Saturday, May 31, 2008

Additional Paragraph to My Review of Simon Winchester's "The Man Who Loved China" Published in the Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail published my review of Simon Winchester's new biography of Joseph Needham today (it can be read here). There is a paragraph that I wrote that was not used by them. Here it is:

"Simon Winchester has published 19 books to date many of them non-fiction about East Asia. The Man Who Loved China follows along the lines of Winchester's bestseller The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the 'Oxford English Dictionary' that came out to much acclaim 10 years ago. Winchester had full access to the massive collection of Needham papers held at the Cambridge Library and Needham Research Institute including Needham's diaries and letters. He was also able to interview a large number of people that Needham had known and worked with. The book is a very compelling read. But to make it so, Winchester has selected out those colourful aspects of Needham that emphasize the man's eccentricity, but are ultimately rather trivializing of one of the greatest scholars of the 20th century. Needham is often aptly compared to the 15th century scholar Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, after all. So in Winchester's telling Needham comes off as more shallow and self-indulgent than he truly was. Joseph Needham deserves a more serious and comprehensive biography that does much better justice to his place in modern intellectual history."

Monday, May 26, 2008

Why Limit the Freedom of Human Right Activists in the Face of Sino-US Human Rights Dialogue?

Wan Yanhai is director of the Aizhixing Beijing Institute, one of the leading organizations doing advocacy in China for the human rights people living with HIV and of groups affected by HIV. I met him in Beijing when I was researching my report on the Canada-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue for DFAIT.

Why Limit the Freedom of Human Right Activists in the Face of Sino-US Human Rights Dialogue?
May 25, 2008

By Wan Yanhai

As a result of the human rights dispute prior to the Beijing Olympics, China and the US started dialogue on human rights again. From the information I gathered in the past few days, the dialogue will take place on Monday in Beijing .

But something strange has happened. In the face of the human rights dialogue, Beijing public security apparatus began to limit the personal freedom of human right activists. For example, Zeng Jinyan was prohibited from leaving her residence on the morning of May 24th.
(She has just recently been allowed limited freedom, in that she can go out but is followed). Li Hai is under house arrest beginning on the same day. One human right activist were asked to leave the city, also on the same day. Many more has been contacted by the police and told to remain low key.

For the first time, I myself now have a police car parked in front of the door. Wherever I go, police car follow. On May 24th at around 9:30AM, police from the Beijing Haidian District Precinct called me and wanted to meet at 10 to "discuss something". At 10 and two policemen from the Haidian District and the person in charge of the local police station came. They told me that in the next few days, there will be policemen stationed outside my home, that if I want to go out, I will have to ride in the police car, with police escort. They then said however, that the police would "not interfere with my work and life." I was not shown any document and there was no explanation as to why these actions are taken.

I asked if this is related to the Olympics and was told no.
I asked if this is because June 4th is coming up, and was told no.
I asked if this is because we organized a charity dinner, and again was told no.

Around noon on May 24th, a policeman came to my residence. He was very polite. In the afternoon, when we went to the supermarket, the police followed. That night we went to a party, the policemen parked outside the restaurant, and then followed me home. Today, another policeman came, and there was a large picture of me in the front window of the police car, presumably so that I could be easily identified.

If it were not for the police visit, I would not have known there was going to be a Sino-US human rights dialogue. My neighbors heard from the police that some international VIPs are coming.

In the evening, others told me that this is probably related to the human rights dialogue, because apparently the US State Department Vice-secretary in Charge of Human Rights is coming to China and wanted to meet with human right activists.

In the face of Sino-US human rights dialogue, why limit the freedom of human right activists' Have our police friends thought about what this means'

Human rights dialogue is a good thing. If our government can invite those who are critical from civil society to join the dialogue, that would be the best. If our government does not want to involve civil society, it should at least tolerate the work and personal freedom of those who are working for human rights in this city. This would enhance the government's stature in respecting human rights. Thoughtlessly limiting their freedom would not contribute to the government claim that it respects human rights.

Sichuan Earthquake and Beancurd Schools for the Children of the Underclass in China

Among the public at large the tragic loss of large numbers of children suddenly buried in the rubble of their collapsed schools has been the most heart-rending. Many observe that the collapsed schools were surrounded by intact buildings including neighbouring schools for children of local officials located more or less adjacent. There is general consensus that the schools collapsed burying the innocent children because the schools were of substandard construction. This is attributed to high rates of corruption by local authorities in misallocation of funds for public projects combined with bribery that allows contractors to cut corners. Everybody knows that one is hard pressed to find a Communist Party official whose lifestyle and that of his family does not far exceed his state salary. They also tend to be negligent in fulfilling official duties. Schools "made of beancurd" are just one indication of a Party which has transferred its allegiance from the interests of "workers, peasants and soldiers" to the pursuit of money and raw power for the benefit of the ruling elite. As years go by the gap between rich in power grows yearly ever wider. While China's distribution of wealth was one of the most egalitarian the world over the Mao era, today China has one of the most inegalitarian wealth distributions, already approaching Brazilian-level inequity. The Government has already responded to the public outrage over this issue by promising to deal firmly with anyone found to have acted improperly with regard to construction of the collapsed schools. The Government has further committed to crack down on embezzlement of funds or illegal sale of emergency relief supplies.

But the underlying issues are systemic in nature.

As Jiang Wenran of the University of Alberta has put it with regard to the Chinese citizenry's attitude to the reports: "They don't identify with the government, but they identify with China as a nation, and they feel that it is vulnerable.”

Jiang's comment see: Geoffrey York, "Shock of consciousness' sweeps China in wake of temblor" The Globe and Mail May 17, 2008 available on-line at (accessed May 22, 2008).

Excellent account by Jim Yardley in Sunday's New York Times: "Chinese Are Left to Ask Why Schools Fell"

Friday, May 23, 2008

Report on U.S. Senate Subcomittee Hearing that Suggests CISCO Collaborating Closely with Chinese Authorities on Internet Censorship

At a hearing before a Senate subcommittee that focuses on human rights and the Internet, Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) focused on a PowerPoint presentation that discussed China's "combat" of "evil religious groups," such as Falun Gong, which the Chinese government has banned since 1999.

Shiyu Zhou, deputy director of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, testified that it had obtained the presentation titled Cisco Opportunities [in the Golden Shield Project], which showed Cisco working closely with the government on an elaborate scheme to control what information is available on the Internet in China.

"Cisco offers much more than just routers; it offers planning, construction, technical training, and operations maintenance for the Golden Shield," Zhou said. "Our research shows that the infrastructure of China's Great Firewall coincides with the layouts in Cisco (China)'s PowerPoint document."

Zhou charged that "Cisco can no longer assure Congress that Cisco (China) has not been and is not now an accomplice and partner in China's Internet repression and, whether directly or indirectly, in its persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and other peaceful citizens in China."

Cisco general counsel Mark Chandler said he was "appalled" to see the reference to Falun Gong in the slide presentation and asserted that Cisco merely sells generic network equipment to China without customizing it to work with the Golden Shield.

"We disavow the implication that this (presentation) in any way reflects Cisco's views," Chandler said. He added that "employees who would customize our products in such a way as to undermine human rights" would violate the company's "extensive code of conduct."

The industry has been working for two years on a voluntary code of conduct for doing business in China, and Durbin signaled that congressional patience is wearing thin. Industry negotiations are "intolerably slow," he said.

Full text of this report can be found here

Fragment from Rex Murphy's Statement on the Celil Case Broadcast on CBC National News On May 22

I know nothing of the case against him, but the regard shown in this letter, the affection for his wife, and respect for his mother is of a rare and highly singular standard. He neither rages against his own tragedy, the cruel horror of being snatched and jailed for life, nor flings his anger at officials or government.

The burden of the note is his aching concern for wife, children, and mother. We should be pleased Canada has such citizens. All the more reason that Mr. Celil's nightmare should be the active business of our federal government, our premiers and press, and all Canadians.

It is simply not enough that China declare his guilt, place him in jail for life, deny him communication, and hide him away in the darkness of its prison system -- and that we should ignore it. Trade missions and Olympic games are not worth the silence his case has earned so far.

Full text of his remarks:

Friday, May 09, 2008

Fragment from BBC Report of Google AGM Last Thursday and Human Rights and Censorship Proposals by Shareholders

Google defeated two contentious shareholder proposals at the AGM.

The first wanted the company to create a special committee on human rights, while the second asked Google to increase its opposition to censorship demands from countries such as China that wish to limit their citizens' internet access.

While both votes were defeated, a breakdown of the vote has yet to be released.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Tian Guo Marching Band

The Falun Gong's new Tian Guo ("Heavenly Kingdom") Marching Band is currently making itself available for parades at every sort of Canadian cultural event. It is fascinating to me that this Falun Gong Band has a name eerily reminiscent of the Taiping Tianguo ("Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace") which flourished in China from 1853-64, capital at Nanjing. At its peak the Taiping Rebellion forces occupied much of the central Yangzi valley area. and ruled over 30 million Chinese.

The leader of the Taipings, Hong Xiuquan, had a vision that he was the younger brother of Jesus and on this basis developed a revised version of Christianity with no Trinity and an additional "gospel" written by himself. Hong imposed and enforced his version of Christianity in the areas under his military control. Within the land that they controlled, the Taiping Heavenly Army established a theocratic and highly militarised rule. Hong preached that it was the mission of the Taiping Tianguo to rebel against the weak and corrupt Manchus so that China would not be forced under foreign rule by Western imperialists. The rebellion swung from one side to another, now a defeat, now a victory, now a defeat.

Mao Zedong viewed the Taipings as early heroic revolutionaries against a corrupt feudal system.

Intriguing food for thought as to why the Falun Gong also identifies with a "Heavenly Kingdom" using the same Chinese characters as the Taipings used for their political rebellion in China.

Website of the Falun Gong Marching band: