Category Archives: China

China journey – last Facebook “slideshow”

Here’s how I captioned my final Facebook slideshow on our China trip:

“A Ming Garden that survived the Cultural Revolution. Ancient crafts that survived. The old foreign compound, the Bund, that survived. The new city that arose on the opposite bank. A nation restored to greatness. Farewell.”

Barack Obama sensed that for America the next fifty years will be a contest with China for the greatest influence in the world. Donald Trump’s clumsy self interest is giving the Chinese another great leap forward. As I’ve written over the past month I think the Chinese greatest hurdle will be to become the open society that America seems to be retreating from with the emergence of a new more visceral, no nothing, alt right, nostalgic “white,” Trupian, Republican Party.

Obama’s TPP that Bernie, Hillary and The Donald helped kill was a thoughtful attempt to keep the rest of the Pacific rim nations focused on the old warhorse America and away from China the surging new economic power. And China is just a decade or so away from seizing our GNP lead. Now, in the wake of Trump’s foreign policy bumptiousness, China is taking on a far more nuanced and sober leadership of world politics at a time when the rest of the world is reeling from America’s international nose picking.

I fall in a long line of Americans who rooted for China as it was beset by European trading pacts and Japanese invasion and finally Mao induced self immolation. I like the Pearl Bucks and Joe Stilwells and all the protestant missionaries who wanted to convert the resourceful and dogged people of China. It is a nation with a lot of people imbued with what we call the “protestant work ethic.” With America putting up barriers to funny colored and speaking people with these same attributes we are making the Chinese job just that much easier for them. This may change as rich, young Chinese take their wealth for granted and opt for the easy country clubby life of the nouveau riche but I wouldn’t count on it.

What I saw was a land of great confidence and, for the moment, great generosity. I was not some foreign devil but an exotic creature with a big (pointed) nose that every one wanted to take pictures off for the folks back home. The command economy that the Chinese can wield without all the restraints of our more Democratic system give them an edge over us. For instance, the Chinese may soon manage to both power their nation and clean the air simultaneously although they have a long ways to go to curb plastic waste.

Oh, and I managed to avoid one of those dreaded pit toilets my entire tour. Bottom’s up China.

Second to the last China Slideshow

I’m not quite sure what days of our trip these represent. We berthed in Wuhan two nights next to some not quite mothballed Chinese Naval vessels. We had a couple venues the first being a provincial museum dedicated to a remarkable tomb that had been uncovered in the 1970’s of Marquis Yi of Zeng. His grave was the first tangible proof of a pre-historical character before the unification of China in the Chin Era about the time of the Roman Republic.

Zeng had himself buried with a remarkable set of cast bronze bells. A larger more powerful state had a leader who coveted them so Zeng had them buried with him along with a dozen wives/concubines who had to commit suicide so the Marquis could have some company. Zeng calculated that the Chinese have so much distaste for ghosts that no one would invade his grave to recover the bells. Ghosts are still a powerful idea in China. All the old buildings we visited had door jambs with a raised area below the door for tourists to trip on upon entering. They were put there to deter ghosts who apparently carom off them like ball bearings in a pinball game.

Later that day we were guided to the local Walmart along a pedestrian only street of shops and stores. The goal was to find this Walmart’s living products, chickens, frogs, turtles, fish which the Chinese much prefer to have fresh rather than frozen. I got no further than the candy aisle and decided that a great gift for my Grandsons would be some mysterious hard wrapped candies. They were a hit except for the jackfruit. Both my grandsons and Claudia spit them out although I rather liked their creamy centers.

I followed the advice of our guide after leaving Walmart and turned down side streets to check out a typical neighborhood. It was not fancy living but even with ten million residents it was not a tenement. And as our guide said 90% of the folks had AC. And it was definitely another AC day so as long as the Three Gorges Dam was humming all was good.

Claudia wasn’t keen on shopping so I had gone solo and before I returned to the Emerald I hied it over to the City Park which ran along the Yangtze and which had recently been flooded. I saw no damage but walked gratefully under a canopy of trees filled with cicadas in full throat-ed fever to find a mate. I had been skunked for five days straight looking for one so I held on in the heat looking for one to snap a picture of. Finally, I found a small tree that was making a terrible racket and ducked my head underneath to check it out. Sure enough there were half a dozen of the cigar butt bugs flitting underneath its canopy courting. I finally got my picture. A good one.

Here’s the slideshow:
https://www.facebook.com/harry.welty/videos/10154537856956394/

Third China slideshow

Facebook has become a useful place for me to record things happening in my life. But I still resent opening it up to a lot of folks beyond family. The more people I add, friends from the past and especially Facebook enthusiasists, the more stuff gets sent to my site unsolicited hiding tidbits from my closest family and friends.

A friend offered to set up a separate Facebook Page for my school board campaign in which I would be a coauthor. Ali, my Facebook page manager, was kind enough to endorse me in a letter to the DNT editor today. Thanks Ali. Sadly, it didn’t make it into the DNT’s electronic paper for me to link to it. The page is pretty boring and I had hoped to put my Chinese “scrapbook” videos on it to give it something interesting but haven’t figured out how to do this. Fortunately I have a decade’s worth of experience uploading things like that to my blog. Here’s the third edition of our China journey:

https://www.facebook.com/harry.welty/videos/10154532412191394/

Day’s 5 and 6 began with a flight to the capital of China during the Japanese invasion and World War II. Chongqing was known then as Chunking. It was bombed mercilessly by the Japanese who never had the manpower to overrun it with its armies. It was too far from the coast for them to reach it except by air. It was Japan’s million men under arms in China that America needed to keep there lest they be sent to the Pacific Theater where the American Army and Navy would have to deal with them.

That’s where Vinegar Joe Stilwell comes in and how it was I gave the Barbara Tuchman bio on Joe to our Guide. I still have half the book to finish reading to Claudia. I downloaded it to Kindle. Tuchman did a wonderful job explaining why the Chinese and the British who addicted tens of millions of Chinese to opium, and setting a precedent for the narcos of Latin America, didn’t get on as the war approached.

Chongqing was like the other five metropolises Claudia and I visited. A never ending stream of 30, 40, 50 story tall apartment blocks many of them under the shadow of “the Chinese national bird,” the crane – construction cranes – which are still raising them up at a breakneck speed. These cities had whole ranks of these apartments housing hundreds of thousands of Chinese in clusters of high rises spreading out beyond the horizon.

And what cities! Before we began traveling down the Jailing River into where it forks into the Yangtze Chongqing’s downtown skyscrapers burst into a light show that outclassed Vegas. The five cities we saw up close contained 100 million people between them teaming with formerly rural folks. Beijing is currently do its best to prevent them from settling down roots. Some of Chongqing’s growth was due to the million or more people who had to leave the original banks of the Yangtze when the Three Gorges Damn was built. That reservoir is backed up all the way to Chongqing 380 miles up river from the damn.

Sampans and Ping the duck are no more although you can still find signs of historic China. Men with bamboo polls slung over their shoulders clamored to help our fellow passengers carry their gear into the ship balancing luggage on either end. When I woke early the next morning and stepped out onto our personal 4 by 8 foot deck the first picture I took was rendered gauzy by the moisture which immediately condensed my cell phone’s camera.

Our first stop along the Yangzte at the photogenic Shibaozhai Pagoda had an extra perk – an authentic Chinese fire drill. Normally it would have been a standard safety drill but on this occasion we were being filmed and judged by the government with a simulated fire. Fire boats squirted Yangtze river water our way. We were obliged to line up and leave the ship with our life jackets on. There was a massive reviewing stand with a dozen dignitaries watching the evacuation under a billboard about riverboat safety. Fire engines stood nearby and crowds lined the river bank to watch the hullabaloo. All through the hubbub a woman wearing a “cooley” hat crouched by our dock furiously scrubbing clothing at the river’s edge. Our guide told us she was probably saving electricity by not washing them in a washer. That would have sounded ridiculous except that we had already seen hundreds of electric motorbikes driven without lights on in busy Xi’an at night to save batteries. The Chinese have plenty of appliances. Our guide speculated that 90% of the Chinese had air conditioning.

The heat of the day and a bug requiring Imodium kept Claudia on board while I hiked over to the Temple. To save it as the Yangtze river level rose the Government built a “coffer dam” around its base so we began our climb up many feet below the river level. Going out solo had one benefit. Claudia was not with me to arch her eyebrows as I bargained for the cheap merchandise in a hundred stands that lined the way to the Temple.

The temple seemed to be an oriental version of Wall Drug. Built out in the middle of nowhere to attract travelers and their money. I bought a knock off of a horse sculpture I’d seen in Xi’an and a t-shirt with Barack Obama wearing a Che Guevara cap. I thought it was cool but if I’d seen it at Trump rally I’d have been annoyed.

The following day as we cruised to the dam I learned to play mahjongg. On my way home I read a story in the China Times about the game being designated an official “brain game” like Go or Chess. Maybe so, but the easy version I learned was more like gin rummy.

We spent the rest of the day drifting through the Three Gorges on route to the Three Gorges Dam. We began our descent after dark so close to the walls of the locks that we placed our hands on them as we were lowered at the speed of a second hand on a grandfather clock. We were asleep before the fifth and final lock.

VPN in China

Before I left China I learned that a few of my fellow travelers were downloading VPN aps to get around the Great China Firewall. I might have considered it if I’d heard about the workaround before leaving for China but not just a couple days before leaving.

On my flight home I read a story in one of the official Chinese newspapers about Apple agreeing to pull their VPN aps out of the Chinese market. I was of two minds about this. On the one hand I realized that I couldn’t make use of Google because they had refused to comply with restraints on their services. I hated to see Apple pulled as well in its entirety only to be replaced by some neutered Chinese analogue.

Today NPR has a story today about this and its implications.

Making up for Chinese ceansorship

Finding myself denied the chance to send out greetings to Facebook left me with some pent up frustration. As my eight loyal readers know all too well, I hate being shut up.

So, I have put a second video “scrapbook” on Facebook of Days three and four. To my chagrin the video ends with this photograph in which my head is cut off. How very Chinese of Facebook.

Remember this picture when you see the last headless frame in the video.

This trip became more personal for me shortly after we visited the Great Wall. On our way back to Beijing we were taken to the “Ming Tombs.”

The Mings were the last indigenous Han Chinese to rule before the Manchu from north of the Great Wall invaded and reinvented themselves as the Ching Dynasty shortly after the English settlement of North America. Only after I entered the path with columns of paired animals to greet deceased emperors did I realize I was walking where my parents had stepped 35 years before on my Father’s sabbatical tour of the Pacific. If you look on the left column of the quilt my Mother made to remember her travels you will see the standing camels from the Ming Tombs. Claudia and I posed by one of the resting camels just past the standing camels which you can see on Mom’s quilt.

You may also have noticed the picture on the sign showing Mao tse-Tung and three comrades standing by one of the elephants. I took the occasion to pose by an elephant too although in a little more whimsical pose.

Our guide pointed out chips and cracks in the great statues that were inflicted on them during the Cultural Revolution when Mao’s youthful, know-nothing fanatics went about the nation burning and obliterating every object of ancient Chinese cultural veneration just like ISIS and the Taliban have done or like President Trump’s supporters are doing now to the “small D” democratic traditions of America.

The statues had been repaired by the time my parents visited and were there to greet me too. I can almost forgive the Chinese Communists for trying to tamp down the sometimes chaotic Democratic impulse. They are the latest dynasty, albeit an oligarchical one without a living emperor. Their emperor lies under glass an ancestor who’s picture is hung up to loom over Tiananmen Square.

type in “Mao under glass” and you will find a youtube explanation that, along with all other youtube offerings, is blocked in China.

In case Tiananmen Square is too remote from rural China Mao also finds himself on all denominations of bank notes.

China in the rear view mirror – Post 1

China may block Facebook but Facebook is pretty stingy about letting people easily share the posts they’ve put together. Last night after picking out several dozen of the 500 or so pictures I took with my cell phone I took a dozen from our first two days in China into a short Facebook “slideshow.” It is much quicker than browsing through a dozen photos and if you really want to see one you can pause the video. This is what I posted to Facebook about the first of several slideshows to come:

Sites from Beijing – view from our hotel and bus window, Tianamin Square and Forbidden City and the Dowager Empresses’ Compound. The Dowager is said to have brewed poisoned tea for one of her court rivals. Ever since Chinese have joked that the tea was “mama hoo hoo.” In English that means, so so.

https://www.facebook.com/harry.welty/videos/10154528702981394/

It took me ages to edit and upload what otherwise would have been simple posts had I been doing my work on my computer here in Duluth. I often did it in the middle of the night in the bathroom of our hotel or river ship’s state room. More of my fellow travelers were asleep then giving me more bandwidth and less wait time.

Half way through our trip I discovered one Internet necessity that the Chinese did not block – Wikipedia. That was a godsend and it was explained in a news story I read while abroad that said the authors of Wikipedia were particularly faithful to the notion of journalistic impartiality in their work. I guess even the People’s Republic could live with that although they probably have a small army of checkers who edit critical Wiki posts so that they comport with the Chinese view of the world.

In my video you will see some shots of Chinese that I did not ask permission to take. I hope they can remain as anonymous here as they were to me when I snapped them. I must stress that whatever international disagreements exist between our two nations the Chinese I met were very friendly. As my little tour group went around to various Chinese hot spots we were constantly being asked by more rural visitors to their nation’s iconic destinations to pose with them for pictures they could show to friends back home to prove they had actually seen exotic foreigners. Our guide told us that we are often referred to as “dabizi” (Dah-BEE-zee) meaning “big nose.” That and mama hoo hoo are part of the paltry Chinese lingo I acquired while traveling. The Chinese I met spoke English with a great diversity of competence.

Twixt China and Duluth

I’m not quite through pontificating about China. Heck, I haven’t even posted any pictures but now that I’m back home I have work to do. I’m running again for the School Board among other things.

Behind the Bamboo Internet Curtain I was unable to answer email or see “notifications” of Facebook messages. I looked forward to having this afternoon for that but we slept late at a park and ride motel and then our Toyota’s brakes were gummed up and we had to kill three hours to have the problem fixed before driving home. We didn’t get back till about 4 PM and grandchildren were waiting for us and the treats we might bring them. For my part that included a couple pounds of strange wrapped Chinese candies. I bought them at a Walmart in Shanghai and promptly left the building without seeing the live chickens, frogs, fish and chickens that Walmart sells in their Chinese stores. I didn’t bother to go see them with the rest of our tour but I heard they smelled a little ripe even for being alive.

One of the emails sent to me came from the Duluth Federation of Teachers. It was an invitation to interview with them next week but as I could not open it I had to wait until today to reply. Here’s their invite:


Sent: 27-Jul-2017 21:05:27 +0000
From: “Dzuck, Terry [MN]”
To: AJohnston2@charter.net , HarryWelty@charter.net , VoteKurtKuehn@gmail.com , SallyForSchoolBoard@gmail.com , BogdanaForSchools@gmail.com , GorhamForDuluthSchools@gmail.com , Lofald.Jill@gmail.com , RosieForSchoolBoard@gmail.com , LMartell343@gmail.com
Subject: Duluth Federation of Teachers School Board Candidates Screening

Greetings Duluth School Board candidates. Attached please see a letter inviting you to participate in the Duluth Federation of Teachers Screening event taking place on Tuesday, August 8, 2017.

and here’s my acceptance:

Terry,

I apologize for my tardy reply. I just returned from a trip to the People’s Republic of China last night and they block email. I saw that you had sent it but couldn’t open it.

I look forward to my interview and plan to attend.

Best regards,

Harry Welty

2 minutes of random Shanghai traffic

Shot from the 11th floor of the Westin “Lotus” Hotel.

It’s being uploaded to YouTube. Will explain after our drive to Duluth this afternoon.

Best I can do while on my cell phone waiting to have my tires checked in Inver Grove Hts is share the link:

https://youtu.be/uCz4HW3tNUg

As I explained on Facebook:

“This is not a dramatic picture of the Great Wall or the Terracotta warriors but a mundane 2 minute video taken from our last day in China from the 11th floor of the Westin “Lotus” Hotel. Gov. Christie is defending President Trump on CNN in the background.

American street traffic is much more orderly but Chinese Internet and television traffic is even more orderly. No troubling news….unless it’s about the USA.”

On our first day in China, in Beijing, I found a startling sign in the 5 star Kerry Hotel that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I took a picture of what I found in the top drawer of the bedside table. It wasn’t a Gideon’s Bible.

Not a Gideon's Bible

It was a pair of free prophylactics.

Dear Duan

Back in Wuhan, at the end of my Yangzte River journey, I decided to give Barbara Tuchman’s book on Stilwell to our tour guide. He mentioned that previous guests had given him such books over the last decade that he has been leading tours. Some of them like “Wild Swans” are on the government’s version of the Vatican’s “Index list.”

He had told me, when I asked, that he mostly read histories and I was pretty sure Tuchman’s book was even rarer in China than it is in American used book stores.

I found time on our trip to get half way through the book reading out loud to Claudia. At times we we read about Chinese locales while we were actually passing through them. Giving the book before we finished it and departed from Shanghai would be no sacrifice because we had already downloaded it to our kindle account as well. I will buy another hard cover copy in any event. That is the collector in me.

I found myself mentally composing a thank you in the middle of the night to write in the book’s inside front cover. This is essentially what I wrote:

Dear Duan,

When I was 11 in 1962 the author of this book may have played a part in preventing World War III. Her book, Guns of August” had just been read by our President Kennedy when he discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Guns of August was about how the European governments unwittingly stumbled into W W 1. JFK having read it, was determined not to begin a nuclear war with the Soviet union because of miscommunication. Even if it hadn’t inspired Kennedy to save the world it was a great book. It was awarded our nation’s highest literary honor, the Pulitzer Prize, for history. The author would earn a 2nd Pulitzer for this history of General Stilwell.

I wanted to share it with you so you could see that some Americans have always looked on China with some subtlety and a great deal of sympathy. Joe Stilwell was one of them and by the way he was no fan of Chiang Kai-Shek. I don’t think my father was either when I was growing up. He is the person who gave Tuchman’s book to me.

You have been a wonderful, insightful and good humored guide to your land’s people and history. You have given me hope that our two nations can look forward to the future as friends and maybe even allies. Vinegar Joe seemed to anticipate that future as well.

You have my best regards and many thanks.

Harry Welty
AKA: www.lincolndemocrat.com

PS. To my knowledge this history has not been banned by the People’s Republic.

How is a diaper like a politician?

That was the question posed by Ben  tonight at our cruise ship’s hokey talent night program. Ben is painfully earnest and his jokes are made sweet because of his tortured English syntax. It was a good question for me to contemplate as I face reelection for my 4th term on the Duluth school board and think about the ongoing aftermath of our nation’s 2016 election.

I believe I mentioned how much Claudia and I enjoyed the cynical Australian TV series “The Rake” a couple years back. After 2 seasons we had to wait 2 years before seasons 3 and 4 made it to Netflix. Well, a week before China they appeared and we binge watched them. They are a devil-may-care hoot in the Ausie take no bullshit tradition. And ladt season the Rakes’ writers had the best riff on the Trump phenomenon of anyone on television. We saved the last four episodes to watch on Claudia’s kindle while we were in China and I hope its no spoiler to say Canberra will never be the same.

Joe Stilwell had the same attitude toward politicians eighty years ago as the Rake all the way up to his Commander and Chief. It’s a universal feeling and I got a healthy whiff of it today at the Chinese grade school we visited in Jiangsu a “medium sized” city of five million. (Viking Cruises sponsors it and it pays for poor kids schooling)

After its students gave we tourists a spirited performance, under a ferociously hot sun, we gathered in the 4th grade classroom to ask them questions and have our money belts loosened up with good will.

We asked the shy children to tell us what they wanted to be when they grew up. One boy wanted to be an athlete. The girl who let Claudia listen to her device’s earphone and her American pop music wanted to be a singer. A third boy said something that so surprised our guide that he suppressed a smile and told us he’d translate it after we got back on the bus.

The nine-year-old had explained that he wanted to overthrow the Chinese government.

Trust me. We all wondered the same thing. Would the boy get in trouble? Nope. He just embarrassed his teacher. The youngster also made clear how much China had changed.

Our guide joined us for dinner tonight and we had a frank conversation with him about this. He explained that the boy was parroting what he heard at home from rural people who detest the petty corruption they endure from party hacks. While he didn’t want China to have a government overthrow he viewed the boy’s comment as a sign of healthy skepticism blowing accross the land. 

As our cruise director explained – some things need to be changed regularly.

The Internet is leakier than the White House

Traveling down the mid stretch of the Yangtze River has been quiet enough to let my brain fret over China’s middling and meddlesome censorship. I came here hoping to post pretty pictures on Facebook and the blog but my cell phone is no match for the bamboo curtain.

So, I have been reading American/Chinese history and probing the Internet for the past couple days. It’s been fascinating. Vinegar Joe Stilwell just made General a year shy of Pearl Harbor (I am 32% done with Tuchman’s bio of him) and I found this Newsweek story from 20 years ago about Bill Clinton’s opening American tech to the People’s Liberation Army.

http://www.newsweek.com/chinese-military-power-us-might-643022

Chiang Kai-Shek would have killed for US war materiel like Clinton passed out.

I am still inclined towards the promiscuous spreading of information rather than to it’s stingy hoarding. I am a liberal arts kind of guy.

I will get to check out a Chinese school today on this sleepy stretch of our river cruise. Maybe it will give me some useful insights to bring back to the Duluth Schools. I just hope it’s air conditioned.

I write this post at 3 AM on the floor in a book club friend’s favorite bathroom in China

The timing is not surprising. I spent a 13 hour day mostly wide awake on a 787 (I think) flying in a great circle route within a couple hundred miles of the North Pole to get to Beijing. I crashed at what would have been about 4AM back home. Biorythmic adjustments will take a day or two.

Claudia will sleep off and on till closer to a 6AM hotel breakfast. In the meantime I am hoping my third visit to the loo won’t deprive her of the sleep she missed on the plane. Gosh darn old man plumbing but hallelujah for Japanese toilets. I recently heard a PBS reporter extolling their virtues. They put French bidets to shame. I will admit to being a tad unnerved at taking the throne and immediately hearing a heater preparing to make some water comfey for ablutions to be performed after mother nature’s call had been answered. And to think I was talking about pit toilets with someone who visited China 15 years ago.

China’s America sized population plus a billion doesn’t all have such luxury but the very long drive past a great many megafrastructures from the airport to the Kerry Hotel did impress on me the great wealth of reborn China. After all the books we’ve waded through about it’s epic grandeur and humiliations I am pleased for the world.

After realizing what a hassle it will be to type out blog posts on my cell phone because of its anti-Google and Facebook Wall the happier I am to live in good old bumptious USA. As I write this Chinese censors are busy removing any mention of Winnie the Pooh on the Internet. Their leader has been compared to him unfavorably. Meanwhile back stateside every late-night talk show host would be risking a firing squad if they found themselves transported here.

We had time for dinner at the hotel and the realization that the massive study of English in China won’t guarantee easy fluency beyond Peking. We couldn’t even remember how to say “thank you” in Mandarin.

I did reach the blog on Baidu (China’s much less fussy Google) after a hotel receptionist fiddled with my cell. Some messages are coming through on email probably because I never got round to using gmail. As for photos to the Internet or Facebook. That is all up in the air. Look for them here if I can work it out.

That’s not a problem for the Chinese, all of whom are looking at their cells every minute of the day. Tough luck Google.

China doesn’t like Google or Facebook

For the first significant vacation of my adulthood I will not be taking a camera, Yashika, Cannon or Pentax with me. I will be relying on Samsung’s cell phone. I am given to understand that China blocks the aforementioned Internet sites in the title. It would be fun to post daily news of my comings and goings but I’m not sure that will be possible. I’ll be counting on Flickr to send photographs back and forth. Claudia is about to download the Tuchman book on Vinegar Joe on our Kindle account so I can keep reading it to her if we have enough stamina left after busy days looking at sites that the People’s Republic is happy for us to see. I presume Customs will not rifle our cell phones to see what we have uploaded to them. I’ll be on my best behavior. No pulling out a cell phone should the Prime Minister walk past us in a restaurant.

I’m not sure how closely I’ll follow the news or exactly what news will be available to me in China. Unlike the American Democracy I doubt if any of it will be fake. I am sure that after a few weeks away I will eagerly look forward to getting authentic American fake news upon my return.

Take care of Duluth while I’m away.

Stuff on my busy mind, written early in the day, so that I can stop thinking about it all

News

Comment: While our President snorts about Fake News this ISIS opponent shows how honest and brave journalism is critical to the health of the world.

Trump

I haven’t bashed him for a few weeks and have come to depend upon the New York Times to expose his dark side. Its a full time job for a reader like me at a time in my life when I’d hoped not to feel compelled to read the news so closely.

Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska

Comment: As I keep postponing a start on the book about my Kansas Grandfather I keep seeing more stories about its Koch fueled current politics. One book title of recent vintage asked “Whatever happened to Kansas?” The same could be asked about the home of the Okies.

Oklahoma is the home of the owners of the Hobby Lobby who won a split Supreme Court decision not to cover abortion costs in their medical plans. Being good Christians they have sent some of their millions to America’s dread enemy. Although they are propping up ISIS by buying ancient artifacts looted by the terrorists its for a good cause. They need the artifacts for a Museum on the Bible.

And Nebraska, home of Oz’s Frank L. Baum? Well its also home to a bigger billionaire than the Kochs, Warren Buffett. While the Kansas Koch heads are busy trying to take us back to the days before the Trust Buster, Teddy Roosevelt, put restraints on big business, Buffet keeps undermining the Koch agenda. I’m not sure if this is the story about Buffett that caught my attention recently but in almost every story I read about him he does his best to pan mindless greed.

My Campaign for School Board

Comment: I got an early start compared to every other time I’ve worked on a school board election. There are only about two SB campaigns I didn’t have some interest in since 1989. That early start has been helpful and there are some good candidates who have surfaced. Still, I have been preoccupied with other incidental things like family so that the campaign has been a bit of a low grade fever for the past couple months. Now I’ve woken up to my long planned trip to China for which I have ten days to prepare. The election and my school board work continue but I will be crossing the Pacific during the July 18th School Board meeting.

My friend Ali offered to run a Facebook Page for my campaign and set one up. As it will be out of my control I’m a bit nervous about it although I did tell her that when the campaign is over I’d like to have the power to pull the plug on it. I’ve resisted Facebook political campaigns in the past but I know other candidates make use of them. I have a Facebook Page too. I got it in 2006 for a prospective race for Congress but ignored it for six years until my daughter started posting pictures of my Grandsons. I only have about 25 “friends” because some folks post a zillion items daily which clutter my mind and make it really difficult to find the important family posts I do want to read.

China

Comment: The ten days left to us before our departure doesn’t give us nearly enough time to read all the books we’ve bought about China. I finished the second Chapter of Tuchman’s book about Stilwell and that second chapter had as good an explanation about the western influence on China in the last couple centuries as I’ve read. It reminded me of a well regarded movie from 1966 and so I had Claudia watch Sand Pebbles last night.

Its a long movie at 182 minutes and the end is drawn out but it earned an Oscar for Steve McQueen. Its early scenes of the Yangtze River would be hard to pull off today with such verisimilitude. The Movie of a 1926 China kept showing Chang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang Army menacing an American patrol boat as it attempted to rescue American missionaries in the city of Changsha. In 1926 Mao Tse-Tung had commandeered a Communist Army and turned it into a bandit army in and around Changsha, Mao’s old stomping grounds. Mao was to all intents and purposes a bandit for the Russian Communists and the Nationalists were as hellbent on attacking his bandits as they might have been on confronting “foreign devils.”

The book was published in 1962 before American’s were paying much attention to Vietnam but a review of the movie suggested it was intended to be a veiled critique of America’s involvement of the Vietnam War which was destined to spin out of America’s control not long after the movie’s 1966 debut.

Mao

My Mother gave me one of these t-shirts back in the 70’s. Now I’m reading two books out-loud to Claudia that I’ve had for years, in one case two decades, about the man who’s name inspired this pun – Mao Tse Tung.

The older book I found in a used book shop. It was published when I was nine years old in 1959. That was ten years after Mao drove out the Nationalists leading to cries in America of, “who lost China?” and two years before Mao’s agricultural revolution starved twenty to forty million Chinese to death. It was possible then to imagine Mao as a benign nationalist which seems to be the point of author Siao Yu in his reminiscence When Mao an I were Beggars.

The other book was initially lauded as the first authoritative tell-all of Mao’s depredations. Later commentators cautioned that its author, Jung Chang, went overboard blaming every Chinese catastrophe solely on Mao. She’s a great writer. I read her family history Wild Swans to Claudia a couple years ago. She knows China well.

I’m half way through the gentle tale of a month in Mao’s life living as a beggar with the older Siao Yu with whom he had a teacher/student relationship. Written over forty years after their 1917 experiment in poverty, Siao Yu does his best to portray the young Mao as an inquisitive but dogmatic companion on the brusque side. The writing is a little pokey and I’ve taken to alternating a chapter of this book with Jung Chang’s history of Mao.

The latter book is a 600 page monster and so far I’m only up to the early years of Chinese Communism. Its interesting to see the scheming authoritarian emerge from the truculent young nationalist that Mao started off as. Mao’s begging took place in 1917 the year my Grandfather Robb was fighting in France. Mao, the communist war lord, was gadding about Yunan Province with an army of 3,000 in 1928 when my Mother was born.

As for me, I was trying to defend the Chinese “Cultural Revolution” to my gymnastics coach in 1966 while waiting for a bus to take me back to North Mankato, Minnesota. That was seven years after the Begging book and about the time that its author Yu, broke with his old begging buddy.

Today Mao’s posters live on. In six weeks I will see his hanging over Tiananmen Square, a tribute from a Party that has otherwise distanced itself from his legacy of keeping China backward and stupid. It seems that its America’s turn to emulate that failed legacy.

Chinese Bibliophiles

Again. A weekend with plenty of thinking and very little posting. Actually on Friday I spent a couple hours writing in an attempt to tie my reading on China today with America’s Gilded Age that I’ve also been reading about. One quick take away – plutocrats were a dime a dozen in both times and places. Another take away. American Government was in shambles. Is that true of one party China today? There certainly is a lot of order in Confucian China but there is much that is also unsettled. Anyway, I spent another couple hours tinkering with Friday’s work on Saturday before shelving it. I might post a vastly shrunken post on it later.

As for the rest of Saturday. I devoted it to China.

I long ago discovered that China was the other half of world history. I have a good handle on everything else but the Chinese language makes it hard for Chinese names to take seed in my brain.

I began keeping track of my serious book reading in 1979 when I read by far the largest number of books in a single year -30 of them. I’m not sure I’ve ever read as much as ten books in subsequent years. I occasionally bought books on China but I rarely got around to reading them. I got 53 pages into “A Short History of the Chinese People.” Taking it out again Saturday to see what I had previously yellowed out with a marker I found this:

“…Wang succeeded in cornering almost all the gold in circulation both within the empire and abroad. Even faraway Rome felt the drain, Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) prohibiting the wearing of silk because it was bought with Roman gold.”

I spent a couple hours on Saturday beginning Chinese for Dummies and finally understand the tonal system of Mandarin that I had mistakenly thought was strictly pitch based as in Do-Ray-Me. Time will tell how far I much I will pick up in the 107 days before I travel east. I finished reading the Osnos book to Claudia and began a book by Frank Ching I’d bought twenty years ago but through which I’d never gotten further than the prologue. I bought it for $4.98 on a remainder pile because it looked interesting. Indeed it is. Unlike the last two books on China in the 2000’s, Ching got in on China at the opening of China immediately after Mao as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

His book is not about China as it is today, although that comes through, but about his research into his Chinese Ancestors who have published histories (that escaped the book burnings of the Cultural Revolution) going back to the time of the Norman Conquest of England just shy of 1000 years ago. He begins with the grave he discovered of one of his earliest ancestors Qin (Chin) Guan. As I read it I couldn’t help but wonder if he was tied in with another Chinese personage I’d once bought a book about Su Tungpo. I’d never read far into “The Gay Genius” when I bought it for ten bucks thirty years ago from Atlantic World Books on 209 E. Superior Street in Duluth. It has a glowing recommendation of Pearl S. Buck on its book jacket which probably enticed me to purchase it. Frank Ching using the pinyin system writes the poet’s name as Su Dongbo. Su was Mr. Ching’s Great Grandfather’s times 33 muse and mentor. I’ll have to traverse over 800 pages to cover both books but I’ve pushed on with Frank Ching’s largely because it will cover one family line through the last 900 years of Chinese History. Its my latest read-a-loud to Claudia.

If China is to surpass the American economy in my lifetime I owe it to my curious self to find out more about this behemoth. Its been on my radar for fifty years since I got into an argument with my Gymnastic’s coach after practice waiting for a bus home. He interfered in a debate I was having with my Sioux-Norwegian Gymnastic teammate who subsequently married a Korean woman (Or was she Chinese?) and went into the Foreign Service from which he recently retired.

Claudia and I are making a little room in a downstairs bookshelf for all these books. Her reading list includes three Amy Tan novels and Life and Death in Shanghai while mine includes The Rape of Nanking and the Sons of the Yellow Emperor about the Chinese “diaspora.” Somewhere I also have a book on the Ming Era fleet that traveled to Africa a few decades ahead of the Portuguese. And of course, there is Wild Swans which I read to Claudia a couple years ago.