Artifice and pageantry were roundly mocked online.
The political event opened yesterday as more than 2,000 delegates from across the country filled the cavernous Great Hall of the People. The keynote was President Hu Jintao's final major political report, a speech that dragged on for 100 minutes with colorless recitation, though he reportedly went off script a few times. The address itself, which many have already analyzed, I will get to later. First, the stagecraft.
For every major Communist Party occasion, most of all the congress, several set pieces must be present: podium wrapped in flowers, minorities in their ethnic garb, sprinkling of female delegates, sleeping octogenarians, and bored leaders. The congress' opening ceremony did not disappoint on any of these fronts.
Podium with flowers!
Minorities AND women!
Courtesy of the China Media Project, those images of former President Jiang Zemin wishing he were somewhere else became an instant Internet meme. It was of course also swiftly taken down by the censors after appearing on Weibo.
I don't blame him. It was just as soul-crushing watching the live stream of the speech. And judging by the flood of Chinese reporters who rushed out of the event and fought over the prepared transcripts suggests that many in that hall weren't paying much attention, either. In fact, the scene inside the hall was reminiscent of a typical undergraduate class in a Chinese university, where students are falling asleep or texting. No matter, the professor marches on.
So what was the general reaction then?
Here I turn to Helen Gao, who used to blog on China on this very site but has since returned to Beijing (and who also supplied some of the above photos). She sent me some dispatches after having endured the CCTV wrap-up of the event. Other than the usual endless shots of the panoply of leaders, the broadcast just happened upon "a delegate named Guo Mingyi who, with red eyes and glasses pushed to his forehead, said that he finished listening to the report with tears in his eyes." Surprising given that Hu is one of the most emotionless Chinese leaders in recent memory.
The official Weibo account of the state-run People's Daily was also busy tweeting political neologisms to capture the ideological essence of the Hu report:
--"eight upholds": must uphold the primary position of the people; must uphold the liberalization and development of society's productive forces; must uphold reform and opening up; must uphold the protection of social fairness and justice; must uphold walking down the path of common prosperity; must uphold the promotion of social harmony; must uphold peaceful development; must hold the party's leadership.
--"five in one": comprehensively integrate building economy, building political system, building culture, building society, and building ecological soundness into a unifying arrangement (very Confucian).
--"four senses": strengthen the sense of urgency; strengthen the sense of innovation; strengthen the sense of purpose; strengthen the sense of mission.
The official tweets' earnestness sounded nothing like what actual Chinese people were tweeting during the event. Here's a sampling of the snark:
Laoxushiping: Watching the 18th PC live on TV,
and seeing so many energetic-looking leaders with sleek, dark hair sitting on
the stage strategizing China's
future, how could I not be confident?
imported hair product, consuming special food and breathing filtered air, they
are elite human beings indeed! I am absolutely confident.
Yamoli: What brand of
hair dye do you think the high majesties use? I also want it, but doctors say
they may contain cancer-causing elements. Why are the high majesties not
No sartorial rogue to be found here, though Wu Bangguo -- the head of the National People's Congress and fourth from the left -- has decided to take his chances with a blue tie. The pageantry's self-seriousness drew mockery from ordinary Chinese, especially now that the Chinese public can easily compare it to the projected images from the just-concluded U.S. election. Indeed, President Obama's victory remained the leading trending topic on Weibo yesterday -- not the congress.
But do not fear, following the Scientific Development Concept will lead to splendid achievement for China, as one People's Daily editorial breathlessly proclaimed. Indeed, unwaveringly pursuing socialism with Chinese characteristics is the only course for China, as Hu reiterated again, echoing themes that he affirmed in July. The only problem is the Chinese public no longer has any idea what socialism with Chinese characteristics means nor how to follow it.
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.
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.
On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.
The results of the referendum are, in theory, not legally binding.
Lest we think the Euroskepticism displayed this week by British voters is new, let me present a scene from the BBC’s Yes, Minister, a comedy about the U.K. civil service’s relationship with a minister. The series ran from 1980 to ’84 (and, yes, it was funny), at a time when the European Union was a mere glint in its founders’ eyes.
The Europe being referred to in the scene is the European Economic Community (EEC), an eventually 12-member bloc established in the mid-1950s, to bring about greater economic integration among its members.
In many ways, the seeds of the U.K.’s Thursday referendum on its membership in the European Union were sown soon after the country joined the now-defunct EEC in 1973. Then, as now, the ruling Conservative Party and opposition Labour, along with the rest of the country, were deeply divided over the issue. In the run-up to the general election the following year, Labour promised in its manifesto to put the U.K.’s EEC membership to a public referendum. Labour eventually came to power and Parliament passed the Referendum Act in 1975, fulfilling that campaign promise. The vote was held on June 5, 1975, and the result was what the political establishment had hoped for: an overwhelming 67 percent of voters supported the country’s EEC membership.
The city is riding high after the NBA final. But with the GOP convention looming, residents are bracing for disappointment.
Cleveland’s in a weird mood.
My son and I attended the Indians game on Father’s Day, the afternoon before game seven of the NBA Finals—which, in retrospect, now seems like it should be blockbustered simply as The Afternoon Before—when the Cavaliers would take on the Golden State Warriors and bring the city its first major-league sports championship in 52 years.
I am 52 years old. I’ve lived in Northeast Ohio all my life. I know what Cleveland feels like. And it’s not this.
In the ballpark that day, 25,269 of us sat watching a pitcher’s duel, and the place was palpably subdued. The announcer and digitized big-screen signage made no acknowledgement of the city’s excitement over the Cavaliers. There were no chants of “Let’s Go Cavs,” no special seventh-inning-stretch cheer for the Indians’ basketball brothers, who play next door in the Quicken Loans Arena, which in a few weeks will host the Republican National Convention.
The June 23 vote represents a huge popular rebellion against a future in which British people feel increasingly crowded within—and even crowded out of—their own country.
I said goodnight to a gloomy party of Leave-minded Londoners a few minutes after midnight. The paper ballots were still being counted by hand. Only the British overseas territory of Gibraltar had reported final results. Yet the assumption of a Remain victory filled the room—and depressed my hosts. One important journalist had received a detailed briefing earlier that evening of the results of the government’s exit polling: 57 percent for Remain.
The polling industry will be one victim of the Brexit vote. A few days before the vote, I met with a pollster who had departed from the cheap and dirty methods of his peers to perform a much more costly survey for a major financial firm. His results showed a comfortable margin for Remain. Ten days later, anyone who heeded his expensive advice suffered the biggest percentage losses since the 2008 financial crisis.
American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth.
As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”
The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.
In support of women in leadership and media, I’ve taken a pledge not to appear on all-male panels. Mostly.
In 2012, Democratic activist Gina Glantz attended a political panel at Harvard, a post-mortem of the just-completed presidential campaign. The moderator and panelists were all men. “It just sent me over the edge,” she said.
To Glantz, 73, the lack of diversity was unforgivable. Where was Beth Myers, one of Mitt Romney’s closest advisers? Where was Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s friend and top aide? Where was Gwen Ifill, co-anchor and co-managing editor of PBS NewsHour?
For the love of God, she thought, where are the ladies?
That question led her to a cause that she calls “GenderAvenger,” an online community of men and women determined to diversify the public square. Glantz writes on the site:
A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.
On a humid afternoon this past November, I pulled off Interstate 75 into a stretch of Florida pine forest tangled with runaway vines. My GPS was homing in on the house of a man I thought might hold the master key to one of the strangest scholarly mysteries in recent decades: a 1,300-year-old scrap of papyrus that bore the phrase “Jesus said to them, My wife.” The fragment, written in the ancient language of Coptic, had set off shock waves when an eminent Harvard historian of early Christianity, Karen L. King, presented it in September 2012 at a conference in Rome.
Never before had an ancient manuscript alluded to Jesus’s being married. The papyrus’s lines were incomplete, but they seemed to describe a dialogue between Jesus and the apostles over whether his “wife”—possibly Mary Magdalene—was “worthy” of discipleship. Its main point, King argued, was that “women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’s disciples.” She thought the passage likely figured into ancient debates over whether “marriage or celibacy [was] the ideal mode of Christian life” and, ultimately, whether a person could be both sexual and holy.
Patrick Griffin, his chief congressional affairs lobbyist, recalls the lead up to the bill’s passage in 1994—and the steep political price that followed.
For those who question whether anything will ever be done to curb the use of military grade weaponry for mass shootings in the United States, history provides some good news—and some bad. The good news is that there is, within the recent past, an example of a president—namely Bill Clinton—who successfully wielded the powers of the White House to institute a partial ban of assault weapons from the nation’s streets. The bad news, however, is that Clinton’s victory proved to be so costly to him and to his party that it stands as an enduring cautionary tale in Washington about the political dangers of taking on the issue of gun control.
In 1994, Clinton signed into law the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, placing restrictions on the number of military features a gun could have and banning large capacity magazines for consumer use. Given the potent dynamics of Second Amendment politics, it was a signal accomplishment. Yet the story behind the ban has been largely forgotten since it expired in 2004 and, in part, because the provision was embedded in the larger crime bill.
The Republican candidate is deeply unpopular, and his Democratic rival is promoting her own version of American nationalism.
American commentators have spent the weekend pondering the similarities between Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and America’s impending vote on whether to take leave it of its senses by electing Donald Trump. The similarities have been well-rehearsed: The supporters of Brexit—like the supporters of Trump--are older, non-college educated, non-urban, distrustful of elites, xenophobic, and nostalgic. Moreover, many British commentators discounted polls showing that Brexit might win just as many American commentators, myself very much included, discounted polls showing that Trump might win the Republican nomination. Brexit may even result in the installation this fall of a new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, who is entertaining, self-promoting, vaguely racist, doughy, and orange. It’s all too familiar.
How the Brexit vote activated some of the most politically destabilizing forces threatening the U.K.
Among the uncertainties unleashed by the Brexit referendum, which early Friday morning heralded the United Kingdom’s coming breakup with the European Union, was what happens to the “union” of the United Kingdom itself. Ahead of the vote, marquee campaign themes included, on the “leave” side, the question of the U.K.’s sovereignty within the European Union—specifically its ability to control migration—and, on the “remain” side, the economic benefits of belonging to the world’s largest trading bloc, as well as the potentially catastrophic consequences of withdrawing from it. Many of the key arguments on either side concerned the contours of the U.K.-EU relationship, and quite sensibly so. “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” was, after all, the precise question people were voting on.