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.

What My Students Wrote About This Week

Shared office for foreign faculty. School of English and Int'l Studies.

Some of the stories my undergrads, in opinion-writing, wrote about this week:

A Communist Youth League project the writer is involved in, sending fresh college grads to the poorest mountain villages to teach elementary school, where the unlicensed teachers were all fired.

The popularity, and importance in China, of free, online U.S. college-course videos (humanities, social sciences, engineering and technology).

A love letter to the university’s British parliamentary debate club, which “promote[s] democracy globally by supporting discussion and active citizenship.”

China’s fast urbanization required importing 600 million tons of iron ore. You got a problem with that? The writer knows a Chinese raw-materials importer; it’s a small family company, not an ‘evil extractor’ or pillager.

A plan to prevent racist violence from erupting when Poland and Ukraine host the 2012 European Football Championship, by a writer who’s a member of FIFA, the sport’s governing body.

How unfair it is that small online merchants are being screwed by unfairly high fees by Taobao, the eBay of China.

That China must spend more money to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa.

No heat...until Nov. 15.

(Random selections, what was handy)

Occupy Wall St…& Other Educational Fun

Poster in my department.

My School of English & International Studies is talking about Occupy Wall Street. I didn’t attend this lecture last week (the potential impact on China/Chinese-U.S. relations). But in class discussions, my students commented:
(1) The demonstration has a message for Chinese youth: ‘Exercise your free-speech rights, too!’ (Not that they could organize online — thanks, Bill for pointing out “Occupy _____” with any Chinese city name has been banned by censors here.)
(2) Chaos may be looming; demonstrators must remain peaceful.
(3) The blatant alliance between U.S. politicians and big business is surprisingly shameless.
(4) The demonstrators could use some advice. Turn to us! We comrades are experienced at organizing disciplined political rallies!


More serious educational fun in China: Friday’s all-Beijing, intercollegiate Movie Dubbing Competition. This is a popular (& educational!) event for university Engish majors–like karaoke, but with movies. I’m on the judging panel! They’ll live-dub excerpts, in 2 events: With scripts, and total improv without. Don’t know which movies yet. Last year “Garfield” was among them.

Recess equipment for Ethan's grade.


Other seriously great educational news: Ethan has an all-day international school soccer tournament…on a Wednesday! Kenny’s class, 7th year, is a 4-hour flight away this week, on the tropical island of Sanya, sailing and camping! And one of my top students, a senior, just learned his father’s employer, a mineral company, will 100% sponsor his graduate studies in the U.S.!

In other politico-educational news, a colleague in the School of English and International Studies, who did his graduate work in Chicago, is in the last, heated week of his upstart election campaign to represent this area in the local/district People’s Congress. He’s something almost unknown: an independent. He’s a cult figure to students, his sharp Weibou (Twitter) feeds have been banned. When the new American Ambassador Gary Locke came here to speak, during the question-and-answer session he asked, “Have you visited the Great Wall — and have you been to the Great Firewall?”

There’s a shoo-in appointee/candidate the area’s powers-that-be have named, to run and win. So this bold campaign has angered the university entities concerned with such matters (control mechanisms the workings of which I don’t really understand). His campaign has ignited electric excitement among my students, and those few colleagues I’ve gotten to know wish him well! My inbox is flooded with his earnest and positive campaign messages (in Mandarin).

Good luck, Xiao Mu!

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!