Thursday, April 28, 2005

Freedom and Control

Apparently, the Chinese regime cannot allow films about homosexuality on university campuses -- Officials block gay film festival:
A gay and lesbian film festival due to be held at China's Beijing University was forced to move venues after campus officials banned the event.

The festival was billed as an Aids and sexual health event as organisers feared university officials would block the screening of gay films.

An event spokesman said: "If we had told them what it was about they would never have agreed to it."

The event, which began at the weekend, was moved to a nearby disused factory.

The spokesman said organisers believed the ban was "because of the festival's subject matter".

The festival featured four Chinese feature films, two Hong Kong movies and one from Taiwan.
Interesting. The gay and lesbian film festival might not be found on a Chinese campus, but it manages to carry on at a nearby abandoned factory. One habitually imagines that the CCP controls everything everywhere within China -- yet this story indicates otherwise. Does the regime only exert limited control in places like abandoned factories, much less rural areas like Huaxi? I'm just asking -- because I suspect that the perception that the CCP has an iron grip throughout China is fast becoming a chimera.

I would like to get a clearer picture on Western assumptions and attitudes towards the Chinese Communist Party. With respect to Islamofascism, the general trend on the left (with many exceptions) appears to placate Muslims as oppressed and downtrodden, while overlooking the misogyny and homophobia that is prevalent among many of them. Liberal values are suspended to champion a greater cause, such as a Palestinian state or fighting American corporatism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So how about the Chinese regime? Will liberals have a soft spot for the autocrats, or take a hard line? I've seen many 'Free Tibet' bumper stickers in Berkeley disfavoring Chinese occupation. Then again, I see lots of Mao t-shirts for sale there too. Tienamen's freedom fighters appeared to be commended by conservatives and liberals alike in 1989, at Beijing's expense. Blurry lines.

I also wonder what the conservative consensus on China's regime might be. Realpolitik might plausibly dictate supporting order within such a large country, thereby backing the regime in the name of practicality. The morality of that would be debatable. Considering that the CCP is at least keeping chaos at bay for now, I find myself hoping that it just stays that way -- so am I inadvertently rooting for the regime? I don't intend to support Chinese communism; I resonate with the idea of a free Chinese democracy.

It's difficult to know what to wish for in market-communist China. My own views on China lack cogency, and are largely reactive. I suspect the same is true for the regime.

I asked Simon at Simon World that question -- he's optimistically hoping for a gradual evolution into something like present-day Russia:
...I'd say some morphing into a system similar to Russia's is the most likely. China's history is littered with strong central rulers followed by years of chaos. I think the last 60 years have been amongst China's quietest on the domestic front and people like that. There has never been a Chinese democracy outside of Taiwan -- it is an alien concept. That's not to say it's not right for China. It's just that it will take time for it to take root, and that will be a crucial time for the country, especially given its tendency to strong central rulers.  So put me in the quiet optimist camp.
One hitch might be that Russia's shrinking population is around one ninth the size of China's, and spread across a much vaster expanse -- so the politics on the ground are quite different. And besides, where is Russian democracy heading these days? Is a Putinocracy the best wish for China? Perhaps China can build a better ramp from Communism than their Russian counterparts. Here's hoping.

How can freedom and control be made compatible for 1.3 billion people?

Monday, April 25, 2005

A Walk with the Leaves

I have an image in my mind that I must get out. I hope it fits here.

Yesterday I went to Berkeley to meet a very old friend. I live relatively close to Berkeley -- an old haunt from my youth -- but I avoid the place now. It's just so far gone -- a cartoon of how radicalism can devolve into such ugly extremes. When I went there to escape home life in the 1970s, it was a mellower place, softened by hippy culture. But now it's militant, with lots of angry sloganeering dashed on the walls, the negativity palpable. Berkeley is not a hopeful place.

Somehow, the disheveled spirits that roam Telegraph Avenue do not seem free, although they might think otherwise. Berkeley people look bedraggled and haggard. They're aged and worn even in their twenties. I saw two people fighting over what looked like a bagel on one street corner. People's Park was having a thinly attended anniversary concert. Booksellers ringed the park selling screeds by Carl Marx and Angela Davis.

It was a beautiful spring day. I had to park several blocks away. On my way back from Telegraph I saw two women walking parallel to me across the street. They had with them a girl who must've been five or six years old, prancing along behind them in a blue dress. I could hear the women talking about Bush and Iraq, agreeing that what was happening there was an abomination. "Pure evil," said one woman to the other. One of them wore a keffiyeh, the other had on a lovely yellow summer dress with jackboots. Two Berkeley classics.

Our walk paralleled for about three blocks. At first I was intent on their speechifying and invective. But then I saw the little girl tagging behind them, oblivious to their angry words. Every tree and bush was an opportunity for her to explore. She tried to climb a small tree on someone's yard, then jumped down and dashed towards a orange cat sitting on a porch. The cat scrambled away and the little girl giggled in delight, herself becoming a cat. She slinked around meowing, threading through front yards and bushes a few yards behind her chaperones, who seemed not to notice her at all.

It was breezy that day, and a big gust of wind pushed into the street. Startled birds took flight. I saw the little girl stand still to watch the leaves flurrying around her. She just stood there and soaked it all in. Totally attuned. Wind chimes tingled somewhere, and then quieted down. The leaves and spring blossoms settled, and the birds landed. During this brief event the two women walked far ahead of the little girl. The keffiyeh woman turned around and yelled at her to catch up: "Hurry up! Let's go!"

Then we went in opposite directions.

I am so troubled by this era. I wonder about that little girl, and her generation. I think the two women represent many different people -- wrapped up in the times, thinking they're in tune when they're not. They were so far away from of their playful, inventive charge. I think I have pulled myself away from my own daughter in a similar manner, lost in life's ones and zeros rather than living.

The fascination of a parent is seeing the world renewed, through curious, young eyes. So much before us goes unseen as we parse the code of our constitutions. When we are young, we become cats on a whim; we swirl with the leaves. And then we soon forget these things. We put on uniforms and talk the talk. We spend more time hashing ideals, less time discovering what surrounds us. Some of us forget who we were, and what kept us alive. Once in a while something happens, and innocent joy returns. But it always seems to be a reprieve, not the main event -- like an unexpected, brief holiday. The world weighs so much.

I hope the little Blue Dress girl will be okay. She seemed so blissfully alone. I wonder when civilization's abstractions will force their way into her consciousness, stealing away the leaves that once walked with her.