For the First Time, I Hear the “T” Word

“Why were students afraid to keep volunteering for the independent candidates?” — one a political scientist and colleague in my department, Qiao Mu, who teaches political communication. I was talking to a young person, discussing the recent district elections here for People’s Congress, and the intimidation Qiao Mu’s volunteers said they experienced–like being videotaped, asked their name by plainclothes police, and warned by their school counselors. (All that may have led to the upstarts’ defeat; I blogged about it earlier ). “I understand they were told to stop working on the campaigns, but why did they listen? What exactly were they afraid of?” I’m just trying to understand, best I can.

“Have you ever heard,” the young person answered, “of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations?”–earnestly, like I may not have. This is the first time anyone has used the “T” word.

Of course, I’m nodding, Uh, yeah.

“Do you know what happened to those students after?”


The young person says that they (China’s brightest, since Beijing undergrads beat out tens of millions for these coveted spots) were sent to rural areas, never to work anywhere else again.

I’ve given up trying to make the image appear here–it won’t–of an Occupy Wall Street poster graphic where 2011’s Wall Street occupiers face 1999’s Chinese tanks in Tiananman. But please click for a stirring, complex (if contentious at like a million levels) graphic kicker. The Tiananman tank man in Foley Square. ows poster

PS: If you’re one of the 4,000 or so visits we’ve had here, THANK YOU!! Yet we only have 20ish actual followers. Stay in touch by cursoring to the right & clicking “Sign me up.”
PPS: The New York Times’ Sharon LaFraniere devoted a whole story to Qaio Mu’s brave run as an independent, and the suppression he endured.

Qiao himself also wrote an op-ed about it in the Wall Street Journal Online. He also catalogs the wrongs he suffered on

And I helped my friend Vincent Fang, a senior majoring in journalism (not actually my student, but my kids’ Chinese tutor and xbox FIFA football companion), write about it as well. Vince’s first-person piece (he was a campaign volunteer), “Democratic Election in China Through One Student’s Eyes,” got picked up all over the Web, & even translated into Chinese.

Love Without A Name: Growing Up in China

One of my students writes about his grandmother, “an illiterate Chinese farmer [who] nurtured three generations of intellectuals.” At 15, she had an arranged marriage with a boy who was then a toddler. It has emotional power, to me, but I was also struck by other students’ response while workshopping: ‘We all have grandmothers who helped raise us, and we don’t know their names.’ I realize this is common (I remember an Amy Tan essay about this very subject.) Still, I believe them when they said: This story of generational change is all of our story, of growing up in China today.

Excerpts from a memoir.
The writer uses the English name David.

…She silently cooked the dishes, did the laundry and fed the pigs. … My grandpa, who turned out to be a village teacher, treated her nicely, but it all didn’t matter. He died at the age of 39, leaving her a shattered family with two teenage boys to feed.

None of my relatives from the old countryside could recall a single complaint from her. Year after year, my grandmother labored with sweat in the field, bending down to reap the wheat and corn…. When my father hesitated whether or not he should stop trying after failing twice in the College Entrance Examination, my grandmother simply gave him a powerful slap in the face. Illiterate as she was, she understood that those tiny yet enchanted characters printed on the paper would shape his destiny. When my father finally got admitted to a college, granny sold a pig and treated everyone in the village for a feast.

… After my parents’ marriage she took care of me when my father was determined to make a decent living for our poor family. I remember two scenes: my grandmother in the kitchen opening the pot lid from time to time for fear that the cheap ribs might burn, and warmly comforting my mother, who came from a local urban family, as she complained in tears about why she chose to follow this man. Toward me, she showed kindness. She taught me patiently with a strong rural accent the country ballads about fairies and heroes, and clumsily made toys like wood pistols to give me joy.

…I moved out to an expensive boarding school, a rebellious adolescent. When I returned home, I tended to keep away from this old, shabby, short, humpbacked lady. The exciting flame in her eyes vanished after I apathetically answered her greetings several times. She became more and more silent and spent all days watching TV and gazing at the sky. But she never complained to anyone.

One day I returned home and learned she was in the ICU. All my arrogance and stupidity went away in an instant, and I bit hard on my lips to hold back my tears of remorse. Peering at a piece of paper gripped in my anxious father’s hand, tears flooded my face.

It read: ‘Patient’s name: Feng Qishi.’

Feng was my family name, Qi was her family name, shi refers to the status of being married. Like millions of women of her age, for 60 years of hardships she didn’t have a name.

If I Were Emperor…

Ruling the known world has its upside. Like all the candy you want, and no limits on video games or “The Simpsons.”

Kenny rules...briefly.

There'd be no homework...

Hope everyone in America had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Our government was kind enough to arrange a traditional feast at a hotel, for the few dozen Fulbrighters in/near Beijing, our administrators and their families. A bilingual friend explained to a server that when Ethan said he wanted the drumstick, it meant not a little slice but the whole thing! Crazy laowai (foreigners).

It has been a very, very hard week with a steep uptick in responsibilities plus sick kids & a birthday to figure out how to celebrate so it doesn’t become depressing (2-part solution: (1) mousse cake done very well at local bakery; (2) inviting nice Estonian family with similar-age boy although we have never met!).

For all these bounties, and the $3 kung pao chicken on the street out back, we are thankful.

Apply for a China Fulbright!

I’m sitting here at the American Center for Educational Exchange after a long day interviewing Chinese PhD candidates who want funding to go to America, with a distinguished (much moreso than me) binational panel. What the young people we interviewed want to study ranges from U.S. public health policy to the Constitution to Derrida and translations of Chinese literary anthologies. Luckily we got good deli sandwiches (where’d they get those?! I haven’t seen a deli sandwich since August months) and a bottomless coffee pot.

The point: I just learned something about my program. There were only 50 apps for lecturing spots in China last year (when I applied); 20 of us were sent over. IT IS NOT THAT HARD TO GET A FULBRIGHT IN CHINA! (Click previous word to get to the application pages.)

I quote: “The world has watched in fascination as China has become one of the most dynamic and powerful nations on earth… The China Fulbright Scholar Program is open to American scholars in the social sciences and humanities who are encouraged to share their expertise with Chinese scholars, students and policy makers for a semester or an academic year. There is a particular interest in scholars with expertise in disciplines related to the study of the U.S. such as American literature and American history and in law. …Fulbright Scholar grants in China include a salary supplement stipend that brings the total stipend up to a maximum of $50,000 for one semester and $100,000 for an academic year. This amount does not include travel allowances. There is also a generous dependent education allowance.”

The catalog of awards typically appears in March, with applications due August 1.

If you teach and can get away for a term or two, go for it! Apply!

Lambie in the Muslim Quarter

Grand Mosque's Chinese Architecture

Grand Mosque courtyard. Built 1300s

Lambie visited Xi’an and saw a big, old mosque: the Grand Mosque. It’s Chinese-style!

Islam has been here since it was born. China has 20 million Muslims, like the Hui (“Way”) who speak Mandarin. Others speak languages that are like Turkish and Perisan. Also Mongolian.

Trying tea

Seeing the mosque made Lambie tired, so she went to a tea house in a mansion with many courtyards. It also was a puppet theater! The puppets spoke Mandarin!

Lambie meets some fellow puppets

Lambie sees lamb cooking

Then came the bad part. Lambie learned these people love eating lambs.

Lambie on top of Xi'an's City Wall

She ran away, up onto the city wall around Xi’an. It was the worst moment of Lambie’s life.

Bales of tea in the Moslem Quarter food market

After a while she remembered the puppets and the dried lychee black tea. China has its ups and downs.

Lambie at Xian Drum Tower

Bang a drum, Lambie! It’s going to be alright.

My Students Visit the AP

Conference room, Associated Press Beijing Bureau

My journalism students sat under the AP’s iconic photo of Nixon at the Great Wall today while, for two straight hours, News Editor Scott McDonald, an amazing Canadian guy here 5 years this time (Sri Lanka, Pakistan, all over) explained the challenges of getting the story in China when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs controls movement, sources are uncomfortable speaking, occasionally media gets rounded up, and the rules sometimes shift unannounced. And the people best able to get the story — locally hired reporters who understand China and speak several dialects — are legally barred from working as journalists for foreign companies.

For their part, the students challenged him, contending that Western media engages consciously in China-bashing to sell papers, that protecting China is vital while it plays catch-up on the world stage, and that the U.S. government also exerts control and frequently lies.

McDonald himself raised and explored the complexities. Along with questionable overseas advocacy groups putting out information on China, there are now countless online/amateur Twittering sources to sort through, and the truth (did police open fire in Lhasa on a “riot” or “a peaceful demonstration”?) is very hard to verify on deadline. There are budget constraints, especially after a big year (Egypt, Libya). And space constraints: How can you explain China-Taiwan in one sentence? And without the native insight a Chinese reporter could bring, even the best, bilingual international reporters who majored in Chinese studies can miss sublteties.

He hardly took a breath in two hours of nonstop, high-speed, spot-on, articulate chat.

“We try to be honest. We try to be fair… We try to get eyewitnesses on the ground.”

Long live the newsman.