headaches, less food-related, musings, unruly chefs

Breaking Out My Finest Liberty

09.24.09 | 3 Comments

Like my personal life, I generally don’t like to air my political beliefs. But here I go, making exceptions again, because really, is there anything more infuriating than Sarah Palin? No.

Apparently she was just on my continent, in Hong Kong to be exact, to give a speech at an Investor’s Forum. Because obviously Palin’s vast knowledge of Asia (you know, seeing Russia, which is but a hop, skip, and jump to Hong Kong) qualifies her to make such a speech. But as we know, Sarah Palin transcends qualifications.

I’m not here to blast Palin per se. It’s not that I necessarily disagree with what she said, but more the ignorance and conceit behind it.

Let me just start with a disclaimer that I do NOT claim to be an expert on the subject of Chinese or even American politics or any aspect of law or economics. I live here, so I see daily little pieces of what drives the country. I acknowledge the possibility that I may actually write something that is wrong. Being wrong is okay—I’m not a leader or some prestigious media outlet, and even if I were, you can’t be right all of the time. Right. Onward!

According to this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Palin said:

“Twenty years ago, many believed that as China liberalized its economy, greater political freedom would naturally follow. Unfortunately that has not come to pass.”

Let’s parse this part by part. Yes. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, China’s economy started to liberalize, if you define ‘liberalize’ as become a ‘socialist market economy.’ (I thought Palin didn’t like Socialism?) People prospered like they hadn’t in decades previous, which were filled with the crushing poverty, hardship, and starvation of the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward (all government implemented).

Thirty years ago, the government opened to trade with foreign countries, then set about trying to rectify all the havoc their Soviet-style system had wreaked on the standard of living of their people. Because the government had so many societal problems to solve, they continued to institute new economic reforms. Within a few years, everyone was “riding the tiger,” or, making slightly out-of-control progress.

But the government, lest we forget, was still communist/socialist—it WAS not and IS not a democratic society. Sure, Deng Xiaoping made a lot of changes, but government was still communist. Was the Chinese post-Cultural Revolution society in ANY sort of shape to stage a revolution? I think not.

But Palin’s talking twenty years ago. What happened twenty years ago? Oh that’s right–Tiananmen Square. And after that fiasco, did it really look like the Chinese political climate would liberalize? Again, I think not. Tiananmen was like the opposite of liberalization—it was a reminder of the huge control and power over society the government continued to wield.

But it was also an indication that the societal climate was liberalizing. The people were ready for change, but the government wasn’t. So in a sense, Palin is right that liberalization hasn’t come to pass—not officially.

I would argue that the social climate is more liberal than EVER, especially because of (and despite) the Internet. Yes, the government is still sending ‘dissidents’ (i.e. those with an opinion) to the middle of nowhere Xinjiang, but the dissidents exist. The government recently implemented a policy that all online commenters have to leave their real and full names when commenting on any site. Sure, that’s a lot of bullshit intimidation, but don’t you know what that means? It means people are talking, and the government doesn’t like it, so they’re trying to bully people into silence.

Historically, this has worked. I’m reading a fabulous book right now, China Witness by Xinran, a really wonderful author. On the very fist page, she writes about China’s history of

“..guilt by association. As early as the second millennium BC, a criminal’s family was punished as harshly as the criminal himself…People were grouped in units of five to ten households, carrying out mutual surveillance, and mutually responsible for each other’s conduct…the criminal’s family would be exterminated to between three and five degrees of association; with serious offenses, to nine or ten.”

So I would consider the fact that people are now starting to overcome this intimidation and silence, even if it’s digitally and anonymously, is a pretty big liberalization.


“The solution, [Palin] argues, is to encourage political change from within China.”

Really? No. Shit. I’m sure a few hundred million people would love for that to happen. In my opinion, it is—slowly. Though the country is getting progressively more modern, things still operate traditionally, the most important way being guanxi, or relationships.

Example: One of my minders, Violet, recently left to study abroad for a year in London. The other week the two of us had a farewell dinner. She told me how Grace, her replacement, was, at that moment, at the government office, making guanxi. Violet has good guanxi– Chinese, when they’re going abroad, they have to go to a visa bureau for a face-to-face interview, but with the right guanxi, that can be avoided. Violet avoided it. Guanxi can also get you a visa in days when it would normally take months; guanxi can get you a job, it can get you into school, it can get you out of serious trouble.

That is precisely why it’s going to take a long time to enact political change—because politics is a huge members-only club. So yeah, let’s just change politics from within. And throw in a pony while you’re at it.

The Journal goes on:

“The Obama Administration could take a page from this book. So far, the White House has gone out of its way to downplay human rights in China and tiptoe around recent crackdowns in Tibet and Xinjiang, preferring to focus on hipper issues like climate change. This “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to Beijing does no favors to the Chinese people, much less to the West’s core interests in Asia.”

Even if the Obama Administration had gone full force on the crackdowns on Tibet and Xinjiang, what exactly would that have accomplished? The government doesn’t give a flip—it would just strain relations. It’s like if China said to us, “Your healthcare system—we can’t believe you would deny your citizens medical care. That is an egregious human rights violation.” What do you think Palin would say? Probably something like, “God loves America, so that’s why God created private insurance companies, so get your noses out of our business.”

And then we’d ‘dislike’ the Chinese like we disliked the French and created Freedom fries. When we have fancy dinner parties, we’d have to get out our finest ‘liberty’ instead of our finest ‘china.’

I’m certainly not trying to defend the way the Chinese government treats minorities—it’s absolutely abhorrent, exploitative, and oppressive. But what could Obama possibly do or say that wouldn’t have a negative effect? Right—very little.

Also, climate change? Hip. A passing fad. It should blow over right about the time all the polar ice caps melt and drown those damned scientists.


“The more politically open and just China is, the more Chinese citizens of every ethnicity will settle disputes in courts rather on the streets.”

Sure, I too would love to see a more politically open and just China (and you know what, I think it will happen eventually), but taking things to the courts? Oh god, the courts are worse than the streets. The law only applies to certain people in certain situations on certain days of the lunar calendar. Going to court is an exercise wasting time and money.

Remember guanxi? Welcome to court.

But then we get to the real reason Palin wants change:

The more open China is “the less we will be concerned about its military buildup and intentions.”

Ohhhhh. This isn’t about Chinese citizens of every ethnicity—this is about Americans who want to make money off of China while making sure they don’t actually surpass us as a world power or invade us or like, be better than us, OMG. This is about America’s status quo (and ego), not China’s. I think, though, that the more liberalized the political climate becomes here, the more America and Palin will have to ‘be concerned’ about military buildup and intentions.

Because when China finally does become a freer, more liberal, equal society, that’s when they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with. It may happen, it may not. I’ve always asserted that China’s really going to have to play its cards right, as well as solve some massive societal problems (population, rich/poor gap, pollution, government corruption, etc.) to get to that point.

I don’t know if that will happen or not. I waffle. But note to HJT: please don’t block my blog because of this post. Because ultimately, this post is in your favor. Why do you think I live here? To quote the eminent Jay Chou/ 周杰伦, “是因为我太爱你“ (Because I love you too much)

Also, I promise, next post: pictures. Thanks for indulging me. Feel free to tell me if I’m wrong.

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