'Reborn of Fire'
'The facts have proved that One Country, Two Systems has great vitality.' – Xi Jinping on the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China.
Art: Mark Corry
On the evening of June 30, 1997, while wandering from bar to bar in Hong Kong “experiencing history” I fell into the company of a sex therapist from Taiwan.
I mention her occupation merely in the interests of what journalists call “color.”
Anyway, between bars, close to the witching hour of midnight, when we threw Hong Kong under the churning wheels of the Chinese juggernaut, she stopped in her tracks and pointed at the limp pennant buntings strung overhead on the street and said, “What on Earth do those flags say?”
“Oh,” I said: “Huíguī” (回归), which has more a sense of “return” in Chinese than “handover” and as I said it, I realized that we were dealing with one of China’s more radical character simplifications.
In Taiwan (and Hong Kong for that matter), where Chinese is still written in traditional characters, it would be written 回歸.
“No! Really?” she said – a beat, and then: “I hope they don’t do to Hong Kong what they’ve done to the Chinese language.”
Britain’s Prince Charles, who was also in attendance that night – just not on my bar crawl with the Taiwanese sex therapist – had his reservations too.
“Thus,” he wrote in his diary – somewhat presciently as it turned out – “we left Hong Kong to her fate and the hope that Martin Lee, the leader of the Democrats, would not be arrested …”
He was. Notes The Guardian this week:
[Martin] Lee, 82, was arrested last year and given a 12-month suspended sentence for organising and participating in an unauthorised assembly – one of the 2019 pro-democracy rallies.
Dozens of his fellow activists and politicians have also been arrested or jailed. Those not incarcerated, like Lee, rarely speak publicly and spend their days visiting and caring for friends and colleagues in prison.
Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, tried to put a positive spin on his last day in Hong Kong with the uplifting words: “Today is a day of celebration, not sorrow.”
Nearly 25 years on, he was less conciliatory:
China has ripped up the joint declaration and is vengefully and comprehensively trying to remove the freedoms of Hong Kong because it regards them as a threat, not to the security of China but to the ability of the Chinese Communist Party to hang on to power.
This is not the place to sum up what happened in Hong Kong – and others can do it better. The Economist, this week, for example, in an essay entitled “An Anatomy of Erasure,” writes:
Almost every prominent democrat in Hong Kong is now either in jail or exile. The fabric of “professions, churches, newspapers, charities, civil servants” which Lord Patten honoured at the handover has been torn apart. A national-security committee, modelled on a counterpart in mainland China, sits above the rest of Hong Kong’s government. July 1st, the 25th anniversary of the handover, sees an ex-policeman and security chief, John Lee, sworn in as chief executive, the first to be drawn from the security services. In 2019 he oversaw the benighted extradition bill. After the national-security law was imposed in 2020 his role as secretary for security made him a prime mover in the city’s devastation. He was chosen from a party shortlist of one, despite being widely loathed in the territory.
Secretary General of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping left “the mainland” for the first time since the outbreak of what was to become a global pandemic in Wuhan, central China, to be in attendance at the anniversary and swear in the new chief executive.
The guest list was limited to genuine Xi supporters as can be seen from the CCTV screen grabs above.
“May you live in fucked up times,” goes a possibly apocryphal Chinese curse, but TS Eliot really did write the following in “The Journey of the Magi”.
Were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different.
Looking for a Job – Study Marx
As The Economist points out this week, China – under its latest Great Helmsman, Xi Jinping – is looking to move beyond the the “initial stage of socialism.”
In January 2021 Mr Xi himself mentioned the goal of “forging ahead to a higher level” of socialism (meaning, apparently, another stage of it short of a communist utopia). He often urges party members to have faith in the “lofty ideal” of communism—though what a truly communist China will look like he does not spell out.
In a contracting job market, the Financial Times reports (paywall), this is good news for graduates of Marxist studies.
Despite being China’s ruling ideology, Marxism has for decades been an obscure major for students. But it is enjoying a revival under President Xi Jinping, who has urged Chinese Communist party cadres to “remember the original mission” as he prepares to begin an unprecedented third term in power this year.
The FT notes that a circular in 2018 required that universities hire at least one Marxism instructor for every 350 students. Marxism instructors are considered key in persuading students and the public that the Chinese system is superior to that of the West.
In northern Shaanxi province, where urban workers make an average of Rmb52,000 ($7,760) per year, Xi’an University of Science and Technology is offering Marxism PhDs an annual base salary of Rmb200,000, a Rmb20,000 signing bonus and free housing.
“This is the golden time for Marxism majors,” said an official at the university, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to speak with foreign media.
Not in Your Back Yard
Reports the Financial Times (paywall), a pro-Chinese government group called Dragonbridge has “impersonated environmental campaigners on social media to undermine rare earths producers in the US and Canada.”
Mandiant said the group behind the attacks, known as Dragonbridge, had used fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to claim a US government-funded rare earths refinery in Texas being built by Australian group Lynas Rare Earths would expose the area to ‘irreversible environmental damage’ and ‘radioactive contamination’.
The US and its allies in Europe and Asia are working to build supply chains that bypass China for critical minerals such as lithium, rare earths and cobalt, which are vital to renewable energy technology, electric vehicles and high-tech military equipment.
Get on up
According to SupChina, the pandemic and its attendant impending lockdowns had all the hallmarks of good news for condom manufacturers with China market penetration.
In April 2020 at the outset of the pandemic, the Malaysia-based Karex Berhad, the world’s largest condom manufacturer, with an annual output of 5 billion condoms, declared that its inventory could only last for two more months, and a supply gap of 100 million condoms was imminent. Now, two COVID-filled years later, Karex Berhad announced that sales of condoms have declined by 40% since 2020.
The report notes that most of the second- and third-tier condom brands in China have gone out of business, and survivors “are barely hanging on.”
The reasons are, frankly, conjectural and beyond the scope of this entry, but SupChina has a stab at explaining the phenomenon as follows:
According to data cited by an article in Southern Weekly in June, nearly half of condom use in China occurs outside the home — sexual encounters that were all nipped in the bud by COVID.
According to the article “Effects of COVID-19 on Sexual Life — a Meta-Analysis,” a global study published in the journal Sexologies in early 2021, people were 4.4 times more sexually active before the pandemic than during it.
China aside, the question – like so many things post-covid – is whether sex is fated to become a permanent anachronism like going to the office and having holidays abroad.
Macau Destroys Covid-infected Mangoes, Keeps Casinos Open
Rua da Felicidade: Wiki Commons
Macau, which is reeling from a wave of covid infections and is in lockdown except for essential services such as casinos, has destroyed 100 kg of mangoes imported from Taiwan that were allegedly infected with the coronavirus.
A ban has been placed on imports by the Taiwanese company responsible.
According to Taiwan’s ICRT News, Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture has demanded “scientific evidence” to back the Macau claim.
Say what you will about science, Macau has impressively cleaved to the “one country, two systems” model and got through the pandemic so far with zero-covid related deaths.
News from the Plains
Taiwan aboriginal representatives oppose pro-recognition of pingpu peoples in New Taipei City. Photo: Lai Hsiao-tong, Liberty Times.
Taiwan’s Chinese-language press has this week been preoccupied, not with China, but with constitutional arguments over the status of the Siriya people and other Pingpu (Plains) peoples.
As The News Lens, a Taiwan English-language news website, puts it in a good backgrounder on the issue:
The legal case, spanning over 10 years, will decide if the constitution requires that the Siraya, and by extension other Plain Indigenous, or Pingpu, peoples receive official recognition from the state, as the 16 other Indigenous peoples mostly living in Taiwan’s East Coast. The Siraya, the largest of the Pingpu peoples, are recognized in Tainan, where most of them live, but securing the protection of the central government’s Indigenous policies will be key to their project of cultural revival.
Focus Taiwan reports that Taiwan’s Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP) is opposed to “granting the Siraya and other Pingpu tribes constitutionally-protected Indigenous status, which entitles the 16 officially recognized Indigenous peoples in Taiwan to specific privileges.”
There are thought to be close to 1 million Pingpu people who are not recognized as indigenous due to assimilation with mainstream Taiwan society – the majority ethnic Han. Focus Taiwan notes:
Over the past three decades, the Siraya, the largest Pingpu tribe, with others being the Kavalan, Ketagalan, Taokas, Pazeh, Papora, Babuza, Hoanya, and Makatau, have been leading the movement for tribe recognition in a bid to revitalize their culture and languages facing the threat of extinction.
Taiwan Chooses Hemp to Save Crabs
Thailand has kind of legalized weed … Just sayin’. Photo: Chris Taylor
Taiwan’s no way near ready to decriminalize pot, unlike Thailand, which is toying with the idea by letting people sell it from street-side stalls and grow up to 10 plants for “personal medical reasons” at home.
All the same, in a move in the right direction, Taiwan is not above using hemp rope to save its crabs.
The Neglected History of Female Lamas … Jetsunmas
Jetsun Kushok at nineteen years old, Dolma Palace, Sakya, Tibet, 1957
Highly recommended reading on female lamas in Tibet from Tricycle.org, which notes that despite their influence are often unnamed in Tibetan-language histories of Buddhism in Tibet.
In the new book The Sakya Jetsunmas: The Hidden World of Tibetan Female Lamas, scholar Elisabeth Benard brings the stories of these women to light. This multigenerational collection of biographies is the first book written in English about the Sakya jetsunmas, and it draws extensively from archival research, oral histories, and interviews with living members of the Khon family.
Tibetan Intellectuals Detained
Rongwo Gendun Lhundup, 48, who writes under the pseudonym “Lhamkok” (Tibetan for “shoe”) was sentenced to four years in prison in December 2001. Photo: Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy
International Campaign for Tibet reports the recent arrests or detentions of at least six Tibetan intellectuals, four of them writers, for expressing views on Tibetan “national identity and culture” on their phones.
In a long list of detentions and sentencing of intellectuals like Go Sherab Gyatso, Rinchen Tsultrim and Lobsang Lhundup, four more writers—Thupten Lodoe, Rongwo Gendun Lhundup, Rongwo Gangkar and Nyima—are known to have been either detained or sentenced for expressing their opinions and thoughts … China’s technological surveillance infrastructure in Tibet for censorship monitors for words and terms that the authorities deem as challenging the state.
These Green Feet Were Made for Walking
Here at ChinaDiction we’ve really tried to check the authenticity of this report, even going so far as to read the Wikipedia entry on 小綠人 (Xiǎolǜrén) – “little green man” in Mandarin, or Guoyu (國語):
A similar figure as a crossing signal first appeared in East Berlin in 1961 and gained the local nickname Ampelmännchen, but was static rather than animated.
Germans and their compound nouns! In this case, ChinaDiction thinks the word is related to manikin (n.)
1560s, "jointed model of the human figure used by artists," from Dutch manneken, literally "little man," diminutive of Middle Dutch man (from Proto-Germanic *manwaz, from PIE root *man- (1) "man"). Sense and spelling often blended with mannequin.
Meanwhile, ChinaDiction is convinced that Taiwan really was the first country to install animated little green men at pedestrian crossings.