tiananmen sq.jpg

Boris returns from China to find that roaring capitalism has stirred no interest in democracy in a country wedded to authority for four millennia.


It was towards the end of my trip to China that the tall, beautiful communist-party girl turned and asked the killer question. ‘So, Mr Boris Johnson,’ she said, ‘have you changed your mind about anything?’ And I was forced to reply that, yes, I had. Darned right I had. I had completely changed my mind about the chances of democracy in China. Before flying to Beijing I had naively presumed that the place was not just exhibiting hysterical economic growth, but was about to enter a ferment of political change. I had assumed that Tony Blair was right when, in 2005, he went there and announced that the 1.3 billion Chinese were on an ‘unstoppable march’ towards multi-party politics.

I now know that he was talking twaddle, and, what is more, that his Foreign Office advisers knew it. Like most reporters of my generation I spent a certain amount of the 1980s in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and we all remember that sense of suppressed mutiny, how easy it was to find people willing to prophesy over late-night vodka or slivovitz that one day the lid would blow off the cooker and Western-style democracy would be ushered in.

Well, it’s not that way in China today. I came away with an impression of a gloriously venal capitalist explosion being controlled by an unrepentant Bolshevik system, and — this is the key thing — with the patriotic support of almost all the intelligentsia. One night I had dinner with a charming group of young Chinese professionals, all of whom had studied in England, and who you might therefore expect to have drunk deep of our liberal political potion. I began by pointing out that I was that exotic British phenomenon, a ‘shadow’ minister. Of course, I said patronisingly, you don’t have an opposition, do you? ‘No,’ they smiled. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘wouldn’t it be a good thing?’ I waved my arms at the panorama of Shanghai behind us, where illuminated pleasure boats chugged along the river, and the fangs of 300 skyscrapers probed the night, soon to be joined by 300 more. ‘What if you get fed up with the people running this show? Wouldn’t you like to kick them out? Kick the bastards out, eh?’ I stabbed my chopsticks at a passing squid. ‘Actually, no,’ said Oswald, a nice guy with specs who had studied at Keble. He didn’t think the British system would work in China at all. ‘I think a one-party state is good for China right now,’ he said, and the squid, more elusive in death than in life, shot from my fumbling sticks and lay on the tablecloth in a metaphor of Western incomprehension. ‘But what about Chairman Mao?’ I asked.

I had been stunned, in Beijing, to find his warty visage still looming over the entrance to the Forbidden City, and to see the crowds of reverential citizens still visiting the mausoleum of a man who, in his 27-year reign, was responsible for the deaths of 70 million people and who therefore, in the evil tyrant stakes, knocks Hitler and Stalin into a cocked hat. Surely it was time to break with the legacy of Mao? This time it was a spiky-haired young lawyer called Harry who dealt gently with my misconceptions. ‘Different times produce different heroes,’ he said. ‘We cannot put ourselves in the position that Mao was in.’ ‘But what if you want to get involved in politics,’ I asked. ‘What do you do?’ ‘You must join the communist party, and work for the government,’ said Lucy, a girl on my left. ‘It is a great honour to join the communist party. You must be a very bright student.’

Before you accuse me of talking to the wrong people, let me assure you that I found the same story everywhere: not so much a defence of Chinese communism, or totalitarianism, but a patient refusal to accept my glib assumptions of the superiority of Western pluralism; because the more I harped on, the more resolute my interlocutors became in their defence not so much of the system but of China itself. In Shanghai we went to an enormous and lavishly equipped college of journalism, and after we had all swapped business cards (which must be exchanged sacramentally, with both hands and a small kung-fu bow) there was a slide-show of all the distinguished foreigners who had been there, ranging from Ronald Reagan to Margaret Hodge, and then it was my cue to make a small speech of thanks. I explained again that I was an opposition politician, and that I believed it was important to keep up my journalism as a way of getting my message across.

This dual role I chose to describe by what I thought was a happy Mao-style aphorism. ‘You could say that I combine the functions of dog and lamp-post!’ As I spoke I could hear the British Council man on my left groan and whisper ‘no, no’, and around the table, on the faces of the tutors of Chinese journalism, there was frank mystification. Later on that evening, when I was trying to explain it to the communist-party girl, it was some time before she grasped what in Western liberal democracies constitutes the proper relationship between the journalist (dog) and the politician (lamp-post), and if you want to understand why my sally fell so thunkingly flat, there is a very simple reason.

In today’s China the dogs are still so respectful of the lamp-posts that the editor of one big paper recently admitted that he gave bonuses to reporters whose work was praised by the Ministry of Information. In many cities the journalists turn up at press conferences and are given little cash-stuffed envelopes to thank them for being there. When I asked the lecturers in journalism to name their professional heroes, they looked utterly bemused, eventually naming Edgar Snow, the American stooge and hagiographer of Mao. At the end of our session at the journalism college a pale, intense academic came up privately and said of course I was right to say that journalism should root out corruption, ‘but we must also care about stability,’ he said, and there is the nub.

It is a cliché worth repeating that the Chinese have a colossal, 4,000-year-old respect for authority, and a deep unwillingness to be seen to do anything that is extrovert, embarrassing, satirical, flatulent, foolish, irreverent — in fact, they have been wholly bypassed by the European Enlightenment. They have a different concept of the relation between the individual and society, and a distrust of any kind of seditious argument, let alone satire. It’s not so much that they would be shocked by Voltaire. They would be shocked by Aristophanes. With every group of students I tried, in a flat-footed way, to raise issues of academic and intellectual freedom, in particular the notorious restrictions on the internet. Wasn’t it absurd that the state was blocking access to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, particularly since it seemed to have been written by Maoists anyway? And every time the students responded that it wasn’t such a problem, that there were ways round it, I was struck by their apathy, their acquiescence, their un-Tiananmen spirit, their willingness to accept the arguments for ‘stability’ and the public good: to the point where I suddenly felt it was pointless and boorish of me to keep levelling these implicit criticisms of my hosts.

The Chinese are gluttons for gilts and bonds and calls and puts and leveraged buyouts; but they aren’t very keen on the idea of elections, and instead of nipples on their billboards they would much rather have the luscious Technicolor full-frontal advertising for machine tools that greets the passenger arriving at Shanghai station. They want to do it the authoritarian way, the Chinese way, partly because the fear of disorder is so strong, and partly, frankly, because the rest of the world does not yet provide an overwhelming advert-isement for democracy.

If the Chinese want to prove to themselves that elections lead to chaos and kleptocracy, they need only look at Russia. If they want to reassure themselves that Blair and the neocons are wrong, and that democracy is not one of those sow-anywhere plants, they only have to look at the disaster of Iraq. In fact, the more people like me insist on rabbiting on about democracy, the more the Chinese must inwardly resolve to vindicate their own specialness and their own solution, complete with prison camps, mass capital punishment, and getting fired if you have more than one baby; not least since the present Chinese formula seems to be such a roaring success. They have averaged growth of 9 per cent over the last 25 years; they are creating the fastest bullet train in the world as well as 30 nuclear reactors, and hundreds of millions of peasants are still moving to the cities to stand in plimsolls and suits on girders hundreds of feet up in the cause of the most enormous boom in construction and industrialisation the world has ever seen. Even in my own area of special interest, higher education, the Chinese story is astonishing: there are now 1,800 state universities (there are about 90 in the UK) as well as 1,300 technical colleges, and the Chinese don’t have any of the British addiction to state funding. This may be technically a communist country, but in some universities 50 per cent of total funds are fees paid by the students, their families and even their neighbours (whereas top-up fees will contribute about 2 per cent of Cambridge’s budget). Oh, and just to freeze your marrow further, the Chinese turn out millions of highly qualified scientists and mathematicians, at a time when 30 per cent of British university physics departments have closed in the last eight years. You cannot hope to pass the gaokao, the fearsome Chinese university entrance exam which is sat by eight million 18-year-olds a year (and failed by three million of them), unless you have the equivalent of a B or better at maths A-level.

The longer you spend in the new China, watching the oxyacetylene lamps on the building sites at 3 a.m., the clearer it is that Francis Fukuyama was wrong when, in 1989, he pronounced that the fall of Soviet communism meant the end of history. Systematically, methodically, and with the connivance of their entire political establishment and their growing bourgeoisie, the Chinese are making a mockery of the claim that free-market capitalism and democracy must go hand-in-hand. Which is why, finally, I do not altogether go along with those who have suggested that the next century will belong to China, or that China will somehow rule the planet.

It is true that the new China is a wonderful place, and certainly a lot better than the old communist China, and with the growing international renown of their economic performance the Chinese are gaining in confidence and spiritual hope. It is also true that Chinese competition is a huge challenge for us in Western Europe, and certainly a useful hobgoblin for those of us who think that Gordon Brown’s Labour party is eroding our competitive edge. But with Chinese per capita GDP still only $1,000 per year, and with all the corruption and inefficiency still generated by a one-party state, I am not yet convinced that we need to force all our children to learn Mandarin. If China is really to rule the world, she will need two things that America now has in superabundance: hard power and soft power. As a military power, China is still relatively insignificant (her defence spending is smaller than that of the UK); and as for soft power — cultural projection abroad — what can China boast, apart from the occasional arrival in London of the state ballet or the Beijing People’s Circus? It is a tragic fact that every year thousands of Chinese undergo surgery to make their features more Western.

To see how remote is the day of Chinese cultural dominance, ask yourselves how many Westerners would have surgery to make themselves look more Chinese. Soft power — cultural influence — is ultimately impossible without an appealing international brand, and for the foreseeable future China’s international brand will be vitiated by her domestic political arrangements. China will never rule the world as long as the Forbidden City is adorned with the face of the biggest mass murderer in history. In the words of John Lennon, ‘If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/ You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.

Boris Johnson’s report on China’s universities will shortly be screened on BBC2’s Newsnight.

73 thoughts on “CHINA”

  1. A fascinating look behind the ‘Red Curtain’. Very interesting to read of the intrenched acceptance of the political system, I, like you simply presumed that there would be a whispered hiss of pro-democratic mumblings on every street corner as the Chinese people awaken to the free-market. Just goes to show I should spend even less time listening to Blair’s rhetoric about a bright future for Chinese democracy, and perhaps more time paying attention to the reality of western company’s attitude to China, most especially the IT firms like Microsoft, Google & Yahoo – who obvisouly realise that there isn’t going to be change any time soon so they had better get in bed with The Party.

  2. Democracy is the word which perhaps a Chinese pragmatist would use to describe the rule in China :

    Of the Chinese people
    By some other Chinese people
    For the good of the Chinese people.

    The elements are all present,it’s just the formula which needs adjustment.

  3. No, seriously, Boris has been hanging with the wrong people. There is zero chance the princes would advocate revolution. This is undoubtably intelligent, but it is morally wrong. It is also not a realistic reflection of the state of resistance to the Chinese state, which is considerable.

  4. I’m interested if Boris brushed up on his table-tennis skills.
    Assuming he is as adept at this sport as he is at most things.

  5. I know a lot of chinese poepel and none of them would support a revolution, most have a little distain for the west and it’s political system rather like Boris describes.

    I am afraid that boris may be wrong about the influence of China though – looking white probably wasnt that popular in china untill white people turned up and proved they were richer and stronger.

    I suggest the whole game will change when china is the strongest country. Suddenly there will be a new model to aspire and new rules as to how countries interact and they will come to fill the role as america has before them.

  6. Really interesting perspective. while china’s economy roars along growing 10% each year and private individuals can become wealthy I would agree that the level of apathy will remain high. If that economic growth slows down the pressure will go on. That looks unlikely and supports Boris’ point. Nationalism will certainly have an impact, but I would suggest the US will maintain a technological and brand cultural lead for sometime to come.

  7. “China will never rule the world as long as the Forbidden City is adorned with the face of the biggest mass murder in history. In the words of John Lennon, ” If you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow! “. How true and what a smooth ending to smart article!

    (clear throat) Any pretentious Che’ beret, Che’ T-shirt wearing, Mao picture hanging would-be urban guerilla who lives in the comfort of the West, please, take note! (giggle).

    I like Mr. Johnson’s writing- it’s a mixture of seriousness and humour. Hope he managed to pick up the slippery squid with his chopsticks in the end though! (giggle). He should have asked for a fork or, at least, a pair of semi-split chopsticks! (giggle)

    God bless him and his mob of blond hair! (giggle)

  8. Can anyone explain why a civilisation four millennia old never got around to inventing forks? Talk about making things difficult for yourself!

  9. Five questions to the wise

    Can anyone explain why a civilisation four millennia old never got around to inventing forks? Talk about making things difficult for yourself!

    I am still awaiting an explanation of why there was a herd of Gadarene swine when Jews don’t eat pork.

    Another thing that puzzles me is why more petrol stations don’t blow up.

    Also why doesn’t someone suggest abolishing all those bank holiday Mondays and adding the days to annual leave. Just think of the DIY carnage that would be avoided!

    Why do flammable and inflammable mean the same thing?

  10. There was a small difficulty in the translation from the Greek ,via the Aramaic version of the story.

    The Gadarenes were never breeders of the porcine race, rather they had been growing grapes for what seemed like forever.

    They had a whole lot of hogsheads in which they placed the grape juice, in order to enable the fermentation to take place. In those days , they had no isinglas finings, so in order to clear the haziness in the fermented grape juice , they mixed in a portion of mussel shell lining, (nacre), and left it to mature.

    The common name for nacre then ; as now ; was mother of pearl, and it was cast in the Gaderene’s wine,( to aid clarification).

    Hence the expression. It got somewhat twisted in the multi stage translation.

  11. Oooooh! An advert from Dr Spam…erm, i mean Dr Han. One question: How do you make an appointment to call him without actually calling him?
    [Ed: Dr Spam now deleted]

    Confused of South Oxon


  12. Thanks Mac.

    Aplogies raincoster – I must have missed it in all the excitement about Boris.

  13. I prefer Mac’s explanation of the the Gadarene’s wine myself. It seems far more plausible, somehow.

    Incidentally, today’s Independent has a long piece about the mysterious Chinese Falun Gong:

      …Falun Gong, to most of us, is nothing more than a version of the early morning, slow-motion callisthenics, which can be seen being practised in parks in cities across the planet in which groups of people glide in unison through a set of tranquil ritualised movements known as qigong ­ a form of exercise which, like yoga, can be both physical and spiritual. It is an exercise technique that involves controlled breathing and five sets of meditation exercises (four standing, and one sitting) which only a few years after its public introduction in 1992 quickly grew to become one of the most popular forms of qigong in Chinese and indeed world history. Why then, is it perceived by the government in Beijing to be the most subversive threat to the Chinese state in the six decades since the Communist Revolution?…
      The movement found easy converts among ordinary Chinese because of its focus on improving health in a country where years of underinvestment have put the Chinese health system under severe strain, and resulted in a return to traditional methods of healing. A craze for Falun Gong swept the country in the early 1990s, attracting up to 70 million adherents. In those early years Chinese governmental organisations granted several awards to Li to encourage him to continue promoting what they then considered a wholesome practice. He lectured regularly all over the country in front of large audiences.

      Things changed in 1999, after a magazine printed an article by a Chinese physicist which was critical of Falun Gong. Practitioners went to protest outside the publishers and several were arrested and, apparently, beaten by the police…

    After which things went downhill rather fast.

  14. At this very moment I’m listening to some Falun Gong propagandizing in the park across the street from me. They love them some loudspeakers, do the Asians.

    I don’t actually know if Falun Gong is a destructive cult or not, and knowing what I do of the Chinese government I strongly suspect it does not matter to them. What it definitely IS is competition for loyalty, and the Chinese goverment does not allow divided loyalty.

    Tai Chi, btw, is excellent for your health even if, like me, you’re so bad you topple over from time to time.

  15. I’ve just returned from a stroll around the neighborhood (Chinatown) and all day a convoy of cars has been circling the area. Each car has a sign strapped to its roof, written in Chinese and English, and saying something along the lines of “CCP uses lies to hide violence.” They’re very well-organized, and they’ve been at it for some time, apparently.

    So there is certainly some support for, if not democracy, at least getting rid of the Communist Party in China. Anyone following the Yahoo/Google saga in China is aware that resistance exists on the mainland as well as in the diaspora.

  16. Having just finished reading Boris’s ‘Dream of Rome’ book, and digested his arguments about how the Romans created an empire that people wanted to flock to and be a part of I can’t help wondering whether there is a bit of a paradox with what he writes here.

    Boris argues (very convincingly) that the Emperor Augustus made himself into a demi-god and created a ‘cult of the emperor’ and that doing this was a stroke of political genius.

    China is an ancient empire with proud traditions and many ancient beliefs that hold strong today. In the West many of these ideas are being successfully exported. How common is it to see a ‘Chinese medicine shop’, an advert for acupuncture or people practicing Thai Chi in the park? How many of us know someone who practices a Chinese martial art, or likes to visit Chinese restaurants and eat with chopsticks?

    I can’t imagine the British, or the people of any other European nation wanting to be Chinese or to be ruled by any foreign empire. Indeed, would the Chinese people have embraced Rome as Boris contends that so many Europeans did?

    I do however wonder to what extent people like Chairman Mao and the Communist party in China have captured the imaginations and pride of its citizens in the way that Boris has argued Rome did, and still does, the Europeans?

  17. Well the trouble with Mao is that he’s dead. And while the world has hosted a few highly effective megalomaniacs (emperor-types) Augustus stands apart because, rather than take the “aprez moi, le deluge” viewpoint, he actually held to a viable and robust system of passing on the emperorship. It’s only when cabals squabble at the expense of the nation that things start to fall apart. Mao set things up so that they absolutely would fall apart after him. I am sure he enjoyed the idea, as in his mind it would make him the one great hero of China.

    China’s history isn’t actually one of happlily uninterrupted dynastic succession. If it had been, there would only have been one dynasty! It’s more like an Alexandrine empire of conquest (after a long period of isolated kingdoms) that managed never to fall apart.

    And I think that the future of China, rather than revolutionary democratization or even evolutionary, is that the nation will Balkanize piece by piece. Tibet, Mongolia, Hong Kong: bit by bit they will break away, leaving an ever-shrinking Kingdom at the centre. Russia has already gone down that path, and the Chinese are far more tech and communications-savvy than the Russians ever were. It’ll happen faster, and with less bloodshed simply because the army can’t be everywhere at once. And one thing the capitalist system does is teach people to calculate the p/e ratio of every endeavor, including remaining loyal to the CCP. When that number falls to a certain level, things will change rapidly.

  18. I’m sure the Chinese have learned a lot from Hong Kong. I can’t see them wanting to give up power of taxation over it though can you?

  19. I never for a moment meant that it would be voluntary on the part of Beijing. Not at all. But they’re not going to nuke HK, it’s just too close. And with an army as spread out and underarmed as it is (they have been known to recycle bullets) they’ll be hard-pressed to keep it.

    Oh, and did you know that when a criminal is shot, his family is billed for the cost of the bullet?

  20. My arguement would be this. Hong Kong is pretty much left to its own devices, has a viable middle class, comparitably well off and as mobile as many in the Western world and attracts much multi-national investment.

    Where would such a rebellion, or revolution, find its roots in Hong Kong? Why would the people crave this rebellion in the first place. No outside power would surely try to provoke one and risk a backlash from Beijing surely?

  21. It’ll come from the tax burden and greater exposure to “undesireables” from the rest of China. The yob factor. HKers will think back to the glory days of isolation and realize they were really better off when those people were foreigners. They’ll look to the city-state of Singapore for a model. And, of course, HK has a very real and two-way communication with the Chinese diaspora; they move to Vancouver, they move to London, they move back. They’ll become unsatisfied with the laws and people coming out of the rest of China very soon; it’s already begun. Snobbery’s probably more dominant in HK than in any other city in the world right now.

  22. An ever increasing tax burden and an ever increasing influx of ‘undesirables’ from overseas.

    Doesn’t sound a million miles away from the UK really. Do you think my generation will rebel against membership of the EU based on this logic then Raincoaster?

    When it gets to the point that the average house costs 25 years average wages, we are paying over 50% tax to subsidise my parents generation in their early retirement and we have lost all hope of ever knowing who is in the country and who isn’t what do you predict will happen over here?

  23. Not “from overseas.” From the rest of China. There’s huge, huge snobbery and discrimination against them. Honestly, it makes Australia look like Colourblind Utopia.

    What do I predict will happen in the UK? You’ll increasingly become the US’s bitch, just like the rest of us. And one century too late to get anything worthwhile out of the exchange.

  24. But the US has the same problem as the UK; an aging population increasing in longevity.

    This is what leads some people to believe that the US is an empire in decline and that China and India will emerge as the new economic powerhouses of the world.

    With an overstretched USA and an overstretched UK that becomes increasingly entangled with bureaucracy from Brussels, who would have the means or motivation to stop China taking a more robust control of Hong Kong should this revolution you predict happen?

  25. Oh, and while I’m here…

    …Jack Ramsey, petrol stations don’t blow up more often because there are very strict safety laws regarding their construction, use and operation.

    This is one area of regulation that shows not all regulation is necessarily a bad thing.

    Who would want the guy next door to be allowed to dig up his garden one day, lower in a large storage tank he’s knocked up in his garage and take delivery of several thousand gallons of petroleum a week later?

    Errr not me!

  26. raincoster

    Well the trouble with Mao is that he’s dead.

    That’s his sole redeeming feature surely!

    This is quite an interesting discussion. A good deal of food for thought.

    Steven L

    Good point about useful regulation.

    What has always puzzled me is the exhortations to turn off your radios and not use your phones. It gives the impression that a spark is all that is required.

  27. Jack, I went on a training course last year at a major manufacturer of petrol measuring equipment.

    The guy taking the course showed us this CCTV video from the states where this woman is fiiling up her SUV. She leaves the nozzle inside the car (they are allowed to lock on in the states, not here though) and goes back into her car to get her purse out.

    The static she builds up from the car interior causes her sweater to make a small spark when she goes back to the nozzle, and whoomf! Flames start pouring out of the ‘filler hole’ (or whatever you call it).

    Luckily she didn’t panick, took the hose out of the hole and laid it in the floor, disaster averted!

    In certain atmospheric / weather conditions ALL it takes is a spark!

    Petrol is very nasty stuff indeed.

  28. Speaking of regulation, I’m reminded of the article Boris wrote for the Guardian, wherein he promised a Tory government would turn the UK into a cyclist’s paradise. I am wondering now if this was a foreshadowing of an alarming tendency towards unquestioning Sinophilia on Boris’s part. He’s been complaining nobody’s ever bribed him: perhaps China put out, in the form of a nice, shiny bike? Maybe a new mobile phone?

    Mark my words, if the Tories take over, you’ll all be forced at hunting whip point out of your SUV’s and onto ten speeds. Five speeds if you voted Labour. Not that it would be too sinister, actually. I could support cyclists rights, just as long as the right to make fun of Segway riders was also enshrined.

  29. Now that the student loans have arrived again Raincoaster – can I have one of what you’re having?

  30. Steven

    I guess that’s why I asked the question in the first place. Why doesn’t that sort of thing happen more often and with much worse results? (This is not a plea for it to happen you understand!)

  31. The Chinese have come a long way since Mao’s Long March, via velocipedes , right up to today’s automobile’s numerical explosion.

    They remember, or are well informed, by those who DO remember, real and grinding hardship, something that the majority of Westerners do not. As a result, they will take a long time to emulate the West, as a bunch of wasters, chasing the almighty Buck.

    I speak, via SKYPE , on a regular basis, to a teacher in one of the northern provinces,who would not dream of leaving her Homeland;
    I also have a niece , by marriage , also in the business of higher education, who will not come to the UK excepting on visits, which she enjoys, but would on no account settle here, even though fully entitled to.

    In the majority of the intelligentsia,there is no envy of the so called superior life style of the western world, despite the various well known drawbacks of life in China

    People who obey the law , get no bills for bullets.

    I see China as an anthill. each ant knows its place in the working hierarchy, and its purpose in life is ulimately to look after the Queen,( in this context , the State).

  32. Why China Won’t Become Democratic

    By Boris Johnson, of all people. The article is the cover story from this week’s Spectator, a conservative British journal; it’s reproduced also in the Peking Duck and well worth a read. The longer you spend in the new China, watching the oxyacetylene …

  33. I completely concur with Boris’s article. The nay-sayers need to spend some time in China meeting the middle classes.

    The reasons for the Chinese Miracle are simple: a massive population of workers who need a better job than planting rice; an authoritarian system that keeps them in check; and the abnadonment of the Maoist policies that stopped the economy from growing.

    Boris’s experience reminds me of the fateful day that I took on my second class of journalism students at SHUFE, a business university also in Shanghai that I worked at from 2003-2005.

    The previous year they had been great – inquisitive, enthusiastic and eager to learn, so I had high hopes. I began this time with the same tactic, a discussion on the substance of journalism. “What is the purpose of journalism?” I asked.

    “The purpose of journalism is to serve the government,” said the hard-faced girl at the back. The class remained silent. She wasn’t joking. I had very little success with that group.

    Philip Sen

  34. OK …but turning now towards more important matters. £275 a day for Cherie’s hair? I wonder what they would make of that in the land of the flaming wok?

  35. Ok, sorry folks, but i’m hijacking again!

    A friend of mine, a constituent of Boris’, is Fisheye the Clown. This wonderful (and slightly insane) individual is a member of Boomchucka Circus (formerly circus2iraq). He and a group brave and wise people/fools go into areas the rest of us would steer well clear of. Like Iraq.

    They then set about making children laugh, something that rarely happens in war zones.

    The Economist has just published an account of their most recent jaunt to Palestine(which you can read here:

    I’m enormously proud and humbled by knowing Fisheye, and i just wanted to share this with you guys.

    I support their efforts wholeheartedly, and hope you will too.

    For further details on the circus, and details of how you can help them, please visit their website at

    There are occasions when politics can go get stuffed, and we should think of the kids who are innocent victims of situations that really should not exist.

    Go Boomchucka!!!

    Right, hijack over…as you were!



  36. Thanks, very interesting. Glad to see someone is working hard to eliminate the memory of Jerry Lewis’ The Day the Clown Cried. A grateful world thanks Fisheye.

  37. Another thing that puzzles me is why more petrol stations don’t blow up.

    In Turkey, the PKK drove a car loaded with explosives into a busy petrol station and left it there. When it exploded, the canopy was destroyed, the shop front a mass of glass splinters and the concrete under the car was cracked. The pump nearest the bomb was a complete tangle of metal.

    There was no fire.

    Two reasons:
    1) Petrol stations have emergency shut down systems that prevent the fuel from flowing after an incident like that.
    2) Thick concrete and gravel separate the tanks from the outside world.

  38. What what, tally ho Boris old chummy… I too can concur with what you say, having lived and worked in Beijing for 6 months recently. I am also a Buddhist and feel that you tone is unusually condescending and cultural ignorant.

    As am sure anyone who knows anyone Chinese or has ever been to a Chinese market knows just exactly how well the Chinese embrace capatilist ideals and free market ways, they are superb at it and have traded their way to being the most powerfull nation in the world time and time again throughout history.

    There is more to China and the East than 70 year old political system and more cutural history to the Chinese region than Europe and the Middle East. The Chinese Dynastys and imperial powers were twice aa big and lasted twice as long as your beloved Romans… Respect, Boris old chum, is the first step to understanding, throwing you chop sticks around shows neither.

    At least they are honest about their oligarchy and fairly straight forward about how one goes about obtaining power in their country, not the same can be said for our “democracy” can it old boy?

    Moa presided over some awfull management decisions, but then with 1/3 of the worlds population under his control any mistakes are going to be magnified aren’t they? Besides, if all them folk had lived, who knows, China’s population may well be nudging 3 billion by now… Please try and accept that Buddhist, Doaist or any other of the Eastern phillosophies or theologies don’t perceive or hold life in the same way as our Christian culture.

    Think on Boris old boy, just because you think you’re right doesn’t make it so, Confucious says “Fool thinks he’s a wise man, wise man knows he is fool” (Benny Hill says “Man with hole in pocket feels cocky all day”)

  39. In my minor management role I shall no longer feel bad about my less brilliant management decisions! Thank you Matt! Now Buddha off somewhere else!

  40. Whilst we’re on the subject of Mao’s 70million (sic) perhaps we could discussed the folk who died for our own particular brand of capatilist imperialism? I recently read that the rule of the Indian sub continent led to massive death, 12 million in a single famine in India, directly attributed to the mis mangement by the British “idealists”. When we add that to the cultural inhilation of the Australian aboriginal culture the American Indians and South American Ancient societys at the hands of Western Europeans, I would say we have a fair few “mass murderers” in our closet. Okay so not in such recent times? Well let’s consider the current situation in Africa should we, directly attributed to Western Imperialism and mismanagement, arms dealing and shonky political systems bank rolled by HRH’s house of commoners… Anyone care to do a body count?

    70 million, seems an awfully accurate round number to me, wouldn’t you say Boris? Happen you’re not trying to feed us a line, would you? Such scare mongering and propoganda wouldn’t fit with our fantastic capitilist democracy, would it?

  41. Matt

    I think it would look awfully fishy if it were 70, 235,701.

    As it happens I am not in the business of doing counts on murders by nationality of said murders but rather looking at the mindsets that can cause such murders. The European continent should perhaps feel ashamed that their most dangerous export Marxism has killed so many but it did seem to dovetail nicely with the previous systems of despotism in Russia and China. Those long centuries of civilisation may have come up with a lot of samovars and Ming vases but pretty low on the humanitarian front.

    I would like your source on the Indian famine. At the time of British rule in India there were large movements in this country against slavery and the notion of empire. Apart from America and Denmark I know of no other nations who campaigned against slavery at such an early stage (except of course the Jewish people who had the gumption to liberate themselves).

    You may or may not have noticed that open democratic societies, for all their faults, do not engage in systematic mass murder. That has been the role of the state socialist societies in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Maoist China. Look at the mindsets of whichever revolutionary party has come to power.

  42. Jack: Latest, latest, reaaaad all about it… “Over 60 million killed by British Raj”

    Not widely acknowleged, but never the less a truth.

    I wasn’t trying to atogonise anyone imparticular, just trying to balance Boris’s usually foppish rantings, a weblog is hardly the place for a serious discussion on matters so diverse as culture, politics, monarchal rule, theology and the benefits and differences thereof throughout the world… But men such as Boris DO know better, which is why I worry when such unconsidered nonsense comes from his hand.

    Nazi Germany was democratically elected, on a fairly clear mandate, a result of the after math of WW1 which in turn was caused by old European Monarchal disputes going back centuries.

    I think you’ll find that the governments in many single party revolutionary type countries enjoy a public support that most democracies would give their right arm for, for one reason or another.

    The mindset of people such as Castro, Moa and even the likes of Pol Pot may seem a million miles from normal to you, but then again you’ve never had to live unde the oppression of a monarchy that rules in a way that the Chinese Imperial one did, remember we’ve had some revolutions in Europe to, the French revolution is widely celebrated is it not, it wasn’t without it’s fair share of bloodshed and nastiness.

  43. Of course, Budhhism and Daoism, along with Confucianism, were as illegal in China as Christianity, and have nothing whatsoever to do with anything Boris has said here. I’m not sure why you bring them up, except as an excuse to be condescending.

    Which is, of course, much easier to do if you can spell them.

  44. Raincoaster: So Many thousands of years of Eastern culture, history, spirituality have no bearing on the behaviour and beliefs of modern day Chinese people? Hmmm… How so?

    Perhaps you think the communists brainwashed them to forget their history and culture, perhaps you think this was what the cultutral revolution was about? I suppose you saw a documentary about it on the BBC, or a Tory politician told you, so it must be true, eh?

  45. My oldest and closest friend is Chinese (born in Kowloon). A few years ago, I mentioned to him that we had some business opportunities in mainland China; his only response was “Don’t trust ’em mate, they’re all crooks.”

    I should add, the company that eventually took the aforementioned business was screwed over mightily. ;o)

  46. Matt

    The election of the National Socialist Party in Germany underlies the point that democracy is not infallible and can indeed revert to a Utopian closed society, though perhaps not the one that preceded democracy.

    The example of the French revolution is all too indicative of the danger of ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss’. State terrorism is found where the revolutionary party that takes over has a new Utopia to be achieved to replace the old one that fell.

    Of course totalitarian regimes enjoy more support than democractic regimes. The evidence shows it. Saddam got 99% of the popular vote. You wouldn’t find many in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany complaining. Whilst in our blinkered Western way, immune to the glories of Utopias of the Fabulous Future and the Glorious Past we can only moan in a petit bourgeouis manner about our politicians.

    What do Buddhists believe in? I always seek, but as you can see without success, enlightenment.

  47. The Nazis came to power as the perceived lesser of two evils, the second of which was Communism.

    If at the polling station , you are reminded, quite forcibly, what would happen to Germany if left to the Communists,(look at Russia. Remember 1917 was not an eon away), by a smart and burly man in a brown shirt , you would quickly remember which side your bread was buttered on

    Further, “on promise” was the raising from the dead of German pride , after their humiliation , not least by the French, at Versailles.

    My opinion of the China question was the promise of jam today by Mao of the Communists , rather thean the jam tomorrow promise by Chiang Kai-chek,of the Kuomintang.

    Even a little jam is enough to tip the scales sometimes.

  48. Matt, I’m not sure where you’re coming from, except from a point of condescention. No-one here has said anything about Chinese culture not having been influenced by the past.

    The Communists did, of course, brainwash them to forget their culture; this was called the Cultural Revolution, and you can read all about it in books and things. Or you can just talk to Chinese people. It’s one reason so many of Mainland China’s treasures ended up in Taiwan, among other places. While not perfectly successful (like all Maoist programs) it was still a major force from which Chinese culture has yet to recover.

    I’m also not sure where you get your authority. My ex was a Mandarin/English translator who was physically present during the Tiannanmen Square Massacre, I live in the largest Chinatown outside of China, and I have studied ancient Chinese literature as well as history.

    As for your Buddhism, I guess that satori thing still needs a bit of work, eh?

  49. OT:

    I think I’ve gotten all the aggro out of my system. Someone hacked my blog tonight (no idea how at this point) and made a rather heinous substitution. If anyone wants to know what raincoaster looks like when she takes the gloves off, you can look here.

  50. BTW, to my friends here:

    Sodium Fluoroacetate is what the Finns put in the wells when they knew the Nazis were coming. One eighth of a gram in a glass of water will kill a grown man in two hours. So don’t try this at home.

    I know you’re too smart to, but I thought it bore saying anyway.

    And it’ll totally add to my hit count when you go to check it out, mwahahahahahaha!

  51. Raincoaster,

    I wanna learn HTML and build me a blog in a few months (or maybe next year) as I’ll have some spare time when uni is done and dusted in a few weeks.

    Is it easy? any recommended reads?

  52. Steven, it’s dead easy. You don’t need HTML, thank GOD! And you don’t need to do any reading either. You can just click and go!

    I have looked around, and what I thought were the best options were Typepad(Moveable type) and WordPress, but Typepad isn’t as responsive.

    WordPress is where my current blog is, and I cannot deny they’ve had outages. Outages which, had I been able to reach their reproductive organs from here, would have resulted in the founders having smaller families.

    HOWEVER. They’ve been quite straightforward about the outages, they’ve taken blame where it’s due, and they claim it’ll be over soon. And since they’ve been dead honest and completely responsive so far, I believe them.

    Try I know that is popular, but WordPress is nicer in layout, and I think it’s more robust. Just my opinion.

    But I’m always right.

  53. Steven,

    raincoaster is right. HTML is dead easy. Even I managed to teach it to myself and that’s saying something when you consider that at one point my definition of high tech was the hold button on the telephone. One thing that I recommend doing is what ever books or sites you start with – spend some time looking at the source code of a variety of web sites as you go – to see how they implemented different things. Seeing the HTML in situ helped me a lot.

    I started with the unimaginatively names HTML for Dummies years back and while I laugh to think of it now – it was just what I needed at the time because I knew very little about what HTML much less how to work with it. Once you get started, you’ll notice how fast you move on to more and more complex stuff.

    As for blogging sites – raincoaster’s recs are really good and I know a lot of people happy with Typepad and WordPress. Another similar option is livejournal. I used to have a blog I’d built but it became a hassle with the other sites I was doing so I use my blog there and import it into parts of my sites.

  54. I must admit I’m not a huge fan of LiveJournal, but there are millions who are. It’s good if you enjoy controlling who can and who can’t see your blog, and it’s good for people who define themselves by the company they keep. I’m trying to find a way to put that which doesn’t sound elitist, but I can’t. Then again, I AM an elitist.

  55. If you sign up for a WordPress journal, we should get in touch. We can conference in IM (yahoo or MSN messenger) and I can guide you through posting if you need that. But I’m sure you’ll pick it up. If you check out my blog (click on my name) you should keep in mind that I’ve only been on WordPress since February 27th of this year. The learning curve is virtually flat and very short. Easy peasy as you Englanders say.

  56. Raincoaster, I will do that. My exams end May 18th, after that, when I’m free I will get in touch for sure.

    I have read bits of your blog from time to time and I was impressed!

  57. While we’re on the topic of blogging, and referring back to Boris’s reference to Japanese TV (in the Elf and Safety thread) I present a blog entirely dedicated to the weirdness that is Japanese TV.

    TV in Japan

  58. Gruesome. I think promiscuous huggers should be spayed, neutered, and left for dead by the side of the road. China’s a very formal society, and the better for it, IMHO.

    One of my favorite Miss Manners stories is the time she was caught in an elevator with Leo Buscaglia(sp?), the hug-addicted warm fuzzy spreader. She was merely frosty; I’d have taken that bitch down!

  59. “It was towards the end of my trip to China that the tall, beautiful communist-party girl turned and asked …”

    Please Boris! What goes on tour stays on tour. Remember that.

  60. Boris’s impressions of the Chinese people’s attitude towards the one party state are fascinating. The reasons for their general deification of Mao seem incomprehensible when you consider his legacy of mass murder.

    Just one thing though – the power of China’s economic growth is certainly something for us to be concerned about. However, a more powerful threat may now be arising from the Indian subcontinent. India is on the move. The people are hungry for knowledge and have a tremendous work ethic – many also speak English and India is of course a democracy.

    Back to China – as a one party state obviously China is doing something right. One obvious benefit I suppose is continuity – they don’t have to contend with the see-saw short-term politics that we do, as the incoming party changes everything the last government did.

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