When the People's Republic begins its once-per-decade power handoff tomorrow, here's where to find clues as to the country's future.
Now that the U.S. election is behind us, time to turn to the next most important political transition in years: the Chinese Communist Party's 18th Congress. Seventeen congresses have gone by and hardly anyone has paid much attention, including most Chinese themselves. This time is a little different.
Beyond the usual pageantry and effusive praise of the CCP record since the time of Chairman Mao, surrounding this congress is a great deal of intrigue. For starters, consider the characters in the drama, which has become ripe for the kind of meme-worthy moments that marked the American election. Will Premier Wen Jiabao unexpectedly stray from his script and make a spirited denial of his family wealth? (What is your effective tax rate, premier?) Will we play a drinking game for every time Hu Jintao says "scientific development" or "harmonious society" during his speech? Will Bo Xilai photo-bomb the entire show? Will there be a sartorial rogue that dares to stride onstage in a silver suit and yellow tie? (I hear Zhang Dejiang's got quite the wardrobe).
Silliness aside, this question will be most important of all: what will be at stake for China's political and economic future?
If we're looking for compelling answers, we likely won't find them in Chinese rhetoric. American politicians tell stories; Chinese politicians wade through turgid theoretical treatises. The stilted and robotic nature of Chinese political discourse stands in stark contrast to President Obama's soaring speeches. But for the CCP and Chinese in general, politics and language are so deeply linked that understanding political rhetoric is crucial.
Take this excerpt of a speech I translated that was given by the outgoing president, Hu Jintao, in July this year. Dubbed the "7.23" speech for the day it aired, it is now getting prime real estate on the official 18th party congress coverage sites, implying its significance in shaping the backbone of Hu's legacy. In it, the terms "unwaveringly" appears three times and has since been turned into a political neologism along the lines of "three unwavers". For students of Chinese modern history, this follows in the footsteps of the "two whatevers" of Hua Guofeng, the once-designated successor to Mao Zedong. It was a formulation meant to defend the path Mao laid out for China, even after his death. As history would have it, Mao lost and Deng Xiaoping won. Hu said:
Socialism with Chinese characteristics is the banner of contemporary China's progress, and is also the banner under which a united Communist Party and nation strive for. We must unwaveringly maintain socialism with Chinese characteristics, based on the important thought guidance of Deng Xiaoping theory and Three Represents and the thorough implementation of the Scientific Development Concept. We must firmly grasp our work and the urgency of execution, so that over the next five years, we can decisively plant the foundations for realizing our objective of comprehensively building a moderately well-off society by 2020; and that by mid-century, we will have fully achieved socialist modernization.
We must unwaveringly walk the correct path that has long been paved by the Communist Party and Chinese people through practical experience, no matter the fear of risks and no matter the temptation to stray. Thought liberalization remains the ultimate powerful intellectual weapon that promotes the party's and the people's unfinished enterprise. Reform and opening up has always been, and continues to be, the powerful driving force for the development of the party and Chinese people. We must unwaveringly push forward reform and opening up, never becoming rigid, never stagnant. Unite all strength that can be united, muster all positive factors that can be mustered, and brim with confidence to overcome all challenges and risks in the road ahead.
May Confucius bless you, and bless the People's Republic of China.
Okay, so I made up the closing sentence, but the rest is authentic Chinese-politics speak. There will be seven more days of this, and I am ready. You should be too.
The political event formally begins on November 8 and is expected to last about a week, at which time the main event will take place: the official unveiling of China's new leaders. Over the course of the week, I will be providing regular updates on the congress, so keep an eye on this space.
Damien Ma is a fellow at the Paulson Institute, where he focuses on investment and policy programs, and on the Institute's research and think-tank activities. Previously, he was a lead China analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk research and advisory firm.
We're all going to die and we all know it. This can be both a burden and a blessing.
In the heart of every parent lives the tightly coiled nightmare that his child will die. It might spring at logical times—when a toddler runs into the street, say—or it might sneak up in quieter moments. The fear is a helpful evolutionary motivation for parents to protect their children, but it's haunting nonetheless.
The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised parents to indulge that fear. “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?”he wrote in his Discourses.
Some might say Epictetus was an asshole. William Irvine thinks he was on to something.
“The Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be,” he says. “You’re supposed to allow yourself to have a flickering thought that someday you’re going to die, and someday the people you love are going to die. I’ve tried it, and it’s incredibly powerful. Well, I am a 21st-century practicing Stoic.”
People look to Amy Schumer and her fellow jokers not just to make fun of the world, but to make sense of it. And maybe even to help fix it.
This week, in a much-anticipated sketch on her Comedy Central show, Amy Schumer staged a trial of Bill Cosby in “the court of public opinion.” Schumer—her character, at any rate—played the role of the defense. “Let’s remind ourselves what’s at stake here,” she argued to the jury. “If convicted, the next time you put on a rerun of The Cosby Show you may wince a little. Might feel a little pang. And none of us deserve that. We don’t deserve to feel that pang.”
Her conclusion? “We deserve to dance like no one’s watching, and watch like no one’s raping.”
Ooof. This is the kind of thing that gets Inside Amy Schumer referred to as “the most feminist show on television,” and her act in general called, in a phrase that reveals as much about her craft as about Schumer herself, “comedy with a message.” But while Schumer’s work is operating at the vanguard of popular comedy, it’s also in line with the work being done by her fellow performers: jokes that tend to treat humor not just as an end in itself, but as a vehicle for making a point. Watch like no one’s raping.
For those who didn't go to prestigious schools, don't come from money, and aren't interested in sports and booze—it's near impossible to gain access to the best paying jobs.
As income inequality in the U.S. strikes historic highs, many people are starting to feel that the American dream is either dead or out of reach. Only 64 percent of Americans still believe that it’s possible to go from rags to riches, and, in another poll, 63 percent said they did not believe their children would be better off than they were. These days, the idea that anyone who works hard can become wealthy is at best a tough sell.
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.
The danger of uploading one’s consciousness to a computer without a suicide switch
Imagine a supercomputer so advanced that it could hold the contents of a human brain. The Google engineer Ray Kurzweil famously believes that this will be possible by 2045. Organized technologists are seeking to transfer human personalities to non-biological carriers, “extending life, including to the point of immortality.” My gut says that they’ll never get there. But say I’m wrong. Were it possible, would you upload the contents of your brain to a computer before death, extending your conscious moments on this earth indefinitely? Or would you die as your ancestors did, passing into nothingness or an unknown beyond human comprehension?
The promise of a radically extended lifespan, or even immortality, would tempt many. But it seems to me that they’d be risking something very much like hell on earth.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life. We've grown more adept at shaping these underground shelters and passages over the millennia, and today we dig for hundreds of reasons. We excavate to find both literal and cultural treasures, digging mines and unearthing archaeological discoveries. We use caverns for stable storage, for entertainment, and for an effective shelter from natural and man-made disasters. And as the planet's surface becomes ever more crowded, and national borders are closed, tunnels provide pathways for our vehicles and for smugglers of every kind. Collected below are more recent subterranean scenes from around the world.
What it’s like to watch a komodo dragon get dissected
Try to imagine how hard it would be to skin a Komodo dragon.
It is harder than that.
The problem is that the giant lizard’s hide is not just tough and leathery, but also reinforced. Many of the scales contain a small nugget of bone, called an osteoderm, which together form a kind of pointillist body armor. Sawing through these is tough on both arms and blades.
I’m at the Royal Veterinary College, about 20 kilometers outside of central London, watching four biologists put their shoulders into the task. A Komodo dragon, which recently died in London Zoo for unexplained reasons, lies on a steel gurney in front of them. Their task, over the next three days, is to dissect it and measure all of its muscles. So, first, the skin must come off.
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
Along with the Nancy Drew series, almost all of the thrillers in the popular teenage franchise were produced by ghostwriters, thanks to a business model that proved to be prescient.
In the opening pages of a recent installment of the children’s book series The Hardy Boys, black smoke drifts though the ruined suburb of Bayport. The town's residents, dressed in tatters and smeared with ash, stumble past the local pharmacy and diner. Shards of glass litter the sidewalk. “Unreal,” says the mystery-solving teenager Joe Hardy—and he's right. Joe and his brother Frank are on a film set, and the people staggering through the scene are actors dressed as zombies. But as is always the case with Hardy Boysbooks, something still isn’t quite right: This time, malfunctioning sets nearly kill several actors, and the brothers find themselves in the middle of yet another mystery.
A song from 2011 is causing controversy now, proving how slowly the genre’s attitudes about women are evolving.
The rapper Action Bronson, whose major-label debut came out recently, is mostly known for his love of food, his large frame, and the fact that he sounds so much like Ghostface Killah that even Ghostface Killah gets confused sometimes. He will likely now be known by more people for one particular lyric of his, due to a headline-making petition asking Toronto’s NXNE music festival to kick the artist off the bill because, in its words, he “glorifies gang-raping and murdering women.”
The lyrics in question come from the 2011 song, “Consensual Rape,” which has a verse that mentions giving a girl MDMA and then having very rough sex with her. The petition also calls out a 2011 music video that portrays Bronson happily disposing of a woman’s corpse.