Happy Easter

He is risen. He is risen indeed!

That is the traditional greeting of Christians to one another on Easter throughout the world, and I am grateful that I can live in the US, where freedom of assembly and freedom of worship are rights guaranteed to citizens. We just got home after attending the Easter service at our church – and I didn’t have to get permission from the government to attend whatever church I like.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in China. If a Christian in China (and there are many) wants to attend a church, he or she must register with the government and may only go to a government-approved church. Today (well, yesterday now in China), the government arrested Christians just for attending an unregistered church near Beijing, showing once again just how intolerant, corrupt, and fearful the CCP truly is. What astounds me is that the CCP, whose leaders are generally pretty smart people, does not seem to understand that these violent and oppressive measures against peaceful people just add fuel to the fires of discontent and dissatisfaction.

I am afraid for the future of China, if the people finally have had enough of the CCP’s corruption and brutality. I am afraid for my friends there – could they end up in a bad situation if widespread, massive protests erupt? I will be praying for China on this Easter.

Posted in China, Chinese Culture, Chinese Politics | 1 Comment

Guzheng Rocks!

One of the great things about learning the Chinese language and studying the country and the culture is that I often am so surprised by how much I love something I unexpectedly encounter.

Among the first things that fascinated me about China was the writing. Before I started studying it, like probably most Americans, Chinese writing looked like gibberish. It was hard to fathom that people could actually read it. Now that I know more about it, though, I think it is beautiful and amazing – even though it is still really difficult.

But one thing that has surprised me even more is that I really like some Chinese music. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the modern Chinese popular music is just plain bad – terrible imitation rap, vapid love songs, and so on. But some Chinese music is incredibly moving and heartfelt, playful, powerful.

I think my favorite of the Chinese traditional instruments is the “guzheng” – a type of Chinese zither. It has an incredible range and is amazingly expressive. Traditional guzheng music is beautiful, but I am also amazed by how good it sounds in modern arrangements, paired with other traditional Chinese instruments and with Western instruments. One of my favorite musicians recently is Chang Jing (常静). She is enormously talented (and quite beautiful, too).

Listen to this guzheng/piano piece with her and Canadian pianist David Braid, and this New Age piece by Chang Jing called “Breathe” (sorry that the video quality is pretty bad). Maybe you will be surprised, too!

Posted in Chinese Culture | 1 Comment

Not Much

Well, I haven’t had a lot to say lately and not much time to write. I have been very busy at work. I am hoping to begin work on a new project soon that might be pretty interesting, so I have had to spend quite a bit of time over the past few days coming up with a basic project plan and estimates, so that we can get funding for the project. I had to fill out a couple of forms to document the plan and estimates, so our vice president can then sign off on the project funding.

One thing that has me a little excited: our company is working on a couple of things that could lead to opportunities to go to China for me. At this point, nothing is definite at all, so I won’t count my chickens before they are hatched, but I would really love to be able to work in China for a while. An assignment for even two or three months would really be so cool, but there would be logistics at home to work out. Being gone for that long would be a challenge for my family, but I would jump at the chance to go back to China again.

One more thought: please continue to pray for Japan and help as you are able. The disaster there is still taking a terrible toll.

Posted in China, Disaster in Japan | 2 Comments

Feeling Discouraged

One thing about learning Chinese is that, for me anyway, it often throws me for a loop. Just when I start to feel like I am making some progress – perhaps even getting pretty good at it – something happens that makes it unequivocally clear that I really don’t know Chinese at all.

I had one of those experiences last night when I started to do my homework for the week.

For this level (Integrated Chinese, Level 1 Part 2) I bought the audio CD’s so that I could listen to the dialogues and vocabulary. The textbook dialogues are written out in the textbook, so I can read along and follow them, but the workbook dialogues are not written out. I just have to listen to the CD and then answer the questions in the workbook, based on what is said in the dialogue.

So yesterday I started in on the homework, feeling pretty good about myself. Then I got to the part where I am supposed to listen to the workbook dialogue and answer the questions. I put the CD into my CD drive, fired up Media Player, and listened to the dialogue – and I couldn’t understand one thing. Well, that’s not strictly true. I got “ni hao.” I felt a little panicked at that point. I should be able to do this! I listened to it again. I paused the audio, backed up, listened again. And again. And again. After listening maybe twenty times or more, I kind of got the gist of what was being said, but I still can’t understand every word and get the details. Wow. I’ve put in so many hours studying, and I still can’t understand this simple dialog. It’s discouraging.

Not long ago, I read Tom’s post over at Seeing Red in China titled “It’s Easy to Learn Chinese – Really.” He said (in a comment to the main post) that for him reading and writing are more difficult than speaking and listening. For me, it is just the opposite. I can read and write some Chinese now (writing is definitely harder, especially just remembering how to write characters without any reference), but speaking and listening – especially listening – are really hard. I try to translate in my head as the speaker is talking, so I get lost. On top of that, about half the time, maybe more, I just don’t hear the word correctly. I get “ji” confused with “zhi,” “xi” confused with “shi,” “qi” confused with “chi” and on and on. I don’t hear the tones correctly, so then I don’t know if the speaker means “那”or “哪,” “十”or “是”or “事.” I should be able to tell from the context, but I’m not there yet. Chinese has so many homonyms, and when I hear a word, every possibility runs through my head – was it this, that, what? I think if I am ever going to be able to learn how to understand spoken Chinese, I am going to have to listen to a lot of dialogues, starting from the simplest. I clearly don’t have the listening skills now to jump in at the Level 1, Part 2 dialogues and understand them – but I will get there.

Posted in Chinese Language | 2 Comments

A Couple of Things

First of all, I hope everyone will continue to keep Japan in your thoughts and prayers. Donate to a relief agency to help out, if you have the resources. From the things I am reading, it sounds like the situation continues to be very, very dire. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes and are living in shelters, it’s cold, food and fuel are difficult to get, and on top of all of that, the nuclear plants are proving to be a huge problem. The impact to Japan’s economy, and therefore to the world’s, will be huge – and all of this at a time when the whole world’s economy is struggling.

I have to say that I am dismayed (if not disgusted) by the lack of leadership that the USA has shown, both in this crisis and in the Middle East. I don’t really want to make this a political blog, but our current administration is not distinguishing itself. Remember the “wake up call at 3:00AM advertisements?” Well, neither our President nor our Secretary of State are impressing me with their handling of these crises.

Anyway, one of my classmates in my Chinese class is Japanese, and is living in Seattle working for a seafood trading company. We are all supporting him, but I can see that this affects him. He seems embarrassed at all of the trouble, though none of it is his fault nor the fault of the Japanese people. Please do what you can to support Japan, which has been a close friend and ally of the US for many years now.

Speaking of our Chinese class, the second thing I wanted to mention is that our class has “graduated,” so to speak. We are now moving on to Integrated Chinese, Level 1 Part 2. If we can finish this whole book, it will be the equivalent of one year of college-level Chinese. I’m nowhere near fluent, but I have really enjoyed learning to read, write, speak, and understand this fascinating language!

Posted in Disaster in Japan

Puff, the CCP’s Magic Dragon

In my previous post, I pointed to an article on Xinhua in which some party officials were calling for the “spread” of democracy in China. After reading that article, I felt somewhat encouraged that perhaps China’s political future was heading in the right direction.

Today, Tom over at Seeing Red in China wrote an article that has me feeling less encouraged. He points to some statements by high level CCP officials stating things like “[o]n the basis of China’s conditions, we’ve made a solemn declaration that we’ll not employ a system of multiple parties holding office in rotation” and that there is “[no] possibility of separating executive, legislative and judicial powers, adopting a bicameral or federal system…”

Wu Bangguo, the chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, was the one making those statements, so they presumably carry the weight of the CCP leadership behind them.

In my previous post, I said, “[t]here is a good chance that the Xinhua article is just a propaganda puff piece to improve the CCP’s international image.” Despite that possibility, I was hopeful. Today, I would have to say it was just propaganda, as I feared.

The CCP’s continual fear-mongering is really getting old and tiresome. Said Wu:

If we waver (from the correct political orientation and major issues of principle, such as the fundamental system of the State), the achievements gained thus far in development will be lost and it is possible the country could sink into the abyss of internal disorder.

When will the CCP learn? If they don’t reform, they all but guarantee the “abyss of internal disorder” that they say they fear so much. The corruption inherent in the structure of their government ensure that the people will eventually have had enough. How can people so (justifiably) proud of their history be so ignorant of one of its major lessons? The CCP very well might become one of China’s shorter “dynasties.”

Posted in Chinese Politics | 2 Comments

Direct Elections in China?

I’ve claimed in a couple of my posts here that eventually political reform will happen in China, but that it will take time. I ran across this article on Xinhua, “Chinese villagers make bold attempts at democracy,” which seems to support what I think will happen.

I believe that the CCP leadership wants to introduce political reform gradually, so as to prevent bloody uprisings of the kind we have seen in the Middle East. They value “stability and a harmonious society” almost above all else (second only, perhaps, to maintaining CCP power). So, I think that we will see the CCP gradually allow more direct elections and democratic reform, so long as the power of the CCP is not threatened.

So what does this mean?

I think that we will see elections first in rural areas, in small villages – which is what the Xinhua article says has been happening for a while now (I had heard of this before).

Since December 1998, villagers of Buyun Township, in southwest China’s largely rural Sichuan Province, have elected magistrates to manage township affairs and assign resources.

The 1998 township election in Sichuan was a landmark in Chinese direct elections, although at a grassroots level.

 Now, I doubt very much that the candidates in these elections were independent in any meaningful way. I am near certain that they were vetted by the CCP leadership in that area and were not members of any independent political party or organization. But this does seem to be part of a pattern followed by the CCP leadership – they will allow for “experiments” with different policies in some places, and then monitor the results to see if that policy could be applied on a larger scale. In this case, it appears that these village experiments in direct democracy have been deemed at least somewhat successful, since it appears that the CCP leadership is making way for more direct elections. From the Xinhua article: 

BEIJING, March 12 (Xinhua) — Outspoken but under-educated villagers gathered courage to speak out over who could be elected as village leaders and how village budgets should be allocated.

The rights to make such bold moves, attempted in various Chinese villages, were ensured by the People’s Republic of China Constitution as well as “a complete set of types of laws.”

Wu Bangguo, China’s top legislator, said during the annual legislative session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) that the world’s most populated country had enacted 236 laws, over 690 administrative regulations and more than 8,600 local statutes by the end of 2010.

Nearly 3,000 lawmakers discussed how to effectively broaden democracy during the ongoing Fourth Session of the 11th NPC. (emphasis mine)

So, I expect that we will see direct elections spread to more villages and then larger townships in China, starting in those places where the CCP leadership is more “progressive.” It is doubtful that independent parties or candidates will play any meaningful role in these elections for quite a while (and, yes, I am aware that China does technically have independent parties, but they aren’t truly independent and exist only as long as they don’t challenge the CCP).

There is a good chance that the Xinhua article is just a propaganda puff piece to improve the CCP’s international image. Nevertheless, I see it as remarkable.  An official newspaper of the CCP is openly calling for democracy to grow in the People’s Republic. The closing paragraph of the Xinhua article:

The Sichuan and Zhejiang democracy attempts have demonstrated the country’s resolve in heading for democracy. It still takes time and practice to know about its value, observers said.

I hope that this article in Xinhua is more than just talk and that the CCP will allow real reforms, so that the Chinese people can realize the political freedom that I believe all people want.

Posted in China, Chinese Politics | 1 Comment

Giant Earthquake in Japan

I saw on the news a few minutes ago that a very large earthquake has struck Japan (8.9 on the Richter scale). My prayers are for Japan now, that death, injuries, and damage are minimal. Also, prayers that tsunamis won’t hit other parts of the world. There are tsunami warnings around the Pacific rim right now, including for Hawaii.

Posted in Disaster in Japan

So, Just How Worried is the CCP?

I ran across this Associated Press article on Yahoo News this morning, “China paper blasts Middle East protest movements.” According to the AP article, the Beijing Daily editorial said “The vast majority of the people are strongly dissatisfied (with the protests), so the performance by the minority becomes a self-delusional ruckus…” It seems like a bit of an over-reaction by the CCP to me, so I dug up the original article on Beijing Daily, “自觉维护社会和谐稳定” and spent some time translating it. Now, my translation skills are not that good, but with the help of my Oxford English-Chinese electronic dictionary, I can understand what the original Chinese says. It’s clear that the AP’s characterization of the article is accurate. I believe that this is the part of the Beijing Daily article that they have quoted (in translation): “广大群众对此强烈不满,少数人的表演只能成为一场自编自演的闹剧…” I would translate it as “The vast majority of the people are strongly/intensely dissatisfied/resentful of the protests, so the performance of the few protesters can only become a self-invented, self-performed farce…” After that it says, “一些满以为可以在中国制造和寻找中东式新闻的人,最后只能落空。” I would translate this as, “There are a few people looking for and thinking they can manufacture news in China like what is happening in the Middle East, but in the end it will only amount to nothing.”

Well, as far as the protests amounting to nothing, I think it is probably correct, but not for the reasons that the author of the Beijing Daily says. I think it is more likely that the Chinese people mostly: 1) still remember what happened the last time there was a large-scale protest in Beijing, and so 2) just want to avoid politics and live their lives in as much comfort as they can.

Eventually, there will be political reform in China, but I think it is going to take some time. Nevertheless, the CCP is clearly worried about the possibility of the kind of mass movements like are being played out in the Middle East happening in China. Otherwise, they wouldn’t need to denounce them so strongly in one of their mouthpiece newspapers.

Is there more going on in China than is apparent right now?

Posted in Chinese Politics | 4 Comments

你的脑子有问题吗?

So, in my Chinese class last night, our teacher had us role-play as shopkeeper and customer to practice speaking Chinese.  Two of my classmates took their turn, so the one playing the customer pretended she wanted to buy a skirt (裙子). They went through their dialog in picking out the skirt: What color do you like? Do you like this style? And so on. Finally they came to the price. My classmate, being the shopkeeper, said that the skirt is $35.00 USD. (三十五美元). My classmate, being the customer, thought it was too much money for the (imaginary) skirt, so she wanted to bargain. So they went back and forth a bit (of course, we are all laughing and having fun with this), when my classmate (the shopkeeper) said, “This is a nice shop! We don’t bargain here! What is wrong with you!” (This was all in English). So our teacher took that moment to teach us some rude Chinese: “你的脑子有问题吗?” [nĭ de năozi yŏu wèn tí ma?] It means “Does your brain have a problem?” As I understand it (which is not very well), it shouldn’t be used in polite company, but might be appropriate when the taxi driver in Shanghai is trying to cheat you. We all got a good laugh from it, anyway!

Posted in Chinese Language | 2 Comments