The (Apparent) Return of Xi Jinping, Plus West Coast Live Update

I have been either traveling to meet people to interview, or interviewing them, for the past 60 hours, and therefore not in a position to weigh in on political, global-disruption, tech-world, or China-related themes. Thus a brief placeholder entry on several points:

1) Apparently Xi Jinping, the successor-presumptive to Hu Jintao as president of China, has finally been seen, in person, after two weeks of totally unexplained absence from scheduled events and regular news coverage. It's good to know that Mr. Xi is apparently not dead, suffering from a stroke or heart attack, or otherwise physically removed from the political playing field -- as many Chinese and international observers have wondered with increasing urgency through each passing Xi-free day. According to the official news agency Xinhua, here is how the hale and cheerful Xi looks as of September 15, 2012, on "Science Popularization Day." That's him in the zipped-up black jacket, in the foreground second from right.


As I start looking I see dozens and dozens of essays on what it means for the most populous country on Earth, with the world's second-largest economy, that its presumed successor-to-power could vanish for nearly two weeks with no official word on what had become of him. I hope to get back to these. For now, please check an essay in the FT by Jonathan Fenby, and this in the WSJ, and, with a different tone, one in Beijing Cream. Most FT articles are paywalled, and if you don't read the full thing here is a sample of Fenby's case:

[W]hen something like Mr Xi's absence comes up, a tidal wave of speculation ensues, underlining how little the Chinese people are told about how their nation is really run. That further undermines trust in the authorities, which affects everything from food safety to official corruption....

The opacity of the system is such that no date has been announced for the party congress. When it is held, voting for the politburo by the central committee will be secret. We do not know if the standing committee is to be reduced from nine to seven members or whether Hu Jintao, the outgoing party secretary and state president, will hang on to the third highest-ranking job, chair of the military commission....

Secrecy may be par for the course in China, but it is increasingly unhealthy for a country where social change is a far greater challenge to the political status quo than calls for democracy.

2) Boiled frogs: They're not just for the Anglosphere any more. Wang Yang is the Communist party boss of Guangdong province, center of China's outsourcing industry, who was often seen as a rival to the now-cashiered Bo Xilai. This week he wrote an essay explaining to his countrymen why it could sometimes be difficult to take the necessary steps toward political reform. A good way to think of the problem, he explained, was to imagine a frog placed in a pot of lukewarm water...

If you've ever wondered how to write "boiled frog" in Chinese, here you go: 煮青蛙. You're welcome. Here is the original article in Chinese, with the headline below:

汪洋称不改革就像温水煮青蛙 等清醒已无出路

Here is a translation of the central point by reader WY [this WY is different from Wang Yang]:

"Wang Yang said that everyone who is unwilling to try, who is unwilling to make a thrilling leap are just like a frog that boils when the temperature of the water is not high. If we wait for sober action, then there will already be no way out. Wang Yang stressed that reform is the fundamental way out. Facing the difficulties of reform, we shouldn't be afraid of any risks, confused by any obstructions, but must continue with utterly fearless courage on the path of socialist market reform, and not at all waver from our advances on every kind of reform."

3) West Coast Live. I've mentioned before, starting six years ago, how much I love and admire the public radio show West Coast Live, produced from San Francisco with host Sedge Thomson. And now that I check, I see that I said something similar two years ago.

I am delighted to say that tomorrow morning -- Saturday, September 15 -- I'll be on the show again, from San Francisco. If you're at the SF Ferry building on the Embarcadero, I'll see you there. Otherwise, please listen!

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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