Election Day (Yeah: Elections)

Voting place, the gym-auditorium.


It’s election day for the local People’s Congress, which comes every five years. It’s my students’ first time voting. The university and its parts (like publishing houses) get a single seat. The Party preselects two candidates to run, one of whom will win. These appointees ‘ran’ (both of them university administrators), as usual. But remarkably, two BFSU English department professors (one retired), ran as upstart independents!

The younger of the two used social media heavily. These radical and daring campaigns thrilled and inspired students and (more quietly) faculty. Their campaigns held a sense of potential, challenge, daring and promise. For a few weeks, campus email inboxes filled with pledges to do right by voters, and the braver students stepped up to volunteer.

The upstarts also angered the Party powers at school, a sort of shadow administration that controls things. Some students were quietly advised to stop their involvement.

Election Day arrived, coinciding with America’s. Police were everywhere today, including outside the English department (!!) checking IDs, setting up barriers and funneling pedestrians away from the gym/theater where voting was only permitted at each person’s preappointed time.

Security guards were in the dorms listening to students’ convesations, my class told me. At this, they were incredulous. Anonymously attack emails circulated against the upstarts, they told me, as did attack Tweets and Facebook posts. The man running as an independent (an apparently rascally and charismatic political scientist I’ve never met), was called, variously, a dangerous gossip, a prop of foreign activists, a perpetrator of sexual harrassment. One student read a post that warned, ominously, ‘If you care about him, don’t vote for him.’

Guards at the School of English and International Studies, where both independents teach or taught


The other upstart candidate, a retiree (forced out, I was told) nearing 80, daughter of a nationally known writer of the 1920s, is beloved by many of my students. Her supporters were a bit upset the younger challenger was trying to upstage her. (Some of them also said they suspect those sexual harrassment accusations might be true.)

The whole experience, no question, upset my students today, because — I believe — they are convinced they deserve better. They were upset at the possibility fraud might steal victory from one or the other. They were upset infighting had divided the ‘democratic opposition,’ if that’s what you call them. They were upset the two were poised to split the opposition vote, and lose. They were upset thinking the younger candidate would be fired in the end, and maybe flee to Hong Kong. One kid shook his head at how much it was like “1984,” and how absurd–to be living, for a moment, a dystopic fiction. Yet what choice was there, he said morosely. If the upstarts won, it would open a floodgate that couldn’t be held back elsewhere.

Had they really believed that was possible?

Yes. The old lady had won once before, years ago, slipped between the cracks. Young people admired the quixotic political scientist, testing China, demonstrating what a real election could look like. Before today, these two inspired at least a bit of hope. But Election Day wasn’t upbeat at all.

They don’t just want an exercise in which they vote, for naught, for their chosen candidate. Against the odds, contrary to the expectations we have in the U.S. of how China does things, they expect to be able to select their representative.

The police presence, impossible to ignore, suggests what they’re up against.

After class, & the gauntlet of guards, I walked home. A campus laundry was using the clothesline outside our apartment building to dry rows and rows of uniforms.

Smiling (Non-)Buddha

Lue Mnjun's enigmantic grins are everywhere.

The smiling work of leading Chinese contemporary artist Yue Minjun is everywhere–huge, grinning self-portraits, often in bubblegum colors. Taking Kenny to an all-day football (soccer) tournament yesterday, passed this. Ethan felt the smiles were genuine, goofy happiness. The Times piece linked above suggests the smiles may be the “illusion of happiness headed toward extinction.” Lue is part of what some call China’s Cynical Realism school, which meets the despair of contemporary urban China sardonically, with a sense of the absurd. Take it straight or metaphorically–Yue’s famous smiles are referencing Buddha’s smile. I don’t pretend to get Beijing life today. But I often think of a student, native of the city whose home was razed as part of the rezoning of low-rise alleys so high-rise towers could rise, who said, “I’m homesick every day.” And of an Edison, NJ dad born here and now back several years, for a hedge fund, who gets lost driving his own hometown.
My students’ latest sets of writing have wrestled the inexplicable delays in banning waste (“sewer”) oil from returning to the food stream; the wrongness of not letting a good candidate who wasn’t hand-picked run for office, and the anger on campus when hundreds of students were forced to “volunteer” for the administration, with work sometimes lasting until midnight, under penalty of disciplinary action. And there’s this. The smog (using the Embassy’s Air Quality Index, or AQI) has been above 400 this week & today, a multiple of emergency health conditions almost impossible to express. I didn’t put Ethan in his mask yesterday because our Chinese playdate didn’t have them. My friend said it was just fog, rolling in before the rain.

Forest Park, beside the Olympic stadia

Breakfast!


Front of campus is jumping at 7:15 when the kids get picked up for school. The action is breakfast. Having caffeinated at home, commuters & students line up for porridge cups, smoothie man, pickles in grilled dough, and famous jianbing (crepes filled with eggs, bean paste, crispy stuff, etc.). It’s a bus stop. Along with my university, there are several publishing houses here. Snapped these with my phone just now. One of a hundred million little neighborhods waking up to something warm.

I am into leek and egg steamed buns, about a dime. She deserves more money for them.
Thank you!