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ZGBriefs The Weeks Top Picks, December 12 Issue


Top stories from this week's ZG Briefs

The Meaning of Chinas Crackdown on the Foreign Press (The New Yorker)

One of the stories that began to bubble to the surface this past week is the possible denial of visas to reporters from The New York Times and Bloomberg. Reporters in China must have their visas and residence permits renewed on a yearly basis. The visas for reporters from these agencies are due to expire next week. If they are not renewed, then reporters and their families will be required to leave China.

Much has been written about this situation, but this piece by Evan Osnos in the New Yorker is one of the best. He argues that its all about intimidation:

The Chinese government is threatening to expel nearly two dozen foreign correspondents, working for the Times and Bloomberg News, in retaliation for investigations that exposed the private wealth of Chinese leaders. It is the Chinese governments most dramatic attempt to insulate itself from scrutiny in the thirty-five years since China began opening to the world. We wont know if its prepared to follow through on the threat for another week or two, when correspondents annual visas begin to expire. So far, it has declined to renew them. Unless the government changes course, reporters and their dependents will be required to leave the country before the end of the year.

But following through is only part of the point. The real purpose is intimidation: to compel foreign news organizations to adopt a more compliant posture in their daily decisions, small and large. In attempting to shield themselves from the gaze of the world, the new generation of Chinese leaders has unwittingly provided one of the clearest views yet into their thinking, and their self-perception, as they confront the challenges that will define Chinas future.

He then puts it into the broader issue of Chinas recent soft power push:

China is gradually losing interest in soft power. The Party spent much of the past decade seeking to project a more attractive and welcoming image to the world; it placed billboards in Times Square, expanded the reach of its news outlets to broadcast more of its views to Africa and Latin America, and built hospitals, roads, and soccer stadiums in developing countries. Those efforts will continue, but the leadership is signaling that it has concluded being liked is less important than simply surviving.

Soft power vs. survival; now thats an interesting choice.

Decades after the Cultural Revolution, a Letter of Remorse (The New York Times)

Earlier this month Chen Xiaolu, the son of a former Foreign Minister published an open letter apologizing for the things he had done during the Cultural Revolution. Any discussion of the Cultural Revolution is rare in China, but such a public admission by such a prominent person is extremely rare. Jane Perez writes about this extraordinary letter:

In an apology for his actions as a student during the Cultural Revolution, Chen Xiaolu, the son of China's famed Foreign Minister, Chen Yi, published a notice in his school alumni blog in August. A profile based on interviews with Mr. Chen in the Saturday editions of the New York Times and the International New York Times refers to the apology, a rare expression of remorse from someone involved in carrying out Mao's orders. Mr. Chen explains the apology was too long in coming, and says reflections on the past are necessary in order for China to move forward.

The apology attracted wide interest online, and also from colleagues who attended Middle School Number Eight, a prestigious school in the center of Beijing that catered to the children of the elite. Some of Mr. Chen's teachers are still alive, including Wen Hanjiang, the school principal, now 89. Mr. Chen recently visited Mr. Wen, who was badly beaten during the dark days of the Cultural Revolution at the school. The elderly man accepted his personal apology, as did the other teachers who still live in Beijing and whom he visited, Mr. Chen said. In early October, Mr. Chen organized a dinner with former teachers and students, a convivial affair, he said, where the past was discussed in a friendly and forgiving way.

The piece also includes an English translation of the entire letter.

Photo essay: Fully Jewish Fully Chinese (Asian Jewish Life)

This is an absolutely fascinating story and photo essay in the journal Asian Jewish Life about a group of Jews from Kaifeng who are traveling to Israel to reconnect with their Jewish religious roots:

Around the 9th or 10th century, a group of Persian Jewish traders traveling through the Silk Road arrived in Kaifeng, the then capital city of China. As with other peaceful traders, they were warmly welcomed; one of the Jewish families was even granted the Emperor's surname, Zhao. In return, the Jews offered "boundless loyalty to the country and prince" and established a significant community that lasted for centuries.

They identified themselves as Yicileye people, a direct translation of "Israel" at a time long before the modern state of Israel existed. They worshiped G-d and kept a kosher diet though they became accustomed to their surroundings and were absorbed in the local culture. They lived a Jewish life in a Chinese way and thrived for many centuries until their synagogue was destroyed by flood only two hundred years ago. It was never rebuilt.

Since then the community dwindled, many of them dissolved into the larger population. Without a place for worship, many of the religious activities no longer continued. As a result of intermarriage starting around 14th century, they began to look similar to other Chinese. But one thing never changed: they knew where they were from, and longed to go back. Although the Kaifeng Jews have been there for so long, today most Han Chinese are barely aware of their existence.

Some of the Kaifeng Jews believe that it is time to return home.

For a great overview of the history of the Judaism in China, give a listen to The China History Podcast #112, The Kaifeng Jews.

This week we look at a topic many have heard about but aren't familiar with the details. We look at the early origins of the Jewish people in China and the time of the settlement in Kaifeng, Henan. Although you'd be hard pressed to find a minyan amongst the native Jews in Kaifeng today, there are efforts being made to revive Judaism in that ancient city. It's an interesting story that spans a millenium and offers a look at Chinese history from another angle.

Whats Your China Contingency Plan? I Mean You, Not Your Company (China Law Blog)

Dan Harris writes that it is important for companies and individuals working in China to have contingency plans in place for when things go wrong. He writes of his frustration with the it can never happen to me mentality that is prevalent:

I am often frustrated by clients, potential clients and even sometimes readers who think that they are "too smart," too savvy," "too connected" or "too well-prepared" to ever get caught up in/with the same problems that have struck other really smart, savvy, connected and well-prepared companies in China.

Many foreigners assume that if things go south, they will be able to just hop a plane and leave. But that may not be as easy as it sounds:

China has a very effective passport and border control system and if it has made the decision to detain a foreigner, there is a good chance that foreigner is not going to be able to leave.

So what should your contingency plan be? The obvious solution is to follow the law and do whatever you can to make sure that your employees/company does as well.

What contingency plans do you and your organization or company have in place?

Image credit: Wikipedia

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio