Periodically, I write about stuff in China that has little at first glance to do with making dance and art. Mostly my focus is centered on Guangdong as this is where I live when I am in China. My art is primarily concerned with the destitution of humanity, and I think there is little more destitute than for someone to have their entire life, history, home, means of eating and earning a living stolen from them by cadres who are no better than imperial thugs reigning over their personal fiefdoms. The Guardian had an excellent article this weekend on rural land-grabs and peasant protests, specifically in 云浮 Yunfu, 汕尾 Shanwei, and 太石 Taishi in Guangdong Province.
Among the most explosive books in recent years was an exposé of torture, murder and exploitation of peasants by brutal local officials. A Survey Of Chinese Peasants, by Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao, was quickly banned by the authorities, who feared it might spark unrest, but pirate copies continue to be widely circulated and an English version – retitled Will The Boat Sink The Water – has recently been published. The authors lay it out plainly: “It is safe to say that the edifice of China’s industry is built from the flesh and blood of toiling peasants and urban development was achieved through their pain and sacrifice.”
So I came back early. It was getting wet, which was slightly funny considering it hadn’t really dried, and trying to hang on in a slopey pocket filled with mud on greasy limestone was mostly an exersise in derangement. And coming back early was better than not coming back at all when I decided to side-pull off a tasty super-finger-loving flake that then – like the asteroid dwelling gargantuan moray eel in Empire Strikes Back turned out to be attached to a block half the size of a bar fridge which jumped at my leg before gently floating down to bash a crater in the rice paddies below. Lucky my leg was under something of an overhang so it just brushed past instead of trying to sit on it like a fat belligerent vampire baby. Yes, I screamed. I went, “eeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!”.
Climbing. Yeah. … I love Jiulong for climbing, but it really needs to be pummeled with a) a high-pressure hose to spray the mud where it belongs – in the fields, and b) always be approached with a hairdryer or a portable jet engine to dry out the slimy mud pockets that always lurk at the hardest moves ready to mug you like a sap who takes a shortcut down an ill-lit alley.
Besides the one climb of the day, we did a small amount of walking, the highlight being through the heart of one of the limestone spires, gutted by a stream and opening out inside into a vast black atrium. The good thing about caving is it’s always wet, so there’s no surprises when you stick your hand into something to hold onto … and it’s wet.
All this followed by a brisk return car ride through Qingyuan, which I think has taken the mantle from Dongguan of “shithole of the world”. I know it was pretty steamy and saturated with that South-East Asia fog/mist/hazy warm water mix that makes everything kinda poorly conceived and impenetrable, but that haze doesn’t normally stink of unique and different toxic miasmas every hundred meters. Nor is it usually yellow, grey, or corrosive. Qingyuan after all, was the city everyone was panicked for after the chemical plant upstream in Shaoguan dumped a load of poisonous sludge into the Bei Jiang a couple of months ago. I don’t know how pollution would be quantified in a place like this. Even our driver called it a shithole.
In my daily ploughing through a couple of hundred RSS feeds, I read from Danwei, there’s a new quarterly magazine out covering my favourite place, the Pearl River Delta, Destination PRD. It looks mostly aimed at visiting business people, and maybe good for tourists too, and with last years messy demolition of That’s Magazines, leaving I think a fairly poor going-through-the-motions shell of what – when I first arrived in Guangzhou – was an indispensable print and web-based monthly, there’s a crying need for a good English language magazine for Kanton Guangdong.
This magazine was willed into existence by many varied influences. The earliest was the experience of a boat trip from Hong Kong to Jiangmen in February 2004, when the relatively unspoiled potential of the western Pearl River Delta was revealed to an ignorant foreigner. Another was the afternoon spent strolling around Shamian island in Guangzhou, soaking up the innate charm of the old neighborhood, with its Opium Wars-era buildings, and realizing its tourism possibilities while at the same time understanding the ideological obstacles holding back its development. The clincher, however, was at the PRD Conference organized by the South China Morning Post and Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce in Zhongshan, hometown of Sun Yatsen, in September 2004. It came when Hopewell’s Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, who saw the PR D’s potential for bridge-building before most, responded to a question on why he was in the business by saying: “It’s very simple, you see, the Pearl River Delta has a lot of rivers and people don’t like to get their feet wet.”
I’ve been slowly limiting my China obsession to merely a Guangdong Province one. Mainly because China is simply too vast for me to consider as one country, and obviously I don’t consider Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Tibet to be part of China, and I’d extend that opinion to Xinjiang, and if I’m feeling particularly magnanimous, I’d say among other provinces, pretty much everything south of the dividing range is not-China, including my beloved Guangdong Province, that deserves sovereignty for their cuisine alone. So, 张德江 Zhang Dejiang, is, among other things, Secretary of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Party Committee, and EastSouthWestNorth thinks he is a very interesting man.
Who is Zhang Dejiang (张德江)? Here is China Vitae‘s record:
Zhang Dejiang, male, 55, Han nationality, is a native of Tai’an, Liaoning Province. He was born in November 1946, joined the CPC in January 1971 and joined the workforce in November 1968. Zhang graduated from the Economics Department, Kim Il Sung Comprehensive University. As a university graduate, he holds the professional title of Lecturer.
Zhang, who speaks Korean, worked in Jilin Province until the mid-1980’s when he moved to Beijing as vice minister of Civil Affairs. In the 1990s, he became secretary of the CPC Jilin Municipal Committee and 1998 relinquished that position to become secretary of the CPC Zhejiang Provincial Committee.
Zhang was an alternate member of the 14th CPC Central Committee and a member of the 15th CPC Central Committee. Zhang is currently a member of the Politburo of the 16th CPC Central Committee and secretary of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Party Committee.
What I really like when speaking Cantonese is how it makes me sound like a slutty canto-porn star about to give head, even when I’m cursing like a pimp on the waterfront. Not that I speak it too well, or even much. Despite living in Guangzhou on and off for the last almost four years, it’s been my Putonghua that has gotten a workout until recently. Partially because of the central edict pushing a fatuous and propagandistic ‘one-country-one-language’ agenda that means government businesses – even in the government-run arts companies – speak Mandarin, and partially because the province, being one of the economic miracles is awash in people from places where ‘Chinese’ as it as spoken is as different from the official tongue as Glaswegian is from Hungarian. So as English becomes the de-facto language of communication across Europe, so too does Mandarin become that across China. Which isn’t to say it’s an all-consuming juggernaut obliterating cultural diversity wherever it is set loose. Mandarin as it is spoken in Guangzhou is as unique a dialect as Cantonese is an unique language.
Cantonese, a sharp, cackling dialect full of slang and exaggerated expressions, was never the dominant language of China. But it came to dominate the Chinatowns of North America because the first immigrants came from the Cantonese-speaking southern province of Guangdong, where China first opened its ports to foreigners centuries ago.
It is also the chief language of Hong Kong, the vital trading and financial center that became China’s link to the West.
But over the last three decades, waves of Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants have diluted the influence of both the Cantonese language and the pioneering Cantonese families who ran Chinatowns for years.
The surging Chinese economy today has challenged Cantonese further. Because Mandarin is China’s official language, entrepreneurs like Hom have been forced to adapt, often learning the hard way that business can’t be done with Cantonese alone.
Many Cantonese speakers are racing to learn Mandarin any way they can — by watching Chinese soap operas, attending schools, paying for expensive immersion courses and even making more Mandarin-speaking friends. This is no cinch. Although Cantonese and Mandarin share the same written language, they are spoken as differently as English and French.
Hu Jintao evidently realized that if he did not place pressure on the regional mafias, the sound of gunfire might quickly break out all round the country, and be beyond recall. He therefore directed a shut-down regarding the situation regarding the shooting of the Dongzhou villagers. But, how was the resistance to their defence of their rights to be conveyed to the world? After several days of silence, Hu finally decided to support the local power and influence groups, defame the peasants defending their rights, and slander the resisting disadvantaged as rioters. Hu Jintao has poured a basin of cold water on the land-losing peasants who are fighting to defend their rights all around the PRC, and has taken a yet more dangerous step towards social upheaval.
Sometimes everyone likes jumping on an event for no real reason, and forgets, ignores and generally pretends others haven’t happened. The 太石村 Taishi Village elections spent months in the latter category, with the exception of Chinese bulletin boards and a couple of English language China blogs, and it was only when Guardian journalist Benjamin Joffe-Walt went south with Lu Banglie, and things turned seriously crappy that it made the jump into the world of news. Of course when it became apparent Joffe-Walt’s article was not completely accurate, the account of Lu Banglie’s beating which had more-or-less occluded the real reason Taishi Village was infested with journalists rapidly became not-news.
I’ve been following the Taishi thing more than other political stuff in China mainly because it is occurring in Panyu District, next to Guangzhou, and unlike stuff that happens in, say Anhui Province where I’ve never been, I have a personal connection to Guangzhou and the surrounding districts, and it’s alot more real for me.
So in addition to the other couple of posts I’ve made on Taishi, here is some of the media about Taishi, which was a hugely popular event in the China-blogging world, and for me is a fine demonstration of how blogs can disseminate news faster and more importantly more comprehensively than the traditional static media ever can.
A while ago, I wrote about the 太石村 Taishi village election in Panyu District of Guangzhou, and how it was seen by some as a possible victory of the implementation of rule of law over endemic corruption. As much as I’d really like to go, “Yeah! Jurisprudence and non-violent resolution of disputes through legal means is fully sick!!!”, the reality shows China’s political system on all levels is an exemplary construction of hidebound cronyism and despotism, where rule of iron pipe wins every time.
China has formally arrested a lawyer who helped farmers in the southern province of Guangdong try to eject their village chief after a suspicious land deal, U.S.-based Radio Free Asia said.
Guo Feixiong was detained about three weeks ago following clashes between police and residents of Taishi village, in the district of Panyu. In an e-mail, the broadcaster quoted another lawyer as saying Guo was formally arrested.
In July, villagers grew suspicious their elected chief was embezzling public funds after a deal involving the sale of a large tract of village land, and launched a campaign to recall him. Guo and other rights activists had been advising them.
Asked about the report of Guo’s arrest, police declined to comment. “We have no knowledge of this matter,” an official at the public security bureau headquarters said by telephone from Panyu.
China and democracy. Well there goes easy access to my website in China. The meme of China and its globally expanding economy under a dictatorship (or bureaucratic oligarchy) that may or may not be moving towards direct elections is the subject of a somewhat bizarre Asia Times piece.
Discounting the comparisons to the situation in Iran, the piece, which is worth a read for an overview of China’s rapid urbanisation really loses it with this line: No system of government is more successful than America’s, and the accompanying high-rotation noise of “America!!! Fuck yeah!!!”, and the basically pretty stupid sub-text that what China needs is an American-style system of government while tripping itself up with the ‘peasants aren’t ready for democracy’.
At the risk of showing profound ignorance on the political, legal, and social affairs of China, and unmitigated arrogance in even thinking I have any idea, as well as an almost total lack of research which would display on no uncertain terms why my opinion really sucks, my response to the weird belligerence of this article is this:
A Swiss-style secular direct participatory democracy under the rule of law in which each province is composed of cantonal alliances, and each province retains effective autonomy from one other and individual sovereignty in an EU-style confederation.
As China historically likes to test this stuff out in small areas then expand – or not – according to success, I think starting in my sometimes home province of Guangdong would be a fine idea, and even have a slogan: “Cantons for Canton”. harhar.
One of the events of last week which was variously setting a precedent, and ice-breaking on the level of Nixon hanging out with the Great Helmsman that turned into Kruschev banging a shoe at the UN.
A bunch of Very Important Hong Kong Legislators caught the KCR up to Lowu, herded themselves through immigration into Shenzhen, and continued on up to Guangzhou East Station to elbow for a taxi. The idea was to have a bit of political niceness and general well-pleased with each other behaviour. The whole thing turned to shit when democracy, June 4th, and a few other unsavoury incidents in China where shouted around, causing a pretty swift cessation of niceties.
The whole thing has been thoroughly covered all over the place. If the only point of going up there was to piss of intractable foes by demanding a reversal of the official verdict of Tiananman Square and other obviously currently non-negotiable topics, then their mission was a success. If however it was the start of potentially more open discussion, then any further invitations are really unlikely, and all the pro-Democrats have done is acted like assholes.
On the other side, if Beijing could even imagine it would all follow a nicely scripted tea-party, then they are just confirming their serious delusional detatchment from reality and really need to get over themselves. Either way if there was anything at all genuine in the purpose of hopping across the border, it’s been lost for a while. Though it was just an exercise in ego-massage and media preening, then shouting “federal, secular, democratic China now!!!” didn’t go far enough.