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Liao Yiwu, June 2, 2017     (Continued from Part One)   LIAO: I’ve heard some people say that if they had known blood was going to be shed, they would not have resisted. YU ZHIJIAN: It was the student’s Command Center that turned us over [to the authorities]. The guy who headed the UAA Guards was called Guo Haifeng. He told us his name himself — you have to give him credit for being pretty open and candid. He said that the UAA standing committee members took a vote, with the majority deciding to send us off to the Public Security Bureau of the Eastern Quarter Branch Tiananmen office. He had strongly opposed the decision. After an impassioned debate, he was overruled and, what’s […]


Liao Yiwu, June 1, 2017   On the afternoon of May 23, 1989, sitting at home in a small town in Sichuan, poet Liao Yiwu watched in awe scenes from Beijing just after “three hooligans from Hunan” threw paint-filled eggs at the portrait of Mao Zedong, sized 6 by 4.6 meters, hanging on Tiananmen (the Gate of Celestial Peace). Increasingly astonished and impressed, once the full significance of the act sunk in Liao Yiwu came to regard it as the most singular event during the 1989 movement — second perhaps only to the Tank Man. Liao himself, a rebellious poet publishing in underground magazines during the 1980s, would be imprisoned too for writing and performing a long poem titled “The Massacre.” On a sultry and […]


Li Xuewen, February 21, 2017     In the world of Chinese Communist Party propaganda, the image of Deng Xiaoping (邓小平) has been molded into that of the master architect of China’s reform and opening up. He’s said to have helped China through two major transformations: the reform and opening up following the Cultural Revolution, and then the development of a market economy following his Southern Tour in 1992. Thus, in the mythology of the Chinese Communist Party, Deng is the second deity following Mao Zedong (毛泽东). But if we step back, take in a broader historical perspective, and make a rational examination at the twentieth anniversary of Deng’s death (February 19, 1997), it quickly becomes clear that Deng Xiaoping managed to effect only one […]


Arthur Waldron, October 17, 2016 This is a speech delivered on October 2, the first day of the three-day conference on the prospect of a democratic China in New York City, organized and attended by overseas Chinese scholars and dissidents. With Professor Waldron’s permission, we are pleased to post the text of his speech here. – The Editors   Good morning, my dear friends, it’s a great honor to be here. The first demonstration against dictatorship in China took place outside of the Chinese Consulate in New York more than 30 years ago. I knew it was going to happen, so I went there. There was no press, just me sitting in a café. About 12 people appeared wearing grocery bags over their heads, and […]


By Yang Jianli, published: September 1, 2015 “At the time of the Cairo Conference, although the US military had already gained the upper hand in the Pacific and was actively planning an Allied invasion of Europe, and despite the first glimmerings of hope for an Allied victory over Germany, Italy and Japan, another threat was already taking shape, this time within Allied ranks: it would grow to become the greatest and most persistent threat to global peace in the post-war era.”   On the eve of the 70th anniversary celebration of the victory over Japan in World War II, The Cairo Declaration – a so-called “historical epic” produced by the August First Film Studio – has managed to cause a public outcry even before its […]


By Yaxue Cao The disparaging of Mo Yan began before the Nobel Prize for Literature was announced on October 11 when rumor had it that Mo Yan was this year’s favorite. With the exception of the literarily versed, the criticism wasn’t based on his works, to be sure, but on a few events that had thus far shaped people’s perceptions of the man: Boycotting dissident writers during the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2009; refusal to comment on Liu Xiaobo’s sentence in late 2009; and handcopying Mao Zedong’s Talks on Literature and Art earlier this year. (The Chongqing doggerel, turned up after the prize, wasn’t part of that perception, so I will leave it out of my discussion.) Since the prize, Mo Yan voiced his support for […]


I recently finished reading Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe by Frank Dikötter, which outlines the full scope of horror that was the Great Leap Forward which in four years claimed 45 million lives. However, that number fails to capture the suffering and individual abuse that was pervasive throughout the country.  While it is by far the most complete account of that period, it makes for rather dark summer reading. I felt a need to push myself through the unpleasant details as a kind of penance for my years of absolving Mao of any wrong doing. In the past I would have argued that Mao had been fed inaccurate information and was clueless about the actual situation, it was a terribly naive position, […]


China’s rise has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, but has life really improved as much as that claim implies? As a recent study shows, life satisfaction in China has not increased over the past 20 years, which seems to suggest that increasing wealth has not brought about a correlating increase in happiness. Today we’ll be exploring why this might be the case in the countryside. A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit several remote villages in central China. As the van bumped along rocky roads that wound over steep mountains for nearly 10 hours I started wondering how much life had really changed in many of these places over the past 60 years and whether or not these survivors would say […]


Over the past three days we’ve had a chance to look at the full version of the story the Party tells about China’s past 170 years. I divided it into three sections that weren’t broken up in the National Museum, but that allowed reflection on logical chunks – The Opium war up to the founding of the Republic; The founding of the Party through the Mao years; and finally, 30 years of opening up. I wanted to wait to comment on the text until you all had had a chance to read it and form some of your own impressions (which I hope you’ll share below). The first thing that I noticed from the exhibit was that China’s default status in the world is “glorious,” […]


…Continued from part 1 An earth-shattering event 3.1 The imperialist powers invasion shattered China’s dream of learning from the West. The October Revolution in Russia sent Marxism to China and cause progressive Chinese to turn their attention from the West to the East, and from bourgeois democracy to socialism. The May 4th Movement furthered the spread of Marxism, and the working class appeared on the stage of history as an independent political force. The integration of Marxism with the workers movement gave  birth to the CPC. The founding of the CPC was an earth-shattering even that brought new vitality to the Chinese revolution. Searching for a new path for the Chinese revolution 3.2 After its founding, the CPC relied on and mobilized workers and peasants, […]


I received this as an email today and was asked to share it with you all. I am writing this in great fear. Let me explain- All of the things happening with the drama of Chen and Bo haven’t even phased people here as they are still more concerned with surviving in their daily lives. But then today that changed. My boyfriend (a Chinese professor of English) received a strange text message. He sent it to me and was very concerned because we are planning on getting married and moving to the US as soon as possible. The text was in Chinese and my Chinese was too poor to understand all of it so he translated it. It read: an announcement received today from concerned authorities that all leaders and professors […]


By Yaxue Cao Mystery abounds. Suspense builds. Millions in China, as someone on Twitter puts it, have been immersed lately in writing “movie scripts” of court intrigues in Zhongnanhai (中南海, gov’t headquarters in Beijing). Under normal circumstances, they can’t even get within 30 feet of its shining red gate guarded by soldiers with truncheons but, all of a sudden, it seems that scores, if not armies, of people live right under the beds of China’s supreme leaders, and are eavesdropping on all of their nightly whispers! CCTV can’t be any happier. Its 7pm newscast sees a wobbling hike in viewership because its script, for once, becomes the most sought-after. Appearances are analyzed and then overanalyzed. Words are turned, over and over again, for hidden clues. […]


Recently I had the chance to discuss the fascinating article, “The Sick Man of Asia” with the doctors at my hospital. The author, Huang Yanzhong, argues that despite China’s seemingly impressive gains in health over the past 60 years, they are lagging behind its economic growth. Furthermore, the author seems to argue that the average Chinese person (as far as health is concerned) saw greater benefits from Mao’s time in power than during Deng, Jiang, and Hu. The author argues that Mao’s regime was able to make large gains because they focused on bringing medicine to rural populations. Huang also shows that the chaos of the Cultural Revolution caused the bureaucratic powers of the Ministry of Health to retreat, while millions of doctors were sent […]


As we saw yesterday, China’s water problem urgently needs solutions. As is often the case in China, the Party has pushed forward a single massive project as their favorite option. This project is known as the “South-North Water Diversion Project,” and was inspired by a quote from none other than Chairman Mao who stated, “Southern water is plentiful, northern water scarce. If at all possible, borrowing some water would be good.” Mao may have gotten the idea from the Soviet Union, which was also working on a similar project at the time (that project was abandoned in the 80’s due to environmental concerns). The project began in 2002, and some sections are already in use. The plan seems straight forward enough, pump water from the Yangtze […]


Today the People’s daily ran a story gushing over an upcoming release of the complete works of Lei Feng nearly 50 years after his death. In the West though it is widely accepted as fact that Lei was little more than an invented character who served the Party’s propaganda needs, and is a reminder of the days before Mao’s cultural revolution. Today we’ll be trying to answer two questions about Lei – Who was Lei Feng? And is there still room in modern China for “Lei Feng Spirit”? I’ll let a People’s Daily article introduce the man: “Born in late 1940 in central China’s Hunan province, Lei was orphaned at the age of 7. He started working in a steel mill in 1958, and became […]


Weibo and Twitter have been abuzz over the Taiwan presidential election despite the party’s ban on the topic. The results will be available soon as the voting is already under way. Many mainland Chinese are highly invested in it because they look to Taiwan for what China can become one day. This week, another renowned Chinese writer chose to leave the country for the US, while police raided the home of Hu Jia, a courageous activist who had recently served prison time, confiscating his computers for “violating probation rules”, coded words for being annoyed by his speaking out for the jailed rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Meanwhile, the outspoken Professor Zhang Ming, whom I translated several times here in Hear on Weibo, was signaled as being […]


Yesterday’s review of “Reconsidering the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries,” is important reading not only to better understand the terror and hysteria of the Mao years, but to understand the way in which the past effects the psyche of Chinese people today. Three bits from the article have been cycling through my mind since yesterday: that in some areas nearly 80% of the people accused were later exonerated, 30% of those whose death sentences were not absolutely necessary were executed anyway, and that even in my former home of Longzhou, which is tiny by Chinese standards, at least 40  people were executed. These three pieces show that the campaign was largely used as a source of revenge against otherwise innocent people, and that this campaign reached […]


The China Quarterly recently released it’s top ten most downloaded articles for free. Over the next few weeks I’ll summarize and comment on a few of these great articles (and save you 20+ pages of reading). Reconsidering the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries By: Yang Kuisong (link to full text) Tom’s Summary: Yang begins his article with the assertion that, “Power seized by violence must be maintained by violence.” The first example of this violence came just one year later with the start of the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries. The program was aimed at consolidating the Party’s power over the country that was continuing to struggle with actual counterrevolutionaries (these were actual KMT agents acting to disrupt Party control). There were wide spread reports of arson and […]


In addition to “The west doesn’t understand China,” the second refrain you’ll hear when it comes to defending some of the Party’s more draconian policies is that “China is a big country with a large population.” For example, a comment on an old post: “China insists on having solution that is suitable for the conditions in China, and I bet the shape the hospitals are in is one of these solutions – right for China. When anyone complaints about anything wrong with China, the size of the population will always come up as the trump card – no other country has as large population as China, and therefore China’s problems are always unique. And I suspect that these hospitals are part of the solution to […]


Yesterday we took a careful look at the budget of my office’s unpaid intern, and some of you questioned her spending habits. So today we’ll be looking at the importance of social obligations, and why spending more than 20% of your monthly budget on friends and family doesn’t strike this young woman as an optional expense. Her 150rmb dinner for four seems like an extravagant expense considering that she usually spends less than 10rmb on meals for herself. However, hosting meals may be one of the most important ways of building guanxi. This usually means ordering more food than any group of humans could possibly eat, with as many meat dishes as possible (since meat is more expensive). Where I currently work, a small banquet […]


By Yaxue Cao, published September 17, 2011   You would imagine that it is easier for Chinese to discuss Mao Zedong and do so in a productive manner, now that over thirty years have passed since the death of the man and there is enough perspective for retrospection. After all, the look of China is so far removed from Mao’s era, Chinese from all walks of life are travelling all over the world studying, sightseeing, working and living, and new and abundant information has shed such light on the man as never before. No, it is not. Earlier this year, the Chinese economist Mao Yushi (茅于轼) wrote an article entitled “Turning Mao Zedong Back to a Human Being” (《把毛泽东还原为人》 ), calling for just that: To […]


It’s no secret that China is a massive country that is changing at incredible speeds, and so it seems that even 5 days a week isn’t enough to cover everything that is happening in the middle kingdom. So I am very pleased to announce the launch SeeingRedInChina.com’s weekend section. It will have posts focusing on (mis)adventures in China, a brief round-up of the week’s news stories with a brief explanation of why they matter, as well as opinion pieces, guest posts, and hopefully some interviews. My good friend Casey will be kicking things off on Saturday as he starts to tell the story of his first trip to China, and his time spent working in what has to be the absolute worst school in China. […]


China’s system of gov’t is based not on a mandate from the people, nor does it rely on a mandate from heaven (which was the Chinese version of a divine right to rule), instead the current system relies on quality of life improvement spurred by China’s growing GDP (my post on the problem with those numbers) for their mandate to rule. Over the last 60 years there have been fluctuations in the speed of growth, and its effect on stability. Let’s start by looking at each decade incredibly briefly: 1950’s Civil war ends and life expectancy increases as people finally have safety and regular access to food. China is able to launch massive infrastructure projects. 1960’s Great Leap Forward, followed by millions of deaths in […]


I recently finished Jonathan Watts’ book “When A Billion Chinese Jump,” and I must say that it is one of the finest books I have read on China. While the author was attempting to create a complete picture of China’s environmental situation, he actually created a much broader guide through his pan-China adventure in which he visits almost every province. His journey begins in Shangrila, or Deqing as it was called before the marketing campaign. There he notices that in the rush to create an eco-tourism paradise, the companies are actually destroying the main attraction. There he also takes time to introduce a concept that he refers to as the Daoist approach to nature, a bit of Tibetan culture, as well as sharing interesting conversations he […]


…continued from yesterday “My problem is that the gov’t covers up this information, if the Chinese people knew what was happening they would be outraged,” I said, naively assuming that I understood Chinese people’s complex relationship to the world beyond their borders. With that the younger co-worker began searching for news of Darfur on the Chinese web. Between Western thought and Chinese policy there remains a giant chasm. The U.S. and Europe have reached a consensus that supporting oppressive regimes leads to terribly corrupt countries that are unable to pull themselves out of poverty (Zimbabwe for example).  While China argues that these dictators provide the necessary stability that allows for businesses to open and grow the economy, China itself is the proof of this argument, even though the […]


I sat down to lunch a few days ago with my co-workers and the hospital president. For some reason, when I had been watching “The Founding of the Party” (a recent propaganda film), a single line had jumped out at me that needed further exploration. The line was “Brother Mao, you are so tall.” So I started asking co-workers how tall Mao had been, their answer shocked me. Not only did everyone seem to have an answer, but they claimed he was over 1.8m tall (5’10″+). When I had seen Mao’s body though the thing that had struck me most was how small he seemed compared to his almost mythic stature (even accounting for the fact that he has been dead for ~40 years). I […]


Some of you may have missed that China completed two major projects just in time for the Party’s 90th birthday. These now stand like trophies along with the Three Gorges Dam and dozens of other massive works. These projects often come at massive prices, and require moving thousands of people (sometimes millions). The Three Gorges Dam is one of the largest projects ever completed by man, with enough steel to construct 63 Eiffel towers. It along with many of China’s other dams were inspired by Mao Zedong, and were partially constructed simply to fulfill his dream (many have argued that several smaller dams would be more efficient, and cause fewer environmental problems). Currently the dam is the center of a lot of debate in China, […]


Yesterday we looked at some of the key changes Mao made in China during his rule that can be linked to China’s current success. Today we’ll be looking at some of his devastating policies, and how they are explained away in China. At one point in my life, when I thought communism was a sensible model, I thought Mao had simply been unaware of the damage he was doing. I still don’t think that Mao set out to kill millions of people (although directly he is probably responsible for a few thousand), but that he simply didn’t care about the human cost for his projects. His vision for a stronger nation made him a leader, but personally he cared very little about individual lives. This […]


While I was in Huaxi another interesting topic came up which doesn’t have so much to do with this strange village, but reflects more broadly on China. As we were walking through their hall of glorious history we noticed there were pictures of leaders from several foreign delegations on the wall. Two in particular seemed to be emphasized and we looked closer. “It’s the king of Cambodia,” my co-worker’s husband said with a big grin, “He very much liked to visit Huaxi.” I recognized the man in the second photo too, a small part of me was hoping we would just move on. “And this,” her husband continued, “Is Po-er Pa-te.” “Pol Pot?” I asked trying to make sure that this was something he really […]


Yesterday we looked at the traditional idea of family in China through most of its history. Today we look at the changes that have taken place in the last six decades as China has gone through the Cultural Revolution and opened itself to the world. Maoist China to Modern day Mao saw the clan and the family as institutions that kept the peasants oppressed so he issued several policies to break down the family structure. Families were made to eat in cafeterias; which meant no home needed a kitchen, children were raised in daycare centers instead of being looked after by relatives, parents were cremated instead of buried, and the ancestor tablets (family records) and ancestral halls were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. Mao’s attempts […]


I’ve watched a few China themed movies lately and wanted to make a couple of recommendations for this very snowy winter. The Painted Veil – This isn’t historical, but it is a pretty great glimpse of what life in rural China would have looked like around 1900. The movie is about a doctor who accepts a position in the countryside treating an epidemic. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts give good performances. definitely worth a watch. I must admit that I’m a bit partial to this movie because it was filmed just a few miles from Yizhou, where I lived for a year. China: A Century of Revolution – This one can be a bit daunting at first, all 3 parts total up to 6 hours of documentary […]


Last week I posted a short piece by my friend who hadn’t joined the Party. Today brings us a post from his best friend who did join the Party. Again I have left it unedited, so I hope it is still understandable. His article was a bit longer, so I will be posting more of it over the next few days. Why I Joined the Communist Party I find that joining the party for me is quite a natural way during my personal development. Because when little, every kid was encouraged to join the Young Pioneer, and then when we reach our teens, it means that we are doing very well in every field if you could join the Communist Youth League earlier which is […]


A few weeks ago I wrote a post where I commented that the Communist Party doesn’t interfere with my daily life for the most part. That was accurate. However it should also be modified, since the party is ubiquitous (American’s can’t even pretend that what we have is ‘big government’ by comparison). After looking at that chart it should be no surprise that today in China there is 1 government official for every 40 people. My thought is that this is at least partially an effort to limit unemployment. Even though there have been Party officials at every place I have worked, I’m still not really sure what it is they do. At the hospital we have two offices for Party leaders. According to Grace […]


Yesterday’s look at why one person didn’t join the Party gives us a good starting point for looking at what the Party actually is, and how it fits into China’s government system. I’ve asked many of my friends and students over the past few years why they joined the Party, the most common answer the students give is that being a party member will help them get a better job, which is true. The author of yesterday’s post has pretty much reached the pinnacle of his career since he is unwilling to join the party. Also, once a teacher is a Party member, they will almost never be at risk of losing their job. Other students said their parents wanted them to join the Party. […]


When I talk about Guangxi, I find myself talking about “the students,” but I realized I haven’t properly introduced them to you yet. For the next few days I’m going to try to give you a view of what it’s like to grow up in rural China by highlighting some of the stories they’ve told me. After that I’m going to take a little time to introduce you to a few individual students. I hope you’ll keep up with this series, because I think it is invaluable for understanding China. These are a few images of the villages that roughly 1/3 of China’s population inhabits. Most of my students came from places like this. They usually consist of a few new homes, paid for by […]


This is Part Two of a Three part series. Part One. In the major cities of China, despite everything we’ve heard, it is not uncommon to see people with more than one child. In my classes in Guangxi I was shocked to find that maybe only 50 out of my 500 students were only children. When I asked them how many children they wanted to have, they would say, “I’ll have one, but I want two or three.” The other students giggle at the answer, and then quickly agree. So let’s look at two more examples of the One Child Policy in modern China from the perspective of my friends. Mary My friend Mary in Yizhou had just completed her entry to the Communist party, and as […]


Now I know this is more of an edgy topic, but it’s one of the issues which generates the most anger and confusion amongst Americans when they think of China. First a little history: China has always had a large, mostly rural, population. As it is everywhere, farmers in China also tended to have large families to help with the work. Up to the 1950’s it was common practice for families to have 6-10 children, many of whom would die before their fifth birthday. On top of the high infant mortality rate there was the Japanese invasion, and then a civil war that kept China’s population from growing despite the birth rate. Needless to say, when the communists finally won control of the mainland, life […]


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