Censor Extraordinaire, Lu Wei

Good Times! Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with Chinese Censor Extraordinaire, Lu Wei

While Teng warns of Xi’s empty promises, the question still remains, does anyone – especially business leaders – care. China has become a huge market force that cannot be ignored. Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook appears to be toying with the idea of entering the Chinese market even though under Chinese law he would be required to conduct the Chinese government’s censorship of Facebook in China. In early December, Zuckerberg appeared to be making nice with China’s censorship regulator Lu Wei (pronounce Lou Way), meeting him in Facebook’s California office and  informing Lu that he has been reading the collection of Xi’s speeches (including conveniently leaving a copy on his desk).   But could Zuckerberg’s feelings for Xi be mutual? In his New Year speech, Xi used the internet slang “dian zan” (点赞) (pronounce dee-ann zan) to give the Chinese people “thumbs up.” But dian zan – literally meaning to “click praise” – is specific to the social networking age and came into being to refer to the “Like” button in facebook. While a dian zan – like – button is also used by China’s Weibo users, could Xi’s reference be a signal that he will be opening a Facebook account in 2015?

Watch Xi’s New Year 2015 Address With English Subtitles:

Just for Fun: Uptown & Downtown – Different Perspectives on the Chinese in America

By , October 30, 2014
At the NY Historical Society - Photo from American actress Anna May Wong's identity card that she had to carry with her at all times

At the NY Historical Society – Photo from American actress Anna May Wong’s identity card that she had to carry with her at all times

It is rare to see an exhibit exclusively on the Chinese experience in America.  Rarer still to have two shown simultaneously in the same city.  But that is precisely what is happening in New York this fall with the New York Historical Society’s Chinese America: Exclusion/Inclusion and the Museum of Chinese in America’s (“MOCA”) 35th anniversary show, Waves of Identity: 35 Years of Archiving.

Located on the Upper West Side, the Historical Society is removed from any of the city’s Chinatowns and unfortunately, that removal is felt throughout the show.  The exhibition centers on the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a 1882 act of Congress that essentially barred all but the few Chinese from entering the United States and prevented the naturalization of Chinese immigrants for the next 60-plus years.

Exclusion/Inclusion does a great job of presenting the history of Chinese immigration in America, American’s backlash with the passage of the Exclusion Act, and the Act’s eventual repeal in 1943 (although a  quota remained for Chinese immigration until 1965 when the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act eliminated quotas).  In particular, the show makes clear that “exclusion” in the title of the Act was a misnomer.  With the stated goal to keep out Chinese laborers, the Act permitted other classes of Chinese citizens to immigrate: officials, teachers, students, merchants (although not laundry or restaurant owners), and their immediate families (wives and children).  As a result, an industry falsifying documents began and the modern U.S. immigration bureaucracy – needed to verify the accuracy of the immigrants’ documents and keep as many Chinese out – was born.

But throughout the show, the history feels whitewashed.  While the exhibit is about Chinese and Chinese Americans, little of their voices come

MOCA's New Show -Waves of Identity: 35 Years of Archiving

MOCA’s New Show -Waves of Identity: 35 Years of Archiving

through.  Sure the show uses the usual method of quotes and diary passages from Chinese men and women held for years in Angel Island, but it is more didactic than it is inspiring.  It isn’t until the end, with a blown up graphic novel of Bronx-born Amy Chin describing  the continued impact of the Exclusion Act on her family that the exhibition takes on an emotional gravitas.

The Chinese voice is particularly absent in expressing the community’s role in actually changing the law that impacted it or in shaping its own future.  Scant attention is paid to the Chinese-American community’s continued activism in agitating for acceptance as Americans.  Instead, the show ends with a feeling that “inclusion” has already happened.  There is no mention of the 2011 suicide of Private Danny Chen who, prior to his death, was tormented daily because of his Chinese heritage.  No mention is made of the 1982 hate-motivated murder of Vincent Chin whose murderers received a mere three years of probation.   These incidents and many others show that full inclusion has yet to occur.

But what Exclusion/Inclusion lacks can be found in MOCA’s Waves of Identity: 35 Years of Archiving.  Commemorating the museum’s 35th anniversary, Waves is a modest but compelling show.  MOCA, located in Chinatown itself, was very much a community-created institution and it is that sense of community that is felt throughout the exhibit.

Waves is not a lineal procession through history like Exclusion/Inclusion; instead, it is much more innovative.  MOCA’s impressive collection of community artifacts, photos and oral histories are laid out by answering a series of questions:  “who founded MOCA and why?”; “what does it mean to be Chinese?”; “how do you become American?”; “how does memory become history?”; “where does Chinatown end?”  None of these questions are directly answered by the artifacts and multimedia that accompany the section.  Instead the viewer is forced to engage with the objects and draw their own conclusions.  The McDonald’s Shanghai McNuggets promotion that you might fondly remember from the late 1980s, how do we – and should we – place this in our, shared American history?

Shop in Chinatown days after Sept. 11, 2001 (c) Corkey Lee - http://911chinatown.mocanyc.org/album/CorkyLee.html

Shop in Chinatown days after Sept. 11, 2001
(c) Corkey Lee – http://911chinatown.mocanyc.org/album/CorkyLee.html

And that is perhaps the biggest difference between Waves and Exclusion/Inclusion.  The latter, by its very title, presupposes a separate society that Chinese Americans are either kept from or allowed to enter.  Waves on the other hand demonstrates that Chinese American history is – and has always been – as much a part of the greater American history as the American Revolution or the Southern Civil Rights Movement.  Perhaps the portion of the exhibit that demonstrates our shared history the most is the section on the impact of the September 11th attacks not just on Chinatown itself which sat in the shadows of the Towers, but also on its people who, like all New Yorkers, saw those anchors of their lives fall before their eyes.

Chinese America: Exclusion/Inclusion, with ads plastered on almost every subway station, is getting the most attention.  But if you go see that show, be sure to follow up with Waves of Identity: 35 Years of Archiving for carefully curated exhibit by the community itself that will engage the viewer.

 

Chinese America: Exclusion/Inclusion
Now through April 19, 2015
Rating: ★★½☆☆New York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY
Admission: $19; FREE Fridays 6 pm – 8 pm
Waves of Identity: 35 Years of Archiving
Now through March 1, 2015
Rating: ★★★½☆Museum of Chinese in America
215 Centre Street
New York, NY
Admission: $ 10; FREE Thursdays All Day

Xie Jin’s “Two Stage Sisters” & Xi Jinping’s Recent Thoughts on the Arts

By , October 26, 2014
Movie Poster for Xie Jin's Two Stage Sisters

Movie Poster for Xie Jin’s Two Stage Sisters

The China Institute‘s Cultural Revolution film series kicked off with a bang the other week with a rarely-viewed Xie Jin (pronounced Sye Gin) film, Two Stage Sisters (舞台姐妹).  All of the films being shown  makes this little series a gem.  But it is the series’ fortuitous timing – with President Xi Jinping’s (pronounced See Gin-ping) recent speech on the arts – that makes it a must see for anyone trying to understand the possible direction China’s arts may take in the future.

Two Stage Sisters, filmed in 1964 during a more open time before the onset of the Cultural Revolution, breaks down any notion that  propaganda films from this time period could not also be art.  The film follows the lives of two Shaoxing opera actresses – Yuehong and Chunhua – as they travel through a turbulent time in China’s history.  The film opens in 1935’s rural China.  Chunhua, who has run away from her in-laws who had plans to sell her, finds herself hiding in the store room of a local opera troupe.  The troupe – run by Yuehong’s father – adopts her and discovering that she has a natural talent for Shaoxing opera, makes her the star of the show along with Yuehong.  Showing the abusive practices of pre-revolution China, after the father dies, the two stage sisters are sold to a Shanghai opera troupe to pay off their father’s debts.

In early 1940s Shanghai, Yuehong and Chunhua become stars.  But slowly, as China begins to change, so does the relationship between the two women.  Chunhua remains the virtuous peasant.  Even when a wealthy patron wants to adopt her as her daughter, Chunhua, ever pure to the art, rejects the patron’s advances.  Yuehong questions Chunhua’s decision and is slowly seduced by the opera troupe’s manager as well as the Guomingdang, bourgeois lifestyle that he offers.  While Chunhua, inspired by Lu Xun’s work, begins to write revolutionary operas, Yuehong retires and fills her life with pearls, furs and diamonds.

Two Stage Sisters is marked by amazingly intense melodrama with the growing tension between the two sisters and the impending revolution

Chunhua (left) and Yuehong begin to lead different lives

Chunhua (left) and Yuehong begin to lead different lives

building in every scene.  It is in that melodrama that director Xie Jin excels and makes this film into a masterpiece.   The drama crescendos in an artfully shot courtroom scene that demonstrates that if history did not get in the way, Xie Jin could have been China’s Kurosawa.

But like most things in China, history and politics did get in the way, essentially putting Xie Jin’s career on hold for the next twenty years.  Two Stage Sisters, filmed with the approval of Xia Yan (pronounced Syia Yen), China’s Vice Minister of Culture, was produced at time when Mao Zedong’s power was at its lowest due to the tragic debacle of the Great Leap Forward.  But that period would not last and it is the Cultural Revolution itself that becomes Mao’s plan to regain complete power.

With the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Xie’s film was condemned precisely because it had not been hard enough on Yuehong, the sister that succumbs to materialism.  Xie Jin’s art of portraying even the “villain” in a nuanced and sympathetic manner did not fly during the Cultural Revolution.  For the Red Guards who would begin to rule society for the next few years, Chunhua’s forgiveness of Yuehong came too easy.  For them, Yuehong – an enemy of the socialist state – should have been punished more for her capitalist ways.

Director Xie Jin at work.

Director Xie Jin at work.

Additionally, produced with the assistance of Xia Yan, a vocal critic of Mao’s Great Leap Forward and a target of Mao’s wife and former actress Jiang Qing, Two Stage Sisters’ condemnation was inevitable.  Soon after the start of the Cultural Revolution, Xia was purged and jailed for the eight years.  Xie Jin would spend much of the Cultural Revolution and what should have been the prime of his career in a labor camp.

Two Stage Sisters, and the history that surrounds it, shows that art in the People’s Republic of China, while ostensibly required to “serve the people” in fact serves the political whims of its leaders.  Given this history, Xi Jinping’s recent October 15, 2014 meeting with China’s artists might be a bellwether for his attempts to tie art not just more to the Chinese Communist Party but more to his rule.  The Cultural Revolution found its origin in Mao’s 1943 speech at the Yenan Talks on Literature and Art.  For Mao, the revolution had two fronts – the arts and the military; there was no such thing as art for art’s sake.  Art and literature were essential for a successful revolution and the Yenan Talks made clear that art and literature needed to extol the masses and propel them forward for greater revolution.  At a point though, Mao noted that with the masses’ rising cultural levels, art standards would have to rise as well.  But the art would still need to serve the people.

Xi’s October 15 speech, while not as obvious, has aspects that are eerily similar to Mao’s 1943 Talks.  According to Xinhua News agency, which summarized Xi’s remarks rather than print them, Xi called on artists and authors to be one with the people and to use their art to promote the Party: “Literature and art must reflect well the people’s wishes; it must persist in the fundamental orientation of serving the people and serving Socialism” (translation courtesy of Rogier Creemers).  Xi also digressed on the need to produce quality works for the masses’ increased cultural awareness.

Will Xi try to dominate the arts the way Mao did during the Cultural Revolution?  Or was this just a roundabout way to state the obvious: even

Xi Jinping speaking on arts in literature in today's China

Xi Jinping speaking on arts in literature in today’s China

Chinese people don’t really want to watch Chinese movies and there is a genuine need to improve quality?  Or is it something else?  For sure we won’t be seeing a Cultural Revolution anytime soon.  But if I was an artist, author or director in China right now, with a speech that makes reference to “a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend (百花齐放、百家争鸣的方针),” I would certainly sit this round of art-making out.  That unfortunately means the arts in China – at least those sanctioned by the state – will continue to stay at its current level.

Two Stage Sisters
Director: Xie Jin
1964
Rating: ★★★★½

**********************************************************************************
The China Institute’s Cultural Revolution Film Series runs now through November 19, 2014 with a movie shown every Wednesday night.  Tickets are $15 and each movie is followed by a Q&A session with either the director or someone expert in the movie.  The China Institute is located at 125 E 65th Street in New York City. 

Troublesome China – New Human Rights Report Confirms a Decline

By , October 10, 2014

Seal of the CECCHuman rights and rule of law conditions in China overall did not improve this past year, and declined in some of the areas covered by this report.” And so begins the Congressional-Executive Commission on China‘s (CECC) 2014 Annual Report, a non-sugarcoated analysis of the dilapidated state of human rights and rule of law in China these days.

Required by regulation, the CECC publishes an annual report analyzing these issues and this year’s report demonstrates that President Xi Jinping continues to consolidate his power through political purges and other methods not seen since the end of the Cultural Revolution.  But, as the this year’s report shows, the periphery – both from a geographic as well as a societal perspective – continues to buck the central government’s control and as a result, continues to experience a harsh crackdown.

The Chinese government’s reaction to the Hong Kong protests earlier this month – calling the peaceful protesters “extreme” and threatening “unimaginable consequences” – pale in comparison to its suppression of any attempts in Tibet or Xinjiang to give life to the term “autonomous” in the title Autonomous Region which both nominally are.  In the past year alone, of the 141 Chinese political prisoners that China has arrested or detained (see CECC list here), 101 are Tibetan or Uigher (the ethnic group that populates Xinjiang province in western China).

The recent sentencing of Uigher professor, Ilham Tohti, reflects the Chinese government’s inability to comprehend a notion of autonomy that

Ilham Tohti and his wife before he was sentenced to life imprisonment

Ilham Tohto and his wife before he was sentenced to life imprisonment

could mean anything other than complete tethering of the region to the Chinese Communist Party and its policies.  Tohti was not a Uigher radical and never called for separatism from China in contrast to the charges against him.  Rather, his writings questioned the efficacy of the government’s harsh policies like forbidding traditional Muslim practices of fasting for Ramadan, wearing of head scarves, or even public prayer.  Tohti called for the Uighers to have more of a say in the governing of their daily lives, breathing life into the term autonomous, much like the students protested for last week in Hong Kong.  But instead of listening to Tohti that greater independence in these ostensibly autonomous regions could lead to great stability, a Chinese court sentence Tohti to life imprisonment.

But, as the CECC’s Annual Report illustrates, controlling the periphery increasingly means controlling entities ostensibly outside of its borders.  The Chinese government’s continued use of the journalist visa process in an attempt to censor foreign coverage of China is one such example.  The other, is the lopsided use of its laws to benefit domestic businesses over foreign ones, in particular the anti-monopoly law. As Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s China Director points out, rule of law issues in China are no longer a fringe human rights issue; instead, the same arbitrary legal system that puts dissidents in jail for life is now beginning to negatively impact foreign business interests in China.  But will this Annual Report will be the wake-up call to business and the U.S. government that it needs to actually start  considering attention these issues?  That it needs to actually read the CECC’s Annual Report, not just mandate that it be created?

60 Minutes Goes Light on Alibaba

By , September 29, 2014
Jack Ma of Alibaba at the New York Stock Exchange

Jack Ma watching the Alibaba IPO go live at the New York Stock Exchange

With Alibaba’s IPO setting a record-breaking offering price last week, the Chinese e-commerce company’s founder and executive chairman, Jack Ma has become something of a media darling.  That was readily apparent on 60 Minutes this past Sunday, where Lara Logan’s interview failed to press Ma on some of the more apparent issues.  Namely, Alibaba’s relationship with the Chinese government.

To be sure, Ma’s story is impressive, especially in a country where success is often determined by connections.  Ma was a no one.  As a kid, when China began to re-open to the West in 1972, he escorted foreign tourists to practice his English.  But that initiative did not translate into a successful academic record.  Instead, Ma failed the college entrance exam twice, passing it on the third time to attend Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute.  Eventually he graduated, becoming a much loved English teacher and starting his own translation company.

That would be the end of Ma’s story except that in 1995, Ma took a trip to the United States, learning for the first time about the world wide

Jack Ma's early Alibaba team

Jack Ma’s early Alibaba team

web.  The trip would change Ma and China.  Upon his return, Ma started China’s first web company, China Pages.  While that company would eventually flounder, in 1999, Ma created China’s first e-commerce website for business to business sales.  That company – Alibaba –  would spawn China’s consumer e-commerce (think ebay) websites Tmall and Taobao.  With an innate understanding of Chinese consumers and what they wanted, by 2005, Taobao would surpass ebay as the dominant consumer e-commerce company in China.  Last year alone, consumers spent over $272 billion on Taobao and Tmall.  Alibaba, and its related consumer websites, have become a force that cannot be ignored by Western companies.

As the 60 Minutes interview revealed, Ma got into the internet when no one in China was yet able to envision its power.  And that is what makes Ma so impressive – his ability to see, before anyone else did, how the internet would reshape commerce .  But for Ma in 2014 to maintain, as he did in the 60 Minutes interview, that even today his company has little dealings with the Chinese government is just preposterous.  According to Ma, “you can love” the Chinese government, but you “do not marry” it.  But this makes no sense in a country where the government can determine the winners and losers.  Unfortunately, Logan didn’t press Ma on this point even though in a voice over, she vaguely acknowledged Alibaba’s government connections.

Alibaba's VIE Structure for its NYSE IPO

Alibaba’s VIE Structure for its NYSE IPO

Alibaba could not succeed in China without the approval of the Chinese government as Alibaba’s own prospectus makes clear (see p. 43 – Risks Related to Doing Business in the PRC).  And it would be strange if Ma wasn’t somehow courting the favor of political elites.  The very corporate structure that Ma used to establish its IPO – a Variable Interest Entity (VIE) – is not particularly legal in China.  As a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report (“the Report”) points out, VIEs are created by internet companies for the sole purpose of circumventing current Chinese law that caps foreign investment in internet companies.  As the Report makes clear, VIEs are under increasing attack.  In 2013, the Supreme People’s Court – China’s highest court – found a VIE illegal stating that it was being used to clearly circumvent the law.  Other government agencies, including the Ministry of Commerce and the China Securities Regulatory Commission, have questioned the role of VIEs.

But this is China so questionable legal authority for a corporate structure does not necessarily signal its death knell.  The Alibaba VIE will likely not end anytime soon, even with this recent assault on the corporate structure.  But that has more to do with the Chinese political elite’s aligned interest in Alibaba’s success.  And that aligned interest has to do with Jack Ma’s positive relations with at least some in the Chinese government.  But Logan did not ask about this.  Nor did she ask why Alibaba has not come under the purview of China’s Anti-Monopoly Law (AML).  In becoming China’s e-commerce giant, Alibaba has acquired many of its competitors and has broadened its business to include cloud computing, an online payment system, and even financial services such as money market accounts.  But even with all of this, Chinese regulators have been silent regarding Alibaba’s actions vis-a-vis the AML.

Winston Wen, Wen Jiabao's son

Wen Jiabao’s son, co-founder of New Horizon Capital, and Alibaba investor, Winston Wen

In fact, Alibaba’s government connections go deep, a fact that Ma left out of his interview and that Logan chose not to pursue.  As the New York Times reported this past July, in 2012, $7.6 billion in shares was transferred from Yahoo! to some of China’s most well-connected private equity firms: Boyu Capital, co-founded by former President Jiang Zemin‘s grandson; CDB Capital and its Vice-President He Jinlei, son of former Politburo Standing Committee member He Guoqiang; and CITIC Capital, with Jeffrey Zeng, former Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan‘s son, at the helm.  In another transaction, New Horizon Capital, a fund co-founded by former Premier Wen Jiabao‘s son, also bought a significant number of shares in a private placement.

It would be foolish to invest in a company with questionable legal authority that didn’t have strong ties to China’s political elites.  On some level, for Alibaba to maintain its dominant market position, expand into other services, and ultimately succeed, it has to be “married” to the Chinese government.  Why Lara Logan didn’t press Jack Ma on this is anyone’s guess but it was another unfortunate softball interview on 60 Minutes.

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