Friday 2015-01-02

Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos

One man tries to grok China by interviewing a range of people. This is like the blind guys groping an elephant: it's a lot of talking and nowhere near the whole picture.

when local reporters asked a group of six-year-olds what they wanted to be when they grew up, the kids ran through the usual list: firefighters, pilots, artists until one small boy said, I want to be an official. What sort of official? the reporter asked. A corrupt official, the boy said, because they have lots of things.
There was now a line between the white-collar class and what people called the black-collar class. An anonymous author circulated an essay that defined it: Their clothes are black. Their cars are black. Their income is hidden. Their life is hidden. Their work is hidden. Everything about them is hiddenlike a man wearing black, standing in the dark.
To survive in China you must reveal nothing to others. Or it could be used against you Thats why I've come to think the deepest part of the self is best left unclear. Like mist and clouds in a Chinese landscape painting, hide the private part behind your social persona. Let your public self be like rice in a dinner: bland and inconspicuous, taking on the flavors of its surroundings while giving off no flavor of its own.

The commander of a mighty army can be captured, but the aspiration of an ordinary man can never be seized.
two generations ago, visitors to China marveled most at the sameness of it all. To outsiders, Chairman Mao was the Emperor of the Blue Ants,
All over the country, people were exiting the collective farms that had dominated their lives. When they talked about it, they said they had been songbangunfettereda term more often used for a liberated prisoner or an animal.
Their tiny gray-brick restaurants had jittery sheep tied out front, and the animals vanished in the kitchens, one by one, at dinner-time.
I chose the Global Trade Mansion. It was an outcropping in a sea of construction, and whoever had built it had installed soundproof windows, since it would be surrounded, for the foreseeable future, by constant noise.
The Party discovered that the best way to deprive Chinese art of its rebellious energy was to embrace it: in 2006, after years of threatening to demolish Factory 798, a former military electronics plant in Beijing that had been turned into a cluster of galleries and studios, the municipal government designated it as a creative industry area, and tour buses filled the streets around it.
Modern Chinese travel, like the modern Chinese state, was predicated on the fragile promise that it would impose order on a chaotic world, by shepherding its citizens and keeping them safe from threats that could include Western thieves, Western cuisine, and Western culture.
China was not Hitlers Germany, but Chinese leaders were willing to let themselves be lumped beside the Nazis in the history of the Nobel Prize.
The award to Liu Xiaobo drove Chinese leaders into a rage; the government denounced Lius award as a desecration of Alfred Nobels legacy. For years, China had coveted a Nobel Prize as a validation of the nations progress and a measure of the worlds acceptance.
Ever since the revolution, most Chinese officials look alike. They have the same face, the same uniform, even the same personality. They work step-by-step, and they are content to sit back and wait for promotions. But Liu Zhijun was different. If it was possible to invest a railway job with glamour, he was determined to do so. He liked to convene meetings after midnight and make ostentatious displays of his work habits
How many people have died on the China high-speed railway in the past four years? Forty people. This is the number of people who die in road accidents in China every five or six hours.
in forty-seven years of service, high-speed trains in Japan had recorded just one fatality, a passenger caught in a closing door.
Three years had been set aside for construction of one of the longest bridges in North China, but it was finished in eighteen months, and nine months later, in August 2012, it collapsed, killing three people and injuring five. Local officials blamed overloaded trucks, though it was the sixth bridge collapse in a single year.
But in 1992, when the government began to open up the distribution of land and factories for private ownership, the corruption boom was under way. In the first year, the average sum recovered in corruption cases more than tripled, to six thousand dollars.
By 2010 the number of strikes, riots, and other mass incidents had doubled in five years to 180,000 a yearalmost 500 incidents a day, according to the governments statistics.
The anniversary of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations had just passed, and people had been discussing it, in code, by calling it the truthzhenxiang. The censors picked up on this, and when people searched Weibo for anything further, they began receiving a warning: In accordance with relevant laws, regulations, and policies, search results for the truth have not been displayed.
After Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, a group of Chinese nationalists organized what they called the Confucius Peace Prize, and awarded it, the next year, to Vladimir Putin for bringing safety and stability to Russia.
Of the various countries Ive visited, Sandel told me the next day, the free-market assumptions and convictions are more present in China among young people than anywhere, with the possible exception of the United States. What interested him most, however, was the countervailing forcethe ripple through the crowd at the idea of selling the second kidney. If you groped and probed, you found one example after another of the limits of extending market logic to everything,
At one point, Chinese programmers were barred from updating a popular software system called Node.js because the version number, 0.6.4, corresponded with June 4, the date of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The behavior that disturbed Ai the most was perhaps that of his fellow Chinese artists. During my disappearance, almost none of them [asked], Where is this person? What kind of crime has he committed?
When a website run by the Peoples Daily conducted a Chinese Dream survey, asking whether people supported one-party rule and believed in socialism, 80 percent of the three thousand respondents replied no to both questions, and the survey was abruptly withdrawn.
Xu Zhiyong, a lawyer who had previously served in Beijings city legislature, organized a petition calling for high officials to disclose their wealth, and his work attracted several thousand supporters to what he called a New Citizens Movement. Soon, the Party grew uneasy with this enthusiasm. My phone buzzed with a notice from the Department: When reporting on officials suspected of graft or bribery, or those who have become degenerate, strictly adhere to information from the authorities. Do not speculate, do not exaggerate, do not investigate, and do not quote from things on the Internet. By summer, the government had seen enough; it shut down I Made a Bribe and detained nearly a hundred people who had embraced the campaign to clean up. Among them was Xu Zhiyong, who was detained and accused of gathering people to disrupt social order. When people stood up on Xus behalf, they, too, were arrested; an investor named Wang Gongquan, who had made billions in venture capital, organized a petition for Xus release but was arrested on charges of disturbing public order. Wangs bare-handed fortune and outspoken comments had attracted a large following online, but the authorities were especially uneasy when plutocrats linked up with activists or took an interest in politics.
When it became clear that Xi Jinping was placing his bet on fortifying the status quo, another Party aristocrat, Hu Dehua, the sixty-three-year-old son of a previous Party chief, Hu Yaobang, used the protection afforded by his family name and pedigree to openly criticize the president. The real reason the Soviets fell, Hu Dehua argued, was that they couldnt stop themselves from appropriating public property by graft and bribery. The Party, Hu said, was indeed facing a crisis. There are two options: to suppress the opposition or to reach reconciliation with the people, he said. It had faced this choice once before, in 1989; and in an astonishing acknowledgment of the bloodshed at Tiananmen, he asked, What does this mean: man enough? Is driving battle tanks against your own people man enough?