Chinese Pluck: Must-Read Material on ‘Jasmine Revolution’

Amid the bad news from Libya, one really needs to be keeping an eye on China and developments there.

On February 21, a few abortive demonstrations were broken up by Chinese police, as reported by McClatchy and by Associated Press.

The People’s Daily in Beijing basically argues that the Chinese people are too stupid to understand the confusion of information on the Internet and should basically accept the fact that Xinhua will tell them what they need to know.  According to a bunch of very interesting Tweets from foreign reporters in Beijing today (too numerous to link, but I recommend Tom Lasseter’s feed as one of the best), most Chinese weren’t sure why the Internet was running so slowly today, and of course the minor demonstrations in Shanghai and Beijing got (to my knowledge) no domestic news coverage.

Gady Epstein at Forbes reflects in a thorough way on the meaning of the Jasmine story and its connection to covering China’s economy.  This is probably the best single piece of writing I’ve seen on the issue thus far, superior perhaps to Perry Link’s work.  After all, as Epstein points out, there would be severe economic impacts were China to suddenly just shut down the Internet in order to quash a nascent social network of would-be protestors.  South Korea is very wisely tooting its own horn at the moment, exemplifying all of the benefits described by U.S. SecState Hillary Clinton about Internet freedom and economic development.

Granite Studio parses things over quite well and wonders why the Wangfujing McDonalds (where I was once followed into the bathroom by an eccentric waving an old green Chinese-English dictionary and a carpenter’s pencil) would serve as the epicenter of a demonstration.

The Internet in China is being scrubbed and monitored like never before.  On February 22, an ad-hoc organization identifying itself as the “China Jasmine Group” called for weekly demonstrations in Chinese parks (Chinese version here) in a letter to the National People’s Congress.

Huanqiu Shibao seems to be focusing its attention on the Chinese who are coming home, again.

Finally, there is one’s own attitude toward all of this to be considered.  What do we in the West really want from China?  Are we all just provocateurs, voyeurs, who wish to see chaos in China simply because a messy world is more interesting (唯恐“天下”不乱)?  Is it necessary to analyze China’s response to the Egypt aftermath by predicting Xi Jinping’s downfall, and the collapse of the Chinese system, sometime after he assumes power in 2012?  It’s worth asking, even if the CCP somehow lost its mind, abandoned its strongly totalitarian principles, and allowed such an event to go forward, do we want a more liberalized China?  Could we tolerate the middle age of the PRC as a kind of neo-Tang era, when, at least as far as the myths go, China was an “open empire,” welcoming all manner of expression, of religion, of ideology?  Put another way, and seen more through the lens of internal change, are Chinese intellectuals today the actual heirs of the May Fourth Movement, or has the CCP so tightly controlled discourse that the principles of May Fourth, 1919, lie in abeyance?  And is it really good foreign policy for China in Africa to just sit back without comment, as Zhou Enlai said during the Korean War, “with folded hands”?

courtesy Huanqiu Shibao


  1. Paranoia worthy of Ivan the Terrible.

    Even Puccini’s theme from Turandot has got the treatment, as it is based on a folk song Mo Li Hua which translates as jasmine flower.

    Now if they deleted Wagner out of the intraweb, I would have complete sympathy. If they flattened Bayreuth, I would probably join the party.

    1. Ha! An anti-Wagnerian makes his appearance stage right. Very interesting sweep-up of Puccini into the censorship web. Thanks for mentioning that. Asahi Shimbun had a good story on this recently as well, apparently there was footage available of Hu Jintao singing the Molihua song in Kenya of all places which had to be scrubbed away. History, damned inconvenient thing…

  2. If there are anymore attacks on Italian opera, I will be inviting Hu Ville over to drink some very bitter tea.

    Seriously though, this focussing on rising food prices is not a bad strategy and will gain traction sooner or later. 12 million tons of stockpiled grain not fit for anything, due to toxic metal pollution. Following Jonathon Watts today, 10% of Chinas 120 million hectares of agricultural land polluted by heavy metals. Grain hoarding (recall the garlic rmb millionaires) and the price of energy for agricultural activities is rising.

    The PRCs African investment policy is beginning to look pretty tarnished in many countries, if one does a regular news scroll in that area. As I’ve said elsewhere and with links, when the locals feel really aggrieved, they don’t request a meeting with the local Chinese management team, but go for a more muscular response and reach for their pangas.

    As per recent post on JR site, totally shutting down the intranet would have catastrophic economic consequences (not to forget how it would push the rumour mill into overdrive). Bit like owning a nucleur device. Comforting to know you have one in the cupboard, but given to unpredictable consequences if you pull the trigger.

    Wagner. Well, I read the history of the Bayreuth family, Winfred’s letters to her Wolfie (the mad paper hanger of Linz) and also have a visceral hatred of Arno Beckers (sic) homo erotic sculptures.

    1. Chinese opera companies don’t have the guts to do Wagner, it seems! Maybe in Shanghai? Puccini is usually suitably light fare, Verdi’s La Traviata, etc. Wagner a bit too revolutionary still, and Goetterdaemmerung in Beijing? We will probably be waiting quite a while. Mao as Wotan…

  3. Regarding “Get on, we get down with some of my serious dubs (google my many pages) and get weapons grade smoked”; I have no idea what you’re talking about. If this is a reference to a blog you maintain, the courteous thing to do is to provide a link to further the conversation so that your own arguments can be weighed and incorporated. This is of course one reason that JustRecently is such a quality interlocutor. I’m happy to have an actual debate over cultures of opera as they impact our understanding (or reflect our misunderstandings) of China, but it doesn’t seem to me that that is where this thread is going, or should go at this point. Can we get back to the Jasmine Revolution please, or lack thereof?

  4. Ok, onward to some more heavy-weight issues then. Adam asks in the last para of this post:
    Finally, there is one’s own attitude toward all of this to be considered. What do we in the West really want from China?

    I don’t think that there is a collective Western expectation. There isn’t even a collective German or European expectation, as far as I can tell from here.
    A strong Chinese narrative has it that “the West” wants China to “collapse”, but not for the fun that only a messy world can bring. The narrative suggests that the West fears China’s rise, and therefore tries to sabotage it.

    In fact, I believe, many business owners in the West actually like the way China runs its industrial relations. As for Germany, I’m sure every Confucius Institute would be under Verfassungsschutz observation, if China didn’t seem to promise great business opportunities. Several parties left of the Social Democratic Party are actually under observation, even though at least one of them, “Die Linke”, deserves much more credit for democratic beliefs, than the CCP.

    So my demand is that we shouldn’t “learn from China”, only because some people like the way its leaders let “some people get rich first”. That’s a domestic, rather than an international category, to me.

    I think I have stopped making “demands” to China long ago. What makes it an unfriendly country in my view is the way it uses my country and many other people of similar civilizational backgrounds as bogeymen who are after the lives of the Chinese, or after the things that make them proud. It’s unworthy behavior for a permanent UNSC member and established nuclear power. “Foreign powers” are used by the CCP to justify their continued repressive rule – that’s nothing we can change, but I think it would be naive to think of such rulers – and their followers (many of whom, I believe, project their home-made frustrations on us) – as “friendly people”.

    China may or may not become a more liberalized country – that really doesn’t need to be a main concern among foreigners. But so long as they do believe in human rights, they need to bring those issues up, in their contacts with China.

    Could we tolerate the middle age of the PRC as a kind of neo-Tang era, when, at least as far as the myths go, China was an “open empire,” welcoming all manner of expression, of religion, of ideology?
    Why not?

  5. Thats okay Adam, pls delete my last post and I’m out of here for the duration. BTW. Commenters have bad days and go a bit feral sometimes. When you run a site, that is a consideration.

    Be assured though. I have as many letters after my name as you do, and have a deep understanding of history/philosophy, althought I am a very late comer in all matters sino. No fun being dressed down like a school boy.
    I was hoping for some witty comeback re: Lacan, but was tres disappointed. When you put up a link, it sort of helps to know a bit about the source.

    1. OK, King, as you request…Additionally, will aim to shore up those weaknesses (such as actual understanding of Lacan’s work) which you have quite justly pointed out! I think in some ways we are all “school boys” and when the writing or the thinking behind it is mush, no harm done in pointing it out. That’s a major reason for running this particular site, frustration with the echo chamber of peer-reviewed journals which don’t even echo.

  6. JR. I don’t know how hard I should take this. Its cultural. I don’t understand Germany. Think about it: this is the sort of stuff one has to rdeal with on Hidden Harmonies.
    Look, I can walk around the corner to a friends house and look at 2 by 3 metre posters he bought back from East Berlin of Weimar Republic caberat shows, and it isn’t a foreign language to me. If there is ever Europeon country which hasn’t been so heavily scrutinised in the last 40 years, it is Germany.

  7. Moving on. Adam regularly references John Dower’s histories and I made a smaller connection regarding some of Dowers points and Japanese cinema in repect to revisionist Yakuza flics. Just finished watching Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1955 b/w Venice Film Award winner Streets of Shame.
    Probably beyond alien stuff if all one has seen is Hollywood “product”.
    My point. Mizogushi has made a number of movies which encompass the female perspective, and they provide an other-narrative history of Japan post WW11 equal to anything available in a uni library.
    Kurosawa is the auter par excellence, Suzuki and Miike are downright sexy directors, but Mizogushi is the director for Japanese social history buffs.
    Japan maybe the ultimate conformist society, but it is also capable of subverting the mainstream via some of its cinema.

  8. Think about it: this is the sort of stuff one has to deal with on Hidden Harmonies.
    King Tubby: you shouldn’t take this hard at all. It’s meant to be a quotation – be it from Hiddenharmonies, be it from Lisa Carducci.
    It hurts my feelings that you are thinking of me as a German fenqing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s