Archive for March, 2008

24
Mar
08

Habitually Bad Tempered (Pain Enough To Make A Shy Bald Buddhist Reflect And Plan A Mass Murder)


According to Xinhua, these men carry no lethal weapons, and sometimes are forced to act in self-defense against Buddhist monks who attack them without provocation.

Judging from the reaction, the last fairly sarcastic entry about the Tibetan crisis was well-received. To be honest, I didn’t really know how else to respond. While my methods of circumnavigating the Great Firewall would’ve allowed me to respond pretty much anyway I wanted, for some reason, it seemed very apropos, given the media clamp-down, the ridiculously bad propaganda and PR, and my own inability to directly express my frustration with that situation.

One thing seems pretty obvious about the situation that I should say straight up front. I have no doubt that there are probably more than a few incidents where ethnic Tibetans, who might otherwise be criminals or thugs, took advantage of the situation to engage in all kinds of melee, vandalism and other crimes. Analogous, perhaps, to the Rodney King riots of LA, even if you bought the full story about the grievances of rioters, it wouldn’t exactly explain why people felt the need to steal stereo equipment, TV’s, car stereos, and so forth. Closer to the truth is that in situations of civil strife, all kinds of bad actors come out of the woodwork to enjoy the havoc and even profit from it.

But the problem here is that by forbidding foreign journalists from Tibetan cities, and putting forward such a ridiculous line for foreign journalists about the “terrorist Dalai clique” secretly manipulating the unrest, it gives us foreigners reason to suspect the absolute worst. Given that this is hardly the first time that China had something to hide, and that it subsequently went to great lengths to keep anyone from finding out, it suggests to outsiders that the Tibetans are being brutally victimized by the Chinese, and black and white hats are assigned accordingly. As a friend of Allison’s pointed out, if you seek to hide something, you should only do it if the truth is far worse than anything your critics can imagine, since otherwise the truth is usually nowhere nearly as bad.

In many other ways, it strikes me that China is shooting itself in the foot over these protests. They seem to have a conception of “saving face” and maintaining one’s international reputation that emphasizes superficial imagery – clean streets, smiling citizens, and conspicuous wealth consumption. As is typical for a police state, the idea that their reputation might be considerably improved by something not 100% under their direct control, like a non-violent protest decrying their treatment of Tibetans, Uyghurs, or practitioners of Falun Dafa, is foreign to them. So rounding up dissidents and, increasingly, the homeless of Beijing, to keep the city looking nice and civilized, makes sense. But in this, they confuse the ends with the means, and think that people will only care about the ends – that being, in this case, President Hu Jintao’s much ballyhooed “harmonious society.” In the west, of course, such protests are non uncommon, and since they are free, interestingly enough, they usually don’t receive much attention and certainly typically don’t accomplish much more than preaching to the converted. But a protest in a police state, being such a rarity and being a cause so easily to identify with the liberalism and democracy of the west, is viewed with sympathy and awe. A westerner cannot help but feel, justifiably, a kind of solidarity with protesters like the Tank Man, and now with the monks being prosecuted. Beijing may be able to engage in enough crackdowns to ensure the peacefulness of the grave throughout China and Tibet, but it’s not like the outside world will be blind to how that was accomplished, and would probably prefer some of the “chaos” that might be invited by tolerance of peaceful assemblies and petitions of grievances.

Instead, China’s government has been able to do nothing more than engage in more preposterous propagandist stuff that virtually no one outside China who has access to a free media will take seriously. Consider this example:

Ethnic Han Chinese were the real victims of the Tibetan riots, the Beijing authorities say, and its security forces will respond severely. This month’s riots were the most intense in 20 years, shaking Lhasa and surrounding areas and leaving Beijing to repair the worst damage to its public image since the tanks rolled in central Beijing in 1989, massacring pro-democracy activists.

“Evidence shows that the violent incidents were created by the ‘Tibet independence’ forces and masterminded by the Dalai Lama clique with the vicious intention of undermining the upcoming Olympics and splitting Tibet from the motherland,” thundered an editorial in the People’s Daily yesterday.

The Dalai Lama – who this weekend was in Delhi for a meditation workshop that the actor Richard Gere was due to attend – denies he incited the riots. Last week the Nobel Peace Prize winner suggested he might resign over the unrest, which goes against his professed policy of trying to find a peaceful way of gaining more autonomy for Tibet. He also says he supports the Beijing Games.

Indeed, the Dalai Lama has actually alienated many of the younger generations of Tibetans who do favor outright independence, and urge international boycotts of the Olympics. (Curiously, I’ve yet to hear a peep from all of those pro-Palestinian groups who urge divestment from Israel suggesting the same for China. Interesting, that.) The notion that he secretly is organizing these riots is too ridiculous to merit rational consideration – it’s just as likely that the violent riots were organized by the Chinese government itself to bring ill-repute to Dalai Lama supporters. By which I mean, not that I think that happened either, but that such a suggestion has about as much rational basis as the suggestion that this is all the Dalai Lama’s doing. It has been pointed out, though, that there is some method to the propagandists’ madness. That while it may not be scoring too many points in the court of international opinion, that it may be doing itself well in the eyes of ethnic Han in the mainland. The propaganda here actually showed some moments and incidents where Chinese soldiers appeared to lose control of the situation, which helped fuel the topsy-turvy perception of Chinese soldiers being the victims of thuggish Tibetan monks. As such, even if there were a free press in Shanghai or Beijing, and free polling, support for the Chinese government’s efforts to re-establish control, even by brutal methods, would probably find wide support.

Still, by all appearances, the Chinese government seems to think that its techniques will quell international critics, which is a senseless belief if true, and shows that it has a lot to learn about how PR works in the west. But probably a better example is what the Chinese government mouthpieces have said about Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She’s not one of my favorite people, but this is just silly, even as an attempt at slander:

The official Xinhua New Agency, meanwhile, published a commentary bashing Pelosi, a fierce critic of China who on Friday visited the Dalai Lama at his headquarters in India, where she called China’s crackdown “a challenge to the conscience of the world.”

Xinhua accused Pelosi of ignoring the violence caused by the Tibetan rioters. “‘Human rights police’ like Pelosi are habitually bad tempered and ungenerous when it comes to China, refusing to check their facts and find out the truth of the case,” it said.

“Her views are like so many other politicians and western media. Beneath the double standards lies their intention to serve the interest groups behind them, who want to contain or smear China.”

Yes, because Speaker Pelosi and western politicians sympathetic to Tibetans, presumably also including President Bush, who presented the Dalai Lama with a Congressional Medal of Honor, have nothing better to do with their time than consider ways to deal with their habitually bad temper than by picking on poor old mainland China. Pity the Chinese government, the victim of so much international ill-will and hostility! And then we get the classic Chinese response to criticism of human rights violations, the ever popular Argumentum ad Hominem Tu Quoque. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, if China finds itself criticized for human rights violations, this will be the response: “Well, you violate rights in the US, Iraq, etc., so shut up about Tibet, Darfour, Xinjiang, etc.!” It doesn’t quite successfully refute the charge, but that’s a common sentiment here.

And consider the grave insult dealt to mainland China by well-known international provocateur Björk, who performed in Shanghai shortly after the beginning of the Tibetan crisis. Apparently, just before she performed her song “Declare Independence,” from her new album Volta, she uttered one word which hurt the feelings of all 1.3 billion mainland Chinese. That one word being: “Tibet!”

Not surprisingly, China, which has exercised a controversial rule over Tibet for 58 years, took offense to Björk’s remarks. According to an Associated Press report, the Chinese Ministry of Culture released a statement late last week claiming Björk’s Tibet shout-out “broke Chinese law and hurt Chinese people’s feelings.” The report suggests China– where even a Dirty Three show can result in a riot– intends to “be stricter on foreign performers” following the Björk incident.

Granted, it may have been one word, but it was in a pretty obvious context, in a song urging that people should “not let them do that to [them],” and respond by raising their flags from the highest mountains, making their own currency, etc. Still, the idea that most Chinese even know who Björk is, and really give a flying flip what she thinks of Tibet, suggests either that Xinhua’s grasp on reality is weak, or that the mainland Chinese are seriously way too sensitive.

So, what do I think about Tibet? Well, I think Ayn Rand’s “Global Balkanization” very successfully argues that there is no right to declare independence as such. It’s not enough for a people to think they have a right to their own country merely because they really want one, especially if their own rationale is based in something collectivist, like the desire to oppress a particular minority without external interference, like the Confederacy in the Civil War, or because they themselves have a distinct ethnic identity, like the Basque separatists of Spain.

However, the Tibetans, like the Turkic Uyghurs of the northwest of China, do have more than adequate legitimate grievances against the Chinese government justifying a pursuit of independence, preferably one that could be pursued by non-violence civil disobedience. Any social contract that may have existed between the Tibetans and Beijing was violated almost from the day that the first Chinese soldiers entered the region to “liberate” it in 1950. The trouble with civil disobedience, of course, is that while historically it’s been quite successful against liberal democracies like the US and Britain, it has a troubled record at best against police states like China. If the government you’re struggling against has no conscience, no compulsion against coming in an executing everyone who dissents, civil disobedience may accomplish little more than making it easier for the police or army to round people up for another round of executions resulting in bills for the bullets used for the shootings being sent to the families.

And it also depends on what kind of government the Tibetans want. If they want a strong, western-style secular free-market democracy, with robust constitutional protections for minorities, then they have my blessings. But if they want the chance to reestablish a feudal theocracy with the Dalai Lama on top, then at that point you’re just considering which would be more tyrannical. Then, I’m not taking sides between degrees of bad. But this also implies that Beijing could take actions to make itself worthy of being the legitimate Tibetan government. That is, if Beijing were to do as the Dalai Lama has urged, grant the Tibetans more real autonomy, freedom of speech, of peaceful assembly, and so forth – hell, maybe it could grant these things to all Chinese citizens? – and perhaps some things like no taxation without representation, there would be no need, and no reason, for an independence movement. These should only be considered as last resorts, when it’s obvious that the tyrannical government is incapable or unwilling to change its ways.

My earnest hope for China is that it can take this latter path, given the bloodshed and suffering that would accompany any struggle for independence. China deserves a lot of credit for how much it has reformed since the days of Mao and the Cultural Revolution, when my ability (as a foreigner or as a native) to sit in a western-style coffee shop and type these words for publication on the internet (albeit via a circumnavigation around the Great Firewall) would’ve been unthinkable. This was a place where the government has allowed Santa Claus and Col. Sanders to replace images of Mao, which despite calling itself Communist is increasingly functionally capitalist. And all within a generation. If it is capable of such rapid change, even if only out of the naked self-interest of its leaders wishing to retain power, then perhaps this kind of change is not out of the question. For its part, Taiwan’s people have long said that they would be happy to rejoin the mainland if Beijing were to embrace a constitutional democratic, multi-party system, so this could go a long way to resolving that problem and any other lingering ethnic conflicts by removing the grounds for such conflicts.

I don’t expect this to happen tomorrow, or in a year, or in five. But my hope is that this year’s experiences – and believe me, this crisis is only the beginning, as every group in China with a grievance will come out of the woodwork as the Olympics approaches – will at least give the leadership brass some pause. They can then see that its current system is not sustainable, and that the best way of dealing with dissent is by given dissidents avenues of peaceful expression to blow off their steam. Otherwise, they’ll keep having stuff like this blow up in their faces, and just get indignant about conspiratorial Buddhist monks and bad tempered, ungenerous human rights police, instead of actually solving the problem.

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17
Mar
08

No Thugs In Our House, Are There Dear? We Made That Clear

So by now, some of you may have heard about unrest occurring in Lhasa, Tibet, and other nearby provinces with large Tibetan populations. What I want to say that, at least of the western media I’ve read on the topic (since a lot of it is strangely inaccessible this week – purely a coincidence, as I’m sure the Chinese government has nothing to hide), is that I can’t believe that the agents of the Dalai Lama clique have so effectively pulled the wool over the eyes of everyone outside of China.

What people don’t seem to understand is that even though they have an entirely different language, culture, religion, dominant ethnic group and until 1950, a different government, Tibet has always been an inseparable part of China. What could be more plain and obvious than that?

And naturally, what’s with this whole idea that the Dalai Lama is a man of peace? The deluded world out there gave him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, when really, unjustifiably, great peacemakers like Mao, Deng, Jiang and most recently Hu Jintao continue to be snubbed. Well, world, we all know the truth now. He claims he wants peace, but the truth is that the Dalai Lama would like nothing better than for the streets to run red with blood, to disrupt the Olympics, and drive a knife into China to carve out a personal little dictatorship for himself.

Anyway, if you want to know the truth, the best source of information about China, or about Tibet, is the Xinhua website, the official news source provided by the Chinese government and Communist Party to set the record straight. I might especially recommend especially this article, with the headline, “Dalai coterie’s secessionist attempts doomed to fail.” This article reveals that it’s actually valiant, non-violent Chinese troops – brothers, husbands, and fathers, we’re told – who are suffering at the hands of thuggish Tibetan Buddhist monks, on the direct orders of their terrorist leader, the Dalai Lama. Why, it seems that several monks even cut themselves up with knives, so as to make the soldiers look bad! The nerve! As the article points out:

In the shocking degree of cruelty which local Tibetans said they had not seen in their whole lives, “brutal” was an understatement of the true picture, but the word was only reserved for the mob, and not for the policemen. Throughout the incident, Lhasa police officers exercised great restraint. They remained patient, professional and were instructed not to use force. In humanitarian spirit, they even rescued the malicious monks who attempted sensation through hurting themselves. But such restraint was met with even more malice.

The article is great in that it shows how objective reporting should be done. Take the conclusion:

All these facts have come to say and will continue to prove that the Dalai group’s ill-willed attempts to destabilize Tibet, in whatever forms, will not succeed, since such efforts go against the popular will of the international community and 2.8 million people in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Clearly! The international community, as the article stresses, unanimously understands that Tibet is part of China, just as much as East Turkestan Xinjiang and Taiwan. And more over, as they’ve frequently expressed in regularly-held, free, multiparty elections, all 2.8 million Tibetans have expressed their will repeatedly that they are happy to be part of China, and that the fact that all political power in the region is held by the local Communist Party chairman, who by sheer coincidence has consistently been a Han Chinese from outside Tibet since its “liberation” in 1950, is perfectly fine by them. They’d far rather allow all that messy political decision-making be handled by Beijing-appointed leaders, so they can stick to herding their yaks. This is what it means to share in the beautiful vision of a “harmonious society,” as envisioned by the great, wise leader of all of China, President Hu Jintao, who, by the way, cut his teeth on political leadership by once holding chairing the Chinese Communist Party’s Tibet branch. And what better authority on the matter than the local puppet leader of Tibet, the Beijing-appointed Qiangba Puncog? He may not have any real political power, but surely he has his fingers on the pulse of the Tibetan people.

Chairman Puncog, I should mention, sets my mind at ease. I don’t think we have to worry about any brutality from the Chinese troops there when he mentions, for example, that “[N]obody in our law enforcement teams carried or used lethal weapons all the time.”

And the charges of “rule of terror” and “cultural genocide” are so absurd that the Chinese government shouldn’t even dignify them with comments, much less all anti-Chinese foreigners and human rights activists to poke around Tibet to investigate. Xinhua has already done a fine job in refuting these charges, by observing the great lengths the Chinese government has gone toward preserving several major historical and cultural sites.

[Director of the Standing Committee of the Tibetan Regional People’s Congress Legqog] said the Tibetan culture has thrived, quite contrary to the so called “cultural genocide.”

“There were 161 cultural sites in Tibet, including 35 on the list of state-level protection. We have 1,700 well-protected temples. Monks and the public enjoy full religious freedom,” Legqog said (presumably also referring to the well-known freedom Tibetan Buddhists enjoy to openly display photographs of the Dalai Lama).

You see? How could a cultural genocide be falling upon the Tibetans if their relics are being carefully preserved by archaeologists? Just as great cultural sites belonging to groups like the Anasazi, the Cathaginians, the Babylonians, and Philistines have kept those cultures alive and well today, surely the Tibetans will thrive for generations to come as a result of the careful preservation of their artifacts.

I also had a thought. If the Tibetans are having economic troubles, perhaps they could arrange to solve any foot shortages caused by the uprisings by eating babies?

(By the way, have I mentioned that from what Allison tells me, Chinese culture doesn’t really get satire or sarcasm? Chinese humor tends to emphasize slapstick instead. So something written in sarcasm might not be understood as such.)

07
Mar
08

Your Papers Please, Or, No, Your Home Is Not Your Castle!

Just in case you had begun to forget that China is still a totalitarian police state…

Yesterday morning, I was recovering from a marathon writing session I undertook as a quick job for ¥2,000 (about $300). I had written a report explaining the state of China’s current legal code and enforcement (or lack thereof) of intellectual property rights. This was sort of a Tom Sawyer fencing painting thing, in the sense that my employer was basically paying me to research and write on a topic I had been planning to research anyway for a possible submission to The New Individualist. But because this paper was very different from a philosophy paper in terms of how much research it required, it took a surpringly long time to put it together – about a week to do the actual writing.

So there I am, after a well-deserved night’s rest, finishing off my breakfast, when I get a knock at the door. And there are standing a man and a woman, apparently working for the police. I’m not sure they were actual police officers, since their uniforms didn’t look like the more fascist-looking uniforms most cops here wear. But they did have fancy ID tags with them, and I could tell by their demeanor that these weren’t salespeople or Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Not that JW’s are likely to be legal here, but you get my point.)

Already a little intimidated, I ask, “Ni huiswa yingwen ma? (Do you speak English?)” The guy just glances at his partner, and shakes his head no. Crap. I could make out from them that they wanted to see some paperwork of mine, and it seemed to me pretty likely that this would probably be the official form I filed with the police when I first moved into my apartment. Whenever you live somewhere in China, before you even spend the night there once, you’re supposed to file with the police. It’s supposedly for your own safety, but I gather that it’s more so that it’s easy for the police to find people.

They looked that form over, and still seemed to want more paperwork. So I got the only other paperwork I had – my passport with visa, and the contract I signed with my landlord. It turns out that it was the latter they wanted. They kept pouring over those documents, and it was clear that they weren’t entirely satisfied. Since Allison still isn’t back from her trip to Hong Kong and Macau, and she’s out of calling range as long as she’s there, the only thing I could think to do is call my landlord, who, as I may have mentioned, speaks fluent English as well as her native Chinese. I explained the situation to her, and handed the phone over to the police-guy. Some bantering back and forth. I don’t know if it’s just me, but as a non-speaker, I have to say that Chinese speakers often sound like they’re very angry with each other when they speak back and forth to each other. Allison tells me that they’re not, but it often sounds that way to my ear. The look on the guy’s face didn’t suggest anger, but the tone of his voice did.

But after they spoke, he handed the phone back to me, and Mara (my landlord) assured me that nothing was wrong. Apparently, a lot of people live in flats in this apartment complex who haven’t properly registered, and these guys are just going around checking into it. I think this is kind of plausible, if only because so many flats here are used for businesses and storage. It probably wouldn’t be hard to make some arrangement for someone to live in a flat that, on the police’s files, is actually a place just being used to store computer merchandise.

The thing is, I wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t answered the door. Would they have simply moved on to the next flat? Did they have the means or ability, legal and otherwise, to force the door open? Or would they have simply returned with someone who did? I doubt that they actually need a warrant here. I imagine it might’ve depended on whether they could’ve told if anyone was inside. Unless I scrupulously kept my lights off and never played music or anything, and never rose to answer the door whenever someone knocked, I think it would be kind of hard to pretend no one lived here.

Still, I kept wondering all day – unless you’re a felon on parole, or a convicted sex offender, would anyone in the US be subjected to something like this? It was fairly perfunctory, true, and they at least gave me time to put on my pants before coming in. I may not speak Chinese, but they didn’t know that, and in any event I can tell that they didn’t ask permission to come inside. Once I opened the door to see who they were and what they wanted, they waltzed in. In retrospect, that’s kind of scary. Well, I suppose it beats how things were here 25 years ago or so, but that’s cold comfort.

02
Mar
08

Communists, Dumplings, Chicken Killing: How to tutor English in Beijing

Since I’m supposed to be working on research regarding Chinese IP law and enforcement (or lack thereof), I haven’t been all that great about blogging this last week, and as it is, I should keep this as brief as I can. I wasn’t even going to post again for another day or two, since I wanted to get this particular project over and done with. But I just experienced something quite odd, and I thought I should write down my thoughts while they were still fresh.

Tonight, I visited the home of the 16 year old student that I am being paid ¥150/hour (about $23/hour) to speak English with, and otherwise tutor for English. The girl herself is bright, inquisitive, and her English, though needing a lot of help, is already well-developed enough such that I can speak with her with little difficulty if we keep things simple, and I speak slowly. She’s into Anime, so I’ve already given her an assignment to write an essay about her favorite Anime series. I suppose you could say things were odd enough that I was invited, as a complete stranger, into her family’s home to tutor her in her bedroom. I think that people in China don’t seem to be as worried about sexual aggressors as people in America – that is, an American family in a similar circumstance would’ve demanded that we leave the door open, or that we work in the living room, or some such. I’m told that many tutors actually have the students come to their homes to work. Odd from an American perspective, perhaps, but not so odd as such.

I should mention, by the way, that by Chinese standards, and possibly even by American standards, this family is quite wealthy. After I met this girl about two weeks ago, Allison noted that she had to be in order to afford this tutoring agency, and to have braces. Sure enough, her home is quite large by Beijing standards, and offers a stunning view of the city from the 18th floor of an apartment building. It seems the father is a doctor specializing in kidney ailments, of all things. They had a lot of great art throughout their home, a piano, a plasma TV, and… two daughters. I don’t know what to make of that, but I suspect that unless they once lived in the countryside, where families are allowed to try for kids a second time if their first child is a girl, that they must have been wealthy enough to pay whatever fines come with breaking the one-child policy.

But things got really weird with dinner, that is, when I started getting to know the rest of the family. The father is pretty cool, as far as I can tell, and speaks very good English. He may have studied medicine in the west, as many here do. Dinner consisted of mostly of dumplings, and also of these weird raw vegetables that I was told are related to carrots, deep fried tofu and strawberries. A very tasty meal, to be sure, and I was amused that they seemed surprised that I knew how to use chop sticks. I think they expected me ask for a fork and knife, but not necessary. I’ve gotten to be quite handy with the chopsticks.

The family, like many Chinese families, has the girls’ grandfather living with them. He spoke no English, which wasn’t surprising. He seemed like a very nice old guy, definitely up there in years, but alert enough to still be a cute old man. He wore this very nice red silk outfit, the kind that is supposed to be expensive to get tailor-made. More about him in a moment.

As the meal was winding down, we were talking about some relatives they have who live in the countryside, and from whom the family gets their chicken meat. They asked me if I’d be weirded out if someone were to bring a live chicken inside and kill it by snapping its neck. I thought they were kind of kidding, or perhaps alluding to what they experienced when they visited their relatives. But no. It turns out that this family actually has a storage room where they keep live chickens, and they brought out three chickens into the kitchen where, I assume, they were killed. Chickens are surprisingly loud, I learned, and definitely don’t appreciate being manhandled and killed with someone’s bare hands. They explained that they keep their own chickens because they are concerned about pollution getting into chicken meat. Only by raising their own do they have any certainty about that kind of thing. I didn’t literally see the chickens being killed, but I saw the chickens being brought alive into the kitchen, heard them screeching, and saw one of them being hung upside down, with some splatters of blood, gone limb. Curiouser and curiouser. Fortunately, I don’t think I looked horrified or anything. I believe my attitude was closer to a kind of raised-eyebrow-amusement than anything else.

Then there’s the sweet old man, Nicole’s grandfather. (Nicole’s her English name). He seemed to like me, or perhaps took in some amusement over my look of surprise. During the meal itself, he would occasionally motion toward me with his hands, making sure that I got plenty of dumplings, and finally strawberries at the end of the meal. After we were done eating, Nicole wanted to show me the rest of the apartment, and some of the things she was most proud of – her piano, this stringed-instrument thing she says is only played by 200,000 people, a population that’s dwindling. And her hedgehogs. She also played the stringed-instrument, and the piano for me – songs she said are from an Anime, one from a movie I actually recognized, Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that she sort of has a crush on me, or at least really wants to impress me.

Just as I was thinking that I’d be able to make a graceful exit, and just as her father sort of said that it was time for me to go, her grandfather wanted me to see some things of his. Okay, I thought. I learned that though he is retired now, his career was, get this, in politics. In particular, he was some sort of ranking member of the Communist Party, enough to have that as his job. The thing he wanted to show me as a very lovely photograph that Nicole had taken of him with all of his medals. One, I was told, was for his military service in World War II, for fighting against the Japanese. Another, I was told, was for his service during the war with the KMT, culminating in Mao’s seizure of power in 1949. Another was for 60 years of service to the Communist Party.

Now, how does one handle something like that? Particularly when one is about as hardcore a laissez-faire capitalist as myself, and who believes Mao to be one of the evilest men in history, guilty of mass murder on a scale dwarfing even that of Hitler’s, only on par with Joseph Stalin himself? I did my best to sort of smile and stay polite – I’m employed by this girl’s parents, and whatever ideological delusion the man was under, whatever crimes he might’ve been guilty of himself, he was a very old man not far from death. And I did not wish to generate any trouble for this family or myself. I sort of said that it was impressive, and left it at that.

But that wasn’t the end of it. The last thing he wanted to show me was this elaborate and fancy piece of Chinese calligraphy framed in the family’s living room, the kind that looks like a very professional Chinese calligraphist produced. That, I was told, was produced by none other than Chiang Kai-shek’s younger brother! WTF?! It seems that Nicole’s grandfather knew him, and was on friendly terms with him. Through Nicole’s translation, it sounded like he was saying that he didn’t hate the KMT so much as he just hated Chiang. He didn’t even dislike his brother, he explained, he just hated Chiang. I don’t know if this means that he was a less than committed Communist or follower of Mao, but I did take note that Nicole, at least, emphasized that she had no desire to become a member of the Party or any party. Perhaps there’s a streak of political independence in this family, despite the grandfather’s odious background.

I only saw medals for WWII and the Chinese Civil War, but there’s no telling what his level of involvement or support for other projects might’ve been. My mom’s father served as a medic in the Pacific theater in WWII, so at one point, I had a member of my family fighting on the same side as he. (Sort of – depending on who you read, there’s some indication that although the Communists were supposed to be cooperating with Chiang and the KMT as a united front, Mao weaseled his units out of any serious fighting against the Japanese, leaving Chiang’s Nationalists to bear the brunt of all the losses of blood and treasure against them. By the time the fighting was over, the KMT’s units were severely weakened, and Mao’s Communists were rested and ready. It was not too long after victory over the Japanese that the Communists resumed their insurgency with greater vigor than ever before, and successfully drove Chiang and the KMT off to the former-Japanese colony of Taiwan. But I digress.) My father’s father, though, served in Vietnam. And though the Chinese weren’t directly militarily involved, it’s clear who they were rooting for. How awkward it might be, I thought, if Nicole’s grandfather were to ask me about my own grandfathers’ military service.

All in all, Nicole seemed very happy with our conversation practice, and I’m sort of looking forward to learning more about contemporary Anime. That’s the other thing. I thought I was pretty well versed on some of the major Anime out there, but the thing I kept running into with Nicole was that she kept saying that the ones I knew were too old, and before her time. She didn’t know anything about Neon Genesis: Evangelion, Lain, or most of the Miyazaki films I mentioned. Since these were mostly from the 90’s, this made me feel quite old. I was just getting used to having students too young to remember the 80’s, and now this? And of course, that’s only going to get worse.