Friday, March 31, 2006

New China Law Blog

New to me anyway. I came across Chinalawblog a few days ago when one of the authors left a comment on my post about the sad saga of That's magazines. Chinalawblog looks to have been around since the beginning of this year; the blog focuses on Chinese law as it applies to doing business in China. From my brief perusal, I'd say this blog is a winner. The authors, both international lawyers, appear well-versed in their subjects; their writing is clear and concise. I particularly enjoyed the recent post, "Is China Going Green, Part IV" (answer: "It is, But It Better Hurry").

In spite of my aforementioned lack of entrepreneurial drive, Chinalawblog is going on my blogroll. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Hao Wu Update

From Free Hao Wu, Hao Wu's story has now been reported in a variety of mainstream news outlets, including Business Week and Reuters. The Business Week article ends on a note of optimism:
Will the public campaign to win Hao Wu's release work? The timing might be right. Chinese President Hu Jintao will soon be visiting the U.S., a trip that was supposed to take place last September but was put off because of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. The Chinese government very much wants this visit to go well, so the leaders might decide that letting a lone blogger go free in the lead up to the summit might be an easy way to score some points.
Let's hope.

Still unclear are the reasons for Hao Wu's detention in the first place. The Reuter's piece quotes his sister Wu Na: "I don't think it is related to his filming of the underground Christians. I think it is related to the lawyer or being too open on his blog."

What goes several levels beyond irony here is that from Hao's own words, in comments on his blog, he did not believe that his blogging constituted a threat to the Chinese government's authority or put him in any personal jeopardy.
Regarding censorship - call me naive, but I don't think the police would bother any one who's not famous or about to attract some kind of attention. In addition, writing in English has very limited impact in what's happening in China, regardless whether I write in Beijing or New York.

So, the day the secret police comes to knock on my doors, I know I've got somewhere in my wretched life which otherwise would remained clouded by existential crises. :)
"The truth seems to be," he goes on to say, "that anything in China with an edge would be considered political. At the same time, I honestly don't think the government is bent on suppressing different voices anytime it finds one."

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Friday, March 24, 2006

How to Succeed in Business...and still get screwed...

When I've mulled over the idea of moving to China, a number of negatives occur to me. The pollution. The censorship. The tendency to arrest people who speak out or try to report the truth. Of course, given the way things are going in this country, hey, maybe I'll get used to all that.

Another big hurdle for me is figuring out what, exactly, I would do there.

"You should go," my friend A. said to me one day. A. is originally from China, now a US citizen. We've worked on a number of creative projects together. "You know, it really bugs me sometimes," she continued. "Foreigners like you can go there and are treated like experts, make so much money, just because they are foreigners. And most of them don't know anything. You actually know what's going on. In ten years, you could have so much more than you'd have working at (CENSORED)."

(this blog is not about my day job)

Well, maybe. And thanks, A., for that vote of confidence. But it still isn't clear to me what I'd actually do to get on that China gravy-train.

I mean, I'm a researcher by profession. A writer and sometime musician by advocation. I'm pretty good at learning languages, and I'm fairly adaptable to different situations. Oh, and I certified as an EMT once, but I've forgotten most of what I learned...

Which means, I guess, that I could teach English, right? That's what I did 20-odd years ago in Beijing. But I can't say that prospect fills me with wild enthusiasm.

One thing I'm not is an entrepreneur. I've just never found the prospect of going into business to make money at all appealing.

But hey, maybe it's different if you go into business doing something that you love. Maybe there's a way to combine one's passions and make money.

Take the example of Mark Kittko. Mark made a long term commitment to China, spent seven years building up a magazine empire there that by any measure is a noteworthy success. If you've spent any time in China in recent years, you've probably read one of Mark's magazines - the "That's" series of city magazines for expats and tourists.

So is Mark Kittko enjoying his success?

Well, not so much...

Read his story in Prospect Magazine. It's a deeply frustrating account of a man who tried to play by the rules, except the rules kept changing.

I'm only going to quote the last paragraph, because the sentiment expressed by the unnamed Chinese official is all too telling about the state's attitudes towards the press and the free flow of information:
During my trademark dispute, the State Information Council circulated an official letter to the Gongshang bureaus whose help I had requested to protect my rights to the that's name, a valuable piece of intellectual property. In the letter were the words: "…please bring your department in line… this is a case of a foreigner harming the serious work of China's external propaganda."
And you know, I think I'll add the afterword as well...because of what it says about life in a globalized economy...
A big US publisher commissioned a book by Mark Kitto. After the manuscript had been edited, the publisher dropped it for fear of harming its Chinese interests. Those interests fall under the authority of the State Information Council...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Free Hao Wu

Hao Wu
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

I met Hao Wu a few years ago. At the time he was an aspiring screenwriter working for an internet company. From Sichuan via Beijing, Hao had been in the US for over a decade. He had a screenplay, his first, and needed a collaborator to reshape it into a more commercial structure.

Our collaboration didn't last all that long. In spite of his inexperience at that time, already it was clear that Hao is a guy with his own vision and a unique way of looking at the world. My only real advice to him was, rather than trying to write something commercial, he should follow his passion, tell a personal story, something true and close to his heart. Mostly, he should keep writing. I was really impressed by the quality of his prose and his insights.

Hao followed his dream in spades. He decided to return to China, to Beijing, to see what had happened to the city he'd once known and experience China's changes first-hand. He took a month long trip along the Silk Road and sent back regular dispatches. Then he produced his first film, Beijing Or Bust, a documentary about the lives of Chinese Americans trying to navigate contemporary Beijing. He then started a blog by the same title, in which he writes about his own navigations through today's Beijing. There are some truly wonderful essays: evocative, original and informative, covering aspects of contemporary China that you will rarely find elsewhere.

One continuing thread was Hao's search for a new documentary subject. He'd finally settled on "family churches," not quite legal but not really underground religious congregations - go here for Hao's vivid and scary post about his visit to one such church when the police show up.

The last email exchange I had with Hao was on Feb. 21st. I'd owed him an email. We chatted about the novel I'm working on, his new position as editor for Global Voices Online.

Then, silence.

Last week, I found out why:
Hao Wu (Chinese name: 吴皓), a Chinese documentary filmmaker who lived in the U.S. between 1992 and 2004, was detained by the Beijing division of China’s State Security Bureau on the afternoon of Wednesday, Febuary 22, 2006. On that afternoon, Hao had met in Beijing with a congregation of a Christian church not recognized by the Chinese government, as part of the filming of his next documentary.

Hao had also been in phone contact with Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer specializing in human rights cases. Gao confirmed to one of Hao’s friends that the two had been in phone contact and planned to meet on Feb. 22, but that their meeting never took place after Gao advised against it. On Friday, Feb. 24, Hao’s editing equipment and several videotapes were removed from the apartment where he had been staying. Hao has been in touch his family since Feb. 22, but judging from the tone of the conversations, he wasn’t able to speak freely. One of Hao’s friends has been interrogated twice since his detention. Beijing’s Public Security Bureau (the police) has confirmed that Hao has been detained, but have declined to specify the charges against him.

The reason for Hao’s detention is unknown. One of the possibilities is that the authorities who detained Hao want to use him and his video footage to prosecute members of China’s underground Churches. Hao is an extremely principled individual, who his friends and family believe will resist such a plan. Therefore, we are very concerned about his mental and physical well-being.
For more information on Hao and on the efforts being made on his behalf, go here.

It's hard for me to know what to say, except that Hao is a great person, with talent and heart and vision, and that for the Chinese government to detain him is yet another sign of how the CCP still squanders the talent of its own people, how it is destroying China's future in the name of "social harmony," which more than anything else seems to be a figleaf of ideological cover for the exercise of raw power and untrammeled authority. Hao never challenged the CCP. The only way in which his work could be considered "political" is that he does not censor his own observations, that he thinks freely and isn't afraid to say what he thinks.

If these are the kinds of characteristics that the Chinese authorities find so threatening that they respond with detentions and repression, then I really do fear for China's future.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Quick Post

I'm heading out of town for a week...okay, I'm going on a beach...under a palapa...with a margarita...

The only downside to this for me are the actual preparations to get out of town...I don't know why it always feels like I have too much to do and no time to do it. Plus I worry about my felines, and planes falling out of the sky.

All of these anxieties tend to disappear once I actually make it to the airport, but there you are...

Anyway, given the infrequency with which I've been posting, I suppose my absence won't be all that noticable (hey, the novel's coming along nicely), but I did want to call your attention to this article in the New York Times, about the re-emergence of an old debate:
For the first time in perhaps a decade, the National People's Congress, the Communist Party-run legislature now convened in its annual two-week session, is consumed with an ideological debate over socialism and capitalism that many assumed had been buried by China's long streak of fast economic growth.

The controversy has forced the government to shelve a draft law to protect property rights that had been expected to win pro forma passage and highlighted the resurgent influence of a small but vocal group of socialist-leaning scholars and policy advisers. These old-style leftist thinkers have used China's rising income gap and increasing social unrest to raise doubts about what they see as the country's headlong pursuit of private wealth and market-driven economic development.

The roots of the current debate can be traced to a biting critique of the property rights law that circulated on the Internet last summer. The critique's author, Gong Xiantian, a professor at Beijing University Law School, accused the legal experts who wrote the draft of "copying capitalist civil law like slaves," and offering equal protection to "a rich man's car and a beggar man's stick." Most of all, he protested that the proposed law did not state that "socialist property is inviolable," a once sacred legal concept in China.

Those who dismissed his attack as a throwback to an earlier era underestimated the continued appeal of socialist ideas in a country where glaring disparities between rich and poor, rampant corruption, labor abuses and land seizures offer daily reminders of how far China has strayed from its official ideology.

"Our government only moves forward when it feels there is a strong consensus," said Mao Shoulong, a public policy specialist at People's University in Beijing. "Right now, the consensus is eroding and there is a debate over ideology, which we haven't seen for some time."
I'd love to take some time to discuss this and share some of the other interesting bits, but it's 1 AM and, as is also typical of me, I haven't exactly packed yet...

Hat tip to Real History Lisa (check out her blog, it's on my blogroll) for the link!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

China Plays Ball!

China Plays Ball!
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

Maybe I could live in China...

...because China is getting into baseball!:
Success can't be measured in victories for the Chinese National Baseball Team. The team almost never wins, especially against opponents that really matter. Rather, success is subtle. It may be as unremarkable as a knowing smile or a perceptive nod.

Those are the times when former big leaguers Jim Lefebvre and Bruce Hurst realize they're progressing, that they have broken through, that their efforts are worthwhile.

Lefebvre, the former manager of the Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, has been the manager of the Chinese team since it was formed in 2003. Hurst, who played 15 seasons for the Boston Red Sox, Padres, Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers, is the team's pitching coach. They are part of an ambitious attempt to take a 3-year-old program and make it competitive, at least initially against Asian powers such as Japan, Korea and Chinese Taipei, who have been playing baseball for the better part of a century.

All four teams will face off beginning tonight in the inaugural World Baseball Classic at the Tokyo Dome. The top two teams from each of four four-team pools advance to the second round, with the semifinals and final to follow March 18-20 at Petco Park.
Though the Chinese players have a long way to go, Lefebvre and Hurst applaud their work ethic and increasingly sophisticated grasp of the game: “They are so detailed. Intellectually, this game is built for them. They analyze all that's happened and process it all.”

Go Team China! I'm rooting for you. Not against my USA homeboys, a team that includes San Diego Padres pitching ace Jake Peavy. But for second place? You're my pick...