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.
“Don’t underestimate me,” declared newly announced presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. That may be good advice.
By conventional standards, Sanders’s candidacy is absurd: He’s not well known, he doesn’t have big money donors, he’s not charismatic, and by Beltway standards, he’s ideologically extreme. But candidates with these liabilities have caught fire before. Think of Jerry Brown, who despite little funding and an oddball reputation outlasted a series of more conventional candidates to emerge as Bill Clinton’s most serious challenger in 1992. Or Pat Buchanan, who struck terror in the GOP establishment by winning the New Hampshire primary in 1996. Or Howard Dean, who began 2003 in obscurity and ended it as the Democratic frontrunner (before collapsing in the run-up to the Iowa Caucuses). Or Ron Paul, who in 2012 finished second in New Hampshire and came within three points of winning Iowa.
What is the appropriate penalty for having sex on the beach? This is a story about how that offense, like so many others, allows a penalty far longer than is just.
Were I a cop who stumbled on a couple hooking up beneath a blanket at night I'd look away. Confronted with people going at it during daylight hours in view of passersby, I'd think, "The abrasiveness of sand dissuades most people from doing this and the best outcome would be for Fark.com to mock their breach of community standards, but I suppose I'm obligated to make them stop and issue a ticket."As a prosecutor, I'd seek a sentence of community service plus one weekend of house arrest with the Jimmy Buffett song "Who's the Blond Stranger?" played on repeat over and over and over. A person never forgets that.
After viewing news photographs from China for years, one of my favorite visual themes is "large crowd formations." Whether the subject is military parades or world-record attempts, mass exercises or enormous performances, the images are frequently remarkable. The masses of people can look beautiful or intimidating, projecting a sense of strength and abundance. Individuals can become pixels in a huge painting, or points on a grid, or echoes of each other in identical uniforms or costumes. I've gathered some of these images below, taken around China over the past several years. (Note: a few of these images can create a dizzying effect when viewed while scrolling, which is fun, but could be surprising.)
The Nobel Prize winner and author of The Grapes of Wrath on the importance of waiting for love
Nobel laureate John Steinbeck (1902-1968) might be best-known as the author of East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men, but he was also a prolific letter-writer. Steinbeck: A Life in Letters constructs an alternative biography of the iconic author through some 850 of his most thoughtful, witty, honest, opinionated, vulnerable, and revealing letters to family, friends, his editor, and a circle of equally well-known and influential public figures.
Among his correspondence is this beautiful response to his eldest son Thom's 1958 letter, in which the teenage boy confesses to have fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan while at boarding school. Steinbeck's words of wisdom—tender, optimistic, timeless, infinitely sagacious—should be etched onto the heart and mind of every living, breathing human being.
Last week, Atlantic coverage was dominated by the dramatic events in Baltimore. Ta-Nehisi Coates lit up the Internet with his controversial take on the rioting in his hometown, followed by a forum at Johns Hopkins University about the broader meaning of the unrest. Conor Friedersdorf frowned at conservatives' response to Baltimore and police brutality in general—though he didn't fail to condemn the rioting as well. Conor also recognized the role that cameras played in the Freddie Gray story, as did Rob Meyer, who offered sound advice on recording cops. David Graham, who has been all over the Gray story, examined how the rioting arose and explored the impact of Twitter. Adam Chandler chased the breaking news while Alan Taylor illustrated the drama with imagery.
Two years ago, a Dutch creative agency opened a concept restaurant in Amsterdam that would be, in the words of its founder, “the perfect place to dine in pleasant solitude.” The restaurant is called Eenmaal—this name has been translated into English as “dinner for one”—and was launched in an attempt to start dissolving the stigma attached to going out alone. Apparently picking up on the same cultural drift, a new fast-casual restaurant in Washington, D.C., has tiered, bench-like seating with individual trays, an arrangement that caters to solo diners.
As antisocial as those ideas may sound, it’s surprising that the world hasn’t seen more of them. Today, more than a quarter of American households are home to just one person—a figure that has tripled since 1970. Also, the median age at which Americans get married has recently reached a record high. Given these demographic shifts, one would think that by now, going out to the movies or to dinner alone wouldn’t be the radical acts they still are.
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.
Marilyn Mosby's press conference Friday shocked residents of Baltimore and everyone else watching protests over Freddie Gray's death. Barely 24 hours after police had completed their investigation into the death of the 25-year-old black man in police custody, the Baltimore City state's attorney announced a strong slate of charges against the six officers involved. It wasn't just the speed (Mosby said her office had begun investigations the day after Gray's arrest, and six days before his death) but the charges: second-degree depraved-heart murder against one officer, with the others facing a mix of manslaughter, assault, misconduct, and false imprisonment.
The decision was met with jubilation in West Baltimore, where protestors had rioted just four nights before. But almost immediately, critics began to second-guess Mosby, who's been on the job for just a few months. Were her charges politically motivated, or perhaps calculated to calm protests? Had she overcharged the officers, picking unfair charges, or ones she couldn't win? Did she move too fast to charge the officers?
The simplest way to reduce the number of Americans who are abused by police officers is not to retrain cops or to reform their subculture. It is to significantly reduce the number of adversarial interactions people have with police.
Questions about how frequently Americans ought to interact with law enforcement are often associated with the debate over Broken Windows theory. Its proponents champion a model of policing where foot patrolmen are a regular presence in high-crime neighborhoods, vigilantly guarding against the sorts of low-level disorder that ostensibly leads to more serious crime if left unchecked.
For now, let's defer debate about Broken Windows theory.
Even if it is correct, there are still a number of reforms that would reduce adversarial contacts with police officers without increasing disorder on the streets.
Two recent events—the spectacle of Garry Trudeau, the Doonesbury creator, attacking a group of murdered cartoonists for offending his sensibilities, and the protest organized by a group of bien-pensant writers against the PEN American Center for planning to honor those cartoonists tonight in New York—have brought the Charlie Hebdo controversy back to public consciousness. So has the failed attack Sunday in Texas on a group of anti-Islam militants staging a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest, though, unlike Charlie Hebdo, the organization that sponsored the Texas event is run by an actual anti-Muslim extremist who, I'm proud to say, is a personal nemesis of mine.
Much has already been written about both the Trudeau and PEN controversies. I particularly recommend David Frum on Trudeau, and Katha Pollitt and Matt Welch on PEN, as well as this fine op-ed by Andrew Solomon and Suzanne Nossel, the president and executive director, respectively, of the PEN American Center. These represent only a handful of the many dozens of writers who have risen in defense of free speech, and of Charlie Hebdo’s right to lampoon religion.