Readers of this column are familiar with a theme: It’s bad enough that the Chinese Communists and the Cuban Communists are always trying to boss people at home (and succeeding). But they also do the same abroad, in myriad ways.
An interesting story is unfolding in Corvallis, Ore. Chronicling it has been Bennett Hall of the city’s Gazette-Times. For his article of September 8, go here.
In a nutshell: A Taiwanese-American businessman, David Lin, commissioned a mural. He had it painted on a building he owns, by Chao Tsung-song. The mural depicts CCP brutality in Tibet and portrays Taiwan as an island of freedom. It also advocates independence for both Tibet and Taiwan.
Somehow — inevitably? — the Chinese consulate in San Francisco heard about the mural, and fired off a letter to Corvallis’s mayor, Julie Manning: They said that Tibet and Taiwan were irrevocable parts of China, and asked that the mural be removed. They also suggested that mayoral cooperation would be good for business ties between China and Oregon. You know how it goes.
Mayor Manning sent back a letter explaining about the U.S. Constitution, in particular the First Amendment. (Wow!)
Not content with that, Chinese consular officials flew to Corvallis, to make their demands in person. They met with the mayor and the city manager, Jim Patterson. The Americans once more explained about the Constitution. But they also said they would relay China’s concern to the businessman, Mr. Lin.
For his part, Lin told the Gazette-Times, “I am under a lot of pressure to take down the mural.” He also said something sad about the artist. I’ll quote the paper: “Even Chao, the artist who created the painting, had a change of heart when criticism of the mural began to mount, Lin said.” This is perfectly normal: It can be brutal, standing up to a police state, even when you don’t live in it.
On September 13, the Gazette-Times published another story by Hall, this one detailing what Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat, has done. He has been very good. So have other Oregon politicians.
And I’d like to tell you what Arthur Waldron said to me, when I shared the September 8 story with him. (Waldron is that invaluable Sinologist from the University of Pennsylvania.) “As someone said, if we had 1 percent of the nerve over there [i.e., in China] that they have over here, things would be very different.”
True, true, true. (We barely care that the 2010 Nobel peace laureate is kept in prison.) (Shouldn’t the 2009 peace laureate say more about this?)
Nobody, absolutely nobody, wants to know about Chinese organ harvesting. We just want to cover our ears, avert our eyes, and make money (or borrow money). Ethan Gutmann is the No. 1 authority on this, as far as I know. If you read him, you can learn a lot, though you may be sorry you have.
Into my inbox last week landed this article (not by Gutmann): “U.S. Congress Hears Testimony on Thousands of Falun Gong Killings for Organs.” An awful subject, among the worst — but I am heartened that our Congress is hearing testimony.
Possibly, history will regard Ethan Gutmann as it does those journalists who blew the whistle early on the Soviets, and those who blew the whistle early on the Nazis. “Oh, we should have known!” the world will say. Well, the “world” could have, if it had wanted to . . .
Hang on, does “history” honor the truth-tellers about the Soviet Union even now? I shudder to consider the question. Moving on . . .
But not yet: E. J. Hobsbawm is probably the most respected historian in the English-speaking world. He is also an unrepentant apologist for the Soviet Union, even for the Stalin era. Nice, huh?
In the August 27 issue of National Review, we had an article called “Scholars with Spine: Notes from the field of China studies.” It talked about scholars who risk professional setbacks in order to tell the truth about the PRC — as far as they can discern the truth.
What might happen to these scholars? Well, they could be banned from China, which might cripple their careers. They could be regarded as somewhat leprous by colleagues at home. Many things.
Among the “scholars with spine” are the aforementioned Waldron, Andrew Nathan, Jonathan Mirsky, and Perry Link. Mirsky said to me, “If you knew all that Link had done, you would be amazed.”
Yes, an amazing man, Link is. I know a little — not everything. The day after the Tiananmen massacre (I believe), Link escorted Fang Lizhi and his wife, Li Shuxian, to the U.S. embassy. Fang, you may recall, was a famous dissident and scientist. In the Tiananmen period, he was No. 1 on the regime’s Most Wanted list.
Some years later, Link and Andrew Nathan edited The Tiananmen Papers, which revealed what the regime was thinking and doing during this period. Nathan, like Link, has been banned from China — denied a visa.
About ten years ago, Link wrote an essay known to almost everybody in the field of China studies. It deserves to be known. Called “The Anaconda in the Chandelier,” it’s about the Chinese way of censorship.
The regime is not like a snarling tiger or a fire-breathing dragon in your living room — although it certainly can be that, for Falun Gong practitioners and others. It’s more like
a giant anaconda coiled in an overhead chandelier. Normally the great snake doesn’t move. It doesn’t have to. It feels no need to be clear about its prohibitions. Its constant silent message is “You yourself decide,” after which, more often than not, everyone in its shadow makes his or her large and small adjustments — all quite “naturally.”
This essay is around in many versions, one of which is here. It is one of the best essays I have ever read in my entire life, on any subject.
Jonathan Mirsky says that Perry Link is amazing, but Mirsky is pretty amazing himself: a blunt, tough, brainy scholar who has devoted much of his career to journalism. Let me give you a taste of the man, by quoting a paragraph from the NR article:
. . . Mirsky worked in China . . . for almost 20 years. He was one of the first Westerners in, in 1972. Because he wrote honestly, he figured he would be tossed out any day. But it took the Chinese until 1991 to do it. Why did they do it when they did it? Who knows? One fine day, Mirsky’s minder of many years said to him, “We would like you to leave our China the day after tomorrow.” Mirsky replied, “Really, Mr. Wang? You’re serious? Thank you so much. You’ve made me the happiest of men.” Wang was nonplussed. It was not the reaction he was used to. Mirsky explained, “You mean I’m not going to have to be in your mother-raping country anymore, and have my phone listened to, and be followed on the street, and be constantly warned to watch what I write? What a relief that will be!” There is a coda to this story. Some years later, Mirsky was starting a stint at Harvard, and bumped into none other than his old minder. “Mr. Mirsky,” said Wang, “this is like a dream!” “No, Mr. Wang, a nightmare.” They never saw each other again.
That’s my man. Last year, Mirsky wrote an article — fascinating — on what it’s like to work for a news organization that is uninterested in upsetting the government in Beijing (to put it mildly). Go here.
I know a bit about what Arthur Waldron has done, but I certainly don’t know everything. After my piece was published, Sarah Cook, an East Asia specialist at Freedom House, sent me a note. “Arthur Waldron may not have mentioned it,” she said — of course he hadn’t — “but a few years back he wrote an excellent essay that served as the introduction for a magazine produced by the Falun Dafa Information Center and is still available on their website.”
That kind of thing can buy you trouble, as Cook remarked. Many scholars wouldn’t touch Falun Dafa (i.e., Falun Gong) with a ten-foot pole — no matter how many people the Chinese authorities kidnapped, tortured, and murdered (for their organs or not). Waldron’s essay is here.
Not long ago, Waldron agreed to speak on Japanese television about “Confucius Institutes” — language-and-culture centers set up all over the world by the PRC. (We may address that topic another day.) By speaking about them — speaking against them — Waldron knew he was risking a ban from China. But “the way I look at it is this,” he told me: “If your university has gone to the trouble of building an endowment so that you don’t have to fight in the marketplace for a living, but are guaranteed rice for life in return for what you think, you should say what you think. That’s part of the deal.”
When another scholar read that — it’s in my piece — he said, “This makes me realize that to accept academic tenure and then not tell the truth as you see it ought to be viewed as corruption.”
Waldron quoted James Lilley to me. Do you remember Lilley? He was a fascinating guy, a lifelong East Asia hand who ended his diplomatic career as our ambassador to China. Lilley used to say, “You won’t get anything from them unless you squeeze them” — “them” being the ChiComs (to use an antique word).
And that’s what Westerners are never willing to do: squeeze. Scholars, businessmen, the State Department, other government officials, in America and elsewhere — they just won’t.
Perry Link is the co-founder of Princeton’s Chinese-language program in Beijing. He was the director of that program. China banned him in the mid-1990s. And Princeton said, “Okay!” Waldron suggested to me there was an alternative: Princeton could have said, “Professor Link is our director. If you don’t want him, fine. We’ll move our program to Taiwan. It’s up to you. Have a nice day.”
But Americans — Westerners — never, ever act that way. We can do more than we know. China scholar after China scholar said this to me: We can do more than we know, individually and collectively (especially collectively). We just don’t do it. We are ruled by our fear — often a baseless fear. “We’re our own policemen,” as Link says.
Princeton has more leverage than it knows! Princeton wants Beijing’s good will. Princeton does not seem to appreciate how much Beijing wants Princeton’s good will — the good will, the cooperation, of a prestigious American university.
Waldron recalls an earlier instance. It happens to involve Princeton.
In the 1970s, many scholars who had known China in the 1940s returned to China for “one last time.” One group scheduled to make a trip included Fritz Mote of Princeton, “arguably the best scholar of the lot,” says Waldron. We’re talking about Frederick W. Mote (1922-2005).
The PRC said no to Mote. Today, people would respond just as Princeton responded when Link was banned: “Okay, no problem!” But then it was different: The others refused to go if Mote were not included. The PRC relented. Mote went, along with everyone else — and made a glorious nuisance of himself, asking about people he had known well who were no longer in evidence (because they were bumped off).
The World War II generation was different, suggests Waldron. Probably so. We now wet our pants. “Feed those others to the tiger, and maybe you’ll eat me last, sweet cat.”
Toward the end of my NR piece, I write,
It is not the job of a scholar to help a dissident, you could say (although we might hope the scholar is not hostile). Scholars are not human-rights activists or heroes. But they should probably tell the truth, and the full truth, to the extent they can ascertain it. And we are constantly told how important China is to the world, and that this importance will only grow in the future. Shouldn’t we, the “world,” have solid and complete information? Even, or especially, on the verboten subjects?
Along these same lines, let me quote again from Sarah Cook (Freedom House):
Among the important roles that scholars play in our society is truthfully and comprehensively documenting the reality in the country they study. When scholars deliberately avoid topics like Tibet, Xinjiang [the province of the Uighurs], Falun Gong, forced abortions, reeducation-through-labor camps, or secret police—which affect millions of Chinese citizens and offer profound lessons on how the Chinese Communist Party rules China—all of us are deprived of information critical for determining how to view and respond to the world’s second largest economy, and the people who run it.
I can’t tell you how much I admire the scholars with spine. I just can’t. There ought to be monuments to them, somewhere.
After the NR article came out, one of these scholars joked, “A distinctly pro-Beijing piece. Some people will do anything to get a visa.” I said, “I understand my visa’s in the mail. Plus, I want a driver and hookers.”
He said, “Some hookers also drive. Thus the Chinese saying ‘One effort, two happinesses.’”
Friends, I haven’t done much writing about the presidential campaign in Impromptus lately. I’ve been writing about it on The Corner, chiefly. I expect this will continue till Election Day (with Impromptus sprinkled here and there, of course). If you’d like to follow what I’m doing — and heaven help you if you do — try my “archive,” here. (What a grandiose word, “archive” — but it’s entrenched now.)
Do I have any music for you? Well, let’s see. Have you seen my “New York Chronicle” in the September New Criterion? It’s here.
And I’ll check you later.
To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.