Nobel Prize Awarded to Liu Xiaobo: A Critique of New York Times Coverage

Surely you all have read Edward Wong’s report in the New York Times about the Nobel Prize award to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.  The full text of the article is here; direct quotes from the article are included below in italics and followed by my analysis.

[Ed Wong writes:] 1. BEIJING — Few nations today stand as more of a challenge to the democratic model of governance than China, where an 89-year-old Communist Party has managed to quash political movements while creating a roaring, quasi-market economy and enforcing a veneer of social stability.

This is quite an opening gambit, and its language (specifically its verbs) deserve a bit of attention.  (Sometimes adjectives are worth the attention, such as the growing trope that China has a “voracious” appetite for natural resources.)  Wong writes that the CCP “Quashes political movements” when the operative verb might also be described as “channel.”  Does the CCP only crush, destroy, repress, or does it also understand, shape, reconfigure political pressures?  The mention of the party’s age (it was founded in 1921) further makes Wong’s gambit a bit strange, as over the course of its history the Party has done a fair amount of stimulating, rather than quashing, political movements in its history.  Perhaps this is not the place to enter into some disquisition on how the galvanizing experiences of the Cultural Revolution have made Chinese leaders since Mao adverse to mass movements (other than those which are nationalistic and relatively easily controlled), but, this party is more flexible and widely (if not uncritically) supported than Wong’s heavy-handed prose would have us believe.

As for the phrase “create an economy,” that’s historically impossible: the CCP inherited a sclerotic and dysfunctional economy from the Nationalists in 1949 and have since revived it.  As for the phrase “enforcing a veneer of social stability,” Wong leaves out that social stability is in large part supported by the Chinese masses, but, more importantly, such statements also contain implicit threats to the regime: you could be exposed and overthrown.

In other words, with the opening paragraph, Wong makes plain that his article will also function on the polemical level, and that Liu represents defiance of something immense and consequential.

[Wong writes:] 2. With the United States’ economy flagging and its global influence in decline, some Chinese leaders now appear confident in asserting that freedom of speech, multiparty elections and constitutional rights — what some human rights advocates call universal values — are indigenous to the West, and that is where they should stay.

Here Wong leaves out the complexity of the human rights and democracy debate in China, leaving Wen Jiabao’s recent discussion of democracy as a peripheral concern.  Of course Western leaders and journalistic institutions like the NYT have a difficult choice to make: validate Wen and appear to endorse slow pace of reform, or ignore/refute him (the same as accusing him of insincerity) and undermine his work domestically.  Being the CCP isn’t easy because you rarely get validated from the outside, in some ways paradoxically heightening the need to bluster and puff one’s party up domestically, which the CCP is really very good at and obvious about anyway.

[Wong writes:] 3. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, 54, was a sharp rejoinder to that philosophy. Of course, it was a Norwegian panel that gave him the prize, providing Chinese officials and their supporters with ample ammunition to denounce the move as another attempt by the West to impose its values on China.

Context, context: What Wong is missing is that the Nobel announcement arrives at a moment when the CCP media has been slowly amping up the nationalistic rhetoric (in which the West is seen as overbearing and arrogant, of course).  This comes within a host of issues ranging from the Diaoyu Island dispute (which the Huanqiu Shibao fairly blamed on Douglas MacArthur extending favors to the Japanese in 1952), and the return of the Yuanmingyuan trope (150 year anniversary) and of course the main event: currency pressures.

4. But anticipating the criticism, the judges underscored the support in China for the imprisoned Mr. Liu’s work and his plight, which they said proved that the Chinese were as hungry as anyone for the political freedoms enjoyed in countries like the United States, India and Indonesia.

Virtually no Chinese intellectuals are serious about imitating India!  And they don’t want to be Indonesia.  And they don’t want to be Americans!

Read Daniel Bell and discuss the potency and problems of the Confucian human rights models.  In Wong’s world, these don’t exist: it’s either Chinese totalitarianism (which may as well be Stalinism, true enough as they share common DNA) or Western droit de l’homme.  There is no time to explore middle ground.

5. The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who won the prize in 1989, highlighted the grass-roots Chinese push for political reform in a statement praising Mr. Liu, saying that “future generations of Chinese will be able to enjoy the fruits of the efforts that the current Chinese citizens are making towards responsible governance.” Yet the Dalai Lama stands as proof that the struggle for rights in China is a hard one, and that winning the Nobel is no guarantee of achieving even minimal success.

Quote number one comes from Dahramsala or wherever his Holiness is raising funds at the moment.   The Dalai Lama does of course have a right to talk about China’s legal future, and the struggle for individual rights, but Wong’s verdict is just overly didactic.   Obviously, the Dalai Lama has a good and reasonably uncritical friend in the New York Times.  Just as clumsy Global Times front page articles that call the Dalai Lama a “jackal” need to be criticized, the type of hagiographical serial worship that Wong applies to the Dalai Lama need similar rebuke.  Why the first quote and the explication of inspiration?  This belongs at the back of the article, and overly didactic news writing that is actually editorial belongs in the op-ed pages.

6. Nevertheless, the number of signatures on Charter 08, the document that Mr. Liu co-drafted that calls for gradually increasing constitutional rights, shows that at the very least, there is an appetite in this country to openly discuss the kind of values that hard-line Communist Party leaders dismiss as a new brand of Western imperialism.

Which is why Wen Jiabao is doing that.  (Update: China Media Project has a good takedown on Wen Jiabao’s sincerity towards liberalization.) But one has to read the French press to get a full look at Wen.  The analysis of “a new brand of Western imperialism” is right on the mark, however.  And keeping in mind that China needs to remain friends with nearby North Korea, these kind of denunciations have more than just domestic use.

7. The 300 initial signatures on the document snowballed to 10,000 as it spread on the Internet, even as the government tried its best to stamp it out. Certainly many of those who signed it were intellectuals, not exactly representative of most Chinese, but China has a rich history of political reform led by its elites. Chinese lawyers, journalists, scholars, artists, policy advisers — many among them will be heartened by the Nobel Committee’s decision.

Yes, elites have a history of leading Chinese public opinion; and “heartened” is probably true, but again, it really feels that this sentence is op-ed style.  Of course there is no public opinion poll in China…it’s worth noting that the news is widely available in China, not trying to block its diffusion in foreign languages.  As a mere point of fact, the NYT used to be blocked in Chinese internet completely, now it isn’t.

8. The Internet, the vehicle that carried Charter 08 to prominence, simmered with Chinese support for Mr. Liu early Friday night despite extensive government filtering. Liu Xiaobo was the most common topic on’s Weibo, a popular microblog forum. Microbloggers burned with enthusiasm for the prize and hurled invective at the government: “Political reform and the Nobel Prize, is this a new start? This day has finally come,” wrote a user named Nan Zhimo. Another user, Hei Zechuan, said, “The first real Chinese Nobel Prize winner has emerged, but he is still in prison right now; what a bittersweet event.”

This is such a tricky journalistic maneuver.  On the one hand, it’s great: “Look, actually Chinese debate on the internet!”  On the other hand, it is specious, because basically you can find whatever you want on the internet.  The same tactic is often used by Global Times to support its own point of view, finding a netizen to quote.  For American/Anglophone readers, the image is given of a China seething (oh, sorry, “simmering”) with support for Liu Xiaobo, when in fact the vast majority of Internet users in China are either unaware of the award or are trashing the West online.  I wish that the New York Times would distinguish itself a bit from Global Times.  Get a quote from Michael Anti or other Chinese tweeters!

Instead we get:

9.But the authorities clung to their habits on Friday night, as police officers showed up at celebratory gatherings in Beijing and Shanghai to haul people off to police stations, according to Twitter feeds.

Now we arrive at something significant, an actual event.  At the very least, couldn’t Wong quote the Twitter feeds which reported on the event?  Does he read Chinese?  (Perhaps he does, like the Reuters reporter Chris Buckley, but his reporting rarely betrays the fact.)  Do we need to rely on NYT fixers to get information about this dastardly chain of events?  It appears so, because the link in the story is not to specific Twitter feeds, but to more NYT articles about Twitter, just what China watchers are needing, surely!  This is vague reporting in the extreme, but fortunately Wong reminds us that “the authorities clung to their [authoritarian] habits.”  Emotion rules over factual clarity, which is a shame, because clarity had a chance of succeeding here.

10. The rest of the article is solid, and we get a sense of inner-Party debates, all of the discussion of Wu Bangguo vs. Wen Jiabao takes place well “below the fold,” and after the gratuitous Dalai Lama references.  Recognizing that these things are written quickly, I still can’t help but feel that the guts of such an article, the political background, have been sitting on Wong’s harddrive for more than a year, and that the New York Times all to often resorts to using formula in its reporting on China.

With a nod to this takedown of the Huanqiu Shibao/Global Times skewed reportage on the Dalai Lama, I’m presenting:

How to Write About Chinese Dissidents for the New York Times

1. Cogitate on some prose about China’s refusal to reform politically, let it marinate until the next time you need some boilerplate material on a story dealing with the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party.

2. Get a VPN, hire some Chinese fixers fluent in Chinese to read Twitter feeds; don’t actually quote or cite those feeds, but be proud of yourself for adding a veneer of authentic “Chinese dissident reporting” that gives your writing a kind of underground flavor for your fellow Anglophone readers.

3. Don’t call anyone in Hong Kong: let the AP images from the city of faceless people behind placards suggest vast reservoirs of support for his cause, the way that the same crazy guy  in Seoul who burns the same pictures of Kim Jong Il every time North Korea does something suggest vast antipathy toward the DPRK in South Korea.

4. Don’t mention anything about EU politics of human rights or anything specifically European; don’t mention that Angela Merkel and the German press have been advocating for Liu Xiaobo for a while now; American readers won’t understand!  When talking about Wen Jiabao, do not mention that he was in Europe when the Nobel Prize was awarded or mention that it was a slap in the face to him politically as well.  Assume that Wen Jiabao isn’t worth a full feature such as is given to Bob Gates/profile in Newsweek.  Your editors aren’t interested in that kind of stuff, so get thinking about how to write yet another piece about China’s economic takeover of Africa or Afghanistan.

5. Don’t give any background at all about Liu Xiaobo, his writings, his experience of 1989, other than a vague appraisal of Charter 08; assume that he is an infalliable dissident who must have been pronouncing correct verdicts on Chinese politics since the Cultural Revolution.  Dissidents don’t need scrutiny of their views, they need support!  The central problem is the CCP, not what the dissidents would want to see in an alternative system!  In this case, the NYT is just as complicit as the CCP in hamstringing political reform in China: no one seems willing to discuss the actual alternative at length.  What other political parties?  What about the Taiwan model?  Who is influencing whom?  We won’t ever know.  Instead it reads like 1989…

6. Don’t give the CCP any credit whatsoever for expanded literacy in the rhetoric of rights; instead, make sure to emphasize jack-booted thugs.  Remember, your competition is the cro-mag-rightist Washington Times and FOX News, not the French press!  And you’ve got to keep your credibility with the American right wing, who after all is the loudest, Bill O’Reilley and all that.

7.  Acknowledge not the views of Chinese-Americans.  Assume instead that they are all lined up behind Ed Wong in staunch support of censure of the CCP, as if nothing has changed since 1989.  Chinese=Americans are a highly diverse and increasingly powerful and prominent group in all areas of life in the United States.  Does a single group exist that could be quoted on the Liu Xiaobo case?  Does the CCP argument have traction among former democracy activists in the US?  What might this tell us about support for the CCP within China, where as Wong points out, media is more limited?  What does the absence of this quote tell us?

8. All articles about human rights in China must include a quote from his Holiness.  The Dalai Lama is the foremost pure symbol of Chinese deficiencies in human rights, a role he has been steadily filling.  Who better to speak about human rights in China than someone who hasn’t set foot in the PRC since 1959?  Keep in mind that mention of this man will draw in readers and make the stakes plain.  We don’t need to be bothered with Liu Xiaobo’s views on the Tibet question (obviously, all Chinese intellectuals are in bed with the Dalai Lama and long for Tibetan independence, right?)…

9.  When discussing specific Chinese dissidents, don’t’ bother giving Chinese characters for their names or links to online profiles, or the names of the organizations they lead.  It’s important that they stand up as stock figures who can’t be learned about even by readers who are fluent in Chinese!  What matters is that they stand up for democracy!

10.  Don’t describe Chinese media response other than to remind us all that the jack-booted thugs police the internet.  Readers don’t need any clue that the Liu Xiaobo case was discussed in prominenent outlets (in their own jaded way) such as X Z Y, [correction! blame it on the 1:59 a.m. post from a posh Chengdu cafe with 39 yuan-a-cup-java that was closing at 2 a.m.] or that it was easily available within China for 200million English readers, users of Yahoo mail, etc.  If Chinese leaders wanted to quash discussion of this among elites, etc., they weren’t trying very hard. [Update: Word on the street among Chengdu students at Sichuan University is that the heavy filtering of text messaging and the shut down of microblogging platforms and the ubiquitous QQ actually made more people interested in what they were missing.  By the same token, I went to a little salon of Chinese intellectuals/知识分子 last night in Chengdu and the subject of Liu Xiaobo never came up, maybe because we were having too much fun learning Tibetan, playing music, and throat singing with censored poets.]

11. Never, never, never write about the deep damage done to the American model of human rights defense and democracy by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Chinese media cover these conflicts extensively.  Do not at any point mention the demoralization of pro-American sentiments in China and among Chinese intellectuals; the bankruptcy off the American economy is OK to mention (hell, it gets the second paragraph of the piece!) but under no circumstances contextualize the Chinese search for a viable model by discussing the undermining of the American model by the Iraq fiasco.  Ed Wong was in Iraq, for goodness sake!   And what did Liu Xiaobo say about the American model of democracy?  What did he write, apart from Charter08?  Who knows and who cares?  What matters is that he stands up to the CCP in the most generic way possible!

The New York Times: standing up to Chinese Communists since 1949…


  1. Damn beautiful: takedown sorely needed. The sad thing is that the NYT article is how 83% of Americans who hear the news will digest the news. And given that only 11% will ever hear the news in the first place, and that the percentage might be even lower for politicians, that leaves precious few folks with any understanding of the nuances crucial to developing a mature relationship with China.

  2. I think you got “4)” wrong in two ways.

    “(T)he judges underscored the support in China for the imprisoned Mr. Liu’s work and his plight, which they said proved…” means that your reply needs to assess whether the judges actually said anything close to what Wong says they did. The hyperlink in Wong’s story is no help to his assertion, btw.

    And I disagree strongly with this:

    “Virtually no Chinese intellectuals are serious about imitiating India! And they don’t want to be Indonesia. And they don’t want to be Americans!”

    If Chinese intellectuals were free to emigrate to the U.S., I’m sure we’d get plenty of them. Even with the current high hurdles for emigration, the U.S. is the lucky recipient of many, many every year. If you meant this literally, I think you’re dead wrong.

    1. “If Chinese intellectuals were free to emigrate to the U.S., I’m sure we’d get plenty of them. Even with the current high hurdles for emigration, the U.S. is the lucky recipient of many, many every year.” Absolutely! And more quotes from Chinese Americans on issues like Liu Xiaobo would make things even more vibrant.

      There are a couple of excellent quotes from one of our favorite ex-expats to the US from the 1980s, Ai Weiwei on Liu Xiaobo in the following article (which I prefer to Wong’s piece) from AP. Here’s an extract:

      The contretemps points to the sticky predicament the prize poses for the communist leadership. Liu is the first Chinese and first member of the much persecuted group of political activists to be given the peace prize, but he is virtually unknown among ordinary Chinese. The award is likely to carry his name and his call for democracy to a wider audience, especially among young Chinese who are avid Internet and cell phone users but due to censorship know little of the rights camp’s past struggles with the government.

      “They are going to want to know who Liu Xiaobo is and why he won this prize. They are going to learn who he is and this way they are going to learn more about freedom, democracy, justice and about the Tiananmen generation,” said Ai Weiwei, a prominent artist who has become a fierce champion of human rights.

      This resonates with me because I taught a class at Sichuan University last night during which we got into a discussion about the legacy of Tiananmen; e.g., the students (born after 1990, most of them) weren’t aware of anything Liu had done besides Charter08. This got me into some discussion of Chai Ling, Wu’er Kaixi, and Liu Xiaobo, and then we did some comparison of Wen Jiabao with Hu Yaobang (Hu was rather active in opening up and softening CCP policy towards Tibet in the early 1980s, in addition to being popular with student protesters after his death).

      Anyway, the relevant question here is one of generational splits and influences. Is Liu Xiaobo (and the Tiananmen movement more generally) destined to viewed like the anti-Vietnam war movement is by current college students in the United States, that is to say, as distinctly retro, uninteresting, very little that one can learn from? Or is tradition viewed differently here.

      I had a chance to talk with Prof. Zhao Dingxin last year at Stanford about his remarkable book “The Power of Tiananmen,” which is probably the best topography of campus activism in Beijing which one could ever hope to see. But our conversation mainly dealt with the Cultural Revolution! Perhaps looking back is something endemic to Chinese culture: no matter how many changes China goes through, the Duke of Zhao looms back there, along with the wisdom, and the tragedy, of Tiananmen.

  3. validate Wen and appear to endorse slow pace of reform, or ignore/refute him (the same as accusing him of insincerity) and undermine his work domestically.

    Sure, a Peace Nobel Prize is a time for sunday school sermons, just as is much of the coverage on other Nobel Prizes (after all, who would actually understand what a new class of materials is really about?

    That said, I’m still glad about the encouragment the prize may give to people who are imprisoned without rightful procedures (I think this is the term Wen Jiabao used recently).

    There is a lot that the printed media could do to make themselves more relevant again, vis-a-vis the internet, for example, not to mention television. Criticizing totalitarianism doesn’t necessarily liberate the critic of his or her own obsessions.

    Quote ->
    Gingen wir doch, öfter als die Schuhe die Länder wechselnd
    Durch die Kriege der Klassen, verzweifelt
    Wenn da nur Unrecht war und keine Empörung.

    Dabei wissen wir doch:
    Auch der Hass gegen die Niedrigkeit
    Verzerrt die Züge.
    Auch der Zorn über das Unrecht
    Macht die Stimme heiser. Ach, wir
    Die wir den Boden bereiten wollten für Freundlichkeit
    Konnten selber nicht freundlich sein.

    Ihr aber, wenn es soweit sein wird
    Dass der Mensch dem Menschen ein Helfer ist
    Gedenkt unsrer
    Mit Nachsicht.
    <- quote

    As for Wen Jiabao's positions, it's open for interpretation if they really mean something new, or if it is a soon-to-be-a-pensioner's trite wisdom. The incumbants had almost ten years in office. Maybe it takes this long to advocate a new political approach. But I'm suspecting that even as far as Mr Wen might mean to go, his words are only tolerable to most of the CCP because he is on his way out.

    1. JR, danke fuer dein Komment (ewig wertvoll!), der Links (aber niemals von die Linke!) und das schoene Gedicht. China Blogs mit Gedichte sind immer gut und selig, so danke dafuer. Ich habe offensichtlich nicht so viel ueber Liu Xiaobo gedacht, und, hier Wahrheit zu sagen, habe ich auch nicht zu viel ueber Liu gelesen im deutsche Nachtricht. (Ist dass nicht ein bisschen komisch, wenn ein Amerikaner im Volksrepublik China ihre andere amerikanischen Kollegen immer kritisieren weil sie niemals an das deutsche Nachrichten denken, und dann diese verdammte so-gennanten “Intellektuel” nicht die selbe Nachrichten echt lest? Doch komisch, und tragisch auch!)

      Ueber Wen Jiabao und die relativ Position dieser Mann im mittel der Staatsregierung der KPC: Er hat zehn Jahre mit alle fortschrittliche Repression einstimmen, dannach ein Reformer verwandeln zu sein? Vielleicht er ist auch ein tragischer Kerl, wie der ehemaliger Amerikanischen Bundeswehr Minister Robert MacNamara, wie, wenn er maechtlich war, alle schmutzig gemacht habe, aber endlich (!) alt sein worde und vor der Kameras weint und sagte nur: “Entschuldigung.”

      1. Naja, man kann nicht alles lesen, und die deutsche Presse ist nicht der Nabel der Welt. 😉

        Wen Jiabao und Robert McNamara – das passt für mich zusammen, zumal McNamara sich ebenfalls um ein Gleichgewicht zwischen Kritik und Loyalität zu bemühen schien (der Zwang zur Konformität dürfte allerdings in der KP Chinas sehr viel größer sein). Und beide sind oder waren Verwaltungsfachleute – einer zuerst in der Wirtschaft, der andere von Anfang an als Politiker.

        Möge die Weisheit Einzug halten in die Schädel unserer Regenten – und möglichst nicht erst am Ende ihrer Amtszeiten.

        1. Ja, ueber etwas denken hier….Wie schoen waehrend ich ein Verwaltungsfachleute zu sein, die mit echtes Umlauts schreiben zu koennen….OK:

          Deine laetzte Satz, stimmt, aber Mann muss auch etwas anders erinnerrin ueber Wen’s grosste untergangenen Vorgaenger, der schneehaarige und schwerbrillentraegenden Zhao Ziyang, der die Wen begleitet hat im wunderschoenen Monat Mai (der Peking-Fruehling Jahrgang neunzehnhundertachtundneunzig, natuerlich)…Hier im Koerper Zhaos war ein goettliches Beispiel: ein maechtiges Techniker, ein Kommunist mit Moral, die in dem Fluss des Studentenangst sich tauchen und schwebend hat waehrend ihre Perspekitven zu verstehen, ein Mann die mit Dissidenten oder Sovietrevisionisten aehnlich einreden zu koennen und dannach Wahrheit nach Oben zu sagen.

          Wir haben heute keine Zhao Ziyang und auch keine Hu Yaobang gerade weil wir haette eine Zhao Ziyang und eine Hu Yaobang und die alle vom Oben mundtot gemacht war! Herr Wen hat alle offensichtlich gesehen, und er weisst was passiert war, und doch weisst er was jetzt passiert ist, und weisst auch das, wenn es ueber Staatsmacht und der Verratten der Kollegen mit zu tun ist, das die Vergangenheit Chinas ist nie und nimmer weit. Mann koennte gefresst sein beim diese verdammte, ewige Geschichtzyklus. Oder, einfaecher zu sagen, Wen Jiabao will ihre zugaengliche Denkschriften im Verlag Pekings veroeffentlichen, nie nur in die Ausland wo er jetzt so oft traet. Ach! und zumindest, wenn Mann mit Zhou Enlai gleichtun werden, muss Mann immer ueber der Loyalitaetspflicht (ein Schicksaal) zu denken.

  4. Your response has so many problem that I don’t know where to begin. But I’ll try.

    Human rights a Western concept? That is a thoroughly discredited idea, which ignores volumes of scholarship, not to mention the fact that a Chinese took part in drafting the UDHR back in the 40s P. C. Chang. And what happened to the Taiwanese experience in democracy and HR?

    The PRC inherited a economy is disrepair in 1949 and rebuilt it? Well, you cannot leave out the fact that a couple of quite embarrassing things did in fact occur between 1949 and 1979. In your world, we should thank the CCP for not being quite as evil as the used to be, I suppose.

    1. Snusmumriken, Of course, the CCP in some periods of its history (mainly after the First Five-Year Plan) inflicted damage on the economy they inherited, that’s not in dispute. The quibble is a linguistic one: who “created” the Chinese economy anyway?

      As for human rights as a falsely Western concept, I think we’re certainly on the same page. I’ll point again to Tsinghua philosophy professor Daniel Bell’s work as the most prominent interrogation of that concept. (Bell will be in the U.S. [Tacoma, Washington] this next month debating this very thing, in fact….)

      I like very much your point “In your world, we should thank the CCP for not being quite as evil as the used to be, I suppose” because it is definitely worth thinking about and it bears specifically on the present circumstance. At what point is the CCP able to get a passing grade from the international community? It may be that we’re dealing with two systems here: in the one, domestic, system, as far as the Party is concerned, the CCP has made huge improvements _relative to the Maoist era_ and should get some credit for that. Within the rather rigid parameters of its own definitions, the Party displays a dedication to “democracy,” “human rights,” and “free speech.” I am personally rather offended by the limitations placed on all three of these concepts in China, but, I can also acknowledge that I prefer the China of 2010 to the China of 1970. And for most Chinese (even for many intellectuals bound to a family history!), China’s own political history is the standard, not some ideal Euro-American system. Paradoxically, the rapidity of China’s change is taken for granted in the West, meaning that that CCP leaders could benefit a great deal in their external propaganda by unearthing all the bad stuff of the Cultural Revolution as if to say “look at how much we have changed, verily.”

      On the other hand, foreign critics of China and those who want to encourage the growth of greater freedoms in the PRC have to wonder about the role, the forurm, and the shape of the critique as an effective instrument for encouraging (“forcing” seems too strong a term) change. Does one attack the CCP on all fronts rhetorically, assuming that it remains a black hole of dictatorship, ignore its own capacity to reform and wiping out (as Wong really manages to in his opening two paragraphs) the notion that its leaders have ever had a democratic thought in their lives? Henry Kissinger is not a very popular person in my circles in the United States, but he did manage to find a way to encourage and enable change in China, which was not done through “rhetorical cannon blasts” (Mao’s phrase to Nixon), but through back-channel negotiations/discussions. The understanding put forth in the Kissinger and Nixon papers (which are available to anyone at the U.S.National Archives, a very enjoyable experience which will become even more enjoyable when they move them all to California) is that the pace of Chinese change is not in the hands of the US or NATO or whomever, but that a lessening of external tensions would allow the PRC to act on some of its own alleged principles in extending liberty, etc.

      As for Taiwanese democracy, I wish I could point you to a handful of insightful posts on this site dating from the week I spent in the ROC this past July, but unfortunately the writing I did at that time is wretched and deals primarily with military competition.

  5. I can’t believe the New York Times ran a news story on the Nobel Peace Prize without mentioning”the deep damage done to the American model of human rights defense and democracy by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. ”

    I thought Liu Xiaobo had been jailed by the communist party on trumped up charges – now I realise he was merely “channeled”.

    Of course, this news was widely circulated in China, except for the fact that “all news dealing with the Nobel Prize must be taken down,” according to a CMP translation, quoting Twitter posts that this writer berates the NYT for ignoring.

    I love the bit about the “complexity of the human rights and democracy debate” which has gone nowhere and will go nowhere towards open and accountable government, and effective state institutions independent of party control. THese are not, as the writer seems to believe, uniquely American values but are embraced in dozens of countries including many of Chinese neighbours.

    This post is unencumbered by any understanding of what a reporter does or what a news story is, and with a howler in almost every paragraph. Stick to North Korea, pal.

    1. Robert, thanks for the mention of the China Media Project ( ); I’d visited their site but once before and they had fallen off my internet map. Hopefully they’ll be up on my sidebar of links here soon, as their coverage of the Liu Xiaobo coverage/non-coverage on the mainland is fairly solid, as you point out:

      And they fortunately contain a link to the short item carried by Xinhua on the Nobel, which lets the PRC Foreign Ministry carry the weight of the critique:

      新华网北京10月8日电 外交部发言人马朝旭8日表示,诺贝尔委员会把今年的诺贝尔和平奖授予刘晓波,完全违背该奖项的宗旨,也是对和平奖的亵渎。



      which is all neatly summarized in English on the Foreign Ministry website here.

      As for your specific critiques, they have merit but I think you misunderstand my intent in a couple of cases (and yes, I do plan to continue to write about North Korea, so thanks for your vote of support on that front). In the first case, of course it isn’t possible for the NYT to discuss the full range of attitudes held in China toward wars engaged by Western powers (Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo back in the day) in articles like Wong’s. The point is that Wong’s piece, like much of the New York Times coverage of China, seems to take the assumption that the Nobel prize appears like some wholly unique beacon of hope to Chinese intellectuals who are relatively uncritical of the West (yes, led by the United States). If you read Peter Hays Gries’ book “China’s New Nationalism” (U.California Press, 2005) as a basis or sit on Chinese subways reading — and watching other people read — the nationalistic Huanqiu Shibao (no one reads the People’s Daily so why even discuss it), you might agree with me that the CCP has done a fairly good job of managing discontent with Western hypocrisy and flipping it into a form of support for “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Again, the point isn’t for Noam Chomsky to take over as chief editor of the NYT or for Ed Wong to channel what are probably some fairly traumatic memories of his years with the immortal John Burns in Iraq into every every story, the point is that the discussion on/playing field of human rights in China has changed in the past decade significantly, that the Chinese government perhaps seems more assertive in rejecting Western rebukes, and that change has in part stemmed from what are probably rightly regarded as the failures of the West.

  6. Hey, what a great site with an excellent sense of history. Joining my daily must reads.

    Great textual analysis and couldn’t agree more, despite my deep loathing for the CPC. And I can feel comfortable with that contradiction, since I have almost equal contempt for the US’s current situation.

    There is another dimension to this hitting China on the head over LX and human rights. Walk into any classroom in Australia or NZ and ask students what are the most important global issues today. It is climate change and human rights. Are these peope interested in nuanced reporting. They are the ipod gen so forget it. PRC comes out looking like …………

    Other than that, great stuff.

  7. Love this article. I like the way in which the topic is being looked at from many different angles instead of the simple done-to-death old battle of “democracy vs authoritarianism”.

    Especially these parts :

    “Here Wong leaves out the complexity of the human rights and democracy debate in China, leaving Wen Jiabao’s recent discussion of democracy as a peripheral concern.”

    There are a lot of Chinese who are in the gray area – they crave freedom & democracy but do not share the Western fervour (or the feverish urge of American Chinese for instance in demanding immediate suffrage. For instance in the West very little is known about the quite progressive views of a 57 year old senior military officer of the PRC People’s Liberation Army by the name Liu Ya Zhou cum novelist / writer who wrote against corruption and for political reform & democracy.

    “Of course Western leaders and journalistic institutions like the NYT have a difficult choice to make: validate Wen and appear to endorse slow pace of reform, or ignore/refute him (the same as accusing him of insincerity) and undermine his work domestically. Being the CCP isn’t easy because you rarely get validated from the outside, in some ways paradoxically heightening the need to bluster and puff one’s party up domestically, which the CCP is really very good at and obvious about anyway.”

    This hits a chord when I read the book “Prisoner of the State – The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Zi Yang” a written account of the oral recordings of the Ex-chinese Premier Zhao Zi Yang who was sacked during the Tiananmen Incident and put under house arrest for the rest of his life. In this book, Zhao actually confirmed his opinion that the most reliable, lively & evolving form of government is the western parliamentarian system, not military dictatorships which are merely transient in nature eventually caving in with the passage of time.

    Zhao wrote about the immensely complicated internal strife (with the vicious extreme-Red leftist magazine editorial which Zhao closed down despite opposition) within the CCP when he advocated pragmatic economic reforms – with which Deng Xiao Ping had no problems with. But to sustain a growing economic market u need transparency which would only come with substantial political reforms – a no no for Deng Xiao Ping who feared instability, chaos and uncertainty in the like of the Cultural Revolution. It is very obvious that a system & idea as grand & sophisticated as a functioning democracy needs more than just central imposition from the top – you need divisional / regional / central democratic systems & democratic culture with clearly laid law to maintain such a system. Although CCP has managed to pull off some economic achievement quite late into their reign (only since the 1980s until now) they had only succeeded after decades of failure from the 1950s to the 1970s. It is not far-fetched to presume that some Chinese are just wary of change for the worse.

    Yes, I do agree with the idea that the reason that Premier Wen’s wishes for political reforms are now tolerated because he is exiting. But at the same time, I also do agree that when you want something to come true for yourself, sometimes you do not just make loud demands “I want so & so”….you have to pragmatically create the favourable circumstances which would allow whatever you want to happen.

    CCP does deserve some credit – they have progressed from Stalin-like emperor status for Mao (who sat in power until his death) through to a pragmatic (though fearful of democracy or more likely losing control) Deng Xiao Ping, to the subsequent lesser and more transient characters like Jiang Ze Ming, Hu Jin Tao, Zhu Rong Ji, Wen Jia Bao and with the wealth and openness they are allowing, China today is so different from not only China of the 1960s or 1989 but every three to five years.

    Sometimes outright head-on blasts on the head of CCP may only create raw material helping the ultra-conservative factions in the CCP to justify their ever more hostile & xenophobic or authoritarian measures thus defeating efforts of the milder, internationalist & reformist factions within the CCP.

  8. Sometimes outright head-on blasts on the head of CCP may only create raw material helping the ultra-conservative factions in the CCP to justify their ever more hostile & xenophobic or authoritarian measures thus defeating efforts of the milder, internationalist & reformist factions within the CCP.

    I see no reason to doubt that Wen Jiabao belongs to a rather reformist group of officials, Reading Warrior. But if “blasts” from abroad help their adversaries in justifying more hostile & xenophobic or authoritarian measures, no (reasonably acceptable) self-censorship (and is there such a thign as acceptable self-censorship?) will lead to improvements. A government (and not only the government itself) who justify their ways with the “hostility” of an outside world doesn’t make me believe that the “good cops” may eventually have their way. China isn’t Iraq, and there is no invasion looming.

    As for the Nobel Peace prize, I seem to remember that Solidarnosc leaders under house arrest or in prison in Poland actually felt encouraged by something as crude as Ronald Reagan’s “Let Poland be Poland” tv show. I’d prefer to shed a bit of light into the darkness of decent people – it may only be a gesture, but it’s a good gesture. And I don’t believe it really shapes the ways the CCP will take – neither way. It may, however, encourage true reformists.

    1. No government (or politician really) truly believes or even need to believe in the “hostility” of the outside world – it is enough that some bad apples in the governing ranks (not everyone in any government think alike – there are always factions) can convince the masses that there is such threat (9/11 justification for invasion of Iraq). Familiar with the Nazi Herman Goring quote ? :

      “Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

      Very often, these hate/fear-mongers do this for less-than-grand reasons – neither do they believe in their lie themselves or are they doing for the national good – it is often a more selfish need to secure more power within their own government defeating other factions and perhaps to profit from the war.

      China isn’t Iraq ? No invasion looming ? Let me list them out for you :
      (a) Senkaku Island territorial disputes / naval boat collision diplomatic
      row with Japan ;
      (b) Joint US-Korea military drill near Chinese waters triggering
      corresponding Chinese military drills ;
      (c) P3 Orion Antisubmarine Maritime Reconnaissance plane collision with
      Chinese fighter jet causing death of Chinese pilot ;
      (d) Tibetan & Xinjiang Urumqi riots (especially threats of East Turkestan

      Having said all that, however, China or PRC cannot afford to stifle anymore reforms forever, whatever their excuse would be in the near future. But it is also a fact that the only true & effective reform must occur nationwide and preferably from grassroots level like Taiwan.

      1. Iraq wasn’t exactly an established nuclear power with a permanent seat in the UN SC…

        1. Do not forget, USA invaded Iraq without / bypassing a second UN Security Council resolution was questioned many times by the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

          Hence holding a permanent seat in the UN SC is kinda like a nicer way of doing things…u look nice if you have their blessings, but if u really want something nobody can stop you from going forward without the UN SC’s blessings….

          Nuclear power is the ultimate deterrent when an all-out war occurs – but beyond that no rational nation will ever contemplate deploying nuclear weapon in smaller scale (but extremely destabilising) border skirmishes, terrorist attacks, separatist subversion, guerilla wars etc. Plus the prolific nuclear-missile-interception technology today, nuclear deterrence must not be taken for granted.

          Yep, the Iraqi threat was unduly amplified :

          a) No Weapons of Massive Destruction ;
          b) Harbouring, assisting Al-Qaeda ? So now what ?
          By the same token, can a country like China
          invade countries like Turkey for harbouring a
          massive population of Eastern Turkestan
          separatists ?

        2. Could it be that you are off-topic, readingwarrior? I said that China isn’t Iraq. How terrible the US is and how benevolent a global player China is (I’m sure that the Japanese or Vietnamese people will agree with this overwhelmingly) wasn’t my issue.
          Or do you simply want to remind me that Kofi Annan was at odds with the invasion of Iraq? Then thanks for the reminder!

  9. No good journalist — assigned to write a 1,200-word story on a Nobel Prize winner — would veer off in some unfocused manner on Merkel, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Diaoyu islands, Douglas MacArthur in 1952, and Lord knows what else.

    If you’re writing succinctly for a global audience, you’d probably skip the inside Chinese baseball and quotes from translated Chinese Twitter feeds.

    If you disagree with Wong’s article, that’s fine. But I don’t think you quite prove that The NYT is just like The Global Times. Slight difference there.

    BTW, all correspondents use fixers / researchers / translators. And this piece was tagged as analysis, not straight news.

    As for Hong Kong, there is widespread support for Liu here, and has been for years. The average guy – my family, my cabbie, a banker I met at a cocktail – are proud of him. An ex-China Daily journalist just wrote an editorial of support in a HK paper. So it’s not just one angry guy with a placard.

    Note: I am a colleague of Wong’s but not writing on behalf of the NYT, just as a normal citizen and blogger expressing her opinion. [Insert disclaimer here].

    Lighter note: I wrote a humorous post on the Liu Xiaobo -Norwegian salmon incident on my blog. I also got that SCMP Op/Ed from behind the paywall and put it up. I think you might like that one more.

    1. Joyce, thanks much for the critiques and the context. It’s precisely comments like yours that I find most helpful (and interesting) about the blogging process in which one puts out a string of ideas, some of which are undoubtedly more half-baked than others, and, given enough intelligent readers with an impetus to critique, is tapped into a kind of more fully logical state.

      Given that I missed the “analysis” tag on Wong’s piece (damn it, I am an inveterate reader of the “dead tree” print edition when in the States, which allows me precisely _not_ to miss such things), perhaps I should tag my own essays. This one might be tagged “Untenured Historian Rants at American Journalistic Institution”, or, “Why (Paris) Liberation‘s China Coverage is Occasionally Better than that of the New York Times.”

      As for journalistic limitations, I suppose that’s why I am a historian and not a journalist (and haven’t been the latter since university); in my professional work I tend to prefer to write longer essays of about 10,000 words to my own deadlines on topics undisciplined by news editors…which means I have a harder time sympathizing with journalists who have to crank out pieces within the boundaries dictated by audience, market, editorial staff, etc. And never having had a Chinese “fixer” myself, I suppose it’s wonderful they exist, but don’t these people mainly just do translations of stuff that reporters in China really ought to be able to read anyway?

      So in my world, discussing the ongoing repercussions of Douglas MacArthur’s actions in Tokyo (and over North Korea!) in 1950-51 or tangling with the impact of the East German dictatorship on German critiques of Chinese human rights is never off topic. It is the topic!!!

      Finally, I particularly appreciate the anecdotal update from Hong Kong. That’s one of my many deficiencies in my own China coverage and experience.

    2. Joyce, I would love to read your post on the salmon incident/Liu connection (it escapes me!) but unfortunately your blog appears to be blocked here in the mainland. I suppose this is just one more reason for me to get VPN-ized….

  10. Adam, I’m no conspiracy theorist, but maybe you can tell me why the entire western press had collectively hidden the fact Liu Xiaobo was on US government’s payroll, via the NED, to conduct domestic political activity in China?

    It is generally accepted that the state have right to perserve sovereign independence. We ourselves outlaw such activity (FARA), yet when China applies its subversive activity law in similiar fashion, we give the convicted a Nobel?

    Liu Xiaobo taking nearly a million dollars from US government, via the NED, is not a secret. NED’s own China grant publication is very clear.

    1. ChasL, this is rather intriguing indeed, and something about which I haven’t read before. Have you a link (preferably one in English and/or Chinese) on this subject?

      1. Adam,

        NED receives funding from US Congress to fund “democratic movements” in other nations, no secret about this.

        This is a link from the NED’s own website

        NED also expressly funds the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) with the president the lady Rebiya Kadeer. WUC had been accused by China for planning & implementation of the Xinjiang 2009 riots in Urumqi. This is the link from NED about WUC :

        I guess to be fair, US must then not complain when nations like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan allocate annual grants & sponsors something like “Justice for Muslim movements” (whatever that should or should not include) inside US borders to help “protect” Muslims from “abuse & repression” ?

        1. Hmmm….thank you for the links, Reading Warrior. I believe the NED also provides funding to North Korean exile groups and furnishes, for instance, part of the budget for the indispensable but occasionally disputable DailyNK website.

    2. ChasL,

      I read this link

      Briefly FARA seems to require only disclosure and listing of such political / semi / quasi political activities as agent for foreign principal.

      How or where does FARA outlaw or make an offence of such activities ?

      1. Boy, did you missed the part that stated foreign agent status can be substantiated by financial sponsorship, in part or whole?

        1. No, I didn’t.

          It says you have to disclose & register and it is an offence if u fail to do so. But once u disclose & register and comply, there is no offence rite ?

  11. Stumbled in here from ESWN.

    But then I quit reading:

    “Wong writes that the CCP “Quashes political movements” when the operative verb might also be described as “channel.” Does the CCP only crush, destroy, repress, or does it also understand, shape, reconfigure political pressures? The mention of the party’s age (it was founded in 1921) further makes Wong’s gambit a bit strange, as over the course of its history the Party has done a fair amount of stimulating, rather than quashing, political movements in its history. ”

    This is Pollyannaish, to the extent that I wonder which Sino- it is that you purport to -ologist. Since 胡风, no really, since 王实味 was chopped into pieces and thrown in a well, the CCP has used violence and coercion as common responses to perceived political disagreement. You would not be able to publish this blog in China (it contains unacceptable words); in fact, the whole wordpress system is out of bounds, or at least it was the last time I turned off my VPN. That’s the technological use of force — quashing. That quashing is the fundamental truth of life in the Chinese world of ideas: any stimulation of political movements that the CCP causes is purely accidental, an uncontrollable birthing of movements that mirror and oppose CCP tactics (perhaps FG, or 上访 groups).

    Go ahead and say you like how the CCP runs the country, and be brave in your advocacy for them: don’t pretend that it allows competing voices, though, because subscription to such an obvious untruth invalidates all your erudition.

    1. As to “channel vs. quash,” my point is not that the CCP is always right, nor that its legitimacy does not emerge fundamentally out of the barrel of the gun, but that repression is _part_ of the CCP repertoire which also includes a great deal of stimulative capacity, which is to say that in far more actions than we would like to admit, the CCP receives the support of the population here. I would challenge you to find, for instance, a single Chinese intellectual who does not believe very strongly in the Chinese government’s boisterous and even aggressive propaganda claiming Diaoyu Island as Chinese territory. These claims and propaganda/news themes exist side-by-side with the rhetoric of human rights violations. The quest of Chinese intellectuals and dissidents dating from the late Qing until 1949 (excepting the flirtations with anarchism and federalism to which students like the young Mao Zedong were prone in the 19teens) was to promote the emergence of a strong central state which would prevent the dismemberment of the the Chinese nation/nation-state/territory by foreign governments/armies/navies. To assume that a civilization-state like China (and I would subscribe at least for the moment to Martin Jacques’ characterization of contemporary China as such) — which moves remarkably fast in some areas and glacially in others — has simply left that chrysalis behind in the process of a total transformation of philosophical, ethical, and historical sensibilities is not just counter-intuitive, it is wrong.

      The Chinese Communist Party manages precisely to get away with locking up Liu Xiaobo because it compensates in other, non-economic, areas, principally those relating to the affect of patriotism. No Party, let alone the CCP, could manage this feat “purely accidentally.”

      As for your Pollyanna paragraph, the guts of it are just incorrect: I compose, edit, and “publish” this blog from within the PRC (Chengdu at the moment, Lhasa last week); it is not banned due to “unacceptable words” such as caonima or Liu Xiaobo or Wen Jiabao’s prostate; and WordPress has been open without recourse to a VPN for several months. This doesn’t invalidate the basic arc of what is often heavy-handed censorship of much of the rest of life (Blogspot remains blocked in the PRC, Tibet is full of government radio jammers, and in spite of my complaints I’d gladly get beat on the shins with two-by-fours for half a minute to have a paper version of the New York Times appear on my desk), but in the case of things which are active and alive and thriving — like this blog’s development in China — it’s best not to describe them as quashed by an invisible hand.

      1. I have met multiple Chinese academics who believe, very secretly, in the superiority of Japanese government and culture to an extent that I find uncomfortable. I would imagine, considering your political positions, that very few of these people would be comfortable sharing these ideas with you, considering your faith in and support of CCP leadership.

        Han Han had a recent blog post wherein he was talking about the futility of supporting the PRC’s ‘defense’ of Chinese territory, considering that any territory so defended ends up as the property of the state, and not of the people (who are not democratic or legal ‘owners’ of anything in China).

        The way you ascribe nationalism to positive ‘feats’ of the Party doesn’t ring true to me. The main way that the Party maintains its role as the representative of the nation is through the suppression of other possible representatives — that you can’t see the way that coercion and violence make a joke of ‘channeling’ (verbal hexie) makes me feel like you’re a contrarian either for ideological or attention-getting reasons — which is to say that I guess I’m most interested in letting your /other/ readers know that I, for one, won’t ever trouble your hit counter again.

  12. It’s the passing references like, “Quote number one comes from Dahramsala or wherever his Holiness is raising funds at the moment,” that reveal the extraordinary bias of the blogger. Such references, some veiled, others not, permeate the post.

    Wong’s article is fine. There is nothing heavy handed about it. Not at all. To argue that it doesn’t go off enough against the West’s human rights abuses is your typical fenqing logic. “America does it too.” But this is an article about China and Liu. Then the blogger casually claims the PRC inherited a shitty economy from the KMT with no reference to the Great Leap Forward or the CR, which took a weak economy and ground it far deeper into the dirt, setting the country back for decades. You can blame the KMT for lots of awful things, but the economic collapse and starvation of China stands squarely on the shoulders of the CCP. This collapse was unnecessary, a tragedy induced by Mao’s megalomania. And of course, Chinese people don’t care about human rights. So many things that are wrong here….

    1. Quotes like, ‘It’s the passing references like, “Quote number one comes from Dahramsala or wherever his Holiness is raising funds at the moment,” that reveal the extraordinary bias of the blogger’ that reveal the biases of this blogger. Go curl up with your Richard Gere bedsheets.

    2. Richard, thanks for your critiques and taking the time to read and comment. I’ve admired your work for many years. I don’t know if people are still getting huffy about your “death of the China blog” post, but I enjoyed it, and I still enjoy operating within the death throes of multiple systems.

      My scholarly work deals with Chinese nationalism, its expression, and the manner in which the CCP channels that expression and that sentiment. And so the post attempts to interpret the Wong article somewhat from a perspective which is more mainland than Missouri, that’s true.

      As to the fenqing statement (which due to the vagueness of your pronoun usage, I take it you intend to mean as “typical fenqing logic” as opposed to “Adam Cathcart’s typical fenqing logic”): Does reading and analyzing the Huanqiu Shibao on a regular basis sedulously brainwash one into fenqing logic? Must I build my own unquestioning, all-embracing mental firewall in order to resist any type of logic emerging from Chinese organs, whether that logic is patriotic ideology that Sun Yatsen would undoubtedly like, or sedulous soft power? Is China truly unable to compete ideologically with an American government less than two years removed from the calloused hand of the Fifth Reagan/Bush administration, or, for that matter, with European governments that seem to be moving further to the right of late?

      It is also foolish of us to assume that the CCP has made ZERO progress since 1949 (or since 1979, for that matter) in guaranteeing liberty of expression on the mainland. Go ahead and call me jaded, holding China up to a North Korean instead of a Norwegian standard, but the fact is that I am not Wei Jingsheng, and thus am able to do everything I’m doing at the moment, minus a VPN, from within the dark guts of the PRC. This hardly equates to some full-bodied defense of the present system and its fundamental faults (note my equally biased reference to the PRC’s “Stalinist DNA”; why doesn’t anybody go after my jugular on that? ridiculous, flippant comments on all sides and all anyone wants to gripe about is Iraq and the Dalai Lama), but it does consist of something rather rhetorically Maoist in which we should all be engaging, which is to say, “seeking truth from facts.”

      Of course Chinese people care about human rights; but this is different from assuming that they crave a Western model of governance!

      As for the discussion of the Dalai Lama’s location, yes, my own flippant comment belongs on a blog and not in a book, a newspaper op-ed, or an article I’m trying to get published in a reputable scholarly journal. I don’t think it means that I am scortching mad (or permanently opposed) to the Dalai Lama, far from it. For purposes of educating Americans and Chinese about the faults and the direction of the CCP Tibet policy, I spent most of today (when I wasn’t doing battle with bureaucrats in various parts of Sichuan province) reading a nice fat book which the CCP is distributing to its cadre for study on the Tibet issue entitled Guanyu Xizang “Siguan, Lianglun, 关于西藏“四观,两论“ which calls the Dalai Lama every name in the book (doing so in the name of “science,” of course), and most of which I find fairly repellent. But why does every Western reader need to axiomatically embrace the Dalai Lama? And is it wrong to mention that the Dalai Lama is actively raising funds and support? Does this all add up to “extraordinary bias”? I don’t think it does. I would suggest reading the work by Barry Sautman in Hong Kong; he’s got more data than God on public statements made by the Dalai Lama and is no one’s puppet.

      As for the notion that I’m apologizing for incarcerating a sympathetic figure simply because “America does it too,” far from it. I would very, very much like to see forceful critiques emerging at various levels of Western governments (not just the backroom ones, and the ones I didn’t mention like Scowcroft’s secret trip to Beijing after June 4, 1989). I believe that mutual critique is very useful; in that sense, the Chinese government logic about “interference in internal affairs” is really just a canard. Using sources from the German press (something about which no one is busting my chops in spite of the deep problems with the German understanding of China and the discomfort of the Germans themselves in lecturing the world about morality), I’ve written before about the need for European governments to take the lead in filling the gap left by the US when it comes specifically to Liu Xiaobo. I suppose I could start every essay by flashing my credentials and connections to the Chinese democracy movement and the Tibetan government in exile because that’s what people like me really want, don’t they? Notions that we are ALL heroic, we ALL stand up to the man. “Everyday Stalinism”? Not for me! I read the New York Times, after all.

      And I’d still like so see a tiny bit of context (like a dependent clause, maybe?) indicating that there are other than economic reasons for the decline in respect given to Western [primarily the US] points of view on human rights as seen through the eyes of the Chinese people. Again, this does not mean that Ed Wong has to turn into Noam Chomsky.

      I would rather read Ai Weiwei’s thoughts on the matter than have Ed Wong remind me of the Dalai Lama’s difficult struggle, of which I am well aware, just having spent a week in Tibet and being engaged in its study at the moment. (In general, it is helpful when news analysis and news stories present NEW information.)

      If I don’t have something published in a peer-reviewed format on the Tibet issue in the next couple of years, and haven’t read every word written by my old Cleveland master Melvyn Goldstein (unfortunately my own reading knowledge of Tibetan remains close to nil, but is slightly more than nil), I hope that you and everyone else will trash me for being not only biased on the subject of Tibet, but ignorant of its basic parameters.

      I appreciate what you’ve done for me here, as you’re a credible voice and this is the closest we ever get to peer-review in the blogging world. Writing and then posting rants like the present essay has a positive function for me because they lead to critique, and critiques lead to improvement. Making more mistakes faster means faster improvement, and as a person in my early 30s, it’s important that I continue to improve so that by the time I’m in my mid-40s, people can fully trust (as opposed to intuiting that I’m credible) that what I’m talking about when it comes to the PRC.

      As for the economy: If you read my articles in China Quarterly or Twentieth Century China or Chinese Historical Review or other dead tree (and reasonably credible) journals, you’ll find that I am not an apologist for the CCP as regards its record in the 1950s, nor am I ignorant of such basic historical facts as the damage wrought to the Chinese rural economy by the Great Leap Forward. But then again, these are also things which can be read about just about anywhere, and repetition is the sign of a dull mind.

      Anyway, all I really wish to do is to open up a line of interrogation of this particular piece, which I believe I’ve succeeded in doing. Thanks again for the visit and the comment.

  13. Great post!

    Hong Kong has had a tradition of “democracy” – oh – since right before the Hong Kong hand-over of 1997. That seed was planted by the Brits when the handover to China became certain.

    Regarding Joyce’s claim of “there is widespread support for Liu here, and has been for years” is but a small and dwindling pocket.

    More food for thought here if you are interested on the peace prize:

  14. Fascinating to read all these in-China responses to Wong’s piece. While I share your own distress at the shallowness of the media, Adam, your own response is often wrong…

    “… comes within a host of issues ranging from the Diaoyu Island dispute (which the Huanqiu Shibao fairly blamed on Douglas MacArthur extending favors to the Japanese in 1952),”

    The Senkakus belong to Japan, as both Chinese gov’ts stated in all their official maps and discourse until the discovery of oil there in 1968. There’s good coverage in this blog post with many many maps.–/article?mid=1582

    “Virtually no Chinese intellectuals are serious about imitating India! And they don’t want to be Indonesia. And they don’t want to be Americans!”

    This is a misreading of what Wong wrote. Wong did not say Chinese wanted to be like Americans, but that they wanted the political freedoms that Americans (and several other countries) enjoy.

    “Don’t mention anything about EU politics of human rights or anything specifically European; don’t mention that Angela Merkel and the German press have been advocating for Liu Xiaobo for a while now;”

    Pressure on Norway from the PRC about Liu has been ongoing for a year. In other words, Beijing has worked to keep Liu front and center in this process for more than a year. Why do you think that is?

    “Your editors aren’t interested in that kind of stuff, so get thinking about how to write yet another piece about China’s economic takeover of Africa or Afghanistan.”

    Here you hit the nail on the head. The editors in this business are generally awful and are the real source of the problems of the international media.


  15. I would suggest reading the work by Barry Sautman in Hong Kong; he’s got more data than God on public statements made by the Dalai Lama and is no one’s puppet.

    You are half-right — he’s not a puppet, but someone who appears to have chosen whole-heartedly to serve.

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