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.

What is Going on With China’s Constitution?

By , September 17, 2014

China’s Constitution

Qian Gang over at the China Media Project took a hit for the team earlier this month when he read through the recently-published (and likely dull) volume of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s speeches.  As Qian notes, glaringly absent from “A Primer of Important Speeches by General Secretary Xi Jinping” (“the Primer“) is Xi’s ground-breaking 2012 speech that proclaimed the importance of the Chinese Constitution in ruling China.

Bye, Bye, Bye: A Disappearing Constitution

In December 2012 – with less than a year in power – Xi Jinping (pronounced See Gin-ping) commemorated the 30th anniversary of China’s 1982 Constitution with a speech extolling the virtues of that Constitution. In that speech, Xi explained that it is the Constitution which must be used to constrain the government and the Chinese Communist Part (“CCP” or “the Party”):  “[n]o organization or individual has the privilege to overstep the Constitution and the law.”  Appearing to upend prior leader’s commitment to the Party as paramount to the Constitution, Xi highlighted that “[r]ule of the nation by law means, first and foremost, ruling the nation in accord with the constitution; the crux in governing by laws is to govern in accord with the constitution” (emphasis added).

But the currently-published Primer excludes this speech.  Was this intentional Qian wonders?  As Qian points out in his post, in China, anything this important is intentional.  In a society long trained to be hyper-sensitive to a leader’s speech, back in December 2012, Xi’s speech seemed like a watershed.  An inspiration.  The editors at the Guangdong-based newspaper, Southern Weekend, sure thought so.  Only a few weeks after Xi’s 2012 speech, the editors sought to follow his lead, titling the paper’s 2013 New Year’s editorial “China’s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism.”

Either the Southern Weekend editors read the tea leaves wrong or, more likely, not everyone in the CCP leadership supported Xi’s call for constitutionalism.  “China’s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism” never saw the light of day.  Instead, Guangdong propaganda officials quickly stepped in, changing the title and watering down the article to one that was effectively a paean to the Party-controlled system of governance.

Hello, Is it Me You’re Looking For? The Constitution Re-emerges

President Xi Jinping of China

Xi Jinping says Hello Again to the Chinese Constiution

With the suppression of the original Southern Weekend New Year’s editorial and the exclusion of Xi’s 2012 speech from the recently-published Primer, constitutionalism would appear to be dead in China, right?  Wrong.  Just last week, in a speech commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the National People’s Congress (“NPC”),  Xi again raised the banner of constitutionalism, stating that the Constitution was China’s most basic document and that ruling the nation must be done in accordance with that Constitution.

Did Xi just not get the hint? Hardly. As Qian Gang, in a new blog post at China Media Project points out, what we are seeing is a rhetorical power play at the highest levels of the CCP.  Xi’s recent pronouncement demonstrates that he wants to continue with this idea that the Constitution is crucial to the CCP’s governance.  But then there are others – others that might have had influence on the final cut of speeches from Xi’s Primer – who are just not that into constitutionalism.   Likely demonstrating the power of this other group, the Global Times, a conservative government-run newspaper, ran an editorial in its English edition noting that “…the popularity of constitutional governance in the public sphere has only brought negative results in recent years. We propose replacing the concept with the rule of law” (the Chinese version of the editorial is slightly different, putting Xi’s concept of constitutionalism in a historical context).

If you are dying to know what happens to the Constitution in current Party rhetoric – does it stay or does it go – you only have to sit tight for a

Another CCP Plenary is to Occur in October with Rule of Law as the Topic of Conversation

month.  In October, the CCP will hold the fourth plenary session of the CCP’s 18th Central Committee and the central agenda item is rule of law.  As the CCP recognized in its announcement, the rule of law is “vital for the Party’s governance, people’s happiness and the nation’s stability.”    Expect the Xi camp to call on that rule of law through the Constitution; expect there to be opposition.  How public this battle will be is anyone’s guess.  Evidently the rhetorical use of the Constitution is causing divisions within the leadership.

But Does the Constitution Make A Difference in China’s Political-Legal System?

But Xi is far from a constitutional convert, at least not in the Western sense.  Even with this rhetorical debate at the upper echelons of the CCP, Xi’s constitutional dream is far from a free society that promotes individual’s civil rights.  Rogier Creemers, a post-doctoral research officer at Oxford’s Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, explained this to China Law & Policy.  The State is merely a reflection of the society which it governs and according to Creemers, “the [Chinese] State is there to restore the Chinese nation back to its collective greatness.  One of the key ways in which the CCP justifies its rule is that it knows best how to generate [that] development.  In that sense, law should not be used to constrain the State in its search for national rejuvenation, but to consolidate the progress that has been made on the road towards it. In the economic realm, that means law very often is the outcome of years of policy experimentation, while in the criminal realm, it means vast powers for the State to deal with those who would oppose it, where necessary.”

What is Rule of Law in China?

Thus, even for Xi, use of the Constitution is very top down and is not necessarily that divergent from the official concept of “rule of law.”  The Global Times, in its Chinese version of the editorial makes that clear.  To the Global Times, constitutionalism should be constructed as a neutral term, more in line with what the CCP has determined is the rule of law (“宪政本来是个中性词,与依法治国混用未尝不可”).  China-watcher Shannon Tiezzi, in the Diplomat, perfectly put her finger on what this rule of law is:  “the rule of the CCP through the law. The CCP still controls the legal system, but uses it as one of many available tools to enforce edicts from the center.”

Xi, even with his rhetoric of the Constitution, follows that Party line.  Hence his focus on the idea that the Constitution guarantees that no Party member can act outside of the confines of that document (think Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, both powerful party members that have been taken down by Xi).  But that enforcement still emanates from the center; there is no place for grassroots to help with Xi’s crackdown on government corruption.  Activists Xu Zhiyong (pronounced Sue Zher-young), Liu Ping (pronounced Leo Ping), Wei Zhongping (pronounced Way Jung-ping), and Li Shen (pronounced Lee Shen) know this first hand.  In attempt to fight corruption, all publicly demanded that government officials disclose their assets.  All four have been sentenced to prison terms from three to six years under Xi’s rule.

For Xi, the elements of the Constitution that call for individual rights are to be ignored, which fits with Creemer’s  contention of the purpose

Chinese Rights Activist Liu Ping

Activist Liu Ping in a photo before she was sentenced to six and a half years in prison

of the State in China.  In fact, Xi’s reign has witnessed one of the largest crackdowns on human rights activists since likely 1989.  As the non-profit Chinese Human Rights Defender‘s has noted, since March 2013 – just three months after Xi’s Constitution speech – in addition to the four mentioned above, over 70 rights activists, lawyers and citizens have been detained, arrested, imprisoned or just “disappeared.”  Their crimes? Usually the minor charge of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” or “provocation and causing a disturbance,”  charges distorted by public security forces beyond their original meaning.  The real issue?  These activists often call upon the government to protect their constitutional rights.

Rule of law in China “is about delivering economic outcomes and a certain ideal of virtuous behavior by agents of the State” Creemer  stated.  Nothing in Xi’s rhetorical use of the Constitution diverges from that concept.

U.S. Constitutional Convention

Does use of the Word Constitution Mean this Type of a Government?

But the Party is nervous about Xi’s continued use of the word, hence the Global Times editorial which criticizes the “liberals -自由派” (likely the rights activists who have been thrown in jail) who seek to “distort” this Party-mandated perception of the rule of law and putting others on guard to avoid such “traps.”  But can the idea of constitutionalism be raised without giving life to those provisions of the document Xi and the Party would rather ignore – freedom of speech, of association, of religion?  Is Xi’s conception of the Constitution – which would limit official corruption and provide for greater economic development – enough to satisfy the masses?  Or will the Chinese people continue to demand that the Chinese dream be a Western-style constitutional one?

 

Prof. Don Clarke on Rule of Law in China

By , August 11, 2014
China Law & Policy is upgrading!

China Law & Policy is upgrading!

For those who are regular readers of China Law & Policy, you likely have noticed that we haven’t posted a piece in two weeks.  That is due to the fact that China Law & Policy is doing some upgrades behind the scenes that is requiring a lot more of our time and will also require us to stop blogging for another week or so.  But soon things will be faster, better and brighter here at China Law & Policy providing for a better experience for our readers.

In the meantime, while the summer rolls on, more rights attorneys are being prosecuted in China, Zhou Yongkang is now officially in trouble, and there has been a serious step-up in foreign prosecutions in China on criminal and anit-trust issues.  A few weeks ago, George Washington law professor Don Clarke did any fun podcast on these as well as on rule of law in China generally with the boys over at Sinica.  So in the meantime, you can listen to it by clicking here to get to the Don Clarke Sinica webcast.

Hopefully we will be back to blogging on a regular basis by the end of next week!

 

Just for Fun: Movie Review – Ghina

By , July 29, 2014
GHINA!

GHINA!

Every year, over 10,000 Chinese immigrants arrive in the oil- and gold-rich West African nation of Ghana, all with the aspiration to hit it rich. But what does such a huge wave of immigration followed up by the Chinese government’s low-cost loans and aid mean for Ghana? In Ghina (pronounced Gee-na), director Christine Choy attempts to answer that question by looking at the inter-personal relationships between a few Ghanaians and their Chinese bosses. But by focusing only on these select impressions and not examining the bigger macro issues at play, Choy fails to achieve her goal and instead, the movie is a disjointed, hodge-podge of interviews and scenes that merely perpetuates stereotypes of the Ghanaians rather than enlighten the viewer to any cohesive point.

Ghina opens with the Chinese construction of a hospital in the capital. As we learn from the English-speaking Chinese boss, this hospital is a donation to the Ghanaian people.   While the undercurrent is clear – that China is likely getting something in exchange for this “donation” – the movie fails to ever explain what that exchange is. There is vague reference to “Chinese illegal mining” but the movie never explains just how illegal and damaging to the environment that mining is to a country that still largely relies on agriculture and thus is sensitive to environmental pollution.

And that is the major problem with Ghina. It barely scratches the surface and as a result, fails to explain, either on the micro or the macro level the complexities of China’s investment in Ghana. It is not all bad. As Ghina points out, roads are being paved, hospitals are being built and ambitious Ghanaians are learning new skills and technology. But at what cost? And ultimately, at what benefit? Is China just another colonial-like power in Ghana, intent to strip it of its resources and go, leaving Ghana worse off than before? Or is it committed to the development of Ghana, where the country and its people can share in the prosperity?

Ghina also fails to adequately address the fact that many of these new Chinese construction projects aren’t job-creators for Ghana.  Instead,

Chinese boss leading a work group in Ghana

Chinese boss leading a work group in Ghana

the Chinese company often imports the Chinese labor with the construction materials, giving only a few jobs to the locals.

Only in one scene – where what appears to be an NYU professor traveling with the film crew interacts with one of the Ghanaian professors (who judging from his wardrobe is doing quite well) – do we see the kernel of the greatness that Ghina could have become. In that exchange, the Ghanaian professor defends the Chinese actions, acknowledging that the Chinese are only taking advantage of loopholes that the Ghana government allows. And on some level that is true. However, in the case of Chinese mining in Ghana, these aren’t loopholes. These are largely illegal actions that since the summer of 2013, the Ghanaian government has begun to crackdown on, deporting thousands of Chinese immigrants.  The movie fails to point that these referenced loopholes are actual illegalities.

Unfortunately, with an issue like Chinese investment in Africa, it is difficult to tell a coherent story just by looking at a few vignettes of individual people’s lives. While Ghina attempts to do that, it largely demonstrates that this type of storytelling ends up telling little to no story at all. Instead, check out the Guardian’s 15 minute video on illegal mining in Ghana for a more nuanced understanding of the Chinese in Ghana.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Book Review: Leftover Women – The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China

By , July 18, 2014

For over 60 years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has promoted itself as a champion of women’s rights. It was Mao Zedong who famously proclaimed “women hold up half the sky.” In making such proclamations, the CCP has crafted the story that in Asia, an otherwise bastion of patriarchal societies, China is an oasis of women equality.

But Leta Hong Fincher, in her new book Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, unmasks that myth and exposes a disturbing, shocking and ultimately depressing development: China likely has one of the fastest-growing gender wealth gaps in the world. And the culprit of that increasing inequality? The Chinese government itself.

As Fincher convincingly demonstrates, it all starts with the concept of a “leftover woman,” a recently-developed ideology splashed not just all over the government-run newspapers but promoted

CCP Propaganda: Women Hold Up Half the Sky

CCP Propaganda: Women Hold Up Half the Sky

by government agencies like the All-China Women’s Federation, an organization ostensibly designed to encourage female empowerment. Basically, if a woman is not married by 27, she is labeled a “leftover woman.” The older one gets, the worse the mind games become, mind games that are played out in the press and on TV on an almost daily basis. As a result, women, especially educated women who are mocked even more vigorously, feel societal pressure to marry at a young age; if you are leftover, no one will want you. But, as Fincher shows, this fear is utterly illogical. Due to the preference for boys in what has been one-child country for the past 30 years, China has a shortage of marriageable women. Not to mention, if you can only have one child, what is the rush in getting married? But in perhaps one of the most shocking parts of the book, doctors – licensed medical professionals – lie to their female patients, instilling fear in them that babies will be born with birth defects if conceived after the age of 30.

In Leftover Women, Fincher shows that this fear of being leftover has resulted in women being left out; left out of one of the largest gains in individual wealth in Chinese history: property accumulation. To understand better the connection between the two, Fincher set up a Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter) account to survey hundreds of young Chinese women. Through revealing snippets of interviews with these 20-somethings, it becomes clear that this fear of being leftover by the age of 27 has taken hold in the women themselves. This fear causes women not just to rush into a marriage but act against their own economic self-interest. Many of these well-educated, well-employed women will provide cash toward the down payment on a marital home without putting their name on the deed. Instead, as Fincher documents, in the vast majority of apartments occupied by married couples, only the man’s name is on the deed due to the resurgence of traditional gender roles. Shockingly many of the women interviewed accept these roles, acknowledging that they are effectively being swindled, but hint that it is all worth it so that they are not “leftover.”

Leftover Woman?

Leftover Woman?

Changes to the Marriage Law in 2011 only further perpetuated these non-progressive gender norms. In 2011, the Supreme People’s Court issued an interpretation of the Marriage Law finding that in the case of the divorce, the property goes only to those whose names are on the deed unless the other party can clearly show their monetary contribution. But because down payments are in cash, receipts are often not kept. Further, China does not allow joint bank accounts and it is usually the husband who writes the monthly mortgage check, even if the wife is providing cash contribution or providing for other household needs such as food and childcare. But under the new interpretation, these contributions are not considered. So, yes the interpretation is neutral on its face, but its disparate impact it clear. This is an interpretation that is going to screw women.

Rushing into marriage and losing their economic independence leaves these women vulnerable to another increasing and alarming practice in China: domestic violence. Through the interviews that Fisher conducted, a general trend emerges: these women will often stay in an abusive marriage because otherwise they will lose everything. Not to mention that the Chinese government, even after years of lobbying, has yet to adopt a Domestic Violence law. As a result, the police’s treatment of domestic violence is anything less than sensitive and is usually just seen a family matter for the wife and her abuser to handle on their own.

The Most Powerful "Leftover Woman": Epress Dowager Cixi

The Most Powerful “Leftover Woman”: Empress Dowager Cixi

Leftover Women is a chilling portrayal – often told through the voices of the women themselves – of the rapid deterioration of women’s equality in China. If you think you know China, you don’t until you have read this book. It exposes an ugly development where, through pressure to marry young, the resurgence of traditional gender norms and laws that promote male property ownership, the Chinese government is keeping women out of the property market and thus out of an important segment of societal wealth.

Unfortunately, China is not alone in keeping a group of people out of property ownership and thus wealth accumulation. In an essay that was published in June in the Atlantic, Ta-Nahesi Coates illustrates the racist policies of home ownership in the United States that has largely kept communities of color out of one of America’s most important sources of family wealth. The initial culprit? The U.S. government itself. Reading these two pieces together will make you doubly angry, but also more reflective on how wealth is accumulated in any society and the desires to keep certain groups of people out.

Rating: ★★★★½

Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, by Leta Hong Fincher (Zed Books 2014), 192 pages.

Happy 5th Birthday China Law & Policy!

By , July 14, 2014
Happy 5th Birthday China Law & Policy!

Happy 5th Birthday China Law & Policy!

Five years ago today, China Law & Policy was born. I had just finished my fellowship at NYU Law School’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute and wasn’t 100% clear on what I was going to do next. Why not a blog. I didn’t know much about blogging but what I did know was that China was – and still is – too important a country not to be understood by the general public. But all too often people’s opinions on China are informed more by stereotypes and sound bites.

China Law & Policy was created to overcome that simplistic view and to explain in easy to understand terms, why non-China people should care about some of the underlying issues about China’s rule of law development.  We strive to ensure that our analysis is always well-documented and informed. Our secondary goal has also been to provide a platform for more diverse voices to opine about China and to this day, 50% of our podcast interviews have been conducted with women, a fact that we are very proud of.

So five years in, it’s time to take stock. Every year, China Law & Policy continues to grow. We know have over 3,500 followers to our website via various outlets (twitter, facebook, email, RSS feed) and every year we publish an article that gets a lot of attention. This past year, our series on foreign journalist visas and media censorship in China has become the most popular of posts. But in a close second is a piece that took me a long time to come to terms with and write: Chen Guangcheng and the Commandeering of Our China Human Rights Policy.

But as China Law & Policy continues to grow, the same cannot necessarily be said about China. Our inaugural post, on July 15, 2009, concerned the riots that had engulfed Xinjiang Province, the Uigher area in China’s northwest. A month later, we were writing about the detention of public interest lawyer, Xu Zhiyong (pronouced Sue Zhi-young). Fast forward five years and Xinjiang is again seeing a sharp increase in violence followed by a strong government crackdown; Xu Zhiyong is once again in prison, serving a four year term.

I hope that China Law & Policy continues to be a useful blog for both China-watchers and ordinary people. I have a lot of fun with the blog

It's my birthday, get me some cake!

It’s my birthday, get me some cake!

and will continue with it in between my day job. But as always, I welcome feedback and ideas. Have an idea for a blog post? Want to write that post yourself? Just email me – elynch@chinalawandpolicy.com.

In celebrating our 5th anniversary, I again want to thank everyone who reads this blog and who has given me much needed comments, edits and information. But in particular, I want to thank a few individuals who were there at the founding of this blog and who provided support, encouragement, and ideas: Tom Cantwell, Andrea Worden, Robert Burnett, Michael Standaert, Jeremy Daum, Susan Tice, Eva Pils, Nicky Moody, Don Clarke, Madhuri Kommareddi, Susan Fishman Orlins and Jerome Lynch.

Finally, China Law & Policy could not exist if WordPress – the software that powers the blog – was not offered free to the public. Thank you Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, for creating an easy-to-use, open-source software that has been an important democratizing tool.

Here is to another 5 years!

birthday chinese

Just for Fun: Movie Review – Lou Ye’s Blind Massage

Lou Ye's Blind Massage

Lou Ye’s Blind Massage

 

Blind Massage, Chinese director Lou Ye‘s (pronounced Low Yeah) new film, should never be introduced as “heartwarming” as it mistakenly was at last week’s New York Asian Film Festival.   “Absolutely fearless” is much more apt. This is a movie that attempts to capture the experience of blindness in the least blind-friendly of mediums – film – and it largely succeeds. For that reason alone, this brave, beautiful movie is a must see. But it’s also a movie that, by following the employees of a blind massage parlor in Nanjing, China,that diverges from the usual narrative and refuses to allow the audience to simply view these characters as saints merely because of their disabilities. Instead, the audience is challenged to view the blind and near-blind masseuses as who they really are: ordinary people just trying to make their way in the rough and tumble world that is China.

The opening scene itself – where the audience is left unable to focus on the key object that resulted in one of the main character’s loss of sight – lets you know that this is no ordinary movie. For many of the scenes throughout Blind Massage, the geography keeps changing and the audience cannot just orient itself by viewing the scene alone. Slowly you come to realize that what you see is no longer reliable. Instead, the audience is required to rely on other senses, in particular the sense of sound – the pouring of the rain, the ringing of bells – to comprehend what is happening; much like the blind must do on a daily basis. Lou perfectly captures this visceral feeling in a scene toward the end of the movie, where one of the blind masseuses – in a delicately, intimate scene – confesses her love to another. But at the end of the scene, you are shocked by the sound of a third person in the room. The audience is just as disoriented, surprised and deprived as the two characters who thought they were having a moment alone.

Lou also dispenses with any sentimentality toward the blind. The blind masseuses – played by both sighted professional actors as well as

Chinese film director Lou Ye

Chinese film director Lou Ye

non-sighted amateurs (who do a great job) – are not the usual wise blind sages often portrayed in Hollywood flicks. Instead, Lou develops the complexity of each character, portraying their foibles as well as their strengths; some you like and some you don’t. Most notably, Lou shows the sexual side of the blind, with awkward and honest sex scenes between some of the characters. But through the stories of each character, the emotional impact of discrimination and the invisibility each must feel in the world of the sighted is evident. It is particularly acute in a bloody, hara-kari-like scene where one character’s self-inflicted wounds symbolize the anguish of his injured pride.

Although there has been much criticism recently regarding the traditional and wholesale compartmentalization of the blind as masseuses in China, Lou Ye does not delve into that discussion. Nor does he have to. Lou’s goal is not to make a political point, but rather a human one: to show what it is like to be blind and to force the sighted to see. And he does so deftly. Even in America, where visual aids are prevalent, the blind and the sighted still do not exist as one; their worlds are largely divided. And while yes, China probably has a worse track record in mainstreaming the blind (only recently has it allowed the blind to take the same college entrance exam as the sighted), it should be remember that it is a Chinese film director that had the courage and sensitivity to attempt to honestly portray the lives of the blind on film.

There are aspects of the script that veer toward the melodramatic, but ultimately Blind Massage is a powerful movie that makes you feel the world of the blind instead of just trying to see it.

Rating: ★★★★½

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As of the date of this post, Blind Massage has only shown at the Berlin Film Festival (where it won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution) and the New York Asian Film Festival.  It is unclear if Blind Massage will be shown more widely in the United States or Europe. 

A scene from Lou Ye's Blind Massage

A scene from Lou Ye’s Blind Massage

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