On April 15, 2010, on the 21st anniversary of former Party Secretary Hu Yaobang’s death, Premier Wen Jiabao published an essay to eulogize his former mentor in the People’s Daily. On April 15, 1989, the death of this foreign-minded general secretary of the Communist Party famously touched off the student demonstration of that year. It is a highly-emotional essay, which recalls a trip he took to Guizhou in 1986 with Hu Yaobang, a good friend of his that he worked with and admired. He particularly emphasizes Hu’s qualities, especially the populist rhetoric that he learned and now applies. In today's episode, we first visit this speech and ask what it really tells us about the political landscape in China. Does it telegraph an ongoing rift between a “populist” faction headed by Wen Jiabao, Hu Jintao, and Li Keqiang and a competing “princeling” elite represented by Xi Jinping?
Early in the morning of April 14th, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake leveled roughly 90 percent of the buildings in Yushu County in southern Qinghai Province. So far more than 2000 people are now reported dead, and practically the entire population of the affected area is living in tents or in temporary housing. Qinghai, and particularly this area of Qinghai, is heavily Tibetan. This dimension of the quake as well as Beijing’s handling of the rescue have become part of the focus of the story. Is the ethnic dimension of the rescue overplayed by Western media? Do encounters between Tibetan monks and Chinese government officials demonstrate tension or a successful relationship? How does the government’s ability to deliver disaster relief relate to the historical concept of the Mandate of the Heaven?
Joining Kaiser Kuo this week are Gady Epstein, Beijing bureau chief for Forbes magazine and Guardian correspondent Tania Branigan, fresh back in Beijing after a reporting trip to the remote earthquake region and with a first-hand account of the rescue efforts there. We're also joined by Jeremiah Jenne, Dean of Chinese Studies at the IES program in Beijing, who helps put both events in historical perspective. You may know Jeremiah as Qing historian and author of the blog Jottings from the Granite Studio.
Returning to Xingyi, Remembering Hu Yaobang, by Wen Jiabao
After Quake, Tibetans Distrust China’s Help, by Andrew Jacobs
Robert Barnett on the Qinghai Earthquake, by the China Beat
This week, Kaiser Kuo hosts a discussion about China's best-known gadflies: writer and auto racer Han Han, and artist-cum-activist Ai Weiwei. The former writes one of the most popular blogs in China with over 300 million hits, and was recently shortlisted for Time's 100 Most Influential People. The latter is a leading visual artist and has been vocal on a number of social issues, including the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project.
Joined by Austin Ramzy, Beijing-based correspondent with Time magazine, and Will Moss, public relations expert and author of the blog Imagethief, we talk about who both of these public figures are and why they have gained so much attention both inside China and in the foreign press. We also look at how both are perceived domestically and abroad, discuss why they have not been silenced the way other equally vocal critics have been, and ask if it even makes sense to speak of them in the same breath.
We also have contributions from Charlie Custer, publisher of the translation blog China Geeks, and Gady Epstein, Beijing bureau chief for Forbes magazine, who remembers his first interview with Han Han back in December 2002.
Following this, we close with a quick discussion of the Wangjialing mine flood, focusing on the official handling of the rescue where 115 out of 153 workers trapped in the flooded mine shaft were spectacularly rescued. Although to a government that was strung with bad news and negative PR as a result of mining industry safety failures, the fact that the rescue turned out to be a successful one was a real gift. On the flip side, did the Chinese government market the story to the domestic media too hard? How do we compare this with the mine disaster in West Virginia that happened roughly at the same time?
Han Han: China's Literary Bad Boy, by Simon Elegant
My Pen Pal Han Han, by Raymond Zhou
China and West Virginia: A Tale of Two Mine Disasters, by Austin Ramzy
While Western countries prepare for tougher sanctions at the UN against Iran regarding its nuclear development, China is reluctant to impose any further sanctions, intensifying the tension between Beijing and Washington. However, increasing signs, including Hu Jintao’s upcoming visit to Washington to attend the nuclear summit, have shown that China may be preparing for an about-turn on Iranian sanctions. Indeed, China is in a tough spot in this situation as Iran has always been its important strategic partner and oil provider. Through delicate maneuvering in the Middle East, China is undoubtedly maximizing concessions from both Iran and the West.
Scandal broke out last month involving a number of deaths in Shanxi and Jiangsu among infants and toddlers that appear to be related to bad vaccinations. The crisis was eventually attributed to the private companies that take over the vaccines through local health administrations. How the government will manage this situation, coming after the melamine crisis, is still waiting to be seen.
In this week’s installment, host Kaiser Kuo discusses these two issues with Bill Bishop, a tech entrepreneur and blogger at DigiCha.com and Sinocism.com, and William Moss, who writes the blog imagethief.com. How should we interpret China’s signs of willingness to support sanctions on Iran over nuclear weapons development? Will the vaccination scandal become another melamine crisis, or does evidence point to this blowing over quickly?
The Iran Nuclear Issue: The View from Beijing, by Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt
The Race for Iran blog
The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, by Robert Baer
In this inaugural episode, Kaiser, Jeremy, and Bill Bishop sit down to discuss the landscape surrounding Google’s pullout in China. They seek to answer: What exactly happened earlier this week with Google's inaccessibility? Does Yasheng Huang have the right take on their pull-out of China, or is Tania Branigan from the Guardian more on the money? What are the consequences for Google's future in Asia, and what does any of this mean to the average Chinese user?
The song used in the show is an excerpt from “The Huntsman” (猎人 lièrén) from Chunqiu’s (春秋 chūnqiū; Spring and Autumn) first and eponymous album. Both song and album are available on iTunes.
Bill Bishop is among the most recognizable China-watchers in the business. His long-running Sinocism newsletter is an essential resource for serious followers of China policy, and he is regularly quoted in a variety of major news outlets reporting on China.