China really ought to have more people like Xu Zhiyong. A law professor, legislator, and civil activist, Xu has worked tirelessly over the past decade in ensuring that China lives up to its constitutional ideals. Writing in The New Yorker in 2009, Evan Osnos described Xu as someone "as close to China gets to a public-interest icon." He even received recognition in the Chinese press for his efforts.
But in May, things took a dark turn for Xu. He sent an open letter to authorities calling for the release of 10 people who had been arrested for publicly demonstrating against corruption. Like the activists, and several others who had been similarly detained, Xu advocated that public officials disclose their financial assets in an effort to improve government transparency.
On Tuesday, Chinese officials arrested Xu in his Beijing apartment, seizing his computers and cell phone in the process. His current whereabouts are unknown.
In the past several months, the Chinese government has carried out a crackdown against anti-corruption activists in the country, arresting at least 15 since January. This process has ensnared not only well-known activists like Xu Zhiyong but also those like Liu Ping, Li Sihua, and Wei Zhongping, three men quietly detained in Jiangxi Province in April.
In the context of Chinese history, the crackdown is hardly news: The People's Republic has never cared for agitators. But what's different about Xu's case is this: Rooting out government corruption happens to be of President Xi Jinping's stated policy goals. Upon becoming China's president last November, Xi vowed to eliminate the "tigers and flies" who had enriched themselves through bribery and patronage.
Why, then, is the Chinese president going after the very people who, in theory, could most help him achieve his goal of rooting out corruption in China?
The answer is simple. Xi Jinping doesn't actually want to end corruption. According to Minxin Pei, a professor of Political Science at Claremont McKenna University, there is an old Chinese saying: "Corruption might destroy the Party, but fighting corruption will definitely destroy the Party." Corruption is the lifeblood of the Chinese government, as Pei says: "The Communist Party is a patronage machine and patronage by definition is corruption. Fighting corruption would require Chinese government officials to live like monks, and nobody joins the Chinese government in order to live like a monk."
Xi Jinping couldn't do much about corruption, even if he wanted to. But what Xi can do is this: crack down on the appearance of corruption. And that's exactly what he's done. Since becoming president, Xi has, among other things, famously asked Party cadres to carpool and cut back on the boozy, lavish dinner banquets that so typified Chinese official privilege. Cutting back on these ostentatious displays of corruption won't actually taking care of the problem -- but, as Andrew Wedeman of Georgie State University says, it "works well as a PR campaign." And that, there, is the issue: Corruption itself isn't bad. It's the public relations nightmare that accompanies corruption that, for the Communist Party, is the real problem.
That's where Xu Zhiyong comes in. The particular cause he advocated in this case -- the unwillingness of Party officials to disclose their assets -- is indeed sensitive in China: Both the New York Times and Bloomberg are firewalled in the country after reporting on the wealth amassed by former Premier Wen Jiabao and Xi Jinping, respectively. But discussing the issue of wealth disclosure itself isn't necessarily taboo in China: Current Vice Premier Wang Yang said last year that he expected officials to comply by this request eventually, and last year a local cadre in Hunan Province published his personal financial information on Chinese social media. Furthermore, the Chinese government isn't afraid of general vigilance against corruption: There's even established a hot line for people who see something that doesn't look right.
But Xu's problem this: as a well-known, experienced activist, he has the potential to cause widespread public recognition of a corruption problem. Unlike earlier generations of activists, Xu can utilize social media in order to promote a cause, and that, more than anything else, is what the Chinese government fears: losing control of the public narrative. What starts as a campaign to force officials to disclose their assets might, as Pei says, then turn into a campaign for greater press freedom. "It doesn't take a political genius to see the risks Xi Jinping faces," he said. But unfortunately for Xi Jinping and his colleagues, there's only so much you can crack down on the Internet; and corruption isn't just going to go away on its own.
Black poverty is fundamentally distinct from white poverty—and so cannot be addressed without grappling with racism.
There have been a number of useful entries in the weeks since Senator Bernie Sanders declared himself against reparations. Perhaps the most clarifying comes from Cedric Johnson in a piece entitled, “An Open Letter To Ta-Nehisi Coates And The Liberals Who Love Him.” Johnson’s essay offers those of us interested in the problem of white supremacy and the question of economic class the chance to tease out how, and where, these two problems intersect. In Johnson’s rendition, racism, in and of itself, holds limited explanatory power when looking at the socio-economic problems which beset African Americans. “We continue to reach for old modes of analysis in the face of a changed world,” writes Johnson. “One where blackness is still derogated but anti-black racism is not the principal determinant of material conditions and economic mobility for many African Americans.”
As Coldplay blandly strained for the universal, she and Bruno Mars pulled off something more specific and more daring.
What a perfect Beyoncésong name: “Formation.” All great pop involves people acting in formation. So does all great change. And while fans scream that Beyoncé’s a “queen” and “goddess,” her core appeal really is as a drill sergeant. With Beyoncé in command, greatness is scalable, achievable, for the collective. Everyone waves their hands to the same beat. Everyone walks around like they have hot sauce in their bag.
But in pop and in politics, “everyone” is a loaded term. Stars as ubiquitous as Beyoncé have haters, the “albino alligators” who “Formation” informs us she twirls upon. And in a more general historical sense, “everyone” can be a dangerous illusion that elevates one point of view as universal while minimizing others. Beyoncé gets all of this, it seems. As a pop star, she surely wants to have as broad a reach as possible. But as an artist, she has a specific message, born of a specific experience, meaningful to specific people. Rather than pretend otherwise, she’s going to make art about the tension implied by this dynamic. She’s going to show up to Super Bowl with a phalanx of women dressed as Black Panthers.
Most people in the U.S. believe their country is going to hell. But they’re wrong. What a three-year journey by single-engine plane reveals about reinvention and renewal.
When news broke late last year of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, most people in the rest of the country, and even the state, probably had to search a map to figure out where the city was. I knew exactly, having grown up in the next-door town of Redlands (where the two killers lived) and having, by chance, spent a long period earlier in the year meeting and interviewing people in the unglamorous “Inland Empire” of Southern California as part of an ongoing project of reporting across America.
Some of what my wife, Deb, and I heard in San Bernardino before the shootings closely matched the picture that the nonstop news coverage presented afterward: San Bernardino as a poor, troubled town that sadly managed to combine nearly every destructive economic, political, and social trend of the country as a whole. San Bernardino went into bankruptcy in 2012 and was only beginning to emerge at the time of the shootings. Crime is high, household income is low, the downtown is nearly abandoned in the daytime and dangerous at night, and unemployment and welfare rates are persistently the worst in the state.
Humbled by his struggling presidential campaign, can the once-mighty New Jersey governor vault back into contention after Saturday’s debate?
SALEM, New Hampshire—Chris Christie was accustomed to being a big man: a man of stature, a man of power, a man who demands and gets his way.
But recently, the big man (this is a description of his personality, not his size) was seeming awfully small.
On Friday evening here, the governor of New Jersey was desperately trying to talk some sense into the people of New Hampshire, a couple hundred of whom had come out to see him on a snowy night. The night before, Christie’s rival Marco Rubio had played the same venue, filling a larger room of the elementary school beyond its capacity. Christie was begging the crowd not to pile on the bandwagon of the apparent winner, but instead, to show some courage.
Will the Democratic Party nominate a candidate who hasn’t been a member of their party, and who has long denounced it?
When a party chooses its presidential candidate, it also chooses its party leader in the election. This year the Democrats face an unusual situation. Bernie Sanders isn’t just an outsider to the party establishment; he’s not even been a member of the party, and has long excoriated it in unsparing language. Although the media haven’t much focused on this history, the early signs suggest it could become a problem for Sanders in getting the nomination—and a problem for the party if he does get it.
According to the entrance polls at the Iowa caucuses, there was a 30-percentage-point split between self-identified Democrats and independents in their support for Sanders. Hillary Clinton won 56 percent of self-identified Democrats but only 26 percent of independents, while Sanders won only 39 percent of Democrats but 69 percent of independents.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
For decades the Man of Steel has failed to find his groove, thanks to a continual misunderstanding of his strengths.
Superman should be invincible. Since his car-smashing debut in 1938, he’s starred in at least one regular monthly comic, three blockbuster films, and four television shows. His crest is recognized across the globe, his supporting cast is legendary, and anybody even vaguely familiar with comics can recount the broad strokes of his origin. (The writer Grant Morrison accomplished it in eight words: “Doomed Planet. Desperate Scientists. Last Hope. Kindly Couple.”) He’s the first of the superheroes, a genre that’s grown into a modern mass-media juggernaut.
And yet, for a character who gains his power from the light of the sun, Superman is curiously eclipsed by other heroes. According to numbers provided by Diamond Distributors, the long-running Superman comic sold only 55,000 copies a month in 2015, down from around 70,000 in 2010—a mediocre showing even for the famously anemic comic-book market. That’s significantly less than his colleague Batman, who last year moved issues at a comparatively brisk 150,000 a month. Mass media hasn’t been much kinder: The longest-running Superman television show, 2001’s Smallville, kept him out of his iconic suit for a decade. Superman Returns recouped its budget at the box office, but proved mostly forgettable.2013’s Man of Steel drew sharp criticism from critics and audiences alike for its bleak tone and rampaging finale. Trailers for the sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, have shifted the focus (and top billing) to the Dark Knight. Worst of all, conventional wisdom puts the blame on Superman himself. He’s boring, people say; he’s unrelatable, nothing like the Marvel characters dominating the sales charts and the box office. More than anything, he seems embarrassing. Look at him. Truth? Justice? He wears his underwear on the outside.
A photo series reveals what expectant mothers in various countries bring with them to the hospital.
For most expecting mothers in the Western world, a hospital bag is something that makes the birthing process marginally more comfortable. You’ve just brought a new being into the world; you deserve to wear your own sweatpants.
But in some parts of the world, hospitals are so bare-bones that women in labor must tote everything with them, from rubber gloves to water pans to gauze.
To draw attention to the difficulty of giving birth in regions where water is scarce, the organization WaterAid recently dispatched photographers to ask expecting and brand-new moms in various countries to open up their hospital bags. Here are their photos, as well as lightly edited interviews with the moms conducted by WaterAid.