- Pac looks least buzzed here. RT @BeschlossDC: Here Madonna, Sting & Tupac dine in Tribeca, 1994: #Weiss http://t.co/SpRZUGKHZV 4 hours ago
- The Manchu language - in China - is not a dead language. Not yet, at least. From today's @pritheworld, pri.org/stories/2013-1… 5 hours ago
- The Manchus ruled China into the 20th century, but their language is nearly extinct pri.org/stories/2013-1… 9 hours ago
- RT @juliezhu_01: @matthewjbell @pritheworld Most young people speak both Putonghua and their dialect. So communicating is not a problem! 10 hours ago
- RT @pritheworld: Hundreds of millions of Chinese stubbornly resist speaking the 'common tongue': ow.ly/rpWHs 12 hours ago
The lead story today in the China Daily – which no one reads, I’m told, but anyway – is about how ‘going green’ offers loads of money-making opportunities for China and international investors. Prime minister Li Keqiang played this up at a recent meeting with “foreign representatives.” One of those in attendance was Isabel Hilton, who’s pictured in the China Daily photo, (middle row, fourth from the right). She helps run the Chinadialogue website. I had the chance to do an interview with Hilton last week in Beijing, and I’ve posted some of our conversation here.
Ahead of this China trip, I applied for a temporary journalist visa at the Chinese Consulate in New York. It was my third or fourth time going through the process and I have to say it went very smoothly. An official at the consulate asked me at one point, “Your program says Public Radio International, BBC and WGBH?”
“Who do you actually work for, and which organization is in charge?”
Hard to blame him for the confusion. I muddled through a quick explanation of how the unique non-profit public radio system works in America. He still seemed slightly baffled, but then sent me on my way. A couple of days later, I got a call from the same official that everything was set. There was a $140 fee for expedited visa service and I was good to go.
There is, however, a serious problem playing out between China and the foreign news media. The Economist blog has a good explainer here.
A Beijing taxi driver asked me yesterday if I knew about the time foreign soldiers sacked the imperial residence of the Qing, China’s last dynasty. He was referring to an episode in 1860 that happened in Beijing, during one of the Opium Wars, and his question kind of came out of the blue. So, I was rather delighted with myself for being able to bust out my iPhone and show the guy some pictures I’d taken at the Qing Summer Palace the day before. He tried not to let on. But I’m pretty sure he was impressed.
British and French forces unleashed a spasm of destruction on one of China’s most potent national symbols that year. It was meant to teach the Chinese a lesson. They had just taken a group of Anglo-French citizens hostage, torturing some of them, and murdering others. One British officer who took part in the retribution mission at the palace is quoted in the new book, “Wealth and Power,” by Orville Schell and John Delury. He described the scene with horror on a couple of levels:
“You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the palaces we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to burn them; in fact, these places were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully. Quantities of gold ornaments were burnt, considered as brass. It was wretchedly demoralizing work for army.”
Yuanmingyuan’s palace grounds are still quite magnificent. You can buy a ticket and stroll along the same pathways that China’s last emperors presumably did, and take in the graceful views of a park that’s as nice as any you’ve probably seen. For an extra fee, you can see ruins in one section of the park leftover from the attack by western armies. They have been left as ruins, as Schell and Delury put it, “Preserved by the Chinese Communist government, the despoiled palaces remain a glaring showcase of China’s painful treatment by the Western powers, an outdoor museum of victimization.” Visiting this section of Yuanmingyuan costs a small additional fee.
I chatted with one woman talking an evening walk past the tumbled-down monument to China’s imperial past, said she told me she feels heartbroken every time she visits the place, because it makes her think about what foreigners have done to China over the course of history. This is an important lesson that’s long been part of the mythology of China’s ruling party. Starting with Mao Zedong in the 1950s, the Communists have prided themselves as the ones who finally managed to put an end to more than century of Chinese humiliation at the hands of western and Japanese imperialism.
Reporting here over the last week has been a reminder of something I’d sort of forgotten about after spending three years in the Middle East. In contrast to that part of the world, where people can sometimes be so enthusiastic about speaking with a foreign reporter that it can become overbearing, Chinese people – especially when approached in public by a tall white man holding a microphone – are often uneasy to the point of appearing downright terrified. I suspect that regular Chinese folks worry that speaking to a foreign reporter could get them in trouble with the authorities, and doing so is just not worth the risk. It has to be related to the message that Chinese people have been getting from the Party as well. And that is, “beware of foreign intentions.” For its part, China’s government has been making its feelings toward members of the foreign news media pretty clear lately. I haven’t been doing this kind of reporting, but here is an example of how things can get pretty darn contentious.
I’m off to China for a couple of weeks of reporting. It was tough to say bye-bye to the family here in Boston this morning, but I’m pretty excited to be heading out with my recording gear to Beijing and beyond. Lots to do there, of course. If this story continues to have legs, we might have to follow up on it somehow. Beyond that, I’ve got a story list with way too many ideas to get to during this two week window. Bad air is one of them, but it’s not looking too bad today.
11-03-2013 21:00; PM2.5; 11.0; 46; Good (at 24-hour exposure at this level)—
(@BeijingAir) November 03, 2013
I know. I’ve been neglecting this blog terribly. It’s all about recovery, eh?
I came across the photo above randomly. It’s from a Reddit user I’ve gotten in touch with, who says this about the guy with the gun:
Definitely 100% my grandfather I don’t know for sure where this was taken. I asked my dad about it and he’s not sure either. You see, my grandfather and grandmother didn’t want to talk about the holocaust, according to my father it was total taboo to even mention anything about it. All he kept in a little shoebox was some pictures like this one, his writings and recordings in Yiddish which I’m trying to convince my father to listen to (no success yet) and some misc pictures of his family that he managed to acquire after the war.
I emailed the photo to the Holocaust survivor I call “Yossi Cohen” in this radio story. But he didn’t get back to me. Cohen was pretty hesitant to talk with me at all. “We were tough guys back then,” he told me at his apartment in Tel Aviv. At 87 years old, Cohen moves slow and speaks in a soft raspy voice. But I could sort of picture him as a genuine tough guy, if half of what he was saying about the war and its aftermath were true. As a commander with a group of resistance fighters outside Vilnius, Lithuania, for example, Cohen said it was his job to question the people they came across and determine if they were friend or foe. Friends could join the resistance and help fight the Nazis. “But we didn’t have prisons,” Cohen explained. “We didn’t have prisons.” This is what Cohen meant by being a “tough guy.” As an interrogator, his job was to pretty quickly figure out if the people being questioned were lying or not. And if they would be allowed to live.
Finally, here’s a link to the book I mention in the radio story by Jonathan Freedland. It’s written under his pen name, Sam Bourne and titled, The Final Reckoning.
Some fantastic reporting here at the Boston Globe on the two Tsarnaev brothers.
“I used to warn Dzhokhar that Tamerlan was up to no good,” Zaur Tsarnaev, who identified himself as a 26-year-old cousin, said in a phone interview from Makhachkala, Russia, where the brothers briefly lived. “[Tamerlan] was always getting in trouble. He was never happy, never cheering, never smiling. He used to strike his girlfriend. . . . He was not a nice man.”